Super M: Avengers of K-pop coming to America

By Nadine Kam I

Everybody say “Yeah!” On Aug. 7, SM Entertainment formally announced the formation of Super M, a supergroup the company has dubbed “The Avengers of K-pop,” comprising a stellar lineup of SM stars from its established boy bands.

This supergroup, set to debut in October, will feature SHINee’s Taemin, EXO’s Baekhyun and Kai, and NCT’s Taeyong, Mark, Ten and Lucas (WayV). This is a crazy, crazy exciting lineup featuring multiple main dancers, vocalists, rappers and visuals. Wow!

It makes sense because there’s been a sort of “land grab” going on in the music industry as Western companies have finally awoken to the sizable following of K-pop around the globe, and all want a piece of the action. It’s not like they have the capacity to create their own groups so they are looking to Seoul to see who has the most potential to break through. First, Interscope signed a joint agreement with YG Entertainment to manage the global promotion of Black Pink, and this time Capitol Music Group and its independent label service Caroline announced their partnership with SME to promote Super M in the United States.

Members of Super M, top left to right, top to bottom: Taeyong, Mark, Lucas, Taemin, Ten, Baekhyun and Kai.

With BTS commanding so much attention over the past two years, this supergroup is just what SM needs to enter the American market in a meaningful way. Because, in spite of fans’ devotion, K-pop remains a niche market, and most groups are unable to sell out stadiums the way BTS has done. They need the power of many—like how KCON has been able to bring fans to L.A. and New York for concerts with diverse performances.

A lot of people assume people who say they like K-pop support many bands, but it is no different from American music lovers who really only love a couple of groups out of 100. A lot of BTS supporters will say they love K-pop, but really love only BTS. That’s because of the power of the fandoms that make people feel disloyal if they stan another rival group. The rivalry between BTS Army and EXO Exo-Ls is particularly intense, as big as the feud between the Montagues and Capulets of “Romeo and Juliet.”

👁 Check out the teaser for Super M!

By uniting the fandoms of SHINee, EXO and NCT, hopefully Super M will have the numbers needed to support a single act. Not to mention making the most profitable use (this is K-pop after all) of Taemin, Baekhyun and Kai before they are forced to enlist in the South Korean military in the next two years. It makes a lot of sense for Taemin because he is already promoting solo while the three other members of SHINee are serving their country over the next year-and-a-half. EXO’s lineup is also being slowly decimated as each member reaches the outer limit of service age.

The real biggie is that members of NCT 127 speak English. In SHINee, Key was the one English speaker. The others focused on speaking Japanese for the Japan market. EXO had no English speaker after losing its Chinese members, so it made it socially awkward when they tried to give interviews in this country when they could only say stuff like “Yeah,” “Come on man,” or just parrot the interviewer. It was painful to watch.

The move also will strengthen the recognition factor of relative newcomers NCT, guaranteeing a certain amount of fame so these members may also be able to strike out solo or do collaborative work with Western artists when Taemin, Baekhyun and Kai exit.

👁 Let’s see what Taemin has done on his own:

But the fandoms are fickle, and days ahead of the formal announcement, there was already a lot of negativity in the air, from worries about overworking the boys, to the need to promote their current groups better.

A lot of people have been saying that they wish Lee Taemin didn’t have to work so hard, but in his documentaries, his love for the stage is obvious, as well as his compulsion to work hard and further his career. Since his trainee days, he also has always wanted to be in the same group as his bestie Kai and as he reflected on his career during SHNee’s 10th anniversary promotions, he said that he initially did not want to join SHINee and always wondered what would have happened if he had debuted in EXO.

🎧 Let’s listen to NCT 127:


I think things worked out for the best. As a member of EXO, he might have been lost in that initial field of 12. With SHINee he got so much attention. So he can consider this his reboot. He must be so happy to be dancing alongside Kai again.

This push into the U.S. is necessary for the company as South Korea is now engaged in a trade war with Japan, stemming from grievances dating back to the Korean War.

Most recently, Japan targeted South Korea’s electronics industry, restricting the export of materials used in smartphones and chips, and removed South Korea from a list of countries granted preferential trade status. South Korea retaliated by launching a boycott of Japanese goods and services, ranging from cars, beer, travel and patronizing Japanese restaurants. The Associated Press reported that a recent survey showed 80 percent of South Koreans are reluctant to buy Japanese products.

👁 Here’s a Kai focus cam for “The Eve” (green shirt):

Tension between the two nations has been building over the past few years, and we already saw the anger directed toward BTS’s Jimin last fall when a photo of him wearing a Hiroshima atom bomb T-shirt in celebration of Korea Liberation Day resurfaced just before the group’s trip to Japan. A BTS TV appearance on a Japanese TV station was cancelled as a result.

Neither side shows any sign of backing down, and if the trade war intensifies over an extended period of time, it will likely have a negative impact on the K-pop industry. Currently, Japan represents 80 percent of the market for K-pop music. If Japan were to block import of K-pop music, merch and put a ban on concerts, Super M may truly be the Avengers who save SM.

I am really looking forward to seeing them together and seeing what they do come their debut in October.

My only prob is the name of this group. In the U.S., where they plan to promote, it’s gonna sound like sperm! That’s why I think all the Korean music agencies should hire me as an English language consultant. I could fix a lot of their mispronunciations when they’re singing! Some are cute but some are just painfully wrong.


Happy 11th anniversary SHINee!

By Nadine Kam I

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.

“1 of 1” era SHINee, from left, Onew, Taemin, Jonghyun, Key and Minho.

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


… and then there was one, SHINee off to serve its country

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.

One by one, Shawol have watched the members of SHINee depart for the military. Bottom, left to right, Key, Onew, Taemin and Minho at Onew’s send-off, followed by Key in March and on April 15, Minho.

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.

It seems like yesterday when the newly formed SHINee still walked Taemin to middle school

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.

From boys to exceptional young men.

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.

A big difference from colored hair and trendy stage apparel.

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.

Taemin, out there on his own.

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.

This MV was sung in Japanese language because SHINee
was actually created for the Japanese market. I love the stylishness of this video. There is also a white version with a storyline, and Korean language performance versions.
Taemin is on the road promoting his latest mini album “Want,” now.

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.