"K-Pop Now! The Korean Music Revolution" by Mark James Russell
“K-Pop Now! The Korean Music Revolution” by Mark James Russell
A few weeks back, the K-Soul office was contacted by Tuttle Publishing, asking if we’d be interested in doing some work together with their Korean focused books. Since Tuttle are home to my favourite language handbook series, “Making out in ______”, I knew this would be an excellent collaboration for the site. So the first book on our review series is relevant to all of our interests: K-Pop Now! The Korean Music Revolution by Mark James Russell.
The very first thing I did when checking out the book was google the author. As a k-pop fact checking nazi connoisseur of K-pop, I can be pretty particular about what gets written. Especially when an English writer begins writing books that are guides to k-pop. It would be far too easy to fall into the trap of only talking about YG/SM/JYP and forgetting that there is a plethora of agencies out there, and K-Pop was not birthed from Psy’s ridiculous glasses. Thankfully, the moment I checked out Mark James Russell’s links, I recognized some of his previous work and publications. While he is not a high profile blogger like some opinions out there, Russell is a well respected journalist who has been in Korea long enough to know life before Gangnam Style, and has written in a lot of well regarded newspapers on Korean culture. You can check out his website, short biography, and some of his previous work here: http://www.markjamesrussell.com/
To the book itself:
Russell starts his book like any good k-pop writer really should: planting your feet and explaining why he should be considered an expert on the subject. Like said, English speaking fans can be incredibly suspicious of names they don’t recognize, and he did a fantastic job of establishing himself as a long term resident of Korea who has had his eye on Korean pop culture from the get go. Being able to reference HOT when he first arrived, to marking the date rather clearly by saying that Gangnam Style had reached 1.8 billion views on Youtube (it’s well surpassed that by now.) The way he opens the book by describing a concert in Korea shows proof that he knows what he is talking about, and has “lived the dream” so to speak. This is a topic he is comfortable with.
Russell notes that to know k-pop, you need to understand Korea as well. He does an excellent job giving a brief history of Seoul, explaining that despite Korea having a long history, the city is very new, due to the Korean war which completely levelled the city. He breaks the city down into four essential spots for any K-pop fan to know: Hongdae, Samcheong, Gangnam and Apgujeong. I would definitely agree with these four areas. While tourist associations may try get people to visit areas like Myeongdong for buying artist goods, I have found that most fans come out of there frustrated, and so I am glad that these four, the real homes of K-Pop and youth culture in Korea, are given attention.
Perhaps the most amazing part of the book, and the section that will never lose relevance, will be the “What is K-Pop” section. In this chapter, Russell gives a very detailed history of K-pop, explaining it’s very root beginnings from even before the Korean War. It’s an incredibly detailed piece of writing, weaving music through the Korean War, the authoritarian governments afterwards, finally up to the release of Seo Taiji and the Boys first album. Russell references artists from the past few decades with ease, providing the kind of cultural history lesson that most k-pop fans really should have. It is, hands down, my favourite chapter of the book.
Three interviews follow, with Simon and Martina from Eat Your Kimchi, Kevin Kim from Ze:a, and Brian Joo from Fly to the Sky. I really liked that artists from various ends of the k-pop spectrum were used for these interviews. Brian Joo has been in the k-pop industry for quite some time now, and has recently made a comeback with Fly to the Sky. On the other side, there is Kevin Kim with Ze:a, a group that has a solid following, but is not from one of the major companies so doesn’t have a rose tinted view of the industry. All three interviews give a well rounded view of different points in the industry, from names people recognize.
A large section of the book is dedicated to profiles of artists that are/were incredibly famous at the time of writing. Since the book has been published recently, the artists are still pretty up to date. While I was reading, I did have some questions and a few nitpicks about details, like which names were used (when artists have stage names and Japanese stage names and regular names, it can be very confusing). The artists featured are:

Boy groups

  • Big Bang
  • Super Junior
  • DBSK
  • 2AM
  • 2PM
  • BAP
  • Beast
  • Busker Busker
  • CN Blue
  • Exo
  • FT Island
  • Infinite
  • MBlaq
  • SHINee
  • Ze:A

Girl Groups

  • Girls Generation
  • 2ne1
  • Wonder Girls
  • 4Minute
  • AfterSchool
  • Brown Eyed Girls
  • Davichi
  • f(x)
  • Kara
  • Miss A
  • Secret
  • Sistar
  • T-ara

Solo Artists

  • Psy
  • Boa
  • Jay Park
  • Rain
  • Yoon Mirae
  • IU

Russell also highlights some of the up and coming artists at the time in the “Future of K-Pop” chapter, including VIXX, Crayon Pop, Roy Kim and Akdong Musician! Russell seems to definitely have the right idea with music, as many of these artists have gone on to see their careers grow and grow since.
Overall, this book is really handy to have. K-Pop Now! is a great reference book in a field where there are few experts that are able to put words to print in an educational way. Especially for those who may be wanting to write papers on Korean pop culture in the future, K-Pop Now! would be a definite requirement on a bibliography.

“K-Pop Now!”  Giveaway!

Thanks to Tuttle Publishing, we have two copies of K-Pop Now! The Korean Music Revolution to give away! We’re going to be giving one away through twitter, and one through Facebook!

Twitter followers!

  1. Follow us @ksoulmag
  2. Tweet us @ksoulmag and use the hashtag #kpopnow to let us know which artist you would include in a 2014 edition of this book! It can be a group or singer that was featured, someone up and coming, or someone you feel was left out!

Facebook Followers!

  1. Like our Facebook page
  2. Respond to the question on our facebook page, which will ask “Which artist would you include in a 2014 edition of K-Pop Now? It can be a group or singer that was featured, someone up and coming, or someone you feel was left out.

You have ONE WEEK to enter! We will be picking our winner on July 10th, 2014.
Of course, if you want to get your copy as soon as possible K-Pop Now! is available through Amazon, and has both a paperback and Kindle edition!

Please do consider purchasing the book if you do not win, and continue to support English language k-pop writers so we can all continue to bring you high quality information about Korean pop culture.


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