Chapter 276

Sungjae stood in front of the mirror that took an entire wall of the practice room. Sometimes, he felt rather unfamiliar when he looked at himself through the mirror. Who is this man in the mirror?

“Let’s rest for a bit, it’s so damn exhausting!”

Hearing the words from the oldest member, Lee Hyuktae, Sungjae moved his eyes off the mirror. The members all lied down on the floor after dance practice.

Aah, that’s right. I am TTO.

Sungjae looked at the blond-haired man in the mirror again. A man who lost all of his puerility from the time of his debut was staring back at him. It had been six years already. For some, it was a short period of time, but for others, it felt like an eternity. In the case of Sungjae, it first felt like an eternity, but these days, time passed by in a flash.

He remembered back to the moment when he entered TTO following Narim, who told him that she was the CEO of NL Company. Narim told him that she’d give him an opportunity when he was blindly practicing acting. She didn’t tell him to blindly follow her. She had her own vision. Although he was young back then, Sungjae believed that Narim’s words weren’t all empty talk.

-You want to hop over the high hurdle of actors? You’ll be able to if you’re lucky. But you should be aware that just being good at acting is no longer enough to attract public interest. Of course, the well-known actors that have made a name for themselves in the movie industry did so through acting alone, but that’s just a minority. They are people loved by the god of acting. Of course, luck is also a factor. You know? I don’t like gambling. Actions with big risks aren’t my thing. What I want is an inevitable, perfect success. You want to do acting, right? Then you will first have to learn dancing and singing. You should first make yourself known to the public. Only then can you start acting. It’s a foolish thing to walk down a difficult path from the beginning. People should learn to take detours. At first, the public will look down on you, saying that a singer wants a portion of the actor’s pie. However, once you become popular, money says it needs you. You just need to prove yourself at that time. You need to show your acting skills to the people that looked down on you. You can do that, right?

Sungjae thought about it for a day before deciding to follow Narim. He packed up his stuff that day and entered his dorm. There, he met the members of TTO. Hyuktae, Jangsoo, Sooho, Kangjoon. They were all people that Narim picked herself. The only person that aspired to become an idol was the eldest member, Hyuktae. The rest were all people that used to do dancing, acting, or band activities. On their first day of sleeping together, Narim explained her plan. Their team name was TTO. Their objective was to become an omnipotent idol. Narim’s ambition was to create a group that can be used in all areas of the television media. She said that they might be starting off as idols, but they will be provided with support to do whatever it is that they wanted to once they gained popularity as idols.

After that, arduous training began. The most elite instructors, that raised previous idol groups belonging to NL Company, all worked with them. They started practicing at 8 in the morning, and continued to do so until sunset. When even that wasn’t enough, they sometimes continued late into the night and well into the next day. It was a continuation of pain. They practically lived in the practice room and practiced over and over. They had no sense of achievement either because they couldn’t show themselves to anyone else. There were many times when the members talked about running away during the night. They were practically living in prison, and the end was nowhere in sight. They also had to listen to insults everyday. Their very meaning behind going through all that pain started becoming faint.

It was about the time when ‘running away’ became a common topic. The moment they thought that they should really run away with the five of them, Narim came to the practice room. She left the practice room door wide open and spoke with cold eyes.

-How long do you think you’ll live? It’s been a year. Only, a year. If you can’t endure even that and want to run away, then get out right now, and live the rest of your life as a loser. I can guarantee that there’s no one other than me that can make your talents blossom. I am the one who found all of you, and I am the one that’s raising all of you. You will all become stars. Stars that everyone would be envious of! However, right now, you’re just pathetic little trainees. If you want to end your trainee life, then you may leave. It’ll be painful for me to lose you as well, but I can start over. After all, I have the money, and I have the resources. You guys are definitely ores that will become jewels, but you guys aren’t the only jewels out there. With enough time, I can find new ones. It’s just that taking the time to look for them is a waste.

That night, Sungjae thought that president Park Narim was a scary woman. She was someone that was incredibly well aware of what others were thinking. She left after setting up an inescapable trap and Sungjae erased the word ‘escape’ from his head that day. The other four did the same. After that ‘running away’ and ‘escape’ became a taboo in the practice room.

Another year passed like that. TTO managed to have their debut after 2 years. The music program was full of their seniors. They visited many waiting rooms and bowed their heads. They did so as well to the idols that debuted years before. Then, they went on their first recorded stage. There were no mistakes, there was no nervousness. They just came back down with rather dazed expressions. They spent two years in order to reach that point, but actually going up on stage didn’t feel like anything much. Every member felt the same. They didn’t wish for a sense of achievement on the level of hugging each other and crying hot tears. They just wanted at least some sense of achievement.

Narim was waiting for them when they came down from the stage with confused minds. She spoke with a smile.

-That wasn’t anything much, was it?

It was just as she had said. It was nothing much. They had spent 2 years aiming for something like that? They returned to their dull dorm from the TV station. Then, practice began again. They even forgot that they had their debut and started arduous practice again. On the weekend, the members gathered in front of the TV. For that day, they got special permission to eat fried chicken with sweet and spicy sauce, pizza, snacks and all sorts of junk food. The music program started and TTO was revealed in the ‘NEW & HOT’ corner. Sungjae was resting his chin on his hands when they watched themselves singing on TV. Even back then, he had no sense of achievement. In fact, he was annoyed because he could see trivial mistakes through the screen. Objectively speaking, TTO was very awkward when viewed through a screen, even after all the practice they did.

After the program ended, the members started practicing without a word. They didn’t do anything like exchanging opinions on their performance. Their dorm life was without any internet or any forms of communication with the outside world. They did not know how TTO was in the view of the public, and the next time they appeared on TV was a month later, in a program called Music Net. It wasn’t a live show just like before. When they arrived at the TV station, Sungjae managed to see three girls holding pamphlets. They were their fans. There were 3 fans, even less than the five that made up TTO. Sungjae felt both thankful for them and suspectful that they might not be able to live up to their expectations.

However, exactly two months later, Sungjae was able to see a view filled with green balloons. The moment he saw an overwhelming amount of green balloons that signified TTO, he felt that he had done it. Sungjae cried due to the joy of ‘having done it’. The four others cried with him. It had been half a year since their debut. TTO rose rapidly in the ranks of artists, and now possessed a fandom larger than any other idol’s. Another three years passed on top of that. Albums with their name on it sold more than one million copies. Even their fourth album, which was released after consumer MP3 players were widespread, sold a million copies. TTO had survived the fall of sales that other idols experienced.

-You have proven yourselves. Now, it’s time for you to do the things you want.

Just as she had promised, Narim stopped their activities as an idol group. The members started doing the things that they each wanted. Some sang folk songs rather than the usual fast-paced ones, and some held guitar solo concerts. They appeared in sitcoms and attracted even more popularity, and eventually went to China to become commercial advertisement stars.

Sungjae studied acting for a traditional drama. Not long later, he appeared in an oriental drama that was going to be broadcast on public TV. His first challenge in acting was a traditional drama. When he first went to the gathering for the drama production, he received cold gazes. Everyone was greeting him with a smile, but they were clearly looking down on him. It was something he had expected, so he didn’t mind it that much. The six years of hardship made him unshakable.

-An idol, huh.

-He wouldn’t even be here if he wasn’t an idol.

-I’m sure he’s crap at acting. He’s the type of person who would blow himself up due to his lack of skills.

He could hear such words from around him. Sungjae smiled. The more he was looked down upon, the better he felt. That was because the revenge would be that much sweeter. Narim was right. They looked down on him because he was an idol. However, he was going to show them that he was different.

After the filming began, Sungjae acted with a desperate resolve. He prepared everything, from the tone of his voice to the language and environment of the time the drama was set in. Before the filming began, everyone was worried about his acting, but none of that happened once the filming began. In fact, an actor around Sungjae’s age was scolded for awkward traditional language.

He finally arrived at a time where he could smile.

As he was doing his job, he met a friend of his on the set who he used to go to an acting academy together with. That friend’s role was ‘military officer 1’. When they were young, that fellow’s acting was known to be the best in the academy. Everyone had to watch him with their breaths abated when he did his monologue. But now, he had a role that required him to wait several hours for him to act in front of the camera, and it was unknown if his appearance would even go on TV. The moment he saw him, Sungjae was reminded of Narim’s words - it is very hard to open the door to stardom with acting alone.

Sungjae spoke to him. After being startled for a moment, that friend started to look at him with disdain. He said that Sungjae was leading a pathetic life who got the role not through his acting skills, but through his popularity.

Sungjae admitted that with a smile. Seeing Sungjae admit that without getting angry, that fellow started scolding him talking about useless idealistic stuff. Are you really happy achieving success with your methods? That’s not how an actor should be. You have lost your pride as an actor, et cetera.

Just as that fellow finished his words, the director came to them. Sungjae smiled at the director who put his arms around his shoulder, saying that he was great that day. He then looked at his friend. That friend, who had been talking about foundations and whatnot, was looking at him and the director with shaking eyes. Then, the director proceeded to speak - who’s he?

That friend immediately bowed and started to explain what his role was, but the director shook his head and said that he wasn’t interested. The director then proceeded to tell Sungjae to come to the get-together before leaving. After the filming was over, the actors all greeted him before leaving. Sungjae greeted back warmly and during all that time, that friend of his was unable to speak a word.

As the staff was getting ready to pull out, Sungjae asked his silent friend just one question.

“So, you’re satisfied with your life?”

Talent moves the world. However, people with that kind of talent were very few and far inbetween. This meant that what was left was just a fight of ordinary people. With that being the case, what was it that ranked people after ‘talent’?

It came down to ‘environment’. Sungjae believed that his decision to grab Narim’s hand back then was the moment that widened the gap between him and his friend. If that friend had the talent that could surpass the environmental factors, then the meeting that day would have turned out differently, but in the end, the result was a meeting of a main character who was evaluated well with a side character who only appears once.

All that speech was nonsense in front of results. Sungjae projected himself onto his friend. What would he have become if he did not grab Narim’s hand and continued to focus on acting? He would have become just like his friend, barely getting by with daily expenses. Perhaps, he might have given up mid way and have gone to a college or have gone to the military.

After that meeting, that friend of his could no longer be seen at the filming location. He left after a short “arrest him!” line. His name also wasn’t inserted into the credits at the end of the episode. His life just disappeared after a single shout.

‘In the end, popularity is above acting skills.’

Those were some bitter words, but Sungjae no longer denied them.

Acting was just a side skill.

In the end, the public wanted to see stars, and they liked whatever the stars did. They would get complimented unless they had completely horrible acting that broke the whole flow. How simple was that?

“Let’s drink some water and get back to practice. Sungjae! I know that you look handsome so stop looking at the mirror and come back!”

Sungjae came back from his memories after hearing Hyuktae’s voice. When he had a look at the blond man in the mirror again, Sungjae smiled.

I am TTO.

I am the popular idol Sungjae.

That’s right, that’s who I am.

He gave a fistbump towards himself in the mirror before turning around. He thought that actors that can shake the world with acting alone were a rare species in the current age.

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KTLChamber's Thoughts

This novel makes me sad at times because it slaps me with the cold hard truth so openly...