Kim Jong-hyun was a popular South Korean singer who earned international fame as a member of the boy band ‘Shinee.’ He worked as a songwriter, a singer, a producer, a radio-show host, and an author, during the course of his short but significant life. He sent shockwaves across the globe when he committed suicide in 2017, at the tender age of 27. Starting his musical career with ‘S.M. Entertainment’ as a teenager, he rose to fame when he debuted as part of ‘Shinee’ in 2008, which was a life-changing breakthrough for the talented young singer. In 2015, he debuted with his solo venture, in the form of the extended play ‘Base.’ Following the international success of his album, he released his debut studio album, ‘She Is,’ the next year, and followed it up with ‘Story Op. 2,’ his second compilation album. He was found dead in an apartment that he had rented to kill himself in December 2017. It was reported that he suffered from severe depression. Post his death, his album ‘Poet | Artist’ was released, exhibiting his unquenched thirst of being known as a ‘poet,’ than as a mere K-pop star.
Childhood & Early Life
Kim Jong-hyun was born in Seoul, the capital of South Korea, on April 8, 1990, to an average Korean family. He had chosen to remain tight-lipped about his childhood but had hinted toward a sour relationship with his father throughout his childhood and teenage years. Sources claimed that his father did not think music was an apt career choice for Kim and was “very strict.”
His father was away during the most formative years of Kim’s life, and Kim was raised by his older sister, his mother, and his grandmother. Kim wished to follow music ever since he was a kid, and his passion for music made him drop out of high school in tenth grade to pursue a career in music. However, when Kim was pushed toward music by his mother and sister, he went on to attain a degree in film studies. He attended the ‘Chungwoon University’ and was then transferred to the ‘Myongji University.’
His incessant craving for making music had him starting his own band, ‘Zion,’ in his early teenage years. His band performed throughout the country and slowly gained national attention. ‘S.M. Entertainment,’ one of the biggest and most reliable South Korean talent agencies, located Kim and offered him a contract. At the age of 15, Kim took his first steps toward making his musical dream a reality.
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The four-member boy band ‘Shinee’ was looking for another addition. In May 2005, they announced that Kim had been selected as one of the band members. He made his debut on the TV show ‘Inkigayo,’ and in 2006, he started working as the band’s songwriter and as one of its performers.
Kim’s association with the band was further strengthened by the love ballads that he wrote for them. In their EP ‘Romeo,’ Kim wrote love songs that became a national rage and catapulted him to nationwide stardom. Kim had claimed in several of his interviews that he was heavily inspired by William Shakespeare’s play ‘Romeo and Juliet’ and that he tried to portray the longing and pain associated with love through his songs.
He further shone as a vocalist during his 2010 ‘G-20 Seoul Summit’ performance of the song ‘Let’s Go,’ for which he had collaborated with several other popular South Korean singers. In 2011, ‘KBS’ broadcast the program ‘Immortal Songs 2,’ which featured cover versions of some of the best retro South Korean songs, performed by new-age musicians. Kim was a major part of it. He, however, left the show right after the first episode and was criticized for doing so.
Kim further collaborated with other musicians as a composer and songwriter. He composed the song ‘A Gloomy Clock’ for South Korean singer IU and wrote and composed a song titled ‘Red Candle’ that was sung by Son Dam-bi. He indulged in various stints, including hosting a radio show and helping his fellow ‘Shinee’ member Taemin complete his first mini album ‘Ace.’
In January 2015, Kim officially launched his debut solo effort, ‘Base,’ which was an EP. The album featured several different composers, with Kim at the helm of it, and achieved huge success upon its release. It topped the ‘Billboard World Album Chart’ and the ‘Gaon Album Chart.’ In the same month, it was confirmed that Kim was about to appear on the entertainment show ‘4 Things Show.’
Despite featuring in TV shows for a while, Kim’s focus in music did not waver, and he continued to collaborate and work on his own albums. In August 2015, Kim embarked on a solo tour called ‘The Story by Jonghyun.’ It was one among the series of concerts organized by ‘S.M. Entertainment.’ He sang songs from his debut EP and gave his fans a glimpse of the new album that he was working on, by singing some of its songs.
In 2017, Kim turned an author and released a book titled ‘Skeleton Flower: Things That Have Been Released and Set Free.’ The novel was semi-autobiographical and talked about Kim’s inspiration for making music and writing songs. In October 2017, he was selected as one of the top 5 K-pop vocalists by a survey.
In May 2016, Kim’s first official solo album, ‘She Is,’ released and achieved instant success. The album had nine songs in total, composed mostly by Kim. The multi-genre songs became immensely popular with listeners. In April 2017, Kim released his second compilation album, ‘Story Op.2,’ and embarked on a series of 20 concerts across the country.
In December 2017, Kim started working on his next album, which was slated for a January 2018 release, and he also started touring around at the same time. The album was released after his death and reached the ‘Billboard 200’ charts, making Kim the first K-pop artist to feature on the chart.
Depression & Death
Throughout his mega successful career as a K-pop artist, Kim Jong-hyun suffered from various mental health issues. The issues stemmed from his troubled childhood and continued even after he grew up. He never openly discussed his declining mental state, but several of his interviews hinted at it.
He rented an apartment in the Gangnam district on December 18, 2017, and on the same day, he committed suicide. His older sister initially called the authorities, following a number of depressing and suicidal text messages from Kim. He killed himself by inhaling toxic fumes in his apartment and was found dead at 6 o’clock in the evening.
His suicide note mentioned words such as “loneliness” and “depression.” His death initiated a major debate about mental health issues prevalent among the youth. The note mentioned Kim’s loneliness stemming from being a famous person and his depression that had become unbearable.
Kim Jong-hyun was an ardent supporter of LGBT rights all his life.
He was involved in a car accident in 2013, where he broke his nose. This made him stay away from most of ‘Shinee’s promotional events for their third full-length album.
Although he was a secretive person and did not reveal much about his personal life, there were a few unconfirmed rumors of his affairs with women.