SHINee’s Taemin and the Terms of Sexuality, Identity and Self-Forgiveness

With the journey of finding where I belonged in the world, SHINee member Lee Taemin guided me through the process


Pictured above is Taemin’s teaser poster for his debut album “Press It- The 1st Mini Album.” Photo courtesy of SM Entertainment

In an industry that has remained largely conservative, K-pop star Lee Taemin has been a force to be reckoned with. Evidently, most K-pop groups have released songs revolving around love interests and story telling of one’s feelings about themselves in a much more positive manner. The SHINee member has both challenged and executed this form of lyricism by touching sensitive topics such as religious guilt, struggle with identity and sexuality and androgyny.

Growing up, I frequently attended church under the supervision of my grandmother. Although I participated a great amount, I realized something troubling about myself – I felt nothing. Religion was not in my beliefs, and I felt an extraordinary amount of guilt for failing my grandmother by questioning the word of the Bible.

As time went by, I continued to feel distraught when my grandmother would send me messages, lovingly telling me that she had kept me in her prayers and that God loved me. I ultimately didn’t know how to feel.

As I ventured to find my own personal beliefs and interests outside of God, I discovered SHINee. At the time, many of the members had released solo music, all of which had spoken to me in some way. But the maknae (youngest member of the group), Taemin, had explicitly spoken to me in a way that no artist has ever done. His music was personal and bold, as he was a Catholic experiencing the same thing that I was.

Taemin has numerous tracks expressing his religion and the indulgences in practicing self worship and the worship of others. In terms of worshiping others, it’s quite provocative in the underlying meaning: sex, to make it clear.

In Taemin’s “Heaven”, a b-side from his third full-length album “Never Gonna Dance Again: Act 2,” Taemin lustfully confesses his desire to take his lover to heaven over an instrumental that can be described as a church hymn. With a seductive and sultry voice, he sings the lyrics, “There are no limits/Play freely inside of me/Play little girl, do it like that/It’s already started, one way to me.”

Given the nature of Taemin’s relationship with religion, sex and the act of worshipping someone other than God is extraordinarily irreligious.

Link to Taemin’s Heaven.

In my experience with the topic of sex, I was taught that any form of lust or worship of a lover should be condemned. I felt so much guilt. I was ashamed of loving and wanting to be loved. Not only with the idea of having intimacy with others, but wanting intimacy with a woman as well. How could I do this to myself, my family and God? It took years to come to terms with my sexuality. Suffering with the inability to accept myself, I found myself suppressing my sensuality and yearning for love with other feminine presenting people. I still struggle with it to this day, wallowing in the fear of burdening or upsetting my grandmother or other religious members in my family.

Taemin’s songs such as “Sexuality” and “Move” have given me a sense of comfortability in my sexuality and gender expression even after all the religious trauma and guilt. Exuding androgyny and promiscuity, I found myself perceiving sexuality as an approach to vulnerability in one’s self rather than a flaw. Androgyny, to me, was an asset that showed the daringness to challenge expectations of upholding traditional and orthodox teachings that hindered my true being. And Taemin to me was the epitome of androgyny.

Link to Taemin’s Sexuality, MOVE, and DANGER.

“My aim was to find a middle ground, mixing both masculine and feminine movements into the choreography together,” Taemin said in a Billboard interview, discussing the performance of his song “Move.”

Some time during college, I found myself spiraling downward into a deep depression where I was debilitated, even when it came to enjoying the things I was passionate about. Not only was I struggling with a severe case of imposter syndrome, but I had been diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder Type 1 and PTSD as well. I couldn’t find myself imagining succeeding, whether it be education, growth as a person and finding my sense of self worth.

During the summer, I took a break as I was burnt out mentally and emotionally. For weeks I indulged in what I was passionate about, which is music and the people dedicated to their work in music. SHINee and Taemin were one of the few artists that I found myself finding pleasure in. They were entertaining, funny and relatable. Especially in connection with being open about their vulnerabilities, one thing I struggled with.

“I also don’t want to let anyone down. Just like they have, I’ve always had others that I respected and admired, and the fact that I could become that person for someone is a dream for me,” Taemin said in an interview with NME in 2019.

The renowned dancer is a veteran idol with 14 years experience as an artist of his own caliber. Ingenious is the word to describe him, and I wanted that to be what defined me as well. I found myself writing personal letters every night. Love letters dedicated to the people I admired the most, to be more specific. Taemin was one of them. These letters never expressed possessiveness or over-obsession, but respect for the singer as an artist and a person. I found respect for myself through him, something I’ve struggled with for years.

Lyrics of Taemin’s third full length album “Never Gonna Dance Again: Act 2:” “The person who always appear in my mind, who becomes/My strength because I have it in my everyday life/A resting area I drew for a long time.”

I had a newer purpose in life after spending my summer researching and diving into more SHINee content. I wanted someone to be proud of me, and even though we were from different countries, let alone the fact that we personally don’t know each other. But it doesn’t matter. In the end, I found strength through him and in the process, learned to have strength for myself.

“Although we’re not under the same sky for today, please do not forget that our hearts are always together with you all.”