When did celebrities become idols for some?
Ⓒ YONHAP News
Many South Koreans may remember hanging pictures of revered singers, actors, or actresses on their walls when they were young. Many celebrities and stars also serve as role models in South Korea. What about celebrities in North Korea? The North Korean reporter Kang Mi-jin from the online newspaper Daily NK in Seoul says:
One of the most famous celebrities in North Korea is the wife of ruler Kim Jong-un, Ri Sol-ju. The First Lady is known to North Koreans for a song called "Footsteps of the Soldiers". Another star singer is Hyon Song-wol, who became a star in the 2000s with her hit "Wonderful Woman, Strong As A Horse". She was selected to lead the Moranbong band in 2012 when the popular women's group made its debut. She gave cause for envy because she accompanied Kim Jong-un on his inspection trips. The Moranbang band consists of seven singers and eleven musicians. Their western, capitalist style expresses itself through their unusual clothing and dynamic movements, which made them a sensation. When their performances are shown on central television, even dealers in the private markets close their booths earlier to see the popular band's shows. One of the most celebrated actresses in North Korea is O Mi-ran of the April 25th Film Studio. Many North Koreans remember her who appeared in a number of films. Other well-known movie stars are Kim Jong-ah, Hong Yong-hui, Choe Chang-su and Kim Myong-ja, who also appear on calendar images.
To be a star in North Korea, you have to be able to shine with socialist and revolutionary ideas. The official Juche doctrine of national independence and loyalty to the regime must be expressed in artistic and cultural performances:
In North Korea, films, television series and novels serve as tools to justify the legitimacy of the party and the supreme leader, to educate people politically, and to implement the leader's instructions and party politics. The government sponsors singers and actors for this purpose. All artists are divided into nine different classes. They are assessed every two or three years. Depending on the result, they go up or down. Artists with titles like “meritorious” or “people's artist” even have a higher position. The honorary titles are only given to those who have worked and received recognition in the local film scene for a long time.
TV stars who acquire such titles enjoy many privileges:
Actors or actresses of the people are treated in the same way as vice ministers. You can get medical care in some hospitals in Pyongyang, where only vice ministers are allowed access. They receive preferential treatment when buying things and when allocating an apartment. Deserving actors are treated like cabinet managers. Actors are generally doing pretty well because they are stocked with supplies every month. Anyone who has received an award at international film festivals is entitled to state privileges, such as receiving a car. The government also provides the actors with an apartment.
There are numerous fan clubs for local K-pop groups in South Korea. The fans go to concerts and cheer for their idols. Is there a similar fan culture in North Korea?
There are hardly any fan clubs in North Korea. North Koreans may talk about their favorite singers or songs, but they are not committed enough to start a fan club. It's hard to imagine an autograph session or stalking and kidnapping a star. Not everyone has a TV at home, and there are far fewer entertainment shows compared to South Korea. So most of the children are not interested in being entertainers. Teens and adults alike may admire some celebrities. Some students have magazines or posters of stars. But that is not common. However, since the 1990s, younger people have often been sending letters to popular artists to congratulate them on their performances.
Even deserving artists can lose the government's favor if they make a mistake:
If celebrities do not make political mistakes, the state offers them or, in the event of death, even their children. Many movie stars are buried in a cemetery for patriots in Sinmi-ri in Pyongyang. When the cemetery opened in the fall of 1986, there were 190 graves there. By the end of 2014 that number had risen to 890. I can imagine that there are now many more. People who helped build socialism and the unification movement, as well as high-ranking party officials and the military, are lying in the cemetery. Persons with extraordinary achievements in science, education, literature, art and media are buried there.
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