Despite rain, dozens of fans assembled on Sunday (Dec. 16) in New York City’s Madison Square Park to hold a memorial service in commemoration of Kim Jonghyun of SHINee two days before the first anniversary of his passing. Withstanding the gloomy, cold weather, fans stood huddled under umbrellas — many colored the pearl aqua shade associated with the K-pop quintet — as they came together to remember the Korean singer-songwriter, who died by suicide on Dec. 18 of last year.
Hosted by fan group East Coast K-pop Outlet (ECKO), which had organized two memorials last year the week of Jonghyun’s passing, the theme of the day wasn’t necessarily sorrow, but remembrance and love, especially self-love, in the time of mourning.
“We’re all here because we love this one man, we love SHINee,” said ECKO co-founder Samantha Lifson in a brief speech. “We’re here because we care. Not only do we care for him, and for the [rest of SHINee], and for the music, but we care about ourselves, to be able to get up, and come here, and keep going everyday. And we care about each other, to be here for each other and support each other.”
For many in attendance, the event followed a year full of sadness and anguish, and trying to deal with the loss of someone many of them had never met but still had an immense bond with.
“We listen to K-pop in America, and, up until recently, we are not in the mainstream,” Lifson told Billboard after the event. “Liking these sorts of things have always been divergent and always brought on commentary from others for liking things that aren’t ‘normal.’ A lot of K-pop fans are bullied, they are not in good places in their home lives or in their other lives, or they’re fighting with their mental health. K-pop is the one sort of strength that kind of gets you to go through the day to day. When someone who is so special and seems omnipotent in the way suddenly is not there– I think, in that moment, it’s just a very jarring state to be in. To go back to that sense of comfort is very hard, because you never forget that he’s no longer around.”
The memorial gave both local and out-of-town fans of SHINee — known as Shawol, which is short for “SHINee World” — to reflect and come together, and to also raise funds for The Shiny Foundation, a not-for-profit in South Korea created following Jonghyun’s passing.
“All the Shawols can bond and remember Jonghyun and everything he did, all his music and all his success, just him as a person,” said Kristen Okwedy from New York. “We can bond in a sad way over what happened and a good way over everything he’s done for us. And we love him. There are people here with me, people that I’m just meeting, people that I’ve known for a while that I’ve spoken to about it on social media. It’s good to have people with you during a time like this. It’s not good to be alone. Jonghyun felt like family to most Shawols. He feels like family to us. So when we’re all together, we just feel like a big family.”
Some, like Emilee Lasoski from Pennsylvania, said they had a hard time listening to the artist’s music because of the immense impact SHINee and Jonghyun had had on his or her life. “When you lose someone that important to you, you kind of feel like you don’t know what to do with yourself anymore,” Lasoski said. “It changes you. Honestly, they were so much part of my daily life every single day. When he died, I couldn’t listen to them, I couldn’t look at them. It just hurt too much. I just thought, ‘What am I going to do? How am I going to face them? How am I going to be able listen to their music again and not feel broken?’” She has since listened to some SHINee songs and a few tracks from Jonghyun’s posthumously-released Poet | Artist, but is unable to listen to the album in its entirety, or “Replay,” the group’s debut single.
Many attendees were forthright about the fact that they themselves have battled mental health issues and mentioned that they sought comfort in the vocal nature of Jonghyun, who suffered from depression. He frequently addressed the hardships of life through both his music and his Blue Night radio show, which Lasoski said she used to listen to in real-time while living in Korea as a source of comfort, despite not being fluent in the language.
“I was just existing before I found SHINee,” said Kimmie White from Georgia, who described the past year as “hell.” “When SHINee came into my life, it brought friends, happiness. It becomes part of who you are. From the first moment I saw Jonghyun, I thought, ‘This is the most amazing person I’ve ever seen.’ Just who he was, as you get to know him, I identified with him so much. The fact that he was open about his depression, a lot of things. Just a wonderful person. Gosh, I miss him. Just…nothing ever goes back to the way it was. It’s just about figuring out how to get through the new normal. I’m just really glad I have the family of SHINee World. I’ll always love SHINee, I’ll always love Jonghyun, and I’ll be damned if I let anyone forget him.”
For Nakia Ford, also of New York, the memorial was a source of strength. “I find it very peaceful that everyone’s here to remember Jonghyun as the wonderful person that he was,” she said. “He was a kindhearted, warm person. He made me happy a lot. Hearing his voice, seeing him smile made me happy inside and out. So I’m very glad this memorial is happening today. It’s been pretty rough on me. I’ve also been through depression myself. So the last year for me hasn’t been going so well, knowing that he’s no longer here. But his memory is still alive, no matter how far he is or where he is. His memory is still alive and all over us.”
Aside from local events such as the New York City memorial, The Shiny Foundation, a non-for-profit organized by Jonghyun’s family to support young artists struggling with mental health-related issues, hosted an event titled “The stories you left behind the stories we will continue to write.” Also over the weekend, IU performed the song “Gloomy Clock,” composed by Jonghyun, at a concert in Singapore on Dec. 15.
At midnight on Dec. 18 in South Korea, Jonghyun’s label SM Entertainment shared a commemorative video on social media channels for the label and SHINee that ended with the message, “Jonghyun, we’ll remember you. We love you forever. The entire SMTOWN family.”
— SHINee (@SHINee) December 17, 2018
On Instagram, bandmate Key (Kim Kibum) shared a brief video of himself on-set with Jonghyun and other SHINee members, while many other Korean celebrities also shared memorial posts commemorating the life of the artist.?
Jonghyun’s Poet | Artist was released in January post-mortem and debuted on the Billboard 200 chart (dated Feb. 3) at No. 177. Profits from the album were reportedly set aside for The Shiny Foundation.