This past weekend, Hyomin took a trip to Tokyo and, with the aid of Instagram, invited her fans along for the ride. While many Kpop stars use Instagram, few use it with as much enthusiasm and skill. What followed this weekend was nearly forty pictures uploaded of her Tokyo adventure. And we find the pictures, and Hyomin herself, absolutely fascinating. Let's take a closer look.
This is where it begins. Hyomin teases her fans with a blurry teaser of the photographic smorgasbord that soon awaits them. The use of "teaser" here is intentional. This is a release, not unlike an Artist's showcase before a promotional single. This full length "Life of Hyomin," is a (photographic) album. This is a performance. Yes, this is art.
Hyomin is not alone. Jiyeon accompanies her on this Tokyo jaunt. The strange (wonderful) thing is that this trip does not correspond to a promotion, or a fan meeting, or a concert (as far as we know). This is just a trip between two friends, that Hyomin, with her Instagram account, is inviting us to participate in.
But here's the thing. Even on vacation, Hyomin is glamorous, gorgeous, graceful (another "g" word some have used: A goddess). It's not surprising that many Koreans have a deep and lasting affection for Grace Kelly (as shown in the wonderful documentary, The Grace Lee Project). A Hollywood star, superstar really, so beautiful and charming that she won the heart of a prince. She literally became royalty. The height of glamour. Korea has no royal family, but perhaps the substitute for that may lie in their pop idols, or at least in their idolatry. It may not be a coincidence that Kpop idols are often referred to as "Queens," or that T-ara's fandom is officially known as "Queen's" (that's right, with an apostrophe). Kpop idols, much like members of most royal families, are obsessively examined, their clothing scrutinized, their words picked apart. They live under the microscope, grace is constantly required. This is a vacation. But even so, who's more glamorous than Hyomin? Look at the picture above and tell me.
Or this picture here, these dual images in the rain, Hyomin happy, Hyomin pained. Hyomin had her solo debut just last year, as you may remember, to mixed reviews. While far from a commercial failure, "Nice Body" didn't exactly burn the charts and shoot her into HyunA-level stardom. For me, the promotional song itself was absolutely heartbreaking, in that it just wasn't that good. Though not known for her singing, Hyomin has the charisma, grace, beauty, and talent to make her a strong solo star. She just needs the right song and concept to push her over the top. A focus more on her glamour than just her body. I can't help thinking about that. When will Hyomin take her proper place in the Kpop Kingdom? When will she wear her true crown?
Hyomin is on vacation but even her Instagram pictures could be mistaken for magazine pictorials. Is it really as effortless as it seems? Or is it that, even while on vacation, Hyomin has to consider her image? If she is Korea's idea of royalty, what weight rests on her shoulders? Even in T-ara, she's given extra pressure to watch her weight and to wear far more revealing clothes as the group's "Visual." It's as if Hyomin's image is such an essential part of her now that it makes separating herself from that, even for a weekend, an impossible task.
And then there's Hyomin and Jiyeon's friendship, which is great to see here, in their carefree wackiness. We like to imagine that our idols are all friends. If any group knows that this is not always the case, it's the members of T-ara, who were embroiled in bullying accusations when Hwayoung was unceremoniously ousted in 2012. That black mark has stayed with T-ara to this day, now more as whispers and side glances and music show losses (they should have won for "Number 9" and "Sugar Free"). But pictures like this show a kinship and sincere friendship between the two that reminds us of more naive times, when we believed our idols were infallible, forever loved and loving of all.
There's no argument here. Hyomin is being stunning. She knows just the pose, the look, the smile. This is a photo shoot. Put this picture on a poster. This is iconic.
What could be more interesting than the photos of Hyomin could be what she's photographed with. Or, rather, what she believes is important enough to have photographed? Tokyo is a massive city, thirteen and a half million people, and maybe triple the lights, and quadruple the possibilities. Hyomin: Meet Gundam. The future is yours.
Here is Hyomin looking out from the Prince Park Tower. In the skyline is Tokyo Tower, lights ablaze. The orange lights look like flames, like the city runs off of a post-apocalyptic pyre. Tokyo sits at the intersections of the future and the past. Not even a real future, more like a science fiction dream. A step below Blade Runner maybe. Tokyo is the largest metropolitan area in the world. Space is limited, apartments tiny, subways overcrowded, the lights, like from the Tokyo Tower, never ending. Even more appropriately, Tokyo is also known for its fashion, its pop trends, its devoted futurism. It's appropriate to find Hyomin in Tokyo, here, with this view.
And it's appropriate to find her with Jiyeon. Just having fun. Friends forever, T-ara for life. Pop stars, idols, Queens.
Timothy Moore writes from Chicago. He blogs at Read My Blog Please, and edits at Ghost Ocean Magazine. His biases are T-ara, Block B, Nine Muses, Brown Eyed Girls, and Girl's Day.