2017 has robbed the world of some amazing musical talent. Some of the most tragic of these losses are the deaths of young, much loved, and extraordinarily gifted individuals who, for whatever reason, chose to take their own lives.
The most recent of these losses was the death of SHINee frontman Kim Jong-hyun, who was found deceased in his hotel room on December 18th by emergency services after his sister called in a wellness check upon receiving a series of disturbing texts from the singer earlier that evening. Jong-hyun was only 27 at the time of his passing, but has undoubtedly created a K-pop empire along with his fellow band members. Groups like SHINee and Super Junior were the reason I fell headfirst down the Korean pop rabbit hole back in the late 2000s. Jong-hyun’s solo work–notably his studio album She Is released in 2016–arguably laid the groundwork for a string of other idols to break away from their own groups in order to produce more individualized, artistically authentic material.
Jong-hyun was also an activist, and had used his platform as an idol to advocate for LGBTQ acceptance, a sometimes controversial opinion to express within the confines of conservative Korean culture. Many fans have speculated that the vitriol Jong-hyun endured as a result of both his idol status and his opinions on LGBTQ culture may have contributed to his deteriorating mental state. Even forgetting their political or social stances, the exacting and often harsh K-pop industry can be difficult for many young stars to endure–be it the physical demands, the eternal visibility, or the severe beauty standards idols are held to. Jong-hyun’s final thoughts, expressed in a letter written in his native Korean, shed light on the devastation he felt in the days leading up to his death:
“I am broken from inside…the depression that had been slowly eating me up finally devoured me and I couldn’t defeat it” (via Variety).
Jong-hyun is unfortunately only another name to add to a growing list of musicians who have taken their own lives this year, alongside huge talents like Chester Bennington of Linkin Park and Chris Cornell of Soundgarden.
The rare positive side effect to these losses is the awareness such events bring to important causes like suicide prevention and overall mental health. The hashtag #RIPCHESTER went viral after Bennington’s suicide earlier this year, directing fans in need of support to the Suicide Prevention Lifeline and Crisis Text Line. Similarly, following Jong-hyun’s death, tweets listing international suicide prevention hotlines by country have been released. It is heartening in a way to see awareness bred from tragedy, but nonetheless, the music industry both at home and abroad continues to exact a heavy toll on those who dwell in its spotlight.