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after the spotlight fades

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‘11

i would go out on a late-night date with jiho to find something to eat, or on a friend’s birthday i’d buy a roll-cake and eat it while strolling out at night. while listening to music. the two of us were more excited than the one celebrating their birthday. (laughs) (jine, ize 2015)

 —

Jiho dreams of being an idol.

It sounds like fun and her parents say she'll be perfect at it and she thinks there's nothing else she can really do.

When she gets accepted into WM Entertainment, her family cheers and she lights a fire inside herself. She will work hard, practice singing, learn to dance, take care of her skin, manage her life down to a T–

She deletes her social media and says farewell to the filtered selfies and daily updates. Supposedly she will still have a lot of time to spend with her friends, but she knows the famous idols don’t get nationwide attention from doing the bare minimum.

“Hi, I’m Jiho,” she says shyly to the trainees in the practice room. It is small and the floors are scratched up. She reminds herself to be humble. Everyone starts small, and she can’t bet on being able to get into a bigger agency.

An older girl named Hyejin greets her hello quietly and shows her around the agency. There’s another one though who welcomes Jiho with open arms. She is friendly and her hair bounces as she talks.

“We’re the same age,” the girl says excitedly. Jiho smiles immediately.

“Let’s be great friends!”

The weekly evaluations are difficult. The trainers do not show up every day to help them, so the three girls practice alone some days. The company rents rooms for the day and they travel together in the cold spring air, laughing with every step. They learn senior idols’ dances and mess up the steps but sing their hearts out.

Hyejin has a quirky charm and a beautiful face. When Jiho tells her this, she blushes and says, “Oh, you’re prettier.” Jiho shakes her head firmly.

Jiho’s new best friend is energetic and lively and makes every day fun.

“Let’s get snacks after practice,” she says with the biggest grin on her face.

Jiho nicknames her Tweety for all her chattering. She is not quite as pretty as Jiho and Hyejin but they assure her she is the cutest rapper they’ve ever set their eyes on. Her singing is weak as well, Jiho thinks during a karaoke adventure, and maybe her dancing too, she supposes, but Tweety makes up for it in other ways.

One day Tweety faints in the middle of an evaluation and hits her head on the floor. Hyejin screams from the other room.

“Is she gonna be okay? What’s wrong with her?” Jiho asks in a panic as she’s carried out of the building doors.

“She’s worn out,” one of the instructors says with a sigh. “Did you not notice her dancing today was even worse than normal? It was already subpar... Too many nights staying up practicing, and all this on top of her condition...” 

At the word “condition” Jiho whips her head around to face Hyejin whose face is equally shocked. She’s never talked about this.

Tweety leaves the company after the incident. It is a mutual decision between the family and the agency, or so it seems. Jiho and Hyejin meet her one last time and they all cry together loudly, messily, with broken hearts.

‘13

i spent nearly three years with binnie. (jiho, v app)

They come and go, from the company. Jiho learns to close her heart off.

There’s this new girl at the agency who gets special lessons from the dance coach. She is, what would you call it– dance challenged. At least she knows the basics, right?

Jiho sits in the corner reading. She’s not here cause she can’t dance, she just wanted some help... No, the teacher didn’t ask her to stay after practice. No–

“That’s not how you do it, Yoobin,” the instructor says. Jiho rolls her eyes and mutters “you have no idea how to teach people” under her breath.

Jiho won’t pretend she cares about this Yoobin girl but this guy makes everything more difficult than it has to be. The instructor corrects Yoobin’s posture, pulls her long hair out of her sweaty face.

“Tie up your hair,” he says with annoyance. “It’s getting in the way.” She puts it in a ponytail, takes a deep breath.

He presses play on the CD player and the upbeat instrumental bounces off the walls. Yoobin sticks out her elbow, tries to sync herself up with the beats, wants to make the sharp movements the choreography begs for.

Instead she trips over her own feet, her body slamming down on the floor. Her knees are red and her face turns hot.

Jiho doesn’t look up.


‘14

when i was training, i didn’t go on a diet. after practice it’s always tiring, so i ate a lot of delicious foods to restore my energy. (jine, ize 2015)

Jiho clutches the top half of the grocery list her mother scribbled out for her that morning in her left hand. Her mom holds the other half and pushes the shopping cart through the produce section.

The list reads, juice, snacks, milk, bread, beans, rice. Jiho frowns as she skims it again. The rice has to go in the cart. The snacks won’t work with her diet. They must be for her younger brother, and yet her stomach pangs. She didn’t eat much for breakfast. Maybe if she doesn’t eat a lot she’ll make more progress losing weight. The diet isn’t that bad right now, the instructor told her at the beginning of the week. It will be ten times worse when she debuts. She is tired just thinking of it.

Jiho has 2 cans of beans in her hands already, but she can’t see her mom and doesn’t bother to look.

She makes her way to the dairy aisle and picks up the milk. It is heavy in her arms, and she regrets not getting a basket. On her way back to her mom she passes through the frozen food and slows at the ice cream. After long practices they would always get popsicles together– How is she doing now–

Briefly, she wonders what Yoobin’s favorite popsicle flavor is.

‘15

but on the day our debut date was set, unfortunately there were some people who we needed to part with. because of those partings, i spent that day very flustered. i was happy, but also very sad. (jiho, ize 2015)

The debut approaches.

Yoobin changes and leaves the practice room quickly. “I’m going out with a friend in the afternoon,” she says. It is not cold and not cheerful. It’s just facts. The company says, go meet your friends while you still have time.

Jiho sits at home and scrolls the internet with her computer mouse. She looks up videos of other idols doing aegyo. It’s awkward but she thinks she looks cute doing it, sometimes. The company says she’s good at boy group dances, too. Lots of practice with B1A4 choreography. She tries a little 2PM, some Beast. The video camcorder records her for monitoring.

She practices expressions in the mirror. Acting might be in her future too, if she could just get the hang of this fake crying.

Jiho brushes her long hair after a shower and then suddenly falls to the floor, throwing her hands up in the air dramatically. The energetic visual with a penchant for being weird. That’s her official role.

She bows to all the staff in the company’s hallways. They smile back at her, knowing her long career is about to begin.

“You are the same age as Yoobin,” the instructor says, standing above her. Jiho returns the stare blankly from the floor.

“That means the fans will like it when you spend time together, show a lot of fanservice.”

They are not close, Jiho thinks. It’s never gonna work.

Jiho has serious talks with Hyejin once in a while, they are roommates, and the girls have fun as a group, but she’s never been close to any of them. She has a soft spot for Yewon, but that’s it. With Hyejin it is not the same fun innocence from years past anymore.

She has tried to make friends again but she resents the fact that it feels forced. Maybe it would have happened naturally in another time or at another place. They put the girls in a group, they chose the concept, they decided who got cut. They.

That word has never tasted so bitter in her mouth.

Jiho doesn’t know why she doesn’t like Yoobin but she knows why Yoobin doesn’t like her. It’s the brazenness. Jiho is not as good with words as the group’s token smartie but somehow she always has a snappy comeback for something Yoobin says.

Jiho shrugs and looks at the CD player instead of Yoobin. “We’d better get started or we’ll be here all day.”

Yoobin forces a smile. “We’ll have to do it together, hm?” They are to work on 1) coming up with some “97 line” talents, 2) saying nice things about each other, and 3) skinship. It sounds terrible, and yet there they are. Sitting in the practice room on a Tuesday night, alone together.

They make it 30 minutes before Jiho calls it off and says she’s tired. Yoobin narrows her eyes. 

“We are debuting in 3 months,” she says as Jiho reaches the door. Jiho turns around to face her.

“So what do you want to do about it?”

“Let’s make a deal.”

They promise to meet every day, with snacks and ideas. Their forged friendship will become an “episode” for them. The plan works, at least for their purposes. They don’t hate each other, and they have inside jokes. They can laugh together.

Yoobin’s face brightens when she’s around Jiho now, far from the glower it used to be. Their snacks are gone (lost to the diet plan), and they have their routine down pretty well, so it is a testament to how... okay they are with each other that they still meet in their little free time.

One day Yoobin says that they should go out for a late night adventure, and Jiho stiffens. It’s three weeks before the debut. Jiho says, “No, I don’t want to.” She gathers her things and leaves the practice room.

Yoobin sits on the floor in silence.

‘16

to be honest jine unnie and i spent four years as trainees together, so even if we don’t chat often, we understand each other. (jiho, ize 2015)


They are in their second year together as Oh My Girl. They are done promoting until the end of the year, the CEO tells them. They will be back in January.

The girls let out a sigh of relief before Shiah leaves for her variety show schedule.

“Rest for idols isn’t real,” he says sympathetically.

“We should do a livestream,” Hyojung decides. “The fans will be happy. A mukbang, that sounds fun.” She yawns at the end of her sentence. It is the middle of the afternoon. The tv program she was watching with Hyejin and Jiho has ended. The automatically controlled air conditioning sputters to a stop. 24 degrees Celsius.  

They get up from the couch–Hyejin from sitting with her knees to her chest, Hyojung from lying on her side–stretching from stiffness. Hyojung gives Jiho a questioning look and she shakes her head no in response, so Hyojung walks to her room to change. Hyejin always agrees or else pulls a hoodie over her head and doesn’t speak to anyone. A few minutes later they leave their rooms with Mihyun, Seunghee and Yewon. Shiah is sleeping, Yoobin is studying. The front door opens and closes with a quiet click.

Jiho cuts up fruit in the kitchen when Yoobin enters the living room and sits in the armchair. She pulls up the footrest and opens her book up again.

Jiho uses the knife to push the chopped fruit into the blender when Yoobin gasps. Jiho turns to look at her. It’s just something she read in the book.

Yoobin notices Jiho staring at her and walks over with a smile on her face, pointing to a spot on the page over and over. “It’s such a good line, Jiho.”

Jiho checks the cover of the book. It’s nothing she’s ever heard of before. The line on the page is printed small, but Yoobin’s just circled it over and over in pencil, obscuring some of the surrounding words.

“Her quiet resolve resonates inside each of us until it starts a fire.” Jiho’s face remains stony.

“Well, I guess it would be more meaningful to you if you actually read the book,” Yoobin says, and in time she flops back into her chair.

Jiho sighs and turns on the blender. The blade inside grinds up the fruit, breaking apart the skin, swirling around the seeds.

She is pouring the smoothie into a tall glass when Yoobin says, “Doesn’t it remind you of Hyejin?”

Jiho thinks on it as she takes a sip of her drink. It’s not sweet. Yes, Hyejin is quiet, and yes, she has worked inspiringly hard towards her dreams since they were trainees walking through the streets of Dongdaemun. “It does,” Jiho concedes.

Yoobin smiles and flips the page.

Jiho adds sugar to the glass.

‘18

ask the manager: hwanbeu

things that fans don't know about oh my girl:

jiho is cold looking upon first impressions but she's not and she has some sass

rather than how binnie seems on stage or at fansigns, when you're with her she's clumsy and seems like a kid

(wm newsletter 2015)

They are not speaking to each other.

The staff whisper to each other in the offstage. “It’s just a dispute over laundry and some ruined clothes,” the new manager says. “I’m so sorry about it.” (It is more than this, but he would never understand.) The director rolls her eyes.

Jiho is standing in the middle of the set, texting someone. It is most likely a school friend, and the contents are most likely various swears.

Seunghee walks over to the computers. “Do you want me to join the scene? I think they might need me to be a buffer between them,” she says, only out of concern.

Yoobin is sitting down on the couch in the neighboring set with her eyes shut, trying to get some rest. Her hair stylist curls her bangs.

“The script is written already,” the assistant director says. “We start this scene in 2 minutes.”

“If they are half professionals,” the director mutters, “it will work. Even if I have to yell at them the entire time.”

Yoobin gets up, anticipating the future. “We’re starting!” someone calls. Everyone on the crew finds their places.

Jiho slips her phone in the pocket of her long jacket and throws it on an empty chair. Yoobin slips her hand into Jiho’s, and she doesn’t flinch. The lights shift onto their faces. It is bright and their makeup looks perfect.

“Action!”

“Found you Oh My Girl!” Jiho winks with a smile on her face and holds up her right hand in a the shape of half a heart. Yoobin makes the other half and they push their hands together.

“Oh My Girl’s nail art segment! I’m Jiho”–a playful shove to the right, a teasing look back–“and I’m Binnie! We’re here to show you how to make cute designs on your nails”–holding their hands to the camera–“and with the 97 line chemistry between us...”

‘21

i want to avoid trivializing something because i’m busy or because it’s difficult. i want to continue improving myself and i wish to work hard. (binnie, my name 2015)

Her legs bruise like fruit.

It’s their 10th comeback. They are dancing in the basement practice room, learning a new routine, always meant to be a step above the competition. Jiho’s knees hit the ground 5 different times over the course of the choreography. 4AM, Hyojung trips over Yewon and sprains her wrist. The news doesn’t go out and the comeback isn’t delayed.

This is all at the same time as their individual activities. Oh My Girl consists of variety show hosts now. Musical leads. Actresses.

The CEO asks Jiho to write lyrics for one of the b-sides. The girls have taken turns with this type of participation, but none of them have quite got the hang of songwriting the way their seniors have. Mihyun is the best at it and yet lately dreads the times she has to lock herself in a practice room to work. Jiho sits at her desk and stares at a sheet of notebook paper. The concept she’s told to aim for is the girl lying to the boyfriend, but the song arrangement is sad and slow. Oh, Jiho thinks. It’s about denying the end of a relationship he thinks is going well. She remembers the guy she dated to get her mind off things last year. Her words may not be pretty, but she writes a draft easily.

The physical album is printed and the members get a look at the cover design. It’s framed with gold and pictures the eight girls in black and white, the powerful concept the fans have asked for.

Oh My Girl’s marketing head has a talk with some of the company directors and suddenly Jiho is told her song will be saved for a subunit. For who, she asks with a passive voice.

“You and Yoobin, of course. The fan demand is very high.”

The subunit is indeed very well received. The title song is made for the performance, dark and inviting, something along the lines of Sistar19’s classic Gone Not Around Any Longer; they make reference to their seniors and state their aspirations to be as long-lasting and hardworking. Jiho’s song is performed at the showcase to resounding excitement. Then they turn around and make their variety appearances hilarious and fun. The “imageless concept idols,” they’re called. Their stage chemistry is good, they show plenty of talents, and the company reports many offers for drama roles.

A stakeholder watches one of their practices and remarks how surprising it is that they don’t speak much when it is over. “They are so good at working together, I’d have thought they were best friends.”

The manager: “There is a reason they are both actors.”

‘23

i don’t have much of a problem since i tend to quickly forget bad memories, but i think it’s important for someone to have a good centre of gravity. if your centre is clear, then it becomes easier to filter hurtful words or words that aren’t helpful. (jiho, ize 2015)

It is the year after the group disbands. 7 years. The contract ended, and much like the way they mutually decided to move out of the dorm and live alone, they quietly decided to part ways. The fans don’t anticipate it and cry for explanation. There are discord rumors floating around on the internet, searching for ignored glances and disinterest in each other. There isn’t any evidence, because the members were like clockwork, always in sync, always together.

“Every battery runs out,” are the words Jiho uses to an actor who asks her why afterwards. He laughs.

Seunghee and Yoobin stay with WM but the rest leave, whether to find another place to work or retire. Jiho forgets, soon enough.

Jiho continues to get respectable work as an actress. She is not a prodigy by any means, but she tries hard. Her new company hires an acting coach for her that seems frustrated by her best emotional attempts. The coach recommends Jiho stick to comedy.

She browses the front page of Naver once in a while and smiles when she sees Seunghee’s solo comeback news. Her songs are always meaningful and Jiho’s family asks her to send kind words to Seunghee on their behalf. Seunghee doing well is also good for Jiho’s own press.

There is a time that Jiho and Shiah end up on the same variety show. Jiho is promoting a drama while Shiah–now a dance trainer– is just a spot to fill in. It’s a new year’s special and there are about 30 people guesting. Shiah waves to Jiho and she waves back, but Jiho makes no further efforts to speak to her during the filming.

One day she wakes up to a buzzing phone and wearily unlocks it. Her messages are filled with texts from unsaved numbers. Jiho opens one of them.

“Jiho how could you..... We Miracles trusted in you for 7 years and you threw it all away, you traitor and heartless person...”

The ice princess pictures start resurfacing after that, but she sits and waits patiently for the company to clarify the scandal (she did nothing wrong, really, it’s not as if she ignored Shiah, rumors just spread like wildfire). They take her phone, release article after article restoring her image, threaten to sue the person who released her number, threaten to sue the fans.

She opens her phone again, texts cleared. In her contacts she has a group labeled “The Members”.

Jiho deletes all of their phone numbers.

‘27

i want to become a person who moves forward believing in myself. no matter what path you embark on, you need a stable centre-of-gravity to succeed. (jiho, my name 2015)

Jiho’s 5th movie. Her first, she was a supporting role to Hallyu stars, and soaked in the attention. The buzz about it was the visual power of the leads; once every ten comments, you could see a comment about how pretty Jiho was, every thirty, “her acting is a joke”. In the next film, she played a second lead, jealous and petty. It did not earn her new fans. There’s a break after those during the disbandment. She closes her eyes as her new agency picks her following roles. The third was a dull romcom she starred in, the fourth was a promising law thriller until the horrifying scandal of the male lead.

She scrolls through the comments on the leading review of Looking for Acquittal. “Your projects, Jiho unnie! Please choose better ones ╥﹏╥”

She takes the advice to heart and handpicks her next one. It’s an independent film and there is no fame to the names of any of the actors, except one. He is the actor she met in her first drama, not an idol, then a rookie to the industry just like her. Yet the first day she saw him act it was clear he had natural talent and drive. It’s all the netizens are on about when the cast to the movie is released. “He’s so underrated! Let’s do well! Please let this be his breakthrough!” His projects all tank at the box office the way hers do, but he’s the exception to the bad acting, not the reason for the failure.

The script is beautifully penned and tells of an underprivileged boy’s story from countryside struggles to lifesaving social work. Jiho plays someone who is inspired by the boy’s work, but at the same time it’s not really acting. The narrative gives her hope. She monitors her acting, practices when she has no schedules, and cries as she rereads the script over and over again.

The movie premieres on a Saturday. She only invites her last drama’s costar, who she keeps in contact with every few weeks. Her manager suggests she make better use of the connections they have and improve her public social life, but she reminds him what happened the last time someone came in her name. (The actress came drunk and tripped on the carpet. Jiho’s public relations management had to explain they weren’t really friends.)

Jiho arrives on the red carpet in a navy blue sponsored dress, her hair in a tall ponytail. There are less cameras than she’s used to. In her mind, she rehearses the statement she wrote in her room, erasing and rewriting the words until it was perfect. “Any mistakes you find in my acting are only reflective of my own failures. I have worked hard to portray the image the director has for the movie in my role. It has a lot of heart. I hope you enjoy it.” Jiho walks down the carpet and poses for pictures.

Someone gets out of the car behind her. She has short black hair and eyes like the moon.

You didn’t tell me she would be here, Jiho thinks, directed towards her manager. Well, maybe he forgot she was ever in an idol group.

Yoobin walks towards her with 5-inch heels and an impassive expression. She looks to the cameras first and waves. Then she turns her head to Jiho as she blinks. Yoobin opens her eyes wide as if she did not believe Jiho was looking back at her.

She walks up to Jiho in the hallway after the premiere is over. Their managers leave them to get a coffee at the snack bar.

“You did great,” she says. There is a smile on Yoobin’s face, but her makeup is messy. It looks like she tried to clean it up in the bathroom. Her eyes are still puffy.

“Thank you,” Jiho replies, softly, slowly, nodding, grateful.

Yoobin mentions one of the scriptwriters during the conversation, he’s the reason she came. She only does dramas nowadays. There’s something to the liveshoot system she adores, it keeps her on her toes. She meets the other members of Oh My Girl for dinner every few months. She’s gone on vacation to so many places.

“What about you?” Yoobin asks, hands clasped together tightly.

The lights in the neighboring room turn off. Most people have left. The press, of course, is all gone.

“I feel like my life has just started again,” Jiho says.