On Sunday, November 24, the 28-year-old South Korean singer and actress Goo Hara was found dead at her home in Cheongdam-dong, Gangnam. A handwritten note, expressing Goo’s unrelenting battle with depression, was found nearby the body.
Goo made her debut as a member of the girl group Kara, which quickly became a national sensation in South Korea and Japan. Goo went on to become a household name, starring in the Korean primetime drama City Hunter, releasing multiple solo music projects, and creating a reality TV show.
This is the second suicide of a K-pop star in a little over a month. Goo’s death closely follows the death of Sulli, a beloved Korean actress, singer, and model. In a live-streamed video that has since been removed from Instagram, Goo sobbed over Sulli’s suicide, stating that the two were best friends and that she hopes that Sulli will live “as she pleases” in heaven.
Among other societal issues such as the stigmatization of mental health, the lack of agency afforded to Korean pop stars, especially female stars is a root cause of their suffering. Entertainment industry experts have long cautioned against the “dark side” of the K-pop industry, which cycles through young teens for a constant stream of entertainment.
“From an early age, they live a mechanical life, going through a spartan training regimen,” said Korean journalist Lee Hark-Joon. K-pop stars are often selected from a young age to tirelessly dance, sing, and train their way to superstardom, only to be replaced by a younger generation of stars by the time they reach their late 20s. “They seldom have a chance to develop a normal school life or normal social relationships as their peers do.”
Lee also acknowledged that the media plays a huge role in the abuse of these young idols, stating that K-pop stars are, “especially vulnerable to psychological distress–they are scrutinized on social media around the clock, and fake news about their private lives is spread instantly.”
This is exactly what happened to Goo. In recent years, Goo has been caught in a public legal battle against a former partner who allegedly assaulted and blackmailed her. Consequently, she became a target of intense media attention and cyberbullying.
In 2018, after Goo reported the initial assault to the police, her boyfriend threatened to release an illicitly filmed sex video of her. Although he received one and a half years of jail time on charges of assault and threat, Goo’s partner was not penalized for the video filmed. “It doesn’t appear that the video was filmed against the victim’s will,” the court stated.
After the blackmailing charge was publicized, “Goo Hara video” became a trending search on Google in South Korea. Goo also fought against a slew of malicious rumors about her sex life and further threats from online trolls. Goo made her first suicide attempt in June of this year. “Public entertainers like myself don’t have it easy — we have our private lives more scrutinized than anyone else and we suffer the kind of pain we cannot even discuss with our family and friends,” Goo pleaded with her online harassers before ending her life. “Can you please ask yourself what kind of person you are before you post a vicious comment online?”