K-Pop Group SHINee Cut Through the Darkness on ‘The Story of Light’ (REVIEW)
As Minho would say: “SHINee’s back!” On May 25, the shining K-pop group celebrated their 10 year anniversary, and three days later (May 28) they released the first of three “episodes” that, when combined, will form SHINee’s sixth studio album.
The Story of Light Episode 1 comes after an unimaginably traumatic year for the group. Last August, SHINee’s leader Onew was accused of sexual harassment. He was later cleared of the charges in April. Then, in December, member Jonghyun died tragically after a reported battle with depression.
With The Story of Light, SHINee not only continue to show an impressive evolution of their sound, but the album also serves as a symbol of the group’s unity and strength. SHINee have been very transparent in sharing their grief with fans, known as SHINee World. The Story of Light does not signify a full recovery for the group, but instead highlights their perseverance through the unfathomable, as well as the trust the members and fans share to get through it all together.
The album’s comeback single, “Good Evening,” is a dreamy, electronic pop song. It samples the vocal melody of ‘90s R&B group 112’s single “Cupid,” but it’s reinvented with the song’s fresh, tropical sound. “Good Evening” is a mix of musical styles that SHINee pull off flawlessly, blending the pulsing, addicting backbeat seen in past comebacks like “View” with the romantic lyricism heard on tracks like “Prism.” The song’s lyrics are about wanting to run to a loved one and visit them in the cover of night, and members Key and Minho provide lyrics for the rap portions of the song. When asked about “Good Evening,” Minho said, "This is a song that expresses SHINee's colors well, but shows a new color. It's a song that gives a dynamic feeling and comfort."
Meanwhile, the music video for “Good Evening”—which features eye-catching choreography designed by Koharu Sugawara, who previously choreographed Taemin’s solo tracks like “Flame of Love”—sees the members living under constant scrutiny; they live in a glass house while televisions broadcast their faces back at them, and video cameras record all of their movements. They eventually manage to break free from their confines and are able to run away into a lush forest, looking happy and childlike again.
At one point in the visual, the group peer down into a well and a mysterious shadow appears. Fans have suggested that it is Jonghyun, who continues to be an integral part of the group even after his passing. If so, it’s a welcome inclusion and helps to affirm fans that SHINee will forever be a five-member group.
Elsewhere on the record, “JUMP” highlights the sexier side of SHINee’s music, blending a sharp mix ‘70s disco, ‘90s New Jack Swing and the future bass sound commonly heard today. But the track doesn’t get lost in its diverse influences: the groovy bassline makes the listener feel like they’re in a retro club, ready to dance the night away, while a unique moment right before the final chorus features Taemin’s breathy vocals as they become submerged in the melody, forcing the listener to dive deeper before resurfacing.
Another eclectic and experimental cut, “All Day All Night” begins with the chirping of birds and Taemin and Onew’s soft, lilting voices, offering the sensation of a beautiful, brand new day starting and leading listeners to believe it will be a simple, dreamy song before the track suddenly kicks up tempo and explodes. “Undercover” opens with Key’s vocals altered to sound as if he’s speaking into a radio, like he’s on an undercover mission, while the lyrics are about trying to sneak into a lover’s heart before they can notice. At one point, the members’ voices are left accompanied only by the soft sound of raindrops before Onew’s sweet falsetto bridges the unique breakdown and returns back to the song’s chorus.
The final track on the album is the most poignant. Sleepy and celestial, “You & I” tells the story of losing a loved one from an uncommon perspective: instead of avoiding or fighting against the pain of loss, the lyrics admit their sorrow and acceptance. Key penned the track last summer, but later added changes that fans believe were in light of Jonghyun’s passing: “I’m the only one hurting, I may look fine but I’m not easy / My feelings aren’t for decoration / There are countless stars in my heart, but there’s one star that shines painfully / I don’t want to grab it but I don’t want it to go out.”
The song also capture yearning for a simpler, easier time, like childhood, as Key airily sings his goodbyes. The final chorus allows the members to harmonize together as one, strong unit standing together against extreme heartache. Their vocals leave a hollow feeling with the listener that lasts long after “You & I” fades away; this is a song that may require fans to grab a few tissues before each listen.
Ten years after their debut, Onew, Key, Minho and Taemin rented a billboard to thank fans for their support outside the SM Entertainment’s SMTOWN Coex Artium in Seoul. "We're thankful to have spent so much time of the first part of our lives with you all. Thank you for always believing in us and walking along this path with us,” the sign read. “We hope that the time spent with us is as happy and precious as it was for us … We will not forget that these moments are the most precious and we will go forward with strength. We're always thankful. Since you all will brighten the path we will walk on, we will continue on without stopping. Thank you always, SHINee World. We love you.”
With each new milestone, SHINee continue to solidify their status as one of K-pop’s leading acts by continuing to evolve their sound, their choreography and exhibiting a level of passion fans (shawols) can’t help but absorb. The Story of Light Episode 1 is the first step on a new journey together between SHINee and their fan base, and it will be fascinating to see which musical direction the next two episodes in the series will take.