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South Korea – Death of two K-pop stars: the misogynist society of Korea

They come alone or in small groups and bow to their star. In a mourning hall in the South Korean capital Seoul, fans greet pop singer Goo Hara. His photo is on a commemorative altar, framed by white chrysanthemums. His followers have placed letters under it.

Wong Maye-E / AP

Fan of the late singer Goo Hara: "I hope you find peace now"

On Sunday, Goo was found dead at her Seoul home. The authorities do not rule out suicide. "I hope you find peace now, it wasn't easy," someone wrote in one of the condolence books that lay in the room next to the mourning room. There, two young women are holding hands sobbing. "You'll see how much we love you, you deserve better," writes an Indonesian fan. Another says goodbye with the words: "Good night, midnight queen".

"I will live intensely for both"

"Midnight Queen" was the title of Goo Hara's last single released in Japan. Goo became known as part of the Kara women's group, which since 2008 had celebrated great successes in South Korea, Japan and other Asian countries. Later it appeared even alone.

In October, Goo released a live video on Instagram, saying goodbye to his friend Sulli in tears. Sulli was also a well-known K-pop singer who committed suicide. "I will live and work intensely for both of them," he said, and "I hope you can live up there as you wish."

Even Sulli's death had highlighted the enormous pressure on Korean stars. They must meet the high demands of their fans and are at the same time exposed to a flood of hate comments. Especially if they have the courage to soften the strict rules imposed on K-pop stars. Especially women should be sexy, but seem innocent and not too open to face their femininity.

The singer and actress Sulli at an advertising appearance in October 2018

Imaginechina / imago images

The singer and actress Sulli at an advertising appearance in October 2018

Sulli was unusually open to a Korean singer. He spoke about the self-confidence of women and their relationships, but also about his mental health problems and Internet bullying. When it came out without a bra, it was flooded with hate comments on the network. His biggest taboo was probably that he had taken care of how he suffered from the negative comments.

Contempt of the rare woman

Goo Hara's despair was also known to the public. In May, she had to be resuscitated after a suicide attempt.

The death of young women in Korea could now also trigger a discussion about the lack of support for depressed people in a country with the highest suicide rate in the world.

Many Koreans see the death of women – and in particular Goo Hara – as an expression of the great female contempt in their native land. As an expression of a society that leaves women alone, both when they become victims of abuse and when they publicly denounce it.

Last year Goo Hara accused her ex-boyfriend of wanting to blackmail her with the release of a sex video made without her consent. A judge sentenced the former boy to a year and a half in prison, but on probation.

Mourning is mixed with anger among the fans

Many women sympathized with Goo in their fight against the former boyfriend. Last year there were numerous protests by Koreans against the so-called "porn revenge" and widespread illegal shooting with spy cameras. In South Korea, illegal filming and publication of material on pornographic sites can be punished with imprisonment. Only in 5.3 percent of cases, however, has such a prison sentence been imposed in recent years, which has criticized the Korean Lawyers Association.

But Goo wasn't just nice after the verdict. After that, Internet commentators were only more vehement about her.

National stars: the Kara group in a concert in 2012


National stars: the Kara group in a concert in 2012

This is how the sadness of the fans is mixed with anger. After Goo's death, 1200 women discussed the singer and the trial with her ex-boyfriend in a forum on the Korean Internet portal Daum. "This makes me so angry," a woman wrote. "How can we call this legal system if it doesn't work?", Commented another.

"A clear message to all women in Korea"

Bloomberg reporter Lee Jihye wrote this so succinctly on Twitter: "It is becoming increasingly difficult for Korean women to report crimes as victims because they later see artists experiencing even greater trauma due to the way they like the public, the police and the judicial system react to the sexual assault ". I send "a clear message to all women in Korea".

Tamar Herman is also of the opinion that the death of Goo and Sulli can be limited only by the explanation that they are desperate for the hard music business in South Korea. He writes a column on K-Pop for the American music magazine "Billboard ". "If people talk about the dark side of K-pop now, this is only partly true, it's a problem of society." The Korean pop industry reflects on Korean society, characterized by intense competition, misogyny and lack of care for depressed people.

Goo and Sulli were people who "talked about their mental health problems and hate comments and said they needed help but were not heard, they were even more deprecated," Herman said.

On Sunday, Goo Hara wrote his latest post on Instagram: "Good night". He was only 28 years old.