To me, K-pop group SHINee member Jonghyun was just the conventional, well-liked K-pop idol. Like so many other singers, his name wafted here and there, but his indistinguishable vocals and classic idol face didn’t intrigue me ― so I casually brushed him away.
To my annoyance, one of his songs, “Lonely,” repeatedly popped up in my Youtube recommendations, although I had no intention of ever clicking on the video. For multiple weeks, it stubbornly grounded its spot as the first video in my recommendations.
Fine. Why not give it a try?
On my first listen, I wasn’t impressed; the song was far too repetitive and mellow for my taste, and the music video consisted of the same few close-up shots of him singing in various angles. Yet, I surprised myself and looked up the lyrics:
“If I say that things are hard with a crying face
Will it really get better?
If I cry and say it hurts, who will have a harder time?
Everyone will be fine.”
The song was nothing like the cheesy break-up song I had presumed it to be, as the lyrics were plagued with self-doubt and even loathing.
It became my personal anthem. I would hum it like a broken radio on loop, replay it over and over, and it stayed at the top of my recommendations ― not that I was complaining anymore. But as soon as I had started gaining interest for Jonghyun, everything came crashing down.
Jonghyun committed suicide and passed away on Dec. 18, 2017.
I didn’t break down crying, I was neither devastated nor crushed, I was simply in disbelief. The man who I thought had a smile drawn in permanent marker on his face was no more.
On Jan. 23, 2018, SM Entertainment released his final album. “Poet | Artist” includes a total of 11 tracks, each one beautifully written and produced. The only way Jonghyun could comfortably disclose his troubles was through his music, so each song he skillfully weaved with mockery, despair and joy.
His title track, “Shinin,’” is an upbeat dance song that brings a smile in the way only Jonghyun could. “#Hashtag” gained attention for its clever title and classy lyrics which ridicule his haters. The song’s Korean title, “Waffle,” resembles a hashtag and sounds similar to the Korean phrase for meaningless prattle. Last are Jonghyun’s iconic ballads, with sentimental songs like “Take a Dive” and “Before Our Spring”.
However, one song in particular really made my heart ache. In “Rewind”, Jonghyun whispers “rewind” over 30 times in the span of three and a half minutes. Similar to its lyrics, the beat is somehow so confusing it muddles my thoughts and leaves me in a daze. Perhaps that was what was going through his mind as he exhaled for the last time. He died numb, yet in pain. If only I could rewind and pull back the hands of the clock until a time Jonghyun was truly happy.
Hearing his voice was so surreal now that I knew I would never hear it again. Only after listening to his album and submerging myself in his voice did I realize that I took him as a fantasy, a hazy silhouette in the distance that I couldn’t quite grasp. However, he was not someone to be worshipped like a deity: he was human, and one indisputably worthy of my deepest respects.
I’m truly grateful that such a kind, strong soul has graced us with his music and existence, even if it was for a mere 27 years.
His soul may now be resting far from the human world, but his legacy as a true poet and artist will forever live on.
Listen to the two singles SM Entertainment released from his album, “Poet | Artist”, below: