In an ever growing industry like Kpop, it’s easy to forget the humanity behind the masks of skin tight costumes, glittery eye shadow and neon dyed hair. Often marked as a soulless, plastic factory-like production house with extreme work conditions, it’s no secret that the industry has no time and place for mental health. Yet the world seemed to come to a stand-still on this date last year.
Today, 18th December, marks a year that SHINee vocalist and soloist, Kim Jonghyun has passed away.
It’s not easy experiencing loss, ever. Most of us never did know Jonghyun personally, but due to his empathetic nature and sensitivity that he always hinted in his craft—it was hard not to feel connected. Personally, it was hard for yours truly to even listen to his music or be reminded of him again.
However, a quote by him came to pass:
“The relationship between artist and fans is not simply only something just beautiful. We expect, disappoint, impress, get angry with each other. It’s a relationship of a person to person that goes through these emotions several times.”
It’s funny how fitting it is when dealing with a tricky situation much like this one. Jonghyun wanted us to experience his music and himself like a person, not of an out of reach idol. He allowed us to get upset at him, and even angry; because it’s only human to feel so.
Much too often, we choose to remember the passing of people as tragedies instead of celebrating them. While what happened to Jonghyun was unfortunate, he is so much more than just his mental illness and death. He was a true artist; constantly expanding his circles by venturing in different fields such as poetry and even being a radio deejay. The man was everything we could be proud of, and managed to achieve so many heights despite it all.
And so today, instead of mourning, we choose to celebrate an artist that was and will always be well loved by all. Here are top 10 tracks by written or performed by the one and only, Jonghyun.
10. “Playboy” – EXO (“EXODUS”, 2015)
Sexy is a word that if often associated with Jonghyun and it was especially obvious in this alluring, slow track. Performed by fellow labelmates EXO, Jonghyun writes about a scandalous relationship that involves them constantly meeting at “their place” or “my place”. The suggestive nature of the song works perfectly with the choice of choreo EXO chose to go along with, making it an absolute treat for fans.
9. “A Gloomy Clock” – IU ft Jonghyun (“Modern Times”, 2013)
“Modern Times” was IU’s tribute album to the genre of jazz, which only made it fitting to include Jonghyun on a track. It was the first time he wrote a song for another artist, and “A Gloomy Clock” feels like an acoustic track with influences of bossa nova. IU’s airy vocals complement Jonghyun’s breathy ones; together they form a harmonious wonder.
8. “Lonely” ft. Taeyeon (“The Story OP. 2”, 2017)
Perhaps the most notable as it was his last single before his passing, “Lonely” tells the tale of being so used to feeling alone, even in a relationship. A collaboration with label mate Taeyeon of Girls’ Generation, the song quickly became the soundtrack of many after his passing.
7. “Shinin’” (Poet| Artist, 2018)
Being the last album from Jonghyun, it was hard to listen to “Shinin” without being reminded of the reality of the situation. However, the song itself was such an upbeat and cheery number—just the way Jonghyun should be remembered by.
As bright as he was, Jonghyun was able to pen to most heartbreaking songs to life. “Elevator” is one of them, beginning with an incredibly sombre piano intro. What seems like a simple ballad is then elevated by strings and his vocals. A song about being stuck in the ups and downs of life—much akin to an elevator—it is haunting to listen to him say how he struggles to meet his own eyes in the mirror. It captures Jonghyun at his most vulnerable, and is arguably one of his best ballads due to its simplistic nature.
5. “Symptoms” – SHINee (“Everybody” – The 3rd Mini Album, 2013)
Yet another emotional number, “Symptoms” is a vocally raw performance. It takes advantage of SHINee’s vocal ability as we hear all 5 members belt through the track. Despite gaining attention for their impeccable dance moves, “Symptoms” speaks for itself. Without the garnishing of an over-the-top choreography, the track rebeverates through SHINee’s discography as one of their finest ballads.
4. “She Is” (She Is – The 1st Album, 2016)
The colourful title track of his first full solo album, “She Is” paints a world of neon so bright that the music video literally had to be dimmed down. The lyrics are innocent and tells the tale of the light and airy feeling of first falling in love. The bright, upbeat tempo and synth melt gorgeously together, producing a cheerful yet funky pop song that we can’t keep ourselves from smiling when listening.
3. “Deja-boo” ft. Zion T. (“BASE” – The 1st Mini Album, 2015)
When Jonghyun first announced a solo album, Shawols were curious as to what his own colour would be. A pleasant surprise in the form of smooth R&B, neo soul and synth was the answer. “Deja-Boo” is an effortlessly stylish track that exudes his natural charm. With R&B legend Zion T. singing alongside him, the smooth and sexy number will always be something that defines Jonghyun’s genre as a soloist.
2. “Breathe” – Lee Hi
With incredible vocals, Lee Hi has earned a name for herself after her K-pop Star days—but it was with this ballad that gained her the most recognition. Jonghyun wrote the song for the soloist when she felt anxious, with reassuring lyrics such as, “It’s okay to make mistakes sometimes, because everyone does.” Despite being a somewhat minimalist ballad, it’s in the powerful chorus that the emotions really hit.
1. “Yi Si Fuera Ella (Haeya)” (The Shinee World, 2008)
It’s no contest when it comes to this song. A song off their debut album, Jonghyun was only 18 years old when he first recorded the track. Being the first solo song sung by him, the dramatic and emotional ballad haunts listeners to this day. Despite being a cover, the delivery is done with such fervour that it almost feels like an original.
With over a decade’s worth of songs, he will always be remembered as an artist who was dedicated to staying true to his craft above all. Thank you for all the years of laughter, tears and hard work.
You did well, Jonghyun.
Article by Leyasheena Panicker.