Kim Ki-bum (born September 23, 1991), better known by his stage name Key, is a South Korean singer, actor, fashion designer and television presenter. Born and raised in Daegu, South Korea, he later travelled to Seoul after a successful audition at the S.M. National Tour Audition Casting. In 2008, Key debuted as a member of South Korean boy group Shinee, who later went on to become one of the best-selling artists in South Korea. Key is widely recognised as a singer, but he has also ventured into different careers, notably as an actor and fashion designer.
As a singer, he has collaborated with various artists, and debuted in the sub-unit Toheart with Woohyun of Infinite. He made his debut as a soloist in November 2018 with the release of the digital single “Forever Yours”. Key has also contributed to songwriting that have been released in Shinee’s and Toheart’s albums. As an actor, he was cast in multiple musicals, such as Bonnie & Clyde (2013), Zorro (2014), and Chess (2015). He has since widened his field as an actor by taking part in several television drama roles, like Drinking Solo (2016) and The Guardians (2017).
In 2015, Key progressed to becoming a fashion designer and took part in numerous projects. For instance, he collaborated with Bridge Shop House to design Shinee concert outfits, and worked with model Irene and the brand Charm’s to design fashion apparel. Due to the success of his works, Key was later appointed as fashion director of the group. In 2016, he became a model for the American fashion brand Jill Stuart.
Key was born on September 23, 1991, in Daegu, South Korea. At the age of 14, he represented Yeong Shin Middle School in his hometown as a water-skier and competed in water-skiing competitions. In 2006, he joined SM Entertainment after a successful audition at the SM National Tour Audition Casting. One year later, he appeared as a background dancer in the film Super Junior, Attack on the Pin-Up Boys.
In 2008, he was chosen as a member of the group Shinee. The group released their first mini-album, Replay on May 22, debuting at #10 and reaching the #8 position on the charts. The first television presentation of the group occurred on May 25, 2008, on the program SBS’s Inkigayo.
Shortly after debut, Key appeared on television shows such as Idol Maknae Rebellion as a guest star alongside his Shinee group mates Taemin, Onew, and Jonghyun for two episodes. Key was also part of the cast of the show Raising Idol along with Dongho from U-KISS and Thunder from MBLAQ. In addition, Key was featured in label-mate Xiah’s solo performance of “Xiahtic” in TVXQ’s concert 2009: The 3rd Asia Tour Mirotic in Seoul. In 2010, he was featured in the song “치유 (Healing)” on TRAX’s mini album “Trax Mini Album Volume 1”, and in Girls’ Generation’s song “Hwaseongin Virus (Boys & Girls)” (Korean: “화성인 바이러스 (Boys & Girls)”) for their second studio album, Oh!. In 2011, Key collaborated with Leeteuk of Super Junior on a song called “Bravo” for the drama History of a Salaryman. He also took part in EXO’s song “Two Moons” on their debut mini album MAMA and BoA’s song “One Dream” as the theme song for SBS “K-pop Star” with label-mate Henry of Super Junior-M.
In 2012, Key was cast as Frank Abagnale Jr., rotating with Um Ki-joon, Kim Jeong-hoon, Park Gwang-hyun and label-mate Super Junior’s Kyuhyun, with Girls’ Generation Sunny and The Grace’s Dana, in the Korean production of Broadway musical “Catch Me If You Can”, marking his theatrical debut. The musical ran from March 28 to June 10 at the Blue Square, Samsung Card Hall, in Hannam-dong, Seoul. On October 24, 2012, it was announced that Key would be participating in the return of the Korean adaption of the broadway musical Catch Me If You Can. The production started on December 14, 2012, and continued until February 9, 2013, at the Opera House in the Seongnam Arts Center. Key also made a cameo appearance in SBS Sitcom “Salamander Guru and The Shadows”.
On July 18, 2013, it was announced that Key would be cast as Clyde in the Korean production of the broadway musical “Bonnie & Clyde”, alongside the cast Kim Min-jong, Um Ki-joon, Dana of CSJH The Grace, and Hyungsik of ZE:A. The performance ran at the Chungmu Art Hall in Seoul from September 4 until October 27, 2013. Not long after, on October 22, he was cast in another Korean adaptation of the broadway musical “The Three Musketeers” as D’Artagnan.
In 2014, Key formed a duo with Woohyun from Infinite, a collaboration between SM Entertainment and Woollim Entertainment. According to the members, it was their idea to form a duo since they are close friends but they weren’t thinking of a musical collaboration, instead of photoshoots and similar activities. The duo was well received, winning the Popularity Award at the 29th Golden Disk Awards. Jeff Benjamin from Billboard praised the duo’s vocals, and also the choreography and on-screen charisma. In the same year, Key was cast as the lead role for the musical Zorro, sharing the role with singer Wheesung and Beast’s Yoseob. “Zorro” ran from August 27 till October 26 at the Chungmu Art Hall in Seoul. Key also participated in the MBC variety show We Got Married Global Edition. He was partnered with Alissa Yagi, a Japanese model.
In March 2015, Key and CNBLUE’s Jung-shin were appointed as the main presenters of Mnet’s M Countdown. In the same year, Key collaborated with AXODUS, a duo formed by Don Spike and DJ Hanmin. Key took over the vocals for the track “Hold On”, and they made a special presentation on July 25, 2015 at the Ansan Valley Rock Festival. In July 2015, Key was announced to be part of the musical “In the Heights”, which was also performed with Japanese subtitles at Kanagawa Arts Theatre in Yokohama in 2016. Key starred in his first play as Byeong Gu in “Save the Green Planet!”, based on the 2003 film of the same name. Key also had his own web show entitled “Key’s Know How” produced by Mnet.
In September 2016, Key made his official acting debut in the tvN drama Drinking Solo which aired from September 5 to October 25. He took the role of a student who has been studying for the civil service exam for 3 years. His character has lived an easy life so far but he’s currently experiencing a life with no income. Even though this was Key’s first time acting in a network, his acting was well received by the production team, stating: “Key is someone who works hard. He prepared a lot beforehand and as an actor, he comprehensively analysed his character role. He is receiving many praise and love from the staff. Despite having no experience in dramas at the time of his audition, his acting gave off a very fresh vibe. Furthermore, his acting and his enunciation were good and so we decided to cast him.”
In April 2017, Key was announced as one of the main characters for the new MBC drama The Guardians. In the drama, Key plays the role of Gong Kyung-soo, a skater and a hacker whose mother went missing due to a crime and received positive reviews for his acting skills. He subsequently received the Best New Actor Award for his role in the drama at the 2017 Grimae Awards.
In 2018, Key was featured in Years & Years’ remix to their single “If You’re Over Me”, which was released on July 6, 2018. Key sings in both Korean and English over the original melody alongside the British pop trio. The original Korean verses reflect the song’s overall meaning, as Key asks a lover to stop pushing-and-pulling and was written by the singer himself.
On October 11, 2018, SM Entertainment announced that Key will make his solo debut in late November. Shortly after, on October 20, Key performed a special stage at CHARM’s Fashion Show, during HERA Seoul Fashion Week. He performed a new song called “Chemicals”, which was later included in his album. Two weeks later, the single “Forever Yours”, featuring Key’s close friend and former Sistar member Soyou, was pre-released on November 6 along with a music video.
On November 26, his first full length album titled Face was released alongside a music video for the single and title track “One of Those Nights”, featuring Crush. Out of the ten songs included in the album, Key wrote the lyrics to four of them himself.
Following his solo debut, Key also released first Japanese solo album, Hologram on December 26, 2018. Along with the title track “Hologram”, the album contains a total of five tracks including a Japanese version of “One of Those Nights” from Key’s Korean album Face. To celebrate his Japanese debut, Key held two live shows titled Key Land in Kobe and Yokohama on December 22 and December 25. His first solo concert in South Korea, titled The Agit Key Land – Key, is supposed to be held in February 2019 in Seoul at the SM Town Theatre in SM Town’s Coex Artium and run for 6 days.
I Wanna Be, a repackaged version of Face, was released on March 4, 2019; the album was preceded by singles “Cold” featuring Hanhae and the title track, which featured Soyeon of (G)I-dle. On the same day the album was released, Key enlisted for his mandatory military enlistment.
Key was raised by his grandmother from birth; his mother was sick after giving birth and his father was busy with work. On October 10, 2014, Key announced on his Instagram account that his grandmother had died on September 23, 2014. He stated that he wanted to announce it on his own because it did not feel right for the news to be announced through his company.
Key graduated from Myongji University with a degree in Film and Musical. He currently attends Woosuk University for his postgraduate degree, majoring in “Culture and Education Contents Development”. He participated in the project on youth self-concept development started by students in his major. He has conducted special seminars in Iksan Namseong Middle School, North Jeolla Province, and Gimje Girls’ Middle School in Seoul. His thesis is titled “The Influence of Styling Education on Appearance Satisfaction and Self-Esteem of Korean Adolescents”.
Key is considered as one of the best dressed men in his country, with his peculiar and particularly appealing style often not afraid to mix colors. In media, his style is compared to fashion icon G-Dragon. Both are known not to follow trends, but instead have their own unique style, mixing elements of the new trends with outdated items. Key has stated that he enjoys to try something new to look different from others and that instead of being constrained by fashion, he cares more about the attitude towards fashion.
Years after his debut, Key has also ventured into the fashion industry. For instance, he collaborated with designer Ko Taeyong on self-designed sweatshirts depicting his dogs and sold them for charity. In addition, he was also promoted to one of SM Entertainment’s fashion directors and has been designing Shinee’s concert outfits since 2015. In 2016, Key collaborated with Japanese illustrator Bridge Ship House for Shinee’s fifth Korean concert tour titled SHINee World V. Key’s primary goal of the costume directing is a well-balanced combination of Shinee’s identity as a group and each member’s individualities. In January 2016, Key became a model for Jill Stuart Accessory. A representative explained that Key was chosen for the brand because he has promoted professionally in a variety of areas such as music and broadcasting, which showed an artistic aspect that overlaps with sensual style and fashion concept of the brand. Key also became a special editor for the Korean Elle, sharing his personal lifestyle in a column called ‘Key Story’, which is released bi-weekly by the magazine. He shared tips on colour contact lenses, cameras, applications, and more. In 2017, Key along with model Irene and fashion brand Charm’s worked together to design new apparels which were sold in March.
In 2012, Key and his fans from Korea, China, Japan, Taiwan, Singapore, Thailand and seven other countries donated 2.12 tons of rice to World Vision, which was able to feed 17,000 undernourished children and elderly among 11 cities. Later on September 23, 2014, Key’s birthday, fans raised a total of 2 million won and established a well in Cambodia, and was also used as medical aid for poor children. In 2015, Key posted on his Instagram account encouraging viewers to help the citizens in Nepal after its earthquake, and sent moral support. In the same year, Key collaborated with designer Ko Taeyong and sold sweatshirts depicting his dogs. All revenue (approximately 12.5 million won) were later donated to the Animal Freedom Union. In 2016, Key along with groupmate Taemin and other artists from SM Entertainment took part in the “Make a Promise” campaign organised by UNICEF and Louis Vuitton, whereby 40% of the proceeds were donated through UNICEF to the children in need.