2009 was a year unlike any other in K-Pop. Career-defining singles were released by nearly every group and soloist in the “second generation” of K-pop, and inspired many acts seen today. Of these definitive hits, it is impossible to look at this year without celebrating the 10th anniversary of Shinee’s EP 2009, Year Of Us, and its title track, “Ring Ding Dong.”

Despite the number of classics from that year, Shinee made the right move in calling 2009 theirs. Fresh off “Replay” and “Love Like Oxygen” the year before, they continued their winning streak with “Juliette” in May. As the first Shinee single written by Jonghyun it went on to snag several music show wins. It marked a new chapter for the group as they went into their second year. With “Ring Ding Dong” being released a few months later in October the quintet showed no signs of slowing down. 

Infamously known as the #1 banned song to listen to before college exams, “Ring Ding Dong” has endured the test of time as the ultimate ear worm. It checks every box on what makes a classic K-Pop hit — from the non-stop energy of the instrumentals, to the unforgettable lyrics and choreography. The song tells a story of the boys falling head over heels for someone, with “ring ding dong” representing how they have literally become crazy in love. 

RDD is far from the only energetic hit on this album. “Shinee Girl” and “Get Down” provide fascinating glimpses into how diverse Shinee’s sound can really get. The former’s uniqueness lies in its distinct dive into combining big band and electro; while the rest of the album skews on the R’n’B side, it is an unexpected take on contemporary swing. It is also a sound that they never properly delved into again until Japanese releases “Your Number” and “Get the Treasure”. Both tracks are centered on the big band sound that made “Shinee Girl” such a refreshing addition to 2009

Conversely, “Get Down” is easily one of the most memorable songs to highlight the rap line: Minho and Key. It is, at its core, an old-school-sounding banger that finally gives the duo space to show off. Despite Shinee being over a year old at this point, main rappers Minho and Key still had yet to showcase their talents. Nearly all of Minho’s lines in past Shinee tracks were buried under vocals, and Key’s lines did little to stand out. “Get Down” provides a refreshing look into how the two can hold their own (with the help of f(x)’s Luna). 

Even with these fast-paced tracks, the album still rounds itself out with its slower hits. In fact, it starts out with “Y.O.U (Year of Us),” an emotional ballad that could be described as an ode to “you.” The song details the persistence of the boys’ love and dedication to “you”; affirming that even when times are rough, their love will endure. Whether this you is aimed at a specific person, their fans, the bond between themselves, or some combination of all three, the personalized feel makes it a beautiful introduction to the rest of the album. It is the kind of Shinee-level dedication that has persisted in their more emotional works to date.

Why do people stay when things go well
But leave me when when things go wrong, yeah
People are so weak like glass
Why does my heart hurt so much by such little things?
Let’s never do the same, even if we don’t like it, even if it hurts
Let’s keep that promise to be together forever, same thing

Picking up the pace is “Jojo.” It does well as the companion track to “Ring Ding Dong”’s infectious energy, going for a more subtle, but still vibrant sound. In “Jojo,” Shinee bemoans the loss of their love, Jojo (possibly the name of the subject or a term of affection), and details the beginning of their heartbreak. When stacked up against Shinee’s many other singles, “Jojo” is a forgettable one, but is still worth looking back during this stage in their career. 

The album comes to a heart-wrenching end with “The Name I Loved,” a duet between Onew and vocalist Kim Yeon-woo. To both begin and end this album with such powerful ballads, all while having “Ring Ding Dong” as the title track, was certainly a calculated choice. However, the raw emotion both singers put into this final track is breath-taking. 

The feeling of love
That you can’t do alone comes to me
The longings that I can’t even start only get bigger
Only a small scent is left
In the cold, corner of my heart

2009, Year of Us is concrete proof that Shinee’s debut momentum showed no signs of slowing down. In the year to come, they would release “Lucifer,” another career-defining hit that propelled them to new heights. 2009 is an emblematic work for a group that had only just found their footing as a force to be reckoned with. The phrase “year of us” brings to mind Shinee’s innate ability to define any of their 11 years as uniquely theirs; from their inspirational debut to their last three-part comeback. “Ring Ding Dong”s legacy lives on, but 2009, Year of Us is a work that cannot be glossed over when looking at every year Shinee has made their own. 

(YouTube [1][2][3], Popgasa, ColorCodedLyrics. Images via SM Entertainment)