Over the weekend, an article published by a North Korean propaganda website accused K-pop record labels of engaging in “slave-like exploitation” of hugely successful bands like BTS and Blackpink.
The piece on North Korea’s Arirang Meari site claimed K-pop artists were “bound to unbelievably unfair contracts from an early age, detained at their training and treated as slaves after being robbed of their body, mind and soul by the heads of vicious and corrupt art-related conglomerates.”
North Korea has long been accused of wide-scale human rights abuses, including subjecting political prisoners to forced labor and slave-like conditions, according to a landmark 2014 UN report.
The piece was likely part of a push by North Korean propagandists to crack down on foreign media. While Pyongyang’s strict censorship apparatus severely restricts the movies, music, television, newspapers and books its citizens can consume, technology has made it easier to smuggle in content from abroad, especially on USB sticks.
Defectors say average North Koreans caught consuming foreign content, especially from South Korea and the United States, often face severe punishment. Such laws historically have not deterred people from doing so, but the situation may be changing.
Though Kim’s regime has long cracked down on people watching or reading foreign material, North Korea’s rubber-stamp legislature passed a new law in December requiring citizens and organizations to prevent the “spread of the anti-socialist ideology” — in practice, that usually means any content that has not been approved by government censors.
Kim in February also suggested that greater controls on societal content could be coming. He called for a more “intensified struggle against the anti-socialist and non-socialist practices than ever before.”
Musical divergence on Korean Peninsula
Despite centuries of shared culture, music in communist North Korea and capitalist South Korea have evolved very differently since the Peninsula was split into two political entities after World War II.
Music in North Korea, meanwhile, is an important part of everyday life and serves as a key propaganda tool, lionizing the ruling Kim family and its fight against imperial aggression.
The monopoly North Korea exerts over creative expression makes the state’s songs — and thus their approved messages — uniquely pervasive.
CNN’s Oscar Holland contributed to this report.