FACT: North Korea has its own version of the X Factor, a grim parade of hand-picked hopefuls singing revolutionary standards in front of a rictus-grinning audience of hand-picked sycophants, and a panel of judges who all look like Louis Walsh.
It’s called “The 14th National Singing Competition of the Working People” and it is compulsory Monday night viewing for party members in Pyongyang, if they remember to keep the electricity turned on long enough.
Unfortunately, like any televised concert in a totalitarian state, the entire affair is dominated by that scourge of musical taste: The accordion.
No act takes to the stage with fewer than two accordion players, murdering the propaganda department’s finely-tuned marshal classic “Mighty apple harvest of the foothills of Mount Paektu”, before getting the nod from one of the Louis Walshes and heading for Forced Labour Boot Camp.
“You owned that song,” says Louis, “Which is bad news for you because all property is theft.”
In my long experience watching television from states encumbered with the world’s worst governments, the accordion appears again and again. It’s clearly used as a tool of oppression against the poor citizens, having any vestige of individuality pulverised out of them by musical mediocrity backed up by stern-faced men with big guns.
The accordion should be declared an instrument of torture under the Geneva Conventions, and it’s not difficult to see why.
No good has ever come out of the accordion, and of western cultures, only France and Germany use it with any vigour, and they can’t even be arsed with the Eurovision Song Contest these days, which goes to show how far they’ve fallen since the glory days of 99 Red Balloons and Johnny Halliday.
It’s an alleged instrument that is so difficult and time-consuming to play that citizens living under dictatorships are forced to learn the accordion – at gunpoint if necessary – in order to prevent them from having the time to realise how shit their lives are and rise up against their corrupt factory managers, the party and the state.
Give a man a guitar and he can sing his way to a revolution. Give them an accordion, and they’re still trying to figure out which button does what six months later, their factory work quotas unfulfilled and their place on the next shock-work rice planting punishment brigade assured, three months up to their knees in a shit-fertilised paddy. With compulsory accordion concerts and self-criticism sessions every evening.
As a means of pacifying the population, the accordion – for both players and audiences alike – are a soul-crushing means of wiping out dissent and dangerous thoughts.
In North Korea, this is easily summed up by an official Workers’ Party slogan: “Let’s learn to play the accordion instead of having our fingers stamped on by the commissar!”
It’s worth noting that the accordion is prevalent in totalitarian countries where senior army officials wear huge hats. Not just North Korea, but Russia, Uzbekistan, China, and Scotland, who really ought to know better.
But there you are – people in Russ Abbott-sized tam o’shanters assaulting tourists on Edinburgh’s Royal Mile, softening ’em up with Donald Where’s Your Troosers before they pay far too much for a tin of shortbread with a scottie dog on the lid.
Don’t say I didn’t warn you.
North Korea remain the world leader in accordion-based repression, and even have a TV documentary showing their pride in building these weapons of mass destruction. Utterly shameless.