I’m not a fan of people declaring someone or something as the “Greatest of all time” or “Kings.” Opinions change and personal taste is very subjective. Your faves aren’t everyone’s faves. It’s as simple as that. So when I call SHINee one of K-Pop’s greatest groups, I don’t say it lightly.
I can’t say it any other way. Are they great at everything or with every album? Probably not. But SHINee just baffles me with their range and diverse talent. It’s one thing to build a dream team. It’s another to build it and make it actually work.
With most groups, two people will often sound similar. Not all the time, of course, but there are moments where it’s hard to hear who is singing. It helps with harmonies and transitioning from one person to the next.
SHINee, however, has five voices so unique to themselves, it’s near impossible to confuse them. I’ve mentioned before that Key‘s voice is just pure sassiness to me. But this goes even deeper than just him. Taemin‘s voice is breathy with a hint of huskiness. Whereas Onew‘s voice is so clear and powerful. With Jonghyun‘s insane range and Minho‘s deep but sweet voice, we have a group so vocally diverse, I can’t figure out how they all work.
Not only do they work, but no one is overshadowed. Minho and Key’s rap verses never feel forced, and all three vocalists have moments to shine. I won’t name names, but that’s not a sentence I say about a lot of other groups.
You rarely confuse one singer for the other. When it does happen, it often shows just how talented that one person is.
With Great Power …
Another subtle thing about SHINee is how the group uses its power vocalists, Onew and the late Jonghyun. Some people think a powerful voice automatically makes you a great singer but it doesn’t. There are some artists who bash you upside the head whenever they start singing. Or sound like they’re pushing themselves to a 9 when a nice 6.5 would have worked. A natural gift still needs direction and skills.
You’d think two singers such as Jonghyun — who had an insane vocal range — and Onew — who can sing opera — would have this problem, right? NOPE! Take the song “Your Name” for example. They have these powerful voices, and yet they sound outright timid at times. Granted, this is early in their career, but this shows so much skill and balance.
In fact, Onew and Jonghyun are often used as the supporting vocals! Taemin does as many adlibs and probably vocal runs as they do. “Odd Eye” really allows Minho and Key to have the spotlight during the verses.
One that especially irritates me with K-pop. Often the rapper has this deep, reverberating voice but never sings. Because of that, the harmonies can sound too tinny or too high. But SHINee even let the rappers sing!!
A great example of how vital the bass is, listen to TVXQ’s Mirotic and watch other people cover it. Chances are the chorus will sound a bit shallow and like it’s missing something, especially the line “I got you.” That’s why the song needs the bass. It can balance out the vocals or even add a bridge between two vocalists. Again, I refuse to name names, but that’s something some groups neglect. SHINee never has. Minho is a rapper, but he can also sing. That helps balance out Jonghyun’s and Taemin’s tenor voices. Again, “My Name” or the end of “Odd Eye” is a good example of that strength.
Taemin the Vocalist …
Okay, I haven’t touched on this too much because, honestly, he deserves a whole section to himself. When he first signed to SM Entertainment, a vocal teacher told Taemin he would only be a dancer. Remember, he was only 15 when he debuted in 2008, and he had that in his head.
Now he’s performing sold-out solo concerts. Part of why I said power alone doesn’t make a great vocalist is because of Taemin himself. I don’t even know where to start with him. Like the others, he has great control of his voice and emotes so much feeling into his work. I was afraid he’d only release dance tracks. But he has great songs like “Already” and “Soldier” that prove otherwise.
Combine that with his amazing stage presence and dancing and he’s unstoppable. It’s inspiring to see just how far he’s grown as an artist and entertainer. Remember, hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard.
I originally planned to spend this section, explaining just how great of a writer Jonghyun was. But when I realized my whole argument here is the strength of SHINee as a unit, I decided to spread the love.
Jonghyun and Minho got their first writing credits with the single “Juliette,” a full year after their debut. I know I’m supposed to write something really smart here, but I’m just stuck yelling “HOW!?” Yes, the idol/writer/composer is more common now. But there are still a lot of artists who haven’t had that opportunity. Heck, there are artists at SM Entertainment who still haven’t written their songs, let alone a lead single! I still have no idea how they did it.
Onew and Key soon also got writing credits — Onew with “Your Name” (a fact I didn’t know until this paragraph, btw) — and Key with “Get It.” Minho also honed his skills, writing more of his raps. “Obsession” is definitely one to note as it’s another team-up with Jonghyun and Minho and is one of my favorites from the group. Again, how were they that talented at such a young age? I’ll never understand it.
Taemin wouldn’t get his first writing credit until his second solo album. As the youngest in a large family myself, I completely understand. Then again, he wrote “Press Your Number,” so maybe he was protecting us until we were finally ready.
Spoiler: We were not!
As I said at the beginning, this is an extraordinary group. I’m really thankful that we have these amazing artists, for however long we have them.