Just watching Hara On & Off: The Gossip, you almost forget sometimes that Goo Hara, above all professions, is a Kpop idol. Sure, we've gotten glimpses of this world, and all the preparation that comes with it (the workouts, the practices, the face creams). But episode three promised a glimpse at Hara in her element.
Or is it even her element anymore?
There are times when Goo Hara appears as grizzled veteran. Like her relationship with Baby Kara, who are preparing for their own debut. She speaks of them as if they're entering a point of their lives that she remembers as ages ago. Meeting with Baby Kara "...makes me remember the fresh times."
Goo Hara is 24 years old. But, really, it was a long time ago, eight years before when she was nearing debut. That's how young she started. That's how early idols can become stars. Imagine what that does to the perspective of a person. Reaching their career goals. And you're just turning 20.
When she's with Baby Kara after Kara's concert (in Japan), her seniority shows. She crashes their dinner party and is met with applause. The members of Baby Kara are awkward around her and she wonders, aloud, if sitting with them is a mistake. While this again proves, to me, that deep down Goo Hara is an introvert, there are also hierarchical considerations. Baby Kara are soon-to-be rookies, and Goo Hara is what they aspire to be. They even want to learn Japanese just like her. The minor age gap between Baby Kara and Hara, based on experience alone, might as well be decades.
While the focus of the episode is the Japanese tour, I find the episode far more interesting for how Hara interacts with the people around her and what that says about her as an idol.
Hara's relationship with new member Youngji, for instance, is heartfelt and quietly warm. While Seungyeon and Gyuri sit and gossip together on the plane, behaving as seniors, Hara takes the role of maknae, or, more accurately, she shares it with Youngji, sitting with her on the plane. One wonders if she had a similar relationship with Nicole and/or Jiyoung, and what extra heartbreak that would have caused her with their departure. She doesn't make a show of it, simply saying, "We sit together since we are younger." When Youngji knocks over some water on the flight (while fixing her hair), Goo Hara laughs with her. They even compare foreheads. Shiny!
There's something sisterly about their relationship, as if Hara is just a bit older here, and the age differential, unlike with Baby Kara, is not as pronounced in these moments. Hara has quietly taken Youngji under her wing, and made the transition that much easier for the new member.
Maybe I'm reading too much here (that is likely), but seeing is believing, and action can be character. Hara brings Youngji with her as she shops, competes against her in bowling (showing her competitive streak but losing) and basically lets her tag along wherever she goes, Youngji often looking wide-eyed and amazed at everything around her. If Goo Hara has taken Youngji under her wing, as I believe, Hara is an unconventional, but effective mentor.
She's not giving Youngji advice, telling her what she should do, she's leading by example. Her lesson: How to be an idol. And part of what to do is having (reasonable) fun during free time. It's a subtle mentoring, blink and you may just miss it.
Which really brings back the duality of Hara, the "on" and the "off" that I've doubted from the start. But here it's not her "on" life and "off" life but in her seniority. In many ways she's a senior and is perceived as such by Baby Kara. But with Youngji, she walks a delicate line between her experience and warmth. With Seungyeon and Gyuri she's treated like the baby of the group, but she's been an idol, with them, for years now. It's an interesting dynamic and Hara's childlike looks and personality furthers that tension.
And now, with Kara's recent departures, there's something new about performing. The group has changed, the parts have to be different. Hara is nervous.
She doesn't admit it at first, when one of her managers asks her. But she then says that "It's been awhile. I'm nervous." This new Kara is unfamiliar to her, and all of that experience doesn't mean so much anymore. Everything old is somehow new again.
But they knock the performance out of the ballpark because Kara is still Kara and we're talking about Goo Hara here. She works hard at everything that she does and takes the extra step that some idols would avoid. Like saying hello to her fans waiting for the concert (and laughing when they don't recognize her without her makeup).
Or passing out Polaroids and candies to her fans.
Though they may expect the pictures and candies, she surprises her fans by going into the crowd and we've never seen her happier than when she's ready to meet them. Hara (along with the other Kara members, probably) proceeds to pass out Kara merchandise to her fans to end the successful show. Hara loves doing this and she excels at not just being a performer but, most importantly, an idol.
And looking at this episode, just about everything that Hara does is related to that. Being a role model (albeit awkwardly) to Baby Kara, bringing Youngji into the fold, fostering her relationship with her fans, having a killer concert, it all encompasses this impossible role, the idol, that Goo Hara carries exceptionally well. This is not just Goo Hara's profession, it's her true love. Her passion.
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.