Jonghyun: An Aqua Light
The 18th of December was a hard day for me this year. The few people that know me, know how much I admire a certain Korean boyband. Their name is SHINee (fun fact they were mentioned by former-President Obama), and their music has saved my life. Their videos are catchy, colorful and unique.
One of the members in particular I could relate to more than the others: Jonghyun (Kim Jong-hyun). Now, I’m not going to talk about his biography, there’s enough on google about that.
What you need to know: He was an advocate of mental health in a society that denies the existence of mental illness, and he stood up for LGBT rights even when it was frowned upon. Jonghyun helped others with their problems on his radio show, Blue Night, as he often spoke about his struggles with depression and told others it was okay to cry, to let it all out.
What happened to Jonghyun?
He lost his life to suicide on the 18th of December, 2017. The depression he fought so hard against consumed him.
Before you look for anything else, I’ll give you some background on Jonghyun:
Jonghyun was SHINee’s main vocalist, his voice captivated millions as part of the boy band that is known as “The Princes of KPOP.” He wrote and composed music for the band, other artists, and for himself.
I only found out about SHINee in 2014. When I like a musician, I rarely follow their outside work, and with them it was no different. In January 2015, he debuted as a solo artist with his EP Base (“Deja-Boo” is one of my favorite songs on the album). Here, I fell even more in love with his vocals and lyrics. His voice was distinctive, and wherever he went and sang, the world was sure to know it was him.
Base, his first solo album, was different to the compilation album he released later that year, Story Op 1. This album wasn’t promoted on music shows. The single “End of Day” is a beautiful song about a man who comes home exhausted from the day, and his partner is his comfort. Here is a portion of the translated lyrics below:
“…You did a good job today, you worked so hard
I hope my shoulders and thick hands
Will become cozy comfort for the end of your tiring day as well…”
I loved it; his lyrics are smooth, beautiful. He wrote about love, sex, and the seasons. Jonghyun’s writing was unique, poetic.
In 2016, he released She Is, his first full-length album. In this album, he explored various genres including electro-punk and R&B. In this album, he composed eight of the nine songs on it. In the U.S., She Is peaked number four on Billboard’s World Albums.
His last album was released in April 2017: Story Op 2. In this album, all of the songs are written and self-composed by Jonghyun. On this album, “Let me out,” killed me. Even if I don’t speak Korean, his voice did something to me. The first time I heard this song, I had to pause it to take a breath and when I looked up the lyrics, I didn’t listen to it again for a while:
“…Someone please hold me, I’m exhausted from this world
Someone please wipe me, I’m drenched with tears
Someone please notice my struggles first
Please acknowledge the poor me
Please help me..”
I stopped listening to it. It hit me too hard; his songs always had that power over me. So, for a bit, I avoided this song and went on with my life.
I myself have my own emotional turmoil, but SHINee’s music has always kept me in check. They have all kinds of music; I can dance to it, listen to while writing, or sing it in the shower.
But 2017 got to me, and I hit the lowest point of my life in October. The week before I tried to end my life, I went to the Korean festival in Atlanta. I had always wanted to go to a cultural festival, so I decided to attend, even if I was alone.
Although sad, I walked around and enjoyed myself. I tried on a Hanbok, had Taro Bubble Tea, and bought an album.
It’s my last week, I thought to myself walking to the stand and picking up the latest SHINee album. I paid for it and opened it, curious to see what photo card I got.
It was Jonghyun. I smiled down at it. I didn’t think much of it and continued walking around the festival enjoying the performances by the dance crews. Later that afternoon, my boyfriend picked me up and we headed to see his sister.
For the next week, I held it together at work. I just needed the weekend to arrive. On the morning of my birthday, I saw my album and I thought I’d maybe give the world one more chance. Maybe I’d be able to do what I wanted: to write, travel, and have different experiences.
As I left my bedroom that morning, I once again fought with my boyfriend. I don’t remember what we fought about, all I remember was grabbing two bottles of sleeping pills I had saved up and walking out of the door.
I thought my pain, the failure my life had become, would finally be over. I wouldn’t have to deal with him or anyone ever again.
Later, I woke up in a hospital confused, angry, and hurt. Why would someone want to help me? I didn’t want to be here, I didn’t want to be here…
I spent a week in a psychiatric hospital, and although I couldn’t hear my music on my phone, I could hum it. It kept me sane; the silence in a hospital is deafening.
Once I was out, I thought maybe, just maybe, people would be more considerate. Especially having my new diagnoses: BPD and Diabetes type II.
Boy was I wrong. People are cruel, so cruel…
So, I kept listening to Jonghyun’s words. Blue Night transcriptions were a lifesaver. It made me happy to find people sharing SHINee performances on Instagram, and I looked for them on YouTube. These five young men kept me alive and as close to happy as I could be. I even threw out the suicide note I had written.
Little did I know that a few months later I’d have to deal with the loss of the artist I admired the most. I can deal with loss, but his death hit too close to home. The letter he left behind was too similar to the one I had written months prior.
I cried, and still cry while listening to some of his songs. I was destroyed.
On the 22nd of December, someone organized a vigil in Atlanta in his memory. I thought there wouldn’t be one. They were all over the world, but I didn’t think there would be one in Atlanta.
Despite having a massive sinus infection and a swollen eye, I went that Friday to Atlanta.
I thought there would be a small gathering, but boy was I wrong. There were over 100 people gathered in the gazebo. Someone shared their story, but I couldn’t listen, I wanted us to release the balloons and say our goodbyes. I wanted to see the balloons released, as if somehow it’d make it all real…as if it’d slap my brain and tell it this was real, and that someday I’d move forward.
When the moment came, I stood and looked up at the balloons. On the count of three, they would be released:
One… my throat became dry.
Two… I took a shaky breath
Three… the balloons were released.
Everyone shouted, “you did well!”
I sobbed, hard. For a moment, I was angry. I wanted to scream. Why were people so cruel? Why did the most human of us end up consumed by darkness? If someone as beautiful and full of love as him lost his battle, was it only a matter of time before I was next?
I then looked around and a lamp post, whose light was previously flickering softy, lit up…aqua. Shawols (SHINee’s fandom) color. I frowned. I had to be losing my mind, so I looked around and on the other side of the gazebo, the same thing happened.
Crazy part was, I wasn’t the only one to notice. In fact, there’s a video on Twitter. This phenomenon had happened in vigils all over the world.
There was silence; I felt something strange, a peace like he knew we were there and he heard us.
After that, I said I needed to sing. To sing his music and dance. He was passionate about music, it’d be only fair to remember him…
So, I walked around with a fellow Shawol, and I sang. We spoke about them, about Jonghyun.
I’m still heartbroken, and I’ll forever be, but I’m going to do my part and let the world know who this incredible man was.