Mark James Russell

Books, blog and other blather

Category: Pop Goes Korea (page 1 of 2)

At last — Pop Goes Korea is back!


Okay, so this took a few months longer than I expected last fall. But at least, Pop Goes Korea (2nd Edition) is out and for sale.

The new version is 10,000 or so words longer than the old one, with all sorts of updates throughout. In addition to updates to each chapter, I’ve also added essays about Korean indie music, another about classic rock, a followup Q&A with Sean Yang (founder of Soribada) and a new Q&A with Dami Lee, the web cartoonist.

Best of all, the 2nd edition is also a lot cheaper, for $4.99 on the US Amazon site.

Oh, but all the photos are gone. Sorry, but I didn’t want the hassle of dealing with all those photo rights all over again. And, besides, this is the internet age, so I assumed people could just search and find all the photos they wanted for any subject.

For now, it is only available as an ebook at Amazon, but I am planning to upload it to all the major ebook sites soon enough.

Okay, it is a bit of an old book for such a high-turnover, constantly changing topic. But I think it holds up fairly well (and there really is nothing else that covers the same territory in English). And for the occasional student of pop culture, hallyu or modern Korea, I thought it would be useful to have my book easily available.

Thanks to all who read the original edition, and to those who are interested in the new one. I really appreciate your time, and I hope you find the new version interesting and useful.



Getting closer…

Sorry for the extended radio silence. A new job and the usual life stuff makes it harder to find the time to say much worthwhile. However, that could be changing soon.

First up: Pop Goes Korea update. Yes, I’m actually making progress. In fact, there’s just one more chapter to update – unfortunately, it’s the music chapter, which definitely is going to require the biggest update. But that’s okay. It’s all pretty fun stuff to write about. Oh, and I’m hoping to add a couple of Q&As, just to add some other people’s thoughts and experiences to my overview of the Korean entertainment and media scene.

Of course, even when the writing and editing is done, I’m going to have to figure out e-book publishing on all those online stores (Amazon, Barnes & Noble, etc.). That might take a bit of figuring out. But hopefully it won’t take too much longer.

In other writing news, my publisher tells me that my new novel is supposed to be ready and in the world in June. So that’s pretty exciting, too. I was lucky enough to meet the cover artist, Eric Belisle, in Tokyo a few weeks ago, and in addition to being a fun and fascinating guy, Eric also came up with a couple of fun changes to the cover based on our chat. I’ve seen an early version and I’m pretty happy with it.

So, it looks like the next few months could be fun and productive for me. I hope you enjoy the results!

Picture this

Okay, so the revamp of Pop Goes Korea is taking a lot longer than I anticipated. Sorry about that. But I will try to have the new edition up as an e-book before too long, so people needing it for this semester at university will have time to read.

On the plus side, one reason it is going slow is because I am happy with the new material and all the good feedback I’ve gotten from people. It’s been a pretty crazy 8-9 years for Korean pop culture since the book was published, and there’s a lot to cover.

In the meantime, here are some more fun pics from around Seoul. A nice sunset from up high in Myeongdong.


And a shot from down on the streets below (well, Euljiro, but later that same night).

Processed with VSCO with m5 preset

I used to live right here in Donggyo-dong, back when this park was a train track. I remember the day they pulled up the tracks and started digging down to build the airport express line. It took forever for the city to finish the train line, and then for years this land was just derelict. But now, it is quite a nice park.


Here is an image from Sangil-dong, where developers are tearing down nearly all the old apartment blocks. Coming soon, towering apartments, 25 stories high or more.


And here’s a fun one from a nearby forest, when the air cleared up and it was a nice 10 degree day in January.


2016 is winding down

Another year is nearly done, and once again I find my life strangely in flux. There’s a new job about to begin in January — in a totally new part of town I’ve never really hung out in before. I think it is a really good-looking job, but I will miss working in the old, run-down Euljiro part of town. It had a lot of ramshackle beauty.


Meanwhile, I’m still at work on POP GOES KOREA, 2nd Edition. So much has gone on with Korea’s entertainment scene since the first edition, revising it is turning into a bigger task than I envisioned back in October. But I’m still hoping to get it done in time for the start of the next semester’s classes (for students who might need it as a resource).

Oh, because the weather is so cold at the moment, here are a couple of photos of Okinawa from a recent trip there. Sunny, warm Okinawa…


Come on in, enjoy the nice warm water. But btw, here is a small list of the local critters that might maim or kill you…


Oh, but here’s something from the sea that we killed first. Justice!



Pop Goes out of print, and other changes

Pop Goes Korea_cover_small_

Hard to believe that POP GOES KOREA is nearly a decade old already, having rolled off the presses in December 2008. It’s been a fun run and I really appreciate everyone who has bought a copy. But now, I’ve just been informed by Running Press Books that they are letting the book go out of print.

Cue sad voices…

You should still be able to buy physical copies of the book on Amazon and other online retailers for a while, as the remaining copies slowly trickle out. But the e-book copy will apparently disappear in just 2-3 weeks.

However, I don’t plan on letting the e-book disappear for long. It’s a bit early to say anything too detailed, but hopefully I’ll have something else available online by the end of the year. That’s my hope anyhow.

Again, thanks to all who read or bought my book. And I’ll be back again soon.

Christmas Pullochos

So I was checking out the Kyobo Gwanghwamun store today, and in addition to stationary, toys and presents, it actually sells a lot of books. Who knew?

What’s more, when I was walking around the foreign language section of the store, I came across an interesting fantasy book on display:

Pullocho - Kyobo
Yep, there had several copies of Young-Hee & the Pullocho. Nice to know the book is not only in stock, but actually visible. Yay.

Here’s another view:

Pullocho - Kyobo2

Maybe it’s a small thing, but it still picks up my spirits to see my books in a store. Especially such a big, flagship bookstore like that Kyobo.

Anyhow, 2015 is nearly over, so a big thanks to everyone who bought one of my books this year — whether it was Young-Hee & the Pullocho, K-Pop Now or Pop Goes Korea. And an extra-big thanks to everyone who took the time to rate or review them, too, whether on Amazon or Goodreads or anywhere else. It’s so nice to know that people are reading something I wrote and enjoying it.

Outrage, bias and growing older

I was taking a look at traffic to this little blog (bloguita?) a little while ago, and noticed a few hits coming from the forum attached to a popular Korean pop culture website. There, on a thread all about the actor Bae Yong-joon, one commenter had linked to my website, saying some nice things about Pop Goes Korea, but also making some strange claims about my “bias” against Bae Yong-joon, apparently instead favoring Lee Byung-hun.

Which I thought was more than a little odd. I mean, there’s a lot in the book about Lee because, well, there’s a whole chapter that profiles him. But in that chapter, when I talk about the rise of the Korean Wave, I clearly indicated the prime importance of Winter Sonata, the drama that made Bae so internationally famous. I may have tweaked Bae’s obsessive fandom once or twice in the past, but I think I’ve always given him his due.


So if I talked a lot about Lee Byung-hun, it was because he was the subject of the chapter, and because he was generous enough to give me plenty of time for interviews, responding to my many questions. Bae would have been a great choice for a TV chapter, but at the time, he just wasn’t interested in participating in the book (and I had some contacts with his company and manager at the time, so wasn’t just cold-calling from out of nowhere).

But, being the Internet, people like to speculate, which led to some really odd comments, like maybe I preferred Lee Byung-hun because his personal scandals appealed to my male sensibilities. Very, very odd. If anyone wanted to take a moment to research a little, they would have found plenty of stories about the importance of Winter Sonata  and Bae in Hallyu history.

Anyhow, it definitely was not a big deal. I only mention it because of some other online fusses I’ve seen lately. There’s apparently a squadron of people who loathe the very nice folks at Eat Your Kimchi, so when EYK was announced as a guest on some Arirang TV show, a mini-mob arose, accusing EYK of all sorts of ridiculous stuff (like fat-shaming, which would be, like, the exact opposite point of their videos on the topic). The mind boggles.

Fans of K-pop groups are always quick to switch to outrage mode, whenever someone is perceived to have slighted their favorites. Some of those fans are famous for being totally unhinged.

But it isn’t just Korean pop culture fans, of course. It seems like any field where people are the least bit passionate, that passion turns so quickly and easily into a wild, mob mentality. Left hate right. Right hates left. The fantasy and science fiction communities, also love a good flame war (“So-and-so famous writer from the past was racist!” being a popular starting point).

All of which makes me so happy to be middle-aged. I have my loves and dislikes, but aside from my family, all my music favs, art, movies or whatever have a much more moderate place in my psyche. “I hate X.” “Oh, okay. I quite like X, but that’s all right.” Life is so much more pleasant this way.

* * *

Then again, no shortage of the big Twitter flame wars involve adults, so I guess age doesn’t mellow everyone.

Hallyu Riptides

So, I’ve kindly been invited to speak at the 10 magazine book club this Saturday (thanks to Barry for the invitation).  And although I’m still not 100 percent sure what I’ll be saying, I’m happy to say that I finished my Prezi presentation this evening.

(One thing I like about Prezi is that it gives you some flexibility to riff, if you want).

Usually, I just talk about Korean pop culture history, but I think this Saturday I will mix things up and combine Korean history with a bit of personal history, and talk about how I got into writing and how the writing business has changed over the years. (Or I might not … all is subject to change).


Saturday, July 26, 4pm

Haechi Hall at the Seoul Global Culture & Tourism Center in Myeongdong

Cost: 5,000 won


It’s Not (and Never Was) a Korean Wave — It’s a Globalization Wave

One of my bigger arguments in Pop Goes Korea was that the Korean Wave was not really about Korea at all; it was actually about globalization. The amazing success Korea has had in media and entertainment over the past 10-15 years was not because Korea was unique and different as much as it was because Korea has ahead of the curve.

Korea was at the forefront of the Internet revolution, and many of the changes that online has wrought came to Korea first (or at least quicker and more dramatically). Music, for example — online/digital sales in Korea have surpassed physical sales (CDs, etc.) since at least 2004.

But, the thing is, those changes are increasingly affecting the rest of the world now. With music now, $5.6 billion is spent globally on digital music (that’s about 34% of all music revenue), with digital exceeding physical sales in Sweden, Norway, India, and the United States, and much of the rest of the world is catching up.

Which brings me to Turkey and Turkish television. I wrote about Turkish soaps in 2010, but they have just continued to grow in popularity since then, earning $90 million in exports last year, up from just $1 million in 2007. They have found big fans throughout Central Asia, the Balkans, the Arab World and even Latin America. And what’s driving that success? Good production values and stories, as well as the need for more content — cable/satellite TV means more channels, and those channels need something to fill the void. Turkish producers have done their best to fill it.

One of Turkey’s most popular TV shows, Magnificent Century (or “Muhteşem Yüzyıl”).

And it is not just Turkey. In Eastern Europe, the growth of pay-TV (now an $8.3 billion market) has also created more demand, leading producers to emulate Russian, Scandinavian, and other content.

With the success of Turkish soft power, predictably, has come a backlash, with many countries banning Turkish soaps. While cultural protectionism is a common issue all over the world (at least when a country is importing culture … exporters tend to be much more open-minded), I do think a lot of journalists oversell the issue. As one wrote:

Remember, the Turks did not feel they should be a satellite state of Brazil just because they so dearly loved Brazilian soap operas in the 1980s and 1990s. Nor did the Arabs begin to love the Americans/America because they had a habit of watching more Hollywood films (than Turkish soaps).

On the other hand (if I may undercut my own argument), when you look at the IFPI’s international music numbers, local sales are still overwhelmingly important in most markets. But I don’t think that is terribly surprising. Exports are more of an issue in capital-intensive forms of media, like TV or movies. When you go to the big international content markets (film, TV, music, or whatever), you are increasingly seeing an international presence selling content, not just buying. It’s still the early phases of the new media world we are growing into, but I’m still encouraged by what I am seeing.



Pop Wars Returns at Last

Not sure why this took me so long, but at last I have imported all of Korea Pop Wars, my first blog, into this current site. I guess that does not help much with old incoming links to KPW, but at least it makes all that information more easily available for people who read my little website.

It is kind of fun looking at those old posts. After all, I started the last blog in 2006, during perhaps Korea’s best movie year ever. So you had posts like this box office update, when there were zero Hollywood films in the top 10 — seriously, there were eight Korean films, one Japanese movie, and a Spanish film. And here is a post about the Korean country singer (and friend) Jimmy Lee Jones. Last I checked, Jimmy is still going strong, with his bar down in Daejeon.

Anyhow, if you were looking for my old posts about movies or music or whatever, hopefully they will be easier to find now.

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