On April 19, Taemin shocked fans by announcing on a seemingly routine V Live that he would enlist in the military at the end of May, teasing his last solo album and virtual concert in the same moment. As a long-standing member of the K-pop industry, debuting at the young age of fourteen, Taemin’s growth both as a member of Shinee and as a male soloist has elevated the landscape of dance-based male soloists. With his impending enlistment, there is no better time to look back on Taemin’s journey and his impact on the industry.
Taemin started out as the adorable maknae of Shinee, charming his way to an older woman’s heart. As a group under SM Entertainment, Shinee developed its identity early, with a combination of contemporary R&B and dance pop that characterized the group’s early years, with Taemin playing a critical role. His fresh-faced and youthful persona combined with his dancing skills established him as a talented and valuable member of the team, but he had limited opportunities to establish his own identity outside of the group. However, it wasn’t until Taemin’s debut as a solo artist with the EP Ace in 2014 that he started gaining attention for his bold image that differed from Shinee’s overall image. This is when he began to truly leave his mark.
Even before the album was released, Taemin’s solo debut drew attention. The teaser photos showcased Taemin without a shirt, posing with a guitar fashioned like a gun, indicating that this was no copy-paste of Shinee’s image—this was Taemin trying something new. The title track, “Danger” only further drove that message home. Choreographed by Ian Eastwood, the dance received immediate attention for its Michael Jackson influences, characterized by quick and jerky movements. While Taemin himself has stated that they didn’t purposefully try to emulate Jackson, the comparison helped him quickly solidify a name for himself apart from Shinee’s more retro-style.
Since then, Taemin has continued to solidify his characteristics as a solo artist. He has consistently marked his releases with complex performances that learned more towards powerful near the beginning of his solo ventures, but has since expanded into subtle and complex. His starring on Hit the Stage in 2016, a ten-episode show where K-pop idols teamed up with professional dancers to compete against one another, also further cemented his public presence. Other male idols known for their dancing appeared, such as Feeldog, Hoya, GOT7’s Yugyeom, and more, but only Taemin had the solo discography to capitalize on the new wave of widespread recognition as one of the best male idol dancers. The program highlights Taemin’s dancing skills, but, as evidenced by his performance of his own song “Goodbye” for one of the rounds, he was also able to take full advantage of Hit the Stage’s format to further drive his solo career and publicize his strengths.
Following his success on Hit the Stage, Taemin’s 2017 release, “Move” became an iconic part of his discography. “Move” was a triumph that garnered not only positive industry reviews (Medium named it one of the best K-pop songs of the 2010’s, the only male soloist song on the list other than Mino), but also received widespread attention as the dance’s signature androgynous moves were covered over and over and over again. His charisma on stage, unwillingness to compromise on his vocal improvement, and memorable dance moves, managed to set him apart from other male soloists at the same, expressed through more complex and expressively choreographed routines, a theme that has only strengthened throughout his career.
While not every male soloist follows in his footprints, there has been an increase in male solo dancers. Since Taemin’s solo debut in 2014, there has been an increase in male soloist debuts, many of whom share characteristics with Taemin’s own performance style. Notably, soloists such as Kim Dong-han have explicitly named Taemin as the inspiration for their solo debuts. Other group-members-turned-soloists such as Ha Sung-woon, Kai, and most recently, Hoshi, share similarities in musical style. For their title tracks, they often opt for a minimalist and bass-driven sound that acts as the perfect canvas for more technical and sensual dance moves.
However, Taemin didn’t just focus on his strengths; he also improved on his weaknesses. Some people might have been content to rest on their laurels, to continue emphasizing their strengths, but Taemin doubled down and committed to improving as an all-rounder. At the time of his solo debut in 2014, Taemin wasn’t the best vocalist. His vocal skills were perfectly serviceable as a member of Shinee, but the progression of the vocal difficulty in the songs in his solo discography really show off Taemin’s growth in this area. His voice sounds noticeably strained in some parts of the Ace EP, but later songs such as “Identity” show off smooth falsetto vocalizations that are a clear testament to his improvement. By capitalizing on his strengths but refusing to compromise on constant improvement, Taemin continually sets himself apart as one of the premier male soloists of K-pop.
2019 saw yet another step for Taemin. He stepped into a new role with the debut of SuperM, an SM supergroup formed from members of Shinee, Exo, and NCT with Taemin as the member with the most industry experience. This was a change from Taemin’s previous roles as the youngest member of Shinee and standing on his own as a soloist. Though Baekhyun is the leader and oldest member, Taemin plays a crucial part of the group as many members, such as Mark and Taeyong from NCT, admit to relying on his stable lives and wealth of experiences. In a way, going from the youngest of a group to acting as a mentor for his younger labelmates best illustrates Taemin’s growth not only as an artist but as a person.
Over his long career, Taemin has accrued many identities. He is Taemin of Shinee, solo artist Taemin, Taemin of SuperM, and more. As a fully established solo artist, Taemin has earned respect from his fans and the general public alike. Though many things can change over the course of eighteen months, there is one thing for sure: Taemin will continue maturing and reinventing himself.
In Taemin’s own words, his last solo album before enlistment titled Advice will be, “… one last brilliant performance and music.”
Knowing Taemin, it certainly will be.