2019 Grammys

Jonghyun's 15 Best Songs: Critic's Picks

Han Myung-Gu/WireImage
Jonghyun of South Korean boy band SHINee performs onstage the SM Entertainment The Ballad Vol.2 Joint Recital at COEX on Feb. 12, 2014 in Seoul, South Korea. 

The K-pop world feels a bit duller than it did just a few days ago, following the passing of SHINee’s Kim Jonghyun. The lead vocalist of the Korean boy band died on Monday (Dec. 18), leaving behind a legacy filled with robust music.

A singer-songwriter who spoke frankly in an industry cushioned by nicety, Jonghyun made a name for himself with his distinctly expressive tone and musical style through his work with SHINee and other Korean artists, as well as several solo albums.

Prior to his passing, Jonghyun had been working on new music to be released in early 2018. Though the fate of his previously recorded but unreleased music has yet to be determined, he left behind many great songs. Here are 15 of his best moments to remember the singer through, comprised of solo tracks and ones he wrote and collaborated on with other acts.

15. “A Gloomy Clock” by IU feat. Jonghyun (Modern Times, 2013)

The first song written by Jonghyun released by an artist other than SHINee, “A Gloomy Clock” is a quirky, mid-tempo jazzy pop tune that counters IU’s airy vocals with Jonghyun’s deeper tone. The ticking of the titular timepiece guides the song, serving to keep tempo as the melody incorporates a variety of sounds, including bossa nova and rhythmic strings, and tinny xylophone beats.   

14. “So Goodbye” (City Hunter official soundtrack, 2011)

Released as part of the soundtrack for the Korean television show City Hunter, this uptempo ballad soars with vibrant strings as Jonghyun effusively sings the powerful chorus. It’s one of the SHINee member’s most straightforward pop moments as a soloist, filled with sweeping belts and orchestral accompaniment.

13. “Lonely” feat. Taeyeon (The Story Op. 2, 2017)

The artist’s final single before his passing, “Lonely” is a heartbreaking, piano-guided midtempo ballad that reflects on the feelings of things never getting better amid a sense of immense loneliness. The duo’s lilting voices come together over the soft, snapping beat and twinkling synths. In light of his death and the content of the song, “Lonely” began climbing up Korean music charts shortly after Jonghyun’s death, serving as a memorial track to commemorate the star with.

(Other songs by the artist, including Lee Hi's "Breathe" -- which was penned by Jonghyun -- and the gentle “End of a Day” from 2015, within which he sings “You did a good job today, you worked so hard,” have also climbed up charts as fans mourn the loss of the singer.) 

12. “Skeleton Flower” (The Story Op. 1, 2015)

The raspy delivery of “Skeleton Flower” posits Jonghyun at his most remorseful, with the singer bemoaning the regrets that accompany the passing of time. The song itself feels far more like it belongs on a film or musical soundtrack than the average pop album, thanks to its structure: Ambient echoing and light orchestral accompaniment back the singer’s raw, harmonizing delivery of the verses, before closing out with him growing progressively quieter before arriving at a final, silent conclusion.

11. “Elevator” (The Story Op. 2, 2017)

Unadorned by the highly-stylized production of many K-pop songs, “Elevator” is a piano-focused ballad through which Jonghyun reflects on not being able to meet his own eyes in the mirror. As gentle strings soar, the artist delivered intense, reverberating verses about loneliness and his pain in one of his tenderest performances.

10. “Deja-Boo” feat. Zion. T (Base, 2015)

Jonghyun was at his smoothest on this seductive funk track, one of the singles off his World Albums chart-topping debut solo EP. With a feature from Korea’s R&B crooner Zion. T, the bouncing track highlights the SHINee member’s rich vocals, overflowing with confidence.   

9. “Odd Eye” with SHINee (View, 2015)  

While not necessarily his most iconic performance as a member of SHINee, this track was one of several of the band’s songs penned by Jonghyun. Exuding lushness in its laid back, sultry R&B groove, “Odd Eye” features one his most effusive performances, with his falsetto guiding much of the song as he harmonized with other members of the quintet.

8. “Hot Times” with S.M. the Ballad (2010) 

Along with Super Junior's Kyuhyun, Jay of The TRAX, and Jinho, Jonghyun joined in on this dramatic, jazzy R&B pop ballad and helped make it the glory that it is. It was one of his finest moments as a singer, as he harmonized along with the three other vocalists before explosively ending off “Hot Times” with dramatic, high-note belts.

7. “Crazy (Guilty Pleasure)” feat. Iron (Base, 2015)

This single of Jonghyun's from his first solo EP back in 2015 was an exploration of what the artist could do as a soloist away from his SHINee identity, and he didn’t disappoint. The swinging alt-R&B tune overflowed with heavy bass, riveting strings, and filtered keys to create a lush sound for the vocalist and featured rapper Iron to lay their verses over.  

6. “Dress Up” (She Is, 2016)

Beginning as a slow, groovy ballad, “Dress Up” spirals towards snyth-pop euphoria following the opening query, and explodes with thumping electro-hip-hop beats. The song layers synths and digital quirks atop of the percussive beat as it shifts between tempos and genres, with the smooth house chorus followed by an energetic dance break that heavily distorts his chanting vocals, only to return back to the sweetly tone of the verses. It’s an atypical look for Jonghyun’s solo music, but the sleekly crafted banger is addicting in its complexity.  

5. “Hallelujah” (Base, 2015)

This religious experience of a song is very emblematic of Jonghyun’s more passionate releases, prominently putting the singer’s vocals to the forefront while relying on a deceptively simple underlying melody. He expressively sang about his love over stilted beats and high-toned piano, delivering the song's airy evocative lyrics before bringing the tune to soaring heights with the choral-infused refrain.

4. “She Is” (She Is, 2016)

This breezy piece of funky R&B begins with woozy synths that lead into a spirited rhythm and a spry mix of percussion and grooving strings. The addictive, deadpan choral hook and the crooning “oohs” add a playful vibe to the song and, when combined with the layered back-and-forth rap of the second repetition of the refrain, make “She Is” his most sleekly crafted single.  

3. “Heya (Y Si Fuera Ella)” (The SHINee World, 2008)

On SHINee’s first LP, Jonghyun delivered an outstanding remake of Alejandro Sanz's 1997 "Y, ¿Si Fuera Ella?" As the first solo track ever released by the singer, the powerful Latin-infused pop rock song played up the softer leanings of his vocals through nimble verses, before building into the explosive, guitar-backed wails of the chorus. It was one of the earliest displays of the SHINee member’s distinct sound, and even gained praise from Sanz himself for Jonghyun’s unique tone.  

2. “White T-Shirt” (She Is, 2016)

Though he favored a jazzier, more sentimental side on the Story Op albums, She Is reveled in the funkier side of Jonghyun, and the epitome of it was “White T-Shirt.” A practically perfect song with a rolling, bouncing beat and a drop that leads into the bright house chorus, the only thing keeping this B-side from being Jonghyun’s best is that it’s one of the only songs on his solo discography, and the only one on She Is, which he didn’t have a hand in composing. Even though he did serve as lyricist, the track lacks a bit of the personal touch so many of his other songs were infused with.

1. “Let Me Out” (Story Op. 2, 2017)

Some artists are defined by their singles, but with Jonghyun it was always his more intimate, lesser-known musical moments that revealed the most about the artist himself, and nothing was as grandly visceral as this powerful song released in April. The guttural power ballad from Jonghyun’s most recent album was haunting upon its release, and retrospectively is that much more poignant: "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."

Deep-voiced and seductive in his delivery of the heart-wrenching lyrics, the singer explored the wide-range of his vocal abilities over throbbing beats, distorted strings, and grating synths, as he dramatically cried out in heavily Auto-Tuned belts and piercing high notes. The song alternates between the dynamic and softer elements, with a gentle piano-guided melody and breathless vocals appearing in between the heavier moments, as if preparing the listener for the the high-intensity emotions featured throughout the rest of the track.