I’ve seen too many lists of “top recommended songs for new K-Pop fans,” and each one that’s written by a major, non-music related outlet gets very predictable. However, it’s never a complete list without SHINee.
Pick any song or music video to start: “Replay,” “Lucifer,” “1 of 1,” “Good Evening,” or “Countless,” to name a few, and you can’t go wrong with their constantly changing styles. Originally with an R&B influence, SHINee debuted in 2008 with the instantly recognizable “Replay.” The members — Onew, Jonghyun, Minho, Key, and Taemin — started off with the expected boy bad charm and charisma, each with a specific talent and role in the group: dancer, leader, main vocal, and visual. That year introduced some tough rookie competition including U-KISS and JYP’s dual groups 2PM and 2AM, but SHINee stood out and won Best New Male Artist at the 2008’s Mnet Asian Music Awards, and “Newcomer Album of the Year” at the 23 Annual Golden Disc Awards.
Back then, SHINee stood out for their vocals, choreography, and bright fashion that set off popular trends. Following their debut EP, their first album “The Shinee World,” came out in June 2008, building off the momentum “Replay” set in motion. As their careers progressed, SHINee developed a group with popular title tracks like “Ring Ding Dong” in 2009, “Lucifer” in 2010, and their all-kill year in 2013 of the three-part “Misconceptions of Us” albums series that saw the triple release of “Dream Girl” and “Why So Serious?” With an end of the year EP “Everybody.” By this time, Jonghyun and Taemin started to get more involved with the production choices in their music, which was uncommon for SM idols in those days. Also late into the 2010s, they’d begun to break off into their solo activities, Minho becoming a popular actor while Taemin and Jonghyun released solo music.
In the years since, SHINee has been one of the best groups in K-pop who has continuously evolved and developed throughout their ten-year career while always maintaining their quality sound and performance. They incorporated popular genres of the time without sounding trendy, and their stage presence made them one of the most popular groups to see live. They’ve been on variety shows, travelled all over the world on multiple tours, featured in magazine and ad campaigns, and set the bar of what K-pop boy groups should be: the whole package.
More recently, however, their legacy as some of the best artists in South Korea isn’t what first comes to mind. In December 2017, Jonghyun passed away from a suicide and his death shocked the world outside of K-pop and the music industry. His death started important conversations and scrutiny on mental health in South Korea, which has slightly helped make it easier for other idols to be more open with their struggles. SM released his last album, “Poet, Artist,” posthumously so now Jonghyun’s own legacy as an artist and what he gave to fans will never fade. After he passed away, it’s common for outsiders to look at the group as who they are after tragedy. But that’s not right; looking at how the four members stood strong and still produced a three-part anniversary package in 2018 shows how they honor him while moving forward with their careers and legacy.
SHINee’s influence is obvious in most of today’s big idol groups, from EXO to BTS to Monsta X; it’s most prevalent in the next heir to the SM throne, NCT. If it wasn’t already, SHINee’s professionalism and standards at live shows became the norm for all SM groups, but there’s now the feeling of comparing every singer to Onew, every personality to Key and Minho, every self-produced artist to Jonghyun, and every dancer to Taemin. Their concepts and fashion remain edgy and chic, except for when it’s not and instead totally out there and only works because it’s SHINee. As more and more boy groups debut, rise, fall, or breakthrough, at the end of the day the question of top quality always comes back to SHINee.
As of this spring, Onew, Key, and Minho enlisted or will be enlisted in the Korean military, as required of men in South Korea. With only Taemin continuing his solo career, the future of SHINee is a bit in the air for the next few years. They could be like SM-label mate TVXQ and shuck mainstream music fads to develop a more mature style, or like Shinhwa who left SM to pursue other aspects of entertainment before returning as a group. But until anything is known for sure, at least SHINee left a packed legacy that never disappoints.
My SHINee faves: