On Jan. 23, 2017, SM Entertainment released the late Kim Jonghyun‘s second full album “Poet | Artist.” Comprised of 11 tracks, nine of which are self-composed, the album is a treasured gift for fans of the amazingly talented, wonderfully kind 27-year-old.
Dec. 18, 2017 is a Monday morning I never want to relive but one that will forever be part of my life. The panic-stricken tightness I woke up with, the feeling that something was not quite right. The initial disbelief and shock, the following horror and defeat, none of those feelings will ever truly leave me.
The last two months were not easy, and I don’t see the next two magically becoming so. Grief is not linear. But I am better, better enough to love this album with all my heart. In a lot of ways, this is my farewell to Jonghyun: an artist I discovered in late 2016 but an artist of my life just the same. In just as many ways this is a promise to myself, that no matter how much it may hurt, I will never forget him.
Serving as the title and opening track, “Shinin'” is as bright as the name suggests, setting the tone for the rest of the album. The accompanying music video is a shimmering homage to Jonghyun’s love of recording music, the moon and his late-night radio show “Blue Night Radio,” with each one earning its own scene.
2. “Only One You Need”
Driven by powerful percussion and EDM elements, “Only …” is a tale of intense passion, highlighting Jonghyun’s middle and lower registers. The intensity of the percussion swells and calms, not unlike a heartbeat of someone in a tense situation. “The reason my eyes are clear / the reason your ears are warm,” he conveys passionately. “Our fingertips [are] getting tingly / I’m the only one who can take you, nobody else / [I’m the] only one you need.”
In a world where rumors are presented as fact often without challenge, the third track is particularly pertinent. Jonghyun explains the absurdity of tabloid stories over a laid-back beat comprised of an electric bass, high hat synths and snaps, perfect for your “walk with purpose” playlist. “Such a powerful fortuneteller you are, you know just by looking at his eyes,” he sings, referring to people speculating about celebrity romances. “Eat a waffle / you try it too, try eating the bad comments.” Fans deem this verse as a stroke of genius. The Korean pronunciation for “waffle” and the Korean word for “bad comments” or “hate comments” rhyme, while a hashtag (#) resembles a waffle.
This sultry addition to Jonghyun’s repertoire is a bit deceiving upon first listen. Without lyrics, his playful staccato vocals nestled neatly in between a thumping R&B-esque bass would suggest a love song. But “Grease” tells the story of someone who wishes to forget the relationship they were in, wanting to wipe away the grease stains left by the other person: “I want to clean it up / I want to fix it up.”
5. “Take The Dive”
Falling for someone often feels just like a free fall; that initial step can be terrifying and exhilarating. “Dive” captures the sensation of the uneasy and exciting first steps. The prominent electric guitar often associated with alternative rock and Jonghyun’s whimsical falsetto take you to the sky flying over an open ocean, or cliff diving into a stormy gray sea. “When my small world met yours / Then the waves arose,” Jonghyun croons in the second verse, “Just one laugh colors in my once colorless heart.”
“Sightseeing” is a clear tribute to Jonghyun’s love of Jazz. The beginning samples car horns, a baby crying, idle chatter and other bustling city noises, which quickly transition into muted trumpets and a relentless funky bassline. The lyrics zero in on monotonous city life: people walking around, looking at their phones, possibly walking into traffic, and Jonghyun observes it all. “They look miserable,” he notes. “Like they’re being dragged / Their faces, their legs look so heavy babe.”
Simple and engaging, “Rewind” is a track ready for the clubs. The song doesn’t build. In fact, it mellows out in a half-time breakdown before returning to the original beat while repeated phrases and dreamy whispers make it hypnotizing. The use of six languages — Korean, Chinese, English, Japanese, German and French — adds an unexpected flair to the lyrics as Jonghyun repeats, “One, two, three, again (rewind)” in each.
8. “Just for a day”
Memory is a powerful thing. Whether we want them to or not, memories come to our conscious mind drudging up positive, negative or neutral emotions. “Just for a day,” tells of someone who just wants to forget a person, but their memory won’t let them. The pain is so severe the speaker goes as far to wish ill for the other (“Just for a day, please / I wish you were dead”), but that becomes a lamenting plea to turn back time (“Just for a day, please / I wish we were together.”)
9. “I’m So Curious”
Ever daydream about being in a relationship with a specific person, whether they know you exist or not? “… Curious” voices those sentiments over another signature chill trap-like beat that only Jonghyun can create. “What would it feel like? / If I met eyes with you?” he murmurs, adding to the daydreaming feel. “What would it feel like? / If I kissed your lips? / I’m so curious.”
This title speaks for itself. Combining a piano, tasteful electric guitar and bass, and the repeated lyrics “I’m feeling sentimental” really makes this song a bittersweet tune. Jonghyun’s voice is clear and crisp while he tells the story of missing a memory rather than missing the person or interactions themselves. It shares elements with his song “2:34.”
11. “Before Our Spring”
The final track is the ballad that could end all ballads. With just a piano and his voice, Jonghyun sings of the coming spring and the warmth it will bring. SM Entertainment released the music video alongside “Shinin’.” It serves as a tribute to not only Jonghyun as an entertainer but as the soft soul that he was.
Grief is not linear. The ups and downs I’ve experienced these last two months have been some of the most turbulent in my life. Some of us are still hurting deeply, some of us have returned to a semblance of normalcy. But I hope we all can find comfort listening to this album Jonghyun gifted us and heal together.
To Jonghyun, my Poet, my Artist, you did well. You worked so hard. Rest now and thank you.