A few years ago, Red Velvet’s Irene gave an interview that broke fans’ hearts. But thankfully, she was able to overcome her own uncertainty and grow into a person who loves herself just as much as ReVeluvs love her.

 

In 2016, GQ Korea sat down with Irene to interview her for a solo feature—the first time she’d ever been interviewed alone. From the start, Irene sounded a little dejected. When the interviewer asked her what was wrong, she confessed how nervous she was to be by herself.

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Irene for GQ Korea

My heart was fluttering… I couldn’t sleep at all last night… By myself… because I’m by myself…(tears twinkling in her eyes)

— Irene for GQ Korea May 2016

Irene mentioned that she’d been thinking so much about how to do well at the photoshoot, she hadn’t stopped to consider how lonely and uneasy she’d feel without her beloved members by her side.

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The interview halted for a moment. On a rainy Sunday evening, there was a lady seated in front of me, forcing herself to hold back her tears.

— GQ Korea interviewer

It’s no surprise that ReVeluvs’ hearts were broken when they read their idol’s reaction to being on her own—and the sadness didn’t stop there. At the interviewer’s prompting, Irene went on to talk about what it’s like to be watched and judged.

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Irene has often been criticised for not smiling enough.

I believe that people judge me the way they do because I look like that to them (she stopped talking once more)… But it doesn’t completely not bother me. Actually, I get influenced a lot [by what others think of me].

— Irene for GQ Korea

From the start of her career, Irene faced a lot of criticism as an idol. There were many people who felt that her quiet and introverted personality was rude and unwelcoming, and netizens frequently attacked her for not being more upbeat or faking a smile.

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Irene for GQ Korea

But I always think. So that I can love myself more, I can make myself less lonely, I can make myself stronger, like that. (The interview paused for a long time.)

— Irene for GQ Korea

Back then, it seemed like she was going through a very tough time handling so much criticism and negativity on her own.

And when the interviewer asked Irene if she likes herself, she even avoided answering directly.

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Irene for GQ Korea

I always write down how I feel about myself. In the past, I constantly wrote a daily journal. These days, I make short notes.

— Irene for GQ Korea

Her last line of the interview was the most bittersweet of all. The interviewer asked, “What does Irene want to become?”.

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I always think. If I were to become a stronger person. If I were to be stronger…

— Irene for GQ Korea

But thankfully, Irene’s heart-breaking journey to love herself and find strength has a happy ending.

A few years later, in an interview for High Cut, Irene no longer felt the need to avoid answering whether she likes herself. In fact, she brought up how much she likes herself without even being asked.

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“What are you into these days, Irene?”

Me. I’m into myself. It’s fun to see how I change. A person can’t stay the same forever. When I see myself become closer and closer to what I wrote about myself in my memos, although I’ve liked myself before, I like myself even more now. (Laughs)

— Irene for High Cut January 2018

So what changed for Irene? How did she go from feeling so uncertain and lacking in strength to feeling renewed with self-love? Fans got some more insight when Irene had a solo interview with Grazia Korea a few months later.

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When I was in my twenties, I thought it was okay to be tired and hurt, because I thought that that was how I could become stronger. There are times when the things I’m enduring become burdening, but I overcome it by thinking that there are times like these too.

— Irene for Grazia Korea August 2018

Alongside looking at like through a different lens, Irene also talked about how she stopped staying indoors so much and began working out regularly and avoiding unhealthy foods like champagne.

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I was a lazy and introverted person, but one day I realized that I shouldn’t live like this. I thought that I shouldn’t just stay in the dorms doing nothing, because I was someone who was supposed to achieve and express things. I felt like I was going to never stop sinking. That’s how I started to work out, and I also promised myself to become a person who’s more suitable for her job, someone that listens and speaks well.

— Irene for Grazia Korea

Irene’s journey to strength and happiness is certainly an inspiration to us all!

And, of course, the fans were a big motivation in helping her become happier. In the two years between her interview with GQ Korea and her interview with Grazia Korea, Irene completed the “Red Room” concert tour with Red Velvet and began the group’s second tour, “Redmare”.

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We really powered up after hearing the fans’ cheers and applause on stage… I want to become someone who returns the fans’ love and help from other people well. I have to give the people who work hard for me a clear result, because that’s the right thing to do.

— Irene for Grazia Korea