This may be surprising to some, but as a poet, my largest (and perhaps most predominant) source of inspiration is not necessarily other poems, or the biographies and memoirs of poets past, but rather, music videos. Blame it on MTV, maybe, the irresponsibly young age at which I acquired my first computer, or my parents’ insistence on me joining a youth choir in my early adolescence, but I’ve always found myself highly motivated by sounds and the feeling they inspire. I am sometimes too preoccupied with the sonic effects in my own poems. In the aftermath of my uncle’s death last September I turned more readily to music as an escapist tactic, hoping to lose myself in worlds entirely unlike the one I inhabited. Less than two months later, another great loss struck me, this time from across the Pacific in the form of idol singer Kim Jonghyun’s passing. Now, South Korean boy-group SHINee has released a new single (데리러 가, or ‘Good Evening’), one with a hypnotic gravitas that courts the aimlessness of grief and the various sites of their own loss so erratically that I cannot help but to engage my own restless discomfort for the better.
Perhaps it is the double-language of the music video format. Consumed independently of its visual accompaniment, 데리러 가 is no more than a spin on the boy-band-love-song cliché, albeit with surrealistic elements. Within the lyrics, the speaker likens the divide between their lover and theirself to that of light and darkness, and speaks of “opening up” the night, a seemingly impossible task. The race against this encroaching lightlessness and all the ambiguity it implies is the song’s central conflict, if it can be labelled as such, and is made to appear all the more futile by the looming shadow of Jonghyun’s death. I’ll be frank. Upon hearing that the remaining four members of SHINee had renewed their contracts with SM Entertainment, my worry was not that I would be unable to think of them as a unit without their beloved fifth, but rather, that I would no longer find it possible to reconcile the living memorials the group’s past albums would become with the undeniable presentness of his absence. In the same way that I’d effortlessly compartmentalized my uncle’s death, so, too, would Jonghyun become a figment of my own nostalgia—rendered incapable of harm.
SHINee goes the extra mile to make this act of self-preservation an impossibility. The video is rife with evidence of grief’s toll on the body—shuttered stares, aborted movements, even one particularly notable instance of suffocative choreography underneath a plastic sheet. One by one, the members of SHINee make stilted attempts to relearn themselves on screen, and not without significant effort, coached by shadows and wide-eyed animal guides that do not speak but say just enough through their silence. On a meta-level, strategically-placed cameras allude to the impersonal and invasive media presence in their lives as celebrities with no reprieve. Nevertheless, they find their own atypical rhythms again as they dance frantically to the song’s final chorus, blank-faced, a futile-seeming response to the omnipresence of the forces conspiring against—or with?—them. The conclusions that can be drawn from this scene are, at best, open-ended and rife with uncertainty; but what is grieving, then, if not that senseless lurching toward secrecy, the outpouring of insensible emotion, the understanding that nothing can truly be understood? There is no way to say, but SHINee appears (for all intents and purposes) to pull us toward that unknowing, and in doing so, encourage us to make what little peace with it we can.
Watch the video on YouTube