Euny Hong’s recently published book The Birth of Korean Cool: How One Nation is Conquering the World Through Pop Culture was recently mentioned by both The Economist and the BBC.

The title of this book poses a very interesting question. South Korea was once sincerely uncool, they even banned rock n roll, one of the staples of modern British music history. So how exactly did such an uncool country beat America in the pop culture stakes?

Korea is the future. Welcome to the future. 

Welcome to the Korea, the brand. The Birth of Korean Cool will open up both the world of Kpop and the country’s contributors to the Hallyu Wave in ways you had never considered.

Korea has gone from a developing country to a leading economic power faster than any other nation, this is largely based on Hallyu. Hallyu is the world’s biggest, fasted cultural paradign shift in modern history‘ (Hong, 2014: 4). Hallyu is the spread of everything Korean to other nations, whether it is through Kpop, K-dramas, food, mobile technology, or even country development initiatives.

Whether your interest in Korea comes purely from Kpop, or is from a more general perspective – this book is a must read. Not only does it open up the world of pop culture, but also Korea culture and life. The Birth of Korean Cool is enlightening, and there isn’t a mass of other material with a similar intent.

Hong explains just how the growing Korean economy contributors and the government work in a ‘you scratch my back, I’ll scratch your back’ fashion to ensure the spread of Hallyu, and how developing countries especially are devouring what Korea has to offer.

As you learn of the government’s involvement in Korean pop culture there is one quote within Hong’s book that rings out, it comes from Kim Heon Jun, head of the Jinjo Crew, Korea’s most successful B-boy crew. Upon finding out Hong would be speaking to Choi Bokeun of the Ministry of Culture, Sport and Tourism he said:

“Please make sure you tell him to help us. For real, B-boy is more famous internationally than K-pop but I don’t think [the government]realizes that. We’re not just playing around. There’s so much attention on K-pop but we’re not just a fad; this is a culture. In other countries B-boy culture is really huge, but in Korea we don’t have any support from the govrnment. Ask him to pay attention to B-boys too, or else we’ll lose all out good dancers to other countries that care more about this art. Please.” (Hong, 2014: 104-105)

Sadly Hong forgot to pass on Kim’s message, but goes on to say his plea is

emblematic of the absurdity of modern Korea: in what other country would a B-boy try to make the case that he deserves his government’s support? (Hong, 2014: 105)

So, how cool is Korea? You can make your own mind up, but Euny Hong’s book certainly poses a good argument supporting a position as one of the world leaders of ‘cool’.


The Birth of Korean Cool: How One Nation is Conquering the World Through Pop Culture. By Euny Hong. Picador; 288 pages; £10.49 (£7.99 via Kindle) Simon & Schuster. Buy from


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