Couldn’t let the occasion of Jonghyun’s birthday (4.8.1990-12.18.2017) pass, and this year was a special one because April 7 (the 8th in South Korea) was the evening of a pink Super Moon.
Shawol associate Jonghyun with the Super Moon because he wrote the song “Selene 6.23” about the beautiful unreachable Super Moon he saw that evening in 2013.
I made a couple short music videos to celebrate Jonghyun’s life and music. The first one for a general audience is intended to provide a moment of calm, beauty and relaxation in these stressful times of self-isolation and worries about Covid-19.
I used his song, “Blinking Games,” as a backdrop to a travelog of Hawaii scenery, plus one from Portugal. I originally wanted to use my footage from Spain and Portugal, but for some reason while I was there I uncharacteristically shot video in vertical formats that don’t transfer well to YouTube!
The second video for his fans has the same song plus imagery of Jonghyun over the years. The song “Blinking Game” is from his “The Collection: Story Op. 2.” He created Op. 1 and 2 specifically to comfort people after hearing from so many of the walking wounded who called in to his late-night radio show “Blue Night” to commiserate, knowing that he was a kindred, compassionate spirit who suffered from depression.
I credit these two albums with curing my insomnia after my husband died, because Jonghyun’s voice was so soothing. Before discovering his music, I tried to listen to meditation apps, some an hour long. After the hour I would start up another hour, getting more worked up and stressed out as 4 a.m. became 5 a.m. and I knew I had to wake in two or three hours. It was the stress that led to even greater inability to sleep.
When I played Jonghyun’s music, I felt awash in calm and because his voice is so transportive and riveting, I could focus on it completely, quieting my own circular thoughts. I’d fall asleep in about 20 minutes, never making it to the end of the disc.
If you look up the English translation for “Blinking Game,” it probably won’t make much sense because it’s based on Korean idiom meaning “to not hurt, even if you place it in your eyes,” meaning to love someone so much that to draw that person so close as to have him/her in your eye doesn’t hurt, whereas even the tiniest speck of dust would hurt. There really isn’t an English equivalent. The closest might be “apple of my eye.”
I hope you enjoy the snippet of song and the videos. The whole song can be heard here:
The 11th anniversary of SHINee should be a joyous time, but being new to the K-pop and Shawol community, the two anniversaries since I came on board last year have been bittersweet occasions.
Last year, it was about marking the milestone 10th anniversary—forever for a K-pop group, many of whom struggle to debut or survive more than five years—without Jonghyun, who killed himself on Dec. 18, 2017. In spite of their mourning, the rest of SHINee—Onew (Lee Jin-ki), Choi Minho, Key (Kim Kibum) and Lee Taemin—came back strong, delivering a healing “Story of Light” trio of mini albums plus an Epilogue, which channeled their grief into several songs in memory of Jonghyun.
The strongest of these was “Our Page,” in which the members’ shared their thoughts and love for Jonghyun. The lyrics reflect their feelings about a relationship that continues until the last page of their story is written. In their words they sing:
“Can you feel it? We’re connected By our hearts that are transparent like invisible string When I stand again on the road we walked on together There are five overlapping hands, tears and memories It’s so clear, I don’t want to forget, I can’t forget. We are facing each other, we are still the same, we’re still the boys who are dreaming. The pretty words you left behind become a poem, become a song. Our voices are flying, we know it’ll reach you wherever you are. If a star vanishes, well everything be forgotten? I’m holding the precious you in my arms. I want to fill the pages of the story that isn’t over until the very end.”
I made a compilation video that features the song to share their origin, the hard-work ethic that have them practicing in all conditions so that they became considered the most stable live vocalists in K-pop, and their growth from green boys to men who command the stage. For Shawol, SHINee will always number five.
This year feels empty because Onew, Minho and Key have started their mandatory 21-month service with the South Korean military. Its leaves only the youngest, Taemin, on the outside to pursue his solo career while guarding and promoting SHINee’s legacy. One of my friends was in Japan recently and sent me a text saying SHINee was on television there. She’s not into K-pop, so didn’t know his name is Taemin because he was identified in captions only as SHINee.
SM Entertainment is marking the occasion with an exhibition, “SHINee Day — ‘You’re my word, my sentence, my entire language!’’ that went on view May 23 and will be up through June 2 at the SM Entertainment Celebrity Center in Seoul, at 423, Apgujeong-ro, Gangnam-gu. I’m not able to make it but I hope others will go if they have the chance.
👁 🎧 Watch: The debut stage
👁 🎧 Seven years later Jonghyun and Key became emotional singing this song
On a previous dance post I talked about SHINee’s “Everybody” and the robotic, mechanical movements of dubstep.
On Jan. 13, we revisited SHINee, but this time going back to the year 2010 and “Lucifer” choreography incorporating tutting, stylized hand movements associated with the rendering of human figures in ancient, hence the “King Tut” reference.
Our limbs don’t naturally form those poses, so the gestures require a lot of mind-body coordination, and it’s difficult to perform them cleanly and clearly at the high speed of K-pop dance. I continue to be amazed by how fast the moves are when performing them vs. simply watching, when they seem like they have all the time in the world to make those moves.
Which is why, after an hour, we only learned this 8-second bit. I was sad that we didn’t get to do the much easier iconic part of the dance that involves the spreading index fingers and the electric shock move, but I’m always happy to dance SHINee if it helps to keep Jonghyun’s legacy alive.
Through Jonghyun, SHINee is the first group that brought me to K-pop and on Jan. 5, the boy group dance we learned was SHINee’s “Everybody.”
It’s a dubstep-electro house-complextro song, so comes with all the mechanical, industrial sounds of a roomful of machinery and robots.
The song, released in October 2013, was accompanied by a dance and music video that had the boys performing as wind-up mechanical toy soldiers, at times gone haywire.
It’s a fun dance to watch, and I wish I could learn the whole dance, but alas we only spend an hour on each song, spliced together here to include some of the most iconic parts of the dance, so it doesn’t sync fully with the actual choreography. It would have been great to start with the intro of waking up and winding up though.
Compared to SHINee, it looks like we have low energy when dancing it, but trust me, we put everything into it and it was FAST. All the K-pop dances are extremely fast, and if you don’t think so, I dare you to come out and try it. The dances leave little time to think about what move comes next.
We usually start the dances at 50 percent speed, then go up to 75 percent, when it actually feels like 100 percent. By the time we get up to 100 percent, it feels like the song is sped up!
It was during this session that, after watching the video—never mind that I lagged at the end—I decided that if people were going to video each class, I’d better start dressing up in more than boros. So these days, if I know what dance we’re learning, I will try to dress appropriately. It’s a little hard because we do one boy and one girl song back to back, often with totally different vibes.
Whenever we dance SHINee songs, I think, Jonghyun did this!
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.
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.
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.)
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.