Korean boyband SHINee keeps changing for fans
Boy band tireless in making cutting-edge music, dance their own
SEOUL, South Korea - When the five members of SHINee (pronounced SHY-nee) sat down for an interview with The Korea Times, Onew, Jonghyun, Key, Minho and Taemin sacrificed a much-need break before a live performance. But they wore their professional faces, eager to take their best shot at explaining the reason behind their success.
“We show something new with every release,” said Onew. “Initially, we can feel a bit awkward (in the new shoes), but then we fill them.”
“We don’t follow trends,” Jonghyun added. “That’s probably why.”
But that fails to rationalize how the four-year-old group upstaged agency mates such as Girls’ Generation and Super Junior with more experience under their belts, at SM Entertainment’s collective showcase in New York last October. Jon Caramanica of the New York Times summarized them as “the most ambitious” of the evening.
Their appeal could be deconstructed into several elements.
One is their colorful avant-garde style, put together by fashion designer Ha Sang-beg. Since day one, when they debuted with “Replay” in 2008, vivid Candy Land hues — especially on their trousers — garnered as much attention as their music. Even these days, as seen on the cover of the latest single “Sherlock,” released late March, SHINee are bursting with color.
“Much has evolved over the years,” said Ha in a phone interview, “since I change their styles to reflect their music.”
But he admits a sense of continuity: “The feel from their debut single still exists, mixing the overground (sic) with the underground, haute couture with street fashion ... but it is very modern, like SHINee.”
Their boyish charm has also been an enormous factor in winning a considerable female following, young and adult. In particular the latter’s loyalty is a phenomenon most associated with the group, with newcomers trying to emulate the “adorable young man” formula with a mixed rate of success. At showcases, women in their late 20s and older scream their names in ecstasy.
Then, there are the musical creations by the world’s most sought-after producers, like Thomas Troelsen, Thomas Eriksen and Mikkel Remme Sigvardt to name a few. The predominantly Nordic teams feed the group with tracks that sound both impossibly polished and cutting-edge. Amplified through the members’ enviable voices, especially Jonghyun’s that packs the most punch of all boy bands in Korea, their music seems invincible.
But the members’ answer is quite simple: thirst for success.
“We work hard because we are driven by our fans’ expectations,” said Minho.
If their most important aim is to please, they can pat themselves on the back several times. In about four years, SHINee has established itself as one of the most popular groups in the Korean market. They have also been at the forefront of “hallyu,” or the Korean wave, recording various firsts.
Last year they became the first Asian group to perform at the iconic Abbey Road Studios in London, best known for its ties to the Beatles. Their 20-date Japanese tour, which started last week, is completely sold out.
The need to delight the audience is even stronger abroad, the band says.
“We can’t deny that we feel a sense of responsibility. We’re singing abroad in Korean,” said Jonghyun. “We’ve got to work hard as representatives.”
The SM Entertainment artists are well-known for their composure, and the five members cut a similarly innocuous figure. Only when they started speaking about their individual aspirations did they peel off the “perfect” skin a little — in one case literally.
“I really want to study more. So I bought a textbook recently,” said Onew. Only after insisting did he reveal the subject, which was nowhere near expected: human anatomy.
Taemin, who has consistently been called the prettiest of the five, revealed that he was drawn to and would like to try hard to create the sounds of superstar DJ Skrillex and heavy metal band Korn.
Key, mum for most of the hour, said he wanted to study abroad, mingling with ordinary people.
“I actually joined the company while I was preparing to leave Korea,” he said. “It doesn’t have to be any subject in particular. I want to experience the school life.”
Minho and Taemin also agreed.
“I want a routine lifestyle, one that has a schedule; ours is irregularly regular,” said Minho, alluding to the fact that the recording and performing cycle repeats itself but that the daily life remains unpredictable to them.
Taemin wanted to go on a class trip, which he most probably gave up after becoming a trainee at a very early age.
Jonghyun was actually the first one to jump in and respond, which was simple and determined: “I’d like to live alone. I’ve never done that before.”
With a tour around the corner, it seemed that these wishes would have to be put on hold for a little longer, yet it was apparent from their voices, quiet but markedly unwavering, that they yearned to grow up and experience the world — and become great artists.
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