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Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 14 December 2018

How K-pop is uniting the world at the Winter Olympics

Athletes from all around the world are showing their love for K-pop at the Pyeongchang Olympic Games

American-Korean snowboard halfpipe gold medalist Chloe Kim is a K-pop fan. AP Photo
American-Korean snowboard halfpipe gold medalist Chloe Kim is a K-pop fan. AP Photo

It has been 30 years since the Olympics last came to South Korea, and back then Korean pop music had a very different sound.

In 1988, Korean radio was all about soft ballads, but K-pop has gone through a transformation and is now an umbrella term for the nation's unabashedly chart-chasing music industry, with sounds ranging from pop to rock and hip hop to electronic.

The genre has claimed a global fan base, and the music has been a surprise star at the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, where athletes have shared tales of their connection to K-pop.

Russian figure skater and Olympic gold medal favourite Evgenia Medvedeva is a massive K-pop fan, and said she listened to boy band Exo before her team event ladies’ short programme, where she set a world record of 81.06 points.

“It’s unreal inspiration and it really improved my mood,” she told reporters in South Korea. “I feel more confident because of them.”

Traces of her fandom show on social media, where she often writes “anime otaku” (a term given to people obsessed with anime and manga) as well as “Exo-L” (another term given to devoted fans of Exo).

In the past, she's uploaded photos of herself with Exo-themed snacks:

She also posted this video of herself dancing to the song Fire by BTS:

Speaking of the popular boy band, American brother-sister ice-dancing duo Maia and Alex Shibutani (also known as the ‘Shib sibs’) have also shared their love of BTS.

Alex uploaded a photo to his Twitter account that showed winter hats the siblings had personally made for the band's members in hopes of meeting the group while in Korea.

There's no update yet on whether their K-pop dreams came true, but they did win bronze in Pyeongchang.

Olympic gold medalist and American-Korean Chloe Kim also announced how she enjoyed listening to the singer CL before competing. In response, pop star CL uploaded a congratulatory message to Kim on her Instagram (which has since been turned to private) after she won the gold medal in the snowboard halfpipe.

K-pop also unifying North and South

Perhaps the most impressive thing is how the music has been able to bridge differences in cultures. The Unified Korean women’s hockey team has players not only from the North and South but from Canada and the US as well.

“Even though for me I can’t talk to most of them because I don’t speak Korean, we still smile and hug each other every day,” player Park Yoon-jung told Reuters. Park was born in Korea and adopted by an American couple.

It seems they have been able to get past the language barrier, and a shared love of K-pop helps.

“They were in a locker room, they were singing, dancing... I think our players were teaching them how to K-pop dance,” said the Unified Korean team's head coach Sarah Murray of Canada.

Luckily for all the Olympians, they'll be able to see some of the acts live as Exo and CL are scheduled to perform at the closing ceremony on February 25.

Another example of how far K-pop has reached will come in the form of the SMTown Live concert coming to Dubai on April 6. The one-night-only gig that will see some of Korea's biggest pop stars will be at the Autism Rocks Arena on the Dubai-Al Ain Road.

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Read more:

Exo will return to Dubai as part of K-pop extravaganza

Distinct style of K-pop to echo in Olympic spotlight

How K-pop conquered India

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