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K-pop stars battle for the Olympic spotlight

North Korea's all-female cheer squad may be grabbing the press at this year's Winter Olympics, but the South has a secret weapon of its own: K-pop.

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Marian Liu (CNN)
(CNN) — North Korea's all-female cheer squad may be grabbing the press at this year's Winter Olympics, but the South has a secret weapon of its own: K-pop.

A selection of K-pop stars, including girl groups AOA and Girl's Day, along with Taeyang, from the mega-popular boy band Big Bang, have been made honorary Olympic ambassadors, a vague term that sees the stars help endorse the Games and appear at official events.

"K-Pop is one of the most well-known and successful Korean cultures throughout the world," said Lee Kyusang who is in charge of honorary ambassador management. "Appointing K-pop artists as honorary ambassadors has brought much attention to the Games."

But it works in the opposite direction too, providing an unrivaled platform for artists looking to reach new international audiences.

Speaking to CNN, AOA member Seol Hyun said the group accepted the offer to become an ambassador "straight away without any hesitation."

She and AOA traveled to Jakarta last November with the South Korean President Moon Jae-in to promote the Olympics and meet fans.

AOA, which stands for Ace Of Angels, was originally founded in 2012, with a style and sound not dissimilar to early Britney Spears. Their singles "Miniskirt and "Heart Attack," were hits in South Korea and helped make the girl group household names. Last month, they released their third album, "Angel's Knock." Now, with the help of the Olympics, the six members are hoping to they can do the same outside of Korea.

"We have international fans who support us but we've always felt sorry and disappointed that we haven't been able to travel to meet and perform for them," said AOA member Chan Mi.

"We think that the PyeongChang 2018 Olympic Winter Games will be a great opportunity to show our music to not only our fans but a wide range of people. We are very honored."

The group, which have participated in Olympic-related events since 2016, recently played a concert to celebrate 100 days before the games, with K-pop heavy hitters BTS, EXO and TWICE.

The attraction of K-pop, said AOA member Ji Min, is that it's very relatable.

"K-pop has a lot of elements ... Like the ever-evolving sound, visually-packed music videos, movie-like stories that are understood even through a language barrier," said Ji Min.

"As a whole, K-pop isn't just something you listen to but I think many approach K-pop synesthetically. I think that's what's drawing people into K-pop."

K-pop's popularity in the West has increased in recent years, with K-pop exports grossing an estimated $290 million in 2016.

Last year, K-pop boy band BTS beat Justin Bieber, Selena Gomez, Ariana Grande and Shawn Mendes to win Top Social Artist at the Billboard Music Awards.

The release of the official Olympic song, "Louder" by Olympic ambassador Taeyang currently has almost 100,000 plays on YouTube.

"The role of the Games is about having the public moved and participating, which resembles that of the K-pop culture," said Lee.

Competition for the Olympics start Thursday. No official K-pop performances are set yet, but the the Opening Ceremony is on Friday.

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