The Unexpected Death of Kim Jonghyun: The Hidden Reality Behind Kpop Industry

On December 18th, the world had lost one of the most talented artists to emerge from South Asia. Kim Jonghyun, lead singer of the popular Korean boy band Shinee died on Monday by committing suicide. The young performer’s sudden death has urged an out-pour of grief from fans worldwide, colleagues and close friends in the Kpop industry.

Moments before his death Jonghyun sent a text message to his sister reading, “Please let me go. Tell me I did well. This is my final farewell” before burning coal in a frying pan and inhaling poisonous carbon monoxide. A common way of attempting suicide in Korea. His sister alerted the police and by the time they rushed him to the hospital he had already left this world.

The 27 year old singer had been suffering from extreme depression and wasn’t able to shake it off. A day after his death another group member called Nine9, who was also a friend of Jonghyun, released a note that was written by him on her Instagram account. The male idol had requested her to share this note if he “disappeared from this world.” The note had implied his struggles with depression and fame, “I am broken from inside. The depression that gnawed on me slowly has finally engulfed me entirely.” He was struggling with his public image and fame and felt he couldn’t catch up to it. He was unable to receive proper help and had felt lonely. Being unable to fight his pain anymore, sadly, Jonghyun took the ultimate decision to end his life.

His funeral was held yesterday, with his band members given the honor of Chief Mourners- a position that is usually given to the brothers of the deceased. Hundreds of fans, and Jonghyun’s closest friends had come to bid him a tearful and emotional farewell. His burial was held in private only for close friends and families.

Kim Jonghyun debuted with Shinee in 2008, rising to fame with their song ‘Replay’.  He was an exceptional singer and dancer who quickly gained recognition from fans and critics worldwide. He later went on to release solo albums ‘Base’ and ‘She Is’. The album ended up peaking at first place in its physical release on both the Billboard‘s World Album chart and the Gaon Album Chart.

Jonghyun is the first artist of S.M. Entertainment to have participated heavily in writing, organizing, and composing an album. The K-Pop industry is known for limiting its artists’ control over the production of their albums. Kim Da-hee of the Korea Times named Jonghyun as one of four K-pop musicians who have distinguished themselves from the mass-produced singers in the idol industry, the other three being G-DragonZico and Jinyoung by their “exceptional talent in songwriting, producing and dancing, plus other abilities that make them successful musicians”. Jonghyun is considered to have had a style in his music that is all his own, and was praised for writing and composing the majority of his solo tracks. Insight Korea mentioned him as one of the few Kpop artists who seemed to have been “born to music”.

But Jonghyun’s depression came from the same place that led him to his fame. It left many into questioning the notoriously competitive and brutality of Kpop industry and weather it is worth the mental torture of the young people that gives all their love to music.

The Kpop industry is known for its harshness in shaping the Korean music idols into what they are. It begins when they are forced to sign a contract of ten years from their debut point not counting the several years of their training period to be “fit” for an artist. They refer to this as the “slave contract”. Not only do they give decades of their life completely to the Kpop companies, they also have to sign contracts that forbid them from having romantic relationships to maintain the wholesome image of an idol.  According to The Atlantic many Kpop stars are also forced to have plastic surgeries. This requires them to go aas far as breaking the jaw to get a ‘V-shaped’ face with perfect features that resemble anime characters. Nothing else is acceptable. As much as they seek out talent, the Kpop industry’s scary obsession with beauty is also top priority leaving no idol’s face untouched.

The music idols are also subjected to day and night of grueling work. According to SBS Pop Asia an average work day lasts up to twenty hours. A female Kpop Idol named Krystal from the girl band FX has fainted numerous times during her on-stage shows from over-exhaustion. What’s scary is that this is seen as a ‘norm’.


Kpop singers also don’t have a freedom in expressing their music. The boy-bands and girl-bands are stereotyped into “female and male type of music”. With female songs and dances being more ‘sexy’, ‘girly’, ‘soft’ and ‘simple’ while boys have more ‘hardcore’ ‘complicated dance moves’. The singers can’t also produce their own music as it is composed to them by artist who already exists in the field.

Artists like Jonghyun were one of the few who were able to create music and write songs with just his raw and exceptional talent. Even with that, amongst the cruel industry, the prize for his talent was his mental health.

That said Jonghyun was indeed a true artist with a very high potential. He left this world with the mark of his music that will never be forgotten. He will be a member of Shinee for eternity.


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