Clara, 28, whose real name is Lee Seong-min, appeared wearing formfitting leggings that revealed her coke-bottle-shaped bodyline. The photo of her throwing a baseball immediately became a viral sensation, with netizens hailing her as a sex symbol.
Since the dramatic pitch, her comments on TV and SNS have made headlines.
The keyword “Clara” was crowned the most-searched word last year on Naver, the nation’s largest portal site.
Analysts attribute her sudden success to the ever-growing Internet use in the world’s most-wired country, where 73 percent of the people use smartphones.
“The Internet and smartphones were crucial factors for Clara attracting attention and gaining fame,” said Lee Ho-gyu, a professor at Namseoul Art College.
“Now, everybody browses through smartphones, not newspapers, to read news. That enabled more men to ogle at sexy images on their private devices,” he told The Korea Herald.
The first thing office workers do every morning is check for the most-searched word on online portals, and that is how the public wakes up to the latest news, professor Lee went on to say.
The faster news circulates, the easier it is to achieve fame. Clara was wise enough to use the heated-up media environment to broaden her presence, he said.
Before she became a viral hit, the 28-year-old star spent some eight years under the radar. She pursued an acting career since 2006, appearing over 10 times in dramas, TV shows and music videos, but she received little attention.
“Despite long years of acting, I was continuously turned down at acting auditions,” Clara was quoted as saying.
While basking in unprecedented support from fans, she has sometimes had to deal with past controversial remarks being scrutinized by the news media.
For example, she revealed that she didn’t like going for chicken and beer, but later said on a radio show that she loved doing so.
Her remark that “I don’t know much about Korean ways of thinking” drew even greater ire from the public. Later, she had to make a tearful apology.
Clara has a unique background. Her father was a member of the now-disbanded group Koreana. She was born in Switzerland and brought up in the U.S., but holds U.K. citizenship. She graduated from U.S-based El Camino College with a major in fashion design.
“We never imagined Clara’s remarks would draw this much attention. After a string of events, we realized how cautious Clara should be with every single word she says,” her agent Martin Kyle told The Korea Herald.
Clara’s sex appeal, coupled with her revealing outfits, have added fuel to the fire. The appearance of her eye-catching body on TV has put her on the map while sparking a public debate over portrayals of the female body.
Korean novelist Gong Ji-young, famed for several best-selling works, went on Twitter to say, “Looking at female celebrities competitively undressing themselves and undergoing plastic surgery it seems as if it is too difficult to get a job and there is no other way to make a living.”
In response to Gong’s tweet, Clara wrote, “For me, attention is like a monthly payment for office workers. Indifference from the public means the end of my career. However, attention is not my main goal, just as salary is not the main goal for workers.”
Clara is not the only female star who uses sex appeal to make her presence known. She is the reigning queen of a succession of sex symbols including actress and singer Um Jung-hwa in the 1990s and singer Lee Hyo-ri in the early 2000s.
The former sex symbol Lee Hyo-ri’s style may be tame by today’s standards. “Clara’s daring fashion sense was a shock to many Koreans,” professor Lee said.
Clara’s success represents Koreans’ longing for sexiness, and she seized a rare opportunity to stand out as a sex symbol during a time when sensuality is still in vogue, according to Lee.
However, cultural trends are always changing. While “sexiness” continues to appeal to the public, the trend may reach its zenith any day now. “People will soon be fed up with the flood of sexy images. The general public wants to see something new. To survive in this industry, female stars should show different aspects of their character,” professor Lee concluded.
Clara may be aware of this. Indeed, she’s hoping to rebrand herself as an actress. To shed her sexy image on behalf of her acting career, she stopped appearing on several TV shows -- TvN’s “SNL Korea” and MBC’s “Reckless Family” -- to focus on her part in the upcoming drama “Emergency Boy and Girl,” a follow-up to the popular drama “Reply 1994”.
She is determined to make her way up to the top as an actress, “like Kim Hye-soo,” her agency said.
By Ock Hyun-ju, Intern reporter