By Yoon Sojung
Photos = Kim Sunjoo
Seoul | Oct. 28, 2019
“K-pop holds a lot of significance as the middle ground of the cultural exchange between Korea and Myanmar,” said Jeong Bunja, chairwoman of JBJ Entertainment, the first Korean entertainment agency set up in Myanmar.
The company is pioneering new trends in Myanmarese pop through the fusion of Myanmar’s unique qualities and K-pop.
“For Myanmarese youth, K-pop is an exciting energy booster,” she said. “They used to consume K-pop in the past, but these days, they’re taking steps forward to create their own Myanmarese pop.”
“My job is to help them realize their ‘Korean dream’ through K-pop and become successful.”
Launched in 2016 in Yangon, JBJ in 2017 created Myanmar’s first TV singing competition show “Galaxy Star,” which posted record ratings of more than 68% of viewers in the country. The show produced many promising singers including members of the five-member girl group Rose Quartz along with Korean and Thai singers. ALFA, a seven-member boy band, is JBJ’s latest discovery that will make its official debut next month. These bands have created a new trend in Myanmarese pop through the combination of Myanmarese and Southeast Asian qualities and K-pop.
Korea.net interviewed Jeong in Seoul’s Gangnam-gu District to learn more about pop culture exchanges between Korea and Myanmar.
– What made you go to Myanmar in the first place?
I happened to watch news in November 2011 of U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s trip to Myanmar to improve bilateral relations; she was the first U.S. secretary of state to visit the country. Afterwards, I grew interested in Myanmar and wanted to start a business there. I’m a quick thinker and a person of action, so I decided to go there in February 2012 and headed to Myanmar. When I got there, however, the country needed a lot of systemic improvements, especially in trade and investment. I also found many lifestyle and environmental differences between Myanmarese and Koreans. So I had to rethink what to do. Then I decided to export Korean energy drinks. Though initially experiencing trial and error, I eventually got favorable responses from consumers there and my business expanded. Myanmar is truly a land of opportunity and the people there are so kind and friendly.
– What motivated you to introduce K-pop in Myanmar?
Myanmarese are quite familiar with Korean dramas and music. Thanks to the trust I built with businesspeople there while I was running an import business, I also earned the trust of Myanmarese broadcasters. In 2016, Korean film director Jeon Ban-bae, who is a friend of mine, proposed that we jointly create the TV singing competition show “Galaxy Star.” The show requires extensive auditions that cover all 15 of the country’s provinces year-round to find new talent and produce stars. The grand prize winner gets KRW 100 million and training to become an idol star. The popular TV station MRTV-4 also helped me do the show. I spent time in deep contemplation over whether to do this, but eventually decided to give it a shot. This program recorded a record-high viewer rating of 68%, something no other TV show had done, though several similar shows are on TV these days.
– What do you find most rewarding while working in Korea-Myanmar cultural exchange?
I feel great when Myanmarese youth show unlimited affection for Korean pop culture. In Myanmar, one can watch almost any Korean TV drama. Myanmarese love K-pop idol groups so much. Even the K-pop concert I hosted in December last year attracted more than 20,000 fans. Thousands of people applied to audition for the seven-member boy band ALFA. I also feel so happy when the Myanmarese government expresses gratitude to me and when I realize that the people there trust me. Last year, I received a certificate of merit for my contribution to bilateral cultural exchange from the Myanmarese Embassy in Seoul.
Another unforgettable moment was in September this year, when President Moon Jae-in made a state visit to Myanmar. In his speech at the state banquet with Myanmar’s State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi, and another at a groundbreaking ceremony for an industrial complex in Yangon, he twice mentioned “Galaxy Star” and “Flowers on Clouds,” a joint Korean-Myanmarese movie, as benchmarks of bilateral cultural exchange. I attended both of these events and was so thrilled when I heard him say that.
– What projects are you pursuing now?
JBJ’s next pop band, ALFA, will make its official debut in November in Myanmar. All seven members have received extensive training from professional Korean instructors, ranging from casting, producing, dancing, singing and so on. ALFA hasn’t debuted yet but is considered the next big group to lead Myanmarese pop.
“Flowers on the Cloud” will be released around Christmas this year. Directed by the well-known Myanmarese filmmaker Zin Yaw Maung Maung, the film is a love story between a Korean guy and a Myanmarese girl. More than 30 percent of the movie was filmed in Korea.
– What are your goals?
I wish to set up a professional media academy in Myanmar so that Korea and Myanmar can share broadcast knowledge and knowhow in a systematic manner. I have a lot of passion for Myanmar and wish to create something from nothing and foster young talent. I also want to contribute to cultural exchange between both countries.