SHINee’s next phase: service to country

By Nadine Kam I

Last year was a triumphant, bittersweet year for SHINee, which celebrated its 10-year anniversary while still trying to heal from Jonghyun’s suicide on Dec. 18, 2017.

This year has also been one of exhilaration and change, bittersweet for Shawol—the group’s fandom—who on top of losing Jonghyun has seen the departures of leader Onew and rapper Key for their mandatory military service in December and March respectively, and rapper Choi Minho will also be joining the Republic of Korea Marine Corps in mid-April. This leaves only the group’s maknae Taemin to solo music pursuits.

Last month, Taemin, left, and Minho, right, sent a shaved Key off to the military.
At top of page, the members said goodbye to Onew in December.

In light of their 21-month absence, they’ve been hard at work to present their individual gifts of music to fans to keep them in our hearts while they’re away. It’s been great to hear the first solo recordings by Onew, Key and now Minho, but there is also a sadness associated with the end of an era.

For myself, new to the works of K-pop, it’s sad that they are gone just after I got to know them. I don’t know how 10-year Shawols feel, the fans who grew up with SHINee ever since they were unpolished teens.

It’s a lonely time for the members as well. They seemed to have become more reflective after the death of Jonghyun and last year’s anniversary gave them reason to look back at their whirlwind career.

After their anniversary events ended last summer, their group activities slowed down considerably. Although I was happy to see them pursuing other interests, it saddened me to see them spending significant time apart.
I imagine they must have felt somewhat unmoored to be apart from the people they once spent 24/7 cohabiting, working and training together. Minho, who along with Taemin, is one the more stalwart members of the group, is only now beginning to feel the loneliness that consumed Jonghyun, and talks about it here: https://www.instagram.com/p/BvTYUANnmXa/?utm_source=ig_web_copy_link

No doubt their time in the military will give them even more time to reflect, and think about what they really want in life. Everything up until now has been thrown at them, and almost every decision made for them. It’s said that joining any military outfit turns boys into men. It will be interesting to see how they emerge and what life they will create for themselves when they emerge nearly two years from now.

Onew in his Korean army uniform.

The boys were really sweet in the naming of their albums. It started with Taemin’s first mini album released in 2014, “Ace.”

Jonghyun’s answer to that was “Base” in 2015. Key released “Face” on Nov. 26, 2018, and following in that somewhat rhyming tradition, Onew released “Voice” on Dec. 5, 2018, just five days before joining the Korea army.

I wasn’t expecting to hear something from Minho, a rapper who arguably has the weakest singing voice in SHINee. I mean, it’s pleasant, but not as defined as the others. Two years ago he talked about wanting to put out a solo album but worried that his flaws would show during solo promotions. He surprised fans with a solo song, “I’m Home,” released on March 28. It’s about seeking comfort in light of the loneliness of day-to-day life.

👁 🎧 Watch and listen to the solo songs

Key”s song “I Wanna Be” might be taken as a love song, but the lyrics suggest it is about Jonghyun. A lot of SHINee’s “Story of Light” songs were also about Jonghyun.

The lyrics in part:

“Because I will raise this earth straight up and give it to you (give to you!)
On top of your palm (shiny!)
I put that star (bling bling!)
While everyone’s asleep, only we’re awake on top of this universe.”

Bling bling was Jonghyun’s nickname upon their debut. They came to be embarrassed by their nicknames, but they stuck over time.

Key’s video also seems to echo Jonghyun’s last video in color and set design, his red suit and blond hair.

Missing Jonghyun, 1 year on

By Nadine Kam

There was a time I was considered “normal,” that is, someone who wasn’t obsessed by K-pop. In fact, it was an irritant when the first pochas started popping up in Honolulu with their big screens and K-pop blaring throughout meal times, getting in the way of any meaningful conversation.

This year I started K-pop dance classes only because of a friend who wanted company during her lessons. I needed to start an exercise regimen anyway and it was amusing to go to class and witness the other students’ wild, unbridled enthusiasm for the music and groups they stan.

Whenever the teacher asked what bands and songs they liked and which dances they wanted to learn they could easily spill out dozens of songs. My stock answer was that I didn’t know any of the bands or songs and I was just there for exercise.

I made this video for Jonghyun, finding the lyrics to BTS V and R.M.’s song “4 o’clock,”
to be so fitting for our beautiful moon.

How things change, and for me they changed because of Kim Jong-hyun. I don’t think I would have fallen this deep into the rabbit hole if not for his existence.

It’s sad that I never knew of him before his suicide on Dec. 18, 2017. It took another four months before I was curious enough to try to learn more about him and when I did, I was devastated. I am not an emotional person at all, so it’s still shocking even to me, but after watching his funeral and reading his suicide note I must have cried about three hours a day for four months. The songs he wrote reflected emotional truths that continue resonate with the people who love him. 

To this day, I have trouble understanding why I feel so strongly about someone I never even met, but it was easy to get attached, not only due to his meaningful solo songs, fun songs with SHINee and colorful music videosbut also because of the many variety shows SHINee appeared in over a decade, from the time they were teens, that allowed me to get to know each of the members’ personalities and their eccentricities. I also love music, fashion, culture, art, beauty and storytelling and here were the six in one pretty, exhilarating package.

Watching “SHINee’s Yunhanam,” “Hello Baby” and “One Fine Day” in quick order, I watched them grow up overnight. Jonghyun, I thought, was the heart of SHINee, funny, bright, earnest and gregarious, but also somewhat awkward, giving him an approachable boy-next-door-quality. It saddened me to see him transition from a 14-year-old with self-doubt but big dreams, into a man with immense talent and intelligence, but as we learned, the same nagging self-doubts.

What hurt me the most in reading his suicide note was to know he had died thinking he was worthless and talentless, part of growing up in a competitive culture, that puts intense pressure on its youth who hear the message that they are not good enough. He made so many people around the world so happy with his music, for so long. He did not deserve to be so sad. I often wish I could go back in time to save him, but I cannot.

For the longest time, I would go to sleep crying, asking, “Why, Jjong?” I would wake up asking the same question.

This interview he gave when he left his “Blue Night” radio show on March 9, 2017, was revealing as to how he felt about this goodbye.

I think it was a matter of so many worrying thoughts spinning in his head. He spoke many times of his depression, and had been tired over the previous two years, but said he got through it due to the love he felt from fans during their concerts. 2018 was to have been a glorious year for them as they hit their milestone 10th anniversary in an industry in which few bands last more than five years. Maybe he couldn’t bear the thought of an even more hectic schedule going into their 10th anniversary activities.

Their lives were also about to change in a big way with the eldest, Onew, joining the military this year. Jjong would have followed in 2019. Maybe his self-doubt left him worried that he would not have a career to come back to after his two years of service was complete. Or maybe it was the pressure of seeing their contract coming to an end and perhaps letting down his bandmates by not wanting to renew. I don’t know, but I think it was a possibility given his feelings about his celebrity status. (The others resigned with SM in May in the midst of their 10th anniversary promotions.)

SHINee’s “Get the Treasure.”

Although the loss of Jjong left SHINee’s comeback with a melancholy tone, I feel like seeing the boys coming together, reconnecting and reminiscing, and seeing the love and support of their Shawol fandom, would have reenergized Jjong, and would have given him the strength to continue. 

At this point, all the dreams they had as boys have come true. But for Jjong, the celebrity, accolades, riches and love of family and friends didn’t give him any reason to continue living. It’s why I still cry when I listen to “Our Page,” written in SHINee’s words, about still being those five hope-filled boys of May 2008 and being together on a difficult journey until the last page of their story is written.

Jjong’s last page came way too soon.

Many of us still miss him deeply, but it is of no help to wallow in sadness and despair. He would not have wanted that. We learned so much from him about integrity and giving this life meaning. We are his legacy now and if he can’t be here all we can do is try to do our best to honor his memory by living our lives in his spirit, full of love, caring and creativity, treating each other with kindness and being the light for those who cannot find their way out of darkness. I think he has become our Batman, a symbol of light for all who appreciate qualities of beauty, intelligence, sincerity and humility. It hurts to lose such a rare individual because I find it’s easier to admire such a person from afar than to remake myself in his image.

Jonghyun is a Batman, a symbol of talent, grace, beauty and intelligence for those searching for someone to believe in. To lose such a soul has been painful.
Jonghyun performs “1000” from his solo album, “The Collection Story Op. 2,”
at one of his intimate “Blue Night” concerts.
Wisdom of Jonghyun, shared with listeners of “Blue Night.”