Noraebangs (karaoke parlors) have resumed operations throughout North Korea, the Intellectual Solidarity (NKIS) reported on July 3.
North Korean Noraebangs, which flourished during the Kim Jong-Il regime, were forced to shut down when Pyongyang increased repressive measures following the execution of Jang Song-thaek.
According to NKIS, a Seoul-based think tank established by North Korean defectors, Kim Jong-un has recently begun encouraging North Koreans to once again enjoy Noraebang in an attempt to improve public morale.
It is not the first time that the North Korean regime has sought to increase its popularity with Noraebang. Back in December 2008, the state-run North Korean newspaper Rodong Shinmun reported that that Kim Jong-il sent Noraebang machines to troops across the nation in a bid to boost morale. The paper added that Kim promised to send soldiers more machines after he was told that the Noraebang machines were a hit among the troops.
At the same time, Noraebangs are a double-edged sword for Pyongyang since they spread capitalism and enrich their owners.
Although all Noraebangs in North Korea are nominally owned by the government, the people who actually run them are primarily private citizens. Although these individuals do pay some of their profits to the government, Noraebangs are still profitable enough to allow their owners to get rich. Therefore, Noraebang owners are always under the North Korean government’s watch, and their operations are significantly impacted by the political situation in the country.
For example, Kim Jong-il shut down one of the famous Noraebangs in North Korea in September 2011, claiming that Noraebangs are decadent places and their owners are obsessed with capitalism. At that time, Noraebang was so popular that even North Korea’s high level officials waited in a line to get into the Noraebang that was closed, according to NKIS.
Meanwhile, the Washington D.C.-based Radio Free Asia (RFA) once reported that Noraebang is so popular in North Korea that some people even equip their homes with Noraebang machines. An unnamed sourced told RFA that rich people in Pyongyang tend to buy Noraebang machines made in China, and they cost between $100 and $200. The source added that people enjoy their Noraebang machines at home especially during national holidays when their relatives or neighbors visit them.
Another source told RFA that even people who do not enjoy Noraebang purchase Noraebang machines simply to show off their wealth.