On December 18, news broke that SHINee‘s Jonghyun had been rushed to the hospital. Hours passed with only police confirmation of his death on arrival status in the hospital; with fans waiting for the official confirmation from SM Entertainment. Understandably, SM Entertainment waited several hours and consulted with Jonghyun’s immediate family before releasing the official statement and arrangements.
This Roundtable was started a few days after the singer’s passing, as a way for all of the Seoulbeats writers to remember the artist. The conversation will change at points to reflect updates.
Jonghyun has been a popular presence in K-pop for almost a decade, and as such has touched many a K-pop fan with his music, antics, and political views. Here, our writers share their memories of Jonghyun:
Caterina: I got to know SHINee in 2009, shortly after “Ring Ding Dong” was released, but became a fan in 2010 with “Lucifer.” Seeing my idols perform live was just a dream, until 2011 when SM Town in Paris was announced. I was in total awe: the same SHINee I used to see everyday on my computer were real and I could touch them if I stretched my arm. I will never forget the glee I shared with my friend when Jonghyun brushed his lips with his hand and smirked at us. Who would have known that someone who could make people happy with just a look was carrying such sorrow deep inside of him?
When I first heard about the news my heart sunk. To this day it still feels unreal. I felt as if I lost an old friend, despite not knowing Jonghyun personally. He was surrounded by so many people who loved him dearly and cared about him, yet he was devoured by the darkness. Other than his talents, he had a deep sensitivity to him. With his speeches and his lyrics he was always trying to comfort others, even when he was the one who needed it the most.
In front of this tragedy there is nothing someone like me can do, except keeping his memory alive. For many years to come I want to remember SHINee’s Jonghyun, a 27 years old young man named Kim Jonghyun who left this earth way too soon, for what he loved the most: music. May it be cover songs, like his first solo track “Y Si Fuera Ella,” or his great solo album Story Op.2, that he actively composed and produced, or even the song “Breathe,” a heart-warming ballad he gifted to Lee Hi. I’m so thankful for all these wonderful songs he created, now it’s our duty to keep on honouring his legacy while he rests in peace.
Qing: Over the past few days, we’ve been inundated by coverage of news on Jonghyun. It distresses and infuriates me to see so many editorials appropriate him for their commentaries on the pressures of the K-pop life. There will be a time for such discussions, but that time is not now. Jonghyun is not a convenient poster boy for the dark underbelly of the glittery K-pop world that these writers are so enthusiastic to opine on. Treating him as such strips him of everything he was as a person, and all that he stood for as an artist. He doesn’t deserve to be treated as anyone less than a person who struggled long and hard against pain and sadness, and yet for all his own suffering, was able to become a respected artist who reached out, with compassion and courage, to others to ease their pain and sadness.
More than loving music deeply and possessing tremendous skill and flair for making it, Jonghyun cared immensely for the people he was able to reach through his music and his career. Whether it was lending an ear to listeners’ stories throughout his three-year stint as a DJ on Blue Night, transforming those stories and feelings into songs of solace, or opening himself to difficult conversations on social issues, he was always communicating in meaningful ways, pouring his heart into his art in hopes that he would bring comfort to someone. And he knew he did. It’s heartbreaking how meticulous and considerate he was right up to the end. Everything he left sought to comfort, to bring some understanding to cushion the shock and grief of those whom he knew loved him and drew strength and hope from him. That’s the person he was, and will be remembered for.
Gaya: SHINee is the reason why I’m a K-pop fan; that first time watching the “Lucifer” MV is an experience I’ll never forget. One look at Jonghyun and I was in love — I was also convinced that he looked like Shah Rukh Khan, and no one can ever convince me otherwise. If it weren’t for the fact that Minho had already stolen my heart in the “Gee ” MV, Jonghyun would have definitely become my ultimate bias instead.
I was already in a slump when news broke, and while it has been tough, I’ve also found strength in Jonghyun’s spirit to get back up and moving again. I guess I just want to do better for him, my own weird way of paying tribute. I haven’t been able to talk to anyone in real life about it, despite dad badgering me when he heard my almighty gasp as I read the news for the first time. And while social media can be a cesspool at the best of times, it has still been a helpful way for me to mourn with others and I am grateful to my fellow fans, including Seoulbeats writers past and present, for just being there. I hope everyone is OK and taking care of yourselves.
I sometimes barely have the energy to watch a MV, so interviews and variety shows don’t often fall by the wayside. I’ve missed so much: Jonghyun being extra on Weekly Idol, Jonghyun’s friendship with Krystal, but most importantly Jonghyun’s openness about his depression. While I had a general idea, I’m so sorry that I didn’t properly acknowledge his struggle at the time. I’m even sorrier that the medical professional he sought out didn’t properly acknowledge him either, and as painful as his note from Nine was to read, I completely understand why she wanted to make it public. Jonghyun thought about and cared others so much, he poured out all of his love, including the love he deserved to keep for himself. Wherever he is now I hope he feels all the love he gave coming back manifold.
Pat: Like Gaya, and so many others, SHINee is the reason I’m a K-pop fan. My 15 year old self fell in love with Jonghyun and his voice in “Replay”, and Hello Baby made me fall in love with his personality. Even when I was entranced by other groups, SHINee was still my foundation, and Jonghyun’s solos always highlights.
When I heard the news, I broke. I felt like I had lost a friend. Jonghyun was a constant since 2008. To lose him the way he went was heartbreaking. He’s been open about his depression, and about how he views himself as a ‘winter’ person, but he always sought to give comfort. I’m so sorry that he didn’t receive the medical attention he needed, that the system that should have been there when he sought help denied him so.
As a member of SHINee, he brought life and joy into tracks and was a responsible yet fun hyung for the members. As a radio host, he listened to people’s stories with an open mind and heart, and gave heartfelt advice. As a soloist, he was sincere in his prose on love, life, and just needing some comfort. Finally, as Jonghyun the person, he was honest in everything he did, and never tried to be someone he was not – never denied his political views and supported marginalized groups when he could have been criticized for them.
It’s been a long couple of days for us all. I hope that all of us are, while maybe mourning in our own ways, are taking care of ourselves. I’ve seen the pictures of the pearl aqua moon and I’m taking that as a sign that Jonghyun is finally doing fine. Jonghyun did well in his life, and he’ll continue to do well wherever he may be.
Lo: I first got really into K-pop in 2013, a year that gave the world the Misconception albums and the Everybody EP. Those releases did not make me a K-pop fan, but they did show me that K-pop can be genuinely good art rather than the disposable pop I thought it was, and a lot of that is due to Jonghyun. Jonghyun is now and shall always be my favorite member of SHINee, as a singer, as a person, as a composer. “White T-Shirt” is one of my favorite songs; period. When I went to my first KCON in 2016, She Is was one of two albums I was hellbent on leaving with. And as I’m typing this, I keep glancing up at my Jonghyun poster.
When I heard the news, it was as if someone dipped my heart in liquid nitrogen and hit it with a hammer. There is nothing about this I don’t hate. I hate that entry into the 27 Club is likely going to be how people remember Jonghyun. I hate that SHINee’s last Korean comeback sounded like beige. I hate how much music the world lost, that Jonghyun tried to get help and was let down, and that my grief is manifesting as compulsive eating. Mostly, though, I hate that there was a person on this earth who hurt so badly that death seemed better.
Like Jonghyun, I have depression, I try not hide it or live in fear of it, and I don’t always win against the monsters in my head. The fact that I made it to 20 can be chalked up to my depression manifesting as hardcore apathy. There’s a four-month stretch that I straight up do not remember due to a massive depressive episode. And what pulled me out of that was “Colorful”. It gave me a sense of hope and peace, and all I can do now is pray that wherever Jonghyun is, he’s feeling the same hope and peace he once helped give me.
Aastha: I became a fan of SHINee during 2009, The Year Of Us — otherwise known as the iconic “Ring Ding Dong” era. Hello Baby was the show that made me fall in love with Jonghyun. He was so funny and endearing on the show, it was impossible to resist his charms. Jonghyun was always a respectable, charming, dorky, funny, talented entertainer. A significant presence in the world of K-Pop, I’d like to think that Jonghyun was memorable to all of us, fan or not.
And that’s how I remember him. Other than the fact that he made me laugh a lot, especially through his tweets and random clips of variety shows, he was an amazingly talented singer-songwriter. When Story Op. 2 was released, I was thoroughly impressed by his songwriting skills. He was obviously a talented singer, and his ability to convey raw feelings through his songs is a skill not many have. His time as a radio host on Blue Night also showed his listeners what a gentle soul he was. Through Blue Night, he managed to create a safe space for his listeners and himself, and opened up the conversation to talk about important social issues.
Jonghyun was an irreplaceable part of SHINee, a great soloist and a wonderful radio host. Most of all, though, he was a lovely person. He didn’t hesitate to speak about issues that others might shun away from. His views were important to him, and he made sure to stand up for them. He vocalised his support for people who needed it the most. He had so much happiness and love to give those around him.
Like other writers at Seoulbeats, I’ve had a rough few days after hearing the news. I’m still alternating between being in denial and accepting his absence from the world. Although, I’ve seen memes and uplifting jokes about how Jonghyun is out-performing Whitney Houston and Michael Jackson in heaven, and that’s nice to think about. A shining star anywhere he goes; I hope he’s doing well wherever he is.
Celina: Unlike everyone else, I discovered SHINee fairly recently. I saw them at the Korean Times Music Festival, and then at KCON. This year I saw them perform at them perform at The Shrine, and was excited to learn more about them.
I just remember watching the video of him helping that girl at a cafe, and thought he was sweetest. I’m sad I can only look back at old videos of him, and won’t be able to see him grow and continue to develop as a singer since I only recently discovered him.
Kabejja: Like Celina, I discovered SHINee fairly recently yet I realised I had heard Jonghyun’s songwriting talents already. After the tragic announcement, I listened to Lee Hi’s “Breathe,” a song written by Jonghyun. In that song, he ingeniously used the simple metaphor of breathing to create lyrics that felt universal. I always go back to the chorus, “ Someone’s breath. That heavy breath. How can I see through that? Though I can’t understand your breath. It’s alright I’ll hold you.” The lyrics have and will continue to offer real reassurance and hope to many who were struggling as well as myself. I found the song to be a true act of love and empathy from him to those in the similar situation to himself. We all need to exhale.
Madi: Honestly, the tweets about Jonghyun performing “Lucifer” in heaven and other memes have been putting a smile on my face, but doesn’t erase the fact that he’s gone.
When the news started making waves on the internet, I honestly believed it was one of those celebrity death hoaxes because it came out of the blue. But when the confirmations hit and articles explained what and how it happened, I found myself in a daze.
I listened to SHINee’s music very on and off, more so starting around the time of Lucifer to Sherlock, and then Odd/Married to the Music. Can’t say I’m an avid fan, but I do consider myself a fan on some level. Hearing this news and letting it sink in, hurt. There was a missed opportunity to see them perform, and like Celina said, there’s only videos now to see and feel Jonghyun’s presence.
To be honest, in first listening Jonghyun’s solo music, it wasn’t my cup of tea. It was just different from what I normally listened to, so I couldn’t get into it despite wishing to. Now, I want to go back and listen to anything and everything he put out and look into it deeper… take the time to fully understand it every lyric, every note, every melody, every part of his existence in music. I owe him at least that much.
I also struggle with depression and some days, it’s just damn hard to fight against the demons and to reach out to others. Jonghyun is a brave soul. He did more than most people can do in that state and I commend him for it. I’m proud of him and I will always remember him for his bravery.
Lorenza: I still haven’t quite fully processed everything. SHINee was one of those groups that just…was always there for me. Not quite in the way that their music necessarily was a tether in dark times, but in that ever since my friends first introduced me to this wild world, SHINee has been there. Jonghyun’s voice was one of the first voices I was able to recognize and when I realized how many songs I liked were written by him, my respect for him deepened. The fact that Jonghyun is no longer here is something that still doesn’t feel real.
I didn’t really follow or stan SHINee until “View” era. Something about that album really struck a chord with me and “Odd Eye” is one of my favorite SHINee songs of all time. And then getting to see them perform at KCON LA really solidified that love for them. I had seen all the memes about SHINee (especially them reenacting their terrible “Ppushu ppushu” ad), but hadn’t delved into their impressive back catalogue until then.
This week has been tough, losing two people I love only a day apart has really brought my depression back to the forefront. But because of my family and where I live, whenever I go to my doctor for my depression, I’m taken seriously. I’m so sorry that Jonghyun was failed by the system that should have been there for him. I’m also angry that he was failed, that consequently he was taken from us before his time. I hope he knows those of us left behind will keep his smile alive and fight to make sure mental health is taken seriously so maybe one day we won’t lose anyone else to this god awful disease. I hope he’s found peace and that if heaven is real that it’s everything he should have had in life.
Chelsea: It’s taken me days to process this tragedy, and a part of me is still struggling to accept it. While grieving, I’ve found comfort in Lee Hi’s “Breathe,” which I was fortunate to hear him sing live once. There’s also comfort in the heartfelt messages of his peers and fellow members. Everyone is coming to terms with this tragedy, and it’s going to take a long time to heal.
SHINee was not the first K-pop group I knew, but they were the first one I stanned. Everything I learned about fandom, I learned through the eyes of a Shawol. As other groups came into my life, SHINee has remained a constant. Jonghyun, especially, has been a companion to my twenties. He was someone who provided laughter, joy, at times awe, and comfort through Blue Night. Even here at Seoulbeats, “Crazy” was one of my very first reviews. It seems like he’s always been a part of my adult life; and, as many have already said, it feels like I’ve lost a friend.
I second what Qing said: now is not the moment for the tragic loss of Jonghyun to become a hook for a larger story of the struggles of the seedy K-pop industry. Instead, I want to remember Jonghyun for all his talents, and all the love and support he had to give to us fans. He redefined and expanded the idea of what it means to be an idol: not only did Jonghyun work painstakingly to write and produce his own music, but he used his position as a public figure to amplify the voices of those less heard, and he wasn’t afraid to discuss socio-cultural issues from a personal perspective. He rarely kept his personal struggles private, and shared his pains and worries in the hope that comforting someone else — letting them know they weren’t alone — would help them heal. He brought a remarkable amount of humanity to the idol world, and his impact will be felt long after his passing.
Liz: I wasn’t really sure how to process the news. When I first heard it, I was in disbelief. I didn’t see it coming at all. It’s definitely been a rough time for the K-pop fan community, as well as those who were inspired by Jonghyun, and people who knew him personally.
Shinee’s “Ring Ding Dong” was my whole introduction to K-pop. Stumbling upon them was such a happy accident, and Jonghyun was my instant bias in the group. Since then, I’ve obsessively watched his variety show appearances through the years, getting hyped for the release of Base. I’m pretty much re-hashing what everyone else already said, but he will be forever missed as a fun, talented songwriter, producer, musician, artist, and someone who was brave enough to speak his mind on the things that mattered to him — even if his opinions were unpopular. It feels completely unreal that he isn’t here anymore and it’s unfortunate that he wasn’t able to get the help that he needed.
Hopefully, his legacy will continue, as his music and activism inspires future artists. I hope his spirit is resting peacefully in whichever afterlife he believes in.
If you or anyone you know is experiencing distress, a list of helpline numbers from around the world can be found here: www.iasp.info/resources/Crisis_Centres/