Unity Through Sorrow: K-pop Community Joins Together to Mourn SHINee’s Jonghyun
Known mononymously as Jonghyun, the performer, who battled depression, died Monday (December 18), marking the first high-profile K-pop suicide of his generation. The tightly-knit Korean entertainment industry went on a quasi-hiatus out of respect, but for international K-pop fans scattered around the globe and across all walks of life, there remains the uncertainty of how to face the loss of someone whose artistry was a reliable presence for nearly a decade.
A singer, songwriter and performer with larger-than-life talent, Jonghyun’s teenage and adult years were shaped by his work in SHINee and, later, his solo ventures, all of which earned him recognition as a skilled musician. He also became known for his frank, outspoken nature and approach to mental health, was an advocate for LGBTQ+ rights and was openly critical about the state of democracy in South Korea. It is this multifaceted legacy through which fans have sought solace in and hope to remember him. By emulating his inclusive efforts, the extended K-pop community has joined together in this time of need, sharing stories and memories about Jonghyun, and crafting imagery to commemorate his impact.
Though many are quick to blame K-pop’s strict industrial norms as the cause of Jonghyun’s inner turmoil, this particular tragedy is not limited to a single person’s death. Rather, it reflects the lack of access to proper treatment that many people around the world face: Openly discussing depression or mental illness is taboo not only in South Korea but in many societies. Even in the United States, psychiatric illnesses are under-treated, with Mental Health America reporting that 56% of American adults do not receive any mental health treatment. In response, the K-pop community has stepped up and, as a coping mechanism, is collectively raising awareness for issues surrounding mental illness and treatments.
Jonghyun’s death marks a rare moment of unity as fandoms across the board not only mourn the star, but have reached out to support the fans most saddened and affected by his loss. On social media, countless posts have been shared providing information for mental health services around the world, with K-pop fans spreading mental wellness tips and launching campaigns to raise and donate funds to psychiatric treatment and services in Jonghyun’s name. Others in the fandom have even offered themselves up as receptive listeners for those who feel they have nowhere else to turn.
Though societies across the world are all different, humans at their very core are not. Jonghyun’s death is a loss that will resonate in the days, weeks and years to come, but hopefully his widespread legacy will include not only his life and music, but also the the important conversations, camaraderie and compassion his passing has inspired within the larger K-pop fan community.