As K-POP fans, we are so in awe of the Hallyu wave being stronger than ever. We are witnessing this niche in music become a lot more mainstream and when we start to talk about some of our faves, more people who aren’t part of stan culture are starting to recognize who they are. We’re also self-proclaimed bookworms, so with YA fiction coming out about K-POP, we truly feel like Hannah Montana getting the best of both worlds.
Idol Gossip is the exciting and captivating debut novel by Alexandria Leigh Young, which transports you into the world of K-POP and explores the controversial world of fame, a real must-read for any stan!
Blurb: Every Friday after school, seventeen-year-old Alice Choy and her little sister, Olivia, head to Myeongdong to sing karaoke. Back in San Francisco, when she still had friends and earthly possessions, Alice took regular singing lessons. But since their diplomat mom moved them to Seoul, her only musical outlet is vamping it up in a private karaoke booth to an audience of one: her loyal sister. Then a scout for Top10 Entertainment, one of the biggest K-POP companies, hears her and offers her a spot at their Star Academy. Can Alice navigate the culture clashes, egos, and extreme training practices of K-POP to lead her group onstage before a stadium of 50,000 chanting fans—and just maybe strike K-POP gold? Not if a certain influential blogger and the anti-fans get their way . . .
We spoke to Alexandra about which artists she stans, her experience in South Korea, and all things Idol Gossip.
We are so excited to have you at The Honey POP, Alexandra! Thank you for chatting with us! Before talking about your beautiful book Idol Gossip, we would like to get to know you better. Who is Alexandra Leigh Young? Can you tell us a little?
I’m so excited to be here—thank you for having me! The through-line in my life has always been music and audio. As a kid, I never went anywhere without my Walkman, which then became my Discman in high school. In college, I booked bands for the students on campus, and then when I graduated, I went on tour with pop bands like New Kids on the Block and Third Eye Blind. Since then, I’ve always worked in audio, and today I produce the New York Times’s flagship podcast, The Daily. Even though my role is to help run the show, one of my favorite parts of the job is still scoring episodes with unexpected music.
You say that you were born with a top 40 song stuck in your head. Can we get 5 of them?
I will caveat this by saying I didn’t discover K-POP until my late 20’s, and I want to answer this by describing the music from my childhood—the very first pop songs that ever lived in my head rent-free: The first two singles I ever purchased were Janet Jackson’s ‘Nasty Boy’ and Queen‘s ‘Bohemian Rhapsody.’ And because I’m a child of the 90’s, I was obsessed with ‘Spiderwebs’ by
No Doubt, and Harvey Danger’s ‘Flagpole Sitta’ (two of my go-to karaoke songs to this day). But my all-time favorite pop song from my childhood, which I must have listened to on repeat for literal years, was Garrison Starr’s ‘Superhero.’
Okay, taste! You are a New York-based author and podcast producer, but you have become interested in K- POP in South Korea. If you have to compare both countries, which one inspires you the most as an author?
One of my favorite things about traveling is that moment when you first step outside the airport or the train station, and you take in a brand-new place. I was so inspired by South Korea because every place I explored, both in real life and in Idol Gossip, was new and surprising. Even the seemingly mundane things like walking through a subway station, or waiting in line for fried chicken were exciting to experience and write about. I love living in NYC, but I’ve been here for almost fifteen years; there are very few surprises in the mundane for me now.
We have to say we love Idol Gossip! As K-POP fans ourselves, we can definitely feel the connections between the fictitious world Alice lives in and the real world. What was it about K-POP that made you decide to base your first novel around it?
Oh, thank you! I researched the South Korean music industry for years—longer than any other topic I’ve ever reported—so I had a lot of material in my head by the time I entertained the idea of writing a book. Also, as you no doubt know as fans yourself, the true-life stories of idols and their fans already sound like the stuff of fiction, so the world of K-POP translated seamlessly to
the page. Basically, it was a no-brainer for me 🙂
We’re so glad that it was! Every fan can clearly recall their first time entering the world of K-POP. So what can you tell us about your own story in becoming one?
It’s funny, I entered the world of K-POP while living in South Korea, but I don’t think I became a true-blue fan until I returned to NYC, and started listening to my K-POP playlist on repeat while commuting to and from work on the subway. I remember finally watching BIGBANG‘s music video for ‘Fantastic Baby,’ a song that I could not get out of my head for months. When I first saw G-DRAGON (my bias) with his crown and long red hair I was like, “ohhhh… I love this.”
That’s how we feel about him too, tbh. How would you compare writing fiction versus non-fiction? Are there any differences for you?
Huge differences! Whenever I get stuck constructing a narrative for The Daily, all I have to do is call up the reporter I’m working with and ask them, “so what happened next?” When I’m writing fiction, I can just make up what happens next, but that can be both a blessing and a curse. I’m never restricted by “the facts” but I can’t phone someone for help either—it’s all up to me and
my imagination, even when I’m stuck.
Not all of the Idol Gossip readers will be too familiar with K-POP. What songs or groups would you recommend to newbies to the Hallyu world?
I like to think of myself as a second-wave fan, which means I like to recommend classics from the 2010’s. I always recommend Ailee‘s ‘U&I’ because her vocals and the song’s instrumentation will sound very familiar and accessible to people who have only listened to Western pop. I also like recommending BIGBANG’s ‘Bang Bang Bang’ and 2NE1‘s ‘I am the Best’ because they are total bangers, and they tend to make people go “whoa…” That “whoa” feeling is pretty undeniable and tends to make people want more.
Absolute chef kiss to those picks! We see Alice pack up her life, move to Seoul, South Korea, and navigate her new world with a culture change similar to your own story. Are there any specific parts of the story which mirror your own experience in that sense?
There are a few scenes that mirror my own experience, namely those that involve the language barrier. For instance, when So-hyun has to translate Mr. Kim’s school-wide announcement, or when Alice has to wait patiently for Miss Jackie to explain something to the other girls in A-List before she explains in English. I spent a lot of my in time South Korea confused and waiting for someone to kindly explain to me what was going on. It was difficult to always be one or two steps behind my friends, and even when they provided explanations, cultural differences would often keep me one or two degrees away from fully understanding the meaning of things.
It’s such an interesting time to see K-POP become mainstream and even have an impact on the international/western music industry. What do you think it is about the industry and genre with so many people immersed in it?
I think about this question a lot, and I think the answer is really simple: K-POP is just excellent music. When music is good—when it’s catchy, or memorable, or makes you feel something deeply—it’s universally appealing, no matter what language it’s sung in.
We agree wholeheartedly. Idol Gossip is your first book, and we are sure that you have learned a lot while writing it. Which
part of writing a book was the hardest for you?
Writing the final round of revisions was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do. In podcasting, we sometimes say getting an episode through the final 10% is the hardest part, and I felt that even more so with writing.
If you could claim a song that gives “main character vibes” for Alice, what would it be?
Lady Gaga‘s ‘Million Reasons’ is Alice’s favorite song because I thought of it as her theme song. The opening lyrics “You’re giving me a million reasons to let you go / You’re giving me a million reasons to quit the show” is exactly how Alice feels as she struggles through training. All the things that make training difficult start to pile up on her, and when they affect the one thing she
loves—singing—she starts looking for just one reason to stay.
In Idol Gossip, you are taking your readers backstage of the K-POP scene, and we are sure you had to do a lot of research for that. What was the most surprising thing you have come across about the depth of the K-POP industry?
When I first started researching the industry, I was shocked to find that the paparazzi was a brand-new phenomenon in South Korea. I never thought about privacy on a cultural level. I tried to explore that in Idol Gossip, which is partially why I gave the blogger V a character arc, and also why I included fan comments.
Apart from Alice, which character did you enjoy while writing the most? Which one would definitely be your best friend if they existed in the real world?
So-hyun! I had so much fun writing her over-the-top reactions, and she has a great sense of humor. Sometimes writing her dialogue actually made me laugh out loud. So-hyun was based in-part on my best friend from high school, someone who still brings so much joy and love into my life to this day, so I would absolutely want to be So-hyun’s friend in real life.
We’d love to spend a day with So-hyun! Thank you again for chatting with us! Before we finish, we should ask this critical question: what should we expect from Alexandra Leigh Young in the future? Will you be writing more books on music?
Yes! I’m currently drafting my next manuscript, another YA novel in the music genre. Idol Gossip was very much about the people in the limelight, so my next book will be about the people who work behind the scenes, a world that I am very familiar with because of my former career as a roadie. This one will also include a complicated romance, something I didn’t get to explore in
We’re excited for the day we get to read it. Thanks, Alex!
Have you read Idol Gossip? What did you think? Let us know down in the comments below or by tweeting us @TheHoneyPOP!
Looking for more book recs? Check these out
In the mood for K-POP content? We gotchu
Featured Image Source: Caroline Wang for The Honey POP Graphics Team