Minho gave himself a daunting mission in 2022. But the K-pop singer, rapper and actor wasn’t worried: “I kind of like the pressure,” he admits to NME, less than a week after the long-awaited release of his solo album – his first-ever solo endeavour after 14 years as a member of quintet extraordinaire SHINee.
The star was the last member of SHINee to go solo – and had quite the legacy to live up to. His bandmates Taemin, Jonghyun, Key and Onew have all built solid careers on their own, sometimes gaining fans who had no idea of their existing superstardom as members of the second-generation group. What’s more, all of them followed a similar rhyme scheme for the titles of their debut albums: ‘Ace’, ‘Base’, ‘Face’, and ‘Voice’, respectively. There was only one missing piece: ‘Chase’, which finally dropped December 6.
Over a Zoom call with NME, the singer says he was definitely worried about following in his bandmates’ footsteps, but didn’t let those thoughts bother him. “The nerves that followed along with making this album pushed me to do better,” he says, youthful eyes widening. “I feel like that kind of drive allowed me to create the work that came out.”
“There is a bit of a healthy competition [in SHINee], of motivating and almost instigating each other to try hard and evolve as artists”
‘Chase’ is pure R&B vibes and cinematic atmosphere. Minho, who originally started as a rapper, shows how wide his range is now – whether it’s complementing the bassline in the eponymous title track or blending his tone with vocalist Lim Kim in ‘Waterfall’, he flows confidently through the EP’s six tracks. His versatility is reflected throughout the album: he chose the concept, the songs, co-wrote ‘Runaway’, and was even involved in the filming and directing of the music video for ‘Chase’. (Did we mention he has a film major?).
NME caught up with Minho to discuss his solo debut, how his acting career informs his music, and how SHINee remains a driving force in his work.
It’s been 14 years since your debut with SHINee. What was the moment when you realised you were ready to go solo?
Minho: “The biggest reason would be the desire to show my fans a work of my own. I figured that this would be a good timing because next year is the 15th anniversary of SHINee, and I want to shift my entire focus on SHINee [then]. I wanted to close this year with an album of my own.”
Your album is built around the theme of chasing or running after/from things. Are you a person who is always on the run, too?
“I don’t chase everything on a daily basis, but like everybody else, I have been running towards and trying to achieve goals and dreams in my career and in my personal life. I wanted to express different moments of chasing or running towards [things] and the interaction between love or goals. It was more of a general, encompassing message.”
Is there anything you run away from in your life?
“Never. Nothing to run away from.”
You helped direct and film the video for ‘Chase’. Why did you focus on telling a full story, as opposed to, say, adding performance scenes?
“The main [reason] was to help the viewers focus more on the music. I figured that acting would create a better synergy, allowing [them] to enjoy and listen. It was also a bold choice to remove the performance from the music video, because it is very unlike the usual SM [Entertainment] style, which really focuses on artists’ performance and dancing. I wanted to try something refreshing and surprise fans with something unconventional.”
What was the most challenging part of preparing this album?
“There was definitely a lack of time, from my perspective. I wanted to dedicate more time and effort to really, really perfect the album to the best of my abilities. I am still pleased with how it came out and happy with the overall result, but I wish I had a little bit more time to focus on the smallest details and make sure everything was in its perfect place.”
And what did you enjoy the most about it?
“The overall process has been very enjoyable, from the process of selecting the songs to setting the direction of the overall album. I was also very active and had multiple meetings with the director, and I remember one of the music video editors edited with me in the room as well. Even on the performance side, a lot of my ideas were incorporated. I really found the joy of creating and being original. The entire [process] has just been very memorable and joyful.”
Since ‘Chase’ is all about choices, is there any choice you made that you wish you could change when you look back to the beginning of your career?
“I’ve definitely had those ‘what if’ moments, as all other people. When people think about things that they want to change, it’s usually when the outcome is not as desired and not as ideal as they hoped, but there’s nothing that I want to go back and change. I believe that the biggest lessons and values come from moments where results are not necessarily ideal, or as I had hoped. I am proud of all the decisions I made.”
You began as a rapper in SHINee and gradually evolved into a singer. How was that process for you?
“Rather than a shift or a transition in my role, it was more of an expansion of the spectrum of work that I can do. In the beginning, I felt like rapping was my stronger suit, so I wanted to focus more on [that]. But through more practice as a SHINee member, I was able to study and find the strength in my own voice, and I wanted to show people that, as an artist, I was now able to expand a little bit more and showcase a different style.”
As your experience with SHINee colours your solo work – from your skills to the album packaging – could you tell us one thing that each of the members has taught you?
“It’s hard to pinpoint exactly which members have influenced me in which aspects, but there is a mutual desire among our group to constantly be better than ourselves. There is a bit of a healthy competition, of motivating and almost instigating each other to try hard and evolve as artists.
“Since I focused on my acting career, it allowed me to better express the messages and the music on my own as well”
“And for this solo album, because the other members have already released [their solo material], I wanted to come back with my own personal colour and show something that is unique and exclusive, that [SHINee fans] Shawol haven’t been able to find in other members’ works.”
The Netflix drama you starred in, The Fabulous, will premiere soon. How do you think that acting influences your work as an idol, and vice versa?
“In the beginning, I saw it as two different types of work. But now, I see them as one big spectrum where I am able to work as an artist. There are definitely benefits that acting comes into my music, because I am constantly experiencing new roles. I remember that, because I had to study [to] act in roles that I hadn’t experienced before, it was very helpful in allowing that kind of expression in my music. Even the members have commented that since I focused on my acting career, it allowed me to better express the messages and the music on my own as well.”
What kind of artist do you want people to see you as? Who is Minho, through your own eyes?
“Rather than having a specific side that I want to show as an artist, I wanted to let the public know that this is the kind of music I like, and this is the type of story and message that I wanted to share. Because I showed a lot of sides during the longevity of my career, I wanted to use [this solo debut] as an opportunity to show new sides of Minho as a solo artist, and as a member of SHINee.”
To wrap it up, since you’re one of K-pop’s biggest football fans, who do you think will win the 2022 FIFA World Cup?
“I’m very apologetic that England did not make it [winces]. But I believe that France, the team that beat them, will win.”
Minho’s ‘Chase’ is out now. He stars in The Fabulous, which premieres on Netflix on December 23