North Korea sent cheerleaders to the Olympics. Here’s what they’re saying.

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February 11, 2018 3:51 am Published by

North Korea’s cheer squad waves the Korean unification flag during the unified Korean women’s hockey team’s match against Switzerland. (Grigory Dukor/Associated Press)

North Korea’s squad of parka-wearing cheerleaders has grabbed early headlines at the PyeongChang Olympic Games, while supporting the unified Korean women’s hockey team during its game Saturday against Switzerland, as part of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s charm offensive.

North and South Korean athletes marched under a unification flag during the Opening Ceremonies. Kim Yo Jong, Kim Jong Un’s sister, had lunch with South Korean President Moon Jae-in at the executive Blue House. Kim Yo Jong invited Moon to visit North Korea after the Games.

The entire campaign, national security analysts have said, is aimed to drive a wedge between the United States and South Korea, as the North rushes to develop more sophisticated nuclear weapons.

That’s made the cheerleading squad’s high-stakes sideshow all the more intriguing in the Games’ early days. The group’s songs and dances have the hallmark of North Korean propaganda: over-choreographed to the point of lost authenticity.

Here are three clips of the North Korean’s performances from Day 2 of the Games and what exactly the group of young women, handpicked by the country’s government, are saying.

Thanks to Washington Post designer Joanne Lee (and her mom) for helping translate and providing some cultural context.

“Go team!”

As Anna Fifield, The Post’s Tokyo bureau chief tweeted, the group is shouting, “Go for it, go for it, our players, go for it!”

That sounds pretty clunky, like something fans wouldn’t normally shout during a sporting event. But that’s just the direct translation. This is basically the same thing as American fans shouting, “Let’s go team!” or “Go, fight, win!” It’s just weird to see it shouted so relentlessly.

Dutch reporter Thomas Schuurman captured a longer clip of the same cheer:

Here, you can see more choreography and some extra “Lalalas” thrown in there, for good measure.

“Nice to meet you”

The chorus here (transliteration: “ban gap seup nee da”) literally means “nice to meet you.” It’s part of a North Korean song performed during meetings between North and South Korean civilians. South Koreans have come to recognize the song as part of the North’s routine during cultural exchanges.

Here’s another angle of the same chant (with Kanye West in the background) at the women’s hockey game between the unified Korean team and Switzerland. (The Swiss won, 8-0.) Notice the song is taking place while no one is on the ice.

“My home town”

There’s a few things going on here, but the most noteworthy is the song the group is singing while the cheerleaders hold the Korean unification flag in front of their chests. It’s an old Korean folk song popular in both the North and South reminiscing about your old home town. Here’s the translated first verse:

My home town that I lived in

Is a flower blooming mountainous place

With peach blossom flowers, apricot flowers and baby azaleas

Various palace of flowers in the neighborhood

I long for the time I played in that place

The chant afterward with all the clapping is another stadium chant that translates to “Our country, unite!” It’s not a political cheer; they’re just trying to encourage the hockey team to play together. It would be like shouting at a basketball team, “Work together,” or, “Play as a team.”

There’s 15 more days in the Games for the North Koreans to pull out more cheers and keep drawing the eyes and ears of the world.

Read more Olympics coverage: 

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‘I got tired’: Recent struggles aside, Mikaela Shiffrin says she’s rested for the Olympics

After their town was relocated, they found an uneasy truce with the PyeongChang Games

Routes from Africa to PyeongChang Olympics? More than you would expect, none direct.

Barry Svrluga: Lindsey Vonn, in a class of her own, is skiing for more than herself in PyeongChang


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