Cover of Idol Gossip next to a photo of author Alexandra Leigh Young
Alexandra Leigh Young on K-Pop and bringing Idol Gossip to Life

By Alexandra Leigh Young, Author of Idol Gossip

My medium of choice has always been audio. I began playing the flute in third grade, and performed semi-professionally through high school.I toured the country with pop bands in college, produced music for film and TV in my 20’s, and now I produce a sound-rich podcast called “The Daily” for the New York Times. So when I first considered bringing my love of K-pop to the written page, one of the first things I wondered was, “how in the world am I going to represent the sound of K-pop if I can’t actually use audio?”

The task called for extreme measures—I had to become a K-pop star… sort of.

Much like Alice, Idol Gossip’s protagonist, I had exactly zero dance experience when I began writing, and unlike Alice, I also had zero vocal experience. If I was going to write from the perspective of an idol-in-training, I needed to learn both of those things. This launched me down a years-long YouTube rabbit hole. I began my “training” by watching videos with titles like “Hip-hop Dance for Beginners” and “Avoiding Common Mistakes when Singing Duets”. Two years later, I was able to control the abduction and adduction of my vocal folds, and could dance along with the choreographer who created Beyoncé’s “Single Ladies” (not very successfully on either front, I might add).

These videos taught me several key things: I picked up industry terminology so my characters could speak like professionals, and I learned what it feels like to perform—the burning sensation in your thighs after 40 minutes of hip-hop choreography, how frustrating it is when you can’t bring your vocal folds together when trying to hit a high note—all so I could put those feelings into writing.

I also used my “training” to write all the original lyrics in Idol Gossip. For each scene, I started by listening to K-pop for inspiration, and chose one song that encapsulated the mood and energy that I hoped to convey. For instance, A-list’s single was inspired by “I am the Best,” by 2NE1, and the song that opens up the book, MSB’s “Light up,” was inspired by SHINee’s “Dream Girl.” Once I pinpointed the right sound with a real song, I then wrote my own melody in the same style, and lyrics for that melody. It was a long process, and I could have jumped straight to writing lyrics, but I really wanted the written words to convey the right pacing and cadence.

I didn’t realize it at the time, but this process would end up coming in handy when it came time to make the audiobook. I was able to provide Shannon Tyo, the amazing narrator, an entire playlist of inspiration. However, I never sent her the melodies that I wrote, because I loved the idea that she would come up with her own music (she is, after all, a much better singer than I am). And did she ever deliver.

When I heard Shannon singing on the audiobook for the first time, I got emotional. She sang some of the songs, such as “Light Up,” almost exactly the way I heard them in my head. Now that Idol Gossip is published, I often wonder how readers hear my lyrics in their head. Do they hear them as music, and if so, what does that music sound like? With the audiobook I got my answer. And with Shannon’s beautiful interpretations, listeners can experience Idol Gossip as K-pop was always intended: sung aloud in full-throated audio.

Listen to a clip from Idol Gossip by Alexandra Leigh Young, narrated by Shannon Tyo!