SHINee. It would be extremely surprising if any K-pop fan didn’t know the name SHINee, or the immense impact that they have had on the K-pop industry. For 13 years now, SHINee has broken records, set trends and come out with brilliant songs that prove that they are here to stay.
SHINee debuted in May 2008 under SM Entertainment with the release of their song “Replay.” Perhaps members Lee Jin-ki, Kim Ki-bum, Choi Min-ho, Lee Tae-min and the now-late Kim Jong-hyun didn’t know it at the time, but they were all about to become immortalized as K-pop superstars. An instant success, the song debuted at 10th place on the Korean music charts, with more than 8,000 CD sales in its first month and over 17,000 in the first quarter of the year. Their first stage performance was only a few days after the song’s release on the popular music program, SBS’ Inkigayo.
SHINee’s “Replay” dance practice video was the first official dance practice video released by a K-pop group, which set a new industry standard. However, while this was SHINee’s first dance practice video, their dance practice for their single “Lucifer” was an even more major hit. This video was so popular that other groups immediately hopped on the trend, and eventually, it became a cornerstone of K-pop culture. In the beginning, SHINee’s dance practices — and the many groups that followed them — were simple, usually showing the group dancing in comfortable clothes in their dance studios. Recently though, groups have added more flair to their dance practice videos by using outfits from their music videos, adding in special backdrops or doing dramatic camera work.
Not only did “Replay” start the dance practice trend, but it also popularized a certain new fashion sense that the internet named the “SHINee Trend.” SHINee’s fashion was defined by high-top sneakers and bright clothes, especially colorful skinny jeans and sweaters. Kim Ki-bum was assigned a position in SM entertainment in 2015 as a fashion director and worked on the styling for the “SHINee World IV” concert. Ki-bum is credited as the designer of the concert’s white-and-gold-decorated suits that have become an iconic look for the group.
Ki-bum and Tae-min have offered fresh perspectives on the idea of gender in fashion, and have both been credited with developing a new genderless style trend in K-pop. From the dark and mysterious style of “Odd Eye” to the bold retro look of “1 of 1,” SHINee asserts that they can pull off anything. When watching a SHINee music video, you’ll notice the song seems to bleed into the fashion and visuals. The way that this mix of vocals and aesthetics supplements one another creates such beautiful harmony and is what makes this group so special.
In June of 2011, SHINee made their debut in Japan by releasing a version of “Replay” in Japanese. Second-generation SM Entertainment K-pop artists like BoA and Girls’ Generation had popularized Japanese debuts, which soon became a way for groups to bring the style of K-pop music and performances to a more global audience. The Japanese release of “Replay” sold around 91,000 copies in its first week, and at the time was the highest number of sales recorded by Oricon for a South Korean group debut in Japan.
In December 2011, just a few months later, the group came out with a full Japanese studio album, “The First.” The album included songs such as Japanese remakes of “Juliette” and “Lucifer” as well as the addition of five new original songs. The album’s release was successful and led to the “SHINee World 2012” tour, which was a 20-concert, Japanese-arena tour. The 200,000 fans that attended set a new turnout record for the first Japanese tour of a South Korean artist and ended up generating 25 billion won (about $22 million in USD) off of this tour alone.
SM Entertainment celebrates a Halloween party each year called SMTOWN Wonderland; to comply with South Korea’s COVID-19 regulations, this year’s event turned into a costume photo shoot. Surprisingly, the tradition of wearing costumes at all to this celebration didn’t start until 2013 when the SHINee members came in as the only five people dressed in costumes. Immediately afterward, the founder of SM Entertainment, Lee Soo-man, decided that all the artists should wear costumes every year. In 2015, Ki-bum dressed up as Ronald McDonald, which ended up creating a new viral internet meme when a video was posted of him taking off his curly red wig. This year, Jin-ki showed up in an incredibly intricate The Penguin supervillain costume.
SHINee’s charm has captured the hearts of fans everywhere — even the hearts of other famous figures. Actor Jack Black ran into the now-deceased Jong-hyun at an airport in Korea and asked him if he was a rock star before introducing himself and meeting the rest of the group. Former President Barack Obama famously referenced SHINee in the 2017 Asia Leadership Conference, citing that young Americans have had more of an interest in Korean culture and language because of groups like SHINee.
Likewise, the impact that K-pop groups have had on expanding people’s interest in Korea cannot be overstated; in 2018, Korean language study programs saw a 13.7% increase in enrollments. Much of this can be attributed to the rise of the Korean Wave, or Hallyu, which references the increasing popularity of Korean media internationally.
Like that of K-pop and contemporary Korean culture, SHINee’s influence is seen all around the world. Not only have they had a lasting impact on the K-pop industry so far, but they are also constantly redefining what it means to be artists, dancers, singers and performers.