Kim Jonghyun: you did well, you did so well. Thank you for sharing your life, your passion, and your music with us.
SHINee’s music has actually changed the course of my life. Introducing me to K-Pop and Korean culture, your hard work means so much to me and many others. Your lyrics have connected with me in joy and loneliness, and your choreography has helped teach me how to dance. You have been an inspiration in moments of depression. You have been a shining light to people around the world. You wanted to reveal your true self, to free yourself from depression. Looking back through interviews and song lyrics and accounts of friends, it is clear that you have been struggling for a long time. You reached out to those around you, but felt you were only met with excuses from the doctors and criticism from the public. You spoke about being afraid to reveal your true self, and being aware that, at some point, you simply have to grow out of depressive feelings. If you can’t overcome it in your life, or at least find peace with it, the emptiness becomes all-consuming. It is true, growing out of depressive feelings is extremely painful. Loneliness is overwhelming, it feels like no one can just understand how you feel. I wish that Jonghyun could have conquered his emptiness here with us, but I hope he is resting peacefully. The Shawols are waiting for him in SHINee World.
In East Asian cultures, there is a highly negative stigma surrounding mental health issues. Mental illnesses, such as depression, are seen as weakness, a character flaw, or even just laziness, an unwillingness to work hard for success. On the contrary, mental health is a very tangible affliction, having a major impact on people’s lives and worldviews. In the case of Jonghyun and countless others, an individual is trapped in a system that refuses to acknowledge or address their struggles. Looking back we can find the signs, but people should be able to identify those symptoms much earlier and actually take action. No longer should depression and anxiety be brushed off as trivial or as a weakness. This is not easily done, due to the deeply rooted refusal to acknowledge mental illness in East Asian cultures.
It is terrible that the K-Pop industry has resulted in the routine abuse of young people, entrapped by an all-consuming demand for perfection. The industry is highly competitive, selecting only those who strive for success. These people tend to be self-critical in order to improve, and are constantly placed under pressure from their companies. It is important to remember that, in a way, the fans are indirectly responsible for the routine abuse of artists. When we spend our money on tickets and merchandise, some of that revenue inevitably goes to the corporations who encourage the cycle of unhealthy training practices. We can complain all we want about the unjust treatment of idols, but we are spending money which goes towards the company’s profit. We are supporting the outcome of mental abuse, even if it is not our intention. We have to actively demand change in the industry. For real change to occur, the fans cannot be complicit bystanders to the abuse.
Without significant changes, Jonghyun’s death could be in vain, merely one in a long list of desperate suicides. The relentless churning of the Korean Entertainment Industry is a symptom of a competitive culture, but I believe it’s an important step to pressure companies to take responsibility for their artists’ mental health. I pray that Jonghyun will continue to inspire others, to change lives even when he has passed on to peace.
Thank you so much, Kim Jonghyun. You endured so long, and we appreciate it. You did well.
XOXO, Seoulmate ♥