SM’s shady dealings: Author confirms they forced JYJ out of new K-pop book

The author of a recently released book on K-pop has revealed that SM Entertainment pressured his publisher to remove references to JYJ and the TVXQ! lawsuit.

This came to light when one of our favourite bloggers, Oegukeen (who has previously written a guest post for us on inter-cultural relationships) wrote an in-depth review of Mark James Russell’s book K-pop Now!: The Korean Music Revolution’.

Like we (and other reviewers) previously noted, she pointed out that there were odd inconsistencies in the book in the way TVXQ! and JYJ were covered. However unlike those other reviews, this time the author took the time to directly respond to the criticism in the comments of Oegukeen’s blog.

Russell confirmed, as we had suspected, that this effective deletion of JYJ from K-pop history was the result of interference from SM Entertainment. He said:

“Yes, I agree with you about the JYJ/TVXQ issue. But, alas, that was not my call. SM Entertainment was quite adamant about how TVXQ was covered. Which is too bad, as I really liked Xia’s “Incredible” (among other songs).”

Of course this did not go down well with fans of JYJ who questioned the author’s integrity and, rightfully, used it as further proof of SM’s meddling in the group’s affairs despite being told to stop interfering by the Fair Trade Commission.






While JYJ fans’ frustrations are understandable, it is unfair to throw the author under the bus for something which is not really in his control. Aside from anything, his 2008 book POP GOES KOREA is one of the absolute best books on the history of Korean entertainment written in English and is a must-read for anyone with a serious interest in the topic.

In order to pull together such a shiny and attractive book with all those high-quality photographs, Mr Russell and his publisher Tuttle would have to work with Korean entertainment companies in order to get the rights for various promotional photos and artworks. The publisher wanted to create an anthology of K-pop groups and that is difficult to do without any kind of input from their agencies.

Mark James Russell actually took to his blog earlier in the year to address the issue but it didn’t seem to get much notice:

“Now, I was not interested in embarrassing anyone or making anyone look bad, and I know that the whole TVXQ history is a very sensitive one, so I tried to write a very positive article on the band, which mentioned them starting as a five-member unit, then transitioning to a duo. I did not mention anything controversial about what happened and just looked at the positive — i.e., that everyone is doing well now, and fans have a lot of great music to choose from.

However, SM Entertainment did not like that approach. They were worried that any mention of the group’s history would upset the fans. I tried being flexible, and repeatedly pointed out that not addressing the group’s history at all would likely just draw attention to what happened and upset people more. But, in the end, SME had its approach and was firm. So that is how we ended up with the book the way it is.”

The excuse that it might ‘upset the fans’ is hilariously ridiculous and yet it is exactly the kind of thing that SM would say.

Amusingly, because the company most likely only checked (or were given to check) the parts of the book that regarded their artists specifically the break-up of the group is still alluded to in the profile of KARA further on.

Although it’s not great that the publisher caved to SM’s requests it is understandable to a degree and it’s good to see that the author is not trying to cover up what happened despite the backlash he might receive from the more… passionate parts of the JYJ fandom.

But for SM… this is, yet again, more bad press. 2014 really is a year they will wish to forget.

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  • Chris Backe

    In case it wasn’t clear to the K-pop fans – don’t kill the messenger. And since when did writers have to write to please companies that aren’t their publishers? Tuttle, you kinda screwed the pooch on this one.

    • Nini28326

      As an author, if you use copyrighted material such as photos in your publication you must have permission to do so. All images, no matter who takes them, of Kpop artists are legally the property of he/she/they who own the brand. A Kpop Group is branded and copyrighted before they ever see a debut stage and therefor any media regarding them is intellectual property of their entertainment company. To use the photos legally, the author needed it permission and that left an open door for SM to pressure them about JYJ. Its highly likely that SM pressure the authors publishing company to remove all of the stuff related to JYJ and they chose to make the omissions so as to be able to actually publish the book. Meddling from outside companies, when it comes to books and publishing, actually happens a lot.

      • Chris Backe

        Photos belong to the picture-taker, not the person being pictured. To be sure, they may have had a difficult time licensing pictures from someone else because they’re so carefully protected… They also didn’t *have* to use any pictures (easily explained by telling the rest of the story in an appendix. Tuttle has an incentive, however, to maintain something of good relations with one of Korea’s largest entertainment companies.

        (As for your thought about ‘meddling from outside companies… that’s why I self-publish.)

        • Nini28326

          This is where laws in the US and other countries differ, especially in S. Korea. It is against the law to use the likeness of any celebrity for profit without the expressed written consent of the artist involved, their management company, or whosoever owns the right to their brand. If the author took pictures of the members of Big Bang at a concert and used them in the book without permission from YG, he would be in violation of copyright and branding laws. Even though the individual shots may technically belong to him, the content does not.

          • Oegukeen – from Loving Korean

            Hmmm… are you sure this is true? It makes sense at concerts, taking photos is even forbidden during most concerts in Korea,

            but how would news agency publish hundreds of photographs of celebrities, for example at VIP premiere and such if they were violating copyright?

            I’m pretty sure I remember reading something about photographing people being allowed in public places in South Korea as well. I can’t remember properly now, but I’m really curious…

          • Yuleylll

            Lol In my opinion about forbidding fans to take photos during concerts, I think it’s just the company’s strategy to forbid you to encourage you to buy their official merchandise.
            When BEAST came to my country for a concert a few years ago, the girls who used DSLRs to take photos of BEAST were caught and told to delete them on the spot (poor girls). The staffs seem more lax with normal digital camera tho. Because the place was so dark. What ever you took using your digicam won’t look very nice either.

          • Nini28326

            Absolutely positive. I work in the industry, specifically in the Kpop news industry, and we have to deal with copyright laws on photographs and video footage on a daily basis.

          • Shamik Chakravarti

            Youtube is full of ‘fancam’ videos. Who owns the copyright to these videos?

          • Nini28326

            Those fancams are a violation of copyright and branding laws. But it also boils down to how willing the owners of said copyrights are will to go to prosecute. If the ent. company wants them taken down, they will be. It all depends on the company.

        • Ning

          They needed the photos to appeal to consumers, it’s clear who their target audience is.

  • dbullock

    I don’t call this understandable… I call it perpetuating a lie.

    • jensterz


  • Guest

    Tell like it is, just because you need copyright materials for the book doesn’t mean you sacrifice the accuracy and integrity of the content. If you had to bend to the every whim of the company it should be said as such, rather than presenting it as a completely factual recount of Kpop history. It’s not just a matter of shooting the messenger, it is also about the wider picture of what standard we want our books, textbooks and articles to adhere to.

  • Nini28326

    After almost 15 years in the Kpop business, none of this surprises me what so ever. In my professional opinion, the author screwed up. Because they went for an eye pleasing look for the book, and therefore needed to have permission to use the photos, they left the door wide open for SM to meddle. The author could have, just as easily, created a perfectly well written and historically accurate book without the necessity to make it “pretty”. Had the author done so, SM wouldn’t have had the opportunity to meddle, pressure the publisher, and therefore the true history of DBSK/JYJ/TVXQ would have never been omitted.

    • Ning

      It’s just a flashy book aimed at fans, not a one where he did proper research. It’s quite funny how SM is so “adamant” regarding how JYJ gets written off the his book yet allowed him to make a factual error stating Mirotic came out in 2006.
      Reading other reviews, it seems like there are numerous such mistakes throughout, not even getting the names of the artistes correct and so on. It’s a pseudo non fiction work.

      • Nini28326

        This is where, as a published author, I take serious issue with the book’s writer. Getting “in bed”, so-to-speak, with these entertainment companies makes the author lose not only their objectiveness but also their credibility in my eyes. There are other ways to verify the actual facts without resorting to going directly to the source -who are, by their very nature self-serving and self-biased.

  • Aminah Henne

    couldn’t he have avoided the not so pleasant history but still be allowed to praise some of jyj’s music? considering they are still performers in kpop, they should be mentioned and they were a part of a group that really helped launch the hallyu wave in the 2000s. sm quit blackballing jyj for god’s sake!

  • kpopalypse

    Yeah I knew it. And this is why you don’t write about k-pop in close collaboration with any k-pop agency.

  • Oegukeen – from Loving Korean

    Hello Lizzie,

    thank you for your kind words :)

    • Lizzie (beyondhallyu)

      I forgot to reply! And I meant to send you a message… apologies.

      Anytime. I hope everything is going well with you :)

  • tickled41

    sme. so petty.

    They’ve been trying to erase the disputes they’ve had with HOT, ShinHwa, DBSK in the early days, SUJU, etc. since forever.
    Guess it works too since most fans don’t know about it anymore

  • Shamik Chakravarti

    I’m not sure why this wasn’t mentioned in this article. Tuttle publishing might be based in the US but the writer lives in Seoul. His livelihood could be in danger if SM decided to cut him off from his contacts.

    • Ning

      It always boils down the money doesn’t it? Tsk tsk.

  • lilibaiyu

    The author, for whatever reason, has shown himself to be spineless. Certainly, when he realized what SM was insisting that he do, he knew it was going to fatally compromise the integrity of his work. He and his publisher had a choice to make when they saw in technicolor the kind of company SME is and the way they do use coercion to fit their agenda. Sure, those glossy photos of SUJU were nice, but I just hope Russell thinks they were worth what is happening to him now in terms of his reputation and credibility.