Throughout this series, we like to investigate and discover some of Korea’s musical trailblazers. Those who have shaped and added elements to Korean music that make genres we know and love today. And whose work in the industry has helped inspire some of Korean music’s biggest stars.
In today’s article, we will be discussing one of Korea’s bravest and most pioneering LGBTQIA+ idols and actors, Harisu. Whose impact on transgender rights helped inspire people worldwide and change laws in Korea. Becoming one of the country’s first-ever citizens to sex change.
Making her acting debut before surgery. Harisu started her acting career early, appearing in a high school TV Drama series in 1991 and other minor roles throughout the 90s. She moved to Japan, where she attended hairstyling school, before ending the decade by returning to Korea and signing with TTM Entertainment in 2000. Giving birth to the Harisu name we all know and love.
Shortly after returning to Korea, she would make history. Gaining her first big break in the industry, becoming an icon for all transgender people living in Korea after staring in an advertisement for Dodo Cosmetics which hinted that the star was transgender.
The advertisement revealed this by zooming in and revealing her Adam’s apple, which was digitally added as Harisu herself has never had a prominent Adam’s apple. Receiving positive press, she opened up about her experiences being transgender and the decision process of coming out. Harisu would also later that year become the subject of a KBS TV documentary covering her childhood, relationships and her debut.
In her first leading role, Harisu was cast in the 2001 film Yellow Hair 2, where she played the role of a trans woman on the run after the death of a convenience store owner. Once again, becoming not only one of the first-ever transgender women to enter the film industry. But one of the first-ever lead trans women roles in film. Helping change the perception of trans people in Korea.
She would use the film as a chance to showcase her musical ability performing ‘Paradise’ as part of the movie’s OST. This would be the start of her success in music as shortly after, Harisu would make her name known in the K-pop world. Featuring in the music video ‘History’ for K-pop dance duo TURBO.
Harisu later released her debut album ‘Temptation.’ A 12-track album which showed Harisu’s musical ability incorporating various musical genres and styles, peaking at number 32 on the Korean music charts. She would top this feat with her next release ‘Liar’ in 2002 as it reached 23, and this time establishing herself as more of a dance musician.
However, shortly after this success, Harisu would follow in the footsteps of many great first-generation idols and after two years under TTM Entertainment. Harisu made the decision to go her own way creating her own entertainment company G&F Entertainment, where she could make her own decisions. The biggest change being her musical approach, as her third album, ‘Foxy Lady,’ saw her adapt to a more R&B style creating a sound more true to her.
Her independence also saw a move to focus more Internationally. And after feeling pigeonholed by being cast for transgender roles in Korea. The star made waves in Mandarin-speaking countries, first in Taiwan appearing in dramas and adverts. Many saw the ads as a breakthrough in hiring a trans woman for sanitary towels.
She would also make her name known in Hong Kong, appearing in ‘Colour Blossoms.’ Which after a poor box office would reach great success in the film festival scene, picking several awards and nominations. She later showcased her Mandarin ability by releasing ‘Foxy Lady,’ this time in China and Taiwan. This success saw her sign a three-year deal with a Malaysian Entertainment company as the album would also be released in Malaysia.
In 2007 Harisu made history and married Korean rapper and former EQ member Micky Jung. Who had got to know her after working with the star on previous albums and started dating in 2005. The two were featured on TV as Mnet blogged their lives and preparations for the wedding. The wedding itself was officiated by Kim Suk-Kwon, who conducted Harisu’s sex change in the 90s. The wedding itself becoming one of the major news stories at the time.
The wedding was shortly followed by news of the two planning on adoption. Followed by plans to build an orphanage, with the star reportedly buying a 3,300 SQ yd plot of land and studying for the community service license. However, the two split up in 2017, divorcing on mutual terms, with Harisu stating on social media.
“The news that reported our divorce said we went our separate ways due to my husband’s business failure. However, that wasn’t the cause, so stop jumping to conclusions. We maintained a good relationship through our marriage and we still follow each other on Instagram. Please stop with the slander.”
In 2012, Harisu made one of her most successful comebacks, releasing her 11th-anniversary album. Including the likes of shopping girl and snow white, she once again reached the mainstream spotlight in Korea. Helping reminisce fans of K-pop’s first generation.
Outside of music, Harisu has become legendary in the LGBTQIA+ scene. In 2008 after the suicide of gay actor Kim Ji-hoo, she opened a transgender club, “Mix-trans” in Seoul. Her acting roles in Korea portraying trans characters helped to raise the profile of transgender people in Korea and in film.
Her career has seen her inspire many artists. Such as K-pop’s first-ever transgender group Lady.
UnitedKpop’s top 5 Harisu recommendations: