K-Pop Stars Zico, Ailee to Perform During Inter-Korean Summit

Zico or Ailee -Split-Getty-H 2018
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It's an unusual choice for hip-hop and R&B acts to headline such a high-stakes diplomatic affair.

South Korean hip-hop star Zico and R&B singer Ailee are set to perform during the inter-Korean summit that will begin in Pyongyang on Tuesday, it was announced on Sunday.

Singer Ali and popular magician Choi Hyun-woo have also been included in the entourage that will accompany South Korean President Moon Jae-in to the North. The team consists of more than 50 government officials, politicians, business leaders, members of civic groups and representatives of various industries.

The first landmark inter-Korean meeting took place in Pyongyang in 2000, followed by another in 2007. The heads of the two Koreas met briefly in April and May this year in Panmunjom, or "truce village," located in the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) separating the two Koreas. The upcoming meetings will essentially be the first full-blown inter-Korean summit since 2007, and one that observers believe will be the toughest in terms of clarifying the North's stance on denuclearization.

A most integral part of these intense diplomatic meetings are, among other things, commemorative performances during welcome events and banquets. The banquets in particular have always featured iconic pop singers from the two Koreas. In the spring, veteran singers Cho Yong-pil, Lee Sun-hee and Baek Ji-young as well as rock band YB traveled to Pyongyang. K-pop girl bands Red Velvet and Girls' Generation also made headlines for joining the team.

The choice of a rapper and R&B singer, however, was a surprising one for local observers, as they represent unfamiliar music genres in the North.

"Zico can help introduce hip-hop, a genre that is not widespread in North Korea. Melody-centric ballads dominate the North Korean music scene, and so Ailee has much to offer with her powerful and sophisticated R&B vocal skills," said star composer Kim Hyun-suk in an interview with Yonhap News Agency. Kim has been behind choosing Zico and Ailee and will be performing alongside the artists in Pyongyang.

Through social media, Kim shared his plans to perform renditions of Arirang and Our Wish Is Unification on the piano. The former is a time-honored folk song that is dear to Koreans on both sides of the demarcation line, while the latter number has long symbolized unification in the South and has become well-known in the North as well. It has yet to be disclosed which songs Zico, Ailee and Ali will be performing.