SEOUL (Reuters) – The lead singer of top South Korean boy band SHINee died in hospital on Monday in a possible suicide that robs fans of the globally-famous K-Pop genre of one of its biggest stars.
Kim Jong-hyun, 27, was found unconscious next to burning briquettes on a frying pan inside a serviced residence in the South Korean capital Seoul, a police official told Reuters.
“His sister was first to call the police assuming that he might commit suicide,” said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitive subject. Yonhap news agency said the singer sent a final message to his sister asking her to “let me go.”
Kim spent nearly a decade in his leading role as one of five members of SHINee, one of the most popular boy bands in the country, as well as a solo artist. His death is a blow to the massive worldwide fan base that Korea’s “K-pop” music has attracted in recent years.
Thousands of Korean children dream of becoming household names like rapper Psy, whose 2012 “Gangnam Style” video was a global YouTube hit, often putting up with punishing schedules in the hope of one day making it big in the music industry.
K-pop is the rage in Asia, especially in China and Japan, and the industry has made inroads in the West, with a song by the group BTS maintaining a spot on the Billboard 200 for a seven weeks as of the end of November.
The genre has become one of the defining icons of Korea and forms a major part of what’s been called the Korean Wave, or hallyu, that has made South Korea a global player in culture, in addition to electronics, cosmetics, and other industries.
K-pop’s international appeal is such that South Korean President Moon Jae-in used K-Pop celebrities at events, including a state dinner, in China last week in a bid to smooth out a year of difficult diplomacy with a star-laden charm offensive.
Another member of SHINee, Choi Min-ho, was brought in to make an appearance with U.S. first lady Melania Trump during a state visit to Seoul in early November, only to steal the spotlight from her when a loyal fan’s enthusiasm went viral in a video of the event.
Additional reporting by Cynthia Kim, Hyonhee Shin, and Josh Smith; Writing by Josh Smith; Editing by Matthew Mpoke Bigg