A North Korean propaganda song hits TikTok: “Taylor Swift Didn’t Expect This”. The video grabs you instantly

A North Korean propaganda song portraying dictator Kim Jong Un as a friendly and benevolent leader has become a hit on TikTok, where he is adored by millions of young people around the world.

When North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un released his latest song two weeks ago, he certainly couldn’t have imagined it would become a TikTok hit, he writes. BBC.

But the campaign song went viral online among Gen Z users who love synthy-electro pop. Most people are also vaguely familiar with the Korean lyrics, which praise a man who launches dozens of ballistic missiles vowing to “completely destroy America.”

“Let’s sing with the great leader Kim Jong Un/ Let’s brag about our friendly father Kim Jong Un,” the song is now loved by millions of young people around the world. It’s a great song, they say.

“Taylor Swift didn’t expect to get fired right after releasing her new album,” one fan joked online.

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“Wait, it really hits you”, “This song needs a Grammy”, “It’s so dystopian in a very addictive way” – these are some of the enthusiastic comments on TikTok. But experts say the upbeat North Korean pop hides something much more sinister.

How to create campaign success

“Friendly Father” is the latest in a series of pop propaganda songs produced by the communist state over the past 50 years. Not unlike Western pop hits – it has a bright beat and dangerous appeal.

But there is a certain Soviet-era tinge. Gen Z users describe it as “Coded Dad”, a reference to the Swedish super band.

“In this sense, Abba is written all over the song,” says Peter Moody, a North Korea researcher at Korea University. “It’s exciting, it couldn’t be too deep, it couldn’t be too prominent, with a rich set of orchestral soundscapes,” he says.

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But there are more commercial considerations when it comes to writing a hit in North Korea – the authorities here want to get a worm in people’s minds.

Alexandra Leoncini, a researcher at the University of Cambridge who studies North Korean music, says there is no room for abstract words or overly complex timing. Songs should be simple, accessible and easy for people to understand.

Songs should also be sung in a vocal range that most people can sing. The masses can’t keep up with vocal gymnastics, so forget multi-octave riffs.

Leoncini says the album of songs rarely contains songs with real emotion. “To strive towards a common goal for the welfare of the nation, they want to inspire, they don’t tend to compose songs like ballads,” says the researcher.

North Korea has zero tolerance for creative or artistic freedom. It is illegal for musicians, painters and writers to create works simply for the sake of art.

“All art productions in North Korea should serve the class education of the citizens, and more specifically, teach them why they should feel a sense of gratitude, a sense of loyalty to the party,” explains Leoncini.

Lyrics to propaganda songs are printed in newspapers and learned by all North Koreans

The North Korean government believes in the “seed theory,” he adds, where every work must contain an ideological seed that spreads to the people through art.

Music is one of its most powerful tools — and Pyongyang saves its pop songs for those at home. The state paraded its opera troupes and symphony orchestras on tours abroad, but its lighter troupes were reserved for domestic audiences.

North Koreans wake up to propaganda songs blaring in city squares every morning, say those who managed to escape the most closed country on the planet.

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The lyric sheet and lyrics of the latest songs – appearing only occasionally – are printed in newspapers and magazines; says Keith Howard, emeritus professor of musicology at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London, who first visited North Korea in the 1990s.

“The moment the song is absorbed, it becomes a part of the person,” he says. “So people know the lyrics very well, even if they’re doing something at the time, even if they’re listening to them. A good concept song does that — it has to carry the message.

Reading between the lines

And for regime watchers, the two-minute song released last month carries an alarming new message. While Western music fans dissect Taylor Swift’s new songs or break down Kendrick Lamar v Drake, North Korean experts analyze the lyrics to “Friendly Father.”

This is not the first song dedicated to dictator Kim. But there is a significant deviation in the language and vocabulary used. He is referred to as “father” and “elder” – terms previously assigned to his grandfather Kim Il Sung, North Korea’s first leader.

Kim Jong Un was named the “best heir” when he took power in 2012 after the death of his father, Kim Jong Il.

However, more than a decade later, analysts believe this may be a sign that he will retain his image as the “supreme leader” of North Korea. Recently, he changed the lyrics in another propaganda song, changing “our father Kim Il Sung” to “our father Kim Jong Un”.

It could be a sign of his direction. As president, he became increasingly hostile and aggressive in his rhetoric, committed to strengthening his country’s military arsenal.

Earlier this year, he also announced that the North would no longer be reunited with the South, which he called “common enemy number one”. Reports said Pyongyang also tore down a large arch symbolizing hopes for reunification with the South – a symbol of his grandfather’s legacy.

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“Songs are used to telegraph the direction a state is going, to mark important moments and important developments in politics,” says expert Leoncini.

“A song is almost like a newspaper in North Korea”

Meanwhile, on TikTok, users enjoy music. Some say they can’t help but listen to the song: on the way to work, at the gym, while doing homework.

Others are nostalgic, saying it reminds them of old Spanish and French or Eastern European pop styles.

Current North Korean music fans suggest other big hits – there are only four or five state-backed North Korean bands, with the Pochonbo Electronic Ensemble and the Moranbong Band being the most cited.

“North Korea has a song called ‘Potato Pride,’ which is a song about how versatile and useful potatoes are, if anyone’s interested,” suggests one TikTokker.

Many US users have noted the irony that a communist song has gone viral on a Chinese-owned app while US lawmakers are trying to ban it. It is a uniqueness that attracts people.

British TikTokker Matas Kardokas has created several meme videos using North Korean propaganda songs – one reads: “Nobody in the trendy cafe knows I’m listening to North Korean propaganda music right now.” It has received over 400,000 likes.

“Something clicked in me and said, ‘Hey, I’m sitting in a coffee shop right now, listening to this,'” he told the BBC. “Isn’t that the craziest thing you can imagine?”

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