North Koreans alter South Korean song lyrics to create defector anthem

Lee Sang Yong  |  2018-04-13 16:21

Another South Korean song has been gaining in popularity in the North Korean border region, report sources inside the country. However, instead of singing the original lyrics, some residents have reportedly changed the words to reflect their "longing for unification."

"More people are singing South Korean songs now following the performances by South Korean musicians in Pyongyang," a source from Ryanggang Province told Daily NK on April 10. "But as people are still being careful due to the ongoing crackdown, many have chosen to simply switch out the lyrics for words praising Kim Jong Un."

However, the source also described one song which has taken on a more subtle change. The song in question is the 2005 hit 'Unconditional' by Park Sang Chul. With its fast tempo and familiar "trot" characteristics, the song appears to have gained popularity in the North recently due to its wide appeal. 

But the song also provides a convenient opportunity for North Koreans to change the lyrics to a more subversive ideal. 

The original lyrics say, "I'll cross the Pacific, I'll cross the Atlantic, I'll cross the Indian Ocean. If you call me, I will run to you. I will run to you unconditionally." 

But the modified lyrics instead say, "I'll cross the Amnok (Yalu River), I'll cross the Tumen, I'll cross the barbed-wire fences. If you call me, I will run to you. I will run to you unconditionally."

On its face, replacing the large oceans with local rivers may not be considered a very threatening change, but the source said that the underlying intention is to express the desire to "flee" the country.

"It sounds at first like they are just saying that 'love has no borders,' but it can actually be interpreted as a desire to escape [the country]. Still, the authorities have yet to crack down on this song," said a separate source in North Hamgyong Province.

He added that this instance should not, however, be taken to mean that the authorities have quietly lifted restrictions on South Korean music, as other sources have confirmed recent efforts by the government to intensify these restrictions.

The Asahi Shimbun reported on a similar incident on April 8, saying that "six individuals aged 16 - 17 were put on open trial in the Samsu district of Ryanggang Province on March 22 for 'listening and dancing to 50 South Korean songs.'"

But while some residents change the lyrics to more politically palatable versions, the practice of modifying such songs has also often been led by the North Korean authorities themselves.

For example, the authorities inserted praise for the countrys political system in the final verse of the 1985 Kim Bum Ryong song "Wind Wind Wind," changing the words from "you are a wind that makes me cry" to "the wind of Juche." In another example, lyrics from the 1994 song "The Fairy and the Woodcutter" by Kim Chang Nam were changed from the romantic line, "On the day the flowers bloomed and fell between the sky and earth, in the valley forest...," to the anti-South Korean insult, "President Kim Young Sam] has lost his mind, he's crazed by the [US] Dollar and melts at the [Japanese] Yen."

Despite the apparent crackdown, the long-held affection for South Korean music in North Korea remains. "'Maze of Love' (by Choi Jin Hee) is another song that became popular with lyrics altered by authorities," the source said. "Officials had in the past discussed the fact that residents knew the original lyrics and were singing it that way, and responded by making that version of the song illegal. But it really had no effect." 

The broadcast of Kim Jong Un's attendance at the early April K-pop performance in Pyongyang makes it more difficult for the authorities to justify continued restrictions on South Korean music. 

"In official lectures, the authorities have still failed to properly address the issue of South Korean music," the Ryanggang Province-based source said. 

"And as the crackdown intensifies, people have begun asking why there is a 'double standard between Kim Jong Un at the top and the rest of the people.'"

*Translated by Colin Zwirko

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