Kim Jong-un and his love of 80s music

Voices | Published:

By Toby Chiang

Toby Chiang

OF the many millions of words printed about US president Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, I have finally found my favourite: ‘Brother Louie.’

What the devil am I on about? Stick with me, because it’s worth it.

The Times published on Saturday a quick-fire comparison between the two heads of state as officials on both sides prepare for a much-anticipated, but hastily arranged, summit. In a brief section, titled ‘How they measure up’, the paper compared things like their education, height and negotiating style.

The list also revealed both Trump’s and Kim’s favourite song. While the half-dozen other items offered objectively measurable (and slightly bland) bits information – size of economies, armed and reserve forces available etc – their favourite song answers were genuinely interesting.

Trump chose ‘Is That All There Is?’, which was a hit for singer Peggy Lee in 1969. Broadly speaking the spoken-word verses describe a sense of disillusionment with major life events, with a sung refrain suggesting that the only thing left to do is dance/drink/be merry.

You might say it’s a fairly straight-forward song and you might say it fits the US Commander-in-Chief rather well.

Kim Jong-un’s choice, however, was more interesting. He chose a song called ‘Brother Louie’ by the 80s synth-pop German duo Modern Talking. I became mildly obsessed with the music video for this song over the weekend and suggest that you take three minutes out of your day to watch it on YouTube.

‘Fake news!’ I hear you cry, and, yes, as my best mate quickly pointed out there is no way to be sure if this tantalising nugget of information is true... but if you harbour a sense of disbelief, suspend it for a while – as I said, it’s worth it.


Modern Talking – Thomas Anders and Dieter Bohlen – have been called Germany’s most successful pop duo and were active between 1983 and 1987, and enjoyed a revival from 1998 to 2003. The Brother Louie music video shows the men in typical 1980s get up (tight jeans, big jackets with the sleeves rolled up) and sporting excellently coiffed hair. They’re camp, kitsch and eurotrashily brilliant. The song, meanwhile, I think describes some sort of competition between love rivals.

The 36-year-old dictator’s choice gives rise to a host of questions: when did he first hear it? Who played it for him? Does he like other 80s music or other German synth-pop bands? How does he feel about Kraftwerk?

Part of me hopes that Kim has a brilliantly warped sense of humour and chose Brother Louie at random just to keep people guessing.

The discovery also illustrates one of my favourite things about leafing through a newspaper – you never know what quirk you’ll stumble upon.

Toby Chiang

By Toby Chiang

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