This post is sponsored by Candlewick Press.
I was a casual K-pop fan before I picked up Idol Gossip by Alexandra Leigh Young, and this book completely opened my eyes to why real K-pop fans are as fervent as they are. It’s so fun! Aside from short-lived reality TV shows like Making the Band with Diddy, America really doesn’t create pop artists the way Korea does. We don’t have training centers where artists are honed, produced, and presented; they seem like something straight out of fan fiction, which is what makes Idol Gossip such a fun read.
Just like the main character, Alice, author Alexandra Leigh Young moved to South Korea from the States, giving her a true first-hand perspective on that experience. Alice’s family — including her younger sister, Olivia — relocates for her mother’s job, and it isn’t long before Alice’s powerful singing voice attracts the attention of a vocal coach from Top10 Entertainment. Thankfully, Olivia’s extreme passion for K-pop and a level of excitement you just can’t say no to override Alice’s nerves, and she’s able to smash her audition for Top10 and get accepted into their training program.
Straight out of fan fiction, the training center is like a boarding school for future pop artists. I’m sure this is normal for true K-pop fans, but to me, it was like something my pre-teen brain had dreamed up in a fantasy about becoming famous (because who hasn’t dreamed of that at least once?). A city building with dorms, a cafeteria, recording and dance studios, classrooms. Alice is quickly whisked away from her family to start her new life here, as a budding K-pop star.
Just as you’d expect, a training center that houses all of the most promising talent in South Korea can be home to a lot of drama. Alice is immediately placed as the fifth and final member of the all-girl group, A-List. Unsurprisingly, this causes a bit of tension — especially because Alice is as bad at dancing as she is good at singing. She also meets the most famous member of the already-established group MSB, Joon Kwan (her sister Olivia’s ultimate bias), by fainting on him.
Alice’s experience at the Top10 Entertainment training center is a real eye-opener to anyone who’s not familiar with K-pop. The way she deals with her anxiety throughout her time there also felt very realistic — because, really, while it might’ve been all our fantasies at one point in our lives, how easy could it be to leave your family in an unfamiliar country to join a pop star boot camp, thrust into the spotlight overnight?
Between every chapter is also a post from The Fix, a Korean K-pop blog that’s closely following Alice, A-List, and Top10’s other notable idols. Although the blog and all the groups are fictitious, the way the book weaves in these posts (and Olivia’s encyclopedic knowledge) about the groups makes it feel very real, the way fan fiction does. Alice has to deal with online rumors just like any star today does, and it gives you a behind-the-scenes look at what these artists go through on a daily basis to become the idols you see on screen and on stage.
It’s obvious that this book was written by someone who loves and understands the world of K-pop, and it’s both a great introduction to that world to someone new and a safe place for a long-time fan.