By: Katie Evans
Halfway through the year, SM Entertainment is still feeling the aftershocks of 2014’s scandals. EXO is as popular as ever, but Tao’s father demanding he leave the group reignited discussion about the company’s treatment of its Chinese-heritage stars. In a new interview with Marie Claire Korea, Jessica Jung, while not insulting her former group, spoke candidly about her increased freedom since leaving Girls’ Generation. And almost a year after news of Sulli’s relationship with Dynamic Duo rapper Choiza broke out, she’s still missing group activities with f(x) due to “continued resting.”
It’s now 2015, and SHINee, on the seventh anniversary of their debut, is arguably SM’s most stable group act. For a group known for experimental music and outfits wacky even by K-Pop standards, their rise to the top, especially in comparison to their peers and labelmates, has been surprisingly subtle. If EXO is SM’s big-budget blockbuster group, SHINee is their sleeper hit.
“Replay” left such an impression in May 2008 that it’s still one of SHINee’s best-known and most-loved singles, but at the time of its release, it seemed to come out of thin air. Fans who kept up with trainees knew about SHINee as individuals — Key appeared as a back-up dancer in Super Junior’s “Wonder Boy”, and Zhang Liyin’s March 2008 studio album featured a duet with a then-trainee credited as Kim Jonghyun—but rumors about a new boy group didn’t really pick up steam until that May. In a fandom where trainees can amass enormous followings (2NE1’s Bom is a notable example) and fans piece together potential group lineups months or years before they debut—fanpages for groups such as EXO even carry the band names fans once thought they’d adopt—the element of surprise is a novelty. SM didn’t turn SHINee’s debut into a spectacle, and they didn’t need to.
Despite some truly cringeworthy lipsyncing, “Replay” is timeless, no small feat in pop music (“Ring Ding Dong” and “Lucifer” haven’t aged so well). Although SHINee didn’t win on a music show until “Love Like Oxygen”, “Replay” made that possible. The video’s multicolored skinny jeans became known as “SHINee style” (remember, this was a pre-Gee time), and the choreography gained notoriety for matching nearly any song. Pieces of the “Replay” dance have resurfaced in “Sherlock,” “Dream Girl,” and their current B-Side, “Love Sick.” It’s not a coincidence that SM released both “Juliette” and “View” within a few days of their debut anniversary, either: For better or for worse, SHINee’s debut is still a huge part of their story.
As popular and career-defining as “Replay” turned out to be, though, I still consider SHINee somewhat of a niche group. They followed “Replay” with another classic song, but their sound and look in 2009 and beyond grew more experimental and less appealing to the overall public. Their guarded, awkward behavior on variety programs and reality TV also turned off fans used to laugh-out-loud antics (SHINee has a lot more fun in front of the camera now, but they’re no 2PM). In an industry that’s all about looks, it’s the quality of their music and their unbelievably polished live performances that make SHINee such a rewarding group to follow. Even as their dances have gotten more difficult, their vocals have only improved: Taemin has gone from getting one line per song to releasing a solo album. When all five of them perform, no adlib or harmony goes unsung. It’s an absolute joy to watch.
SHINee’s singles aren’t always crowd-pleasers, but their albums are a treat regardless of musical taste. The production quality of their discography nearly makes up for the amount of music videos they’ve made inside the same box set in SM’s basement. SHINee’s albums always have a unique and uniform sound, with few, if any, filler tracks. Romeo, if listened in order, retells the Shakespeare play, and Dream Girl and Why So Serious contrast and complement each other. As an industry, K-Pop has a refreshing commitment to the art of the album, and SHINee’s discography shows off just how great albums can be.
If someone had told me in 2008 that SHINee would be SM’s least scandalous group, I would have believed it—back then, they could barely take girls on staged dates for TV, let alone cause sensationalist tabloid headlines. Would I have guessed they’d be this successful—and more importantly, still intact—in 2015? Definitely not. I still find myself in awe that they broke the five-year curse with absolutely no fanfare, and that Taemin isn’t that skinny fourteen-year-old with the bad bowlcut anymore. SHINee might not be SM’s crown jewel, but they’ve made truly unforgettable music in the past seven years.
Is this the reality I wanted? Absolutely.
A Look Back at SHINee’s Discography
누난 너무 예뻐 (Replay) (2008)
Promoted Single: “Replay”
Ah, where it all began. Just as “Replay”’s choreography has been repeatedly recycled, both “In My Room” and “Love Should Go On” have official remixes on later albums. The SHINee World also featured a “prelude” to “In My Room”, and Lucifer added “Love Still Goes On.” Both the originals are worth a listen, but even better is the “boom track” remix of “Replay.”
The SHINee World / A.Mi.Go (2008)
Promoted Singles: “Love Like Oxygen” / ”A.Mi.Go”
This is a fan favorite with heavy R&B influences, and while most of the songs have a slower tempo, they’re not at all dull. “Romantic” and “Graze” are standouts, as is Jonghyun’s ballad solo, “Y Si Fuera Ella.” “Forever Or Never” is a great addition to the repackaged version, and “The SHINee World (Doo-Bop)” is the source of Minho’s infamous “dibidibidip” rap.
Promoted Single: “Juliette”
Romeo wasn’t a big departure from the look or the sound of SHINee’s 2008 releases, even with the hairy necklaces and masks made out of plastic toys. With the benefit of hindsight, it’s actually one of their best mini albums. “Please, Don’t Go” is a great, understated ballad, and “Romeo + Juliette” is a classic. Just don’t look at the album art.
2009, Year of Us (2009)
Promoted Singles: “Ring Ding Dong” / ”JoJo”
“Ring Ding Dong”’s heavy autotune hasn’t stood the test of time, but the rest of the album still delivers. “Y.O.U.” is a love-it-or-hate-it ballad, and fans finally got an Onew solo track with “The Name I Loved.” “JoJo” is the only B-Side SHINee’s promoted for longer than a week, and it’s one of their best.
Lucifer / Hello (2010)
Promoted Singles: “Lucifer” / ”Hello”
Neither of these singles are my favorite- “Lucifer”’s hook is a monotonous chant, and nearly every line in “Hello” ends with the same syllable. The album, though, is a good mix of upbeat tracks and ballads. “Electric Heart” is the sexy foil to SHINee’s demure singles, and Edgar Allan Poe’s The Black Cat inspired Jonghyun and Minho’s lyrics for “Obsession.”
Promoted Single: “Sherlock (Clue + Note)”
As solid as “Replay” is, “Sherlock” is by far my favorite of SHINee’s singles. Combining two standalone songs doesn’t sound like a good idea on paper, but “Clue” and “Note” complement each other in “Sherlock” and work perfectly on their own, too. “Stranger,” the B-Side, first appeared on SHINee’s first Japanese studio album, and given the mediocrity of most of their Japanese work, it’s surprisingly good.
Dream Girl: The Misconceptions of You (2013)
Promoted Single: “Dream Girl”
Both Dream Girl and Why So Serious had tons of thought put into them, and it shows. “Dream Girl,” like “Replay,” is a single with mass appeal, and its music video is tons of fun. “Punch Drunk Love” is another musical love letter to Michael Jackson, and Jonghyun works the name of each song on the two Misconceptions albums into the lyrics of “Spoiler.” I’m not particularly fond of “Girls, Girls, Girls,” but there isn’t a bad song on the album.
Why So Serious?: The Misconceptions of Me (2013)
Promoted Single: “Why So Serious?”
This album has a darker, deeper sound than Dream Girl, but it’s no less fantastic. If you have the chance, listen to it from start to finish—the songs fade into each other effortlessly, and there isn’t a weak one in the bunch. “Nightmare” is a deliciously dark parallel to “Spoiler” and “Dream Girl,” and “Why So Serious” is a theatrical take on zombie romance. “Like a Fire” has an infectious retro sound.
Promoted Single: “Everybody”
Any album that followed up Dream Girl and Why So Serious was bound to disappoint—it’s not that Everybody’s a bad album, it just doesn’t hold a candle to SHINee’s best. That said, “Symptoms” is the K-Pop slow jam you’ve been waiting for; some fans wished that they’d promoted it instead of “Everybody.” “Colorful” is a great unofficial Christmas song, and SHINee even released a holiday-themed video for it.
Promoted Single: “View”
Stylistically, Odd is a throwback to SHINee’s first albums, but it still has its own unique, summery sound. “Odd Eye” is a great opening track with the same dreamlike quality of “Nightmare,” and if “View” doesn’t get you in the mood for summer, “Romance” and “Love Sick” will finish the job. “Farewell My Love” is my favorite of the ballads.
Tags: EXO f(x) Girls' Generation Jessica Jonghyun Key Minho Onew SHINee SM Entertainment Sulli Super Junior Taemin Tao