Kim Jonghyun

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As the year comes to an end, I’d like to bring attention to what I consider to be one of the biggest achievements of the last twelve months.

For the last three years, I’ve been a diehard fan of the Korean pop group SHINee. Although K-pop is largely known in the west thanks to younger groups like BTS, I was drawn to SHINee for their consistent musical experimentalism, emphasis on live performance and deeply varied genre presentation. With each release they present a different concept and side to their performance, consistently leading trends within the K-pop sphere – they were the first group to release a house song to wild success in the summer of 2015. But a little over a year ago, at the time of this writing, we fans lost one of our five shining stars, Kim Jonghyun to a long standing battle with depression.

It’s easy for outsiders to homogenize K-pop. As fans, we often hear things like “They’re robots!” or “They all get plastic surgery!” or “That’s not real music.” Jonghyun, the second oldest member of SHINee, was the perfect example of an idol that bucked all of these stereotypes. He performed in a band starting from when he was in grade school, before joining SM Entertainment and debuting as a member of SHINee. Even when he moved into the pop scene, however, he continued to hone his own artistry, writing lyrics and composing songs for his group starting in 2009, and began his own solo music career in 2015. He also was an active radio DJ on the program Blue Night, and wrote a book entitled Skeleton Flower. His final album, the one that he finished work on just days before he passed, is entitled “Poet Artist” – and that’s exactly how we SHINee fans got to know him. Through his way with words, and his absolute devotion to his craft, as well as to his surviving mother and sister. The album twists and turns through various genres, reflecting the wide influences that Jonghyun pulled from. The lead single, Shinin,’ was such a source of comfort for me – hearing the hook, “Always be with you” repeatedly comforted me at a time when it seemed like nothing else could.

Although the year has been hard, having Jonghyun’s music to help guide me through the twists and turns has made working harder seem possible. I don’t mean for this to read as a recruitment letter on behalf of SHINee fans, but I would like to recommend our Jonghyun’s music to anyone who’s going through a hard time – listen to “End of a Day” as you soak in the tub, or “Honesty” when you feel like giving up. And no matter what, remember that there’s someone out there rooting for you.

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Jared Free