When it comes to SHINee, I always think that there are a bunch of coulda-beens-shoulda-beens in terms of performance style and distribution amongst the members. Unlike DBSK, I find the combination of SHINee members to be a little bit odd, especially considering how formulaic the group actually is. Onew and Jonghyun are the two vocalists – Jonghyun covers the high parts and Onew covers the low parts; Taemin and Key are the dancers – Taemin leads and Key supports; Key and Minho are the rappers – Key does the flashy stuff while Minho lays low. Every member’s role is so compartmentalized, and yet at the same time, the group as a whole is supposed to be this so-called ‘contemporary band’ that is superpro at singing, dancing, fashion, whatever. Or, at least, that’s how SM is marketing them – it’s pretty obvious that SM’s been investing boatloads of time, money and attention so that these five boys can be their new company ~stars~.
But it’s not to say that SM is completely deluded into thinking that SHINee has the capability to possess that all-around star quality everyone’s looking for. The above video serves as fairly good evidence of SHINee’s abilities to perform like a perfectly synced machine. Granted, this video was taken about a week before their formal debut, so they were probably working their butts off in weeks prior to EXUDE PERFECTION FROM THEIR PORES but that’s beside the point. The point is that there was a moment in time where all five members could perform like that and frankly, I kinda want that back.
Correct me if I’m wrong, but I’m fairly certain that SM debuted SHINee with a special emphasis on their dance abilities. That emphasis has stayed, what with the difficult choreography they were given for “Lucifer,” but their focus has gone down considerably. Fans will be quick to say that SM’s just been overworking them and the members are being pulled in too many directions at once. And if that’s really true, then that’s pretty effing tragic because, well, I like my K-pop performers to be good at performing, first and foremost. Screw the other variety-show-radio-host-CF-drama-role bullcrap that idols are doing these days to improve their image cred and their ‘well-roundedness.’ If you’re not a good performer, then go home.
SHINee was supposed to be that group that wins people over with their performance skill first before charming them with their winning personalities. They did a pretty good job of this during 2008, but after that it was ‘Onew-condition this’ and ‘Flaming-charisma that’ and they just kinda lost it. Pre-debut videos like the one above just make me want to go to SM’s exec board and give everyone a good shake because as artists, SHINee can do better. Jonghyun is capable of not sounding like he’s about to rupture his soft palate every time he hits a high note. Taemin is capable of showcasing his dance skill without popping his way through every performance. Onew is capable of showing his versatile vocal skills in ways apart from a really crappy rendition of a Puccini aria. Key is capable of gaining popularity through his singing and dancing talent rather than his so-called ‘diva-ness.’ And yes, Minho is capable of singing as well as all the other members.
I hold the biggest beef with Minho because the only reason why he’s so useless in the group is because SM hasn’t worked him to be up to par with the other members. It was pretty clear that SM was onto something when they had him sing “Milk Tea” at that fanmeeting in Japan last year, but the next year they had him sing one of Musiq’s songs (?!?!?!) and had him do a random rap halfway through and called it a performance. And then he lip-synched through “O.M.G” during the full-length concert, where his performance was highlighted not by his skill, but by his abs. It almost made me want to cry.
The solution to Minho and his crappy singing is so simple it makes me want to kill someone. The boy is singing from his throat and is not forming his vowels correctly. He still has some pitch problems, yes, but that’s something that is best fixed with singing in a group – and even within SHINee he hasn’t had a full experience to do so because he’s been condemned to the atonal role of Charismatic Rapper Extraordinaire that, ultimately, does nothing for his sense of musicality. It’s obvious that the vocal trainers at SM tried to fix his pitch problem by telling him to elongate his vowels in that of the same way as classically trained vocalists, which is why he sounds so out of place and uncomfortable when he’s singing a pop tune. Minho’s inability to sing is something that can be so easily fixed – give him the right songs to start off with, and then work him up to the flashy stuff – but it seems like SM’s more keen on not dealing with the problem and letting him act. Which he is legitimately awful at – and it’s not even his effing job. Minho is the obvious weak link in the group at the moment. Make Minho a good singer, and SHINee will improve by that much.
SM really confuses me sometimes because there are times where it really looks like SM is committed to making sure their artists are perfect singers, perfect dancers, perfect performers in every way. But then once you hit gold with a group like SHINee or SNSD, it all seems to go straight down the drain. Members no longer have the time to work on their weak points, so the burden of an entire performance area (singing, dancing, etc) begins to rest entirely on the shoulders of one or two members. Those members quickly become exhausted and what do you have? A crappy group. Many idols have said that once you debut, you no longer have time for practice or improvement. Which makes sense, but what doesn’t make sense is when a group is clearly getting worse and there’s nothing being done to rectify it. That’s how artists burn out. And with each artist in a 10-year long contract, a burn-out is the last thing you want on your hands.
With SHINee rising to hot-shot-ism, it’s clear that all of the things they were originally so good at – flawless performances and well-roundedness – are falling by the wayside. The reason why the members of DBSK were able to last for so long musically (logistics is another matter, of course) is because all the members were well-rounded. Unlike SHINee, DBSK didn’t start out as a well-rounded group, but it was through their activities that they learned to work on their own weaknesses and become their own pillars of strength, whilst also playing off the strengths of the other members.
I will always maintain that SHINee has the capabilities of being better than DBSK. SHINee simply started off better – better debut song, better work ethic, better group dynamic, more talented and well-rounded members. But SHINee has also fallen victim to the current K-pop climate where idols are pulled in a thousand directions at once – to earn more money, to appease fans, whatever. In any case, it eats away at the heart of true musical performance, setting lower standards for mediocre groups and forcing talented groups to lower their own standards.
So in conclusion: Idols, stop sucking. Management companies, stop creating environments and work schedules where said suckage can thrive. And bring back the dancing boys!