Book Review: Bright

Kpopalypse is back with the book review you’ve all been waiting for, it’s time to take a look at Jessica Jung’s “Bright”!

BRIGHT

Author: Jessica Jung

Egmont/Electric Monkey, 386 pages, softcover, 198mm x 129mm

ISBN: 978-0-7555-0029-1

e-book ISBN: 0755500296

RRP: £8.99

Amazon link so the author doesn’t hate me for this snarky review and can still make a buck

“Bright” is the sequel to “Shine”, Jessica Jung’s previous book, which you can read my review of here.  A little about the author – for those who can’t remember where you’ve heard that name before, Jessica Jung was one of the nine singers in an ancient k-pop girl group called Girls’ Generation, a group who back in the day absolutely PAVED THE WAY for global k-pop acceptance back when your current k-pop idol faves were still having coloured block play-time.  Jessica was definitely one of the more popular and high profile members of Girls’ Generation, she was always given lots of lines in songs and often was cast in “center” type roles and chosen for special activities, and her popularity at the group’s peak was huge.  Then one sunny day she was forced out of the group because of reasons, apparently it was because her groupmates thought that she was more interested in running her fashion label Blanc & Eclare than actually being in the group, or maybe they just hated her, I don’t know.

So what’s “Bright” about?  Well, it’s about fictional character Rachel Kim.  Rachel Kim was one of the nine singers in an ancient k-pop girl group called Girls Forever, a group who back in the day absolutely PAVED THE WAY for global k-pop acceptance back when your current k-pop idol faves were still having coloured block play-time.  Rachel was definitely one of the more popular and high profile members of Girls Forever, she was always given lots of lines in songs and often was cast in “center” type roles and chosen for special activities, and her popularity at the group’s peak was huge.  Then one sunny day she was forced out of the group because of reasons, apparently it was because her groupmates thought that she was more interested in running her fashion label “RACHEL K” than actually being in the group, or maybe they just hated her, I don’t know.

I’m not making this up, that’s seriously what the book is about, it’s that blatantly obvious.  While “Shine” arguably made some vague attempt to be at least semi-ambiguous about how much it was really about Jessica Jung herself and her personal struggles as a member of Girls’ Generation, “Bright” makes far less of an attempt to hide it, the correlations between Rachel and Jessica’s career are just too strong to deny.  There’s no point of me even worrying about “spoilers” in this book review, because you all already know exactly what story she’s going to tell as soon as you start reading, and you also already know how it ends.  Don’t let the “young adult fiction” label and “this book is a work of fiction, any similarity to blah blah blah” first-page disclaimer bullshit fool you – this is Jessica’s k-pop career tell-all hiding under the thinnest of veneers possible, and she is out for blood.  So we already know the story, but how is it told, what does it really tell us, and is it worth reading?

While “Shine” ended with Girls’ Forever’s debut, “Bright” picks the story up about five years into the group’s lifespan, and due to this fact it’s actually not necessary to have read “Shine” to understand what’s happening in “Bright”.  At the book’s starting point, Jessica Rachel is already a megastar, but something’s missing, she’s starting to realise that k-pop stardom can’t sustain her forever and is pondering her future.  Gosh, what plans could she have for her career path?  At only chapter two in the book, before the main love interest even appears (because every young adult fiction has to have one) Jessica Rachel is already pontificating about what a serious business Korea’s airport fashion is (“The airport is where [fans] can see us in our personal styles … no-one [in the group] puts in as much time as I do in styling my outfits” yes okay, calm down there miss) and sure enough the fashion obsession gradually increases with each chapter from an idle notepad-doodling hobby to thoughts of a future career path to the inevitable Blanc & Eclare RACHEL K fashion label (which Jessica makes clear has SM Entertainment’s DB Entertainment’s official blessing).  While this happens an in-the-closet romance develops at roughly the same pace with some guy called Tyler Alex, and Rachel’s groupmates get shittier and shittier that she’s gradually stealing all that limelight and getting the lion’s share of the media attention, especially the book’s main antagonist Mina who wastes no time cutting Rachel down to size at every possible opportunity even when Rachel is actively trying to be the peacemaker and share the love around as much as possible.  Everything gradually escalates from there to the predictable climax of Jessica’s Rachel’s ousting from the group, at which point Jessica the author throws her cards down on the table so hard that she could break it in half.  Here’s Rachel’s statement of leaving Girls Forever:

“My Dearest +Evers [yes, Girls Forever’s fandom name is realistically shit], I am devastated.  Serving as a member of Girls Forever has always been my priority and the true love of my life.  But now, for no justifiable reason, I am being forced out…”

And here’s Jessica Jung’s statement when she left Girls’ Generation:

“I was excited about our upcoming fan events, only to shockingly be informed by my company and 8 others that as of today, I’m no longer a member. I’m devastated – my priority and love is to serve as a member of GG, but for no justifiable reason, I am being forced out..” 

Jessica is so beyond giving a fuck that she couldn’t even be bothered making the statements sufficiently different, and she makes it clear that the ousting was instigated by the members holding the company to ransom by saying “it’s her or it’s us”, rather than the company themselves.  Jessica is actually a lot more charitable to SM Entertainment DB Entertainment than you might expect, not always approving of but certainly understanding the business realities at play, and she saves most of the real vitriol in the story for her Rachel’s ex-groupmates.  But aside from the fact that she thinks the other eight members of SNSD Girls Forever were a bunch of cunts, assuming that Jessica is talking about the real world of k-pop in “Bright”, what else does she tell us?

  • The other members were super jealous of Jessica’s fame levels, and the fashion label thing really rubbed their noses in it
  • Jessica and her sister f(x)’s Krystal got along well, and other members were jealous that they couldn’t get their own siblings into SM groups
  • Everyone in SM is secretly seriously grateful for JYJ having the balls to legally fight against SM’s 13-year slave contracts
  • The other members were super jealous of Jessica’s fame levels, and the fashion label thing really rubbed their noses in it
  • SM are powerful and always manipulating the media and everyone around them to their ends, don’t trust k-media period
  • Competition between members in groups is more vicious than competition between groups, as you see other groups almost never but you have to live with your own insufferable groupmates all the fucking time and they can fuck with you a lot, and this happened to Jessica quite a bit, because...
  • The other members were super jealous of Jessica’s fame levels, and the fashion label thing really rubbed their noses in it
  • Once you’ve achieved even marginal fame levels, it’s impossible to have any sort of normal relationship without nosy fans and paparazzi ruining everything, k-pop idols are all fucking and they all live in constant fear of being outed

…and not a lot more than that, actually.  I’m not going to go through every plot twist and turn in the book, as when you read this thing you’re going to want to have some surprises in there for yourself, but overall Jessica doesn’t labour the point of k-pop being a harsh world all that much – and this makes sense.  Jessica ascended to the very top of the tree back in her day, and while there’s no doubt she had it tough, at least she got to see some solid rewards for her hard work, unlike the vast majority of k-pop hopefuls who would have seen less fame, less reward, and possibly also much more punishment for not achieving that fame and reward.  Jessica has had a wild career ride and she has a valid story to tell, but many B-list ex-idols would probably have an even more revealing one.

So that brings us to the question – is “Bright” a good book?  Should you read it?  Well, that depends.  Honestly it probably holds little fascination if you’re not someone who knows or cares that much about Girls’ Generation.  To her credit, Jessica doesn’t sugar-coat the world of k-pop, but she also doesn’t extrapolate all that far outside of what happened within her group and between herself, her company, the other group members and other business partners – she doesn’t go into any great depth about k-pop as a whole, the culture as a whole, or anything like that, even compared to the minimal observations in the previous book “Shine”.  You’ll quite possibly find yourself glazing over as “Bright” largely ignores k-pop’s big questions while Rachel fawns endlessly over handbag designs and recoils from the stinging barbs of her groupmates being cunty.  The book also has some story flow issues – the fact that the “betrayal” teased on the rear cover only actually happens in chapter 27 of a 29 chapter book makes sense given the history she’s trying to shed light on, but also kind of fucks the narrative arc of the story a little because it means that there’s long stretches of story where very little dramatic movement actually happens.  To compensate, there’s lots of interpersonal drama, but it’s not convincingly written – you’ll get irritated as Rachel annoyingly never says exactly what’s on her mind enough to steer the outcome of any situation in a positive direction.  Her lack of clarity feels like an annoying young adult fiction drama-creating device and it gets old quickly, when she finally grows a pair near the very end of the book and starts telling people how she really feels, it’s a great relief and very satisfying to read but it also serves to highlight just how annoying her character has been up until that point.  The previous book “Shine” seemed to have enough unknown territory about where things were going to go to keep the narrative more interesting, but “Bright” focuses very much on the buildup and catalysts for one specific and very telegraphed event and this fixation makes the storytelling very one-dimensional, especially as it’s all told from Jessica Rachel’s perspective.  While the focus is certainly understandable given the context, if you’re a new k-pop fan who doesn’t remember or attach any great meaning to the heady events in the k-pop world that happened on September 30th 2014, you could be forgiven for not giving a fuck.  

On the other hand, if Jessica leaving Girls’ Generation was an earth-shaking event that shattered your world and make you question the nature of existence, “Bright” is great and it’s absolutely what you need to read.  You’ll have a jolly old time guessing who is who among the supporting cast of characters and especially looking for clues on how much Jessica modeled the other group members on actual members of Girls’ Generation, given how she gives them the lion’s share of the blame for her ousting.  Your mileage may vary but I think Jessica has mixed and matched properties of different members together to create hybrid characters that tell the story best in a way that doesn’t implicate one particular individual enough to generate a lawsuit but still makes it clear that when the chips were down nobody gave a fuck.  There’s also some pretty valid dishing on SM Entertainment DB Entertainment (contract shadiness is touched on, as it was in the previous book, but there’s a little more meat on the bone this time) and there’s even an acknowledgement that certain parties like to send veiled anonymous private threats to people who speak out about unfairness within certain large Korean entertainment companies, which I sure wouldn’t know anything about and gosh I can’t imagine what would have prompted Jessica to write about that.  Of course, it’s just one person’s side of the story and it’s probably biased and self-absorbed as shit because why wouldn’t it be – Jessica only paints herself Rachel with the most minor of character flaws, but wouldn’t we all do the same if we were writing our career autobiography a completely fictional story about some random person who just happened to be in a situation eerily similar to our own.  So I’d be hesitant to take the intra-group relational stuff in “Bright” as the gospel truth about Girls’ Generation, but since the company and the other eight members are too pussy to even allow the J-word in interview questions these days, this is the only side of the story that we are likely to get for the forseeable future.  Personally I can’t wait for another “fictional” tell-all from one of the other members where they shit-can Jessica for being a slack bitch who always turned up late to rehearsal and dragged the team performance down during dance practice because she was too busy daydreaming about designing eyewear, and then we can pick who to believe, but until more sides of the story get published Jessica Jung is my best friend – is Jessica Jung your best friend?

I’m giving Jessica Jung’s “Bright” two and a half Blanc & Eclare sunglasses out of five if you have no interest in k-pop – if nothing else it’s an acceptably written young adult fiction novel that does have some home truths about the k-pop industry to digest, but the exceedingly slow burn of the plot means that you’ll probably find your attention wandering quickly.  However change this rating to four Blanc & Eclare sunglasses out of five if you are intimately familiar with the events behind the story and have already thought about starting your own personal spreadsheet to document and cross-match character traits and career paths of the eight girls in Girls’ Generation with the eight girls in Girls Forever.

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