Parade Floats And Altered K-Pop Songs Mark South Korea's Coming Election : Parallels With tensions rising over North Korea's nuclear program, you might expect a kind of panic in South Korea. But there's an altogether different scene happening in Seoul ahead of the election.
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Parade Floats And Altered K-Pop Songs Mark South Korea's Coming Election

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

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

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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Tensions may be rising over North Korea's nuclear program, but South Korea remains outwardly calm. A presidential election comes next week, and the scene in the capital, Seoul, includes parade floats and K-pop. NPR's Lauren Frayer is there.

LAUREN FRAYER, BYLINE: Presidential election season in South Korea is when Korean pop songs like this one, "Cheer Up" by the girl band Twice...

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "CHEER UP")

TWICE: (Singing in Korean).

FRAYER: ...Get turned into this.

UNIDENTIFIED MOON SUPPORTERS: (Singing in Korean).

FRAYER: Moon Jae-in, the name of the frontrunner in next week's election. Freelance film producer Lee Eun-ji, a volunteer on Moon's campaign...

LEE EUN-JI: (Speaking Korean).

FRAYER: ...Explains how they've changed the words to insert their candidate's name. Each campaign has its own set of songs drawn from what the world knows as K-pop.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG)

UNIDENTIFIED SINGERS: (Singing in Korean).

FRAYER: For weeks, dancers have been riding around the South Korean capital, Seoul, on huge parade floats, belting out K-pop in favor of one candidate or another. They wear their candidate's signature color with matching hats, umbrellas, even clown wigs and fake animal ears.

UNIDENTIFIED SINGERS: (Singing in Korean).

FRAYER: So just in case you thought South Korean youth were cowering under their desks Cold-War style because of the nuclear threat from North Korea, meet volunteer K-pop dancer and lyricist Jeong Min-hong, fresh from the South Korean army, a people's soldier, he says.

JEONG MIN-HONG: I am a people's soldier. Army - army, yeah Korean army, and now no job.

FRAYER: No job.

JEONG: (Speaking Korean).

FRAYER: "Never mind North Korea's provocations," he says. Youth unemployment is his generation's issue in this election. And he wrote it into the Moon campaign's alternate K-pop lyrics, along with care for the elderly.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG)

UNIDENTIFIED SINGERS: (Singing in Korean).

FRAYER: Morning commutes during election season here mean ducking past rival campaign floats blasting K-pop at one another.

HONG YOUNG-RAE: (Speaking Korean).

FRAYER: It's part of Korean culture and community spirit, says 60-year-old Hong Young-rae. 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.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG)

UNIDENTIFIED SINGERS: (Singing in Korean).

FRAYER: Covering an election in South Korea has given this visitor a pretty acute case of ear worm. Come Wednesday, this country will have a new president, and the streets of Seoul may seem eerily quiet.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "GANGNAM STYLE")

PSY: (Singing in Korean).

FRAYER: Lauren Frayer, NPR News, Seoul.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "GANGNAM STYLE")

PSY: (Singing in Korean).

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