Skip navigation

Tag Archives: asia

Excitement for The Europas Awards for European Tech Startups is heating up. Here is the first wave of speakers and judges — with more coming!

The Awards — which have been running for over 10 years — will be held on 25 June 2020 in London, U.K. on the front lawn of the Geffrye Museum in Hoxton, London — creating a fantastic and fun garden-party atmosphere in the heart of London’s tech startup scene.

TechCrunch is once more the exclusive media sponsor of the awards and conference, alongside The Pathfounder.

The application form to enter is here.

We’re scouting for the top late-stage seed and Series A startups in 22 categories.

You can nominate a startup, accelerator or venture investor that you think deserves to be recognized for their achievements in the last 12 months.


For the 2020 awards, we’ve overhauled the categories to a set that we believe better reflects the range of innovation, diversity and ambition we see in the European startups being built and launched today. This year we are particularly looking at startups that are able to address the SDGs/Globals Boals.

The Europas Awards
The Europas Awards results are based on voting by experts, experienced founders, hand-picked investors and the industry itself.

But the key to it is that there are no “off-limits areas” at The Europas, so attendees can mingle easily with VIPs.

Timeline of The Europas Awards deadlines:

Submissions now open!
25 March 2020 – Submissions close
14 April – Public voting begins
25 April – Public voting ends
8 June – Shortlist Announced
25 June – Awards evening, winners announced

Amazing networking

We’re also shaking up the awards dinner itself. There are more opportunities to network. Our awards ceremony this year will be in the setting of a garden/lawn party, where you’ll be able to meet and mingle more easily, with free-flowing drinks and a wide selection of street food (including vegetarian/vegan). The ceremony itself will last less than 45 minutes, with the rest of the time dedicated to networking. If you’d like to talk about sponsoring or exhibiting, please contact Claire Dobson on

Instead of thousands and thousands of people, think of a great summer event with the most interesting and useful people in the industry, including key investors and leading entrepreneurs.

The Europas Awards have been going for the last 10 years, and we’re the only independent and editorially driven event to recognise the European tech startup scene. The winners have been featured in Reuters, Bloomberg, VentureBeat, Forbes,, The Memo, Smart Company, CNET, many others — and of course, TechCrunch.

• No secret VIP rooms, which means you get to interact with the speakers

• Key founders and investors attending

• Journalists from major tech titles, newspapers and business broadcasters

The Pathfounder Afternoon Workshops
In the afternoon prior to the awards we will be holding a special, premium content event, The Pathfounder, designed be a “fast download” into the London tech scene for European founders looking to raise money or re-locate to London. Sessions include “How to Craft Your Story”; “Term Sheets”; “Building a Shareholding Structure”; Investor Panel; Meet the Press; and a session from former Europas winners. Followed by the awards and after-party!

The Europas “Diversity Pass”
We’d like to encourage more diversity in tech! That’s why we’ve set aside a block of free tickets to ensure that pre-seed female and BAME founders are represented at The Europas. This limited tranche of free tickets ensures that we include more women and people of colour who are specifically “pre-seed” or “seed-stage” tech startup founders. If you are a women/BAME founder, apply here for a chance to be considered for one of the limited free diversity passes to the event.

Meet some of our first speakers and judges:

Anne Boden
Starling Bank
Anne Boden is founder and CEO of Starling Bank, a fast-growing U.K. digital bank targeting millions of users who live their lives on their phones. After a distinguished career in senior leadership at some of the world’s best-known financial heavyweights, she set out to build her own mobile bank from scratch in 2014. Today, Starling has opened more than one million current accounts for individuals and small businesses and raised hundreds of millions of pounds in backing. Anne was awarded an MBE for services to financial technology in 2018.

Nate Lanxon (Speaker)
Editor and Tech Correspondent
Nate is an editor and tech correspondent for Bloomberg, based in London. For over a decade, he has particularly focused on the consumer technology sector, and the trends shaping the global industry. Previous to this, he was senior editor at Bloomberg Media and was head of digital editorial for in Europe, the Middle East and Africa. Nate has held numerous roles across the most respected titles in tech, including stints as editor of, editor-in-chief of Ars Technica UK and senior editor at CBS-owned CNET. Nate launched his professional career as a journalist by founding a small tech and gaming website called Tech’s Message, which is now the name of his weekly technology podcast hosted at

Tania Boler
CEO and founder
/> Tania is an internationally recognized women’s health expert and has held leadership positions for various global NGOs and the United Nations. Passionate about challenging taboo women’s issues, Tania founded Elvie in 2013, partnering with Alexander Asseily to create a global hub of connected health and lifestyle products for women.

Kieran O’Neill
CEO and co-founder
Thread makes it easy for guys to dress well. They combine expert stylists with powerful AI to recommend the perfect clothes for each person. Thread is used by more than 1 million men in the U.K., and has raised $35 million from top investors, including Balderton Capital, the founders of DeepMind and the billionaire former owner of Warner Music. Prior to Thread, Kieran founded one of the first video sharing websites at age 15 and sold it for $1.25 million at age 19. He was then CEO and co-founder of Playfire, the largest social network for gamers, which he grew to 1.5 million customers before being acquired in 2012. He’s a member of the Forbes, Drapers and Financial Times 30 Under 30 lists.

Clare Jones
Chief Commercial Officer
Clare is the chief commercial officer of what3words; prior to this, her background was in the development and growth of social enterprises and in impact investment. Clare was featured in the 2019 Forbes 30 under 30 list for technology and is involved with London companies tackling social/environmental challenges. Clare also volunteers with the Streetlink project, doing health outreach work with vulnerable women in South London.

Luca Bocchio
Luca Bocchio joined Accel in 2018 and focuses on consumer internet, fintech and software businesses. Luca led Accel’s investment in Luko, Bryter and Brumbrum. Luca also helped lead Accel’s investment and ongoing work in Sennder. Prior to Accel, Luca was with H14, where he invested in global early and growth-stage opportunities, such as Deliveroo, GetYourGuide, Flixbus, SumUp and SecretEscapes. Luca previously advised technology, industrial and consumer companies on strategy with Bain & Co. in Europe and Asia. Luca is from Italy and graduated from LIUC University.

Bernhard Niesner
CEO and c-founder
/> Bernhard co-founded busuu in 2008 following an MBA project and has since led the company to become the world’s largest community for language learning, with more than 90 million users across the globe. Before starting busuu, Bernhard worked as a consultant at Roland Berger Strategy Consultants. He graduated summa cum laude in International Business from the Vienna University of Economics and Business and holds an MBA with honours from IE Business School. Bernhard is an active mentor and business angel in the startup community and an advisor to the Austrian Government on education affairs. Bernhard recently received the EY Entrepreneur of the Year 2018 UK Awards in the Disruptor category.

Chris Morton
CEO and founder
Chris is the founder and CEO of Lyst, the world’s biggest fashion search platform used by 104 million shoppers each year. Including over 6 million products from brands including Burberry, Fendi, Gucci, Prada and Saint Laurent, Lyst offers shoppers convenience and unparalleled choice in one place. Launched in London in 2010, Lyst’s investors include LVMH, 14W, Balderton and Accel Partners. Prior to founding Lyst, Chris was an investor at Benchmark Capital and Balderton Capital in London, focusing on the early-stage consumer internet space. He holds an MA in physics and philosophy from Cambridge University.

Husayn Kassai
CEO and co-founder
/> Husayn Kassai is the Onfido CEO and co-founder. Onfido helps businesses digitally onboard users by verifying any government ID and comparing it with the person’s facial biometrics. Founded in 2012, Onfido has grown to a team of 300 across SF, NYC and London; received over $100 million in funding from Salesforce, Microsoft and others; and works with over 1,500 fintech, banking and marketplace clients globally. Husayn is a WEF Tech Pioneer; a Forbes Contributor; and Forbes’ “30 Under 30”. He has a BA in economics and management from Keble College, Oxford.

Read more:

Hong Kong (CNN)I am a Wuhan girl living in Hong Kong. Right now, my close family is all under lock-down in my hometown, the epicenter of this epidemic.

I’m also a news producer and aware of the blame, the frustration and the outrage that circulates in the wake of a crisis. I’m grateful for my tireless, fellow journalists, who keep the world abreast of the battle against this coronavirus outbreak.
I understand and support the physical measures that airlines, governments and institutions have put in place for control and prevention. But at the same time, I invite you not to put up walls between our hearts.
    By this, I’m referring to the emerging trend around the world of discrimination towards Chinese people, and towards those who simply look like us.
    This virus brings death and fear. People see the infection spread across borders and they grow afraid for their children, parents, for themselves.
    But the virus also reveals an amazing truth — that we’re all interconnected, so much more closely than we might have thought.
    The Greek philosopher Plato claimed that all of us are parts of one single, living organism: the universe. But we don’t need to look to Plato to know that the world can only survive this crisis if China pulls through. And China can only pull through when Wuhan heals. Like it or not, this is the reality of our oneness.
    Sometimes it’s hard to fathom this oneness. It can feel like we know so little about people in far flung places around the globe, and that can make us feel even further apart.
    That’s why I would like to tell you a little bit about my hometown, Wuhan.

    Spicy spaghetti

    Around China, my city is known for a mouth-watering noodle dish. It has a texture similar to spaghetti, and is soaked in thick and rich sesame sauce, often with fresh spring onions sprinkled on top. I vividly remember the first time my late grandfather bought a bowl of these noodles for me. My eyes widened. Staring at the shiny noodles in the brown sesame sauce, I shouted “chocolate noodles!” My grandfather smiled: “These are called hot dry noodles.” And I’ve been best friends with them ever since.

    Lakes in bloom

    By now, you might have learned from the news that Wuhan is the capital city of Hubei province. Hubei has a nickname — “the province of a thousand lakes.” Most of those lakes are in or around Wuhan. In the summer, lotuses bloom across the lakes, making my city extremely Instagrammable.
    But what cannot be captured on Instagram is the sweet yet gentle fragrance from those pink petals and their generous, green leaves. The sweet smell forms the backdrop to some of my best childhood memories.

    A province of rebels

    Those of us from Wuhan are proud of our tennis legend Li Na. She’s won accolade after accolade: In 2011, she became China’s first Grand Slam singles champion, in 2019, she became the first Asian-born player to be inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame. She’s been dubbed “China’s Tennis Rebel” by the New York Times, thanks to her strong will. But that rebellious spirit isn’t unique to Li. A rebellious spirit is deeply rooted In my hometown. In 1911, an armed rebellion in Wuchang, a district of today’s Wuhan, kicked off the Xinhai Revolution, which eventually overthrew China’s last imperial dynasty, the Qing.

    An ancient tale of true friendship

    The tale goes like this: One autumn night more than 2,000 years ago, a musician named Yu was playing his qin, an ancient Chinese string instrument, by the river under the moonlight. Zhong, a man who was walking by the river, stopped and relished the sound. The pair soon began chatting, and Yu was in awe of how deeply Zhong understood his music. The two promised to meet again in the same place, at the same time a year later. When that date come around, Yu played his qin by the river as he had promised, but Zhong never turned up. He later learned that Zhong had died, but before his death Zhong asked to be buried by the river, so he could listen to Yu’s music. In sadness, Yu smashed his qin on a platform and said: “The only one who truly knows my melody is no longer in this world. What’s the point of this qin now?” Today that spot is known as “Qin Tai” — which literally translates to “platform for qin.” And until this day, the Chinese word “zhi yin” meaning “the one who knows the melody” remains a synonym for a friend who truly knows you.
      With these Wuhan vignettes, I hope you can open up a small space in your heart. A space for compassion. A space to love and to support the millions of my fellow Wuhaners.
      Your support will empower them. And that is the first step of our collective healing.

      Read more:

      For the author of Around the World in 80 Trains this was a standout journey, full of captivating encounters that could only happen on a train

      With the air of melodrama unique to chic French women, the lady opposite me yanked open the overhead window then sat back down, grumbling to no one in particular and fanning herself with a copy of Paris Match. An aroma of pine filtered into the carriage and a breeze cooled my brow as the train clattered south to Bziers. Edging up to the window, I looked down to where a curl of sand and green water had appeared, an oasis where children bobbed about in dinghies and leapt off limestone rocks. This was the essence of why I love train travel: it allows me to see whats behind the trees in the Massif Central; to smell the coconut being fried in huts in Kerala; and to spot rainbows hovering in the spray of Niagara Falls.

      Only on a train the writer chats to a Tibetan nun in China

      A week earlier I had set off from London St Pancras to Paris with the aim of travelling around the world in 80 trains. In 2010, I had travelled around India in 80 trains and come away in thrall to the railways so much so that I decided to embark on a global railway adventure. For a long time, the rise of high-speed trains and budget airlines appeared to threaten the notion of romantic rail travel. But I wanted to see what slow travel means to people all over the world and what long-distance trains still have to offer the modern-day traveller. Hanging a map on my wall, I pinned cities of interest and tied coloured string from one to the next, watching the next seven months of my life wind around the world with surprising simplicity. With the exception of visas for Russia, China and Vietnam, few logistical issues arose. I bought rail passes for Europe, Japan and America, and booked long-distance journeys such as the Trans-Mongolian and The Canadian, before setting off, sewing in the other trains with ease.

      Over the first four weeks, Europes TGVs, AVEs and Freccia Rossas swept me from city to city, allowing me to lunch on cassoulet in Toulouse and be in Barcelona in time for a dinner of gambas al ajillo. Punctual, quiet and efficient, the air-conditioned trains fulfilled their primary purpose taking me from one destination to the next but they were devoid of soul. Passengers boarded, stashed their bags and sat in silence, staring at phones and munching paper-wrapped panini. I threaded through Italy, Switzerland, Germany, Poland, Lithuania and Latvia before arriving in Moscow to board the Godfather of trains the Trans-Mongolian to Beijing. It was here that the journey truly began

      A Russian locomotive

      On the morning of departure, sirens wailed and police cordons appeared around Moscow, closing metro stations and blocking access to supermarkets owing to the arrival of Vladimir Putin at the Kremlin. This meant I was unable to stockpile anything other than a four-pack of instant noodles, a couple of Kinder Bueno bars and all the biscuits and herbal teabags from my hotel room before embarking on the four-night leg to Irkutsk in Siberia.

      Once on board, I surveyed my compartment complete with cracked window and condom wrapper under the berth before wandering up the corridor, glancing into my neighbours digs and wincing at the smell of dried omul (a fish found only in Lake Baikal) drifting in a warm fug. Long and thin as though ironed into strips, the yellowing fish was a staple in the makeshift pantries set up by my companions, along with loaves of bread and rounds of cheese wrapped in wet cloth. Breaking into a panic, I followed the tiring sound of Euro-trance and found the disco-dining car, relieved to see a kitchen, even though the chef was lighting a cigarette off the hob while smiling at me.

      Trans-Siberian train window

      Once the train had jolted out of Moscow, I slid into a red booth and tucked into a slightly faggy-tasting pork escalope draped in dill. As we sped through the bleakness of the suburbs, I was joined by Aleksandr and Aleksandr, both in Adidas vests and sliders, and wondering what on earth I was doing on board.

      This train is trash, I hate it! declared Aleksandr I, a young lawyer. A lack of roads meant that he was condemned to using the Trans-Mongolian twice a month to attend court hearings 13 hours away in Kirov: one persons bucket-list adventure is anothers nightmare commute. He said he had never seen an English person on board the train which, it transpired, was a domestic service used by Russians only rather than the fancy Rossiya service preferred by tourists. Aleksandr II was visiting his parents, a five-day journey away, and was convinced I was a spy, photographing every page of my diary under the guise of liking my handwriting.

      In between attempts to read War and Peace, I spent the next four days lying in damp, tangled sheets watching leafless trees flit by the window. Most afternoons Id play cards with kids or swap tat with soldiers, offering second-class stamps in exchange for a tube of Pringles or a smoke grenade, enjoying the clamour and constant companionship. But at dusk Id stand alone in the corridor meditating on the mists as they swirled in great halos. Charged by the sight of the world moving at pace before my eyes, Id still myself, knowing I was privileged to witness how deeply this train carved through the Earth, shining a light into its darkest corners.

      Restaurant owners grilling fresh mutton kebabs in China

      Like most travellers, I broke up the journey in Irkutsk and spent a day chugging around Lake Baikal on the old Circum-Baikal steam railway before boarding the overnight Rossiya service to Ulaanbaatar. Fitted with soft-cushioned berths, automatic doors and heated toilets, the train rocked me into gentle slumber until I was screamed awake in the pre-dawn darkness by a sadistic provodnitsa (carriage attendant).

      Often, an unavoidable side effect of long-distance train travel is finding yourself at the mercy of awkward timetables. Faced with the dilemma of spending five days in Mongolia which wasnt enough time to trek across the countryside or a measly two nights in the capital Ulaanbaatar before the final leg to Beijing, I opted for the latter, spooning up mutton broth with students at a popular restaurant called Modern Nomads, where the staff wore Genghis Khan outfits and white-collar workers sat around drinking Johnnie Walker and watching bad music videos. The following morning the final train thundered towards China across the Gobi desert, a thirsty, rust-red terrain mottled with tufts of yellowing grass. In the distance sat round nomads gers, their funnels piping smoke into the sky, double-humped camels tethered to the ground.

      End of the line Beijing

      It had been almost six weeks since Id glided out of St Pancras, and I was 6,000 miles away, all of which Id covered by rail. Inching through forests, curving around coasts and burrowing deep into the guts of towns and cities, these slow trains had destroyed my concepts of distance and space, and replaced them with a new truth: that we couldnt be more close or connected. From one country to the next, Id sat at the foot of my berth, my view universal: hawkers sold their wares, lovers held hands, and children played football. Id watched the skies close in, the ground level out, the seas pull apart and the land unlock. And now, as we sped towards the Chinese capital, billboards closing in, wires swinging low and buildings edging towards the tracks, I felt an undeniable sense of place. Slowing into the station, the train creaked and came to a halt. Through the roar of the crowd, rumbling of cases and muffled announcements, I stepped on to the platform and allowed Beijing to sweep me into its embrace.

      How to do it

      The Eurostar from London to Paris starts at 44 one-way. Consider an Interrail pass for travelling across Europe: a seven-days in one month option covering 31 countries costs 260 adult or 216 youth. There is also a weekly train direct from Paris Gare de lEst to Moscow from 267 one-way (see for details).Booking from Moscow to Beijing takes a bit of planning as each segment needs to be reserved separately; Real Russias advisers can help with what can be a daunting exercise, booking each segment, making hotel reservations and organising Russian and Chinese visas.

      The paperback edition of Monisha Rajeshs Around the World in 80 Trains is out on 23 January (Bloomsbury, 9.99)

      Looking for a holiday with a difference? Browse Guardian Holidays to see a range of fantastic trips

      This article contains affiliate links, which means we may earn a small commission if a reader clicks through and makes a purchase. All our journalism is independent and is in no way influenced by any advertiser or commercial initiative. By clicking on an affiliate link, you accept that third-party cookies will be set. More information.

      Read more:

      (CNN)On a brightly lit stage, two male K-pop stars with glowing skin and perfectly coiffed hair are nibbling either end of the same long, chocolate stick.

      In South Korea’s glitzy, highly manufactured music industry, these kinds of scenes are not uncommon. As long as it’s only for show, that is.
      Homophobia is still rife in South Korea, where very few mainstream music stars have come out as gay. The country has no comprehensive anti-discrimination laws to protect LGBTQ South Koreans, and compared to nearby democracies like Japan and Taiwan,the country is less accepting of same-sex couples.
        Taiwan has introduced same-sex marriage — and although Japan hasn’t done the same, some cities issue same-sex partnership certificates, though they’re not legally binding.
        There’s no such option in South Korea. There, homosexual sex is not banned, but it is illegal in the military, where almost all men must complete a stint of compulsory conscription.
        Despite all that, same-sex K-pop idols regularly play-act romance. On stage, they dance intimately with one another or gaze into each other’s eyes. In video clips, it’s not uncommon to see them playing games that result in them grazing lips, then dramatically recoiling to show that it was all just play.
        That apparent contradiction is no accident.
        Although major labels are afraid to let stars be open about their sexuality for fear that they will hurt their career, they allow — and sometimes encourage — stars to touch each other in public.
        “It’s kind of sad,” said Jungmin Kwon, who wrote a book called “Straight Korean Female Fans and Their Gay Fantasies.”
        “On the one hand it looks like the industry is very open minded to shipping culture,” she told CNN, referring to the culture among fans of imagining relationships between their favorite stars — including gay relationships. “On the other hand, they’re not that much … If you come out, your fans will be so infuriated.”

        Fantasy worlds

        To understand what’s going on, you need to go back to the 1990s.
        For decades, South Korea had been under military rule. It wasn’t until 1993 that the country’s first elected civilian president took office, ushering in a new era of economic growth, technological development, and a blossoming entertainment sector — including the first K-pop idols.
        Teenagers were hungry to consume everything about their favorite stars. But it was a time before social media, and stars didn’t share as much about their lives as they do now.
        So fans got creative. According to Kwon, fans were inspired by “yaoi” — a kind of Japanese manga that features gay relationships between male couples — and began making up stories about their favorite stars. But rather than drawing pictures, as was done in Japanese yaoi culture, they wrote stories so they could easily be uploaded and shared using dial-up internet.
        The stories often featured romance between same-sex stars. Kwon said there are several reasons that was the case. Fans often didn’t think they were worthy of their idols themselves, so they matched them with stars from the same band — and most bands were exclusively girl or boy groups. Same sex relationships were often seen as taboo, which made them more “intriguing,” said Kwon.
        “It was easier to find stuff with the members together (compared) with people of the opposite sex,” said 22-year-old Amber Chuah, who was into fanfiction when she was younger. “It’s world-building without the extra step of having to create the specific character and their traits.”
        As internet downloads ate into record sales in the 2000s, South Korea’s record labels realized they couldn’t just focus on the music — they needed to package stars in a way that would appeal to fans.
        With much of the fanfiction about same-sex romance, one of the country’s largest entertainment company, SM Entertainment, began encouraging its stars to take part in “skinship” — or touching a fellow band member, according to Kwon. It was a different approach from the West, where bands like One Direction have strenuously denied fan theories of in-band romance.
        Even now, K-pop labels sometimes cultivate idols’ homoerotic appeal in the hopes that it makes them more popular in fanfiction, where Kwon estimates 80% of stories involve gay story lines. That, in turn, can increase their profile — and translate into economic benefits.
        “K-pop idols know that it comes with the territory, and the more fans are involved in many, many different ways in the fandom, the better it is for them as performers and as celebrities,” said Michelle Cho, a professor of East Asian Studies at the University of Toronto.

        An openly gay star

        South Korea’s record labels are happy to let fans fantasize about idols being gay. But they don’t want gay idols be open about their sexuality.
        That was something 23-year-old star Holland found out firsthand.
        Holland — whose real name is Go Tae-seob — went through rigorous training with one of the labels (he declined to say which one). But when it came time to debut, the label was against him debuting as a gay idol.
        View this post on Instagram

        hi wendy 🦢👼🏻🐚🕊🥚🍼

        A post shared by HOLLAND (@holland_vvv) on

        “They said it would be bad for my image,” Holland told CNN. To Holland, that was a deal-breaker. He had been badly bullied in middle school, and it was important to him to be open about his sexuality. So he quit the label and debuted as an independent artist.
        “I wanted to prove that I am worthy of love, and that I’m worthy of achieving and being accomplished,” he said. “I felt that was the only way I could love myself.”
        K-pop stars are often subject to strict rules — many are not allowed to date publicly, as labels worry that any relationships make stars lose their mystique among fans. For the major labels, public same-sex relationships appear to be out of the question.
        Against that backdrop, Holland was a major break with tradition.
        When he debuted in 2018, he attracted a lot of positive attention overseas. But back home in South Korea, the reaction was muted — or even negative.
        Nevertheless, Holland remained determined to make a statement. While filming the music video for his first single “Neverland,” the director told him that there would be a 19+ rating in South Korea if the clip showed any same-sex affection.
        So Holland decided to include a scene where he kisses a manto prompt audiences to consider why a same-sex kiss deserved an explicit rating when a kiss between a man and a woman wouldn’t.
        He finds it sad when shows make stars kiss each other. “They make it into funny content to embarrass them,” Holland said. “It’s a shame that’s the limit they can go when it comes to showing homosexual interaction — it can only be portrayed as funny.”

        Are things changing?

        In South Korea, Holland’s decision to come out is unusual. To many celebrities, the case of television personality Hong Seok-cheon still looms large.
        After Hong came out publicly as gay in 2000, he was fired from his hosting job and lost other work — and author Kwon believes that harsh response has discouraged others from following suit.
        Timothy Rich, an associate professor at the Political Science Department of Western Kentucky University, said that any company or celebrity would be worried about the potential backlash and financial risk if a star came out.
        “In the current climate, I suspect there would be considerable conservative backlash to any star that came out, possibly resulting in boycotts,” he told CNN.
        But there are reasons to think things could change.
        As K-pop’s international reach grows, K-pop itself is changing. In South Korea, interaction between stars is seen through a different lens — fans see it as fantasy, and there’s also more of a culture of male friends touching each other, in part because of how heteronormative the culture is.
        But internationally, K-pop fans see close interactions between stars as evidence of genuine relationships, and are often keen to have these confirmed so that they have stars that represent them.
        A star like Holland wouldn’t have been able to exist at all if it weren’t for the globalization of K-pop, said Cho, from the University of Toronto.
        Holland thinks things are changing: more artists appear to be indicating that they are allies of the gay community.
        Last year, K-pop singer Sunmi made headlines when she told concertgoers that she was an “LGBT queen,” although she later clarified that she only meant she supported the community — not that she identified as LGBT herself.
        Boyband BTS is often seen as sympathetic to LGBTQ rights, although their statements in support are often vague. In the absence of confirmation, commentators have used small, inclusive clues to speculate on their stance, for example, the time the band’s leader RM tweeted Macklemore’s song “Same Love,” which promotes equal rights for gay people.
        The same-sex themes in fanfiction could help change people’s perspective, said Cho. Holland agreed: “It’s a start for them to naturally accept different sexualities.”
          But ultimately, experts believe a time when gay stars are accepted in mainstream K-pop could still be some way off.
          “Idol culture is pretty conservative,” Cho said. “It’s quite difficult for performers unless they reach celebrity status with the autonomy that brings … For anyone else to rock the boat is pretty difficult.”

          Read more:

          Most in tech would agree that following the launch of Alexa and Google Home devices, the “Voice Era” is here. Voice assistant usage is at 3.3 billion right now; by 2020, half of all searches are expected to be done via voice. And with younger generations growing up on voice (55% of teens use voice search daily now), there’s no turning back.

          As we’ve reported, the voice-based ad market will grow to $19 billion in the U.S. by 2022, growing the market share from the $17 billion audio ad market and the $57 billion programmatic ad market.

          That means that voice shopping is also set to explode, with the volume of voice-based spending growing twenty-fold over the next few years due to voice-based virtual assistant penetration, as well as the rapid consumer adoption of home-based smart speakers, the expansion of smart homes and the growing integration of virtual assistants into cars.

          That, combined with the popularity of digital media — streaming music, podcasts, etc. — has created greenfield opportunities for better brand engagement through audio. But brands have struggled to catch up, and there have not been many ways to capitalise on this.

          So a team of people who co-founded and worked at Zvuk, a leading music streaming service in Eastern Europe, quickly understood why there is not a single profitable music streaming company in the world: subscription rates are low and advertisers are not excited about audio ads, due to the measurement challenges and intrusive ad experience.

          So, they decided to create SF-based company Instreamatic, a startup which allows people to talk at adverts they see and get an AI-driven voice response, just as you might talk to an Alexa device.

          Thus, the AI powering Instreamatic’s voice-driven ads can interpret and anticipate the intent of a user’s words (and do so in the user’s natural language, so robotic “yes” and “no” responses aren’t needed). That means Instreamatic enables brands which advertise through digital audio channels (streaming music apps, podcasts, etc.) to now have interactive (and continuous) voice dialogues with consumers.

          Yes, it means you can talk to an advert like it was an Alexa.

          Instead of an audio ad playing to a listener as a one-way communication (like every TV and radio ad before it), brands can now reach and engage with consumers by having voice-interactive conversations. Brands using Instreamatic can also continue conversations with consumers across channels and audio publishers — so fresh ad content is tailored to the full history of each listener’s past engagements and responses.

          An advantage of the platform is that people can use their voice to set their advertising preferences. So, when a person says “I don’t want to hear about it ever again,” brands can optimize their marketing strategy either by stopping all remarketing campaigns across all digital media channels targeted to that person, or by optimizing the communication strategy to offer something else instead of the product that was rejected. If the listener expressed interest or no interest, Instreamatic would know that and tailor future ads to match past engagement — providing a continuous dialogue with the user.

          Its competitor is AdsWizz, which allows users to shake their phones when they are interested in an ad. This effectively allows users to “click” when the audio ad is playing in the background. One of their recent case studies reported that shaking provided 3.95% interaction rates.

          By contrast, Instreamatic’s voice dialogue marketing platform allows people to talk to audio advertising, skipping irrelevant ads and engaging in interesting ones. Their recent case study claimed a much higher 13.2% voice engagement rate this way.

          The business model is thus: when advertisers buy voice dialogue ads on its ad exchange, it takes a commission from that ad spend. Publishers, brands and ad tech companies can license the technology and Instreamatic charges them a licensing fee based on usage.

          Instreamatic has now partnered with Gaana, India’s largest music and content streaming service, to integrate Instreamatic into Gaana’s platform. It has also partnered with Triton Digital, a service provider to the audio streaming and podcast industry.

          This follows similar deals with Pandora, Jacapps, Airkast and SurferNETWORK.

          All these partnerships means the company can now reach 120 million monthly active users in the United States, 30 million in Europe and 150 million in Asia.

          The company is headquartered in San Francisco and London, with a development team in Moscow, and features Stas Tushinskiy as CEO and co-founder. Tushinskiy created the digital audio advertising market in Russia prior to relocating to the U.S. with Instreamatic. International Business Development head and co-founder Simon Dunlop previously founded Bookmate, a subscription-based reading and audiobook platform, DITelegraph Moscow Tech Hub and Zvuk.

          Read more:

          Seoul (CNN)Michelle Quinde is a BTS megafan.

          Quinde, a 24-year-old graphic design student from New York City, is one of a legion of fans who spend plenty of time and moneyto support their idols.
          Known as ARMY(Adorable Representative MC for Youth), BTS’ global fan base of millions of loyal followers is powerful enough to create major waves — and help the group smash music industry records.

            Some ARMY, like Quinde, listen to songs over and over to boost BTS’ statistics on YouTube and music streaming sites.
            They’ve helped BTS break global records for engagement on Twitter. They’ve banded together for good causes, such asraising money andplanting trees in BTS’ honor. They’ve even bought a billboard inNew York’sTimes Square.
            And — most significantly for BTS fans — they’ve contributed to making the group one of the biggest boy bands in the world.
            But who are BTS ARMY — and why are they so dedicated?

            Joining the club

            Being ARMY is easy: you just need to like BTS.
            Since the start, BTS have courted ARMY online. Without the connections and financial backing of the major labels, BTS’ agency Big Hit Entertainment had to rely on social media.

            That created a kind of intimacy with fans, adding to their popularity. On Twitter, BTS now have the biggest following of any K-pop group.
            The most hardcore fans can pay about $30 to get an official membership, including access to early concert tickets and handwritten birthday wishes from BTS. But if a member violates official membership guidelines — such as intentionally boarding the same plane as the band — they could find their membership rescinded.
            It’s not all fun and games, though. Being a dedicatedmember of BTS ARMY — whether officially or unofficially — can mean a lot of work.
            On top of her three part-time jobs, official ARMY member Quinde used to run a fan base website.
            Every day, she spent hours chatting with fellow fans on messaging app Slack, planning everything from the hashtag for singer Jin’s upcoming birthday, to how fanscould help get BTS a Grammy.
            Running the fan base was “amazing,” but it was also tiring work, Quinde said. She’s now taking a break from the demands of fandom as she feels that others are supporting them too. “I can kind of rest assured,” she said. “They’re in good hands.”

            The power of streaming

            For many ARMY, their self-assumed responsibilities are simple: stream the band’s songs and videos as many times as possible so their idols stay at the top of the music charts.
            Ahead of an album or single launch date, the South Korean arm K-ARMY divide and conquer, releasing lists of songs that must be streamed endlessly. Dedicated ARMYmembers source phones from their friends and family members, and log into multiple accounts to optimize their streaming abilities.
            Whenever BTS released an album, 22-year-old Lee Siwon posted a status on messaging platform KaKao Talk, a popular chat site in South Korea, saying that she was unable to call or check messages because she would be busy streaming BTS’ songs over and over.
            “I’ve activated all my old phones and the ones in my family to stream songs,” said Lee, a 22-year-old member of K-ARMY. “I felt like BTS and I were inseparable, so that made me try harder for their success.”
            Park Semi, who has been a K-ARMY since 2016, has been playing the music video for “Boy with Luv” every day for the past five months. Most of the time, she hasn’t even been watching it — it’s all about getting more views on YouTube.
            “I think everyone who is a regular member of the K-ARMY will be doing the same,” she said.
            Among fellow K-ARMY, a screenshot of the number of streams you rack up is considered a badge of honor, proof of how hardcore a fan you are. Park herself has done it: “I have streamed earlier songs of BTS over 20,000 times.”

            Agency involvement

            The efforts of ARMY like Park and Lee have paid off.
            BTS has won the Billboard Music Award for Top Social Artist three years in a row. The group’s latest record, “Map of the Soul: Persona,” recently became the best-selling album of all time in South Korea, with more than 3.3 million copies sold. And one of the songs on the album, “Boy with Luv,” holds the record for the most YouTube views within 24 hours (74.6 million).
            But none of this was done at the behest of BTS’ management, Big Hit Entertainment. Big Hit have courted fans with their social media strategy and have simplified the process of becoming an official ARMY, but they don’t mandate constant streaming.

            An ARMY of workers

            In the past few years, some of BTS’ international followers began to harness the hysteria for good.
            BTS fan Erika Overton, a Brooklyn native in her late 30s, was “entranced by the power of fandom,”and wondered if it could be redirected towards something more substantial than YouTube hits or a New York billboard.
            In March last year, she co-founded One in an Army,a Twitter-based group that encourages donations from BTS fans to spend on charity projects. Members are based in the US, Canada, Sweden, Malaysia and China. There’s even one member in Saudi Arabia, Overton said.
            In one of their earliest projects, the group raised money for non-governmental organization Thirst Relief that provides clean water for families in Tanzania. Overton said fans raised enough to buy 30 water filters for provide clean water to about 300 people for the next 25 years.
            Supporting projects to help those in need is a natural extension of being a BTS fan, Overton said.
            “They put a lot of effort into giving us of themselves and their music and their sincerity … the ARMY really wants to give back in their name.”

            When the wave turns

            But while ARMY devotion can be used for good, it can also take on negative undercurrents.
            Some ARMY are highly sensitive to a possible slight — and numerous public figures have borne the brunt of ARMY’s anger.
            For instance, when an Australian television presenter in June introduced BTS as “the biggest band you’ve never heard of,” ARMY immediately took action on social media to accuse the network of “racism and xenophobia.” Ultimately, the network issued an apology.
            That was true for Tahne Howard, a 18-year-old student from the United Kingdom, who got so drawn in to BTS that she began having dreams about them. She finds comfort in their message of “love yourself” — and leaves comments on their online live streams, hoping that they’ll notice she exists.
              She doesn’t see BTS as gods — but it’s still personal.
              “It’s like proud parents watching their children grow up,” said Howard. “We helped them to be who they are now, and thankfully, the band is grateful for what we do.”

              Read more:

              (CNN)Packages containing millions of dollars worth of cocaine have washed up on a New Zealand beach made famous in a 2015 Taylor Swift music video.

              Police said there was a “small chance” more packages could wash up on the beach.
              Authorities are still working to determine where the drugs came from. A helicopter will search the area Thursday, and regular police patrols will monitor beaches.
                Bethells Beach is a popular nature spot where Swift filmed the music video for “Out of the Woods,” a single from her album “1989,” in 2015. Swift reportedly described Bethells as “the most beautiful beach” she had ever visited at the time.
                It’s not the first time that drugs have been found on a New Zealand beach. In 2016, police intercepted almost 1100 pounds (500 kilograms) of methamphetamine — most of it from a washed-up boat on the country’s North Island. Authorities estimated the haul was worth $323 million (New Zealand $500 million).

                Read more:

                Tencent, one of Asia’s most valuable companies with a current market cap of around $460 billion, has introduced a new motto after co-founder and CEO Pony Ma said this week he wanted “tech for good” to be part of the company’s vision and mission in the future.

                The company has not yet officialized the new corporate philosophy and it’s unclear how the “don’t be evil”-like slogan will manifest in Tencent’s business strategy. Nor do we know if it will replace the old mission, which is still emblazoned on its website:

                Tencent’s mission is to “improve the quality of life through internet value-added services”. Guided by its “user oriented” business philosophy, Tencent achieves its mission via the delivery of integrated internet solutions to over 1 billion netizens.

                Episodes of recent events can probably provide some hints as to what the new slogan might entail. The old mission, which focuses on the individual user rather than the wider society, has led Tencent to supremacy in video games and social media; the company is the operator behind the billion-user messenger WeChat and several top-grossing video games. But these segments of businesses are under growing pressure as China’s changing regulatory environment and industry rivals create challenges for the 21-year-old behemoth.

                A months-long gaming freeze last year put a squeeze on Tencent’s gaming revenues, wiping billions of dollars from its market cap. Rising short-video app Douyin, which is TikTok’s local version, threatens Tencent’s dominance in the social and content realms.

                To stay competitive, the company underwent a sweeping re-organization last October to place more focus on enterprise businesses, such as cloud computing and other digital infrastructure for industries ranging from finance, healthcare and education to government services.

                Tencent shakeup puts the focus on enterprise

                The new focus to upgrade entrenched industries not only opens up more revenue streams; these sectors also provide the testing ground for Tencent to put its “tech for good” mission into practice.

                As Ma pledged at the government-run industry conference Digital China Summit on Monday, Tencent believes “technology can bring benefits to the human race; humans should make good use of technology and refrain from its evil use; and technology should strive to solve the problems it brings to society.”

                Ma pointed to three key areas where technology can generate positive changes: traditional industries, where Tencent could provide big data capabilities to beef up efficiency in production; government units, where Tencent could leverage its apps to digitize a slew of civil services such as applying for visas and renewing drivers’ licenses; and society, which is a broad and arguably vague definition but has seen efforts like tracing missing children using Tencent’s face recognition solutions.

                “Looking at parallels across the globe, Google proposed ‘do no evil’ as its code of conduct ahead of its initial public offering 20 years ago. I think this kind of elevated mission is evidence of the amount of influence a company has accumulated,” Zhong Xin, a former Qualcomm engineer who founded the artificial intelligence-powered medical imaging startup 12 Sigma, said to TechCrunch.

                “Technology is a double-edged sword. A company needs a guiding principle to determine its proper use, so I believe the purported mission to do good with technology is inevitable,” added Xin.

                From the government’s standpoint, a corporate motto that focuses on doing good is clearly music to the ears. Tencent’s new code of conduct comes as China’s tech darlings face mounting public and government criticisms for their adverse impact on society, a movement mirroring Silicon Valley’s tech backlash. The charges range from video games’ role in causing bad eyesight among children, which put Tencent in the crosshairs; to clickbait content running rampant on ByteDance’s popular news app, Toutiao.

                Silicon Valley’s year of reckoning

                ” ‘Doing good’ should be an inherent value to all technology companies, including venture investors,” Wang Jing, partner at venture capital firm Sky9 Capital, suggested to TechCrunch. “When companies have to single out ‘doing good’ on a special occasion, it may be that something has already gone wrong.”

                Many tech heavyweights in question have responded to backlashes by imposing stricter policies over their products. Tencent, for example, launched an underage-protection mode for all its gaming titles that would allow parents to monitor children’s play time. Toutiao, too, has hired thousands of auditors to root out content deemed inappropriate by the authority.

                This is not the first time Tencent has weighed in on its own ethics. The phrase ‘tech for good’ was first unveiled by Tencent co-founder and former CTO Tony Zhang in early 2018, but it has probably garnered more attention among the executives after an essay titled “Tencent has no dream” sparked heated debate in the Chinese tech circle. Penned by a veteran journalist, the article argued that Tencent was fixated on seeking investment-worthy products rather than inventing its own.

                “People argued that Tencent has no dream. By bringing up the slogan ‘tech for good,’ Tencent seems to be proclaiming to the public that it does have a dream,” Derek Shen, who is chairman at shared housing startup Danke and formerly headed LinkedIn China, told TechCrunch. “And its dream is big, which is to do good things to people’s lives.”

                Read more:

                Seoul, South Korea (CNN)The teenagers drop down on their stomachs, slap the floor with their hands and rise with a gracious twirl. They then proceed to flap their arms like a flock of birds to the beat of a K-pop song.

                There are at least 50 of them, crowded into a low-ceilinged room with mirrors on three walls. It is hot, it is sweaty and it is 9.30 p.m. on a Wednesday night.
                The group, who have been practicing the same move repeatedly for nearly two hours straight, are all students of Def Dance, an elite dancing and singing school in Seoul’s upscale Gangnam neighborhood.
                “I spend about three hours here every day after school,” says Lee Jae-Gi, a skinny 16-year-old wearing a gray sweatshirt. I started taking classes when I was 11.”
                He studies K-pop, hip-hop and singing. “Practicing the same move over and over again can be tiring but I am progressing and that is all I care about,” he adds.
                The teenagers enrolled in Def Dance are all single-mindedly pursuing the same aim: to become a K-pop idol. Becoming one of the chosen few guarantees fame, success and a bank balance that sets them up for life.
                But the school, which charges $200 per month and has 1,400 students, some as young as eight, is only the first rung on the ladder to fame.
                To become a true idol, teenagers like Lee must first make it through ultra-competitive auditions held by the record labels. Those who are chosen become “trainees.” They will be expected to give up their freedom to live and train for several years at one of Korea’s elite K-pop academies. Only then will they get a shot at stardom.
                There are dozens of schools helping to prep kids for these auditions across Seoul, each charging anything up to $1,000 per semester.

                Life as a trainee

                Three record labels dominate the K-pop industry, which generated $4.7 billion dollars in 2016, SM Entertainment, JYP Entertainment and YG Entertainment. All were formed in the late 1990s, when K-pop first started to take off.
                Their trainee selection process is incredibly competitive. “We hold 500,000 auditions a year,” explains Choi Jinyoung, who is setting up a new academy for SM Entertainment. “Less than 10 people get chosen every year to become trainees.”
                Personality and a “good character,” which means being hard-working and disciplined, are the key elements recruiters look for.
                “They only go home once every three months,” says Park. Crayon drawings on the walls and a pile of board games stacked on a table are a reminder that the trainees are barely in their teens.
                The students also take drama lessons. “It teaches them how to use their voices and facial expressions,” explains Aurore Barniaud, who works at Global K where she helps to oversee the trainees’ development.
                She points to a long narrow room, with mirrors on all of the walls. “Here, they train their walking and posture, to prepare for the stage,” she says. There is also a recording studio and a concert hall.
                Daily life for the trainees at the academy is tough.
                During the first few months of their training, she says she finds them in tears most evenings. There is no privacy for the trainees. They sleep, eat and train together. Their mobile phones are confiscated.
                “The girls are weighed every day and we monitor everything they eat,” explains Barniaud. “On days when they have TV appearances, they only get one meal, because being on camera makes you look fatter.”

                Making the grade

                The lucky few that get through the training are assembled into bands of 4 to 12 members. Their official debut is usually an appearance on a music show, during which they play their first single and present themselves to the public.
                After they have debuted, most K-pop stars have to sign what are often dubbed “slave contracts.” These can run for as several years and provide them with only a tiny share of the potentially massive revenue they generate in record sales and concerts.
                Training an idol costs an estimated $100,000 per year and the studios want to recoup their investment. Only when the stars have paid off all their debts will they begin to make better money.
                Their private lives are also closely monitored: relationships, alcohol and drugs are all prohibited. In September, Cube Entertainment, a K-pop label, fired two of its stars, Hyu Ah and E’Dawn, because they were dating.
                In one of Global K’s classrooms, a group of girls is dancing to the tune of Twice’s “Dance the Night Away.” The teacher shows them the moves and helps them position their arms. And off they go, stomping their feet, swinging their arms high in the air, a permanent smile plastered on their faces.
                They have all come from Taiwan to take part in one of the academy’s specially designed intensive training courses. This morning, they spent several hours singing a Shawn Mendes number. Tomorrow, they will audition in front of South Korean music execs.
                “I wanted to see if I have enough talent to become a trainee,” says Amber Tseng, a self-assured 14-year old with a strong voice. Yang Fang Chi, a petite 17-year old with a bob, hoped to improve her dancing. “My aim is to move to South Korea and become an idol,” she announces.
                Unfortunately, the following day, none of the Taiwanese students make it past the audition. “None of them really stood out,” sighs Bora Kim, the dance teacher.
                After taking over South Korea, K-pop is now conquering the rest of the world.
                “It spread to the rest of Asia, especially to Japan, China, Taiwan and Hong Kong, at the turn of the century, fueled by the export of South Korean TV shows,” explains Michelle Cho, who studies K-pop at Canada’s McGill University.
                After 2008, it started gaining popularity in the United States and Europe, thanks to YouTube.
                Recording studios have started actively promoting K-pop abroad. China, with its gigantic audience, looks especially promising. Many bands are translating songs into Japanese, Mandarin and English.
                Some split into subgroups, each one touring a different linguistic area. The new trend is to create super-groups made up of different nationalities.
                Global K has embraced it wholeheartedly. “The Korean market is saturated so we are now focusing on recruiting Chinese, Taiwanese and Hong Konguese trainees,” says Park.
                In 2017, the academy debuted a band called Varsity, with Korean, Chinese, American and Emirati members. It has also held a series of auditions in Myanmar and hosted a reality TV show to create a half Japanese, half Korean band called Iz One. It will debut on October 29.
                If the South Korean experience is anything to go by, there won’t be a shortage of young would-be stars ready to offer themselves up for hours of training and endless scrutiny.
                For many, it’s all or nothing.
                “This is one of the biggest problems in the industry,” says Park, the marketing manager. “Since they often stop school to pursue a musical career, there is not much out there for them if it doesn’t work out.”

                Read more:

                Seoul (CNN)South Korean musicians will travel to North Korea this weekend for the first time in over a decade, as the two countries prepare for a groundbreaking leaders’ summit next month.

                K-pop girl band Red Velvet, starlet Seohyun of Girls’ Generation, legendary singers Cho Yong-pil and Lee Sun-hee, and rocker Yoon Do-hyun are among those who will travel north of the demilitarized zone (DMZ) for two concerts in Pyongyang.
                Some of the delegation played in North Korea in the 1990s and 2000s, before relations broke down and the concerts stopped in 2005.
                  On Yoon’s first visit to the North Korean capital, he told CNN, one of his band members was almost stopped from playing.
                  “Our guitarist’s hair was yellow,” the South Korean rock star told CNN. “The North Koreans talked about that hair and said that he could not perform with it … it wasn’t easy from the beginning!”

                  Cultural exchange

                  Yoon is one of South Korea’s most famous musicians, selling millions of records with his group YB since they first got together in 1996.
                  In the early 2000s, his was one of a few South Korean acts which were allowed to perform in the North, even with a yellow-haired guitarist.
                  Permission did not necessarily mean understanding however, and Yoon said many North Koreans in the crowd did not know what to make of the band’s guitar-heavy rock anthems and ballads — even a rock-and-roll version of the popular pan-Korean folk song “Arirang.”
                  “It was awkward, because they (had) never experienced Korean rock music before,” he said. Footage of the concerts, broadcast by South Korean TV station MBC, showed the stiff reactions of the audience.
                  “(Eventually) they relaxed and enjoyed it,” Yoon said. “I felt something difficult being untangled little by little, so I felt very positive.”
                  Returning to North Korea this weekend will be an emotional moment for Yoon.
                  His grandmother, Jang Gyung-ae, was born in Hwanghae Province in what is now North Korea in 1930. “Her family are still in North Korea,” Yoon said.
                  Jang hasn’t seen her relatives in decades, and doesn’t know if they are alive or dead.
                  Performing in Pyongyang in 2002, that thought brought Yoon to tears on stage after he saw an older woman in the audience who reminded him of his grandmother.
                  “Before I went, she asked me, ‘can you find my family’?” he said. This week, she asked him again.
                  “We go as something similar to a cultural mission and do the performance diligently. If that moves North Korean citizens’ hearts and the two relationships get a little better through music, I think that’s what we can do.”

                  Emotional moment

                  North and South Korea are still technically at war and their citizens are rarely allowed to cross the heavily fortified DMZ.
                  The first substantive cultural exchange took place in September 1985.
                  An art troupe from South Korea traveled to Pyongyang for a four-day visit, and a group from the North made a similar trip south. Families separated by the war joined them. Newsreel from the time shows emotional meetings between relatives.
                  Exchanges continued until the early 2000s, when relations broke down and the concerts stopped. When tensions were running high, South Korea blasted K-pop toward the North with giant speakers as part of propaganda broadcasts.
                  But 2018 has seen a dramatic thaw in tensions and a resumption of inter-Korean concerts.
                  During the recent Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea, the North sent their own art troupe to accompany a delegation of athletes, a cheering squad and officials including leader Kim Jong Un’s sister, Kim Yo Jong.
                  The troupe was led by Hyun Song Wol, a performer in the Moranbong girl band, which was formed by Kim himself in 2012.

                    Who’s who in North Korea’s Olympic delegation

                  South Korea’s delegation traveling to Pyongyang this weekend totals some 190 people, including performers, staff and government officials.
                  They will perform two concerts: one on Sunday, April 1 at the 1,500 capacity East Pyongyang Grand Theater, and a joint concert with North Korean musicians on Tuesday, April 3 at the 12,000 capacity Ryugyong Chung Ju Yong Gymnasium, where each country will put on a 25-minute performance before taking to the stage together for a five-minute act.
                  Set lists for the two concerts have yet to be released. But YB told CNN they plan to perform three tracks, including “1178,” which Yoon said was an “emotional” song named after the length in kilometers of the Korean Peninsula.
                  “It’s about Korea and unity,” he said, adding he has to stop himself from crying when he images playing it in North Korea.
                  Other band members are equally emotional. Drummer Kim Jin-won, whose family lives in Sokcho, 35 km (22 miles) from the DMZ, said that “when we pull out our passports, we’re not foreigners, but we’re also not from North Korea.”
                  “Even if the unification does not happen soon, I hope this becomes the opportunity for opening civilian exchanges and tours, doing business together and reuniting separated families,” he said.
                  “I hope that our performance becomes a stepping stone.”

                  Read more: