Police confirmed the death of South Korean pop star Goo Hara in her apartment on Sunday less than two weeks after releasing a new album – and six months after her latest suicide attempt.
Goo had taken to Instagram in June – a month after her manager found her unconscious in her home, reportedly suffocating from smoke she intentionally left burning to kill herself – to insist she would stay “positive” and defy critics posting hate comments on her social media profiles by continuing to work. Her management made her release her last single, “Midnight Queen,” in September. The eponymous album hit shelves in Japan, where her largest fanbase is located, on November 13.
Her management sent Goo on a tour of Japan last month in anticipation of the album, making it impossible for her to attend the funeral of close friend and fellow K-pop act Sulli. Sulli, formerly of the band f(x), committed suicide in October.
Sulli was 25 years old. Goo Hara was 28.
Goo’s death is the latest in a string of suicides in South Korea’s popular music industry, populated mostly by youth groups made up of members recruited as children and put through grueling training processes in singing, dancing, foreign languages, and decorum. While industry leaders have put pressure on the government to curb free speech, claiming social media abuse has led to the mental health crisis among performers, many within the industry point to abusive practices by corrupt record label executives against children.
Police told reporters Goo’s housekeeper found her dead in her apartment on Sunday evening and authorities did not suspect any foul play. They found a “pessimistic” hand-written note in the apartment they believe Goo wrote, but are still investigating the situation. Surveillance footage indicated that Goo had not left her apartment since a little after midnight Sunday. Police said they did not plan an autopsy; it is too early at press time for any toxicology results indicating drug use.
The night before her death, Goo posted an image of herself in bed with the Korean-language caption “good night.”
Goo had attempted suicide at least once more half a year ago. Her manager found her unresponsive in her apartment in May, about eight months after a mysterious incident many believe was also a suicide attempt in September 2018. That time, her management claimed she was hospitalized for a “sleeping disorder,” but rumors circulated that she had attempted suicide amid an increasingly acrimonious dispute with ex Choi Jong-bum.
In September, the two accused each other of domestic abuse, agreeing that a physical attack had occurred during the fight but blaming each other for it. Choi pressed criminal charges against Goo for domestic assault; she pressed charges for physical abuse, as well, and accused him of threatening to publish sexual images of her to keep her silent. Choi was sentenced to a year and a half in prison for his assault on Goo in August; police did not find evidence to charge Goo.
Her management dropped her during the dispute, forcing her to find another agency.
Several days after Goo’s suicide attempt in May, the singer apologized profusely in a message to her fans and vowed to immediately return to producing her signature upbeat dance music and refusing to let her mental health get in the way.
“I am sorry for causing concerns and a commotion,” she said. “In terms of health, I am recovering … I had been in agony over a number of overlapping issues. But from now on, I will steel my heart and try to show up healthy.”
In June, Goo posted a message on Instagram claiming she would from then on “act against malicious commenters” and insisting the hardships of fame would not stop her from producing content.
“I’m going to try hard to be positive and recover so I hope you all try too. … Public celebrities have to be careful about every aspect of their private lives and they have pain that they can’t even tell their friends and family,” she wrote. “You can freely express yourselves, but can’t you think about what type of person you are before making malicious comments again?”
Three months later, Goo announced the release of Midnight Queen and a tour of Japan. The star gave no indication she was undergoing any mental health treatment in the aftermath of her last suicide attempt before hitting the road once more, despite clear indications she took issue with many of the struggles of her career. She was never publically diagnosed with depression or any mental health condition.
Her tour generated positive publicity as the album’s release loomed on November 13. Korean tabloids noted Goo posting upbeat messages selling tour merchandise, making public appearances with other prominent K-pop stars, and filling stadiums in Japan.
The Japanese tour prevented Goo from properly mourning her friend Sulli, real name Choi Jin-ri, found dead of a suicide in October. The 25-year-old suffered from “severe depression,” according to family and left a “negative” suicide note.
Goo broadcast an Instagram Live video following Sulli’s death apologizing that she could not attend the funeral because of her tour obligations in Japan.
“I’m sorry I can’t go because I’m in Japan,” she said. “I’m sorry that I had no other choice but to greet you like this. Live well up there, and do everything that you wanted to do. I will live hard and work hard for you.”
“K-pop singer Goo Hara has staged a comeback six months after an apparent suicide attempt, releasing a single for the Japanese market,” the South China Morning Post reported triumphantly on Thursday. “Goo is expected to concentrate on Japanese promotions for the immediate future.”
Other than the “good night” post, Goo appeared to give no outward indication she was planning another suicide attempt before Sunday.
“Before her body was discovered Sunday her Instagram account was flooded with hate comments about her appearance and her history with her ex,” the Agence-France Press (AFP) noted on Monday.
Goo’s fans have reportedly started a petition pressuring the South Korean government to censor hate comments from online users. Neither police officials nor fans have yet publicly questioned Goo’s management, however, which chose to flood her work schedule with a new album and tour in the immediate aftermath of a suicide attempt.
K-pop stars often enter the entertainment industry as children, forced into boarding school-style training centers where they are forced to practice singing, dancing, and other physical skills for hours. Many are subject to intense diet and exercise regimens to maintain their appearances. Many later sign “slave contracts” that keep most of the money they generate out of their pockets and leave little control over their daily schedules.
“Even in harsh conditions where young people cannot eat properly or sleep properly, more and more adults are demanding that they wear a bright and healthy smile. You must be sexy, but you cannot have sex; you must be tough, but you cannot fight with anyone. This is what is required of them,” Dongwan, a former SM Entertainment talent, wrote on Instagram following Sulli’s suicide. “Many hoobaes [young artists with less experience in the industry] are currently fighting a battle within themselves, debating how much sickness can they bear in their hearts and continue to work, all for the sake of the sweetness that money and fame provides.”