Jackson Five Ri-dux: More Sol-ju in the South Korean Media
On March 8, Radio Free Asia’s (RFA) Korean-language service reported that Ri Sol-ju has a sister who is an active member of the Moranbong Band in Pyongyang. A You Tube video of the band’s 2013 New Year’s Performance (2012년 신년 경축 당을 따라 끝까지) was said to show the woman, the piece claimed.
According to a source reportedly from the North Korean capital, “Ri Sol-hyang came out of Pyongyang’s top music school, the Pyongyang University of Music and Dance (김원균 음악대학: lit. Kim Won-kyun Music University) and now is a mezzo-soprano at the center of the all-female group.”
The video that set off the rumors was the performance of a song called “We Love Our Passionate Life” (“불타는 삶을 우린 사랑해”), that features a soloist thought to have been Ri Sol-hyang. Naturally, the claims set South Korean media and netizens to work trying to learn more about this new, and well-connected, celebrity in the “North Korean Girls Generation.”
“Some young students are saying that Ri Sol-hyang is ‘prettier and sings better than her sister,’ while the reaction of others is ‘even though she is prettier than her sister, Sol-hyang can’t sing as well,” another citizen from Pyongyang reportedly explained in the piece.
However, it only took a further day to uncover there was no one named Ri Sol-hyang on the Moranbong Band roster. On March 9, the woman thought to be the younger sister of Sol-ju was reported to be one Kim Yoo-kyung. As well as Kim, the ten-woman group includes six other singers: Kim Sol-mi, Ri Myeong-hui, Ryu Jin-a, Park Son-hyang, Park Mi-kyung, and Jung Su-hyang.
What the rash of interest in not only Ri Sol-ju but even her alleged sister appears to indicate above all, however, is that South Korean citizens are far more curious about Pyongyang (and North Korean) life than the nuclear threat the North Korean government wants them to feel hanging over their heads. They are more concerned with youth culture, beautiful women, and celebrity gossip. Apart from anything else, dismissing these discourses without further analysis would be to underestimate the latent value of such performers in the field of cultural diplomacy, both now and in the future.
For more on the Moranbong Band in international coverage, see Part II of Adam Cathcart’s “Let Them Eat Concerts: Musical Diplomacy, the Ri Sol-ju Rollout, and Kim Ki-Nam” on SinoNK.com.
Blog by: Darcie Draudt