[Admin Note] Preparing a bio at this point in time seems impossible. It seems really daunting to type anything because how could you possibly summarize a person? In a paragraph? In 20 paragraphs? In a novel? It’s impossible. But I hope that this will give you an insight into the Jonghyun Shawols knew. As I wrote this I realized that to stop and explain any one section in detail would make this article too long. It’s meant as a primer and not a full biography. Hopefully this will bring to light enough stories and memories for you to research and find out more on your own. This is just the tip of the iceberg of all the interviews and personal details he shared with us over the years. If you find any errors to be fixed or additions to be made, please leave a comment or drop us a line via the contact form. We will always be editing and mending this to make Jonghyun’s life more accurately and closely known. Thanks & enjoy~! -SHINee USA
Name: Kim Jonghyun
Born: April 8, 1990
Blood Type: AB
Height: 171 cm
Favorite Colors: Red & Black
Born/Raised: Seoul, South Korea
Fan Given Names: Jamong (grapefruit), dinosaur, puppy, Taemin Fanclub President, Jjong-D (Blue Night DJ)
Jonghyun went to an all boys middle school and a Christian high school (Mount Zion) before attending Seoul Music Institute [2016 promo] as a trainee. He dropped out of high school in 10th grade to focus on SHINee and later earned his GED. Post-debut, Jonghyun attended Chungwoon University for his Bachelor’s degree in broadcast music and began attending Myeongji University in 2015 studying for a Master’s degree in film and music (unsure if completed). Two of the extracurricular activities he participated in during his youth were Kendo (earned a bronze medal) which you can see a little of on Knowing Brothers and Taekwondo.
Jonghyun was scouted while playing a show with his schoolmate band named ZION. He originally played the bass guitar (hence part of the reason for the naming of his “Base” album – meant to be the base from which he pursued his solo music). He then auditioned at SM’s 2005 casting and passed, beginning his training at age 15 (debuted at 18). Jonghyun said he sang R. Kelly’s “I Believe I Can Fly” for his audition in a 2011 Anan magazine interview. During this time he met the other SHINee members (9th grade). Jonghyun talked a little about his trainee days during “Breath” promotions with Taeyeon, saying he had no skills for dancing – that he only auditioned the dance portion by clapping – and said that he ranked 2nd at weekly vocal evaluations, always behind Taeyeon. At SHINee’s 9th Anniversary Party when talking about the members’ first impressions of each other, Onew said that he thought Jonghyun was a hyung at first because of how he showed Onew around the practice rooms (Key said Jonghyun was like this with all the new trainees ^^). Jonghyun found Key’s Daegu accent interesting when they first met – which was after Jonghyun had already met Taemin while sharing a meal together. In a later interview with Esquire, Jonghyun said he didn’t have much opinion of SM’s initial formation of SHINee. With an “Ah, so this is who I’ll be debuting with” kind of feeling, he had no objections. He debuted with SHINee on May 25, 2008.
Jonghyun’s official position at debut with SHINee was as their “Main Vocalist” (Onew’s title was “lead vocal”). Vocally, Jonghyun’s parts in SHINee songs were usually the highest and he made a lot of vocal riffs/runs/adlibs that the members later jokingly called Jonghyun’s “gyaong” on the Yang and Nam Show. SHINee didn’t have very many solos on their albums but Jonghyun featured solo on the first album’s “혜야/ Y Si Fuera Ella” and had a duet with Onew on the Romeo EP called “잠꼬대 (Please Don’t Go)”.
Under SHINee, Jonghyun was credited with releasing his first published song, their 2009 title song “Juliette” from SHINee’s 2nd EP “Romeo”. After that, the only album Jonghyun did not contribute lyrics to was their “2009 Year of Us” EP. All of SHINee’s other albums had at least one or more songs written or composed by him. Jonghyun’s first full self-composition credit (written & composed) was for IU’s “Gloomy Clock” from her album “Modern Times”. The only other SHINee title track to date that he has written the lyrics for was 2015’s “View” from SHINee’s 5th full studio album “Odd”. These lyrics were notably chosen out of 30 lyric submissions from other writers. Before going solo, Jonghyun had already written the lyrics of 12 songs for SHINee. A full list of Jonghyun’s compositions can be found here.
I don’t feel qualified to write about Jonghyun’s relationships with the individual members of SHINee since he was clearly and demonstratively close with each of them. But he himself described SHINee as family. In his 2017 Esquire interview he described SHINee’s relationship as a “community of common fate” – people with a shared common destiny (but implied that much like a real family, it wasn’t chosen by himself). In Happy Together he said that they were “business” friends – meaning that without SM and their individual pursuits of music, they would not have otherwise met and become friends. They spent over 10 years together including their trainee years. Much of their young adult life – work and home (in the dorms) was spent together. SHINee members genuinely support each other’s solo activities and are like brothers.
To summarize Jonghyun’s time in SHINee this shortly seems wrong, but it is being left this short because of how public this part of his life was. All of this content and his many impressions of the members and their time together can be seen across their hundreds of interviews and television appearances.
A lot of what we know about Jonghyun’s personal history and thoughts we have because of his time on Blue Night. Blue Night was a radio program that he hosted daily for 3 years on MBC FM4U. He started on February 3, 2014 and finished April 2, 2017 citing health reasons and promised to be back. Blue Night aired at midnight every night and even though it was unusually late, he took on the program because of his insomnia – something he had since pre-debut and caused him to only get 2 hours of sleep a lot of nights – feeling that since he was awake he would rather work. Even though it was tiring he described Blue Night as his mental refuge.
Blue Night truly was a personal space for him that allowed him to speak honestly about himself and reveal himself in a way that was more human to the public – including talking about his depression, his writing, his life experiences, etc. He was very open about himself through this program and it became a very popular show. At the same time, he built many lasting friendships with regular guests like Go Young Bae, Nine, Coffee Boy, Oksangdalbit, Shin Ki Joo etc. Blue Night was a space he used to interact with listeners and understand what it was like for people leading lives different from his own. These stories he used to fuel his first Story Opus Collection. Many of the Story Opus songs were revealed slowly on Blue Night in a corner called “The Man Who Composes” before they were collected and released to the public. The Collection albums and small theater concerts that went with their release (an intimate setting of ~700 attendees) he said were able to happen thanks to Blue Night.
While on the program he was able to interview many guests but not too many idols (by choice because he didn’t want the program to become an idol program). So the idols that came were very memorable like Taeyeon, Krystal, Red Velvet, Taemin, SHINee, etc. He also got to interview personal heroes of his like the African-American singer Maxwell & Japanese anime director Makoto Shinkai. Blue Night was a project that was very special to him and work he took great pride in. In his 2016 Harper’s Bazaar interview Jonghyun said there were two turning points in his life: when he dropped out of high school and when he became a Blue Night DJ. In addition to the personal growth he had on the show, his work on Blue Night earned him an Excellence Award from MBC Entertainment in 2015. You can find many Blue Night translations here.
“내일도 쉬러와요./ Tomorrow too, come here and rest.” – Jonghyun Blue Night closing catch phrase
One of the many questions people tend to ask about others is their religious beliefs. Jonghyun stated on numerous occasions that he was not religious (although his family was Christian). Based on his description on Blue Night, the closest designation would be that he was agnostic – he believed a higher being could exist or probably existed but he wasn’t confident about it. This was a topic Jonghyun was expanding his knowledge on so it’s difficult to say what his true beliefs were since those things change over time as well. However, it’s safe to say that he did not claim a particular religion. Idols don’t generally talk about social awareness issues but it was something Jonghyun didn’t shy away from. He was very active on social media (SNS Accounts: UFO, Twitter, Instagram, etc.) and regularly interacted with fans. Some of the social issues he spoke out about/in support of were the LGBT community, better treatment for comfort women, international conflicts (Israel/Gaza Strip, Unrest in Egypt), child abuse, misogyny/sexism (part I, II, III), & government education policies.
“Difference isn’t wrong.” – Jonghyun
For many years his Twitter and Instagram profile image was a famous photo of an anti-Vietnam War activist and he encouraged his followers (largely the younger generation) to get out and vote. He created a personal YouTube account for himself to participate in the 2014 ALS Ice Bucket Challenge and also uploaded the individual videos from Taemin & Minho. Proceeds from his 2016 album “She Is” were given to SM’s UNICEF collaboration “SMILE FOR U”, a charity project that aids music education for children throughout Asia. Even when he fell short, Jonghyun was a person who sought to understand people and asked questions when he didn’t have all the answers. He was a person who was very attentive of those who were looked down on by society. I hope that if these stories are unfamiliar to you, that you’ll take the time to read them because they were all moments that Jonghyun was passionate about. Although this was something not decided on by himself, it’s worth noting that proceeds from Jonghyun’s posthumous album “Poet | Artist” will be given to his mother to become a foundation for others in a difficult situation.
Motto: “Acknowledge rather than understand. When you can’t
understand something, just acknowledge it.” – Anan Mag, 2011
On stage, Jonghyun was a ball of sunshine for many fans. His loud, witty personality everyone was drawn to. Jonghyun actually said he was camera shy and while his personality was powerful on camera, it made him extremely uncomfortable. Thus he didn’t take on too many projects that required filming (ex: acting, variety shows, etc.). With his debut in SHINee, he was given the “bad boy” image but as time went on, he felt this image was impossible for him to carry. Jonghyun was very sensitive/caring and this was something that grew to be more obvious to fans as time went on. Every major SHINee event he cried at – debut, the end of concerts, touching moments, etc. (Tokyo Dome, debut, Juliette 1st Win). He was also ambidextrous. Because he was originally left-handed, he was pressured to write with is right hand. It was an “imperfection” that he grew to cherish about himself – one of many traits deemed “feminine” by traditional Korean society that he rejected being considered a “flaw”. When he was told to be more manly and not cry he asked why – “Are men also not human?” Whether happy or sad, Jonghyun was the type to let his emotions show. This was the kind of person he was.
“Why can’t men cry? Are men not people too?” – Jonghyun
Jonghyun said he was around age 18-19 when he began writing song lyrics. However, he was interested in the Korean language since as early as his 1st-2nd year of middle school, wanting to be a Korean language teacher or writer (his childhood dream profession before then was to be a police officer ^^). The instruments he played were bass, guitar, and piano. Jonghyun was very soulful in his compositions writing about love (“View”, “Prism”, “Orbit”, “Chocolate”, “Love Is So Nice”), acceptance (“Juliette”), gratitude (“Honesty”), humor (“Where Are You”), loss (“Obsession”, “Already”, “Skeleton Flower”), pain (“Alarm Clock”, “Let Me Out”), depression (“Lonely”, “Gloomy Clock”, “Elevator”), perseverance (“Shout Out”), and comfort (“End of a Day”, “Breath”, “U & I”, “Our Season”). To understand Jonghyun, you really don’t have to go much further than his own lyrics which are often very personal and expressive. A lot of his songs have overlapping themes and are rarely about one emotion. Many of his songs have their own back stories like “Love Belt” which he wrote after his car accident in 2013 and “Selene 6.23” which he wrote about the moon on the date June 23rd (he later dedicated it to international fans who he couldn’t “reach”/see often [SHINee World III tour] – was added specifically to the North American SHINee World V tour setlist for this reason). You can read more of these stories and inspirations here. It’s too much to talk about every song, but please do take the time to read his lyrics when you listen to his songs if you haven’t before.
Jonghyun was very ambitious with his work. He mentioned on Blue Night that he had a goal to have 100 published songs by the time he was 30. Before his passing he had 63-65 songs published (unsure of the status of the 2 Live Connection songs). Including his post-humus album “Poet | Artist” he has 78 songs published. He held himself to an extremely high standard even at debut, comparing his artistry to his favorite long established idols. His high standards and love for music became the driving force behind his growth as an artist.
In addition to his songwriting, he also was a published novelist. He wrote “Skeleton Flower: Things That Have Been Set Free” in 2015, a fictional romance novel that is inspired by some of the songs he’s written over the years prior. You can find a video clip of him reading an excerpt of his book here and you can also find links to some translations of the novel here. In 2017, he said in his Esquire interview that he was in the process of writing a thriller novel, a genre that was closer to his interests. It is currently unknown whether or not the book was completed.
Esquire 2017, “I think the reason humanity goes on living is, in the end, in order to leave an imprint of who we are in the world. You need to tell who you truly are.” – Jonghyun
Vocally and lyrically Jonghyun was heavily influenced by old school Motown (especially Michael Jackson’s vocals – using a few of MJ’s vocal nuances/techniques adapted for his own voice), classic R&B (Luther Vandross & a sprinkle of Marvin Gaye – including lyrically), and a lot of Neo Soul (Maxwell and D’Angelo).
Musically, Jonghyun was very influenced by Jazz, Blues, Soul, R&B, and Funk – African-American music genres. He had an amazing understanding of all these genres for someone who did not come from its country of origin. His vocal technique and ability to take vocal risks was a great example of blues style of singing which projects emotion and pain vocally – often straining the voice in order to do so. His vocal range and dynamics are incredible. He was a vocal genius!
- Music Inspirations
Jungyup (Brown Eyed Soul), Naul (Brown Eyed Soul), Wheesung, Michael Jackson, Maxwell, Prince, Jamiroquai, Chris Brown, Musiq Soulchild, D’Angelo – Life Song: “Ribbon in the Sky” by Stevie Wonder
- Writing Inspirations
Favorite books: The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka, Short Stories by Edgar Allan Poe, L’ultime Secret by Bernard Weber and Demian by Hermann Hesse [list from Littor Magazine]
When planning BASE, Jonghyun said he wanted the album to focus more on his personal interest vs. public friendly images and SM agreed to let him do what he wanted. All of the songs on this album he wrote himself (same with his later albums). BASE he described as a foundation for his future works. When the EP was released, the pre-release track “Deja-Boo” feat. Zion T became extremely popular causing it to become a dual title track with the main title “Crazy”. “Deja-Boo” won him 8 music show awards that year and the album won a bonsang on the Golden Disk Awards. During promotions, for this album Jonghyun opened up a lot about himself on programs like 4 Things Show, hoping to demonstrate to the public a more honest image of himself than what people viewed him as prior. Overall, the album promoted himself emphatically as a versatile singer-songwriter with songs like the choir-like “Hallelujah”, rock-pop “Crazy”, funky “Deja-Boo” and jazzy ballad “Beautiful Tonight” (originally released on Blue Night).
Story Op. 1 & Agit: The Story (2015)
The album Story Op. 1 was released thanks to his late night radio show, Blue Night. It was a collection of songs originally written based on stories listeners sent in. These songs aired first on Blue Night (long before being compiled into an album) and in general have more of a laid back, jazzy tone to them – perfect for late night listening. They were later rearranged and re-recorded for the Story Op. 1 Collection album with different instrumentation for some songs and the addition of a new title song, “End of a Day”. Along with this album, Jonghyun busked in the streets at random locations (Shawols ran all over town to attend, crowding the streets around these mini concerts) and held his first solo concert, Agit: The Story, at the then new SM Coex Artium. He said that it was thanks to Blue Night that he was able to have that first concert series. This became the first Agit series for any artist at SM – a small intimate concert series with about 700 in attendance per concert date (17 in total). Jonghyun used this concert to communicate with Shawols more closely like he did with Blue Night. Each night of the concert, Jonghyun invited a different guest performer. Among the concert goods, Jonghyun’s novel “Diphylleia Grayi” was first released there at the venue. Other goods used during this concert were castanets and – what would become a signature of his concerts – kazoos. Unfortunately, Story Op. 1 was released quietly and did not get the promotion cycle treatment most full releases receive (music shows, variety appearances, etc.).
She Is & X-Inspiration (2016)
“She Is” is considered Jonghyun’s first full length album (the Story Op. series is considered a collection/compilation album). The album as a whole had a very unique vibe alternating between electronic (“She Is”), pop (“White T-Shirt”), and R&B (“Moon”). It is much more experimental in sound than his previous works and probably the most musically unique. Unlike SHINee’s usual image, Jonghyun went for an overall sexual concept for the “She Is” album, but he wanted to do so in a way that inspired imagination instead of being overtly provocative lyrically (which was more than made up for in live performances!). Jonghyun said the album is a story of having a romantic relationship or falling in love and thus there are no break-up songs or ballads on the album. Later in the year, Jonghyun performed his first large venue concert, X-Inspiration, with the name meaning “I hope this concert will become an inspiration to you all”. Along with this concert, he released a new SM Station single of a similar title, “Inspiration” which was performed at the concert. X-Inspiration, the concert, was held in both Seoul & Busan for a total of 5 concerts. A lot of Jonghyun’s ideas were incorporated in the concert, including the handbell he designed and the hilarious new VCR song (thus far only shown at the concert) “Young & Rich”. Compared to the Agit series which focused on vocals and audience communication, this concert focused on vocals too but through awe-inspiring intense performances.
Story Op. 2 & Agit: The Letter (2017)
The Story Op. 2 album came out not long after his final broadcast of Blue Night and had an extremely short promotion cycle (wasn’t performed on music shows, except Sketchbook). Like his last Story Op., some of these songs were originally released on his radio show Blue Night prior to their release in the Collection album in a corner called “The Man Who Composes”. Story Op. 2 Jonghyun described as being an autobiographical album. When comparing the Collection albums to his other works, he said they show the more ordinary human side of himself vs. SHINee for example which shows himself in a way that’s idealized. This album has probably the a widest range of emotion for all his albums: deeply self-reflective (“Elevator”), loneliness (“Lonely”), being in love (“Love Is So Nice”), gratitude (“Warm Winter”), and humor (“Where Are You”). A month after Story Op. 2’s release, Jonghyun held his “Agit: The Letter” concert series once again at SM Coex Artium like his previous Agit. A total of 20 concerts were held for this series. The concert this time featured letters in glass bottles as the theme. Fans wrote stories, submitting them before the concert. Jonghyun then would read out some of these stories to the audience and chat with the writer. Like his previous concerts, he used musical instruments for fans to play while he sang – a half moon sleighbell & kazoo. However, unlike his previous concert, he didn’t invite any guest performers and instead duet songs were filled in by Shawol’s voices.
Inspired & Poet | Artist
Jonghyun’s final concert series was called “INSPIRED” held Dec. 9-10, 2017 at his largest solo venue yet, the Olympic Handball Gymnasium in Seoul. The concert was meant to a be a lead up to his next album “Poet | Artist” assumed to be released in early January. The concert featured new music from this upcoming album with a total of 6 new songs either featured by VCR or performed live. ((To be updated later))
Family & Upbringing
Jonghyun fiercely loved his family. He lived with his mother & sister who he was very close with for much of his life (excluding the time he spent dorming with SHINee members, around 2008-2013). He was the type of person who took care of them before himself, like the male head of house. He bought his family a new house (2010) and then moved to an even nicer house later (Jonghyun said they moved about 7 times throughout his life). Jonghyun’s #1 goal in life was to make sure his mother and sister were happy.
Jonghyun’s mother raised him and his older sister, Sodam, by herself. In the years before Jonghyun debuted in SHINee, his family lived in a very old house (he visited on Live Connection in 2016) with his grandfather and had very little money. On Live Connection he said it was a place he never wanted to come back to because it was such a difficult period of his life (even going so far as to throw away childhood photos). His mother used to own a record shop, sold street food, and later became an elementary school teacher and went to school for child psychology. Jonghyun said his mother was his greatest influence. Jonghyun’s mother and older sister Sodam attended all of his concerts and like family would, they supported other SHINee members’ solo activities as well.
Jonghyun was also really close with his sister Sodam (used her photo as his phone lock screen). Sodam and his mother were featured on a VCR during his final Inspired concert series (his mom was also briefly in the Young & Rich VCR for X-Inspiration). Sodam at one point worked as production staff and Jonghyun talked about their close relationship a bit on broadcast. He talked about Sodam and his mother continuously on Blue Night too – as well as his puppy Roo. Sodam gave Jonghyun Roo as a gift in 2010. Her full name is Byulroo, a name chosen after she pooped on Minho’s white shirt (Minho called then unnamed Roo “byulroo” meaning “not that great”). Roo was also the inspiration for Jonghyun’s Story Op. 1 title song “End of a Day” because when he got home late and tired from schedules, she was always the one who greeted him at the door.
Jonghyun’s Room/Agit/Creative Space
Jonghyun talked about his room (the one he had while living with his mother & sister) a lot on Blue Night. It was what he considered his “agit” – a personal hideout. He had a fireplace installed and he loved scented candles – especially musk scents. He was very sensitive to scents and often remembered people by the way they smelled. His favorite was called Voyage d’hermes. In his room, he said he kept the light very dark, windows blocked, and had a projector for his wall to watch films or display inspirational phrases. He was a huge fan of anime and manga – Cowboy Bebop, Kimi no na Wa/ Your Name., Neon Genesis Evangelion, Attack on Titan, The Girl Who Leapt Through Time, Naruto, One Piece, Gundam, etc. He used anime to learn Japanese and early on was one of the few members of SHINee who was conversational in Japanese. “Kimi no na Wa/Your Name”  he called his “life movie” (previous life movie was “American Psycho”). While it was in theaters, he watched it 3 times and said he cried a lot. He interviewed the director Makoto Shinkai on Blue Night and it was one of the more meaningful broadcasts for him.
IU, CNBlue’s Lee Jonghyun, EXO’s Suho, Davichi’s Minkyung, f(x)’s Krystal, SNSD’s Yoona, Zion. T, EXO’s Baekhyun, D.O., Crush, Dear Cloud’s Nine, Soran’s Go Young Bae
Jonghyun was the type of person who was very sensitive to fans and extremely open/frank about himself. He cried at every major concert, grateful to fans who helped him get to larger, grander stages as a performer. He often was in awe of SHINee World and the fandom lightsticks, asking for lights to be dimmed to see the aqua ocean. [Admin Note: At the fanmeet in Chicago, I remember seeing him take a copy of the fan banner from a fan which was a quote from his song Selene 6.23]
“As always, I need you.” – Jonghyun
“The relationship between artist and fans is not simply only something just beautiful. We expect, disappoint, impress, get angry with each other… It’s a relationship of a person to person that goes through these emotions several times.” – “I hear from a lot of people asking “Can idols say such things like that?”. especially during interviews like this (laugh). But I think it’s the right thing to do – to speak honestly to fans and people who know me well. Of course, there will be people who might be upset. But on the opposite, I think it could also hurt people when I hide myself or show something fake. I would rather show my real side, I am not a person who can hurt people by lying. So I always tell my fans that “I’m just a person who shows up on TV. We will continuously be good friends.” Fans will know very well about what I mean.” – Jonghyun, Harper’s Bazaar 2016
Other Moments of Note
While I do not find these incidents to be worthy of whole sections describing them, they were important (and public) moments in his life that I believe Jonghyun thought about a great deal even years after the fact. They’re also incidents that have held a lot of attention over the years.
- 2010 Relationship with actress Shin Se Kyung: The two dated for 8 months with the couple receiving a great deal of netizen hate during that time. An interesting report on the reveal of their dating in context of Korean pop culture of the time – Kpoparazzi Podcast
- 2013 Car Accident: Jonghyun injured his nose (assumed broke) in a car accident while driving between his home and the dorms early in the morning before SHINee’s “Why So Serious?” comeback. He had to sit out most of the “Why So Serious?” promos while it healed.