K-pop Now!: The Korean Music Revolution by Mark James Russell – Book Review
K-pop Now!: The Korean Music Revolution is a new book from Tuttle Publishing about the current state of Korea’s idol industry due to be released in April. It features a 20-or-so-page history and explanation of Korea’s idol industry, interviews Eat Your Kimchi, Brian Joo and Kevin from ZE:A and profiles of most of K-pop’s current biggest and most influential acts. It’s bright and glossy like a magazine with a very colourful and appealing front cover.
The author of this book has previously written Pop Goes Korea, a great explanation of the beginnings of Hallyu which I would recommend to anyone who wants to gain a better understanding of how Korean cultural products have become so influential over the past decade and a half.
K-pop Now! is much more light-hearted than Russell’s previous release as well as being thinner and less text heavy. The first few introductory chapters are a good summary of how K-pop (or more specifically the Korean idol industry) has got to where it is today although they may not offer a huge amount of new information for people already knowledgeable about K-pop. The interviews are quite interesting and for me, the most insightful part of the book is Brian Joo’s reflections on how the industry has changed over time as someone that has well and truly been through the K-pop mill.
The rest of the book is made up of 2 or 4 page profiles of over 30 different Korean pop acts. These profiles are accurate for the most part but I must admit I have a very big bugbear which I feel I must share for any K-pop fan who is considering buying it: the section about TVXQ. The section about TVXQ is inaccurate in a way that could make certain K-pop fans very angry. The profile refers to them as a two-member group, which in itself is fine, but nowhere does it even mention that for around half of their 10 year existence the group had 5 members. If this was consistent throughout the book I would think it was a little misleading but it would make sense. However looking at the profiles of other groups that have had line-up changes – Wonder Girls, 2PM, After School etc. – the former members of every single one of them are listed and in most are discussed at some point. In fact in Kara’s profile it even states that their fans were worried that the group would “turn into another TVXQ!” after their own 2011 lawsuit.
I really do wonder about the motivations for this omission – it seems very strange and it is also noteworthy that TVXQ’s splinter group JYJ is completely absent from the book effectively writing the other three members of TVXQ out of this particular book’s account of recent K-pop history. Personally, I have no strong feelings about TVXQ or JYJ but the court cases are a really important moment in modern K-pop history and the way in which they were glossed over is very odd and disingenuous.
There are also little inaccuracies and inconsistencies in the book which might not be particularly important but were nonetheless distracting. Kahi, After School’s former leader, is referred to as “Rahi” several times and the format of members’ names in the info boxes changes several times on different group profiles plus a few other little things. Not grave errors but a little irritating for anyone who knows a lot about K-pop or likes consistency.
Having said that the selection of artists covered in the book is a good representation of the most influential acts in the current K-pop industry. The only acts I felt were lacking were Girl’s Day who are fast becoming one of K-pop’s biggest girl groups (although depending on when the book was written this could be understandable) and Lee Hyori (as The Korean also pointed out). Oh, and possibly Teen Top.
The book has some good moments but I think it suffers a bit from not fully deciding on or understanding its audience. If it is aimed at K-pop fans, as it says on the inside cover then the glossy, high-quality magazine format is definitely a good decision but I’m not sure how much new information K-pop Now! has to give to fans who are already knowledgeable about K-pop. If it is aimed at those who are curious about learning more about K-pop then it may come over as a little too relentlessly positive at times.
If you are looking for a shiny souvenir snapshot of K-pop as it is now (or rather as it was towards the end of 2013 – the difficulty with this kind of book is that as soon as it is in print it is already out of date) then this book would definitely be a good purchase. However if you are looking for something which is a bit more analytical and offers lots of new information this is probably not the book for you and I would instead recommend Pop Goes Korea even if it is now a few years old.
K-pop Now! would definitely make a good gift for a new K-pop fan who wants an easy and accessible guide to the basics of the K-pop idol industry as it is now but might not have much to offer those of us who already have substantial knowledge about it.
K-pop Now!: The Korean Music Revolution is set to be released on 7th April, you can find out more on Tuttle Publishing’s website.