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North Korea’s official new music video sounds suspiciously like Walter Murphy’s ‘A Fifth of Beethoven’

North Korean state media churns out official music videos with some regularity. The productions glorify the state, the state ideology, and of course Dear Leader Kim Jong Un. They also tend to benefit from the country's surprisingly talented national symphony.

Pyongyang's latest music video, released earlier this week and posted at the top of this page, is a bit more interesting than usual for two reasons.

First, it came in the midst of the political purge of Jang Song Thaek, Kim Jong Un's uncle and a longtime power player in the regime, whose execution was publicly announced on Thursday. No one can say exactly what the purge means for North Korea, but it's potentially very significant, making any hint about Pyongyang's thinking unusually meaningful. Alas, there's not much here that I can see – just the usual declarations of loyalty and appeals to victory – but perhaps more knowledgeable analysts will see something.

But here's the other thing: this song sounds suspiciously similar to the 1976 disco hit "A Fifth of Beethoven," by Walter Murphy and the Big Apple Band, which is itself a reinterpretation of Ludwig van Beethoven's Fifth Symphony, first movement. If you don't believe me then listen for yourself:

While all forms of American culture are expressly forbidden in North Korea, it does still seep in. State media organizations have been caught co-opting American media before, using images and music from American video games in state propaganda, for example. So it wouldn't be shocking for North Korean propaganda to borrow from a 1970s New York disco hit; the intended audience is never going to notice, after all. And it wouldn't be too much of a stretch for North Korea's national symphony orchestra, which has performed Beethoven before.



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Max Fisher · December 12, 2013

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