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

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The 27 -year-old singer was one of the beautiful, well-drilled entertainers who construct 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 country’s most enduring pop outfits. With their earnest, keeningly romantic songs, paired with immaculate choreography, Shinee marked the apotheosis of their country’s 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 Boys2 4 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 Shinee’s 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 1990 s US giants such as Backstreet Boys and N’Sync. Their sungs, meanwhile, cleave to pretty safe boyband production staples: predominantly sunlight, 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 way sense is absolutely contemporary. Often shaped by designer Ha Sang Beg, sharp-edged dance tracks are met with even sharper tailor, while more relaxed sungs prompt gloriously clashing streetwear.

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

Even accounting for a recent violate, as member Taemin released a solo record, Shinee are a rare lawsuit of a band reaching a decade in the business; K- and J-pop can have a ruthless, disposable feel. The directors of Japanese girls band AKB4 8- 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 penance for spending a night with her boyfriend, breaking a no-dating regulation for the group’s members.

BTS
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” constructing it into the manufactured bands. As well as the aforementioned dating regulations, band members’ diets are closely monitored. In 2012, girl group Nine Muses revealed their” paper cup diet”, where their snacks 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 duration. But there are arguments that the rules don’t go far enough and can be circumvented- one agency spokesperson told the Korea Time 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 earnings 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; EXO’s 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 country’s 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 Shinee’s dance routines is undeniably thrilling- but there is something troubling about them too, knowing that merely the absolute best will be tolerated. Kim Jong-hyun’s 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 devoted 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 www.befrienders.org .

Read more: https :// www.theguardian.com/ music/ 2017/ dec/ 18/ kim-jong-hyun-shinee-star-dies-amid-an-unforgiving-k-pop-industry

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SHARING IS CARING!
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