Does North Korea leader Kim Jong Un's marriage and fresh image mean change is coming?

(CBS News) WASHINGTON - A year ago, the people of North Korea had no idea Kim Jong Un even existed. Now, they've learned their new supreme leader is married to a pop star.

The so-called Hermit Kingdom's new first lady was announced in a way only North Korea could pull off.

It was far from the circus of a royal wedding, but news of Kim's marriage was carefully orchestrated.

A state TV newscaster casually introduced Ri Sol Ju as the wife of the young totalitarian.

The introduction took U.S. officials by surprise.

"We've obviously seen the reports," said State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland. "We would always wish any kind of newlyweds well," she added, with a faint smile.

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It also took Twitter by storm, including the spoof "KimJongNumberUn" account, run by comedian Andy Borowitz.

"When I proposed to my wife, she said, 'You had me at food,'" tweeted the comedian, taking a jab at the reclusive nation's dictatorship, which has been accused for years - under the current Kim and his father and grandfather - of letting its people starve as resources are spent bolstering the military.

If the response seemed sarcastic, that's in part because so little is understood about the idiosyncrasies of the isolationist country that rattled world leaders in April with a failed rocket launch.

For weeks, there have been questions about the mysterious woman who appeared in photos on a visit to a kindergarten, and at a recent concert.

The new first lady reportedly had her own pop music career a few years ago.

North Korea analyst Michael Auslin wonders what this public marriage might signify about a regime that has long kept its first ladies in the shadows.

"He might have had a marriage to another political figure's daughter, but instead he went with a singer. So you have to ask the question, was it a love match?" Auslin said in jest.

Concern about North Korea's leader and the nuclear arms he controls, however, is far from a laughing matter.

A State Department official says the new image being portrayed of Kim, and a recent reshuffling within the military, may be part of a campaign to cement control of the impoverished state. Two thirds of the country's 24 million people now face chronic food shortages, according to the U.N.

But Auslin cautions those who think the fresh image and changes at the top of the regime might suggest a coming change in the policy in the isolated nation.

"If we're looking for a 'Pyongyang Spring,' I think we'll be disappointed," says Auslin.

North Korea analysts say Kim may be more media-savvy, but his new style masks old policies. There's no sign, so far, that Kim will stop proliferating weapons or return to international talks about his nation's contentious nuclear program.

  • Margaret Brennan

    Principally assigned to the State Department, Margaret Brennan also serves as a CBS News general assignment correspondent based in Washington, D.C.

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