Is North Korea’s crackdown on ‘anti-Socialist culture’ to blame for karaoke bars closing down?

North Korea’s once popular karaoke bars are reportedly being closed down as business struggles with a drop in foreign visitors.

Concerns over crime and anti-social behaviour have also impacted the bars, once known as a reliable moneyspinner to counter the financial pressure of international sanctions on the regime, reported Radio Free Asia.

Karaoke establishments, equipped with state-of-the-art sound systems, have traditionally been used to entertain foreign business travellers to the capital, Pyongyang, charging them high prices for drinks. Attentive female employees would often dance with the customers and pose for photos.

However, the bars were now being shuttered “one by one” on the orders of the authorities, a Pyongyang resident told RFA.

“No reason has been given for why they are being closed,” he said. “One rumour is that the bars have been associated with violent criminal incidents,” he said, adding that the bars may also have been linked to a recent campaign against “anti-Socialist culture”.

“There have been fewer foreign visitors recently, and instead the bars are attracting domestic customers. There is a strong possibility that the authorities have ordered them closed because of this,” he said.

A North Korean woman sings karaoke at the Hyangsan Hotel at the foot of Mount Myohyang, North KoreaCredit:

North Koreans, similar to other East Asian nations, are said to be fond of karaoke with friends and family, although it has not always been smiled upon by Pyongyang’s strict and controlling regime.

In September 2011, then leader Kim Jong-il denounced the bars as decadent, and shut down karaoke entertainment outside of Pyongyang.

Another North Korean source, currently living in China, said the authorities were concerned about what they called “capitalist punk culture” and that it would spread if they kept the bars open just for locals.

Foreign business visitors have dropped amid tough sanctions against trading with North Korea. Meanwhile, American tourists face a travel ban from their own government after the death last year of student Otto Warmbier, who was imprisoned by the regime.

Tourists to Pyongyang have previously reported trips to karaoke bars that boast long lists of English songs, including Michael Jackson and Bohemian Rhapsody.

It is not known how popular K-pop songs are among local singers, although the popularity of smuggled South Korean videos, songs and documentaries is said to be on the rise.

A delegation of popular K-pop bands to Pyongyang this weekend may offer some compensation for the closure of karaoke joints. Girl band, Red Velvet has promised to sing “Bad Boy”, a recent hit about a femme fatale drawn to a man who appears to be a “bad boy” type.

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