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

3.82  ·  Rating details ·  2,225 ratings  ·  329 reviews

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
Paperback, 288 pages
Published August 5th 2014 by Picador
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Amar Pai
Jul 16, 2014 rated it it was ok
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 ...more
Barry Welsh
Sep 08, 2014 rated it really liked it
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 ...more
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 ...more
Aug 21, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfic
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
Jake Goretzki
Sep 09, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2016
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
Bryn Donovan
Jan 20, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction
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
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
Julian Douglass
Jul 21, 2020 rated it really liked it
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.
Jul 11, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Thoughtful, precise and poignant.
A book I would recommend to many, especially those with an interest in popular culture and contemporary society.
Feb 25, 2017 rated it it was ok
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 ...more
** 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
Dec 08, 2017 rated it really liked it
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.
Aug 20, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction, asia
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)!

Mar 19, 2020 rated it really liked it
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. ...more
Arifina Budi
Mar 06, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2016
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Jan 12, 2017 rated it it was amazing
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. ...more
Satkar Ulama
Mar 11, 2015 rated it really liked it
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
Lady Jayme,
Aug 04, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction
First, watch this:

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
Quynh Ngo
Mar 04, 2017 rated it really liked it
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 ...more
Dec 19, 2017 rated it really liked it
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.

Sep 09, 2014 rated it liked it
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. ...more
May 18, 2015 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2015-read

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.
Aug 01, 2014 rated it did not like it
There is very little information in this book that can't be gleaned from talking to any Korean American you know. ...more
Anh Dao
Apr 06, 2019 rated it really liked it
as im quite into korean culture, the book explains a lot how it’s so popular worldwide, a culture marketing study case i guess.
Feb 14, 2021 rated it it was ok
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 ...more
Charlotte H
Nov 16, 2015 rated it it was ok
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"
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
Sep 14, 2018 rated it it was amazing
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 ...more
Strona po stronie
Mar 25, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
(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). ...more
Nov 08, 2020 rated it really liked it
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 ...more
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“If Korea were a person, it would be diagnosed as a neurotic, with both an inferiority and a superiority complex.” 6 likes
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