Oppa Dahieh Style: Searching for K-Pop in Hizballah land

Oppa Dahieh Style: Searching for K-Pop in Hizballah land
Beirut's southern suburb is the new Gangnam for the South Korean video blogger who calls himself The Daily Oppa.
4 min read
04 Jul, 2017
South Korean K-pop group 'Twice' [AFP]
Beirut's southern suburb is the new Gangnam for the American-Korean video blogger who calls himself The Daily Oppa

The youth, whose real name is Tophy Cho, has spent a good chunk of his time in Lebanon this year, looking for Arab fans of Korean pop music bands, known as K-pop, discovering the country's charms and food, and mythbusting stereotypes about the Middle East common in his home country and beyond.

K-pop is huge around the world, and the Middle East, Lebanon included, is no exception.

The Daily Oppa has produced several videos from different parts of Lebanon – doing everything from riding retro buses in the mountainous Druze-majority Chouf to smoking shisha in Hamra, Beirut's hippest district.

As if none of this is random enough, his latest video, posted on June 17, took him to Dahieh, a major residential suburb of Beirut that is also home to the powerful militia Hizballah's political and media apparatuses. 

The Daily Oppa's founder said he wanted to go check out the sprawling suburb after receiving warnings it would be unsafe and unwelcoming. 

Oppa, or older brother, ended up making new chingu, or friends there, seeing an amateur K-pop performance and he even took part in Shia religious processions on Ashura.

K-pop in Arabia

He has visited other Arab countries, including Egypt.

"My interest in Lebanon and Arab countries in general stems from a trip in Turkey while I was on my way to South Korea to visit family.

"The flight to South Korea stopped in Istanbul and I decided to browse the city for 10 days alone more out of curiosity than any cultural or historic knowledge of the place. To my surprise, I kept meeting people who were fans of K-pop and K-dramas," Cho said.

"But maybe the biggest surprise for me was when some of my newly found Turkish friends told me that K-pop is even a bigger deal in the Arab world," he added in a Facebook message.

This is when he decided to make a social media channel for Arab K-pop fans. Through the channel, he began to make friends with Arab 'K-poppers' from places such as Egypt, Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Jordan, Lebanon and even Syria.

"The more I learned about their story, their history, their culture… the more I began to respect and appreciate all these people I was getting to know from a very different world than my own," Cho said.

Pop diplomacy

What is special about Arabic K-poppers is that the people who listen to it love it, he explains.

"Although I don’t consider K-pop big in the Middle East the interest is large enough that last year Abu Dhabi held KCON, which is a K-pop convention that happens in places such as Paris, New York… Los Angeles. So the fact that KCON is now being hosted in Abu Dhabi shows there’s enough interest in K-pop in the Middle East to bring their favourite artists."

The impressions people in South Korea have of the Middle East regions are generally based on media stereotypes, he says.

"I do believe that if Korean people make the effort to visit the countries that I have they would realise there’s enough cultural similarities to find some sort of kinship… a bonding… with Arab people as our traditions and values can be very similar in ways," he continued. 

On the flip side, Cho tells The New Arab, the impressions people have of Korea in the Middle East depend on if they are K-pop fans or not.

"Despite the fact there is a lot of people who don’t know about South Korea the intentions are rarely ever ill-natured. When people ask me questions it almost always comes from a true place and not out of any disrespect.

K-pop has been a powerful source for mutual cultural understanding. My perception of who Arab people are is very different from before starting my K-pop social media channels. And I think the same goes for the Arabs who fell in love with K-pop."