In heart of Pakistan, K-Pop becomes a cultural juggernaut

The collage of images shows young Pakistani people inspired by Korean pop culture. (KCon Pakistan/Facebook)
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Updated 16 February 2023

In heart of Pakistan, K-Pop becomes a cultural juggernaut

  • Multiple K-Pop dance and karaoke events, birthdays of favorite stars and street performances are organized in Lahore each year
  • Pakistani fans say K-Pop bands are not just music stars but “deep sources” of inspiration and attachment for followers

LAHORE: For a country whose global reputation used to be defined by cars and cell phones, South Korea is now leading a global cultural revolution, with the dystopian drama “Squid Game,” award-winning films such as “Parasite” and K-Pop stars like BTS, also known as the Bangtan Boys, appearing as ubiquitous as any Samsung smartphone — even in a South Asian city like Lahore.

Welcome to the scenes of a burgeoning K-Pop revolution in the heart of Pakistan, complete with groups of young people, choreographed dances, street performances, karaoke parties, nicknames, fan armies and trending hashtags.

Last year, Spotify statistics showed the 18-24 age group in Pakistan was over 50 percent more likely to be listening to K-Pop than any other genre of music. The BTS Yet to Come concert was released to packed cinemas in Pakistan this year and last year, a dozen K-Pop events were held in Lahore, each attracting crowds of up to 500 people. Multiple street dance performances are regularly arranged and music videos and documentaries shot with money young fans say they are spending from their own pockets. 

No doubt, Lahore is becoming Pakistan’s most important cog in the Korean popular culture machine, thanks to super fans like Leneha Junsu and Nayab Husnain and groups like Dynamite Crew, Pakistan’s first public dance cover performers.

The picture shows group members of Pakistan's first public K-pop group coverist, Dynamite Crew. (Dynamite Crew/Facebook)

And the love isn’t one sided. Last year the K-Pop band Blitzers shot parts of their music video, ‘Hit The Bass’ in Lahore, while Islamabad’s Sophia Mujahid, perhaps the most well-known K-Pop performer in Pakistan, was invited to tour South Korea by the Korean embassy in Islamabad after winning the K-Pop World Festival twice in 2016 and 2017. Last year, she was invited to the event as a judge, when the dance category was won by Lahore’s Dynamite Crew.

“It was like nothing I had heard or seen before,” super-fan Leneha told Arab News, describing how she “fell in love” with K-Pop in 2010, after which she started meeting other fans through Facebook groups.

By 2016, she was organizing fan meet-ups and other events throughout the city and now does so under the banner of KCon.

Founder of KCon, Leneha Junsu, is seen speaking during a karaoke event in Lahore, Pakistan, on February 4, 2023. (KCon/Facebook)

“Back in 2011, when I was 21, I was working for, which was a website for English K-Pop news, with the aim of bringing their brand of music to a bigger audience,” Leneha said. “I was doing that until 2014. I was also an administrator to a few international K-Pop boy groups. I have done a few projects with the South Korean Embassy.”

Leneha has a dedicated group of collaborators who work with her to promote K-Pop in Pakistan:

“When we started promoting K-Pop people weren’t that aware [of it]. We even went to 8XM [the music channel] and they played BTS and other K-Pop groups on our request.”

A billboard wishing Jungkook from BTS a happy birthday was spotted in Gujranwala, Pakistan. (Photo courtesy: Social media)

Iman Afroze, one of Leneha’s collaborators, is making a documentary on the BTS Army called “The Journey of Pak Army,” army being what fans of K-Pop groups call themselves around the world. And just like other BTS armies globally, the Pakistani groups too engage in social work and community engagement, with tens of thousands of social media accounts trending BTS Army on social media in Pakistan whenever it is an idol’s birthday, or a star is engaged in a charity or social work initiative.

Leneha and Afroze are currently working on a project translating a BTS documentary in Urdu, called @urdu.bangtan on Instagram.

Started four years ago, Leneha’s KCon events attract hundreds of people and include Korean word guessing games, karaoke and trivia about Korean music and television stars. People who attend the gigs come having learnt the dances, the lyrics, and even the language.

Another popular event is Nayab Husnain’s K’Festa, which has been held thrice and is arguably the single largest K-Pop gathering in Pakistan. Husnain was only 19 when she organized the first event over a year ago, becoming a K-Pop fan after watching interviews of BTS:

“They love their fans, their first priority is to spread messages like ‘love yourself,’ and when I read the lyrics of the songs, they were saying things like ‘I’m learning how to love myself’. That was very inspiring.”

BTS songs send out messages of hope, self-worth and resilience, Husnain said, which resonated with young Pakistanis who followed them.

“That’s when I talked with my friends and decided to do a community-based event in 2021,” the organizer said, using her 70,000 TikTok and 14,000 Instagram followers to get the message out.

Before shifting to organizing K-Pop events, Nayab was mostly focused on doing Korean-inspired make-up tutorials on her social media pages, with many of her young followers saying it was the sense of style and fashion K-Pop groups exude that had them hooked.

And no one in Pakistan encompasses that sense of style better than dance cover group Dynamite Crew, who have performed at KCon and K’Festa events, danced at Korean embassy functions and now even taken their talent to the streets.

The group was started in 2020 by Kazim Raza, 20, and Joy Azeem, 21.

“We found each other on Instagram back in 2019 because we were both making dance covers, we decided to collaborate,” Azeem said.

Raza subsequently started looking for dancers in Lahore and just two years after their first performance, the group won the K-Pop Pakistan Festival’s dance category in 2022.

Raza, the de-facto leader of Dynamite Crew, said the group only had eight permanent members but held auditions when they needed more dancers.

Azeem’s introduction to K-Pop was BTS’s Blood, Sweat and Tears: “I was very impressed with the visuals, and that they danced so professionally, even performed their own stunts, and I wanted to be just like that. I learned it was possible to be that multi-talented.”

Other than BTS’ choreography, Azeem was also enthralled with the band’s fashion, styling, makeup, outfits and music. Though she has covered extremely popular girl groups like Blackpink, her favorite group remains BTS.

Indeed, for many Pakistani fans, the appeal of K-Pop is not just in the music. Bands like BTS are not just singing and dancing sensations but a “source of deep inspiration and attachment” for followers.

“I got more into K-Pop when I was going through depression, I used to listen to BTS mostly, their lyrics were very relatable,” a fan called Yuna, who identified herself only by her first name, said.

“They came to me, I didn’t go to them,” she added, explaining the lure of the band’s lyrics and “messages of community, togetherness and social work.”

“I suddenly felt I wasn’t all alone in the world anymore,” Yuna said. “I forgot all my worries, I entered this fantasy world where I forgot all the bad things that had happened to me.”

British-Pakistani opera singer receives royal honor for recording national anthem post-coronation

Updated 25 May 2024

British-Pakistani opera singer receives royal honor for recording national anthem post-coronation

  • Saira Peter says she is privileged to contribute her voice to British government’s public events, citizenship ceremonies
  • She also recorded ‘God Save the Queen’ in 2018 and received acknowledgement and gratitude of Queen Elizabeth II

ISLAMABAD: A British-Pakistani Sufi Opera singer, Saira Peter, announced in a video message circulated on Saturday she received a letter of appreciation from Buckingham Palace for recording the British national anthem, “God Save the King,” following the coronation of King Charles III.
The British king’s coronation took place last May at Westminster Abbey in London. The event brought leaders and high-profile personalities from around the world and marked his official accession to the throne after the passing of Queen Elizabeth II in September 2022.
Upon receiving the recording, performed in the soprano vocal range, the highest of the female voice types in classical singing, the king sent Peter a letter conveying his good wishes and sincere thanks for her public services.
She also received a signed photo card from him and Queen Camilla.
“I want to share with all my followers how excited I am to receive a letter and card of appreciation and gratitude from His Majesty King Charles the Third,” Peter said in the video, where she mentioned she was Pakistan’s first opera singer. “This arrived in response to my civic service of recording the British national anthem, ‘God Save the King.’”
“Being British-Pakistani, I feel so privileged to contribute my skill and voice to the British government’s public events and citizenship ceremonies,” she added.
Peter informed the British national anthem was recorded at the request of UK Government offices at Hastings Town Hall in East Sussex. The recording is now used across her adopted country for official government events.
Previously, she recorded “God Save the Queen” in 2018, making her the first Asian and the only Pakistani officially invited to undertake the task. Peter also received acknowledgment and gratitude from the late queen.
Born in Karachi, the opera singer told Arab News during her visit to Pakistan last year she used to sing in church choirs and began her Western classical journey, learning from Paul Knight, a disciple of Benjamin Britten, in London in the early 2000s after her family moved there.
Peter’s father, Zafar Francis, pioneered the Noor Jehan Arts Center in London, which was opened by British superstar Sir Cliff Richard in 1998.
She is the director of the performing arts center and teaches both Western and Pakistani classical music there.
She said her work in Britain was projecting “a positive image of Pakistan.”

Skipper Jos Buttler the bedrock as England set Pakistan 184 to win T20

Updated 25 May 2024

Skipper Jos Buttler the bedrock as England set Pakistan 184 to win T20

  • Buttler smashed 84 off 51 balls, but his team failed to build on that and lost 5 wickets for 25 runs
  • Shaheen Shah Afridi took 3-36, as Pakistan try to build on their 2-1 win against Ireland this month

BIRMINGHAM: England captain Jos Buttler smashed 84 off 51 balls as the hosts set Pakistan a target of 184 to win the second T20 international at Edgbaston on Saturday.
Buttler was ably supported by 37 from Will Jacks and Jonny Bairstow’s 21 but England failed to build on the platform given to them by their skipper.
England were 144-2 with five overs to spare before Bairstow departed.
But five wickets fell for just 25 runs as Pakistan battled back to give the tourists a chance of chasing down the target.
Shaheen Shah Afridi was the pick of the bowlers, taking 3-36.
Jofra Archer will form part of the England bowling attack in his first home international appearance since 2020.
Fast bowler Archer has been beset by elbow injuries since his starring role in helping England win the 50-over World Cup in 2019.
However, the 29-year-old’s return could be a timely boost ahead of the T20 World Cup in the United States next month.
“Excited for Jofra, long road for him but looks great and looks fit,” Buttler said before the match.
Haris Rauf and Shadab Khan have been included for Pakistan, who are looking to build on a 2-1 series win over Ireland earlier this month.
The first T20 of the four-match series was washed out on Wednesday.
England: 1 Jos Buttler (capt/wk), 2 Phil Salt, 3 Will Jacks, 4 Jonny Bairstow, 5 Harry Brook, 6 Moeen Ali, 7 Liam Livingstone, 8 Chris Jordan, 9 Jofra Archer, 10 Adil Rashid, 11 Reece Topley
Pakistan: 1 Babar Azam (capt), 2 Saim Ayub, 3 Mohammad Rizwan (wk), 4 Fakhar Zaman, 5 Shadab Khan, 6 Azam Khan, 7 Iftikhar Ahmed, 8 Imad Wasim, 9 Shaheen Shah Afridi, 10 Haris Rauf, 11 Mohammad Amir

Mob attack on Christians leaves man in critical condition, spurs calls to end ‘vigilante justice’ in Pakistan

Updated 25 May 2024

Mob attack on Christians leaves man in critical condition, spurs calls to end ‘vigilante justice’ in Pakistan

  • Incident occurred in Sargodha where people accused their Christian neighbor of desecrating the Holy Qur’an
  • Police say they rescued 10 members of two Christian families in the area and transported them to a safe place

ISLAMABAD/KARACHI: Police in Pakistan’s eastern Punjab province dispersed a furious mob that targeted members of the Christian community on Saturday, leaving one man in critical condition following allegations of desecration of the Muslim scripture, as civil society activists called for an end to “vigilante justice” in the country.
The incident occurred in Sargodha district after some people accused their Christian neighbor of defiling the pages of the Holy Qur’an. The house and a small shoemaking factory owned and operated by the man were burned down in the ensuing rampage, which was followed by police action that led to clashes with the angry protesters.
The incident came within a year after another attack on the Christian community in August last year, when a mob in Jaranwala city burned churches and targeted several houses in a similar incident involving blasphemy allegations.
Speaking to Arab News over the phone, police official Inspector Azar Nadeem confirmed the incident and said the situation was now under control.
“A man named Nazir Masih was injured by the violent mob and is currently in a hospital in critical condition,” he said.
“The police have rescued 10 members of two Christian families in the area who were accused of blasphemy and transported them to a safe place,” he continued. “The police have also arrested 15 people from the area for their involvement in the incident and for pelting stones at the police officials after our teams reached the spot.”
Nadeem informed police contingents had been deployed across the city after the situation was pacified to keep things under control.
Blasphemy is an incendiary charge in Pakistan, where just an accusation can lead to mob lynchings.
Reacting to the development, Peter Jacob, Executive Director of the Center for Social Justice, said such incidents must be brought to an end.
“The Sargodha incident is yet another example of vigilante justice in our society that needs to be discouraged at all levels,” he told Arab News.
“Five extrajudicial killings were reported last year in Pakistan on blasphemy charges, and 552 people were accused of blasphemy only in Punjab last year,” he continued, adding that 94 people had been killed since 1994 across the country by violent mobs following blasphemy allegations.
“There is an urgent need to constitute a commission of inquiry to review the blasphemy laws and recurrent incidents, and parliament should play a role in stopping this madness through mass awareness campaigns,” he said.
Meanwhile, the Christian community in Karachi held a protest demonstration in front of the city’s press club, demanding an inquiry into the incident and expressing their concern over the mob attack.
“As a 27-year-old Pakistani Christian who has never been abroad since the day I was born to the moment I’m standing here, I and every Christian who calls themselves Pakistani live under fear, under pressure and under the constant threat of being, God forbid, accused of committing blasphemy,” Luke Victor, a rights activist and one of the organizers of the Karachi demonstration, told Arab News.
“This is not the first incident, as we saw last year in Jaranwala, which I believe is the world’s largest such incident in which 28 churches and over 100 Christian houses were burned in a single day,” he continued, adding that what had happened in Sargodha was an “extension of what has been happening in Punjab and across Pakistan for the past several years and decades.”
The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan also voiced concern over the safety of the Christian community in Sargodha following the mob violence.

Pakistani Christian community attacked in Punjab province after blasphemy accusation

Updated 25 May 2024

Pakistani Christian community attacked in Punjab province after blasphemy accusation

  • The violence broke out after allegations of the desecration of the Muslim scripture, the Holy Qur’an
  • Police says they pushed back a crowd to rescue five injured Christians before taking them to hospital

LAHORE: At least five members of a minority Christian community were rescued on Saturday after a Muslim crowd attacked their settlement in eastern Pakistan, police and a community leader said.
The crowd, which accused the Christian group of blasphemy, hurled stones and bricks at the police, said Shariq Kamal, the police chief of Sargodha district.
A large contingent of police cordoned off the settlement, he said, adding that the crowd had been pushed back and five injured Christians had been taken to hospital.
At least one house and a small shoe factory was set on fire by protesters who had gathered after neighbors alleged that the Muslim holy book, the Holy Qur’an, had been desecrated by a minority community member, according to a police spokesman and Akmal Bhatti, a Christian leader.
“They burned one house and lynched several Christians,” Bhatti aid.
Videos posted on social media showed protesters looting items from burning properties. Others were seen throwing the items in a heap on fire in a street.
Bhatti said the videos were images from the scene.
Reuters could not independently verify the pictures.
The independent Human Rights Commission of Pakistan said the Christian community was “at grave risk to their lives at the hands of the charged mobs.”
Blasphemy is a sensitive subject in conservative Muslim-majority Pakistan, where just an accusation can lead to a street lynching.
Human rights groups say Pakistan’s harsh blasphemy laws are often misused to settle personal scores.
While blasphemy is punishable by death in Pakistan, no one has been executed by the state for it, though numerous accused have been lynched by outraged mobs.
A Muslim crowd attacked a Christian community in eastern Pakistan last year, vandalizing several churches and setting scores of houses on fire after accusing two of its members of desecrating the Qur’an.

Police pursue leads in murder of local journalist in Sindh amid outcry over media safety

Updated 25 May 2024

Police pursue leads in murder of local journalist in Sindh amid outcry over media safety

  • Nasrullah Gadani was killed in Ghotki and succumbed to his injuries at a Karachi hospital on Friday
  • Police chief in Ghotki says Gadani’s killers will be arrested after his family members register a complaint

KARACHI: Police in Pakistan’s southern Sindh province said on Saturday they have secured leads in the murder case of a local journalist, Nasrullah Gadani, who was killed for fearlessly carrying out his professional responsibilities, according to media community leaders.
The slain journalist, associated with the Sindhi newspaper Awami Awaz, was attacked by gunmen while traveling near Korai Goth, Mirpur Mathelo, on Tuesday.
Initially, he was shifted to Punjab province for medical treatment due to the lack of adequate health facilities in his home district. However, he was later airlifted to Karachi, where he succumbed to his injuries on Friday, leaving behind a widow and six children.
“We have already obtained leads but are waiting for the family to register an FIR [first information report],” Dr. Sumair Noor, senior superintendent of police in Ghotki, told Arab News, adding the police would apprehend the killers soon.
Earlier on Tuesday, Zia Ul Hassan Lanja, the provincial home minister, told the media that geofencing had been done to gather evidence in the case, and some people had already been detained.
Gadani’s death came three days after a young tribal journalist, Kamran Dawan, was killed in Pakistan’s North Waziristan tribal district, shedding light on the threats to journalists in the South Asian country.
Gadani mostly focused on stories related to corruption and injustices, making some powerful enemies. He confronted influential figures in his area and shed light on the struggles of the common citizen. His videos on social media often criticized feudalism, the military and the misgovernance of ruling classes while bringing attention to the plight of his community members.
In his last video, seen by Arab News, he criticized a feudal and local leader belonging to the province’s ruling Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), Shehbaz Khan Lund, for receiving police protocol in Ghotki, where incidents of dacoities and other crimes have surged over the years.
“Nasrullah was a brilliant and fearless journalist for whom journalism was a mission,” said Jabbar Khattak, editor and owner of Awami Awaz. “He constantly highlighted the issues of the people.”
G.M. Jamali, President of Pakistan’s Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ), strongly condemned the murder but expressed little hope that the killers would be brought to justice.
“The killers of Gadani are unknown, while we have been protesting for the arrest of known accused in the Jan Muhammad Mehar case for the last few months and have seen no progress,” he said, referencing another journalist who was shot dead in Sindh last August.
“He [Gadani] also reported on the mismanagement of funds for developmental projects, shed light on the condition of hospitals and bravely spoke about police complicity in releasing criminals while offering preferential treatment to landlords,” he added.
Shoaib Ahmed, Secretary of the Karachi Press Club and convener of its Joint Action Committee, which includes all unions and associations, informed media leaders were in contact with the family of the slain journalist.
“Police have assured us that an FIR will be registered with the family’s consent and the perpetrators will be arrested soon,” he said.
“We will not let the killers go free,” he pledged.