The 27-year-old singer was one of the beautiful, well-drilled entertainers who made K-pop so thrilling – was found dead.
Fame and popularity is a combination that takes its taxes on people. Recall stars like Jimi Hendrix, Amy Winehouse, Kurt Cobain – all of them died tragically young. And now, one more name is added to this sad list — that of Kim Jong-hyun, lead singer of Korean boy band SHINee.
One of the most famous Korean singers and song writers, Jonghyun died at the age of 27 on Monday, December 18 after a suspected suicide. According to Reuters, police found Jonghyun unconscious in his apartment in Cheongdam-dong in the Gangnam district after his sister filed a police report concerned for his welfare.
Since he began his music career as the lead singer of SHINee in 2008, Jonghyun’s distinctly breathy vocal colors have defined some of the K-pop group’s biggest hits, including “View” and their most recent Korean single, last year’s “Tell Me What To Do.”
As early as 2009, he was already a star and was credited with co-writing much of SHINee’s music, and by 2013 he began to expand his songwriting.
Over the past few years, he’s written for acts under the SM label, including fellow SHINee member Taemin and the popular boy band EXO, and also worked with some of Korea’s most popular female vocalists, including IU, Son Dambi, and Lee Hi.
It is a devastating blow to millions of K-pop fans across the world and possibly a grave blow to the future subsistence of the band as well. For almost ten years, he was the lead of the five-member band, one of the most successful boy bands of all time. Jong-hyun also had a successful solo career. As recently as December 10, he was performing at one of his solo concerts.
The band is famous for their earnest performance of romantic songs, accompanied by smooth choreography, while dressed to the nines. Shinee is one of South Korea’s top exports, a boyband crafted in the Asia style that has been gaining fans across the world, including America.
Shinee is hugely popular in Japan and has a lot of fans. They have produced a string of albums in Japanese where “the appetite for ultra-emotional ballads and energetic dance tracks, performed by impossibly beautiful and well-drilled young men, is apparently insatiable” writes Ben Beaumont-Thomas for The Guardian.
Jong-hyun‘s close friend and artist 9 from the group Dear Cloud has released Jong-hyun’s suicide letter on his request.
The following message is being posted with Jong-hyun’s family’s permission. It reads like a long, heart-breaking poem. His words give us an inkling of the agony he had been going through:
“I am broken from the inside.
The depression that slowly gnawed away at me has finally swallowed me whole.
And I could not defeat it.
I detested myself. I grabbed my disjointed memories and yelled at them to pull themselves together but was met with no response.
If I can’t help myself breathe properly it’s better to stop breathing at all.”
Why do hugely talented and successful starts end their own lives? They seem to have achieved what everyone else craves for, yet it drives them to self-destruction.
You will find part of the answer within the music industry itself. In Asia, the members of these bands are driven heartlessly from a young age.
Remember the case of one of the members of the Japanese girl band AKB4B, Minami Minegishi, who in 2013 famously filmed herself shaving her head in penitence for spending a night with her boyfriend? She had contravened a no-dating rule for the group’s members.
K-pop is a cultural product that features “values, identity and meanings that go beyond their strictly commercial value.” Characterized by a mixture of Western sounds with an Asian aspect of performance it has been remarked that there is a “vision of modernization” inherent in Korean pop culture.
Many agencies have presented new idol groups to an audience through a “debut showcase”, which consists of online marketing which includes music videos posted to YouTube in order to reach a worldwide audience and television broadcast promotions as opposed to radio. Groups are given a name and a “concept”, along with a marketing hook.
Modern K-pop is also marked by its use of English phrases.
Increasingly, foreign songwriters and producers are employed to work on songs for K-pop idols.
However, the use of English has not guaranteed the popularity of K-pop in the North American market.
Lead singles are conventionally accompanied by choreography, which often includes a key dance move. K-pop has a significant influence on fashion in Asia. Trends started by idols are followed by young audiences.
The South Korean government has acknowledged benefits to the country’s export sector as a result of the Korean Wave and thus have subsidised certain endeavours. Government initiatives to expand the popularity of K-pop are mostly undertaken by the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism, which is responsible for the worldwide establishment of Korean Cultural Centers.
Artists in South Korea and Japan are often made to sign up harsh and very severe contracts even in their early teens, keeping them tied to specific management companies. They are trained in a competitive environment alongside other potential stars, with only the best “idols” making it into the manufactured bands.
Apart from dating being banned, band members’ diets are closely monitored. In 2012, girl group Nine Muses revealed their “paper cup diet”, where their meals had to fit inside a tiny paper cup, reports The Guardian.
That’s not all. The ‘Cabbage’ diet, the ‘Sweet Potato’ diet, the ‘Banana’ diet, the ‘Danish’ diet, one meal a day, ‘Soy Milk’ diet, the ‘Raw’ diet, 1000 Calorie Diet……. you name it.
If things become too much and a member wants to end their contract early, they have to pay the company a fee based on projected profits for the remainder of the contract.