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K-pop to the rescue? South Korea all-in for scout jamboree closing concert

SEOUL (AFP) – Tens of thousands of scouts gathered for a massive K-pop festival in Seoul yesterday, as South Korea sought to salvage a problem-plagued jamboree with “the power of Korean culture”.

But even as the government threw millions of dollars in emergency funding into fixing an event that has been a public relations disaster, criticism – from K-pop fans to public sector employees – is mounting over Seoul’s approach.

The quadrennial world jamboree gathered 43,000 scouts in North Joella province, but an unprecedented heatwave prompted mass illnesses, United States and United Kingdom contingents left early amid reports of dire campsite conditions, and a tropical storm finally forced a full evacuation this week.

The scouts have since been dispersed across the country and sent on government-sponsored cultural tours, but the “K-pop Superlive” concert – featuring major acts including NewJeans and The Boyz – reunited all jamboree participants for a grand finale.

“Top-level artistes will strongly showcase the essence and charm of K-culture” at the concert, Seoul’s Culture Minister Park Bo-gyoon said in a statement this week.

K-pop singer Kang Daniel performs at the World Cup Stadium in Seoul, South Korea. PHOTO: AP
A man gestures as he arrives at the World Cup Stadium in Seoul, South Korea. PHOTO: AFP

But criticism has mounted after it emerged that a popular TV music programme, set to feature some acts now performing at the jamboree, was abruptly cancelled for undisclosed reasons. Lawmaker Sung Il-jong faced backlash from K-pop fans after saying the army should let megastars BTS – on hiatus while two members serve mandatory military terms – reunite and perform for the jamboree.

K-pop columnist Isak Choi said the plan betrayed “a terrible totalitarian idea that the state owns K-pop”. She said this on X, the site formerly known as Twitter.

The Yonhap News Agency reported that around 1,000 employees at public institutions – such as the Korea Development Bank and the Korea Electric Power Corporation – had been “mobilised” to help out with the concert.

“Although the words used are ‘request for cooperation’, it’s almost at the level of forced conscription during wartime,” the Korean Financial Industry Union said in an angry response.

The venue – Seoul’s World Cup Stadium – is also proving controversial, as wildly expensive “hybrid grass”, ideal for sporting events, will be damaged by the concert stage.

“Idol fans are shedding tears as their favourites are being pulled out at the last minute.

Football fans are also shedding tears as the expensive grass in the stadium is getting destroyed,” one disgruntled person wrote on X in Korean.

“Who exactly benefits from this Jamboree concert?”