In the ever-changing landscape of K-pop or the music industry in general, a group’s longevity is hard to predict. Shinee, known for their strong musicality, unique fashion sense, and distinct sound, have maintained success since debuting in 2008 with their hit “Replay.” Shinee is a group that cannot be overlooked when looking at the history of K-pop and their songs are easily identifiable with the distinct voices of each member.
When they first came into the public eye, Shinee caught everyone’s attention with their unique fashion sense and “boyish” appeal. Since then, they have released hit after hit and have experimented with a variety of musical styles. Shinee hasn’t promoted much in the West, but in Asia, Shinee have broken countless records both in sales and achievements. A look into Shinee’s discography will give anyone new to K-pop an idea of how the industry has evolved over time with a solid and diverse medley of tracks.
Members Onew, Key, Minho, and Taemin have been stronger and closer than ever since the loss of lead singer Jonghyun in 2017 with a strong bond that cannot be replicated, and continue to cultivate a signature sound unique to their group as Shinee. With three members having completed their two-year-long mandatory military service in 2020, they are back with their seventh studio album “Don’t Call Me.” With the title track, Shinee proves their staying power once again.
Rolling Stone connected with Shinee over Zoom for a candid conversation on how they view K-pop’s evolution through the years, the relationships they’ve created, and their anticipations for “Don’t Call Me.”
Editor’s Note: This interview has been translated from Korean and edited for brevity and clarity.
If you had to introduce Rolling Stone readers to Shinee with just five songs, which songs would they be and why? I personally really loved Sherlock.
Key: Ah of course, “Sherlock.”
Taemin: That’s a favorite among us too.
Key: “Replay,” “View,” “Sherlock,” “Don’t Call Me.”
Onew: The last one needs to be either “Ring Ding Dong” or “Lucifer.” Right?
Key: I think “Ring Ding Dong” is more famous. We’ll go with those.
Shinee has been a strong player in the K-pop world for over ten years. How have you maintained your group dynamic throughout these years?
Key: I don’t think a good group dynamic is something that can really come out of just trying or making an effort. I think we’ve been fortunate to meet good people and through everything we’ve been through, we’ve come to realize how important we are to each other. I think we’re close because of everything that has happened and everything we’ve experienced together.
Reflecting on the past 13 years, what would you say has been your biggest career highlight or cherished memory?
Key: I think the biggest achievement is just the fact that we debuted. I think it’s hard to pick out a specific record. For memories, we have a lot.
Minho: The memories of touring the world.
Onew: I think touring is an achievement in itself.
Taemin: I actually want to pick out specific moments. For me, SHINee’s first Tokyo Dome concert. There was a lot happening on our end leading up to that event. That and the 2013 Melon Music Awards where we won Best Artist.
What do you think is the biggest difference or change you’ve experienced when it comes to the current music landscape?
Minho: I think the internet really started to become a thing around when we debuted and that’s what allowed international fans to start listening to our music and watch our performances. That’s probably the biggest change that has happened and I think these days, with social media, there’s so much more communication that is happening beyond simply our music releases and videos.
Key: It’s really cool that we can have non face-to-face performances, and obviously the current environment plays a part in this, but just thinking back to when we debuted, we would have never imagined an online concert.
There are so many new groups and Shinee is one of the few groups that remain from what people call the 2nd generation of K-pop. What’s the most important thing you’ve learned in your careers that you would want your juniors to take to heart?
Key: To be honest, there were a lot of times when it felt like we were barely surviving.
Taemin: (laughs) So just get through it?
Key: Rather than just getting through hardships, I truly think it takes around 10 years for someone to be able to expand their perspective. The only way to make a wise choice that someone with years of experience can make is to have years of experience.
Taemin: So just hold it in for 10 years? (laughs) In all seriousness, I think it’s really important to talk to each other and fight and figure out what is causing issues early on. Communicating a lot is important.
Are there any junior groups that you’ve been keeping an eye on? What about them has caught your attention?
Taemin: They’re from our label, but I’m curious to see how Aespa’s concept plays out. Communicating with fans through music can be a very emotional thing, so I’m interested in seeing how this works with the Aespa AI virtual characters.
Key: Although they aren’t necessarily a new junior group, I’m looking forward to EXO and what they create after all the members complete their military service.
Taemin, how does it feel to be back with the Shinee members after promoting your solos and SuperM for the past two years?
Taemin: When I am with Shinee, there’s a warm feeling as if I am back home. I can’t really put it in words. It’s interesting because I always think I am comfortable when performing solo or with SuperM too, but when I watch myself around Shinee, I can tell that I look the most at ease.
We just know each other so well and I missed them and wanted to promote with them so badly while they were gone. I’m so happy we’re able to work together again and there’s a feeling of wanting to have good content and results.
Onew, Key, and Minho, how does it feel to be back with your members and your main roles after military service?
Onew: There’s definitely a sense of stability and I think we’re truly able to shine when I am with our members compared to when I’m alone. I’ve realized how precious they are.
Key: I had a lot of time to think and I realized there were many things I wanted to try. As a group, I feel that I can now try these things.
Minho: It’s been so fun to be together after so long and I have big expectations for this round of promotions. I’m really looking forward to it. It’s sad that we can’t meet with our fans directly but I hope that we can deliver our emotions to them.
What did you miss most about being part of SHINee?
Minho: Even just doing promotions and press and hanging out with each other, practicing choreography and making little tweaks here and there, fighting (laughs). Just kidding, that only applies to Key. I think these are little things that I really missed.
The creative process for “Don’t Call Me” must have been quite different from your previous albums, considering it’s been a few years since you’ve released a full album and considering the global pandemic. What has been the biggest challenge?
Key: Not being able to do a big concert or anything with our fans directly for sure. We’ve thought a lot about how we can connect with our fans in the best way possible with live broadcasts and with social media. There’s also a lot of variety shows not just on TV but also online. I don’t think it was necessarily difficult or too challenging, but it’s just so different from what we are used to.
Is there anything you can share from the production process of “Don’t Call Me”?
Onew: For me, when we were first learning the choreography for “Don’t Call Me,” I was practically standing still because I couldn’t keep up. It was a tough challenge for me.
Key: On top of it being a while since we’re promoted, “Don’t Call Me” has a really strong performance aspect so it was definitely hard when we were filming the video as well.
Taemin: For the promotion of “Don’t Call Me,” we created a phone number that fans can call and hear our voice messages. I thought that was really fun and a new idea.
“Don’t Call Me” experiments with a variety of different genres while maintaining that signature Shinee sound. What is each member’s favorite track and why?
Key: “Code.” I think it’s trendy and makes you want to dance. I like the bass line as well.
Onew: “I Really Want You.” I think it has the Shinee vibe.
Taemin: “Kiss Kiss.” It has straightforward lyrics that are expressed beautifully. The guitar riff is repeated throughout in the chorus and I really like that.
Minho: “Body Rhythm.”
Taemin: He has a really nice body. (laughs)
Minho: It’s a genre that we’ve never done before and I think the track came out really well.
From the teasers, it looks like the music video has a retro concept with themes of extraterrestrial life. Can you walk us through what this message is?
Key: We’ve always shot our album covers with a film camera or worn vintage clothing, but the concept for this album was to take really clean and crisp shots in a distorted reality. You’ll see that the background environment and the clothes are all so clean and normal, but the things that are happening are strange, like when there’s a big accident but everyone looks fine. We wanted to bring this fake reality to life since it has an unexpected twist.
Rather than saying the extraterrestrial elements have a meaning behind them, it’s more about the idea of seeming normal when there are strange things happening.
Taemin: To add on, our group name Shinee doesn’t mean we are shiny, but rather that we are “ones who are receiving light.” In the end of the video, we get together and a light shines on us. I think the meaning behind that is that we are getting shone on and Shinee is restarting. Like a rebirth.
Shinee is obviously very highly regarded when it comes to musicality and performance. You’ve also done some acting, whether in film, tv, or music videos, and you’re also well known for fashion and style. Is there anything that you haven’t done that you’d like to try?
Key: I think we fall into our mannerisms when preparing since we’ve done so many concepts. We don’t want to obsess over doing something that hasn’t been done before or think too hard about whether there is anything new to do. I don’t think it’s a bad thing to take things that exist and recreate them rather than to strive to do new things. We want to take into account how the world evolves and changes to portray ourselves in a way that is familiar, but still unique. I don’t think we’re at a stage anymore where there are necessarily any concepts we haven’t done before.
Onew: Rather than inventing, I think we try to develop on what we have.
Taemin: To add on, I think as we add years to our career, there are stories that we are able to create naturally, like how “Love Sick” was a sequel to “Replay.”
Where do you think Shinee will be in 10 more years?
Key: (laughs) I don’t think we thought we’d still be doing this 10 years ago. I have a feeling that another 10 years will pass by in a blink of an eye and we’ll still be here doing the same thing.
Onew: I think even if we’re not able to dance as strongly as we can now…
Key: I hope to have matured a bit by then.
Taemin: But when I look at Yunho from TVXQ, I think it could be possible to dance. (laughs)
Onew: I think if we really put our heads together we could pull it off.
Key: I’m telling you, if we don’t put together a plan now, we’ll still be here doing the same thing in 10 years. (laughs)
Minho: I hope in 10 years we can meet in person and not chat over zoom.