This is not easy.
This is one of the hardest things I’ve ever done but I think it needs to be done. In this month’s “Japako Music Staff’s Thoughts” I’m going to talk about Kim Jonghyun, SHINee‘s Kim Jonghyun.
On December 18th, 2017 we received a news nobody could expect; nobody thought to ever hear. Kim Jonghyun was dead, he killed himself. When I got the first message about it, I was at work: “something happened to Jonghyun.”
Being a Shawol myself, my heart dropped but I thought about car accidents, stage accidents. I didn’t even for a second think that he committed suicide. As soon as I could, I opened Twitter and the nightmare began.
As of now, I still find extremely difficult to believe that one of my favourite artists, one of the most beautiful souls in the world, is no more. And because he felt he wasn’t talented enough. Because he struggled with a sadness so deep he couldn’t take it anymore. Because he was not happy.
The first thing to come to my mind is the question “how is this possible?” How can an artist so famous, so beloved by his fans and fellow members and family, think such things? How could he ask so desperately for someone to tell him “you did well, you worked hard”.
But then I think about it a bit more and there it is, the answer I’m looking for. He wasn’t as happy as we thought. He didn’t always smile like we saw him doing. He told the world on more than one occasion, how difficult it was for him sometimes. Even for other fandoms, it was clear like the sun that he was a really sensitive person, like pretty all the highly talented artists. He felt so much and so deep that sometimes, I asked myself how he could handle all these emotions. Now I know he struggled until he could no more.
I’ve never been to South Korea, never set a foot on the peninsula but I’m a curious person. I read a lot, I ask a lot of questions. South Korea has one of the most competitive societies on this planet. Starting from school, people are pushed beyond their own limits day after day to be always the best of the best in order to enrol in the best universities, find the best job, the best partners, have the perfect family. The pursuit of perfection, in my opinion, is one of the biggest problems in South Korea. Because it’s an endless, useless search. There will never be perfection, because everytime you think you reach it, someone is going to raise the level a bit more and you will end up to not be perfect again.
This is the life of an idol. A constant, tiring, quest for perfection. Labels train their artists until they are so tired that they can’t even think. Because fans want to see how perfect they are. In the excitement sometimes, we happen to forget that these idols are humans like us.
In my opinion, the world of the entertainment in South Korea is not a happy place to be. Idols have a very limited set of years to be successful after which they are already too old, too out of fashion. They become a cost and not a profit anymore. This is even more true with female idols, who have to look young, pretty and beautiful before they can even try to go to the more mature concept – which is not for everyone, apparently.
Jonghyun, though, belonged to a different category. He was starting to emerge as more than an idol. His composing and writing skills, his amazing voice, permitted him to be seen more as an artist than an idol. He wrote and composed songs for himself, his fellow members, his group and other artists. We all praised him, we all envied his talent, we all told him how talented he was.
Maybe it was this too. Maybe he was so pressured by this need to always be on top with everyone expecting more from him to the point that he lost himself. It became too much and everything he did was not enough anymore.
In his farewell letter, he said: “Being known to the world shoudn’t have been a part of my life. That is why everything has been so difficult. Colliding with all of this and being popular is difficult. It’s commendable that I endured this long. What else can I say? Just tell me I’ve worked hard. That I did a good job. That I’ve been through a lot.”
I think these words, like the others he says in his letter, explain everything so clearly. These words made me realise how tormented he was. I understood it when I heard a praise he got stating “you need to do more”. I always thought he was the happiest when on stage – alone or with his beloved members – but now I’m not sure anymore. When did everything start to change? I don’t know.
All I know is that nobody was able to help him. He said that doctors weren’t useful and blamed his personality. This, combined with what I’ve read and I am reading, made me realize that in South Korea, mental illness is still considered as something bad, something to hide. How much did he struggle because what was supposed to help him was making things worse?
South Korea needs to change, and quickly. Jonghyun was just 27 and just one of the thousands of young South Koreans who struggled and are struggling with a depression due to the pressure caused by their own society.
I would not be surprised if Jonghyun, who thought of everything and everyone before committing this final act, hoped that his suicide, thanks to his popularity, would help to open the eyes of the South Korean society to make it become less cruel.
Because he was this kind and altruist person. He was a pure soul, tainted by something too strong and too big for him fighting alone.
My thoughts now go to his family – his mom and his sister – and his members and friends. As a Shawol, I hope Onew, Key, Minho and Taemin will have time to heal and mourn this unbelievable loss. I hope they will be followed up during this period. I also hope they will remain as close as they have always been because like that, they are stronger than ever.
My final thought, though, goes to all the people out there who are struggling. Depression is a sly bitch. It creeps into our hearts and minds slowly, almost silently. If you feel down or sad, do not hesitate to ask for help. Talk with someone: your parents, friends, a professional. You are not alone.
You did really well, Jonghyun. You worked hard. Rest in peace now.