Down on the farm, South Korean granny rappers drop the beat

Suni and the Seven Princesses have become local celebrities since debuting in a community centre in August last year in Chilgok county

Reuters
Published : 13 Feb 2024, 04:15 AM
Updated : 13 Feb 2024, 04:15 AM

A group of South Korean octogenarian rappers have hit it big in their hometown and beyond, rapping about farm life and bringing energy to a quiet rural area threatened by a population slump.

Suni and the Seven Princesses have become local celebrities since debuting in a community centre in August last year in Chilgok county, an area in North Gyeongsang province more than four hours drive from capital city Seoul.

"It feels like I'm getting younger ... Even if I'm old, I'm excited," said Park Jeom-sun, 81, leader of the group and known as Suni, of a recent performance in a kindergarten.

After initially gaining a modest fan club of 150 people, the group's fame spread beyond their own county. They have been asked to perform in local towns and appear on TV shows, and their videos have garnered more than 77,000 views on YouTube.

Their success comes just as South Korea is expected to become a "super-ageing" society as early as next year, with a fifth of its population above the age of 65.

Rural areas like Chilgok have the greatest risk of fading into irrelevance as young people move away to the cities and fewer of them have children.

"In the past, it felt like I'm living in a really busy town, but now it's not good. There are no people here anymore," Park said.

Park said she and the other group members feel like they are reliving their youth when they perform in bucket hats, wearing metal jewellery and baggy pants.

Their lyrics are often about rural life and include lines like: "Picking chilli from a chilli farm ... Picking watermelon from a watermelon farm. So happy to be back home!"

Group members, who have known each other since they were young, missed out on an education in the harsh years after the Korean War, and in 2016, they all took an adult education class to learn how to read and write the Korean alphabet, Hangul.

Last year, Park came across a rap performance on the internet, and the group decided to learn rap from their Hangul teacher and make a senior hip-hop group, writing lyrics about their rural life.

Their debut came at a school play at the same community centre where they met for their Hangul classes.

Inspired by the success of Suni and the Seven Princesses, four other rap groups made up of older South Koreans have sprung up in Chilgok, some formed with the idea of staving off dementia and loneliness.

Park's proud 27-year-old granddaughter, Kang Hye-eun, believes her grandmother is the most famous resident of Chilgok.

"I thought only celebrities become popular on social media, but my grandmother is there now."