LISTEN LIVE KPR - On Air: Listen Live to classical, jazz and NPR news Schedule LATEST
KPR 2 - On Air: Listen live to KPR's all talk-radio service, KPR2 Recordings

Share this page              

Parade Floats And Altered K-Pop Songs Mark South Korea's Coming Election

Listen to the Story

Amateur K-pop dancers perform at a presidential campaign rally for Moon Jae-in, the candidate for Korea's Democratic Party, in Seoul on Saturday.

With tensions rising over North Korea's nuclear program, you might expect panic in South Korea — air raid drills or schoolchildren climbing under their desks, Cold-War-style.

But I found an altogether different scene in the capital, Seoul, when I arrived last week: parade floats and pop music.

Ahead of Tuesday's presidential election, dancers have been riding around on huge parade floats, belting out Korean pop songs, with lyrics changed to support one candidate or another. They wear their candidate's signature color, with matching hats, umbrellas and even clown wigs and fake animal ears. There are signature dance moves to go with the songs, and even YouTube videos to help voters learn them.

The campaigns have altered the lyrics to popular Korean songs — K-pop, as it's known globally — to mention the candidates. The K-pop song "Cheer Up," by the girl band Twice, is now an anthem for the front-runner Moon Jae-in — a 64-year-old lawyer in a gray suit who may be the antithesis of a K-pop star.

"I changed the lyrics to mention political issues of interest to youth, and also older people," says Jeong Min-hong, 27, fresh from the South Korean army and volunteering for Moon's campaign. Jeong is unemployed and considering going back to school.

"About North Korea, the provocations are so frequent that people have grown numb to it," he says. "Youth unemployment is a bigger issue for me and my peers."

During this election season, morning commutes mean ducking past rival campaign floats blasting K-pop at one another.

"It's part of Korean culture and community spirit," says commuter Hong Young-rae. At 60, even he knows most of these teen beat songs, though he says he's able to tune them out when he needs to.

Easy for him to say. Covering an election in South Korea has given me a pretty acute case of earworm.

Come Wednesday, this country will have a new president. But the streets of Seoul may seem eerily quiet.

Copyright 2017 NPR. To see more, visit

Tower Frequencies

91.5 FM KANU Lawrence, Topeka, Kansas City
96.1 FM K241AR Lawrence (KPR2)
89.7 FM KANH Emporia
99.5 FM K258BT Manhattan
97.9 FM K250AY Manhattan (KPR2)
91.3 FM  KANV Junction City, Olsburg
89.9 FM K210CR Atchison
90.3 FM KANQ Chanute

See the Coverage Map for more details

Contact Us

Kansas Public Radio
1120 West 11th Street
Lawrence, KS 66044
Download Map
785-864-4530 (Main Line)
888-577-5268 (Toll Free)