It’s been three years since Jonghyun died – but it still feels like yesterday.

One of Kpop’s most talented stars and member of SHINee, Jonghyun passed away on December 18, 2017, at the age of 27 after struggling with depression and the pressure of fame.

Having made his debut in 2008, Jonghyun quickly rose to stardom and made his own mark with his wide-ranging musical talents. His charisma was palpable every time he performs, and his songwriting skill was widely admired in the Korean entertainment industry. He wrote songs for the nation’s sweetheart IU and for Lee Hi.

Before his death, Jonghyun and the whole SHINee group went on a world tour that took in the US and released their fifth album entitled Five. Jonghyun had performed as a solo artist after which.

“We’ve come to the US for fan meets before, but concerts make me a bit more nervous and excited. I hope our fans will be able to make great memories with us through the music and performances we show on stage,” Jonghyun told CNN in an interview in May 2017.

Two weeks before his death, Jonghyun sent a 47-line text to his friend, Jang Hee-yeon, a fellow musician from the band Dear Cloud, who goes by the name Nine9. The latter requested to post the message to social media “if he disappears from the world”.

The message said: “I’m broken from inside. The blues that slowly ate at me has finally swallowed me whole. I couldn’t overcome.”

“I hated myself. Holding on to disappearing memories and screaming at it to wake up. There was no answer. If I can’t breathe, it’s better to stop.”

Following Jonghyun’s passing, SHINee continued on as a quartet and released one album, 2018’s The Story of Light, before its members enlisted for their mandatory military service.

In 2018, Jonghyun’s family established Shiny Foundation to provide psychological help to struggling musicians.

Now on the third anniversary of Jonghyun’s death, his bandmates and Kpop fans from around the world have shared emotional and uplifting messages for the star.

The pressure of being an “idol”

Unfortunately, Jonghyun wasn’t the first and the last Korean idol to commit suicide.

The worldwide fame of the Korean pop culture has pushed the Korean entertainment industry to the top – with millions of fans of different nationalities making Korean bands and artists trend every day. But along with this fame brought by Halyu (Korean wave) belies the darkness that has given some performers depression and anxiety.

Because of the pressure Kpop stars are feeling and the exhaustion they get from extensive rehearsals, an industry widely known for its elaborate choreography, colorful costumes, eye-catching songs and music videos and overly gorgeous artists has been rocked by tragic deaths.

In June this year, Yohan from TST died at the age of 28. In November 2019, Goo Hara was found dead at her home in Seoul, just weeks after Sulli was also found lifeless. Two weeks later, actor and singer Cha In-ha of the group Surprise U was found dead; he was just 27.

In 2008, actor-host Anh Jae-hwan took his own life, 40 days after, actress Choi Jin-sil committed suicide too. In March 2010, Choi’s younger brother, Choi Jin-young, who is also an actor and a singer, died.

The list goes on.

The burden of fame and the quest for perfection – which is expected from every Korean idol after years of intensive training – definitely feel overwhelming. And not everyone can be able to handle such.

The cut-throat nature of the industry has been thrown criticisms left and right – especially after a star dies – but then it goes silent again.

It has become an unending cycle. Maybe, if somebody had been truly bold and vocal enough to push for the much-needed change, the lives of Jonghyun and many other Korean pop stars could have been spared. Just maybe.

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