Lee Jin-ki, also known by his stage name Onew, is a South Korean singer and actor, better known as the lead vocalist of one of the most successful South Korean music bands of all time, ‘Shinee.’ As a kid, he was not very confident of his singing skills, and even after being appreciated by his parents, he was not too excited about a career in the entertainment industry. However, his transition happened around his high-school days. He started his career with the ‘SM Academy Casting’ and made his music debut with his group ‘Shinee,’ with the release of their EP ‘Replay.’ ‘Shinee’ gradually became the one of the most popular Korean music bands of all time. All the members of the band, including Onew, soon embarked into the world of acting. He forayed into acting with a cameo in the 2010 TV drama ‘Dr. Champ’ and made his film debut with the 2012 documentary ‘I Am.’ He also kept his music dreams alive as he worked in various films and TV series. Finally, the 2016 drama ‘Descendants of the Sun’ established Onew as a highly competent actor.
Childhood & Early Life
Onew was born on December 14, 1989, into a business family in Gyeonggi-do. In South Korea, families do not usually support their kids when they try to risk their careers. However, Onew’s parents were quite the opposite. There was a point in his life when he was not really confident of his singing talent but his parents were. They told him he had a good voice and he must think about being a singer. However, Onew was not very interested in singing and realized his potential only after being appreciated by his friends and music teachers.
Onew grew up as a single kid in the family and was adored by his parents. His first encounter with music happened on one of his holiday trips with his parents. Onew’s parents would often play trot songs in the car, and little Onew loved them quite a lot. This was the initial phase of the musician inside him. Once his parents heard him sing those songs, they realized their son had a hidden talent.
Onew was a lonely kid, no matter how much his parents tried not to let him feel that way. He often dreamt of becoming a scientist or an astronaut in elementary school. However, he soon realized that he would have to study a lot for that. Since he was not the studious type, he decided to put an end to those dreams. However, as soon as he finished high school, he started looking for a decent career path.
Soon, he began singing for local bands and was located by the ‘SM Academy Casting’ in 2006. Onew gave an audition and was immediately selected by the company as a musician, and under the mentorship of Lee Soo-man, Onew further honed his talent. By 2008, he was already a trained singer. He was then introduced to the band ‘Shinee,’ which operated under ‘SM,’ and his journey began.
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’Shinee,’ the band, was introduced to the world in May 2008, on the ‘SBS’ music program ‘Ingikayo.’ The five-member group performed for the first time with their single ‘Replay,’ which also happened to be the name of the EP that featured their single. The EP was released at the same time and was an instant hit, earning the band their first music award: the ‘Rookie of the Month’ honor at the ‘Cyworld Digital Music Awards.’ They subsequently won the ‘Hot New Star Award’ at the ‘Mnet 20’s Choice Awards’ in 2008.
Their subsequent EPs too were successful and brought them national fame. The single ‘Ring Ding Dong’ from their third EP was released digitally in late 2009 and registered thousands of downloads on the first day itself. The song also reached the top of several South Korean music charts and won the band a ‘Golden Disk Award’ in 2009.
Apart from singing, Onew tried his hands at songwriting too and wrote the lyrics for the song ‘Your Name’ from the band’s album ‘Lucifer.’ The album went on to become a major hit, and it seemed like ‘Shinee’ had become unstoppable. The band continued to win accolades from critics and listeners, and radios played their songs constantly, making them some sort of a national rage.
After achieving tremendous success in his music career, Onew explored other territories of the entertainment industry. He was eventually made the MC of the 2010 variety show ‘Night Star’ and then appeared in ‘Show! Music Core.’ The same year, he made his TV debut with small roles in the series ‘Dr. Champ’ and ‘Athena: Goddess of War.’ He also recorded a song for the drama ‘To the Beautiful You,’ titled ‘In Your Eyes,’ and in early 2014, he sang the song ‘Moonlight’ for the drama ‘Miss Korea.’
He then appeared in the reality show ‘Laws of the Jungle’ in 2014 and was also part of the Brazilian version of the show. However, he opted out midway, citing work priorities.
Apart from his commitments with his music group, which remained his priority, he also explored the radio with ‘Kiss the Radio.’ In 2015, after facing strong competition from many actors, he was chosen as the lead cast member of the web drama ‘Dating was the Easiest,’ which was adapted from a very popular webtoon of the same name.
The band ‘Shinee’ continued to win hearts, not only in South Korea but also in Japan. The group regularly embarked on tours, known as ‘Shinee World.’ Their popularity peaked around the ‘KCON tour’ in 2016, which was held in the US and France.
The band was also invited by ‘MBC’ to perform at the ‘Chinese Lunar New Year’ program in 2015, where they were the only Korean artists to perform. Their Japanese album, ‘DxDxD,’ was released in 2015 and became one of the highest-selling Japanese albums by a South Korean band. It eventually climbed the top of the ‘Oricon’ music chart and stayed there for two consecutive weeks.
In 2016, Onew was seen in the South Korean drama ‘Descendants of the Sun,’ in which he was a main cast member. The series not only won major awards in South Korea but became super successful in China too. At the ‘Scene Stealer Festival’ that year, Onew was awarded the ‘Newcomer Scene Stealer of the Year’ award.
In June 2014, Onew developed vocal cord issues and underwent a surgery, which had him staying away from singing for a few months following the surgery. After his recovery, he made a full-fledged comeback, sounding fresher than ever.
Onew and his band have regularly organized concerts for charity. He donated 1.2 million won for the ‘Korean Heart Association’ and once collected tons of rice from his fans to help feed the hungry and poverty-stricken children of North Korea.
Onew has dated singer Jung-ah for some time. Luna, the popular singer, is also rumored to be one of his many ex-lovers from the industry. Onew states that he is presently single.