Goo Hara Was a K-Pop Royal Who Deserved a Better World

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HARA "Midnight Queen"

South Korean star Goo Hara was found dead in her Seoul home on Sunday (Nov. 24). Goo, romanized by the star as Koo and also known professionally as GUHARA, was one of the K-pop world’s most prominent female stars and also popular in Japan after rising to fame as part of girl group KARA. She was 28 at the time of her passing. 

The cause of Goo’s death is still under investigation by police. It follows a previous instance in which the star was found unconscious in an alleged suicide attempt in May. She was one of numerous high-profile female K-pop stars who have spent years facing intense scrutiny and cyber-bullying for her personal life and artistic pursuits.  

Goo, often known by her given name Hara, worked hard to break into the K-pop industry after a rough childhood. She eventually joined girl group KARA in 2008, a year after its formation, and was a member of their lineup through the group's disbandment in 2016. KARA spent the late ‘00s and early ‘10s as a dominant act in K-pop, and was immensely popular thanks to hits like “Pretty Girl,” “Wanna,” “Mister,” “Lupin,” “Jet Coaster Love,” “Step,” and many others. The group helped pushed K-pop into Japan, the second-largest music market in the world, and became the first-ever female Korean act to perform at the Tokyo Dome in January 2013. KARA released their final single “Cupid” in 2015. Throughout their time together, her vibrant, charming, and chic personality was often a focal point of the group’s promotions, and made her a prominent star. 

Along with her work in KARA, Hara was also a solo star in her own right. In 2012, she released her first single, "Secret Love," through the KARA Solo Collection album, and released her first EP, Alohara (Can You Feel It?), in 2015, fronted by the single "Choco Chip Cookies" with Giriboy. She most recently revealed her Japanese single, the captivating dance track "Midnight Queen," in September.

Throughout her career, she frequently appeared on South Korean and Japanese television shows, both as a variety personality and as an actress, appearing on popular shows like City Hunter and Invincible Youth. Hara recently completed her Zepp Tour with a show in Tokyo on November 19. 

Whether Goo's death is ruled an intentional suicide or not, the tragedy looms over the span of nearly a decade. The star and her character were regularly commentated on, and often vilified, in South Korean digital spaces for things like dating and crying on television, reducing her from one of the industry’s most prominent and promising stars and all but driving her from South Korea to pursue her career predominantly in Japan. 

Last year, Hara was criticized after it was reported that she got into a physical altercation with her ex-boyfriend during their breakup. It was later revealed that he had blackmailed her with illegally-filmed sex videos. She has had to testify in court on multiple occasions regarding the case, which is currently being appealed after the man, Choi Jong-bum, was given a prison sentence of a year and six months on a variety of charges related to the situation. During the ordeal, her contract with her former South Korean management company was reportedly terminated, though she was still under Japan’s Production Ogi at the time of her passing. 

In May of this year, Hara was found unconscious following an apparent suicide attempt and later issued an apology after negative blowback on social media. In October, her close friend Sulli (Choi Jin-ri) died by suicide; she, too, had regularly been a victim of criticism through social media for living life her own way. 

Despite the regular vilification of her character, Goo continued to pursue her career on her own terms as a confident performer, all the while regularly sharing her thoughts, vulnerabilities, and feelings with the world through social media. Following Sulli’s death, Hara took to Instagram to say a sorrowful farewell to her friend, saying that the pair had been like true sisters and that she would try to live the other’s share of life in her stead, making her passing all that more more heartbreaking.

Goo shared her final Instagram post in the early hours of Nov. 23 in South Korea; it featured a picture of the star in bed saying, “Sleep well.”   

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

잘자

A post shared by 구하라 (@koohara__) on

Following the news of Goo’s death, Twitter in Korea witnessed a hashtag trend that demanded punishment for the star’s ex-boyfriend, alleging that the way Goo was treated was correlated to her death.

“Korean women find it more and more difficult to report crimes as victims because they see female artists facing even greater backlashes & trauma because [of] how the public, police and the justice system respond to sexual assault, and that sends a clear message to all women in Korea,” Jihye Lee, a Bloomberg writer based in Korea, tweeted. Beyond Goo's case, several male Korean celebrities were arrested earlier this year on charges relating to sexual assault and illegally filmed spy camera porn amid a series of high-profile cases that put the emphasis on how widespread misogyny and rape culture is in the country. 

A petition has also been uploaded to the website of the South Korean presidential Blue House demanding reform to laws related to sex crimes. 

Though the last months of Hara's life were full of sorrow, the star still remained radiant on stage during her final days. She spent much of the decade as a woman empowered, dominating performances and sharing with the world an example of how a celebrity can be intimate and open with audiences in the age of social media curation -- and suffer because of it. The tragedy surrounding her legacy will hopefully inspire a kinder world than the one she faced.

She will be sorely missed. Sleep well, our midnight queen.

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