YA Friday: For Fans of K-pop and K-dramas

If you pay even a little bit of attention to pop culture, you may have heard of BTS or BLACKPINK. They are examples of K-pop music groups and are one part of the “Korean Wave,”—also called 한류 or Hallyu, referring to the popularity of Korean pop culture and Korean TV shows, music, and movies across Asia and other parts of the world.

So even if you don't know much about Korean entertainment, you will love these fun K-pop and K-drama-themed books!

What Is K-pop?

K-pop, an abbreviation of Korean pop or Korean popular music, is a musical genre consisting of electronic, hip hop, pop, rock, and R&B music originating in South Korea. In addition to music, K-pop has grown into a popular subculture among teenagers and young adults throughout Asia, resulting in widespread interest in the fashion and style of Korean idol groups and singers.

What are some distinctive features of K-pop?

The term K-pop includes many different musical elements and genres under its umbrella. Along with Korean pop, it can also include Korean rock music, hip hop, and electronic music. K-pop is considered a relatively new form of music. Today's type of K-pop music that you’re listening to was formed around the 1990s. However, the roots of K-pop began in the 1950s and have already been influenced a lot by different types of Western music and pop groups. American pop music culture has especially had—and still does have an effect on K-pop.

K-pop choreographies mostly rely on hard-hitting, synchronized movements, with members switching positions multiple times in a routine. The movements are also planned to be repetitive and addicting to look at, matching the concept of each song. This is a strategy called 자리바꿈 (jaribaggum), or “formation changing” in English. The term for this is 포인트 안무 (pointeu anmu), or “point dance.”  which made some dances and songs go wildly viral.

What are K-pop idols?

If you’re still entirely new to K-pop music, then think of pop bands such as One Direction, Little Mix, and Fifth Harmony in the West: they’re close to the concept of idols!

A Korean idol, or K-pop idol, is a South Korean musical artist signed under a mainstream or performs as an indie artist under his/her own label. In South Korea, potential idols are commonly cast by agencies via auditions in order to become trainees. Those who successfully pass this audition stage are offered long-term contracts with the entertainment company. There are no age limits to becoming a trainee; thus is not uncommon for trainees, and even debuted idols, to be very young. The trainee process lasts for an indefinite period of time, ranging from months to years, and usually involves vocal, dance, and language classes while living together with other trainees, sometimes attending school at the same time, although some trainees drop out of school to focus on a career as an idol. Then, if they are lucky and talented enough, they will be picked for an idol group by the end of their teens.

The K-pop groups then periodically come out with music singles and albums filled with catchy tunes. Every week they’ll go to many music shows to perform their lead single for one month to two months. Although the song is essential, special care and attention are always put into styling the group members, a well-synched choreography, and a high-quality music video.

This combination tells the story of the chosen style concept for each era. Some could say these entertainment companies work like manufacturers in assembling the perfect idol group outlook and style for each cycle of performing and promoting the music.

What Are K-dramas?

Korean dramas—K-dramas for short—are South Korean scripted TV shows. Sometimes they’re referred to as Korean soap operas. Still, that description is misleading because K-dramas encompasses various genres, from sci-fi and romance to horror and period pieces and everything in between. Most consist of a finite number of episodes (often between 16 and 24, though some—especially family-oriented and historical dramas—run for 50-plus) and are usually completed in a single season, with a few notable exceptions (more on that later).

K-dramas have high production value, intense and often engaging storylines, and quality acting that helps build an emotional connection between the characters and the audience. They also tend to consist of more PG-friendly fare than western TV shows; for example, nudity and sex are practically nonexistent. This makes K-dramas more palatable for a broader range of age groups and countries, especially more socially conservative ones. At the same time, the bold and skillful storytelling with which K-dramas tackle societal issues, personal struggles, and universal themes such as family, friendship, and love make for thoughtful content that resonates with audiences across geographical borders. To put it plainly, K-dramas make us feel less alone and often successfully tap into our shared human experiences and emotions.

*insert finger heart emoji*

K-pop Confidential, book cover

K-pop Confidential by Stephan Lee

Candace Park knows a lot about playing a role. For most of her life, she's been playing the role of the quiet Korean girl who takes all AP classes and plays a classical instrument, keeping her dreams of stardom-and her obsession with SLK, K-pop's top boyband-to herself. She doesn't see how a regular girl like her could possibly become one of those K-pop goddesses she sees on YouTube. Even though she can sing. Like, really sing.

So when Candace secretly enters a global audition held by SLK's music label, the last thing she expects is to actually get a coveted spot in their trainee program. And convincing her strict parents to let her to go is all but impossible ... although it's nothing compared to what comes next.

Under the strict supervision of her instructors at the label's headquarters in Seoul, Candace must perfect her performance skills to within an inch of her life, learn to speak Korean fluently, and navigate the complex hierarchies of her fellow trainees, all while following the strict rules of the industry. Rule number one? NO DATING, which becomes impossible to follow when she meets a dreamy boy trainee. And in the all-out battle to debut, Candace is in danger of planting herself in the middle of a scandal lighting up the K-pop fandom around the world.

If she doesn't have what it takes to become a perfect, hair-flipping K-pop idol, what will that mean for her family, who have sacrificed everything to give her the chance? And is a spot in the most hyped K-pop girl group of all time really worth risking her friendships, her future, and everything she believes in?

I'll Be the One, book cover

I'll Be the One by Lyla Lee

Skye Shin has heard it all. Fat girls shouldn’t dance. Wear bright colors. Shouldn’t call attention to themselves. But Skye dreams of joining the glittering world of K-pop, and to do that, she’s about to break all the rules that society, the media, and even her own mother, have set for girls like her.

She’ll challenge thousands of other performers in an internationally televised competition looking for the next K-pop star, and she’ll do it better than anyone else.

When Skye nails her audition, she’s immediately swept into a whirlwind of countless practices, shocking performances, and the drama that comes with reality TV. What she doesn’t count on are the highly fat-phobic beauty standards of the Korean pop entertainment industry, her sudden media fame, and scrutiny, or the sparks that soon fly with her fellow competitor, Henry Cho.

But Skye has her sights on becoming the world’s first plus-sized K-pop star, and that means winning the competition—without losing herself.

XOXO, book cover

XOXO by Axie Oh

Cello prodigy Jenny has one goal: to get into a prestigious music conservatory. When she meets mysterious, handsome Jaewoo in her uncle’s Los Angeles karaoke bar, it’s clear he’s the kind of boy who would uproot her careful plans. But in a moment of spontaneity, she allows him to pull her out of her comfort zone for one unforgettable night of adventure…before he disappears without a word.

Three months later, when Jenny and her mother arrive in South Korea to take care of her ailing grandmother, she’s shocked to discover that Jaewoo is a student at the same elite arts academy where she’s enrolled for the semester. And he’s not just any student. He’s a member of one of the biggest K-pop bands in the world—and he’s strictly forbidden from dating.

When a relationship means throwing Jenny’s life off the path she’s spent years mapping out, she’ll have to decide once and for all just how much she’s willing to risk for love.

I Believe in a Thing Called Love, book cover

I Believe in a Thing Called Love by Maurene Goo

Desi Lee believes anything is possible if you have a plan. That’s how she became student body president. Varsity soccer star. And it’s how she’ll get into Stanford. But—she’s never had a boyfriend. In fact, she’s a disaster in romance, a clumsy, stammering humiliation magnet whose botched attempts at flirting have become legendary with her friends.

So when the hottest human specimen to have ever lived walks into her life one day, Desi decides to tackle her flirting failures with the same zest she’s applied to everything else in her life. She finds guidance in the Korean dramas her father has been obsessively watching for years—where the hapless heroine always seems to end up in the arms of her true love by episode ten. It’s a simple formula, and Desi is a quick study.

Armed with her “K Drama Steps to True Love,” Desi goes after the moody, elusive artist Luca Drakos—and boat rescues, love triangles, and staged car crashes ensue. But when the fun and games turn to true feels, Desi finds out that real love is about way more than just drama.

Once Upon a K-Prom, book cover

Once Upon a K-Prom by Kat Cho

Elena Soo has always felt overshadowed. Whether by her more successful older sisters, her more popular twin brother, or her more outgoing best friend, everyone except Elena seems to know exactly who they are and what they want. But she is certain about one thing - she has no interest in going to prom. While the rest of the school is giddy over corsages and dresses, Elena would rather spend her time working to save the local community center, the one place that's always made her feel like she belonged.

So when international K-pop superstar Robbie Choi shows up at her house to ask her to prom, Elena is more confused than ever. Because the one person who always accepted Elena as she is? Her childhood best friend, Robbie Choi. And the one thing she maybe, possibly, secretly wants more than anything? For the two of them to keep the promise they made each other as kids: to go to prom together. But that was seven years ago, and with this new K-pop persona, pink hair, and stylish clothes, Robbie is nothing like the sweet, goofy boy she remembers. The boy she shared all her secrets with. The boy she used to love.

Besides, prom with a guy who comes with hordes of screaming fans, online haters, and relentless paparazzi is the last thing Elena wants - even if she can't stop thinking about Robbie's smile...right?

The Noh Family, book cover

The Noh Family by Grace K. Shim

When her friends gift her a 23-and-Me test as a gag, high school senior Chloe Kang doesn't think much of trying it out. She doesn't believe anything will come of it--she's an only child, her mother is an orphan, and her father died in Seoul before she was even born and before her mother moved to Oklahoma. It's been just Chloe and her mom her whole life. But the DNA test reveals something Chloe never expected--she's got a whole extended family from her father's side half a world away in Korea. Her father's family are owners of a famous high-end department store and are among the richest families in Seoul. When they learn she exists, they are excited to meet her. Her mother has huge reservations, she hasn't had a great relationship with her husband's family, which is why she's kept them secret, but she can't stop Chloe from traveling to Seoul to spend two weeks getting to know the Noh family.

Chloe is whisked into the lap of luxury, but something feels wrong. Chloe wants to shake it off--she's busy enjoying the delights of Seoul with new friend Miso Dan, the daughter of one of her mother's grade school friends. And as an aspiring fashion designer, she's loving the couture clothes her department store owning family gives her access to. But soon Chloe will discover the reason why her mother never told her about her dad's family, and why the Nohs wanted her in Seoul in the first place. Could joining the Noh family be worse than having no family at all?

Further Reading

Somewhere Only We Know, book cover
Idol Gossip, book cover
Shine, book cover
Flip the Script, book cover
Made in Korea, book cover
Wicked Fox, book cover
Hello, I Love You, book cover
Comeback: A K-pop Novel, book cover
Zero O:clock, book cover
K-pop, book cover
BTS Icons of K-pop : the Unofficial Biography, book cover
The Unofficial BTS Bible, book cover