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A FRESH, FUNNY, UP-CLOSE LOOK AT HOW SOUTH KOREA REMADE ITSELF AS THE WORLD'S POP CULTURE POWERHOUSE OF THE TWENTY-FIRST CENTURY By now, everyone in the world knows the song "Gangnam Style" and Psy, an instantly recognizable star. But the song's international popularity is no passing fad. "Gangnam Style" is only one tool in South Korea's extraordinarily elaborate and effect A FRESH, FUNNY, UP-CLOSE LOOK AT HOW SOUTH KOREA REMADE ITSELF AS THE WORLD'S POP CULTURE POWERHOUSE OF THE TWENTY-FIRST CENTURY By now, everyone in the world knows the song "Gangnam Style" and Psy, an instantly recognizable star. But the song's international popularity is no passing fad. "Gangnam Style" is only one tool in South Korea's extraordinarily elaborate and effective strategy to become a major world superpower by first becoming the world's number one pop culture exporter. As a child, Euny Hong moved from America to the Gangnam neighbourhood in Seoul. She was a witness to the most accelerated part of South Korea's economic development, during which time it leapfrogged from third-world military dictatorship to first-world liberal democracy on the cutting edge of global technology. Euny Hong recounts how South Korea vaulted itself into the twenty-first century, becoming a global leader in business, technology, education, and pop culture. Featuring lively, in-depth reporting and numerous interviews with Koreans working in all areas of government and society, The Birth of Korean Cool reveals how a really uncool country became cool, and how a nation that once banned miniskirts, long hair on men, and rock ‘n' roll could come to mass produce boy bands, soap operas, and the world's most important smart phone.


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A FRESH, FUNNY, UP-CLOSE LOOK AT HOW SOUTH KOREA REMADE ITSELF AS THE WORLD'S POP CULTURE POWERHOUSE OF THE TWENTY-FIRST CENTURY By now, everyone in the world knows the song "Gangnam Style" and Psy, an instantly recognizable star. But the song's international popularity is no passing fad. "Gangnam Style" is only one tool in South Korea's extraordinarily elaborate and effect A FRESH, FUNNY, UP-CLOSE LOOK AT HOW SOUTH KOREA REMADE ITSELF AS THE WORLD'S POP CULTURE POWERHOUSE OF THE TWENTY-FIRST CENTURY By now, everyone in the world knows the song "Gangnam Style" and Psy, an instantly recognizable star. But the song's international popularity is no passing fad. "Gangnam Style" is only one tool in South Korea's extraordinarily elaborate and effective strategy to become a major world superpower by first becoming the world's number one pop culture exporter. As a child, Euny Hong moved from America to the Gangnam neighbourhood in Seoul. She was a witness to the most accelerated part of South Korea's economic development, during which time it leapfrogged from third-world military dictatorship to first-world liberal democracy on the cutting edge of global technology. Euny Hong recounts how South Korea vaulted itself into the twenty-first century, becoming a global leader in business, technology, education, and pop culture. Featuring lively, in-depth reporting and numerous interviews with Koreans working in all areas of government and society, The Birth of Korean Cool reveals how a really uncool country became cool, and how a nation that once banned miniskirts, long hair on men, and rock ‘n' roll could come to mass produce boy bands, soap operas, and the world's most important smart phone.

30 review for The Birth of Korean Cool: How One Nation is Conquering the World Through Pop Culture

  1. 5 out of 5

    Amar Pai

    Breezy, cheesy, wheezy... it's an OK book but due to the memoir-ish nature of it, doesn't actually get into the details of Korean Cool as much as you'd expect. I mean she does get into those details, but it's all presented through this lens of personal experience that I didn't find that compelling. The whole thing just felt a little too light weight, e.g. it annoyed me that there's a chapter on "The Birth of Irony" where she argues that irony is only present in wealthy countries and Korea had to Breezy, cheesy, wheezy... it's an OK book but due to the memoir-ish nature of it, doesn't actually get into the details of Korean Cool as much as you'd expect. I mean she does get into those details, but it's all presented through this lens of personal experience that I didn't find that compelling. The whole thing just felt a little too light weight, e.g. it annoyed me that there's a chapter on "The Birth of Irony" where she argues that irony is only present in wealthy countries and Korea had to learn it to thrive... but there's zero evidence or explanation for her claims and the chapter goes off in a totally different direction! There are some interesting tidbits in here about Korean schooling, Confucianism, Wan... I think the subject matter is fascinating; it just deserves a more thoughtful/compelling response.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Barry Welsh

    Journalist Euny Hong’s highly praised and much discussed new book is part memoir and part socio-cultural investigation into South Korea’s rise to international cultural prominence through Hallyu – The Korean Wave. In her introduction she laments that “Korea was not cool in 1985.” 1985 being the year when, as a fully Americanized 12 year old Korean-American girl, she was uprooted by her family from Chicago and taken to Seoul. Initially excited to escape America and leave behind classmates who wou Journalist Euny Hong’s highly praised and much discussed new book is part memoir and part socio-cultural investigation into South Korea’s rise to international cultural prominence through Hallyu – The Korean Wave. In her introduction she laments that “Korea was not cool in 1985.” 1985 being the year when, as a fully Americanized 12 year old Korean-American girl, she was uprooted by her family from Chicago and taken to Seoul. Initially excited to escape America and leave behind classmates who would call her “Jap” or refuse to believe she wasn’t Chinese, Hong was immediately shocked by the cultural differences she witnessed in the country around her. She memorably likens living in Seoul during the period of rapid redevelopment from the 1980s into the 90s to witnessing Rome being built in a day. These days, as Hong notes, the picture is vastly different; South Korea is the world’s fifteenth largest economy, Seoul is one of the most futuristic cities in the world and Korean culture’s cool cachet is on a seemingly unstoppable upward trajectory. Hong details these startling changes while making the compelling argument that it was all entirely by design. She writes that the Korean government, starting with Kim Dae-jung, “made the Korean Wave the nation’s number one priority” and attributes much of the country’s success to enlightened government support and investment. This includes wiring the entire country for high speed broadband and the creation of a billion dollar investment fund in 2005 to promote the country’s soft power in the form of music, film and TV dramas amongst many others. Hong dedicates a chapter to each of these key Hallyu industries and has insightful, intelligent comments to make about each. In one of the book’s best chapters, Han – that arguably uniquely Korean feeling of sadness and resentment engendered by years of oppression and invasion – is also highlighted as a prime motivating force behind South Korea’s rapid transformation and global ambitions. Hallyu would not be possible without the foundation of Han. One of the most interesting elements of the book is the personal anecdotes, memories and experiences that Hong weaves into the narrative. For an American teenager suddenly transplanted into Gangnam, life was difficult. Mocked for her American accent, pressured to study and terrified of violent teachers, Hong struggled to fit in. It’s in describing these experiences that Hong’s wry, ironic voice fully shines through and it’s this tone that makes “The Birth of Korean Cool” such a joy to read.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Kristian Bjørkelo

    I was taken completely by surprise by The Birth of Korean Cool. I don't know what I actually expected, as one with only a passing interest in Korean pop culture. I've seen some Korean reality shows, followed some bands and drama. Mostly for the heck of it, and as a result of a general curiosity. And while I have grown critical of what I suspected was the machinations of a well oiled fabrication process, I lacked the cultural and historical context to fully comprehend it. Euny Hong has rectified I was taken completely by surprise by The Birth of Korean Cool. I don't know what I actually expected, as one with only a passing interest in Korean pop culture. I've seen some Korean reality shows, followed some bands and drama. Mostly for the heck of it, and as a result of a general curiosity. And while I have grown critical of what I suspected was the machinations of a well oiled fabrication process, I lacked the cultural and historical context to fully comprehend it. Euny Hong has rectified that in a marvellous fashion. In The Birth of Korean Cool she serves up well a well written context and explains how the past and future aspirations create what is the current state of the cultural industry in Korea. And industry that is dominated by large companies who are obedient servants of the Korean state. She effectively demonstrates the power a government has to shape not only the economy of a nation, but also it's culture. In particular a deeple confucian culture like the one in Korea. Through this book I have found a better understanding of all the things about Korean pop culture and its popularity that I've had a hard time of grasping. It is well written, and the anecdotes used to illustrate the history of Korean culture are quite compelling. The images of Korean school discipline and inter-generational interaction will probably stick with me for some time. Great read. And inspiring.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Ray

    Interested in Rising Asia? Particularly, in the K-pop phenomena currently sweeping the globe? Then Euny Hong's The Birth of Korean Cool is a necessary book if you want to understand how South Korea became the country that it is today. Part memoir and part informal history lesson, Hong details both her life as a Korean-American kind going back and forth during the tumultuous 80s and 90s as well as journalistically documenting all the main points in Korean development and pop culture. Learn about Interested in Rising Asia? Particularly, in the K-pop phenomena currently sweeping the globe? Then Euny Hong's The Birth of Korean Cool is a necessary book if you want to understand how South Korea became the country that it is today. Part memoir and part informal history lesson, Hong details both her life as a Korean-American kind going back and forth during the tumultuous 80s and 90s as well as journalistically documenting all the main points in Korean development and pop culture. Learn about Korea's unique challenges separating the nation from the rest of Asia, especially the more well-known tales of China and Japan's rise. About how the 90s recession actually kick-started a central government plan to update industries as diverse as digital tech--from Samsung to Starcraft--and of course popular music. Confucianism, kimchi, han and hallyu: Everything one needs to know to get caught up in the sometimes rigid world of Korean upbringing and modern hipsterdom. Fascinating takes on North Korea and propaganda too, that's even the South's propaganda during the previous dictatorship era. The book is a bit dated at this juncture, as Psy's Gangnam Style is the reference readers are all supposed to know while BTS hadn't become the biggest thing ever just yet. Not to mention Park Geun-hye was president at the time of this writing, before her eventual disgrace. As always with such books, it's more of an introduction than the final word. If a reader is so inspired then one can certainly pursue more scholarly works and then dig deeper into the Korean political and business world... In any case, at least for the casual traveler visiting Seoul on vacation (which I must admit, was me before I was inspired to read up more), this book is indispensable!

  5. 5 out of 5

    Jake Goretzki

    This is a well paced and personable look at the K-phenomenon, nicely augmented with that outsider-insider angle that comes from Hong having spent most of her childhood in the US and where being Korean was once embarrassing, not hip. It's pretty useful on Korean culture in general. I love the idea of shame and rage ('han') being the engine of so much ambition and progress. I find myself thinking of Korea at moments as the Asian answer to Ireland (or perhaps Poland); dicked around by boorish neigh This is a well paced and personable look at the K-phenomenon, nicely augmented with that outsider-insider angle that comes from Hong having spent most of her childhood in the US and where being Korean was once embarrassing, not hip. It's pretty useful on Korean culture in general. I love the idea of shame and rage ('han') being the engine of so much ambition and progress. I find myself thinking of Korea at moments as the Asian answer to Ireland (or perhaps Poland); dicked around by boorish neighbours for centuries, only to emerge with the social understanding and bitter experience of the bully to know how to stride into his living room and be welcomed as a sweetheart. It's also interesting (for an unapologetic liberal capitalist type comme moi at least) just how much state investment and involvement there has been in the strategic direction of Korean enterprise (not to mention protectionism). Definitely helped. Can't help admiring Korea hugely, really: the technophilia, the good looks and the sheer industry. There's also wry pleasure to be had from seeing them knock Japan off its perch, frankly. When I was growing up, Japan was the future - and Sony was the future of technology (not the laughing stock it is now). There are good reasons for it running out of steam and for Korea storming ahead (I had never heard of Galapagos Syndrome in economics and tech, but it's a pretty decent hypothesis). But sure as night follows day, K follows J. Good effort.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Bryn Donovan

    This book was published a few years back, and I'm fairly sure it wouldn't have been without the popularity of the song "Gangnam Style" by Psy. I'm really glad it was, though -- it's a fun and fascinating read. Hong writes about her own experiences of her adolescence in Seoul, about historical and present-day South Korean culture, and about the country's state-sponsored entertainment industry. I knew a little bit about state-sponsored industries in South Korea from the book Bad Samaritans, but I This book was published a few years back, and I'm fairly sure it wouldn't have been without the popularity of the song "Gangnam Style" by Psy. I'm really glad it was, though -- it's a fun and fascinating read. Hong writes about her own experiences of her adolescence in Seoul, about historical and present-day South Korean culture, and about the country's state-sponsored entertainment industry. I knew a little bit about state-sponsored industries in South Korea from the book Bad Samaritans, but I had no idea that K-pop and videogames were among those industries. Hong's voice varies from neutral journalistic tones to quite chatty and personal, which sometimes surprised me, but I didn't really mind. I also felt like this book gave me a good place to start for K-dramas and Korean cinema.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Jolene

    I won a copy of this through Gooreads First Reads I really hope Hong plans to write more books in the future. Her writing makes you feel like she is sitting across the table from you and speaking to directly to you. There were only a few spots were I felt like I was actually reading a non-fiction book. Besides explaining how Korean Pop Culture has spread through out the world, she also (lightly) touches on S. Korea's economy right after the Korean War, the social changes the country has seen in j I won a copy of this through Gooreads First Reads I really hope Hong plans to write more books in the future. Her writing makes you feel like she is sitting across the table from you and speaking to directly to you. There were only a few spots were I felt like I was actually reading a non-fiction book. Besides explaining how Korean Pop Culture has spread through out the world, she also (lightly) touches on S. Korea's economy right after the Korean War, the social changes the country has seen in just a few decades, the differences between her experience with Korea's education system in the 80s and what its like today, and the growing obsession with plastic surgery. Overall this was a very informative and entertaining read Full review to come

  8. 5 out of 5

    Julian Douglass

    This was a fun and interesting book to see what is South Korean culture and how it evolved over the past 30 or so years. Ms. Hong uses her life experiences to show the changes from her perspective and it really emphasises the point of the growth. For a good book, I would not use this as the official guide for South Korean pop culture, but it is a good way to get a brief on it.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Michael

    Thoughtful, precise and poignant. A book I would recommend to many, especially those with an interest in popular culture and contemporary society.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Staci

    This is more personal than strictly research based like some other books on the topic; as such it has a lot of the author's opinions in it. For example: the artist PSY doesn't have the best of relationships with his father, which has been mentioned in several interviews. But according to the author of this book: "in the western media, the press wouldn't write about this even on a slow day". Or, continuing the theme, PSY has a song called "Father" but the author states that "no western pop icon w This is more personal than strictly research based like some other books on the topic; as such it has a lot of the author's opinions in it. For example: the artist PSY doesn't have the best of relationships with his father, which has been mentioned in several interviews. But according to the author of this book: "in the western media, the press wouldn't write about this even on a slow day". Or, continuing the theme, PSY has a song called "Father" but the author states that "no western pop icon would write a song about his or her parents, with the possible exception of Eminem's song 'Cleanin' Out My Closet'" -- she's trying to point out the differences between Korean culture and Western culture and how that led to the "Birth of Korean Cool" but she undermines herself in examples like these that are not only a broad generalization but obviously false. She continues to make false generalizations, even when she gets down to talking about actual K-pop: "[in K-pop music videos] the girls always smile, the boys never do, instead bearing warrior expressions" -- um, no, not exactly. Rather the amount of smiles most likely has to do with what type of concept the video has: if it's a cutesy, "aegyo" concept then you're likely to see plenty of smiles, regardless of gender. Several examples of boy group videos that are more "aegyo" and therefore have plenty of smiles include SHINee's "Hello", TVXQ's "Balloons", Boyfriend's "Boyfriend", B1A4's "Beautiful Target", etc. Likewise, girl groups don't smile as much when they're doing a sexy or more serious concept; examples include SNSD's "The Boys", Girl's Day "Something", After School's "First Love", etc. This book doesn't actually talk about K-pop that much even though it was published in 2014, well after PSY's viral success marked how much the Hallyu Wave seems to have shifted from Kdramas to music, therefore I guess it's not too surprising that Hong's reading of K-pop would be a bit lacking. Or maybe she's counting on her readers not knowing enough to catch her in these false statements: almost immediately after the "girls smile, boys don't" generalization she states that "to get an idea of how manufactured K-pop is, one Korean television program started four simultaneous and separate K-pop bands with a color theme. Collectively, they are called the Color of K-pop". No, no they didn't. That was a ONE TIME performance for an end of the year awards show that had different artists from EXISTING K-pop groups come together to perform as these color-named groups, they weren't actually new K-pop groups. Actually, collaborations amongst K-pop artists are quite frequent at award shows (as well as at other times), whether or not the collaboration gets a name. The crossing of label lines to work with artists not at your agency could actually have been an interesting topic (and if she wanted to talk about the manufacturing process of K-pop she could have talked about "visuals" and other members of groups who are not picked for their actual music ability but because of their looks) but, as usual, Hong misses the mark with her examples. Later on, when she's talking about how Korea overtook Japan as the major Asian cultural power, she gives an example (again trying to show how different the two cultures are, and again, being mistaken) about how member of Japanese girl group AKB48 wear school uniforms and sing that "My school uniform is getting in the way" while "in Korea, schoolgirl uniforms are only worn...for school". Again, no. EXO's "Growl", f(x)'s "Rum Rum Pum Pum", Apink's "Mr. Chu", BTS's "Boy in Luv" -- all of these had a uniform concept, even back in 2004 TVXQ wore uniforms for their debut song "Hug". To be fair, the number of groups with a uniform concept has definitely increased since the book's 2014 publication but the uniform concept, despite what Hong says was not unheard of before then, after all, the prime audience for K-pop (and indeed, many if not most of the idols in K-pop groups) are teenagers and would thus be able to relate strongly to such a concept. I'm not sure how "Korean" Hong is considering she moved there when she was twelve and has also lived in other places like Europe but her Americaness seems a bit questionable to me -- again, she moved to Korea when she was twelve so while her early childhood was spent in America, her adolescence and early adulthood, arguably a person's most defining years, was not. This shows up at times in the book, for example, she writes "the American in me understands how easy it is to take pop music for granted as something that moody teenagers listen to in order to piss off their parents or deal with the boredom of living in suburbia"...um, when, in the 1950s? That sentence would make sense if you replaced "pop" with "rock" or "alternative" but pop? The only explanation I can think of to have that sentence make sense is that she is using a definition of "pop" that is different from most people's use of pop as a genre of music and instead means just "popular" (which has definitely been done before but gets really confusing when "pop" is considered it's own genre). Also, I'm not sure what Korean Romanization system Hong is using, it doesn't appear to be the one currently used by the Korean government nor does it appear to be the McCune-Reischauer, the system that was by the Korean government until 2000. For example, above I used the word "aegyo", which is a way of acting in a cutesy manner; most people spell the word the way I did--aegyo. Hong chooses to spell the word "ehgyo", which I imagine would throw off a good portion of her audience who came to her book, like I did, because they got into K-pop or K-dramas and want to know a bit more about the culture and how it came to be so popular -- those people would probably already be a bit familiar with romanizing Korean names and words such as "aegyo" and "ahjummas" (or ajoomas, if you're Hong). Overall, this book's strong points are the fact that it looks at the history and culture behind the rise of "Korean cool" beyond just looking at the shows, films, music acts, etc. that became well-known because of that rise. However, it does it in a more personal as opposed to research based way (even though Hong did interview several people for the book, her usage of those interviews is still juxtaposed by the tainting of her own personal thoughts to the degree that it starts to feel less like a professional interview and more like "this guy I talked to said...") and the above-mentioned generalizations can get in the way. There are other books that look at how and why Korean culture/Hallyu has become cool, I would recommend looking at one of those books instead.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Marina

    ** Books 24 - 2016 ** 4 of 5 stars! Should i mention again why this books is awesome?? I doesn't learn much about South Korea and more curious the story about North Korea.. After i read this books. wow okay just wow i've got so many information that i haven't know about South Korea before especially Hallyu wave. You can saw a lot of my status updates for this books. some facts that really overhelming me and i can get it why K-pop and hallyu wave is bigger like nowadays. This books also already be ** Books 24 - 2016 ** 4 of 5 stars! Should i mention again why this books is awesome?? I doesn't learn much about South Korea and more curious the story about North Korea.. After i read this books. wow okay just wow i've got so many information that i haven't know about South Korea before especially Hallyu wave. You can saw a lot of my status updates for this books. some facts that really overhelming me and i can get it why K-pop and hallyu wave is bigger like nowadays. This books also already being translated by Bentang Pustaka. If you love korean culture (for me i am an VIP fufu) you should try read this books ;)

  12. 5 out of 5

    Brenna

    Hong's book is half-memoir, half-social study. She has a lot of material to cover, so often the chapters feel superficial, but the book is a breezy read that offers a solid lesson on Korea's move from the third world to the first. As K-pop has been the major obsession of my life for the last eight years, the chapter covering K-pop was my favorite. But I did find the rest of the book insightful and full of things that will help fans of K-culture come to understand Korea's history and motivations. Hong's book is half-memoir, half-social study. She has a lot of material to cover, so often the chapters feel superficial, but the book is a breezy read that offers a solid lesson on Korea's move from the third world to the first. As K-pop has been the major obsession of my life for the last eight years, the chapter covering K-pop was my favorite. But I did find the rest of the book insightful and full of things that will help fans of K-culture come to understand Korea's history and motivations. The only thing I didn't like? Being reminded of the 20-ish hours I wasted watching "Winter Sonata."

  13. 5 out of 5

    Lede

    Reading this book really did feel like sitting and talking to a friend(as one reviewer noted), listening to her snarky, but informed opinions on South Korea. It's an entertaining way to relay information and facts; SK has been invaded 400 times over the past 5000 years but only participated in the Vietnam war, you don't want to corner someone who has a generational build up of Han and SK's may not be able to sing or dance but they WILL do that better than their arch enemies(Japanese)! Seriously.. Reading this book really did feel like sitting and talking to a friend(as one reviewer noted), listening to her snarky, but informed opinions on South Korea. It's an entertaining way to relay information and facts; SK has been invaded 400 times over the past 5000 years but only participated in the Vietnam war, you don't want to corner someone who has a generational build up of Han and SK's may not be able to sing or dance but they WILL do that better than their arch enemies(Japanese)! Seriously...a quick, informative read that you will benefit from.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Tungstenmouse

    While somewhat out of date, I thoroughly enjoyed this. It chronicles the cultural rise of South Korea not chronologically but through different parts of pop culture and the writer's own experiences. While somewhat out of date, I thoroughly enjoyed this. It chronicles the cultural rise of South Korea not chronologically but through different parts of pop culture and the writer's own experiences.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Arifina Budi

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. A really good book! A most reading book especially for K-Popers. We'll know that Korea isn't that cool as we think. But they're struggle A really good book! A most reading book especially for K-Popers. We'll know that Korea isn't that cool as we think. But they're struggle

  16. 4 out of 5

    Ajla

    An eye opening read in terms of Korea and everything Korean. It's super informative and interesting to read at the same time. I took so many notes from this book. An eye opening read in terms of Korea and everything Korean. It's super informative and interesting to read at the same time. I took so many notes from this book.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Satkar Ulama

    I am not a fan of Korean pop culture. The only Korean drama I've ever seen was Winter Sonata. And it only lasted for two episodes. But I am a fan of cultural studies. In this witty and informative book by Hong, you will discover the many stories behind Korean wave or so-called Hallyu that you enjoy through Korean drama series or Korean music outspreading everywhere. Apparently, Korean old cultural practices have formed a strong belief that most of its people bring into their daily lives as well as I am not a fan of Korean pop culture. The only Korean drama I've ever seen was Winter Sonata. And it only lasted for two episodes. But I am a fan of cultural studies. In this witty and informative book by Hong, you will discover the many stories behind Korean wave or so-called Hallyu that you enjoy through Korean drama series or Korean music outspreading everywhere. Apparently, Korean old cultural practices have formed a strong belief that most of its people bring into their daily lives as well as the entertainment industry (especially their films). There is a complex cultural concept called Han which can be translated into simple words: a collective sense of alliance based on hardship and pain. This, according to Hong, explains why Korean dramas mainly show grief, hard life, and even violence one does in order to break away from his/her pain. Korean culture and norms derived from Confucianism are what makes its dramas full of life lessons. There's also an interesting rationale mentioned in this book for why Korean drama focuses on its story and plot rather than sweeteners like kissing scenes. Now it makes sense why Winter Sonata only has two kissing scenes (with closed lips, of course) throughout its entire episodes. Furthermore, the book also discusses a lot about the music. Not only does she tells about the rise of Psy in global music industry, Hong also reveals the Korean government initiatives to support the internationalisation of their music. This may sound cliched, but read until you figure out how far the government intervened the business and what sort of strategies it undertook to promote Big Bang or TVXQ (well, I've only ever heard of the names, never listened to any of their songs) up to international level. As an Asian myself, reading the whole Korean powerful-to-the-easterners-but-violent-to-the-westerners cultural practices in the past did not surprise me. I even still witnessed and experienced corporal punishment in junior high school (2003-2006). However, it is the values and philosophy that the Koreans uphold behind that that you will find very interesting. As she talks a lot about Samsung and how it rose from 'Samsuck' to a brand people in the world use today, and how it fought to beat Sony so bad (also due to historical reason), I would love it if she also talked about the competition among Korean businesses within the country (on who would be the fastest to reach Fortune 100, maybe? who knows). Also, she impresses readers with the fact that Korean drama has been a global phenomenon and enjoyed everywhere, by mentioning what the audience in many different countries experience, like in Paraguay where Korean dramas are not only dubbed in Spanish but also in the indigenous local dialect of Guarani. To my surprise, Indonesia is not mentioned there while I think, the fact that Indonesian soap opera makers have copied many Korean dramas into the Indonesian version is worth a paragraph. Well, after reading this, I suddenly felt like calling a friend whom I borrowed Winter Sonata from in 2012. And I wanna see the third episode.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Lady Jayme,

    First, watch this: http://youtu.be/mVE96w_cl_w The Birth of Korean Cool: How One Nation is Conquering the World Through Pop Culture by Euny Hong. If you own a Samsung phone or television, have listened to a K-pop song or watched a K-drama, you may have wondered how it is that South Korea has crept up on Japan as the go-to Asian nation for our electronics and pop culture. As recently as 1965, South Korea’s GDP was less than that of Ghana. Today, South Korea is the world’s fifteenth largest economy First, watch this: http://youtu.be/mVE96w_cl_w The Birth of Korean Cool: How One Nation is Conquering the World Through Pop Culture by Euny Hong. If you own a Samsung phone or television, have listened to a K-pop song or watched a K-drama, you may have wondered how it is that South Korea has crept up on Japan as the go-to Asian nation for our electronics and pop culture. As recently as 1965, South Korea’s GDP was less than that of Ghana. Today, South Korea is the world’s fifteenth largest economy and has the fastest Internet connections of any nation. Clever and engaging, "The Birth of Korean Cool: How One Nation is Conquering the World Through Pop Culture” attempts to explain South Korea’s rapid journey from impoverished nation to the economic powerhouse it is today. Author Euny Hong was born in America but returned with her family to her parents’ native South Korea at age twelve, giving her a unique understanding of the culture as both a citizen and a foreigner. She writes with humor and candor about growing up in South Korea during the 80s (when it was very much not cool): her shock at learning that their toilets were the squatting kind, eating cookies made out of caramelized sugar and baking soda, experiencing mandatory school thrashings, and other delightful discoveries. Interesting and well-researched, the book is informative without being dry or boring. Hong interviews people in various aspects of South Korean government and society, such as the director of Popular Culture Industry Division and education officials as well as a boy band member and a South Korean American adoptee. The only drawback to the author’s snappy writing style is the lightweight treatment of a few topics that warrant a deeper investigation. For example, South Korea has the world’s highest rate of plastic surgery, but this fascinating national preoccupation and its causes are only briefly discussed. This is a quick read, so do not go in expecting an in-depth, scholarly take on South Korean history and modern development. “The Birth of Korean Cool” is a very readable, witty look at contemporary Korea with the personal feel of a memoir, and it is recommended for anyone with an interest in Korean culture.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Quynh Ngo

    South Korea is a super interesting country that even surprises an Asian like me. So many things to learn from how it goes from the aftermath of the war to become a developed nation. It's not heavy like an academic book; instead, it's a narrative through the lens of the author who migrated from the US back to South Korea with her family. She will show how she adapted to this new environment and provides a clear compare-and-contrast style between the US and Korean culture. If you're looking into v South Korea is a super interesting country that even surprises an Asian like me. So many things to learn from how it goes from the aftermath of the war to become a developed nation. It's not heavy like an academic book; instead, it's a narrative through the lens of the author who migrated from the US back to South Korea with her family. She will show how she adapted to this new environment and provides a clear compare-and-contrast style between the US and Korean culture. If you're looking into visiting this country, I'd definitely recommend this book.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Cindy

    I really enjoyed reading this! The author's writing style was very engaging and lighthearted. It was almost like hearing a friend telling you a story and not actually reading a book. There was humor without trying too hard, teensy sarcasm and interesting fun facts you would of never guessed - at least for me. Towards the end it got a bit too patriotic and maybe even somewhat propaganda like for me and less of an observation of what Korea was like to live in from the author's perspective. Nonethel I really enjoyed reading this! The author's writing style was very engaging and lighthearted. It was almost like hearing a friend telling you a story and not actually reading a book. There was humor without trying too hard, teensy sarcasm and interesting fun facts you would of never guessed - at least for me. Towards the end it got a bit too patriotic and maybe even somewhat propaganda like for me and less of an observation of what Korea was like to live in from the author's perspective. Nonetheless! Still recommend!

  21. 5 out of 5

    Mei

    Hong seems to be using Psy's 15 minutes of fame to create her own 15 writing a book that is really about the psyche of modern day South Korea. That part is a very interesting read. To claim that Korea is conquering the world through exporting it's pop culture seems like a stretch but I guess she figured that was a needed hook. Hong seems to be using Psy's 15 minutes of fame to create her own 15 writing a book that is really about the psyche of modern day South Korea. That part is a very interesting read. To claim that Korea is conquering the world through exporting it's pop culture seems like a stretch but I guess she figured that was a needed hook.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Simone

    From the title I expected this to be a little more research-y. It's definitely more memoir-ish. Which isn't a bad thing, I enjoyed the way Euny weaved her personal experiences in with a description of South Korea in the (roughly) last 30 years. From the title I expected this to be a little more research-y. It's definitely more memoir-ish. Which isn't a bad thing, I enjoyed the way Euny weaved her personal experiences in with a description of South Korea in the (roughly) last 30 years.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Jenny

    There is very little information in this book that can't be gleaned from talking to any Korean American you know. There is very little information in this book that can't be gleaned from talking to any Korean American you know.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Anh Dao

    as im quite into korean culture, the book explains a lot how it’s so popular worldwide, a culture marketing study case i guess.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Miki

    as soon as she mentioned that korea is the way it was because of "confucian values" i immediately stopped taking this book seriously. i would have expected her as a korean american to not fall into these tired tropes that i don't think are very productive for analyzing the trajectory of certain asian countries. i didn't learn as much as i wanted, a lot of this book was clouded by her own generalizations of korean culture that were questionable -- such as that kpop is a "machine," etc. a lot has as soon as she mentioned that korea is the way it was because of "confucian values" i immediately stopped taking this book seriously. i would have expected her as a korean american to not fall into these tired tropes that i don't think are very productive for analyzing the trajectory of certain asian countries. i didn't learn as much as i wanted, a lot of this book was clouded by her own generalizations of korean culture that were questionable -- such as that kpop is a "machine," etc. a lot has happened (bts/blackpink/parasite) since this book was published so it's also rather outdated.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Charlotte H

    All of Korean American journalist Euny Hong's passages, though insightful and full of interesting anecdotes about how Korean pop culture came to be what it was today, shakily straddle cultural commentary and cultural history with personal narrative. One of the most fascinating essays in the book zooms in on "Gangnam Style" which is Korean culture's first (or at the very least famous man-baby Psy's first) stab at irony and satire. Hong notes that in Korean there's no word for "irony" or "satire" All of Korean American journalist Euny Hong's passages, though insightful and full of interesting anecdotes about how Korean pop culture came to be what it was today, shakily straddle cultural commentary and cultural history with personal narrative. One of the most fascinating essays in the book zooms in on "Gangnam Style" which is Korean culture's first (or at the very least famous man-baby Psy's first) stab at irony and satire. Hong notes that in Korean there's no word for "irony" or "satire" and so the Korean media hones in on the English word "parody" to describe Psy's seminal hit song. (The word choice is a bit off, however, as a parody has to be specifically mocking or imitating an existing work. Hong doesn't note this.) She then points to notes of irony in the song underlined heavily by the music video. In the video's opening Psy appears to be luxuriating on a beach, but, we soon see, he is actually perched in a lounge chair on one of Seoul's many unsightly urban playgrounds. She then goes on to say that the song lets Koreans know that they may be rich and full of swagger now, but they had humble beginnings, and Seoul is no utopian urban paradise. Hong goes on to compare her life and Psy's, both children of Gangnam, both coming up in relative wealth (Psy, super-wealthy, Hong more upper bourgeois). Although this is fascinating, as much of the non-Korean world knows very little about Psy and where his song came from. In fact, we don't know anything about the song at all as the only English words in it are "style" and "Hey, sexy lady." The reader is thirsty for more irony, Euny! Hong detracts from this Gangnam youth narrative, as well as the focus of the essay, by demurring on her upbringing and taking a defensive-sounding tone on having it relatively hard compared to the super-wealthy Psy calls out.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Sarah

    The book covers the history of post-war Korean popular culture, including personal experiences by the author, a Korean-American who lived in Seoul as a teen. The writing is same-y, like reading multiple Buzzfeed or HuffPo articles in a row, and this makes it difficult to stay engaged. The breezy style elides some topics that could use more exploration. For example, the author says that Korean beauty standards have nothing to do with Western standards. But light skin, double eyelids, nose bridges The book covers the history of post-war Korean popular culture, including personal experiences by the author, a Korean-American who lived in Seoul as a teen. The writing is same-y, like reading multiple Buzzfeed or HuffPo articles in a row, and this makes it difficult to stay engaged. The breezy style elides some topics that could use more exploration. For example, the author says that Korean beauty standards have nothing to do with Western standards. But light skin, double eyelids, nose bridges (like Princess Diana, I guess?) and breast augmentation are fashionable. Obviously there’s a lot of overlap with Korea and the West. I’m not doubting her claim; I just want more information in order to understand the difference.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Anatl

    I absolutely loved reading this book and I have an overwhelming urge to reread again so I can memorize all the information contained in it's pages. This book is more than a story about the rise of K-pop or K-drama, it is a lesson learned about the importance of "soft power" and the marketing of a nation. Korea was re-branded through it's pop culture very much like Samsung and LG re-branded themselves. It also has an important economic message to convey, for although South Korea today is the epit I absolutely loved reading this book and I have an overwhelming urge to reread again so I can memorize all the information contained in it's pages. This book is more than a story about the rise of K-pop or K-drama, it is a lesson learned about the importance of "soft power" and the marketing of a nation. Korea was re-branded through it's pop culture very much like Samsung and LG re-branded themselves. It also has an important economic message to convey, for although South Korea today is the epitome of Capitalism, all the "miracles" described in the book came about through government plans and funding.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Strona po stronie

    (szersza recenzja po polsku) Fascinating read on the expansion of South Korean pop culture - supported by the state. Much more rich in content and less focused on the pop culture itself than I anticipated. Includes lots on the history of South Korea, on cultural differences now and in the past. In fact, it's partly the Author's memoir (she's an American of Korean origin, who has moved to the "old" South Korea as a kid and pretty much hated it because of social alienation). (szersza recenzja po polsku) Fascinating read on the expansion of South Korean pop culture - supported by the state. Much more rich in content and less focused on the pop culture itself than I anticipated. Includes lots on the history of South Korea, on cultural differences now and in the past. In fact, it's partly the Author's memoir (she's an American of Korean origin, who has moved to the "old" South Korea as a kid and pretty much hated it because of social alienation).

  30. 4 out of 5

    Charmaine

    Reading this book in 2020 made for a fascinating look back in time. It's hard to believe that six years ago, Gangnam Style was the big shining Hallyu moment, and Park Geun-Hye was still a well-respected Prime Minister. In some ways, I want to hear Euny Hong's take on events of the past couple years. In practically every realm, Korea has excelled probably beyond belief. A part of Hong's thesis was that Korea was "never going to be mainstream in the west" — and yet I wonder if she still thinks tha Reading this book in 2020 made for a fascinating look back in time. It's hard to believe that six years ago, Gangnam Style was the big shining Hallyu moment, and Park Geun-Hye was still a well-respected Prime Minister. In some ways, I want to hear Euny Hong's take on events of the past couple years. In practically every realm, Korea has excelled probably beyond belief. A part of Hong's thesis was that Korea was "never going to be mainstream in the west" — and yet I wonder if she still thinks that way. You definitely have to read this book with an understanding of Hong's own biases and prejudices in mind. In some ways, she seems to find her own heritage really foreign and a worthy source of ridicule. I agree with her: 12 years old is much too old to drink the Kool-Aid of a completely different culture. I definitely had my own period (in high school) feeling embarrassed of my Asian heritage, and actively rejecting Asian cultural products. Only recently have I learned to embrace my Asianness once again; to feel proud and immerse myself in Asian culture. I'd credit that to the Facebook group "Subtle Asian Traits," visiting Korea last year with friends, and COVID-19: suddenly in quarantine, I got hooked on Hallyu. Aside from that though, I think this book does an excellent job of explaining how Korea has achieved its soft power; all the factors that led to its rise in the 21st century. There were more realms than I expected. Let's talk k-pop: it's a bit funny now to see Hong reference the big generation 2 kpop stars like Big Bang and SNSD as "the big thing." They were a big part of my own adolescence (middle school), but I stopped being a kpop fan for a good 8-10 years. In the past two months, I've now joined the BTS ARMY, and it's incredible to see how they've shaken up the landscape. BTS had the "schoolboy factor" that Hong mentioned made j-pop corny and appeal to a different audience than k-pop (lol). But even after they shed their schoolboy concept, BTS has grown into a force to be reckoned with. They are the biggest boy band in the world in 2020. They not only hit the top of the Billboard charts; they're able to get other acts to the top through their star power alone. And they are unabashedly Korean: only one member actually speaks English fluently. You could say I'm a bit obsessed. While Hong inaccurately predicted that Big Bang would be the act to really break-through to the west (I don't blame her — BTS was just one year post-debut at the time this was published), all the elements that made them a success were explained in this book. BTS didn't have the super-restrictive policies that "Big 3" entertainment agencies thrust upon their acts. BTS created an immersive, multi-media experience: across music, self-produced reality and variety shows, video games, merchandise, web comics, kdramas, art installations, and so much more. The one thing I wanted to call-out was Hong's almost derisive view of the lack of original content in k-pop. The fact of the matter is, all big global acts work with producers in Europe (e.g. Sweden - Max Martin, anyone?) and songwriters around the world. BTS is only a testament to the fact that originality and authenticity works: the three rappers in particular aren't just talking boxes, but bona fide writers and producers themselves. SUGA says "Let's all play instruments!", so we'll see if BTS surprises us in this realm one day too. I know less about the film industry, but I marvel at how all those factors outlined in this chapter led to Parasite. Bong Joon Ho is referenced for Snowpiercer and The Host in this book, but I would be shocked if a 2020 version of this book didn't centre around Parasite in its well-deserved Oscar-winning, SAG-winning, Cannes-winning, WORLD-DOMINATING glory. Turns out, the west will come to accept subtitles too, when it comes to masterpieces. As for kdramas, a 2020 version of this book would undoubtedly need to dive into the role of Netflix bringing kdramas to the west. Crash Landing on You crashed into American consciousness, which I think can largely be attributed to the many pushy ads for it on the western streaming platform. It's kind of funny that Dramafever (of all platforms!) no longer exists, but I suppose the idea is the same. I personally hadn't ever seen a kdrama before this year, but I do think the format is starting to be a bit less makjang and a bit higher-brow. The cinematography experienced a HUGE shift starting in 2015 or so, at least. It was also cool reading about phenomena like Winter Sonata and a few others before my time. I only really knew about blockbuster kdramas starting with Boys Over Flowers, The Heirs, Descendants of the Sun, and Goblin. Video games also serve as an interesting vehicle for Hallyu. I saw a post recently where US ESPN called out the Elite 4 in Korea: the aforementioned Bong Joon-Ho and BTS, plus Son Heung-min and... Faker. E-sports have blown up over the past decade, and to be frank, I think Euny Hong was a bit behind the ball here even in 2014. By 2014, the League of Legends World Championship had prize money of over $2M USD. She described "Maple Game" as something no one in the west has heard of, but Maple Story was actually THE defining game of a generation of youth all around the world (just ask the nearly 2 million 20-somethings on "Subtle Asian Traits" for proof). I do think Korea's dominance in video games should be more closely linked with the values distilled through the education system: hard work, perseverance, tenacity, and discipline. Korea's best e-sports teams are highly coordinated engines that require intensive training, backing from corporates (can anyone say SKT T1?), and high pressure. Again, I think this industry reinforces that kids are willing to go this route because their alternatives in the hellish Korean school system aren't all that different. I wouldn't say Korea has been a huge innovator on the video game production side, however: Maple Story has definitely lost its edge, and Nintendo still maintains relevance through innovations like the Switch. As someone working in the corporate world, I had to laugh a bit at Hong's descriptions of the new ICT ministry: it's total corporate-speak, and I'd be willing to bet that a consulting firm like my own dreamed up the pillars of the strategy (in a way that's ridiculously inaccessible to the general populace). I definitely understand how reliance on Chaebols serves as a risk to South Korea's economic prosperity, and I can only hope that these investments in innovation pay off for them. I also found the commentary on centralized coordination and belief in the greater good fascinating in light of COVID-19. While there definitely have been a few spikes here and there, Korea's COVID-19 response has definitely been better than almost everywhere else in the world, and a lot of cultural factors played a part in making that happen. It would've been interesting if this book delved into the religious sphere too — all the "super spreader" COVID-19 cases in Korea seemed to happen at the church, so it'd be interesting to see how Korea evolved from Confucian roots into a largely Christian base today. All in all, this book made me think about Korea's influence in a way I hadn't really critically examined before. I enjoyed reading about Euny Hong's own lived experience in the 80s and 90s, since it seemed like such a defining time in Korean cultural history (can anyone say REPLY SERIES?). It helped me understand what forces shaped Korea to become such a cultural powerhouse, and while it's a bit dated, it's not too difficult to make a leap from Hallyu circa 2014 to Hallyu in 2020. One might simply say that the Korean wave has reached its inevitable destiny. I'd give Korea a bit more credit than that — I'd say that their continued hard work and perseverance is paying off in spades.

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