“It’s like looking back at the first act of my life,” an emotional Lee Taemin tells the camera during a VLive broadcast from his home in Seoul. “It’s not something to be upset about, but I just feel upset about how the time flew by.”
There comes a time in every male Korean idol’s career where the pause button has to be pressed and, as SHINee’s maknae (youngest member) announced in that April livestream, his turn is looming on the horizon. On May 31, Taemin will enlist for his mandatory military service, bringing down the curtains on an incredibly accomplished first chapter of his career – the kind most people would be happy to enjoy even a small fraction of.
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The star’s reflective mood in his broadcast is unsurprising – as he himself acknowledged, he’s barely had a break since debuting at 14 years old. Heading to the military will give him his longest period of “time off” from his day job since he first became an SM Entertainment trainee. It’s only natural, then, that as he’s about to be given some space from all he’s known for the last 13 years – be that SHINee, supergroup SuperM or his solo projects – he would begin to take stock of everything that’s happened so far.
As he looks back, Taemin will find a first act to be proud of – one full of constant improvement, passion and hard work. It’s hard to imagine a time when the 27-year-old wasn’t considered an all-round talent, but back when SHINee made their debut in 2008, he was thought of more as a dancer than a singer. Infamously, his vocals weren’t even featured on the iconic debut track ‘Replay’, yet now he’s one of the most respected and beloved singers and dancers in the biz. It’s a journey that highlights just how far he’s come and how much he’s poured into his life as an idol. These days (and for a long time now), Taemin is one of K-pop’s most reliable aces, a star who can inject magic into any song or performance.
“Reliable” might not be the most exciting adjective, but Taemin certainly does live up to its definition as an authentic and dedicated idol to his craft. His consistency doesn’t cancel out his ability to thrill and he does so on a regular basis. That enthralling nature sparkles whether he’s conquering the stage with his theatrical, elegant dance style or playing with the ideas of gender and androgyny, as he did in the video for his 2017 solo song ‘Move’, blurring the lines between femininity and masculinity with the song’s now-iconic choreography.
Over the last 13 years, Taemin has also proven just how versatile a performer he is. Here is an artist who can take on an eclectic range of bold concepts, from the avant-garde to the seductive and everything in between. It’s no shock that a member of SHINee – a group renowned for their ability to constantly mix things up – is a pro at always finding some new ground to explore.
The title of his ‘Never Gonna Dance Again’ series didn’t hint at an impending retirement but a desire to break free and try something new only goes to show just how commendably committed he is to shaking things up, even when he could easily rest on his laurels. In case there’s still any doubt over that fact, Taemin has one more release before he heads off to the military – the solo mini-album ‘Advice’.
For someone who has had very little time off since he was a child, it’s impressive how much Taemin consistently gives to his work. He’s clearly an idol who’s in love with both performing and creating, his passion and energy palpable in everything he does, even down to communicating with fans during livestreams on VLive and Instagram. The joy he seems to find in his work is infectious, gilding his performances – both on stage and on record – with even more gold. His teary broadcast last month reinforced this feeling further – a change of scenery might be refreshing, but he’ll miss every aspect of his job as an idol.
“I want to say not to worry about me,” Taemin adds during that VLive, a smile breaking out on his face. “Because I’ll be back next year. This makes it sound like a short period of time, right? I think I’ll be back at the end of next year’s November.” When he does come back to us, service done, expect Taemin’s second act to be even more brilliant than his first and full of yet more risk-taking, flawless creativity.