While much of the news these days regarding South Korea is of the political nature, it’s hard to ignore that its media, entertainment, and yes, even music, has become more mainstream in recent years.
Some big examples of this immersion into American pop cultuer include Psy’s “Gangnam Style” and the American remake of the 2003 horror flick, “Tale of Two Sisters,” into 2009′s “The Uninvited.”
Author and journalist Euny Hong looks into how South Korea has turned into one of the largest pop culture exporters, which then led to its rise a a world super power in the 21st century in her new book, “The Birth of Korean Cool: How One Nation Is Conquering the World Through Pop Culture.” Out on Aug. 5, the book not only highlights some of the more humorous parts of Korean culture but also shows how its contributions to pop culture has essentially made the country cooler.
Find out more about how “The Birth of Korean Cool” came about, Euny’s favorite thing to do in New York City and her tips for anyone who wants to write a book.
This isn’t your first book. You wrote a novel prior to ‘The Birth of Korean Cool.’ What inspired the decision to go into the non-fiction world?
I wasn’t going to write non-fiction at all. In fact, I wasn’t going to write about Korea. I had been working on a few novels taking place in France (I used to live there) and had put them aside. When the “Gangnam Style” video went viral, I mentioned casually to an editor that I had grown up in Gangnam and she literally screamed at me, “Why did you wait this long to tell me you were from Gangnam?” I really didn’t understand what the big deal was, but at her urging, I wrote a short article/memoir about Gangnam. It got picked up by the Atlantic and, well, my agent said let’s make this into a book. Also, I stupidly thought that non-fiction would be easier than fiction. It absolutely isn’t.
You’re also a journalist. How does your approach to journalism differ from from writing books?
Every skill you develop as a journalist– observation, accuracy–is necessary for book-writing, but you also have to shed some journalistic habits to complete a readable book. Journalists make a lot of paragraph breaks and write in choppy sentences and repeat themselves a lot–all of this is necessary to telegraph news quickly and efficiently, but it’s tedious in a book-length format.
What’s something you learned from writing “The Birth of Korean Cool?”
Factually, the thing that most surprised me was the discovery that Jinro Soju is the best-selling brand of liquor in the world–more than Smirnoff, more than Johnny Walker. More broadly, I also found out–based on some articles on Korea that I wrote leading up to the book’s publication–that Koreans are still really really sensitive to perceived criticism and extremely preoccupied with what other people think of them. Furthermore, their default assumption is that everything is a personal attack on them. I had really been hoping that Koreans had evolved out of this by the 21st century. Let’s just say I’m expecting a lot of trolls.
After writing this book, what’s one cool thing from South Korea will remain cool in pop culture, and what’s one fad that’ll need to end now?
I think Korean cinema will prove to be enduring, even though it’s currently one of the least profitable of all the Korean pop culture exports. It’s in the films that you can see how creative and uniquely philosophical Korean artists are. I’m personally not a big fan of the other aspects of Korean pop culture. I could take or leave the dramas and K-pop, but some Korean movies have already become classics. As for fads that need to end now, definitely BB cream. Kpop stars, men and women both, wear too much BB cream.
Favorite thing to do in New York City?
Butting in on strangers who are trying to have private conversations in French.
What are some tips for journalists who want to transition into book writing?
Don’t do it unless you are sure you can devote at least six uninterrupted months to it. Find out if your company has an official book leave policy, ie if they will hold your job open for you while you’re writing your book. You will never, never finish writing a book with the mentality that you can work on it on evenings and weekends. You lose a lot of momentum if you aren’t writing non-stop. Most people I know who have written books of any kind, wrote their first drafts pretty much in one go.
“The Birth of Korean Cool: How One Nation Is Conquering the World Through Pop Culture” is available on Amazon now. However if you want to meet the writer in person, Euny Hong will be doing two book signings — one in NYC and the other in LA. Details are below.
Aug. 5 – New York: Barnes & Noble Upper East Side, 150 E 86th St – Talk, Q&A, Signing, 7:00 p.m.
Aug. 11 – Los Angeles: Book Soup, 8818 Sunset Blvd – Talk, Q&A, Signing, 7:00 p.m.