The world of American Hallyu experts and professionals is a beautiful place, full of amazing and interesting people. People who have dedicated a large portion of their time and energy to delivering unique, original and entertaining content to the world. People whose names you probably recognize but may not know much about. With so many incredible people bringing Hallyu to the world, I thought it might be fun to take some time to sit down and chat with some of them, to give you a chance to get to know a little more about those who help fuel the Hallyu fire that blazes so brightly, here in the States. My very good friend, Lisa Espinosa, from HanCinema and Raine’s Dichotomy (to name a few), is the first of these individuals I’d like to introduce to you. She was gracious enough to take time out of her busy schedule to chat with me for a bit about her work, how she got started in the Hallyu journalism business and what some of her favorite moments have been thus far.
Zombie Mamma: So tell us a little about yourself…
Hi! My name is Lisa Espinosa and I was born and bred in Miami, FL. Now I live in Colorado where I settled after graduate school. I have a master’s in cello performance, so before K-drama came cello! Now I combine the two and the world is whole.
ZM: How did you get started as a freelancer? And what about your blog? What gave you the inspiration to start Raine’s Dichotomy?
Well, let’s reverse the answers for these questions. I started the Dichotomy in 2011 because I had graduated with a master’s and had no idea what to do with my life. I was practicing cello all the time and looking for work. Japanese drama, anime, and manga were my companions as I did my mid-20s “searching for myself,” and those pursuits led me to Korean drama and K-pop.
In the midst of all that, I suddenly realized that I had stopped writing. In graduate school I was always writing papers, writing programs notes, doing research on music and composers. I missed it. The Dichotomy to keep up my writing chops. At first I wrote whatever I wanted to write, and as I got more into Korean drama and the internet drama community I thought, “Well, hey, I can write about drama, too! Analysis is a lot like music analysis.” Recaps and reviews began, which was the gateway into the next question: how did I get started as a freelancer?
When I set up RD, I also set up a small social media platform for myself and after a couple of years of writing, HanCinema found me on Twitter. My boss reached out and asked me to write, and as you all know, I obviously agreed to do so. That was the start of my freelance career. The outreach was a confidence booster. I tackled bigger articles on my blog and worked on a larger social media reach.
ZM: You said you were in your late 20s when you shifted gears in your career. What was that like, making such a change?
Terrifying! I had planned on being a musician and that was that. I lived in the world of music, playing in orchestras and rock/Latin bands, sometimes singing. To shift to the written word and journalism was so shocking that at first I didn’t know how to handle it. There is a lot to being a journalist that I just hadn’t realized and it just wasn’t what I’d spent my life training for.
But, working in journalism began to give me ideas, and hopes, and dreams outside the cello. I loved picking apart drama and film and K-pop. I loved being behind the camera, and in front of it. I loved talking to artists and hearing about their work from their mouths. Working as a multimedia journalist is a lot of learning, some monetary investment, and even more time investment. So much time. I learned to lean on more experienced colleagues and to teach myself things and do it fast. Although difficult, that aspect was stimulating and it’s what keeps me addicted to journalism in all of its forms.
ZM: Tell us a little about your climb into this Hallyu-centric industry. Where you started, what work you’ve done, how you got to where you are now. (Would it be too intrusive or awkward to ask where you’d like to be in the future?)
I started as a K-drama reviewer on HanCinema. I do episode by episode breakdowns. That expanded to film as I started to consume more Korean silver screen works.
In 2015, I was chosen to go to Korea and represent HanCinema with the Korea Joa program and that’s where the real networking and journalistic transformation began. I met people from huge outlets, made connections, worked on live coverage, and put my natural inclination to socialize to good use. After that I worked hard on maintaining relationships, expanding my circle, learning photography. That led to opportunities reviewing film, interviewing musicians and actors, and attending big events like KCON where I paneled. I’ve also recently tackled YouTube. It’s still in its infancy, but I’m excited about it. I have unique things to offer the world and YouTube is a platform for quirky folk like me!
Currently, I’m doing a few things on a weekly/daily basis. I write features articles for Soompi that often harness my music background. I do a lot of film reviews and I work on a lot of HanCinema’s coverage. I currently have something exciting planned for the end of the year. On occasion I write pieces for other blogs. I’m doing a lot of planning right now because (no it’s not too intrusive!) I’m reshaping how I’d like to approach Hallyu journalism.
I’m working on learning Korean. A dream of mine is to interview a Korean artist in Korean. I want to lose the block of a translator. More than that, I’d like my Youtube channel to takeoff and accompany that with blog post Tl;DRs. In the future I’d like to be a go-to K-pop/K-drama analyst, picking apart why things function, why people get excited over music.
ZM: Working as a freelancer and such can sometimes be pretty thankless work. What has inspired you to stick with it for as long as you have? What creativity do you find in the work? Even if they’re not always tangible, I’m sure you’ve reaped some rewards from this work. What might some of those rewards be?
It’s so thankless sometimes. One seemingly short post can, at times, take five hours to put together. Sometimes such a piece may not even be used. Sometimes it’s poorly received. But at the same time, the actual crafting of my work is so invigorating. And the positive reception of the work by the readers and the fans is worth it.
Talking to my colleagues about Hallyu also is fulfilling and satisfying. I can be a fan and a professional at the same time. I really love that about journalism. In fact, it’s probably my favorite thing. Hallyu can be a cerebral pursuit, but it also can make me giddy as a teenager.
Intangible and tangible rewards?
- I get to speak with the stars! MAJOR REWARD!
- I can watch movies before they come out on my own sofa!
- I make loads of journalist friends who I adore.
- It’s so rewarding to have your work received well and spoken about well.
- I get paid to keep up on Hallyu. Heck. Yes.
ZM: How have you branched out with your work over the years?
I think the most important way I’ve branched out is in networking.. There are so many brilliant, innovative, creative people in this field. They challenge me to be the same and also help me get to where I want to go. I’m no longer just a writer. I photograph, interview, photo edit, video edit, work social media campaigns, work PR, and all sorts of things I self-taught. If you had asked me what metrics were a few years ago, I would’ve made a “say wha?” face at you. I’ve worked to make myself an all-in-one package that outlets can rely on, and although I feel like I’m still just starting, my work has been well-received.
Recently, I revamped Raine’s Dichotomy so that I can use it as a platform to show the work that I have done. It’s still in progress, but it’s exciting to have everything come together.
ZM: Do you have any favorite memories from your work over the years? Any experiences you’d like to share?
My first time paneling at KCON New York 2016 was pretty amazing. I did that with you, Steph from Kchat Jjigae, and Sarah/Young Ajummah! The audience was packed and so receptive. Ashley from MultifacetedACG was on fire and exuding positive energy.
Interviewing SISTAR in 2015 was pretty fabulous, too, because they were my first celebrity interview.
Going to Korea in 2015 was so amazing. After loving Hallyu for so long, and loving Korean culture for so long, to be in Korea, speaking Korean, eating Korean food, chatting with the ajummas, that was what it was all about. I love K-pop and drama, but to be in Korea is where it’s at. To see the things that inspire, influence, and shape Hallyu was completely eye-opening.
ZM: Because I know you personally, I know that you’re very much into both dramas and K-Pop so I just have to ask… What are your top 3 K-pop groups and your top 3 dramas? What makes these so special to you?
Hehe. I love that you asked this question:
- SHINee. If you’ve followed me in the least, you know I’m a Shawol. I’ve gotten to be in the same room as them (with you!). They’re so involved now with their music and they’re one of the most well-rounded groups on the market. They have really branched out in their stylings and musical dexterity. Plus, I just can’t even hide the fangirl when they’re on. It’s the inexplicable drawn of Shining SHINee.
- Infinite. I’ve seen these guys live a few times and they are the flipping best live performance. I never want it to end. Plus, I can’t handle how much I love their cheesy music style that really draws from American ‘80s/’90s. Like SHINee, great dance group. Love a man (er, men) who can shake his groove thang!
- VIXX. Been a fan since debut. I’m still kicking myself for leaving California the DAY BEFORE THEIR 2012 summer concert. Although Jellyfish concepts them, they pull it off. I just love that. I love that Ken has become such a great dancer over the years. Leo’s high notes have filled out. These guys are invigorating live.
- “White Christmas.” Stay tuned for a post on this bad boy. 2011 high school thriller that started so many of the recent greats on their paths to Hallyu stardom. Beautiful filmography, great use of character tropes, and it makes you think.
- “Healer.” If I said Ji Chang-wook didn’t influence this, I’d be lying. But the entire drama (Save for a few glaring moments) has a follow through not often found in live action shot dramas. The relationships are grounded and real. The main couple is so relatable and raw in all aspects of their relationship. Let’s talk about Kim Mi-kyung in her role as the crazy techie ajumma. She is, in a phrase, a scene stealer. So much more to say, but I won’t…yet.
- “Answer Me 1997.” This entire series is just raw emotion despite the ‘who da husband?’ shenanigans. It makes us feel like we’re living the show, makes our stomachs clench, and our hearts beat in tandem with the characters. 1997 got me in all ways good. Hoya with his unrequited love. Seo In-guk’s relationship with his hyung. Each of the main characters going through life and growing up through trials, and laughter. I grew up around that time period in the U.S., and there are a few things that are different, but the beepers, slow internet, waiting at the music store for tickets, they all just hit home.
ZM: I know you’re watching just as many dramas as I’m watching at the moment. Do you have a currently airing favorite?
“The Man in My House.” I love Soo Ae and Kim Young-kwang. The premise is interesting and makes for so many great Korean language antics, and just antics overall. Close second, “Shopping King Louis” because how can you not love Seo In-guk as a loving puppy?
ZM: Because I’m kinda rotten (and also because I’m not ready to let Scarlet Heart: Ryeo go just yet), I have to ask, are you #TeamWook or #TeamSo?
You know I love Kang Ha-neul (guh, that face!), but #TeamSo no matter how mad he makes me.
(No wonder we get along so well! ㅋㅋㅋ)
Of course I can’t wrap this up without giving a huge THANK YOU to Lisa, for taking time to chat with me and for being awesome in general. I obviously couldn’t have done this without her. If you have any questions for Lisa, feel free to leave them in the comments below or you can look her up on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube. (Which you should totally do, btw.) Of course you can leave any other comments below as well and if there are any Hallyu professionals or content creators you’d like to know more about, let me know. You never know who I might be able to get to show up next!