Shinee is back! The first episode of their three part comeback The Story of Light comes with the aesthetically pleasing, and symbolically important MV for “Good Evening.” With this being Shinee’s first comeback as four, it’s definitely a bittersweet release for fans and Shinee themselves. Instead of ignoring the absence everyone feels, Shinee are coming out strong, acknowledging the missing piece without letting it be the entire narrative of their return.

“Good Evening” is less experimental musically than some of their past comebacks, keeping the sound a little electronic, a little throwback. At first listen, there are clear elements of Luna‘s “Free Somebody” as well as 112‘s “Cupid” in the chorus. These two inspirations together keep perfectly in line with the sonic shift “View” kicked off, without drifting into the melancholy sound of “Tell Me What to Do.” I’ve always appreciated Shinee’s ability to play with musicality, but for this release in particular, I’m glad that they kept the sound familiar. What we’re given is an upbeat dance track, with an undertone of longing that is perfect for the content of the MV, and this moment in Shinee’s career.

While there there is a lot of symbolism in the release that many will read as references to the notable absence of Jonghyun, the “Good Evening” MV is first and foremost about the four Shinee members themselves: about their struggles and their quest for happiness. SM did a great job of balancing the pain that will come from watching this MV, and the hope and joy that Shinee’s music has, and will continue to bring to fans.

The MV for “Good Evening” centers around the idea of being watched and being trapped. The video opens in a green lit stage room, with cameras and monitors spread everywhere. Bright lights flash in member’s faces as they stare down the camera. This green-lit set is not an environment the Shinee members are unfamiliar with, having lived their entire adult lives in the public eye. The stage in the center of the room stands as a testament to this, to their ability to perform when everyone is watching. But this lighting is disarmingly bright and saturated; the cameras set up in a way that feels inescapable. So much so that even Key puts his hand up to block the harsh light.

It’s when the filming equipment follows the Shinee members into the domestic space that things become more tense. The glass box they hide in at night is well lit, colorful, almost domestic — yet far from private. Even in this space, there are cameras. The walls are glass, and everything is seen from the staged forest where the camera sits. At first, the room seems like a peaceful escape from the chaos of the stage, but the presence of cameras within the domestic space keeps the members on edge.

This is because all the while, images of themselves play on the screens around them. They’re watching themselves be watched, and in so doing, they play the same part they would on stage. They adopt the same poses, the same stoic faces. Minho reclines on the mattress and ingests too many clementines, Taemin dances along the worn-down piano keys, Onew waits on the sidelines, and Key twirls a crow bar. They’re going through the motions, without any flicker of emotion, fully aware of the fact that they are being recorded.

Once again, this comfortable darkness
Lingers on from afar, little by little
As the light of dawn shines between the buildings
I think of you again

It isn’t until the lead up to the first chorus that Key stands up. The beat builds as he spins the crow bar in his hand, finally lashing out on the piano right as beat drops. Surprisingly, this small slip of anger doesn’t change anything about the set-up: the beat of the verses returns, while the members continue to dance on the now blue lit stage, engage the cameras — though maybe a bit more defiantly — and sit in stillness in the glass box.

This element of stoicism remains through the second verse, the camera’s presence keeping every emotion in check. An image of a conductor plays over shots of Onew as he sings, showing the way their lives feel orchestrated — controlled, even. With the cameras filming them from every angle, their lives are lived in a Panopticon. They perform with the knowledge that they are always being watched, and thus, they always behave accordingly. It’s a prison of the spectacle made up of cameras and bright lights, with no real nature nature to escape to. But eventually, something has to give. As the song builds momentum, the cracks begin to show.

My bated breath
Shortens the distance between us
And your nonchalant “I miss you”
Makes me impatient
So I’ll pick up the pace

When it begins to rain in the box, the members play along. They dance happily as rain falls inside their small, domestic world. It’s a rehearsed happiness that is contrasted by shots of the members falling into deep water and sinking. In one cut, they’re drowning: but on the stage of their lives, they’re smiling happily despite the rain. This symbolism of internal struggle versus outward behavior is furthered by the shots of the members under the sheet of plastic. Even as they’re most likely suffocating, they dance perfectly in sync with one another. They allow paint to fall on the plastic, without moving; always maintaining composure, professionalism.

Like the rain beyond my window
A transparent light begins to spark
Telling me the words I want to hear

It’s the addition of the CGI fox that seems to symbolize their liberation from the world of being watched into a new beginning. The fox beckons them into the real forest, away from the faux trees and sound stages, and into true freedom. As the members begin to run in the real forest, we see smiles on their faces for the first time in the MV. There’s a moment when Key looks back almost hesitantly; he looks back like he’s leaving something behind, but chooses to push forward into the freedom of the forest with a smile on his face.

Even though you’re somewhere far away
I’ll race against the darkness
And come get you

Once they’ve broken free of the confines of the glass walls, they continue to dance on the choreography stage. Only now, their movements are more free, as they are no longer under the scrutiny of the camera. They’re still performing, giving everything they have to the choreography, but without the pressure of being watched. They run freely through the woods in the same way they dance: with the kind of passion and energy that we expect from Shinee. Foliage surrounds the edge of the choreography stage, but there’s no glass barrier between the freedom of the forest and the joy of being on stage. In a way, this is a reconciliation of their lives as performers and the freedom they seek.

The video ends with the members back in the real forest. They’re away from the box and cameras, staring down a well — perhaps the same metaphoric well they found themselves submerged in moments before. There’s a fifth shadow against the edge of the well which hints at the memory of Jonghyun, who will always be with the group in spirit. In a few beats, Taemin emerges from the water. The frame is intentionally inverted as he re-surfaces. He remains half submerged, a little disoriented, but it’s just enough to breathe, and to smile.

As a Shawol, these final scenes struck a particular cord with me. The members are pushing on, towards new joy and new happiness following the media circus of their pain. And just like many of their fans who felt they were drowning, they’re trudging through. Just like many of us, they may not fully be past it — fully out of the well — but it’s time to breathe, to smile, and to dance. Ultimately, it’s time to heal. It doesn’t mean it will be easy.

It doesn’t matter if you’re somewhere
Higher and farther than the skies
I’ll send my love to the clouds
Hoping the moon will send it above

It’s hard to watch this MV without feeling the need to tie it back to the absence of Jonghyun, because I still feel his loss so strongly. It’s difficult not to see how the narrative that plays out on screen could very well be the struggle of the members to maintain a public face while feeling like they’re falling apart in private. But ultimately, Shinee have given us joy in this MV — and that’s what I want to celebrate. They’ve acknowledged the pain, the suffocation, and even the empty space of this comeback. But most importantly, they’ve given us themselves. They’re not fully healed, not fully outside of the Panopticon of their celebrity status and the media, but they’re moving forward.

“Good Evening” brings joy and reflection, pain an happiness, and that’s an incredibly difficult balance to maintain. The quality of “Good Evening” promises a strong follow up in the next two episodes of this comeback. I’m anxious to see if the “Good Evening” MV plays into a larger narrative of the comeback, and how Shinee will top this beautiful and moving MV.

(YouTube. Images via SM Entertainment. Lyrics via Genius Lyrics.)