The shock death of another K-pop idol has shed light on the darker side of South Korea’s demanding entertainment industry.
K-pop singer Goo Hara, better known as Hara, was reportedly found dead at her home in Seoul on Sunday, just six months after an apparent suicide attempt.
Hara’s final Instagram post is captioned: “Good night”.
The tragedy comes just weeks after Hara’s close friend and fellow K-pop star Sulli ended her own life after suffering relentless abuse from online trolls.
But suicides of South Korean celebrities is nothing new. In recent years, it has become a worrying trend.
Ten years ago, popular actor Jang Ja-yeon, 29, ended her life after writing a seven-page letter in which she claimed she was sexually abused by dozens of powerful men in the entertainment industry.
South Korean singer Lee Hye-Ryeon, best known as UNee, took her own life in 2007 at age 25.
In 2017, the lead singer of hugely popular boy band SHINee, Jonghyun, also died by suicide.
While the life of a K-pop star might seem glamorous, the recent spate of suicides shows another side to the sleek choreography and matching outfits.
Behind the charm is a ruthless, high-pressure industry prone to exploitation and bullying.
The most recent star to die had previously become the target of opportunistic threats.
Hara took her ex-boyfriend to court last year after he threatened to ruin her career by releasing footage of them having sex that he had secretly filmed.
Police have not shared further details about the exact cause of the 28-year-old’s death, but they are investigating what led to her mental state.
Hara’s death is one of the more extreme outcomes of a music industry that promotes a “squeaky clean” image.
Macquarie University’s Dr Sarah Keith, an expert in Korean popular culture, said K-pop agencies had a tight grip over the private lives of their idols.
“K-pop is a finely tuned industry … and the idols are usually squeaky-clean role models, which makes them appealing to a wide audience,” Dr Keith told The New Daily.
“The agency wants to maintain the idol as a perfect fantasy … and will essentially control all of their activities, including what they can and can’t say.”
Many aspiring idols are as young as 11 years old when they are pushed onto the industry’s conveyer belt and manufactured into pop stars.
K-pop bootcamp is gruelling and they are expected to push their bodies to the limit to achieve the right K-pop ‘look’.
Most of them are banned from dating to maintain a public illusion of being sexually desirable and available, but ultimately inexperienced.
Speaking up is not an option if they want to keep their job.
Jessie Davis, a spokeswoman for Australian K-pop fan group BTS ARMY Australia, conceded it was common for Korean fans to have “high expectations of their idols”.
“Originally K-pop idols were meant to serve as ‘ideal beings’ or your ‘perfect boy/girlfriend’,” Ms Davis told The New Daily.
“Their fame can sometimes increase their risk of experiencing cyberbullying and online hate.”
But Dr Keith said these crippling pressures weren’t unique to the K-pop industry.
“South Korea in general is a very competitive society,” she said.
“Suicide is a nationwide epidemic unfortunately – it’s a problem that is well known in Korea.”
The suicide rate in South Korea is the 10th highest in the world, according to the World Health Organisation.
“Yes, K-pop stars are in this high-pressure environment, but so are regular school kids,” Dr Keith said, explaining it was common for students to spend up to 12 hours a day studying.
“There is a lot of prestige associated with which uni you went to – if you went to one of the top three unis, you’re basically set up for life.”
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