London Korean Links

Covering things Korean in London and beyond since 2006

No medals for the BBC’s Sochi closing ceremony coverage

Nah Youn Sun singing Arirang at the Sochi closing ceremony
Nah Youn Sun singing Arirang at the Sochi closing ceremony

As the Olympic flag was passed from Sochi to the mayor of Pyeongchang, it was time for a brief preview of the 2018 Winter Olympics Opening Ceremony. The BBC voiceover was done by sports commentator Hazel Irvine, who had been handed a press briefing but no more. Helpfully, she identified that the bird characters on stage were meant to be cranes, symbols of longevity, but no-one had trained her in the peculiarities of the official Ministry of Culture Romanisation system, and hence she informed us that the 12-string zither was something called the “gayageeyum”.

I would have thought that given she mentioned the name of the Russian pianist who played a bit of Rach 2 a few minutes previously1, she might also have told us that the first Korean singer on stage was the much more famous soprano Sumi Jo. And people did want to know – LKL has had a lot of traffic from Google over the past 24 hours with variants of the search term “Sochi closing ceremony Korean soprano”. Probably the names weren’t in the official press briefings – the contents of the Guardian blog are virtually identical to Irvine’s voiceover, suggesting an identical source, unless of course the Guardian, like LKL, was simply blogging from their armchair in front of BBC2 (and if so, he did well to spell “gayageum” correctly). But plenty of other news outlets had done a bit of googling in advance, and found via Yahoo Singapore who the performers were. Perhaps the BBC is cutting back on researchers.

The Yahoo source used by these more diligent outlets (eg the Canadian Globe and Mail) was actually republished from UK-domained Kpop site BNT News and gave the name of the pianist-arranger who was responsible for the Arirang medley as Yang Bang-eon, his Korean name. Other sources such as Yonhap gave his Japanese name, Kunihiko Ryo, because Yang is a zainichi Korean.

Enough pedantry. Of course, the show was stolen by jazz singer Nah Youn Sun who came on stage after Sumi Jo, finishing her Arirang segment with one of her ultra-high notes, before Lee Seung Cheol took his turn, wearing a spangly white suit. Following on from Jo and Nah, the former Boohwal frontman struggled to make much of an impact, but pop arrangements of a folksong often don’t come off terribly well.

Anyway, we’re looking forward to Pyeongchang 2018. We’re sorry that Kim Yuna won’t be performing on the ice, but there is bound to be judging controversy aplenty, as there is in any Olympics. At a guess, expect a lot more bruised bodies and national pride in the speed skating.

  1. No, the Guardian blogger hadn’t heard of him either. []

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