It’s not an exaggeration to say that K-pop is taking the world by storm—just like Korean dramas, Korean movies, Korean beauty and Korean fashion. But there’s plenty that still hasn’t boarded the K-mania. Korean American author and certified K-pop fan, Stephan Lee hopes his book, K-pop Confidential will show you how fun K-pop can be.
Lee has been working as a journalist at Entertainment Weekly covering books and movies. While K-pop has always been something at the back of his head, it was ignited when he went to Seoul for three weeks to write a feature about Korean entertainment’s world domination—getting the chance to talk to K-pop idols, filmmakers and K-drama writers. Now, Lee has put his passion into a book with K-pop Confidential and its sequel, K-pop Revolution.
The book will follow K-pop trainee Candace Park, who wants to be a K-pop idol but she will have to overcome challenges in order to be in the spotlight. Lee will be sharing his book at Hong Kong International Literary Festival on November 7. Ahead of his appearance, Lee sits down with Tatler to talk about his debut book, how he got into K-pop and why even non-K-pop fans will love it.
Can you tell us more about your new book, K-Pop Confidential?
K-Pop Confidential follows the story of Candace Park, a Korean American teen from New Jersey, as she flies to Seoul after unexpectedly passing an audition at the biggest K-pop company in the world. She enters the company’s trainee program, which she soon finds out is way harder than she ever could have expected, physically and emotionally.
Not only are the expectations from the company unrealistic—she has to deal with insane schedules, dating bans, and enforced diets. But she’s also a fish out of water who has to learn how to be “authentically” Korean, whatever that means. Of course, Candace has a ton of fun too, falling in forbidden love, making enemies and best friends, and finding her voice literally and figuratively.
I also want to note that readers who had no knowledge or interest in K-pop before reading the book have loved it as there’s a definite The Hungers Games feel to a K-pop trainee facility, except it’s real life!
You’ve been working at Entertainment Weekly then now at Bustle, what made you decide to finally write a book?
I’ve found that a lot of people who write about pop culture and entertainment secretly (or not-so-secretly) wish they were the ones creating the things that they’re writing about. I love writing about entertainment, but my goal all along was to be an author and eventually screenwriter.
I was actually working on a completely different book—an adult novel that was somewhat autobiographical—when [author] David Levithan of Scholastic asked me if I’d be interested in writing a K-pop young adult (YA) novel. I’d always had an idea for a K-pop YA novel, but I never thought I’d be the one to write it until the opportunity presented itself so I immediately said yes.
Tell us, how did you get into K-pop?
I always knew about K-pop—when I was young, groups like H.O.T. and Fin.K.L were really popular. I’m embarrassed to admit this, but growing up, my goal was always to try and be more “American,” so getting into K-pop didn’t seem like a priority at the time. It wasn’t until much later while I was working at Entertainment Weekly that I was assigned Korean entertainment stories every now and then, because I was the only Asian writer on staff.
In 2014, I went to Korea for three weeks to report a story about Korean entertainment, and that’s when I really got obsessed with K-pop, especially girl groups like 2NE1 and Girls’ Generation. My fandom has grown exponentially since then.