By Nadine Kam I
April 15 is a miserable day anyway, the day in the United States when our income tax returns are due, and I ended up sending $8,500 away, just like that, blip, gone. It almost didn’t hurt that much when I was working a full-time job in the newsroom, but now that I’m free-lancing, it all feels like blood money.
It was extra miserable for me, as a fan of SHINee, the day that Choi Min-ho reported for service in the Korean Marine Corps. I knew this day was coming, and as the others left prior to him, first Onew (Lee Jin-ki) in December, and Key (Kim Ki-bum) in March, I just accepted it as part of life in South Korea, where men must enlist in the military, the latest at age 28.
But it hit me really hard when I woke up the previous morning to check my IG feed and saw the photos of Minho in the barber’s chair. It made me so sad to think this was the end of an era for Shawol, SHINee’s fandom who had grown up with the band over a decade. I couldn’t help thinking about all they had gone through in that crazy, whirlwind decade that whisked them from their small towns to stadiums around the globe.
I still cry when I think of them in the words they reference in their song, “Our Page,” as those green boys of May 2008, debuting into a world of unimaginable success, only to be touched by tragedy just before their 10th anniversary with Jonghyun’s suicide.
I only got to know them over the past year, learning about them only after the news of Jonghyun’s death. With YouTube, it was so easy to follow their career through variety and music shows. As Jonghyun once said of their relationship, SHINee started as a business but they became a family. He spoke of them as five strangers sharing a common destiny that they all thought would never come to an end. Moreso than many of the K-pop groups, they were funny, savage, but loving brothers. Today, only BTS seems to fit that template set by SHINee five years before them.
Korean military service generally lasts 21 months, so it will be about two years before we see their return. At that time, they will have four years remaining on the contract they renewed with SM Entertainment last year. What they plan to do is anyone’s guess. It’s often hard for K-pop groups to make a comeback after their military service because their fans move on. By then they will likely also be in their 30s, settled into careers and starting families. Younger music lovers seek out their contemporaries. Even before Onew left for the military, people were calling him “old man Jinki.” If senior citizens would like to think 50 is the new 30 in the United States, 30 is the new 60 in South Korea, which is even more ageist than America.
All this leaves one member, Taemin (Lee Tae-min), the youngest at 26 (25 in the United States) to carry on his solo career. It will be two more years before he needs to enlist, and although fans would have liked to see him go at the same time so that all of SHINee can come back sooner, I don’t think SM would have allowed him to go because he is one of the company’s money makers. As a dancer, too, he undoubtedly feels the pressure physically. In three years, he may not be able to execute moves as smoothly as he does now.
It makes me sad to think that as little as two years ago he was saying that it’s lonely to promote solo when he grew accustomed to sharing the stage with four others over nine years. As glamorous as their lives appear to outsiders, they live very lonely lives after being cast as pre-teens and made to live together for years. Because of busy schedules, they aren’t given much time to visit family or meet with friends so they become very isolated, with only each other for company. Taemin has said that since he was about 12, he never spent one Christmas with his family.
We must support him now. I’m sure he’ll do well. He’s very ambitious, but this maknae is no Seungri.
? ? SHINee appreciation over the years. ‘Replay’ was its first MV. Babies!? To men seven years later.