(x)clusive!: Shinhwa: Unchanging Legends since 1998

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The term “Longevity Idol” has been following Shinhwa for a while now, almost like a curse. We say this because Shinhwa is so much more than the longest-running idol group in Korea but their longevity seems to be the only thing people talk about. As Shinhwa turns 20 this year, our team finds it fitting to share a bit more about this Korean boy group who has been making history, not just for their longevity. Care to go for a little walk down memory lane with us?

Shinhwa debuted on March 24, 1998 under S.M. Entertainment with the title track “해결사 (Problem Solver)”. Their debut song was unfortunately released during the period that the South Korean economy was hit by the IMF Crisis. Not exactly a relatable song for the times. They then promoted a second title track from the album, “으쌰! 으쌰! (Eusha! Eusha!)“, about having fun in the water, just before a flood disaster occurred in Korea. Talk about an unlucky debut! Their first album was a flop and they were on the verge of disbandment.

They decided to give themselves a second shot at this idol business and released a second album, with the agreement that if that failed too, they’d give up. Thankfully, it didn’t, and the title track of their second album, “T.O.P.”, continues to be covered by idol groups today.

In 2001, Shinhwa faced their first crisis when their youngest member, Andy, had to leave to the United States to care for his mother who was ill. That was the first time the group promoted as five members and their success made Andy consider not returning. But Shinhwa never gave up hope that their maknae would return – and they made sure to constantly remind Andy that Shinhwa is only Shinhwa when they are six. Hence the formula which all Shinhwa fans would be familiar with: 6-1=0. Thankfully, the other five members managed to convince Andy, and a year later during Shinhwa’s fan meeting, Andy officially came back from his hiatus and the group was complete again.

When their contracts with S.M. Entertainment expired in 2003, everyone but Dongwan was offered a second contract. Despite the fact that the leader, Eric, was offered a solo contract at a hefty price, he decided to reject it and continue as Shinhwa. So all six members joined the now-defunct Good Entertainment (owned by CJ Music). It was a risk, breaking away from an established entertainment company to join a smaller one, but the risk paid off. Shinhwa won their first ever Daesang (Grand Prize Award) with their first album produced under Good Entertainment, showing how it was possible to leave a Big-3 company and still succeed.

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Under Good Entertainment, the Shinhwa members were also able to pursue solo careers while still promoting as a group. It was something that was unfathomable back then, but Shinhwa pioneered the idea of idol groups breaking out into solo activities without disbandment. It was possible because the members prioritized Shinhwa. So much so that even during their solo activities, they made sure to remind the audience that they were first and foremost, a member of Shinhwa.

In 2008, Shinhwa turned 10 and, with their coming of age, had to serve in the military. Their 10th anniversary concert was full of tears as both the members and fans cried at needing to part for a few years. It was later revealed that Shinhwa was possibly on the verge of disbandment during the hiatus as the members had been apart for so long. Would people still remember them? Would they still have fans? But Eric convinced all of the members to come back, reminding them of their promise to the fans – to return as Shinhwa after the hiatus. As Good Entertainment was defunct by then, Shinhwa founded their own entertainment company “Shinhwa Company”, with Eric and Minwoo as co-CEOs, to manage the group’s activities. And so, after 4 years, Shinhwa released their 10th album, “The Return”.

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With their return, Shinhwa also worked with JTBC to produce their own variety show, “Shinhwa Broadcast” which ran for two years. The sextet made history again as the first Korean idol group to host their own variety show. The group has shared that they have plans to produce another variety show this year so that’s something to look forward to!

While the six of them were making history under their name “Shinhwa” after leaving S.M. Entertainment, they did not actually own the rights to it. In fact, they needed to pay royalty, which prompted them to momentarily stop printing the word “Shinhwa” on their albums, opting to use a logo instead. As they were fighting a lawsuit to win back the rights to their name, they also temporarily renamed their company “ShinCom Entertainment”. Finally, on May 29, 2015, after 12 years of fighting for the rights to their name, “Shinhwa” finally belongs to Shinhwa.

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It is now 2018, and Shinhwa is turning 20. Isn’t it crazy how fast time flies? It feels like just yesterday that we wrote a tribute article for their 15th anniversary! Congratulations once again to the group for all their achievements the past 20 years. Happy 20th Anniversary, Shinhwa!

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