Last December, Jonghyun tragically passed away. Now, a month later, we have the release of his last album, Poet/ Artist, which includes the lead single “Shinin’” completed prior to his death. While it is so very tempting to simply let the last MV from him wash over us, rather than analyzing the music and imagery, I won’t do that. Jonghyun was an artist, and I will not do him the disservice of letting his last single be overshadowed by that one word, “last”.
“Shinin’” is a rollercoaster of emotions to watch, primarily because it’s so happy. This is an MV that legitimately puts a smile on my face every time I watch it, even if it means I’m smiling through the tears. “Shinin’” is a magical wonderland of ’80s visuals, smooth R&B flair, and lovestruck, earnest vocals. It almost doesn’t matter how you feel going in; “Shinin’” will charm you into loving it.
The visual style of “Shinin’” is best described as “neon retro bombast”. Everything is vibrant and fluorescent, heavily favoring pink, orange, and red. It’s very ’80s New Wave, a clearly affectionate homage. That homage hops into high gear when the graphics kick in over the bridge. Even the fonts look like they were pulled from 1987. If late ’80s music video directors acquired access to modern technology, the results would look like “Shinin’”, and I mean that in the best way possible.
The other major visual element of “Shinin’” is the recurring symbolism of music. There is no real plot, with the bulk of the MV being Jonghyun performing with and around various symbols of music. However, it’s the type of musical symbols that truly provoke thought. The most apparent is the radio booth that Jonghyun starts out in, as well as doubling as a shout out to his radio show, Blue Night. The other major musical symbols are vinyl records, cassette tapes, and boomboxes. These aren’t just items used to play music, but to share it.
In the modern world, music tends to be very lonely, as everyone listens to their own thing, earbuds in and shut off from the world. But radio, records, and boomboxes harken back to a time where music was invariably communal, something that could bring people together rather than provide an ideal way for us to isolate ourselves. It speaks to a desire to connect with people, to be something that allows for making new friendships rather than creating rifts.
Musically, “Shinin’” is primarily a sleek, sexy R&B track, with more modern production than you would expect based on the MV. That said, there are elements, such as the subtle synth lines that run under the verses, that do pull from the late ’80s and early ’90s and provide some needed pop. The layering in the mix is quite potent, as it places Jonghyun’s vocals as the core of the track, warping the various synths, percussion, and melodies around it. Jonghyun becomes this force, bending the musical elements as easily as drawing breath, all while performing with flirtation and charm oozing from every note.
The lyrics are the hardest element of “Shinin’” to nail down, because they’re the hardest to look at without the weight of hindsight. Anyone who claims they didn’t choke up at the chorus’s repeated use of “Always be with you” is lying. It’s easy to take them at face value, a particularly earnest love song. But when considering the symbolism of the MV, there’s a recurring feeling of “Shinin’” being about music as well. The level of devotion, the way the subject of the song becomes all-encompassing, it hints to a connection with more power than simple infatuation. I can’t tell if that’s because Jonghyun put those hints there, or if I’m hearing things out of grief and wishful thinking, seeking themes that would bring me comfort now that he’s gone.
More than anything else, “Shinin'” makes it clear that Jonghyun was immensely talented, as both a performer and a composer. It’s a song and MV designed to make its audience happy, to brighten their day, and it does. In that way, “Shinin'” acts as balm for Jonghyun’s death, giving us something that makes us smile, guilt-free. It’s what he would have wanted.
(Images via SM Entertainment, YouTube)