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Deprived of Hollywood and Western music, Russia gives in to the charms of K-pop and manga

Vladimir Putin wanted to wage a cultural war against the West; here are its lines pressed into the eastern front.

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Deprived of Hollywood and Western music, Russia gives in to the charms of K-pop and manga

Vladimir Putin wanted to wage a cultural war against the West; here are its lines pressed into the eastern front. Until a few years ago, Karina Marakshina had to explain what K-pop was when asked about her dance school in Moscow. Today, the musical steamroller from South Korea resonates everywhere in the shopping centers where she shops. Russia's cultural ties with the Far East are ancient and the country shares a very long border - and an equally turbulent history - with China. But since the implementation of sanctions against the invasion of Ukraine, which made access to Western products difficult, the country is literally flooded with Asian entertainment: films, music, books, comics from South Korea , from Japan or China have taken the place of American series, rap or pop in the hearts of Russian youth.

A sign of the times, Moscow experienced a major Japan Expo-style festival in November. Attracted by the culture of manga and anime, their transpositions into films or series, Chinese video games, the public came in droves. The event was packed with a procession of more than 1,000 cosplayers, fans who dress up as their favorite heroes. Purple wigs, traditional kimonos and fake swords brandished high roamed the sellers' stalls to buy gadgets, figurines, posters or special editions related to their favorite Japanese series, Chinese gacha or Korean boy bands.

Marakshina's K-pop dance school, GSS Studio, was established in 2016. At the time, the teacher had two groups that practiced in rooms rented by the hour. Today it has thousands of students training in three large studios in Moscow and several others across the country. Every year, GSS organizes a concert by its students and a dance “battle”. And for the most addicted, tours in South Korea are offered. “All the teenagers I know are attracted to Asia,” explains Marakshina. K-pop is everywhere now and it’s only getting bigger.”

Choreographer Polina Ivanovskaya has worked for GSS for more than five years. She leads two-hour trial sessions, billed at 600 rubles, for a dozen young people. “What I like about this style is that we dance in a group,” she says. We feel the cohesion of a group of people.” According to the 22-year-old dancer, the success of these classes is driven by the trivialization of the genre throughout Russia. “The phenomenon became contagious thanks to K-poppers who started going out into the streets to shoot their videos,” explains Ivanovskaya.

Among the videos that captivate young girls and attract suitors is that of cover dance: clips, generally filmed in public places, to K-pop hits, with slick choreography and twirling shots. There was the one of these eight dancers in full choreography to Do not touch by the girl band MiSaMo, recorded in a Moscow shopping center in January. Or the music video for K-pop dancer Madina, filmed in an empty parking lot with four other members of the group Snaky, all dressed in beige workman's overalls. Dance allows everyone to take a part of the lives of these Korean stars, otherwise unapproachable. “It’s like you’re part of this community,” confirms Madina.

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