IN MEMORIAM: Kim Jong-hyun, a/k/a Jonghyun, South Korean Singer/Songwriter/Dancer of Boy Band Shinee
Kim Jong-hyun (April 8, 1990 – December 18, 2017), better known mononymously as Jonghyun, was a South Korean singer-songwriter, radio host, and author. He was a vocalist of the South Korean boy group Shinee, and further participated in S.M. Entertainment’s project group S.M. The Ballad. Jonghyun debuted as a solo artist on January 12, 2015, with his first EP, titled Base. In the same year, on September 17, Jonghyun released a compilation album, Story Op.1. On May 24, 2016, Jonghyun released his first studio album, She Is, followed by his second compilation album, Story Op.2 on April 24, 2017.
In 2008, Jonghyun was chosen as a member of the group Shinee. The five member boy group debuted on May 25, 2008, on SBS’s Inkigayo. In 2009, Jonghyun started contributing to the group as a songwriter, writing the Korean lyrics to their fourth Korean single, “Juliette”, which was featured on the groups second mini album, “Romeo”. Jonghyun wanted to write about a romance story that “will make everyone interested but also a story which everyone can identify with” and he was inspired by the classic movie, Romeo and Juliet.
In October 2010, Jonghyun was one of twenty idols from various South Korean groups that recorded the song “Let’s Go” with the purpose of increasing public participation in the 2010 G-20 Seoul summit. He provided his vocals along with other labelmates, such as: Super Junior’s Sungmin, Girls’ Generation’s Seohyun and f(x)’s Luna. In November 2010, Jonghyun, along with TRAX’s Jay, Super Junior’s Kyuhyun, and rookie singer, Jino, participated in SM the Ballad, a new project group of S.M. Entertainment with the focus on releasing songs from the ballad or the R&B ballad genre. The group released their debut mini album, Miss You, on November 29, 2010.
In June 2011, Jonghyun joined KBS’s Immortal Songs 2, where singers rendered their own versions of old songs from music legends and winners are selected by voting. Jonghyun won the first round and defeated his senior and fellow labelmate Yesung but he left the show after the first episode due to his busy schedule. However viewers blamed the program’s elimination method saying that it’s too harsh, not only Jonghyun but also three other contestants confirmed their leave in the program, which eliminates two out of the original six contestants after only the first episode.
In October 2013, Jonghyun debuted as a composer of the track “A Gloomy Clock” which was featured in IU’s third Korean album, “Modern Times”. The song, which Jonghyun gifted to IU as a friend, was also co-written by Jonghyun and dubbed a duet. Two months later in December “Red Candle” was released by Son Dam Bi, which was also composed and written by Jonghyun.
After four years of hiatus, SM the Ballad returned on February 4, 2014, with a new line-up; Jonghyun being the only member from its original line-up. Jonghyun also participated in a duet with Girls’ Generation’s Taeyeon called “Breath,” which they promoted together. In July 2014, Jonghyun debuted as radio host for the MBC’s radio program “Blue Night”. He was chosen by the radio network because of his dedication to music-related activities and passion for music. He replaced singer Ahn Jung-yeop of Brown Eyed Soul, who had been the host for more than three years.
Jonghyun also contributed with the production for Taemin’s first mini album, Ace, composing and writing the track called “Pretty Boy”, released in August 2014.
2015–2016: Base and She Is
On January 12, 2015, Jonghyun made his solo debut with his first mini album, Base. Though the title track was originally the more upbeat “Crazy (Guilty Pleasure)”, which Jonghyun wrote the lyrics to, the pre-released track “Déjà-Boo” was named as a second title track after it charted incredibly well on the digital charts. Déjà-Boo was co-composed by Zion.T. Jonghyun’s debut album met critical acclaim and drew attention for his participation in the creation process of the album and the multiple collaborations with artists outside of S.M. Entertainment, including Younha, Wheesung and Zion.T. The album ended up peaking at first place in its physical release on both the Billboard’s World Album chart and the Gaon Album Chart. On January 10, Jonghyun was confirmed for Mnet’s entertainment program 4 Things Show. His appearance was not only marked as the first episode of the second season, but the first episode of the new year. Taemin, Davichi’s Minkyung and Zion.T appeared as Jonghyun’s friends during the episode.
In March 2015, Jonghyun composed and wrote the song “Playboy”, featured in Exo’s second Korean album, “Exodus”. A month later, in April 2015, Lim Kim released “No More” on her third mini album, “Simple Mind”, which was also composed and written by Jonghyun. He participated in the vocal direction for all of the aforementioned as well.
Later on during the year, Jonghyun participated in the debut of the Mnet program, “Monthly Live Connection”. The premise of the show revolves around bringing two artists together from different musical backgrounds to collaborate on a song. The recording was edited into four episodes which aired in October. Jonghyun’s collaboration partner for the show was soloist Jung Joon-young.
In August 2015, Jonghyun held his first solo concert “The Story by Jonghyun” as a part of S.M. Entertainment’s concert series “The Agit”. Jonghyun performed songs from his first mini-album, and also released a new compilation album for his songs recorded in his radio show “Blue Night”. The compilation album, Story Op.1, was released on September 17, 2015. Following the release of the album, Jonghyun performed a total of 12 sold-out shows, titled The Story by Jonghyun in October. Each concert featured a different guest, including Shinee’s Onew and Taemin, IU, Zion.T, Jung-in, Lim Kim, Oksang Dalbit, Coffee Boy, Nine, Lee Ji-hyoung, Soran and poet Ha Sang-wook.
Jonghyun also published a book in September, titled “Skeleton Flower: Things That Have Been Released and Set Free,” which talks about the singer’s songwriting experience and inspirations. In September 2015, Jonghyun featured a special corner on his radio show, which took place four times in total with nine songs being released that were all either completely written and composed by Jonghyun, or written by Jonghyun with the composition help of his composition group, WeFreaky. In October 2015, Jonghyun was selected as one of the top five K-pop idol vocalists by a survey completed by 40 anonymous music industry officials.
Jonghyun also composed and wrote the track “Already” for Taemin’s first full-length solo album, “Press It”, which was released in February 2016. He also composed and wrote a track called “Breathe” for Lee Hi’s album Seoulite, which was released on March 2016. The collaboration marked the first occasion that an artist from S.M. Entertainment had formally collaborated with an artist from YG Entertainment. Jonghyun released a collaboration single with Heritage titled “Your Voice” on March 18, 2016, as part of S.M. Entertainment’s SM Station project.
On May 24, 2016, S.M. Entertainment released Jonghyun’s first studio album “She Is,” consisting of nine tracks. The album mainly contains of songs written and composed by the artist himself. “She Is” was described by Jonghyun as the album that “one can feel his passion as a singer- songwriter the most” and covers various genres such as electro-punk, EDM and R&B.
On March 9, 2017, MBC confirmed that Jonghyun would leave his position as radio host at “Blue Night”. The decision came after a lengthy discussion between Jonghyun and the show’s staff, who stated, “It’s disappointing, but because Shinee’s Japanese and North American tour is about to start, he decided to leave.” He released his second compilation album, titled Story Op.2, on April 24, 2017. Jonghyun held a series of 20 concerts, titled “The Agit (The Letter)” between May and July 2017 at SMTOWN Coex Artium in Seoul. Originally only 12 concerts were planned, but Jonghyun decided to hold eight additional concerts after fans requested more performances. The concerts included songs from the album Story Op.2, and attracted 14,000 fans.
Jonghyun is the first artist of S.M. Entertainment to have participated heavily in writing, organizing, and composing an album. The company is known in the K-Pop industry for limiting its artists’ control over the production of their albums. Kim Da-hee of the Korea Times named Jonghyun as one of four K-pop musicians who have distinguished themselves from the mass-produced singers in the idol industry, the other three being G-Dragon, Zico and Jinyoung by their “exceptional talent in songwriting, producing and dancing, plus other abilities that make them successful musicians”. Jonghyun is considered to have had a style in his music that is all his own, and was praised for writing and composing the majority of his solo tracks. Insight Korea mentioned him as one of seven idol group members who seemed to have been “born to music”.
In April 2013, Jonghyun was involved in a car accident and injured his nose. His agency reported that he had undergone surgery. He sat out most of his group’s promotions for their third full-length album, though he participated in the final week.
In December 2013, Jonghyun expressed support for the LGBT community, for which some Ilbe Storehouse far-right conservative members allegedly registered in SHINee world (fan club) and posted defamatory comments about Jonghyun.
According to the police, Jonghyun was found unconscious at a rented apartment studio in Cheongdam-dong, Gangnam District in southeastern Seoul around 18:10 (KST) on December 18, 2017. Earlier, his older sister made the initial call to emergency responders at 16:42, reporting that she believed her brother was committing suicide. He reportedly sent a number of text messages to his sister with words such as “last goodbye”.
He was rushed to Konkuk University Hospital in a state of cardiac arrest where he received emergency CPR treatment. However, he failed to regain consciousness and was pronounced dead at the hospital.
Investigators believe he died from inhaling either toxic fumes or smoke, as they discovered coal briquettes burnt on a frying pan upon arriving at the apartment. The police stated that, at the request of Jonghyun’s family, a post-mortem would not be carried out.
Following Jonghyun’s death, fellow singer and friend Nine, of the band Dear Cloud, posted a note on Instagram that she said had been written to her by Jonghyun; the note referred to a “devouring” depression, seasonal affective disorder and struggles with fame, and said “I was broken from the inside”.