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In Session: Tradition Now: New Roles, Platforms, and Audiences for Korean Performing Arts
4: Serving the Nation: K-pop Idols and Performers of Heritage Arts as Cultural Ambassadors
Thursday, March 25, 2021
3:00pm – 4:30pm EDT
CedarBough T. Saeji
Indiana University Bloomington, United States
Besides being artists in their own rights, K-pop idols and performers of heritage art both serve as assets in national branding. As part of outward-facing promotion since the late 1990s, K-pop idols have been used by the South Korean government to build soft power and traditional performers—registered, ranked performers of certified heritage—are likewise treated as representatives of the nation, with appearance fees and even stipends directly from the government. Through analysis of interview texts, performances, and other media appearances I discuss how iconography and images of artists are utilized by the government. First, I consider how nationalism and national identity in Korea positions performers in service to the nation. What services do they perform for the nation, and what do they receive in return? Could they reject this role without jeopardizing their career? Second, K-pop performers are encouraged to demonstrate individuality and attract attention, traditional performers, however, are often pushed to be the exact opposite, foregrounding their embodiment of heritage and not their individuality. How are their images as promoted/projected/intended representatives of the nation used differently and what happens when they overlap, for instance when K-pop stars employ traditional imagery or pansori singers perform pop songs? Third, I consider how these two methods supplement each other by having both types of performer read as representatives of Korea—promoting and elevating Korea as both a modern and trendy nation, and a nation with deep history and unique performance traditions.