Stephan Lee, author of K-Pop Confidential, rocks on with his newest book, K-Pop Revolution, which came out April 5.
Originally from Atlanta and a current Los Angeles resident, Lee lived in New York City for years after graduating college. Following a stretch covering books and movies at Entertainment Weekly (EW), Lee has been working at Bustle, where he currently serves as associate director of branded entertainment and innovation, while also working on his author career.
"A lot of writers are often seen very differently than how they see themselves," said Lee, who said he always wanted to be a writer. "That's why writing can be a more honest, direct conduit to their actual souls."
Growing up, Lee lived far away from the Korean-American community to live close to the private school he attended. Just trying to fit in, he said he was quiet even though his inner life was very passionate. However, when around close friends, he turned on his humor.
"I was actually just a huge fan of pop music in general," said Lee. "I just really worshiped female singers like Britney and Christinavery typical gay boy stuffDestiny's Child, Spice Girls, TLC. I worshipped them. I just really just loved obviously the glamour, the fierceness and strength but also I think what draws a lot of gay kids, queer kids to female stars is the kind of vulnerability behind all that fierceness and glamor. That's really what I gravitated towards. I could never express my fandom completely."
When working at EW, he traveled to Seoul for three weeks to write a feature about Korean entertainment, interviewing major K-pop idols including filmmakers, actors and writers.
"I came away [from with this trip] with a lot more respect and reverence for entertainment and understanding of why it's treated so importantly and treated as very precious," said Lee.
Lee earned an MFA in creative writing at The New School during which he was working on a long book he describes as his life's work and still ongoing. This work caught the attention of Scholastic who approached Lee to write something different a K-pop book. Lee developed the idea, pitch and storyline within three months' time.
"I just knew a lot of facts about what it takes to be a K-pop star and how it was very different than the system here in America and it really appealed to me even when I was covering books for Entertainment Weekly, just seeing what was being published…" said Lee, adding the K-pop trainee system is something people do not really know about. Entertainers, he said are not allowed to speak of the training experience. "…it's actually perfect for young adults because it's probably the closest thing in real life to the Hunger Games that exists in the world. It's just young people being recruited and then trained extremely, extremely hard in and then put in a Thunderdome of pressure and all the rules are set by adults who maybe don't really understand the youth market that they're actually working with, yet they still kind of control everything."
"K-pop-Revolution's" main character, Candace Park, is a rookie idol and her life is suddenly filled with fans, cameras and glamour. She and her boyfriend are a K-Pop power couple; she's an icon at Brandt Foreign School; and her new girl group is sure to break records across the industry. While her label promises to help make strides toward changing the industry to become a more humane and compassionate space for artists, a rival girl group emerges to steal the spotlight, carrying the message of change better than Candace ever couldand making the road to a record-breaking debut rocky. Candace is faced with having to decide what it will cost her and her bandmates to stand up for their beliefs. Pushed by online bullies scrutinizing her every word, Candace is going to have to figure out why the world is out to get her. The question posed is "how far does one girl need to be pushed to start a K-Pop Revolution?"
Lee described this sequel as a wild ride with ups and downs filled with serious elements, along with fun, silliness, humor and excitement.
"I think people who like lots of drama and lots of mess will enjoy it because these books are very dramatic," said Lee, adding that it is not just for young K-pop fans. "I think it's also just for anyone who has ever had struggles like proving themselves and validating themselves while everyone is evaluating them, which I think is literally everybody."
The themes, he revealed, include authenticity, courageousness to speak out and putting words into action. Also included is an LGBTQ subplot, focus on mental health, dangers of social media and issues around Asian hate, among other topics.
Lee, who is Korean-American, wanted to insert his own unique experiences into his both of his K-pop books. Representation, he expressed, humanizes the Asian-American community.
"It really just kind of struck me that people find that misfortune that happens to Asian people almost funny and not as serious," Lee said, having personally been a target of violence and received apathy as a result. "I do think that Asian people are often targeted because there's this perception that they won't really do anything about it and other people won't do anything about it either just because we're seen as a little bit more quiet or not wanting to make waves."
"I also wanted to explore that and how public images are not what they seem and people are just as often smeared in the name of people pretending that they care about certain issues, but they're really just kind of mean spirited," said Lee aiming to write relatable situations. "So she's [Candace] a victim of that, but also uses social media for good. So it's exploring that double edged sword."
For more information on Stephan Lee and K-Pop Revolution, visit stephanmlee.com/ .
and tinyurl.com/2p88ef57 .