With long days spent in stuffy classrooms and cram school in the evenings, Korean students have little time for merrymaking. Many complain about the intense pressure to keep their noses to the grindstone. But there's a particularly cherished source of relief, and that's School Attackan MTV show that delights students by bringing pop icons onto campus for surprise mini-concerts.
Here's how it works: just when students think they are having a regular, dull day, the principal calls for an assembly in the main auditorium, ostensibly to lecture them on bullying or the hazards of smoking. A few minutes into the dronefest, a siren wails, then a black banner that reads "School Attack" unfurls on the stage. Before the students' eyes a leading pop star appears, ready to strut his or her stuff for the next 30 minutes on a stage that has been transformed with footlights and backup dancers. TV cameras film the audience reaction, which is reminiscent of Beatlemania at its peak: kids scream, weep and stare in stunned disbelief.
The show, which was launched by MTV Korea back in 2003, has been a huge hit, and everyone involved, from the pop stars to the schools to the students, feels better for the hijinks. "It was an awesome experience, especially when we hit them on the first day of school," says T.O.P., a 21-year-old rapper with one of the country's top pop groups, Big Bang.
So students don't get too rowdy, several security guards are present and an ambulance is at the ready in case a schoolgirl gets overexcited and faints. "Fortunately, we haven't had to use it," says MTV senior executive Chae Jung Ah. Not yet, anyway. After all, passing out during a School Attack seems like a great way to avoid going back to double math.
by Jennifer Veale