Around 8 years ago, when I was super depressed and living at home, I briefly and intensely got into K-Pop. You need time to devote to K-Pop (which I had in abundance since my only friend in my home town was studying abroad and I was suffering from insomnia and I barely left the house anyway) and I gladly gave mine up to watching videos and downloading compilations from a pirating forum I frequented at the time which expanded my knowledge beyond the two bands that had been my gateway into the genre in the first place: Girls’ Generation and SHINee.
Aside from the depression and the spare time, these two acts (my first and my faves) filled a stop gap where Girls Aloud were ostensibly through, JLS were on the wane and One Direction had yet to rise. There was room in my life for a new girlband and a new boyband and for someone concerned with the performance of pop and not just the sound of it, K-Pop opened my eyes to a world of meticulously synchronised choreography and pitch perfect live vocals. Western acts just do not compare. I can still watch this dance video of ‘Lucifer’ by SHINee – my introduction to them as a band – on loop for an hour and not get bored.
When my depression cleared a little and I got a job and moved back to London, I slowly fell away from K-Pop. The K-Pop scene is not just a genre, it is the music industry of an entire other country. Adding in the language barrier, it becomes pretty impossible to keep up with as a casual outsider. K-Pop fans in the western world, I find, are either K-Pop fans to the near exclusion of everything else, or, like me, only really keep up with one or two acts. When the choice came, I fell back on the frustrating and less satisfying, but infinitely more easy to stay current with, artists of Europe and America, than throw myself fully into the intricacies of Korean pop culture.
And so, I don’t pretend to know what is happening in K-Pop anymore – aside from the unmissable mainstream moments, like the unprecedented success of BTS in America – which is why the news, that Jonghyun of SHINee, lead singer and my favourite member, had ended his own life, hit me in the chest with a sadness that surprised me. Jonghyun was only 27.
I’m not sure I have anything to say of note. Nothing that won’t have been said before more eloquently and accurately than I can summon up words for. I don’t have opinions on the unique pressures brought upon by being a K-Pop idol, fandom expectations even more extreme than those of celebrities in the west – I only have a cursory understanding and it’s not my place to comment. Reciting mental health statistics rings hollow. Even just reminiscing on how SHINee were a source of enjoyment for me when I was not myself seems self-indulgent.
I wanted to say something though, because Jonghyun was my favourite, and I feel so sad, and it seems wrong to say nothing at all even if it’s not the right words. I hope you found some peace, Jonghyun. You were loved and you will be missed.