The tragedy of Jonghyun: What happened to SHINee’s lead vocalist?
Back in 2017, the lead vocalist of the “Princes of K-pop” band SHINee, Jonghyun, died by suicide. His death sparked an overdue debate about the crippling pressure faced by the artists in the K-pop industry.
In the eyes of his fans, Jonghyun had been someone who was the perfect epitome of an unblemished K-pop idol. He was one of the millions who lucked out in being discovered by one of the three shrines of K-pop music, SM Entertainment, and was a crucial part of K-pop’s sweeping global popularity.
But the intense demands & constant pressure brought on by being the “perfect” idol of Korean music took a toll on him. The tragedy of Jonghyun shook the K-pop community and highlighted the cracks in the highly polished, picture-perfect image of the K-pop industry.
December 18th, 2017 was a devastating day for the K-pop community. That day, Kim Jong-hyun, better known as Jonghyun of boy band SHINee, committed suicide at the age of twenty-seven, leaving his family, friends, and fans across the globe to mourn his shocking death.
The beloved K-pop star was found unconscious in a rented apartment in Cheongdam-dong, in the south of the capital Seoul. He was immediately rushed to Konkuk University Hospital in a state of cardiac arrest but sadly, he passed away shortly after.
The search for Jonghyun began when the police got a phone call at 4:42 p.m. from his sister over her fears that her brother was going to attempt suicide. She told the police that the recent messages from Jonghyun contained phrases such as “let me go” and “last goodbye” which led her to dread the worst.
The police conducted an area-wide search and found Jonghyun at 6:10 p.m. in an apartment he had checked into earlier that day. His room was filled with smoke from burning coal briquettes. Just a few minutes later, at 6:32 p.m. he was pronounced dead. It was believed that he died en route to the hospital.
The cause of his death was declared to be carbon monoxide poisoning, which could have been caused by breathing in the smoke from lit coal briquettes. The next day, the Gangnam Police Department stated that Jonghyun’s bereaved family members have decided not to carry out an autopsy and ruled his death a possible suicide.
Jonghyun rose to prominence as the lead singer of the five-membered K-group, SHINee. The group released their debut mini-album in 2008 and has since amassed a dedicated fanbase from all across the world.
His peers described him as a kind, talented, and hardworking soul who was respected as a senior in the industry. Jonghyun & his band, SHINee, helped lay the foundation of K-pop as the glittering worldwide success it is today. However, the circumstances of his death kindled a conversation about the dark underbelly of this booming industry.
Jonghyun’s struggle with mental health
Two weeks before his death, Jonghyun gave a farewell note to his friend, Nine. The note’s contents were released on Instagram after permission from the grief-stricken family. The letter spoke of his struggle with depression and feelings of being alone & helpless. In the note, Jonghyun wrote: “I am broken from inside. The depression that had been slowly eating me up finally devoured me and I couldn’t defeat it.”
The K-pop management companies are notorious for keeping their artists under strict control and compelling them to meet the company’s intense profit-driven demands. The artist’s personal & professional lives are closely tracked & molded by the management as they see fit.
According to British tabloid The Mirror, Jonhyung once spoke of the pressure to perform well in front of music industry bods, telling one interviewer that when he didn’t sing well at training camp, he would go upstairs to the deserted floors and cry out his frustration alone.
Jonghyun was very open about his mental health and regularly tried to help his fans on his radio show Blue Night where he often talked about feelings of sadness. He was also known for having a steadfast LGBTQ+ stance in the ultra-conservative climate of South Korea. In many ways, Jonghyun attempted to help the oppressed population of his fans, but unfortunately, the only person he couldn’t help was himself.