The Birth of Korean Cool – Book Review

I just got back from another trip to South Korea to visit my boyfriend Junkyu over the Christmas and New Year’s break. It was my third time visiting Korea, and I learned so much.

While on the trip, I completed my 2014 reading challenge of reading 30 books! I instantly got started on my 2015 challenge to read 40 books. My first book of 2015 is a book called The Birth of Korean Cool, by a woman with a pretty amazing life story, Euny Hong.

As a K-pop and K-drama fan, I started falling in love with Korea in high school and college, but the rise of pop culture in Korea and the Hallyu wave’s sweep across the world did not come about by accident. Hong’s book explains just how much went into the continuing success of Korea.

I first became introduced to Asian pop culture through YouTube when I was in high school. I started teaching myself Japanese after becoming obsessed with J-pop, and now that I live in Japan I see how pop culture affects a society’s perception of the world. In The Birth of Korean Cool, Hong writes about everything from history and food to the cinema culture in the 1980s.

A self-proclaimed Francophile, she doesn’t stop with commentary on Korea, either. Hong’s book took me on a historical and cultural journey through the development of Korea, as well as the drive to export Korea as a brand everywhere. From scare tactics in Korean schools to flash mobs in France, this book has it all.

In college I wrote a paper about how pop culture can bridge nations and help gloss over the rugged past of two enemy countries by creating a mutual love for music. As an expat in Japan and a Johnny’s fan, I have followed Japanese popular culture and can completely agree with Hong; Japan is losing the pop culture battle to Korea.

Korea actively seeks to promote itself as not only a leader in technology, but also the biggest exporter of boy bands. Japan isn’t even allowed to hold concerts in Korea, according to the book, while Korea meticulously packages CDs to Japanese tastes, and gives language lessons to make sure Japanese fans get hooked. Japan has never done anything like this, and while Korean group members often sport a non-Korean, Japanese groups hardly try to appeal to foreign markets at all.

The writing is witty, funny, and easy to follow, and while I’m learning about Korea, I also added about 50 words to my vocabulary. This book is a great read for anyone living as a foreigner in Asia, as you are sure to empathize with Hong’s move to Korea at the age of 12 (with zero Korean language ability). I learned so much about Korean history, food, and of course about the background of Psy. Reading this book while driving around Seoul only heightened my experience, but no matter where you are, globalization affects you and everyone around you. This books explains just how Korea dusted itself off and became a household name.

Add me on Goodreads to keep up with my challenge progress, and make a reading challenge for yourself this year! What books are you reading now? I’d love some recommendations!

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7 thoughts to “The Birth of Korean Cool – Book Review”

  1. I’m intrigued by learning about Korean pop culture, my fondness for K-pop bands started with G-Dragon and whatever CDs I could find back home since J-pop CDs weren’t available to me. I’ll keep this book on the shortlist!

    You mentioned that Japanese bands don’t often include non-Japanese members and it reminded me of this article ( ) I saw recently about Yuya Matsushita forming a new boy band with two Korean members. I think some people see it as jumping on the K-pop craze, but as long as Yuya is making music I am happy. I look forward to hearing more from them.

    I also want to read more this year too. I read more last year than I had in years and only managed about a book a month on average. Right now I am reading Eat, Pray, Love and I am unashamed to admit how often parts of it are resonating with me.

    I should update my Goodreads profile, but I get embarrassed if I don’t read often or the things I read seem shallow. Good luck with your reading goals! I look forward to hearing more book recs from you.

    1. Oh wow, I am a huge fan of Yuya and I hadn’t heard about that! I have been to three of his performances and he is great solo but his audience is small. He also dances more and in a different style, so teaming up with Koreans is a good move for him I think. The book mentions the lack of quality dancing from Jpop stars.

      Don’t be ashamed! Reading is reading! Anything that keeps your mind active is good. Thank you so much for your comment! I can’t wait to post more book reviews and more about Korean culture! I feel like I learned so much recently.

      Thanks for the encouragement!

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