*You can read about our look at other episodes of Hara On & Off here
Goo Hara is crying. She is watching Interstellar in a private screening with her selected, devoted fans. Yes, she's crying to Interstellar, Christopher Nolan's good-intentioned, bloated, Matthew Mcconaughey led-space opera. Surprising? A bit. There are some tense moments in the film, but is it tear-jerking?
Hara clearly wears her emotions on her sleeves, and will cry when she's emotionally touched, when she's hurt, when she's incensed, and, in this episode, when she's unbelievably happy. In fact, Hara cries three times this episode. Nearly four. The only time she's not crying is when she's with Brown Eyed Girls' Gain, where she playfully teases her elder over dinner, and gets teased herself over relationships and her wide forehead.
But it's different when Hara gets together with her fans. There is a heightened energy to her, a casual anxiety - one that she rests on her shoulders, the weight of that responsibility. There's a tension here because there's something very intimate about the love fans share for their idols, and vice versa (and make no mistake, it is love), but also an anonymity. Because as much as they've read about and seen and communicated together, they're still essentially strangers.
Which brings us to the second time Goo Hara cries this episode.
The fans have conspired together, and as soon as Interstellar ends, the credits are interrupted with a heartwarming video, where they thank Hara and laud her accomplishments, one of the biggest being her devotion and love for her fans (again, this is actual love here). One can wonder if her responsibilities to Kara are almost entirely driven by her devotion to her fans. Not wanting to let them down. When they thank her, Hara cries. No, she bawls. Inconsolably.
During her interview (which I've now accepted as a permanent fixture to Hara On & Off: The Gossip, six episodes in), Goo Hara says that seeing the fan's movie brought emotions she can't put into words. She felt so thankful for their gift. She was happy.
Kpop programs are accustomed to grateful tears. Four times a week, one can watch idols crying when they're announced as winners on programs like Music Bank. There's something beautiful about seeing your favorite idols so vulnerable. To see something so unscripted.
But when the whole show is not scripted? It's heartwarming but also heartbreaking. After seeing her dedication to her career, her art, her quintessential idolness, you can tell that Goo Hara's tears follow months, maybe years of pent-up stress, released in a euphoric instance, when her very biggest fans essentially tell her, "We'll always support you. We're proud." She says she was happy in the interview, and I'm inclined to believe that. But she was also relieved, for just a moment, of this terrible burden. The intensity of those tears may just reflect the intensity of Hara's devotion.
Now, let's talk about the third time Goo Hara cries in this episode.
She takes her fans out to eat after the movie, even riding in a cab with two of them. The conversation is candid and light, for the most part. It's nice to see Hara really connecting with her fans on this personal, carefree level, and I wonder if this is a common occurrence or if Hara is trying to branch out for this program. And if it is a regular occurrence, is it also regular for other idols as well? I wonder, quite often, if my western influence is shaping how I view this program too much. Is Goo Hara performing her basic duties as a Korean idol? Or is she going above and beyond the terms of service?
Outside of the culture (looking in), it certainly feels like she's going above and beyond here.
She takes pictures with her fans and sits with them for dinner. She sings Kara cheers with them, even feeds her camera crew. Then she takes questions and promises to answer all of them. Most of the questions are basic, but then when the fans begin discussing Kara's difficulties, Hara breaks down again, in a more controlled, tearful response. But her response is telling.
"We wanted to protect Kara," is something that Hara brings up to her fans, and not for the first time. Even in this episode, she mentions that determination twice. Hara sees Kara as larger than herself. She's thinking about legacy. She's concerned about where Kara stands in the idol pantheon, comparing Kara to the legends, to Fin.K.L. She wants Kara to last forever, just like their nickname, Fin.K.L. 2.
But what's odd, for me, and my western sensibilities, is when Hara turns the tables on her fans, and it's not even the fact that she asks them questions, but what she asks. "I'm curious, how do you endure it?" she asks them, referring to the group's rough patches. As if their fandom is something that must be endured. As if it's a constant struggle. The fans answer positively, and with great hyperbole. One even says that they must take on the mentality and patience of a Buddha.
But has the road for Kara, and specifically their fans, really been that wrought with misery? Yes, there have been members leaving, and that's heartbreaking. But is it unreasonable for that to happen for a group that's been performing for nearly seven years? How long can they be expected to keep this up? And to what end? I'm seeing Sisyphus rolling that boulder again, watching it fall, just to roll it again. From what she's said, Hara wants Kara to do this forever. But, realistically, how many more years can her body, and her soul, take?
Maybe the tears help. At the interview, Hara says, "It's really been a long time since I've cried that much." She looks relieved.
Now, on to episode seven!
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.