Missbehavin' With Mary Hk Choi
Missbehave came at a time when the female explosion onto the scene was so loud, it could not be ignored. Banding together a group of talented writers, editors and photographers, Missbehave was born out of a necessity in a culture geared toward men and their needs. The debut issue featured then darling of the music scene Nelly Furtado and took us female readers into a realm never experienced before. It did not pander to what women should do to please their man or preach a stereotypical way of life, it gave us an alternative that many of us had been searching for. Missbehave's Editor in Chief Mary HK Choi hooks up with Mafia and drops knowledge on the challenges and success with the best thing to hit newstands since Sneaker Freaker.
Wassup Mary? As someone who is just starting to get her feet wet in the magazine world, it’s a massive honour to get to chat to you. How did you get your start in writing and editing for mags?
I graduated college with a degree in textiles and apparel and promptly moved to New York thinking I’d work this soul-decimating fashiony job that I’d been offered. I essentially started having borderline panic attacks at the prospect of ACTUALLY having to go to this company every day so I thought I’d intern at a magazine instead. In hindsight it all sounds horribly ad hoc and annoyingly easy but at the time NOBODY wanted an intern who had already graduated college. I spent my first month in New York manically hitting refresh on a number of magazine web sites that didn’t require college credit and Mass Appeal was one of them. They only had advertising internships up for weeks and then one morning there was an editorial internship available. They said I was the first person to answer the post (which is really a testament to desperation/OCD more than anything else). I was really glad they went with me cause I was getting carpal tunnel from pounding the shortcuts.
From there I became an editorial assistant and by the time I left a year later, I was the managing editor. It was an incredible boon to work at an independently owned magazine from jump because it essentially meant I could see the entire process of putting together each issue—from ideas being conceived to plates getting made. Also, it was the sort of situation where your hunger dictates your success within the company in a tangible way. If you’re at an Indie and you refuse to go home, you get work. If you don’t drop the ball, you get more work. It was definitely grimy at times but that job was rad. I learned a lot about pain thresholds and how much brutality a skeleton crew can endure to bang out a high quality product
Were you like me and totally obsessed by magazines your whole life? I remember my parents gettting fired up because I would spend all my money on teen mags, and my answer was always “this is my research, don’t you get it!”
I was always in love with magazines but it was really hard to get a lot of American lifestyle magazines when I was a kid. We’d get British girls magazines like J17 in drug stores but like way late. Months late. I remember random issues of Dolly as well but I didn’t discover Sassy until a bit later in life when my bestie would come back from the States with those and Butterfinger candy bars. My mom would always spring for National Geographic which to this day I think was an awesome move on her part and my dad would always buy me those huge L’Officiel fashion magazines. And I can’t even front, as a teen, I loved me some Vogue. I bought into all of it. This was when Kate Moss came up. Holy smokes mainstream fashion magazines were fully the shit back then.
Did your childhood of moving from Korea to Hong Kong and then at 14 moving to Texas shape how immersed you became in American pop culture?
I don’t actually remember living in Korea all that much since I emigrated to Hong Kong right before my first birthday. Living as an Asian in a British colony in Asia is a really specific experience. Especially because I was still an expatriate cause I’m Korean and not Chinese. You get “Western” culture in a really bizarre way. CDs were hella expensive and for a long time Hong Kong didn’t really have cable TV. There were two English-speaking channels and they were playing old shows like Kate and Alley. I think our Sesame Street was even out of date cause no one my age in the US remembers any of the shit I watched when I was little. I loved growing up in Hong Kong but sometimes it was just weird. Like, how this classical cellist opened for Radio Head on their Pablo Honey tour and like a ton of people left cause they were just there to see the cellist dude. That’s a pretty good litmus test to what my friends and I were dealing with.
The whole, “moving to Texas at 14” thing was a total mindfuck though. It was so bizarre. My father had made this unilateral decision to move to Texas so he bought a house in a suburb of San Antonio. To this day, I remember his explanation to why we weren’t moving to L.A or New York as being, “because Texas is big.” The thing is when we moved I had an English accent. I spelled color with a “u” and said “aluminium” and had attended a British school my entire life. Moving to America, an America as American as Texas, was insane. I shit you not, there were cliques in high school of people who literally chewed dip, wore cowboy hats, were members of the 4H club, and had big-ass belt buckles. They’d rock Dooney & Bourke pebbled leather purses with really long straps which to this day I think are fugg and that’s not at all a cultural thing. I’m a total pop culture fiend and suck up information really quickly. The only thing is that I don’t have any of those emo feelings about watching the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson cause I didn’t stay up late to watch it with my dad. I’ve never watched a single Leave it to Beaver or Gilligan’s Island.
You said you moved from interning at Mass Appeal to becoming their associated editor within the first year you were there. How did you make your way up the ladder and what challenges did you face?
When I left, I stayed as a Senior Editor on the masthead so I could write their fashion features and swoop in and pull rank to grab any other interviews I really wanted to do. There are challenges inherent in the fact that creative freedom and fiscal rewards typically enjoy an inverse relationship. It got to a point where it made more sense for me to work somewhere else while still being able to contribute on nights and weekends.
You then moved on to become editorial assistant at XXL magazine and eventually onto Hip Hop Soul (an XXL affiliate mag). Was there a lot of macho-ism in the Hip-Hop mag world, or were you like me, unaffected yet inspired by the male dominance?
I worked at XXL for three years, first as an editorial assistant and then eventually as the associate managing editor. I was also a part of the team that not only launched Hip-Hop Soul, but also Eye Candy Magazine. For those unfamiliar with the XXL Eye Candy section, this is a whole magazine devoted entirely to celebrating the undulating silhouettes of a certain type of female frame. It was kinda awesome. It’s tremendously good for the spirit to see un-retouched images of models.
Thing is, when I started working at XXL one of the first things I had to do was interview a bunch of rappers for the sex package. I literally had to ask Mobb Deep if they preferred, “brains or backshot?” I can totally understand if certain people would be offended by this or find hip hop too rife with misogyny to work there but I was really lucky to work with people who loved what they did. I worked with some truly brilliant and passionate editors and writers at XXL. They loved rap. They loved chronicling rap. They were on a mission hell bent on taking out the Source. I had many more issues feeling like my presence at a rap magazine was fraudulent than any insensitive lyrics. You take the machismo with a grain of salt and then listen to really cloyingly sweet tweenie bop R&B.
Was it then a natural transition to go from these more male orientated mags to becoming Editor In Chief for the amazingly awesome female street wear mag Missbehave? What has been the most obvious changes in your work environment, and how much more freedom as EIC do you get?
Dude. It was amazing to write for girls. You have no idea, I’d written music magazines and art magazines but never specifically for GIRLS. It wasn’t like there was this transition period because there wasn’t a need for a transition at all. I had so many ideas pent up that I couldn’t believe they hadn’t metastasized and turned into a huge fucking tumor. For the longest time me, my creative director Sally, my photo editor Brooke and Sam our founding editor—the four of us would straight up VOMIT ideas. Projectile. The work environment is awesome. I work exclusively with smart hilarious women. My editorial assistants Julie and Olivia are incredible and super rewarding to work with. I mean, sure there are days when one of us in the editorial team are crazy in the Bell Jar but mostly it’s like going to brunch. You work like a demon, take a breather to bitch and eat garbage from the deli, and whatever, all our periods have aligned and we get to braid each other’s hair and trade sticker books. It’s rad.
One of the best lines I’ve ever read anywhere was actually from you about who you think Missbehave caters to, and your quote was ladies that are “unapologetic about being themselves”. It’s such a powerful statement in a world, where we are constantly bombarded with how we SHOULD look and how we SHOULD hold ourselves.
Dude. I hate how fucking Victorian some girls magazines are. Dead ass. It’s like when Maxim came out and everyone thought they’d figured out cold fucking fusion. Men like porn. So they talked about porn. Men like stupid parlor tricks and pretending to be spies. So they talked about that. They threw in some tits (sans areola since we are talking America) and everyone went apeshit. I felt like guys were relieved or something when the lad mags started acknowledging their seedy little simian whims. It’s not lofty but I want that same relief for women. Girls are a little psycho. I want to talk about that. I’m not saying that guys aren’t totally out of their trees cause they are but yeah, I said it, girls are a little intense at times. I wanna talk about it. I think it’s awesome and really funny. I want to talk wiles, machinations, drunk dialing, unhealthy eating habits, the type of ambition that convinces you that you may die a spinster… that sort of thing. And also I want to cover tons of fashion. Tons and tons of shoes and clothes. And diamonds and also really hot dudes. With vascular forearms and beautiful hair.
You guys must be fully stoked to have Kelis on board as a columnist (I heard she was incredibly eager about writing for the mag). Whatother concepts do you have planned for the upcoming issues?
Kelis is the shit. I’ve said it a bajillion times. You think she’s beautiful and rad on general principal and then you meet her. First of all, girl is almost six feet tall. And the type of gorgeous that isn’t like, “Oh dudes would sweat her in high school,” it’s the type of stunning that makes her almost look animated, like CGI’d into a room. It’s despicable. Then, she’s really fucking smart. Not even like just book smart cause that would be easier to stomach. She’s book smart, canny and really quirky. She reads a ton of science fiction, Japanese magical realism and horror novels and she’s a huge fashion nerd. When she and all of us girls went out for lunch at the beginning it was ridiculous. We geeked out. She’s so fly and I barely ever say fly.
In the future we have some male contributing writers. Some really interesting breeds of dudes. Chris Pontius is in our latest and having him write an article and submit his own pictures was gonzo. That man is supremely funny. It’s the type of thing where I recall parts of the article and start laughing hysterically on public transportation.
You seem to building Misbehave as a way of life, with all the parties you put on. How involved are you with all the nights that you present, featuring Cash Money, Bijules and Roxy Cottontail to name a few? And just how massive is the local phenomenon of “The Bench” getting? It seems every label is throwing some sort of event there, hahaha!
Missbehave is a way of life. I, along with every one of the talented folks we have the pleasure of collaborating with, can immediately identify something as being Missbehave or not being Missbehave. We are a movement. Thing is, Roxy and Justine D used to live together and are hardcore besties. Bijules and Brooke Nipar live together. Matt Goias who along with Max Glazer, Fancy, and on the go Ari started the bench and Matt is a Missbehave columnist. We are a cabal and we are growing. Our New York chapter is diesel but we have splinter cells that are germinating nicely all over the world and soon our grand scheme will be made known. Until then we will continue to enlist more soldiers from such “parties.”
As for the bench, it is a bench. There isn’t much to be said on the topic. Every time one has strong feelings towards it—whether they deride it or exalt it—it diminishes the whole point. The bench exists to be nothing so that upon it we can do nothing.
You have certainly made waves and tapped into an untouched market in the magazine world, and we always salute people that are the first to get their ideas off the ground, before all the followers and biters appear. How important was it for you guys to get this magazine to print and out there? And how do you try to inspire the ladies that want to get into this scene, because it certainly isn’t all glamorous!
It was critical that we come out of the gate with a 100-page glossy. Just as it was critical that we have a serious cover artist from jump. There was absolutely no way we were going to serve this unmet niche of awesome females—the ones who were previously reading all the downtown male magazines—with some sub par weak shit. No way. That would have been an egregious disservice.
As for wanting to get into this scene, people think that because it’s a scene as well as an industry that somehow you can play to work. This is not actually the case. It often becomes the opposite where work bleeds into play to the point where you work around the clock and can’t really differentiate friends from colleagues. That can be trying at times.
As for getting into the scene, you just have to do it. Think about it, this is an industry of boutique businesses run by entrepreneurs. A bajillion people start a T-shirt line or a PR firm or become a party promoter or a magazine or an online store or a writing career ALL the time. This is absolutely a blood sport and it is absolutely a race. If you don’t have the gumption to just start despite the sickening free fall feeling, then you may as well work a soul killing job that’ll at least afford you middle income stability.
When will you be getting global distribution for Missbehave? Because at present it is only available in the states, right? I know plenty of peeps down under and around the globe that would love to be able to purchase your magazine but have been unable to do so.
We are available at a couple stores around the world. I know Staple carries us in his new store in Japan and www.cultistshop.com based out of LA carries us and has international shipping. There are several little boutiques that carry us in London but right now if you’re not being sent issues from our staff directly, you do need a decoder ring and a map to find us outside of the US. We’re going to change all that in 2008 though. Our circulation has increased by 25% so we won’t have to squirrel individual issues anymore. Which is awesome cause it’s really been hampering our grandiose dreams of world domination.