Asian drama fan, Youtube star with 272,777 followers, painter and a cool person - this is Steph.
At her YouTube channel HallyuBack, she presents new Asian drama recommendations (not only Korean) and elects her choice as well as fan-voted favourite scenes, and talks about Asian celebrities and KPop. Because she lived in Korea for some years, she also talks about Korean society.
She has a website, also named HallyuBack. If you like this interview, maybe you can check out her website/channel.
1. Of course, I saw your introduction video on YouTube. May I ask how you became a Korean/Japanese drama fan and YouTuber based on this video?
When I was in middle school, my brother who was in the military was stationed in Japan for 3 years. Wanting to understand his life, I began reading about the country and developing an interest in the culture. This was rekindled in university when I began reading manga and watching anime and listening to Jpop/rock - which led me to Japanese dramas. I really fell in love with (Japanese, Taiwanese & Korean) dramas and would spend most of my free time watching them. When I graduated, I moved to Korea to teach English. There I met a guy who was interested in making documentary films - and we decided to combine our two hobbies which led to what is now HallyuBack.
2. Why did you call your channel Hallyu Back?
I wanted a name that really represented Korean entertainment, culture and my journey in discovering it. It was supposed to be a fun play on words with "Hallyu" for the Korean wave of pop culture and a nod to 'Hollaback Girl' which came out in 2004 - which was around the same time I started watching Asian dramas. Like an "I'm not a 'Hollaback Girl' - I'm a HallyuBack girl". It was my way of saying I don't care what you say or if you don't understand, I'm someone who's unashamed to be nerdy and love Hallyu.
3. Do you remember how you felt when you did your first video for Hallyu Back and how you felt when it got published?
Oh gosh, I was awkward, shy and nervous. But I remember thinking that there was something so freeing about putting a video out knowing that maybe there would be someone else out there like me. Someone who maybe got made fun of for their interests and only could find others who liked dramas on message boards and forums. I guess I wanted to be a friendly face who's like, "it's ok".
4. For how long did you live in South Korea?
I lived there for 6 1/2 years.
5. If you compare Korean society in Korean dramas to the reality – what is very similar/true that a non-Asian person would not think is?
Firstly, dramas are an alternate universe caricature of society. That said, there are A LOT of differences - I've never seen a gunfight, and while I've encountered a lot of good looking people, I NEED a doctor that looks like Lee Jong Suk - haven't met one! The reality is a lot of the extraneous stuff you see in real life. Things like crazy long working hours, food culture, public drunkenness, noraebangs, high fashion, gorgeous locations, and ajummas. Also, CCTV and cameras are EVERYWHERE and public transportation is soo much better than they show in dramas!
6. During your time in South Korea, did you ever meet an actor or actress in real life? If yes, who and how was it?
I have met several. Perhaps the best story, however, was when I met veteran actress Kim Hye Soo on the set of an indie film a mutual friend was making. I was blown away with how pretty she was in real life and that she gave it her all for the entire day despite acting for free as a favour for a friend. After the shoot, we all went out for shabu-shabu and she was just really cool - jumping in and cooking the food, joking, etc.
7. Even if you watched animes and Japanese live action at first, Hallyu Back started because of Korean dramas, right? How come you extended your expertise all over Dramaworld (Japan, Taiwan, China, Lakorn)?
Actually the first HallyuBack drama video was a Taiwanese drama review! I initially wanted it to be broad and cover all of the shows in the countries that I was interested in. However, in time, it made more sense to focus more on Korean entertainment and dramas as I lived there and their quality skyrocketed.
8. Which is your favourite drama country and genre and why?
Ooh, that's difficult. My favourite genre is slice of life. I find many of them to have a raw beauty, and I love studying culture and relationships. As for country, it's still a toss up between Korean and Japanese dramas. It depends upon my mood actually. Lately I've been getting into quieter shows like Hyori's Bed and Breakfast or Midnight Diner: Tokyo Stories.
9. Do you also watch US productions? If yes, which is your favourite?
I'm trying to watch more US television if only so I have things to talk about with my friends IRL. I'm a HUGE Game of Thrones fan, but my current favourite is The Marvellous Mrs. Maisel - the writing and delivery is fantastic!
10. What do you like more about Asian dramas than US series?
Too much of US television is reality competition, soap opera or sitcom. I've always been attracted to more story-based television. I also like that they're concise and you can watch them on-demand. Additionally, I like that I can travel to another place and possibly learn more about another culture just watching a show.
11. Which was your first drama and which is your most beloved drama ever?
Gokusen was my first drama. Gotta say all those visual kei guys were a great incentive to watch more dramas. As for my most beloved... a lot of different dramas come to mind, but I'd probably have to give it to Coffee Prince. It was my introduction to Korea.
12. What do you dislike about Asian dramas?
The misogyny and how sometimes other cultures are portrayed. A LOT of relationships in Kdramas would be really unhealthy in real life. I like that this is changing and I look forward to the day that you can watch an older drama and say, "Omg, I can't believe that was ok!"
13. Hallyu Back has existed for 5 years now, right? During this time your fan community grew pretty big. How do you feel about the pressure to match the expectations of your followers?
It's actually been 6 years! I think even until recently I did feel that pressure and tried to make them happy. Lately, though, I think that mindset is toxic. You can never really make one person happy let alone a fandom. Only they can choose to be happy. What I can do is make videos that I enjoy and hope that others also like them.
14. How much time do you usually spend on research, preparation, filming and editing for YouTube?
It depends upon the video. A video will take anywhere from four hours to three days until it gets to the public. Even live-stream videos take a LOT of preparation time. I think that's something many people don't realize.
15. In which regular cycle do you publish your recommendation videos like Top5 Friday?
I try to put out a new Top5 every month. While it takes the longest to make, it's also our longest running show that neither of us has the heart to stop making. That show is a labour of love for both of us.
16. Did you ever get a negative reaction? How do you feel about it and how do you handle it?
Oh, all the time and every day! That's part of putting yourself out there. I can't say that it doesn't ever hurt my feelings - death threats are not cool! Most of the time, though, I just feel bad for them - how bad must someone be hurting to attack a stranger online? And I try to use it as motivational fuel - it's a Hallyu-wave... if it's going to get anywhere, there's got to be ups and downs.
17. How do you feel when you watch your first Hallyu Back video today?
A lot of things. It's a bit embarrassing, but I also want to give that girl a big hug and lots of encouragement - because she's way cooler than she ever knew.
18. Besides being a teacher and popular Youtuber, you are also a painter. How did you start painting?
I have always been creative and grew up in a family that was also creative and encouraged it. That said, I started painting in Korea to deal with depression and homesickness. And I really loved it.
19. At the end of the introduction video on your channel, you said that you don’t know if you want to teach or make your way through YouTube. Have you made a decision now?
NOPE! The world is continually evolving and so am I. I don't know if I'm going to ever make a decision about what I want to do in my life. All I have is today - and all I can do is enjoy and make the most of the here and now. Speaking of, I have a video for YouTube to finish. Thanks for the interview!
Thank you, Steph!