I can't help but feel that there's something strangely Sisyphean about Goo Hara's life. Sisyphus, as you may have learned from your Introductory Greek Mythology course, is doomed to roll a boulder up a hill, and then watch it roll all the way down, and to continue this process ad infinitum. After Kara regrouped from the departures of Nicole and Jiyoung, by coming back with "Mama Mia," even though I've been a casual fan of Kara for years, I didn't feel elation for the group's return. Instead, after their eight years of rising success, having already reached that plateau, or, rather, the top of that mythological hill, my first thought was: What's Next?
What's next, Goo Hara? You've risen to the top with Kara, fallen, and are rising again. But how long can Kara really continue? What new heights could they possibly reach? It almost seems like pushing that boulder will never end. With Hara On & Off: The Gossip, we can see what type of toll that takes on a person.
If there is an answer to "what next?" it could very well lie with variety programs like this. A not-so-depressing evolution for an idol who's had success in such programs as Invincible Youth.
Still, devoting an entire program to one person with unparalleled access leaves its own unique challenges. Most of which could be how to fill up the eight episodes that ran consecutively on MBC at the end of last year?
With the first episode, at least, the most compelling bits might just be the everyday minutia of when Hara is comfortably "off" at home - watching concerts, playing with her cats, cooking dinner. There's a voyeuristic quality that these scenes enable in the viewer, a maybe I shouldn't be watching this vibe. But, somehow, these turn out to be the most watchable moments.
Who wouldn't want to watch Hara wash her cat?
Or watch an Adele concert by herself, at her home?
Typing these words now, I'm surprised that I would, and I'm surprised that Hara would receive her own camera to film just that, and I'm surprised that it comprised any of the episode. I wonder how these moments would have felt without the cheesy sound effects and pop-up commentary? Would if have felt too intimate? Would these quiet moments feel uncomfortably raw?
The first episode, like most Korean variety shows I've seen, has the artifice of the show as its spine. Here, Hara is encircled by employees of DSP Media, who wonder what a program starring Hara would be.
It's a strange technique, but, again, not one that is uncommon, and serves as the framing device of the clips that certainly must preview future episodes (I'm watching these one at a time).
Here, Hara serves as defense for her own trial, where she is asked questions about her public image. Hara believes people perceive her as difficult, arrogant, or fussy. The program will certainly be an attempt at dispelling those notions, as we're taken to clips of her goofing off at the photo shoot, and interviews on the street from fans that haven't a mean thought in their heads about Hara. Though interesting to gauge Hara's reaction, the trial is ultimately farce, and the moments feel all the more carefully manufactured.
Even the tearful moment towards the episode's climax, where DSP and Hara surprisingly address the departures of Nicole and Jiyoung, seem somehow canned and scripted, carefully worded to instill civility between Kara and their former members.
The music is carefully sentimental, Hara's words eloquently spoken, and though the tears she sheds are undoubtedly genuine, they seem provoked by instigating questions that would inevitably bring them forth. In short, it makes for good television.
But, for me, the most interesting parts of the program will be what is essentially, when it comes down to it, bad television, those moments of existence away from the boulder and that damn hill, where Hara is just being Hara, unprompted by the many media entities that push or challenge or gossip about/with her.
For me, watching these moments, like when Hara listens to music off of her phone, are compelling, unfiltered, yes, a little boring, and, as the show likely intends, refreshingly human. What's next for Hara? Maybe it's something as simple as being herself. After all of these years, she's earned that right, hasn't she?
But enough speculation. On to episode two!
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.