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North Korea suspected of plagiarizing South Korean girl group's song

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A video clip compares South Korean girl group GFRIEND's song
A video clip compares South Korean girl group GFRIEND's song "Fingertip," left, and a North Korean singer's song titled "Envy Us," which is suspected of having plagiarized the former. Screenshot from YouTube

By Kim Rahn

North Korean musicians are suspected of having plagiarized a 2017 song by South Korean girl group GFRIEND, according to a North Korea expert here.

Kang Dong-wan, a political science professor at Dong-A University, posted a video on his YouTube channel, Jan. 9, showing North Korean singer Jeong Hong-ran singing an arranged version of "Envy Us" (direct translation) during a New Year's Eve celebration event.

Then an internet user left a comment that the song was similar to now-disbanded K-pop girl act GFRIEND's song "Fingertip" released in 2017.

Kang then uploaded two more videos, Jan. 14 and 16, comparing the two songs after consulting music experts, and said the North Korean one seems to have copied a large part of the South Korean one.

"I asked music experts to compare them and found they had the same pitch names," he said in one of the videos.

Dong-A University professor Kang Dong-wan shows South Korean girl group GFRIEND's song
Dong-A University professor Kang Dong-wan shows South Korean girl group GFRIEND's song "Fingertip" and an arranged version of North Korean song "Envy Us" that features similar melodic patterns, Monday. Screenshot from YouTube

"Envy Us" is a song created by Chongbong Band and has long been enjoyed in the North for more than 20 years. Its lyrics are about how people envy North Koreans who live in a communist society with the "greatest leader."

While North Korean authorities have tried to sternly crack down on those enjoying South Korean songs, films and dramas, calling it a "vicious cancer" corrupting young North Koreans, they are now instead writing songs in "South Korean styles" as a kind of alternative, according to the professor.

Kang said that in the North's ceremony held on Sept. 9 last year to mark its founding, some North Korean songs were arranged in the genre of R&B and other South Korean styles. "North Korean leader Kim Jong-un highly recognized them by saying 'it was a historic performance,' and 'good arrangement brought revolutionary change.' Then more songs were arranged in South Korean styles and performed at the New Year's Eve celebration event," he said.

The professor told Yonhap News Agency that it is unlikely for individual composers in the North to have arranged songs in South Korean or Western styles, adding there may have been regime-level instructions.

"It will be difficult for North Korean authorities to keep pushing ahead with crackdowns on and control over South Korean pop culture, so it seems they ordered the making of songs 'better than South Korean ones,'" Kang said in the video.

But what really makes young North Koreans enjoy South Korean songs is, according to the professor, the lyrics, which are about love and personal life, unlike propaganda-focused North Korean songs.

"Only plagiarizing South Korean rhythms and beats for 'Envy Us' without changing the propagandistic lyrics ― will young North Koreans like this as the regime intended? I don't think so," Kang said.

GFRIEND's songs, including "Me gustas tu" and "Rough," were often used in the South's psychological warfare operations, being broadcast through loudspeakers along the border starting in 2016 until 2018 when the two Koreas agreed to halt hostile acts including the broadcasts.

Kim Rahn


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