Modern Propaganda: Pop Culture in North Korea

For the most part, pop culture and North Korea are two things rarely paired together. However, since assuming office in 2011, Kim Jong Un has been attempting to update the pop culture scene in his totalitarian country.

In a recent report from Eric Talmadge, the Associated Press’s Pyongyang Bureau Chief and “the only Western reporter regularly in the reclusive country”, he describes a sort of “cultural revolution” taking place in North Korea (albeit a highly-controlled --insert sarcastic air quotes here-- “revolution”). Touring their own brand of K-Pop music, increasing the production value of television programming, and mimicking Western designs of consumer goods have all been part of Kim Jong Un’s plans to diverge from North Korea’s history and reputation as a notoriously secluded society.

The influences of modern pop culture may seem like a positive change, but do not be fooled as it is no more than an upgraded manifestation of nationalist propaganda. While it is unclear what Kim Jong Un’s true motives are, it is indisputable that the government isn’t loosening their controlling grip on the North Korean population. All music that is created must reflect and amplify the political ideology of the ruling party. All visual media is imbued with subliminal and explicit messages of devout nationalism. Aesthetics of Western consumerism are replicated to demonstrate their awareness of and ability to keep up with modern global competitors. It’s a puppet show and Kim Jong Un is still pulling the strings.

As North Korea continues to strictly regulate the information coming in and heavily manipulate the information going out, its “cultural revolution” isn’t about modernization at all. Instead, it’s about using pop culture as a facade to further mobilize the government’s nationalist and totalitarian agenda.

Julia Eunji Choi


Raylene Pereyra