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In South Korea, K-Pop Pleads for Peace

But after cheering the Cosmic Girls as that 13-piece group bounced up and down in unison singing their syrupy hit “Happy,” Mr. Nam said he hoped that North Korea could hear “the sound of freedom” from the south.


An estimated 25,000 people gathered at Nuri Peace Park for the concert on Saturday night.

Jean Chung for The New York Times

“If enjoying K-pop right near the border with the aggressive North Korea is not freedom, what is?” he said. “I hope North Korea, too, understands how much happiness freedom can bring and chooses a path toward peace.”

Another Cosmic Girls fan, Kim Ji-hyun, 12, a sixth-grader from Paju City, a few miles away, also felt some trepidation at first.

“I live close to the border so I am used to seeing soldiers around, but there are soldiers here at a peaceful culture event. The security situation in our country must be serious,” he said. “But Cosmic Girls’ act totally distracted me away from feeling scared.”

This is the seventh time that the local government and the Korean national television network MBC have hosted the annual DMZ Peace Concert. The event commemorates National Liberation Day, a holiday common to both Koreas, that remembers the end of the 35-year Japanese colonial occupation in 1945. This year’s concert, which had the slogan, “Again, Peace!,” was organized with the participation of the South Korean Ministry of Unification. The ministry is mandated to prepare for the reintegration of the two Koreas into a single nation.

“Young Koreans tend to not care about unification,” said Kim Nan-young, deputy director of the ministry’s cultural affairs division, adding that events like this one, intended to pique young people’s interest in unification, are important.


Many of the soldiers who patrolled the park joined in with the crowd’s cheering and screaming at Nuri Peace Park.

Jean Chung for The New York Times

The effort has been effective, Kim Nan-young said. “Young people inevitably get to think about unification and security issues when they come to a place near the border with North Korea.”

The government’s efforts seemed to have worked on Kim Ha-min, 15, a high school student who came to the concert from Incheon, just west of Seoul. For Ms. Kim, North Korea had always been a scary, distant place. But on Saturday, when her to favorite K-pop boy band, BTOB, dedicated its ballad “Someday” to the hope for unification, Ms. Kim said that it made her think differently.

The song’s lyrics made her realize “that there are people just like us living in North Korea,” she said, “and not just its belligerent leader, Kim Jong-un.”

“They are just over that border,” Ms. Kim said, pointing toward the north.

In between acts, a huge screen behind the stage showed K-pop stars in scenarios envisaging a peaceful society after unification of the peninsula, in which South Koreans would be able vacation in the north and young people from both sides would be able to date and make friends.

During those scenes, many teenagers took a rest from screaming for their idols and instead used their smartphones to look at Facebook and other social media platforms. Yang Ahn-na, 14, a BTOB fan from Paju City, felt cheated that not all of the concert was about the music.

“The government used K-pop as bait to lure us teenagers to come to this concert so that we would want unification,” Ms. Yang said.

Others at the event agreed. “Mobilizing K-pop entertainers to spark people’s interest in unification doesn’t seem quite right,” said Cho Eun-sol, 26, a human resources content developer from Seoul. “It is not their job and it puts an awkward burden on the entertainers.”

But her boyfriend, Ha Bong-ahn, 27, a software engineer, also from Seoul, felt differently. Mr. Ha, who served his compulsory military duty near the border a few years ago, said that while people had come to the concert despite is proximity to the demilitarized zone, South Koreans shouldn’t forget that the threat of war is always looming so long as the peninsula is divided.

“That’s why people should become more interested in unification, and if K-pop artists can help, that’s good,” Mr. Ha said.

The concert ended with all the participating K-pop entertainers onstage together for a song about how happy everyone would be on the day the two Koreas come together. The screen behind them showed enormous South Korean flags waving.


Kim Na-young said she was apprehensive about coming so close to the North Korean border.

Jean Chung for The New York Times

“At first, I felt scared about coming here so close to the border with North Korea,” said Kim Na-young, 14, from Geojedo Island, “but I am glad I came. I can see now that we can enjoy ourselves anywhere even if North Korea threatens us.”

Ms. Kim added, “I hope people in North Korea got to hear the K-pop songs and our message of peace, too.”

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