As a fan of K-pop since the ’90s (Points if you listened to H.O.T and Fin.K.L.!) I have seen it change and evolve over the last couple of decades. Whether you want a female empowerment anthem, a song about heartbreak, or one that brings all the glitz and spectacle, you can find it in K-pop! So, there are many K-pop songs that could pair perfectly with some of your favorite Young Adult Sci-Fi or Fantasy books. Here are a few of my suggestions for pairing recent K-pop bops with books you should be adding to your shelves.
Book: Rebel Seoul by Axie Oh
Song: Come Back Home by 2NE1
A song about someone longing for the person they love and waiting for them to come back home. It feels like the longing that Jaewon has for Tera in Rebel Seoul. It’s hard for Tera to let Jaewon in but he’s a patient and kind soul (even if he can’t show it). Plus the music video for Come Back Home with it’s futuristic Seoul vibes is perfect for the futuristic Asian setting in this amazing Sci-fi duology!
Book: This Savage Song by Victoria Schwab
Song: Monster by Exo
What better song for a book about what it means to be a monster, than Exo’s Monster. The lyrics “You’re beautiful, my goddess/ But you’re closed up, yeah yeah/ I’ll knock so will you let me in?” really fits the relationship between the two main characters in This Savage Song.
Book: And I Darken by Kiersten White
Song: The Baddest Girl by CL
This is a Bad Girl anthem. With a message that CL is the baddest girl around and proud of it. She doesn’t care that people see her as hard or tough because she’s the top and no one can bring her down. This is the perfect song to pair with And I Darken a retelling about a female version of Ivan the Impaler. Even the blurb of the book holds no punches: “No one expects a princess to be brutal. And Lada Dragwlya likes it that way.”
Book: The Devouring Gray by Christine Lynn Herman
Song: Dinosaur by AKMU
Dinosaur is a song about childhood fears that manifest in nightmares for Chanhyuk (the songwriter and half of the duo). It’s sweet and sad and innocent and captures a feeling that something from their family’s past has stuck with them and brings them anxiety and fears to this day. This theme also exists in The Devouring Gray, where the children of the four founding families have to live with the mistakes of their ancestors and parents and work together to try to fight the very real monster that has been unleashed on the town because of it.
Book: Where Dreams Descend by Janella Angeles
Song: Fantasia by Monsta X
Where Dreams Descend is about opulence and magic and competitions. With three magicians competing to see who will become the next headliner of the Conquering Circus. This opulence and fantasy is depicted perfectly in Monsta X’s recent single Fantasia where the boys are seen dancing in an opulent room with costumes that would fit in quite well in the Masquerade scene of Phantom of the Opera. It doesn’t hurt that they’re singing about being able to sweep you off your feet and be your fantasy.
Book: Timekeeper by Tara Sim
Song: You & I by IU
You & I is about someone trying to turn back the clock to wait for their love. Which is the perfect pairing from Timekeeper about a fantastical alt-universe Victorian era world controlled by clocktowers. But if the clocktowers break there are dire consequences. The sweet romance between a clock mechanic who wants to revisit his past and a clocktower ghost who wants to feel what it’s like to live again is also fitting for the song that talks about growing up and wondering if they’re recognizable to the one they love anymore. Plus the clock-themed Music Video is pretty perfect imagery!
Book: Wicked Fox by Kat Cho
Song: Full Moon by Sunmi
Wicked Fox’s titular character, Gu Miyoung, is controlled by the full moon as a nine-tailed fox that gains her power from it. So Sunmi’s song Full Moon is kind of a perfect song for this book. It’s about a girl who asks the one she loves to find her under the full moon and tell her he loves her. Even though Miyoung so often tells Jihoon to stay away, soon, a part of her knows she can’t let him go. The lyrics “Clothes soaked in rain/You and I walking along the lane/whispering sweet love” might as well be a scene right out of Wicked Fox.
Book: Vicious Spirits by Kat Cho
Song: Save Me by BTS
BTS’s Save Me is asking someone to come and save the boys, unlock them from a dark cage. With lyrics like “I want to breath. I hate this night/ I want to wake up. I hate being in a dream./ Locked in me, I am dead./ Don’t want to be lonely, just want to be yours.” [translated] There are a lot of theories about whether this song is about a lover or their fans. And whether the boys are asking to be saved from the dark fate of hiding their true selves. That interpretation would work well when paired with Vicious Spirits because two of the characters need to be saved. One needs to be saved from an entity that has taken hold of them and the other needs to be saved from themself and their own self-destructive behavior.
Originally published September 2020.
Kat Cho used to hide books under the bathroom sink and then sneak in there to read after bedtime. Her parents pretended not to know. This helped when she decided to write a dinosaur time-travel novel at the tender age of nine. Sadly, that book was not published. She currently lives and works in NYC and spends her free time trying to figure out what kind of puppy to adopt. She is the writer of Wicked Fox and Vicious Spirits, both available from Penguin Random House.