Mark James Russell: “Pop Goes Korea: Behind the Revolution in Movies, Music, and Internet Culture” and “K-Pop Now: The Korean Music Revolution”
Words by Barry Welsh
Mark James Russell is an entertainment journalist who has been writing about Korean culture, economics and society since 1996. Over the course of two very well-researched books, the former Korea correspondent for The Hollywood Reporter and Billboard has explored in great detail the development of Korea’s modern pop culture. Russell’s 2008 book “Pop Goes Korea” is an in-depth examination of the incredible, rapid developments that took place in pop culture during the 1990s and 2000s which achieved a lot in a relatively short space of time. Its influence was growing in the rest of the world as well. Russell addresses the social, personal, cultural, and political factors that enabled and gave rise to this development at the end of the twentieth century. With concisely insightful commentary and a witty, intelligent writing style, he focuses on seven emblematic Korean success stories. He looks at the fascinating rise of media conglomerate CJ Entertainment, the factors surrounding the production of “Shiri” – one of Korea’s most significant blockbusters, the birth and rise in stature of the Busan Film Festival, and even uses the career of heartthrob TV actor Lee Byung-hun as a way of discussing the prominence of Korean TV dramas in Asia. All of these stories are packed with intriguing, interesting details and insightful analysis that carefully situate them within their respective cultural and historical moments. In focusing on the business side of popular culture, Russell shows how a strong media and industry infrastructure is vital if creative artists are to flourish in their chosen mediums at home and abroad. He also highlights some issues inherent in Korean pop culture, suggesting that it is often too disposable in nature partly due to a lack of historical connection.
Russell’s 2014 book, “K-Pop Now,” zooms in on the wildly popular Korean music phenomenon. He takes great care to discuss the current role K-Pop plays in Korean youth culture and explores its background and origin as well as some interesting ties with different areas in Seoul: Hongdae, Samcheong, and Gangnam. This book is aimed more directly at fans as opposed to those looking for insightful analysis; it primarily consists of a series of brief profiles of many of the key acts, groups and solo artists pushing K-Pop forward today.