Kim Jong-hyun: Shinee star dies amid an unforgiving K-pop industry

The 27-year-old singer was one of the beautiful, well-drilled entertainers who make K-pop so thrilling and who are often treated miserably by their management companies

The death of Kim Jong-hyun of South Korean boyband Shinee marks, if not definitely the end, then a crushing blow to one of the countrys most enduring pop outfits. With their earnest, keeningly romantic songs, paired with immaculate choreography, Shinee marked the apotheosis of their countrys boyband craft.

While in the west there have only been a handful of successful boybands in recent years, in Korea and Japan where Shinee also had a huge following, leading to a string of Japanese-language albums the appetite for ultra-emotional ballads and energetic dance tracks, performed by impossibly beautiful and well-drilled young men, is apparently insatiable.

K-pop fandom is obsessive, and fans openly rank their favourite members; bands are sometimes created as the result of reality TV competitions, an example being new eight-piece IN2IT, freshly minted from a 27-strong boyband called Boys24 being whittled down. Shinee are part of a generation who have had this fandom weaponised by social media the most tweeted-about celebrities on Twitter worldwide in 2017 were not Taylor Swift, Kim Kardashian or Justin Bieber, but Korean boyband BTS.

To western eyes, some of Shinees aesthetics may seem corny. Anglophone boybands from the Simon Cowell stable, such as One Direction and now Rak-Su and Pretty Much, are less given to synchronised dance moves and more to impetuous boisterousness. Not so Shinee, whose smooth, nimble-shouldered take on hip-hop dance is reminiscent of 1990s US giants such as Backstreet Boys and NSync. Their songs, meanwhile, cleave to pretty safe boyband production staples: predominantly light, fluffy disco-funk tracks, with occasional forays into gnarly pop-rock and gauzy alt-R&B.

But even if their choreography and songcraft has precedent, their fashion sense is absolutely contemporary. Often shaped by designer Ha Sang Beg, sharp-edged dance tracks are met with even sharper tailoring, while more relaxed songs prompt gloriously clashing streetwear.

The band formed in 2008, manufactured by Korean music industry behemoth SM Entertainment, the company behind successes such as girl band Girls Generation, solo singers Kangta and BoA, and, of course, numerous other boybands: TVXQ!, Super Junior, HOT and more.

Even accounting for a recent break, as member Taemin released a solo record, Shinee are a rare case of a band reaching a decade in the business; K- and J-pop can have a ruthless, disposable feel. The managers of Japanese girl band AKB48 whose members number up to 130 and are voted in and out by the public were criticised in 2013 after one member, Minami Minegishi, filmed herself shaving her head in penitence for spending a night with her boyfriend, contravening a no-dating rule for the groups members.

BTS perform on Jimmy Kimmel Live! in the US. Photograph: Randy Holmes/Getty Images

Artists in both territories are often signed up to draconian contracts in their early teens, keeping them tied to specific management companies, such as SM Entertainment. They train in a competitive environment alongside other potential stars, with only the best idols making it into the manufactured bands. As well as the aforementioned dating rules, band members diets are closely monitored. In 2012, girl group Nine Muses revealed their paper cup diet, where their meals had to fit inside a tiny paper cup.

After TVXQ! took their management company to court for keeping them in a 13-year contract, a 2008 ruling brought in more standardised contracts and a seven-year limit to their length. But there are arguments that the rules dont go far enough and can be circumvented one agency spokesperson told the Korea Times that only 40% of management agencies use the standardised contracts, leaving musicians open to exploitation.

Even under standard contracts, if a band member wants to leave early, they have to pay the company a fee based on projected profits for the remainder of the contract. Two Chinese members of SM-managed K-pop boy band EXO left the group in 2014, citing wage disputes and brutal work schedules; EXOs band members have been made to perform during illness and dance while recovering from injury. The threat of conscription to the army is another stress even one of the countrys biggest stars, G-Dragon, has been called up and will begin in 2018, knocking a two-year hole in his music career.

The lockstep perfection of Shinees dance routines is undeniably thrilling but there is something troubling about them too, knowing that only the absolute best will be tolerated. Kim Jong-hyuns death is currently being treated as a suicide, after he sent his sister a note via text message. The reasons for his death are not yet clear, but given his history in a Hunger Games-like musical culture where only the strongest survive, one line from it is chilling: Tell me I did well.

  • In the UK, Samaritans can be contacted on 116 123. In the US, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-8255. In Australia, the crisis support service Lifeline is 13 11 14. Other international suicide helplines can be found at

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IN2IT (인투잇) - Amazing MV

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★Spotify :

1년 6개월이라는 인고의 시간. 260회의 상설 공연으로 태어난 실력과 노력의 그룹, IN2IT
5,500명이라는 지원자, 1년 6개월이라는 경쟁의 시간, 260회 상설 공연, 인터파크 티켓 콘서트 부문 1위. 전무후무한 기록을 세우며 ‘소년24’에서 탄생한 준비된 8인조 보이그룹, IN2IT이 드디어 오는 10월 26일 데뷔 앨범을 발표한다. ‘본능, 직감적으로 알다(intuit)’라는 뜻과 ‘그것에 빠져들다(into it)’의 중의적 의미를 가지고 있는 IN2IT은 인고의 세월을 이겨내고 실력과 노력으로 똘똘 뭉친 지안, 연태, 인호, 현욱, 아이젝, 인표, 진섭, 성현, 8인으로 구성되어 차세대 K-POP 스타에 도전할 준비를 마쳤다.

남자들의 로망인 슈퍼카의 엠블럼을 연상시키는 IN2IT 로고. ‘소년’이 아닌 ‘남자’의 “본능적 매력”
IN2IT의 로고는 멋지고, 일견 섹시하다. 남자들의 로망인 슈퍼카의 엠블럼으로 형상화한 IN2IT의 로고에서 뾰족한 부분은 대중들의 마음에 깊숙이 into 하겠다는 의미를 담고 있다. 또한 중간에 위치한 숫자 2는 백조를 연상시키며 인고의 시간을 이겨내고 어렸던 ‘소년’에서 어엿한 ‘남자’로 성장한 IN2IT의 비상(飛霜)을 기대하게 한다. 8인의 남자가 보여줄 “본능적 매력”에 빠질 준비를 하고 앨범을 펼칠 것.

카자흐스탄의 장엄한 대자연에서 그려지는 소년에서 남자로의 성장 스토리. Carpe Diem!
K-POP 아티스트 최초로 카자흐스탄에서 촬영된 뮤직비디오는 소소한 인생사는 하찮게 느껴질만큼 장엄한 대자연을 보여주며 자유에 대한 동경을 그린다. ‘현재를 즐겨라’는 라틴어인 ‘Carpe Diem’을 시작으로 ‘Paradise’와 ‘Amazing’, ‘Cadillac’으로 이어지는 트랙 리스트는 무한한 우주 속 인간의 시간은 유한하며, 그러니 그 시간을 아낌없이 사랑하고, 즐기고, 경험하라는 교훈을 남긴다. ‘소년’이 ‘남자’가 되는 성장 스토리가 앨범에 고스란히 녹아 들어 있다.

이단옆차기, 차차말론, 폴 레인, 그리고 동방신기의 안무가까지 동원된 드림팀의 향연.
K-POP의 대표적 히트메이커 이단옆차기, 차차말론, 그리고 크리스티나 아길레라, 제시카 심슨, 빅토리아 베컴 등 해외 유명 팝스타들의 히트곡을 제작한 폴 레인이 IN2IT의 데뷔 앨범을 위해 뭉쳤다. 준비된 신인들을 위해 아낌없이 제공된 최고의 곡을 위해 동방신기와 EXO, NCT의 안무가인 최효제 단장도 힘을 보태며 K-POP 역사에 또 하나의 레전드 안무를 만들어 냈다. 여기에 핑클, 이효리, 비스트, 트러블메이커 등 패셔니스타들의 의상을 작업해온 장효진 실장의 화려한 의상 퍼레이드도 절대 놓치지 말 것.

CJ E&M Music은 아시아 No.1 엔터테인먼트 기업인 CJ E&M의 음악사업 브랜드로 음원/음반의 투자/제작/유통부터 콘서트/페스티벌 개최까지 포함하고 있습니다. CJ E&M MUSIC과 함께 하는 K-POP 아티스트들의 신곡과 뮤직비디오, 미공개 독점 영상 등을 이곳 YOUTUBE 채널에서 가장 먼저 만나보세요.

CJ E&M Music is a music business brand of CJ E&M, Asia's No.1 entertainment company. CJ E&M Music covers investment, production and distribution of album and also provides the best music festival and concerts. Meet the K-POP artists' brand new music videos and exclusive video clips on the official YouTube of CJ E&M Music.