K is for Kaballah in Korean pop hit

Stellar, one of K-pop’s raunchiest female acts, have released a surprising new single that delves into the world of Kabbalistic mysticism and numerology


Have you ever heard a Korean pop (or “K-pop”) song  and wondered what they were singing about?

Perhaps Psy’s ubiquitous Gangnam Style, or anything by boyband BTS (the first Korean act to feature in the UK album chart) mystified you.

If you guessed love, heartbreak and other standard pop themes, you would usually be right. But one South Korean girl group has decided to buck the trend, taking inspiration for their latest release from centuries-old Jewish mystical texts.

Until recently,  Stellar were known as one of K-pop’s raunchiest female acts. But the group’s latest chart smash, Archangels of the Sepiroth, has instead taken the group deep into the world of Kabbalistic mysticism and numerology.

The song’s lyrics are packed with Jewish mystical symbolism, including references to the Tree of Life and the Kabbalah’s 32 paths of wisdom. 

There’s also a Kabbalah-themed online game hosted on the group’s website. Fans have been invited to cast votes online, deciding whether they want each individual member to perform dressed as a “dark” qliphoth, the impure spiritual forces of the Kabbalah, or as a light-bringing “archangel”.

The release has led K-pop enthusiasts into a frenzy of Kabbalah research, as many try to unpick the song’s symbolism on forums and fansites. It has proved a success, too, propelling the EP to number 17 on the Korean charts and an unprecedented 13 on the Billboard World Music Chart in the United States.

“We were preparing Stellar’s 10th EP, so we wanted to emphasise the number 10 somehow, and also to use a symbolism-rich theme that no other K-pop act had ever explored,” Choi Byung-min, CEO of Stellar’s talent agency, said. “We eventually came across Jewish mysticism, and its concept of 10 dimensions of reality. It immediately struck a chord.”

Stellar’s founder member Ga-young also embraced the apparent diversion. 

“This theme was unique, with multiple levels of meaning,” she said. “Exploring the symbolism of Jewish mysticism was like taking a swim in a fantasy novel.”

But how does a pop act come up with a concept like this in a country without a single synagogue — and where most people have never met a Jew?

Many Koreans hold a deep-set admiration for Jewish culture and have an urge to explore it. Books about Jewish entrepreneurial success have topped bestseller lists. 

Korean filmmakers recently visited a Jerusalem Yeshiva for a major television documentary. Another followed the exploits of Israeli bakers preparing matzoh for Passover.

In 2011, South Korea’s ambassador to Israel claimed that more Koreans than Israelis own a copy of the Talmud — and he was possibly right, despite initial shock among the Jewish community. The book is on the mandatory reading list for Korean schoolchildren and most bookshops have sections devoted to the Talmud.

“We’re acutely aware there have been scores of Jewish Nobel prize winners, but as yet no Korean winners,“ Korean journalist Cho Eun-jung said. 

“That makes us want to emulate Jews, in a sense. We want to know how it’s done.”

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