Whether you’ve been listening to K-pop for years or it is completely new to you, it’s something that you’ll notice in YA more and more often. Sometimes there are a few casual references within a story, but some stories completely revolve around K-pop. If you need a quick guide to K-pop, Christa Lee wrote an excellent piece “A Beginner’s Guide to Everything K-Pop” for the digital magazine Sunday Edit that may be helpful.
Here are a few YA novels featuring K-pop along along with a few extra bits of media for fun.
Shine by Jessica Jung
What would you give for a chance to live your dreams?
For seventeen-year-old Korean American Rachel Kim, the answer is almost everything. Six years ago, she was recruited by DB Entertainment—one of Seoul’s largest K-pop labels, known for churning out some of the world’s most popular stars. The rules are simple: Train 24/7. Be perfect. Don’t date. Easy right?
Not so much. As the dark scandals of an industry bent on controlling and commodifying beautiful girls begin to bubble up, Rachel wonders if she’s strong enough to be a winner, or if she’ll end up crushed… Especially when she begins to develop feelings for K-pop star and DB golden boy Jason Lee. It’s not just that he’s charming, sexy, and ridiculously talented. He’s also the first person who really understands how badly she wants her star to rise.
Here’s an opportunity to see the author, Jessica Jung, perform.
Jessica also shares 16 Steps to Looking Like a K-pop Star in this Vogue video.
K-pop Confidential by Stephan Lee
Candace Park knows a lot about playing a role. For most of her life, she’s been playing the role of the quiet Korean girl who takes all AP classes and plays a classical instrument, keeping her dreams of stardom-and her obsession with SLK, K-pop’s top boyband-to herself. She doesn’t see how a regular girl like her could possibly become one of those K-pop goddesses she sees on YouTube. Even though she can sing. Like, really sing.
So when Candace secretly enters a global audition held by SLK’s music label, the last thing she expects is to actually get a coveted spot in their trainee program. And convincing her strict parents to let her to go is all but impossible … although it’s nothing compared to what comes next.
Under the strict supervision of her instructors at the label’s headquarters in Seoul, Candace must perfect her performance skills to within an inch of her life, learn to speak Korean fluently, and navigate the complex hierarchies of her fellow trainees, all while following the strict rules of the industry. Rule number one? NO DATING, which becomes impossible to follow when she meets a dreamy boy trainee. And in the all-out battle to debut, Candace is in danger of planting herself in the middle of a scandal lighting up the K-pop fandom around the world.
If she doesn’t have what it takes to become a perfect, hair-flipping K-pop idol, what will that mean for her family, who have sacrificed everything to give her the chance? And is a spot in the most hyped K-pop girl group of all time really worth risking her friendships, her future, and everything she believes in?
Podcast with Maurene Goo discussing Somewhere Only We Know
10 00 p.m.: Lucky is the biggest K-pop star on the scene, and she’s just performed her hit song “Heartbeat” in Hong Kong to thousands of adoring fans. She’s about to debut on The Tonight Show in America, hopefully a breakout performance for her career. But right now? She’s in her fancy hotel, trying to fall asleep but dying for a hamburger.
11 00 p.m.: Jack is sneaking into a fancy hotel, on assignment for his tabloid job that he keeps secret from his parents. On his way out of the hotel, he runs into a girl wearing slippers, a girl who is single-mindedly determined to find a hamburger. She looks kind of familiar. She’s very cute. He’s maybe curious.
12:00 a.m.: Nothing will ever be the same.
I’ll Be the One by Lyla Lee [Jessica’s review]
Skye Shin has heard it all. Fat girls shouldn’t dance. Wear bright colors. Shouldn’t call attention to themselves. But Skye dreams of joining the glittering world of K-Pop, and to do that, she’s about to break all the rules that society, the media, and even her own mother, have set for girls like her.
She’ll challenge thousands of other performers in an internationally televised competition looking for the next K-pop star, and she’ll do it better than anyone else.
When Skye nails her audition, she’s immediately swept into a whirlwind of countless practices, shocking performances, and the drama that comes with reality TV. What she doesn’t count on are the highly fat-phobic beauty standards of the Korean pop entertainment industry, her sudden media fame and scrutiny, or the sparks that soon fly with her fellow competitor, Henry Cho.
But Skye has her sights on becoming the world’s first plus-sized K-pop star, and that means winning the competition—without losing herself.
To learn a few K-pop moves, watch this video with the cover model from I’ll Be the One.
Free Hexel Webcomic and Free Hexel Music Videos by YA author Kat Cho & Free Hexel Team
A high school band finds their new lead singer when they free a magical, musically-powered girl named Hexel from an interdimensional portal. Now, in a world ruled by the secretive Prime Corporation, they must fight their way to the top of the Volume Prime battle-of-the-bands league to bring their message of freedom and individuality to the world. New Episodes every other Monday!!
Books we’re looking forward to reading —
Cello prodigy Jenny has one goal: to get into a prestigious music conservatory. When she meets mysterious, handsome Jaewoo in her uncle’s Los Angeles karaoke bar, it’s clear he’s the kind of boy who would uproot her careful plans. But in a moment of spontaneity, she allows him to pull her out of her comfort zone for one unforgettable night of adventure…before he disappears without a word.
Three months later, when Jenny and her mother arrive in South Korea to take care of her ailing grandmother, she’s shocked to discover that Jaewoo is a student at the same elite arts academy where she’s enrolled for the semester. And he’s not just any student. He’s a member of one of the biggest K-pop bands in the world—and he’s strictly forbidden from dating.
When a relationship means throwing Jenny’s life off the path she’s spent years mapping out, she’ll have to decide once and for all just how much she’s willing to risk for love.
Idol Gossip by Alexandra Leigh Young (September 14, 2021)
Once Upon a K-Prom by Kat Cho (Winter 2022)
A young adult rom-com about a Korean-American girl who made a pact to go to prom with her childhood best friend. But when he moved away and became one of the biggest K-pop stars in the world, she thought that promise would never be fulfilled…until he shows up on her doorstep, cameras and all, to ask her to prom.
*Edited 6/24/21 to add this awesome K-pop in YA panel from May
If you’re curious or want to learn more about the world of K-pop, debut YA author Alexandra Leigh Young along with Brenna Farrell reported on K-pop and the paparazzi in this podcast K-poparazzi via Radiolab.
If you still aren’t convinced to read any of the books, here are listening recommendations the folks at Radiolab created. Maybe the music will persuade you.