Journalism and K-Pop with Tamar Herman
Hailing from New York, Tamar Herman is one of the few leading journalists out there heavily focused on K-Pop and international music. Tamar currently is a contributor for Forbes and Billboard and has had the opportunity to work with K-Pop artists such as SEVENTEEN, Epik High, and BLACKPINK’s Jennie. We at The Kraze had the wonderful opportunity to sit down and talk with Tamar during KCON LA 2018 and get to know more about her decorated career in journalism and K-Pop.
Q: For our readers who are getting the chance to know you for the first time, can you please give a little introduction about yourself?
A: Sure! My name is Tamar Herman. I’ve been covering K-Pop for two years with Billboard and for a few months now with Forbes. I cover East Asian music and international music in general for a variety of outlets. I co-founded KultScene a few years ago. For five years now, I’ve been writing about K-Pop and associated content.
Q: How did you start your career in journalism and writing?
A: I started by blogging. I’ve been a K-Pop fan since 2008. I ended up studying East Asian Studies partially because of my love of K-Pop, and because I thought I was going to go to law school. I always liked journalism but my school didn’t have any journalism background. Everyone says that journalism isn’t an industry to go to, it’s too hard especially in New York and not financially stable. And they’re right, but I still did it. I say it’s very fortuitous and I’ve been very, very lucky that I started and I’ve been writing. I’ve been very involved in writing in forums online and that’s how I found out about K-Pop. I decided to go to Korea [on a scholarship] because I was studying East Asian Studies and [while I was there] I started writing for an English-language Korean news blog and I kept doing it and for other sites. Then I worked for a K-Pop site that actually paid me and that was exciting. Then I started pitching and the first place where I pitched an article to was MTV Iggy, which was their international outlet. They were really great and offered a space for international music that we really haven’t been seeing aside from Billboard. At the time, no one was really focusing on K-Pop. Me and my friends created KultScene [around this time]. When I got back home from Korea, I’ve been writing more and I got an internship at NBC for local news and broadcasts. I got a production assistant job right out of college from NBC, so I was doing early morning news and while I was there, I’m up at 3 o’clock in the morning and no one else was so I looked up about K-Pop and wrote about it for a K-Pop site. All this time [with my experiences], I was getting good news-gathering techniques and knowledge in the newsroom. I don’t have any formal journalism background educationally but I have a lot of on-the-ground experience. So a little over two years ago, Billboard’s column was expanding and they needed more people. So they reached out to me and I came on board as sometimes a contributor to a daily contributor. For Forbes, something similar happened too and here we are!
Q: What are some strengths and challenges in being a journalist? And how do you overcome those challenges?
A: So for me, I work from home. I’m a freelancer so that’s really tough because it’s not that great to be on your own. I try to go work in coffee shops and I try to push for meetings in person instead of on the phone. I want to be able to talk to and make these contacts. I think the biggest challenge is that not everyone reads the same way. You don’t read everyone’s tone the same way [compared to others]. So I think the biggest thing for me is the realization that just because I’m reading something that way, that might not be how everyone else does. So as a writer, I have to think about that and think about how I am reading things. [For example] If I’m in a bad mood, I’m going to read something terribly. If I get an email from an editor and they don’t like it, sometimes I have to take a step back and often sleep it off or maybe I’m just not feeling well that day. That’s something that I’m always trying to teach myself. Especially with social media nowadays, I know that I can’t make jokes in articles. Not everyone gets puns, especially in writing because there is no tone, they don’t know who I am and things can be misinterpreted. That’s something I’m really learning on the job.
Q: What were some of the first groups and/or songs that you listened to?
A: So the first debut that I remember seeing around when it came out was 2PM’s “10 Points Out of 10 Points.” So I consider it my anniversary [of when I got into K-Pop]. One of the first songs I remember seeing was Wonder Girls’ stuff coming out. I remember when “Gee,” “Sorry Sorry,” “Lies” and “Haru Haru” was going on. The first groups that I was a fan and really invested in were BIGBANG and 2PM.
Q: This is not your first KCON that you have attended, what are your thoughts on how big KCON has become and how it has expanded into different countries?
A: It’s really cool. My first KCON that I attended was KCON LA 2014 and that was before we had New York. It was really exciting to see it come to New York! I’m from New York and for it [KCON] to come I was like: “We made it as a K-Pop city!” I think it’s really exciting and showing what people love. On a professional level it is very validating, if something that I’m writing is getting attention. That means that maybe I’ve done something for that. It feels like, if it’s growing then maybe I had a little part in that. As a fan, this is so exciting [to see K-Pop here]. I think it’s really cool that people want to invest in this and they think the fans are interested and want to also invest in this stuff. It’s an exciting time because in America, international music is really under the radar but we see that Latin music is growing on the charts. Now Korean music is growing. I feel like we’ve come to a point where the music world is starting to become “music knows no language” and KCON is kind of like that symbol of that. I hope we see more events popping up and seeing KCON grow.
Q: K-Pop has significantly grown within the past few years, with BTS getting a massive blow up in the Western music industry; how does it feel to see the progression of K-Pop within these last few years?
A: It’s really exciting! Part of me is stuck in 2008 where I was like: “I didn’t tell anyone in high school that I liked this and now everyone knows what I’m talking about. This is weird!” As I mentioned before, I think it’s a sign of the times where digital spaces are really bringing music to more listeners and that’s really reflected on the charts. BTS has been so amazing and they’ve figured out what types of music fans from all around the world can connect to. Social media has been able to connect those fans together. I think the K-Pop existence right now has changed from a few years ago to the degree it really is a community. There has always been a K-Pop community but right now the community is really active. Now it’s become a normal niche.
Q: Are there any K-Pop groups or artists that you would like to interview (that you haven’t already) in the future? If so, can you please name a few?
A: I would love to talk to INFINITE. I’ve been to their concerts, I’m a big fan of them. I really want to talk to Davichi. I really love ballads and I’m a big K-Drama fan. There is something really stirring about their voices. I think BIGBANG would be really interesting to talk to. I have spoken to Taeyang and it was just as amazing as I thought it would be. I would also like to be able to speak to the Wonder Girls. I think, more than the artists, I want to talk to the producers and companies. I’m very interested in the business side of things. K-Pop is an industry. There is so much behind it. I want to know more and find out more. There are other artists that I want to talk to but they’re just not coming to my head at the moment.
Q: Which K-Pop artist/groups would you like to see come on their own dedicated, solo concert in the future (that haven’t done so yet in the U.S.)?
A: Girl groups! I want to see BLACKPINK, Red Velvet, and TWICE. I think it’s really sad that the women aren’t given the same opportunities for whatever reasons. They want them to perform in the U.S. but at the venues like what they perform in in Korea or Japan. I think there needs to be an understanding that maybe [entertainment companies] have to aim smaller. [For example] Red Velvet did a show in Chicago and it sold out; they were shocked about that. I think they had the right expectations of going small and then get big. Don’t try to aim for a huge venue, [instead] you can always upgrade to a bigger venue. That’s something I want to see more of. Please bring them! If you bring them, people will come.
Q: Which rookie K-Pop group has caught your attention lately?
A: I really like PENTAGON’s “Shine.” Also, SF9’s Sensuous album. Stray Kids’ album I Am Not is interesting to me. I’m really interested in seeing what happens to (G)I-DLE. Minseo is a solo artist, I really like her and how could I forget LOONA? I’m really intrigued by them and they are showing what K-Pop can [possibly] become.
Q: Which K-Pop group do you think is going to be the next group to make it huge in the Western/American music industry like BTS?
A: Maybe BLACKPINK? I think that if BLACKPINK released more music, they’d have the potential to. Depending on what sounds they pursue, Red Velvet too. We’ve seen that people really love “Bad Boy” and if they release something similar they could be a big hit. I’d really love to see a lot of groups [make it big here]. I’m not really sure who will be next. I’m terrible at predicting trends! I don’t know if anyone is going to come as far as BTS in the next few years but I am watching these two groups.
Q: For those who are wanting to pursue a career in journalism, what is some advice that you would like to give K-Pop fans who are aspiring to be writers in K-Pop or being a professional in media with K-Pop?
A: Do it! I don’t tell people to write for free but at the same time I run a blog that is all free content because first of all you need to develop your skills. But you also have to show your expertise. Talking to people, putting yourself out there and in communities are really helpful. Reach out to people. If you see an editor on Twitter for example, follow them and see if they have a call for pitches. Like I said, I never had any formal background in writing and I had always been writing on forums. But doing it is important. Start.
Q: Last question, are there any updates, information or future plans that you would like to tell readers to look forward to in the coming future?
A: I did my first on-camera interviews with Chungha and Roy Kim that I’m excited to see how it will turn out. Just trying to do more stuff on camera and write more.
On behalf of The Kraze, thank you so much to Tamar Herman for taking the time to have this interview with us! Make sure to keep up with Tamar on her social media!