It was nearly 10 years ago, back in May of 2008, when I came across a group called SHINee. At that time, I was a big fan of TVXQ, Big Bang, Girls’ Generation, and Wonder Girls. However, something about SHINee was different. Although the other groups were quite talented in their own right, there was something about SHINee that was unique. Maybe because they were babies and Taemin was just a 14-year-old boy. I remember the first time I heard Jonghyun sing, “누난 너무 예뻐서 남자들이 가만 안 둬 (Noona, you’re so pretty. Boys won’t leave you alone)” in “Replay“. It was then that I just knew his voice was something unique. His voice stood out above everyone else’s.
That was a powerful introduction and I will forever remember the first time I heard his voice.
It has been several days since the world lost this talented young artist and fans are still mourning alongside fellow artists. As the world finds the strength to heal and move forward, it’s important to remember the accomplishments that Jonghyun made while he was with us. Beyond entertaining us, Jonghyun delivered upon his artistic vision and lived a life with purpose. While his passing was extremely sudden and difficult, it has allowed many people to come together and celebrate his life and creative works in retrospect. Whether you’ve been watching Jonghyun since he got his start with SHINee, or you only recently discovered his talents through his solo works, it’s definitely worth exploring the music that the multifaceted singer-songwriter left with us during his time on this earth.
After a period of training through SM Entertainment, Jonghyun made his debut as a part of SHINee in 2008. It wasn’t that long thereafter that he began songwriting for the group, making a splash with early single “Juliette” (to which he wrote the Korean lyrics). This is significant because, at the time, it was uncommon for idol group members to have a hand in the creative process behind their music. Through continued efforts over time, Jonghyun began writing more for himself and other SM artists, and he helped change the standard for idols in the process.
Jonghyun wrote a myriad of music for SHINee during his time with them. Many of his tracks are stand-outs, with album tracks like “Obsession” (from ‘Lucifer‘) and “Orgel” (from ‘Why So Serious‘) resonating heavily with fans through their surreal and somewhat dark lyrics. That is, of course, not to say his music couldn’t have a sense of humor or fun – through his various pieces, Jonghyun illustrated emotional depth and versatility.
In 2013, Jonghyun officially debuted as a composer through IU‘s song “A Gloomy Clock.” The track served as a breakthrough for him, the first song in what would become a prolific and consistent discography thereafter. He followed up with tracks like “Red Candle” by Son Dam Bi, as well as “Pretty Boy” for fellow SHINee member Taemin’s solo debut. He eventually went on to make a formal solo career splash with mini-album “BASE,” and with that release came heaping praise and new opportunities.
In his solo material, Jonghyun got to explore a nuanced and mature sound that expanded upon what made his work with SHINee click. Jonghyun’s music was defined by lush instrumentation, soaring vocals and emotional potency, something exhibited through deep cuts like “Skeleton Flower.”
As Jonghyun gained experience, his list of credited works expanded to include talents from EXO to YG Entertainment‘s soul songstress Lee Hi. Notably, Jonghyun’s work with Lee Hi marked the first time that SM and YG talents formally collaborated, and it showed that his talent could reach across the metaphorical aisle.
Lee Hi working with Jonghyun is significant for a number of reasons. Essentially, the existence of such a track serves as an example of what can be accomplished when the politics of K-pop are set aside in favor of the creativity. If the track were to be considered a gamble, both artists won – Jonghyun was able to show off his talents, and Lee Hi got a song that was as artistically notable as it was successful.
Jonghyun went on to show diversity through his output, with his “Story Op” compilations serving as emotional and often raw counterparts to upbeat tracks like “She Is” and “White T-Shirt.” Fans had plenty to love, as Jonghyun was able to exhibit many different sides of himself through his artistry. Through his continued efforts, Jonghyun was able to stand out as more than just a pop performer or a member of SHINee (though he was quite good at both of those things, too).
The “She Is” comeback was a landmark accomplishment for Jonghyun, as he is credited with both lyrics and composition on nearly all of the tracks. Songs like the title track were pure shots of energy, with slower paced poignant R&B jams like “Moon” serving as a great foil. Jonghyun’s voice was his instrument, and he was something of a virtuoso when it came to “playing.” Nearly every track he’s on is marked by powerful vocals and a display of incredible range.
Through his independent endeavors, Jonghyun was able to establish himself as a credible creative force defined by diversity: diversity of sound, diversity of thought, and diversity of influences. His charms shined through more than just the music itself, with the long-running radio show ‘Blue Night‘ serving as another way for fans to connect with the artist intimately. On top of this, Jonghyun proved to be a serious draw for concerts, as he had several headlining ones of his own through the years that boasted huge crowds.
Through a series of hard-earned opportunities, Jonghyun was able to showcase his sincerity and devotion towards his craft to both fans and casual listeners for the greater part of a decade. Much can change during that time, but one thing that was consistent was Jonghyun’s warm, considerate and passionate demeanor. Through every belted note and carefully picked sound, fans became closer to Jonghyun, establishing a deeply emotional connection with his output. He went above and beyond being simply likable, taking a vocal stand in favor of issues like LGBT acceptance even after being targeted for his words by conservative groups. To be talented is impressive, but to do so while also being a class act is admirable.
The death of such a young and potent talent has weighed heavily on the minds of music fans throughout the world. We have mourned through social media and at vigils across the world because Jonghyun excelled at exposing his most human qualities through his art, and perhaps because his words and music helped many of us become more confident in our selves. To have witnessed someone with such an ability to harness their natural gifts is something beautiful, and as we come together in saying “you’ve worked hard,” hopefully the worldwide K-pop community can become stronger from following Jonghyun’s example of kindness and commitment.
As the worldwide community of fans continues to grieve for Jonghyun, fans can take solace in the fact that he left so much music to be remembered by. The artistry of Jonghyun is cherished by countless people, and it’s a truly remarkable feat to resonate with such a large and diverse group of fans during what was an all-too-short period of time. Jonghyun will be remembered as a gentle, nuanced and accomplished person with a piercing and attention-commanding sound. Though he may not be with us any longer, his heartfelt contributions to the world of K-Pop will be felt forever. Rest In Peace sweet angel, because you have brought me a lot of peace and joy with your beautiful music.