When former SNSD member Jessica released her debut novel Shine, I blazed through it in one unadvisable caffeine-fueled night, but oddly enough it was surprisingly enjoyable for what it was. Two years later its sequel Bright was finally released and it’s similarly readable but the stakes are now higher.
Naturally, the interest for most from these YA-type novels from Jessica is obviously derived from getting a quasi-autobiographical honesty about the K-pop industry from somebody who actually used to be a star, and this one had the promise of an eventual payoff given what we know happened between her and the rest of SNSD. Much to my surprise, the payoff was indeed as dramatic as one only could’ve dreamed, with things rapidly escalating towards the end.
I had assumed that Jessica would milk the SNSD saga and save the juicy stuff for a third book, but surprisingly she skipped five ahead to where she and the group were already famous, describing Rachel as gaining confidence but also not feeling at home around her group for years. Accelerating the timeline was a wise choice, as even moving the chess pieces to setup for the grand finale of Bright was painfully slow for the most part, so chronicling the “happy” years of Girls Forever would’ve likely been dreadful.
One of the most amusing things about this book is the amount of time seemingly dedicated to Jessica talking about how everybody loved how stylish Rachel was, like noting that a high-fashion photographer assumed she had her own line already and that everybody knows what a fashionista she is. I understand that it segues to a major plot point of Rachel becoming involved in that world, but it’s just like me writing about how IATFB has the best Asian entertainment blog in the world.
Like its predecessor, Bright is an extremely easy read, which is fine for the target audience, and quite frankly serves its purpose for me as well since I can fly through the book in short order. It also ultimately serves its purpose as a apparent vehicle for Jessica to get her specific POV out to the world on her controversial exit from SNSD.
Alright, let’s be real, most of the interest here revolves around the drama at play, and as far as potential detailed connection from the fictional world to real life, it’s extremely difficult to not read this as essentially an auto-biography of sorts. Sure, some sections are surely romanticized and dramatized, but the absolute direct parallels with events we know happened helps set the stage for the real-life connection to information divulged here.
Like there’s no way one doesn’t think of the TVXQ/JYJ blacklisting by SM Entertainment in this excerpt, especially since she also talks about how that group was responsible for winning a contract battle against DB Entertainment.
A lot of the story revolves around Rachael meeting Alex, who is an obvious stand-in for Jessica’s boyfriend Tyler Kwon, presumably romanticizing things by making their meeting one of fate. She uses the tropes of both falling into a random guy’s lap while trying to pull a bag on a train and that they were fated in meeting up as it turns out that random guy in the train was Alex, who she was arranged to meet by a friend earlier.
That also sets to stage for the conflicts to come, chronicling a time three other members got into a major scandal due to member Jiyoon taking along Ari and Sumin with her to meet her boyfriend and two cousins, describing how that was made to go away and Jiyoon was forced to breakup with her boyfriend. That effectively represented the start of the resentment for Rachel arc.
In short, more and more the other members of Girls Forever began to do shady things to Rachel under the perception that she was receiving preferential treatment. Lizzie scheduled practice without her and then acted like Rachel wasn’t committed to the group when she wasn’t there, at Mina’s movie premier Rachel was accused of taking shine away from Mina just because she knew one of the leads and was friendly with the other … who Eunji later admits to Rachel is actually her boyfriend. They seem to bond over sharing their secret relationships with each other, but when they go on a double date and get caught, only Eunji is punished because tabloid Reveal only has pictures of Eunji, again causing a rise in resentment for Rachel that is from her perspective no fault of her own. Furthermore, DBE at one point cracked down on Youngeun’s parents’ bakery selling Girls Forever items, and shut down her ideas for a YouTube channel, which makes her upset when others (like Rachel) get individual chances.
Speaking of which, also setting the table for the fall of the house of cards is Rachel chronicling other members of Girls Forever doing individual activities of their own, whether it’s acting or modeling or even wanting fashion brands of their own. She talks about opportunities meant for her that DBE gave other members, including a Vogue photoshoot and an offer from an executive of SOAR to host a show, both of which were given to other members. Rachel also talks about Sunhee missing out on an entire event and the group having to re-train for eight members, and moving out of the villa and other members doing the same, again to show that everybody had growing independence, essentially.
Rachel does not go without fault, being accidentally late a few times and as she’s become worn down with the work for her fashion brand and managing her relationship, and she questions if others were right about her ability to commit to everything, but generally concludes that she’s not doing much different than the others have. One incident in particular leads to the main conflict of the book, where she was late to Youngeun’s cafe event, who blames her for not even being there for her one important day. At that point, she overhears the members plotting on her.
What will likely get most of the attention is the description of Rachel getting booted from her group due to her fashion line interests, with the members effectively leading a revolt and issuing a refusal to participate in an event unless she’s gone.
They gave her an ultimatum.
After getting the ultimatum, Rachel basically rebuts this, justifying it as choosing her love and fairness to her ambitions. In her mind, the other members are being unreasonable to her compared to what they themselves were doing, and that is due to their unjust resentment for her.
Surprisingly, the blame she places for these events doesn’t lie as much on DBE or Mr. Noh. As Rachel tells it, she always discussed plans and got approval from Mr. Noh for the fashion line and to keep Girls Forever as the top priority, even offering DBE royalties off her brand. Mr. Noh was fine with this and didn’t seem to want to boot her either, but facing a revolt of his marquee girl group, he relented.
The story ends with Rachel moving forward with her life with a fanmeeting, and the epilogue from Jessica seems to be almost speaking directly to fans about what she’s seen them want to know.
There’s actually a ton of references to events in the book that I’m not sure who is supposed to be who or if it even happened, but especially towards the end, it’s pretty dense to say the least.
- Rich parents are described as bribing manager to favors.
- It was mentioned at one point DBE’s plans for a sister unit with Rachel and Leah (who was in another DBE group).
- Speaking of Leah, it seems there was resentment for her getting into DBE and for being perceived as rude.
- Mina’s dad was upset that his plans for her to have an eyewear line wasn’t going through. He wanted her to have something similar to Rachael but Mina just wanted to act.
- There was also an incident where her notebook full of lyrics and ideas and designs was ripped up. Rachel described it as an accident, but she later sees DBE using it, and also a song she wrote with Mina during one insomnia fueled bonding session was used for their subunit. Gee, wonder what this could be.
Again, same as the last time, would I recommend this book to some random who is looking for an amazing standalone story and excellent prose or whatever? No, but for those with interest in K-pop and especially the SNSD saga, it’s probably worth it just to see what is essentially Jessica telling her truth.
Honestly, I rather enjoyed the realistic, if not extra cynical, look at group dynamics contrasted with how they maintain their public image of one big happy family. And even beyond the SNSD fallout, there were enough truth-telling kind of nuggets regarding the industry to keep me engaged.
In that sense, it’s much easier to justify a purchase here than for the last one, and if this becomes a trilogy that might be just as compelling because a lot of what has transpired in Jessica’s life since seems to have been out of the spotlight and relatively unknown.
Note: I didn’t get a review copy of this, so I bought the Kindle version. Here’s a link to buy the book yourself.