Key's Romantic Youth
Key is a rare idol who can't hide his "true colors".
The reason why he looks so fun and full of energy even as he is mumbling about the little things is because he is genuinely enjoying the moment. We met with a healthy youth who knows how to tell his real story: Key.
Editor/ Kwon Minji
Photographed by Kim Hyunsung
Around the time of SHINee’s debut, Key didn’t stand out much compared to the other members. Jonghyun had distinguished vocal skills. Minho looked like he walked straight out of a shoujo-manga. Onew shook the hearts of many noonas with genial looks befitting of his name. Taemin was a maknae who was as fresh as a daisy and looked prettier than girls. Key, on the other hand, seemed somewhat cold and was a relatively quiet boy. But his ‘talent’ was gradually brought to light and started to call for attention. Once uninhibitedly spitting out on a variety show that, “If I want to do anything, somebody needs to place me into that job”, he now has his career crossing back and forth between his performances and the small screen for everyone to see. He has promotions for SHINee’s 5th mini album "Everybody" and will be performing as D’Artagnan for "The Three Musketeers" starting from December 13th. This is his third musical following "Catch Me If You Can" and "Bonnie and Clyde".
But how I started to grow curious about the real ‘Key’ instead of ‘Key from SHINee’ was when he started to express his more relatable charms. He likes coffee and fish and chips, but dyes his own hair, and vents about the expensive pricing of Gangnam hair salons. Within this person coexists both charms of a picky city boy and that of a relatable boy-next-door. His love for himself is so strong that even during a trip abroad he took endless "selfies" while going on about how “it’s no fun without my face in it (picture)” and he shares his honest feelings such as “how wonderful would it have been if I had joined We Got Married” on air. It’s hard to come by an idol who chooses a youth hostel over a hotel, when he has flown all the way to London, and who also chitchats with the locals. Despite him saying what’s on his mind, he is also the one who embraces most of the mischief conducted by the members (it’s to the point where the fans have a name, "Key-mori", for it). Key has so much ambition and jealousy, so many things that he likes and hates. As I watch him say, “I wish time would go slower,” I think to myself that he is a healthy youth who is doing his best to enjoy the "present".
You’re playing the role of D’Artagnan for "The Three Musketeers" and working again with Um Ki Joon and Park Hyung Sik, whom you’ve worked with in "Catch Me If You Can" and "Bonnie and Clyde". Working together in a series of plays must provide some ease but can be burdensome at the same time.
It’s most definitely comfortable. "The Three Musketeers" especially has many possible outcomes. There are four main characters and a number of interactive segments with the audiences. On top of that, there are scenes that can only lead to ad-libs. For example, all four characters need to head out upon hearing “Now, let’s go!” and that line would be different for each actor. One may say, “Now, let’s start”, and the other, “Shall we?” Working with actors you’re familiar with is good for thinking out the ensemble, stage directions and the synergy. It also helps to step inside and scan the practice room to get a sense of relief (by seeing familiar faces). The reason behind any burden is, quite simply, because of my ambition to do better this time.
Characters are reborn every time they come to life through different actors, but it’s easier and faster to compare how that is for a musical with double casts. What would Key’s D’Artagnan be like?
I thought a lot about it. In case of Um Ki Joon hyung, he is just awesome because of all the experiences from his long musical career, and I think (Park) Hyung Sik will develop the character with his own masculine appeal. I thought I should do it differently. I’m constructing a character who lives and dies for justice – isn’t there something in the late teenage years where one just looks at one thing and doesn’t care about anything else? – a D’Artagnan who is completely naïve in everything else.
It sounds similar to “Key’s” character.
Looking back at my 18-year-old self, I was really like that. D’Artagnan traveled long ways from home to become a musketeer to fight for justice, but in the play, the hyungs keep on taunting him for being a country lad and that gets him riled up. Practicing that scene got me thinking that we share similarities in flaring up when hearing what we don’t want to hear; also in that I lacked tact.
What do you mean you’re not perceptive? Aren’t you rather keen? In an age of all-around entertainer-idols, I saw you uninhibitedly say that you don’t want to compose or write lyrics. I was under the impression that you are fast to self-assess in what you are and aren’t good at?
I don’t think composing or writing lyrics are special gifts God gave me. I don’t know when it became mandatory for all idols to compose and write lyrics, but as of now I want to sing a song composed by someone who is better at it than me, rather than creating something on my own. Compared to that, musicals were a genre I was really interested in trying out. Especially the "show" kind of musicals done in Broadway! So when "Catch Me If You Can" came along, I seized the opportunity. (laugh)
Your first musical "Catch Me If You Can" was driven by the main character, whereas in your second musical, "Bonnie & Clyde", it was important to act out the dynamics between a couple. This time, "The Three Musketeers", like its motto "all for one and one for all", giving life to the spirit of the brotherly bond is crucial in this play. Each holds it’s different charm, so which style do you think fits you?
In the case of "Catch Me If You Can", I had a rough time throughout the practice, up until I actually stepped on the stage and started to enjoy it. It was my first time and I had to learn it from start to finish, all in one month. It was a piece where I could dance and sing and roam about the stage for 40 shows to showcase an energy of my own. Compared to that, "Bonnie & Clyde" had its novelty in that there was a lot that I couldn’t have shown before. There were love scenes that could come off as racy, if you would, and swear words flying through here and there (laugh). "Catch Me If You Can" suited me and "Bonnie & Clyde" was the one I adapted to well. "The Three Musketeers" feels different from what I have previously felt. There needs to be swordsmanship practice and because it is set in the past, I need to pay extra attention to details such as vocabulary and the style of speech. I can’t let any modernity slip out.
Watching you sing "A Tale of a 60-year-old Couple" by Kim Kwang Suk on Radio Star got me thinking that "Key" from SHINee is a very hot idol right now but "Kim Kibum" is someone who cherishes old-fashioned sentiments. You even picked "Notting Hill" as your favorite movie.
I think culture blossomed to its abundance at the 20th century. The first movie I watched was "The Sound of Music", and what I can call the most modern out of the movies I’ve recently watched would be The Sister Act (laugh). I really like "Factory Girl" as well, and I sometimes wonder how it would be if the movie was shot while Andy Warhol was still alive. The video or audio would be of lower quality compared to now, but there would be that energy and the originality that is specific to that moment. Unlike movies, I make a studious effort to search and listen to music that is up to date. In any case, I’m in the music industry, so I try to listen to everything within my knowledge. Neil Diamond, Kanye West, Justin Timberlake…I have so many things I like that some people question what exactly it is that I like. (laugh)
I heard you have much interest in fashion. If it weren’t so, how would your dogs’ names be "Comme des" and "Garcon", otherwise? (laugh)
I didn’t name them after Commes des Garcon because I liked the brand more than others but because the French words had a nice ring to them. Don’t they just roll off your tongue? There are many people who refer to the brand as "Comme des" instead of its full name and "garcon" means "boy". I’m actually not one to get particular with brands. I don’t know the brands of the outfit I’m wearing right now. I just bought it because it was unique. My focus lately is to mix and match. If there’s an expensive item (in the outfit) then I try to throw in a vintage or an eccentric item, that you’re not even sure whether you should be wearing and style things as I please. I feel as though it’s your personal style that leaves a stronger first impression than your face. When I pick out my outfit, I often think, “What would someone who sees me for the first time think after looking at this outfit?”
What feelings did you put into today’s outfit (he’s wearing a white shirt underneath a cape made out of a Tartan checked muffler, skinny jeans and customized converse sneakers)?
To be honest, I was too tired today to dress up in detail - the outfit is pretty normal, but I thought wearing the cape would make it look like I didn’t completely not care. It’s okay even if people don’t want to dress like me. But I would like for them to consider me stylish. Just like how not everyone would want to be like Edie Sedgwick or Andy Warhol, but can’t help but feel their hearts flutter when they see Andy Warhol’s thin but voluminous silver hair. And I would like people to know that fashion can be very day-to-day. Didn’t I used to think that fashion was a far away world? When I was little, even I used to question, "Why would the designers have the models dressed liked that when nobody dresses like that," while watching their collections. Although things look like they’ve gotten better, people still get subtly put off when they hear that you like fashion. So even as I dress unconventionally, I make funny faces and act more casually.
You keep up with the cool kid style, but I take a look at you and see something that isn’t quite like the "kids these days". On the reality program “SHINee's Wonderful Vacation", you worry about the rent for a shop with no customers, pick up a vintage box because you thought it was pretty but put it back down because it was too expensive. You wouldn’t know how long that left me laughing. (laugh)
A lot of it comes from my parents. Dad is a financially savvy man and Mom knew her Marc Jacobs even before I did. Dad wouldn’t make a purchase if it’s expensive even if it’s pretty. But Mom will buy it if it’s pretty, even if it’s pricey. That’s why I can neither buy nor not buy. I waver back and forth saying, "Ah…it’s so pretty but so expensive…" (laugh)
I think showing that kind of detailed emotion somehow makes you look like the most excited one amongst SHINee, an impression that stands out as you look like you’re enjoying everything you’re doing.
Doesn’t that (sentiment) come naturally if you think it’s your own thing? First of all, it is genuinely fun. I can’t hide what I’m excited about. It’s my nature. I try to be myself, just like how I dress and act on instinct. There’s an image that accumulates after being around for so long that even when I do something that stands out, now the fans just go, “It’s okay, since it’s you," and are understanding of it. I think people usually either really like that side of me or really hate it. It’s rare for someone to comment, "Whatever."
SHINee is a well-made group. You guys are always doing something different, while adhering to the characteristic "music for the eyes" of the idol music genre. The performance for the new mini album was good, but the well-built construction with the seven distinctive songs was also very impressive. Which track is your personal favorite?
"Everybody" prior to the arrangement. I’m not too sure about it after it was arranged. It’s not my style (laugh). I think that’s why I favor "Close the Door". The lyrics and the composing is from this underground musician named Jinbo and he doesn’t work much with the major labels. It’s meaningful in that respect and I like the feel of the song the most as well.
Watching you in performances by SHINee and on variety shows leads me to conclude, even as I am interviewing you now, that you have some determination and copious talent. Is there is any area of particular interest for you besides singing and musical?
I want to host a show. OnStyle Channel! Don’t you think it suits me well? (laughs)
Translated by: pixiecloude @ shineee.net