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‘I have no regrets’: Holland on world tour, BTS’s UN speech, and coming out to family

  • Published : Mar 22, 2019 - 14:17
  • Updated : Mar 22, 2019 - 14:17

Being an openly gay K-pop singer has earned him attention all right, but Holland wants to prove he’s more than just sexuality

(Park Hyun-koo/The Korea Herald)
Two weeks ago, Holland uploaded a short clip of him blowing candles on his birthday cake on Twitter, while thanking his fans who are known as “harlings.” Was there a wild birthday party behind the scenes?

Not really. He worked all day long on his birthday and had a small gathering with his crew to mostly discuss work, he said as we sat down at The Korea Herald’s office.

Even on the way here, he filmed and shared a clip of himself making a peace sign in the taxi for fans. At the age of 23, he seems to have got the knack of social media, found fans around the world and released songs that are enjoyed globally -- all of it without the help of an agency.

Since his debut in 2018, many things have happened. He’s now reached out to his parents who love him as ever, has successfully crowdfunded his new self-titled mini album -- which comes out on March 31 -- and plans to embark on a world tour this year.

In nearly an hourlong interview, Holland shared his personal life, his experience as an openly gay singer navigating through the largely heteronormative K-pop industry and his views on LGBTQ rights and BTS.

Here is the full transcript of the interview:

How did your name “Holland” come about?

Holland: Well, Holland is another name for the Netherlands, which is the first country to legalize same sex marriage. While I was thinking of what name would go well with my debut single “Neverland,” I thought of the Netherlands first then changed it to Holland.

You’ve recently been to the UK. How was it?

Holland: I went there for work. I somehow ended up being part of an advertising campaign for a product (perfume) with other celebrities who work proudly around the world. I’m very honored to have taken part.

You also met footballer Son Heung-min while there?

Holland: Haha. Oh well. I don’t know him personally. I just went shopping with the production staff and they told me they worked with Son Heung-min for an ad last week. So we just met really randomly. I’m his fan and when we made eye contact, I politely asked him if we could take a pic together. It was all a coincidence. I love football.

Are you still studying at the university?

Holland: I’ve been taking a leave of absence while in the university and now I’ve come to a point where I have to decide whether to return or re-enter the university. To be honest, I think I’m dropping out because I have no plans to return. It’s been almost impossible to do both (studying and music).

(Park Hyun-koo/The Korea Herald)
You have no agency representing you. What’s it like?

Holland: I prepared my debut on my own from the beginning and continued that way. Now, things have got bigger and I’m working with great people. There is a tour company called “MyMusicTaste” through which fans can request a world tour by their favorite artists. When they offered to go on a tour together, I said, realistically, I have nothing, neither agency nor studio. Now they are helping me go on a tour.

I’ve had numerous meetings with agencies. But while working on my own for a year, I learned things, realized I have got talent and a fandom. I’m not suitable for the typical entertainment agency system.

There are disadvantages when signing a contract since I’m a rookie. But I believe in myself to do well alone and have thought that I’ve learned a lot while doing it. I think I’m in a situation where I’m able to meet people that I need and work together with. I don’t know how much I should say at this point but as an artist, I want to create a new type of an agency with the people I trust. It will be closer to that of a music label in the US.

When can we expect your world tour?

Holland: We are hoping sometime this year after summer. I’m planning to visit as many countries as possible.

Have you ever been treated unfairly or experienced discrimination because of your sexuality?

Holland: The agencies I spoke to prior to my debut told me not to disclose it. After I came out and debuted though, that was not an issue anymore. I don’t think I was disadvantaged as far as contract conditions are concerned because I was gay. One thing I find regretful is the terms on which idol contracts are signed in South Korea.

They are young people with their own dreams, visions and ideas, which are, in my humble opinion, often overshadowed by their agencies’ opinions which are far more powerful.

I had offers from agencies but I knew we were going to clash and people around me who really care for me in the entertainment industry encouraged me to do it on my own. I think I’m too different for the typical entertainment agency system.

(Park Hyun-koo/The Korea Herald)
You funded your debut single and the video and they were of pretty high quality. How did you manage financially?

Holland: Honestly, I don’t think my debut single (Neverland) was high quality. I used the money I saved up from working part-time to fund the music video to make it look like as less cheap as possible. I persuaded the filming crew that I want to do something new and the team even lost money and invested in me. I think they found the work fun and interesting.

Musically, since I’m a Seoul Institute of the Arts student, I was able to get help from the people I know. I didn’t have professionals to help me with singing or production so I personally think the quality could’ve been better. But I can say that I did my best within my capabilities then so I have no regrets.

Your music videos are quite out there. Do you have a say in their making?

Holland: Of course. There was no kiss scene at first in the “Neverland” video. But after I heard that a kiss scene (between two men) would give the video an R-rating, I found it ironic and told (the staff) that we need the scene. Secondly, I didn’t want the overall theme to be dark at first. In Korea, the LGBTQ community is portrayed in a dark light and as a social issue. But my romantic experiences have been all bright, young and pretty so I wanted to show that side.

“I’m Not Afraid” was more intense than “Neverland” in terms of LGBT representation.

Holland: I realized I need to learn more about LGBTQ issues after my debut. Other than being gay myself, I never had a chance to meet other sexual minority people. I gave a lot of thought to it since a lot of my fans are of various sexualities and orientations and many people felt supported by me. In “I’m Not Afraid,” you see drag queens, people of different races and different gender identities. I wanted to give more exposure to these guys, showing them just mingle together freely.

(Holland's Twitter)
Tell us about your new album and musical identity going forward.

Holland: I’ve already filmed the new music video in Vietnam. I have a lot of ideas for new music. For now, I’m sticking to trendy sounds that I can fully deliver on and fans can enjoy including the new album. I’m a K-pop singer and it will be a mix of genres that both my fans and I enjoy. Compared to my previous work, you’ll see a clearer concept throughout the video, the art cover and the lyrics. The director (of the new video) and I agreed that K-pop idols are often all done up even when they’ve just woken up or broken up. We both wanted something more natural, which goes well with the song’s message of self-love. I just wanted to show my natural side.

What do you think of the label “First openly gay K-pop idol”?

Holland: I actually love the title. I’m an artist but also an idol, which means someone people can look up to and love in the literal sense. As I make music, I’m aware that I can help people heal their scars but it’s also a two-way street process with my fans. I might be a little different from other idols in that I feel like I’m more of a friend than an idol, which makes me and my fans more tightly connected.

When did you first come out?

Holland: Though my close friends knew it, even my parents didn’t know until I debuted. It wasn’t easy. I still find it difficult. I have no regrets though. My fans help me overcome the hurt from the past especially when I was in school. Even if I don’t experience it first-hand, there are always people somewhere, online comments or the media talking about us (gay people) in a certain way which can be hurtful.

What do you think of the gap between K-pop’s gender-neutral aesthetic and its heteronormative narrative?

Holland: In my view, same-sex love is fantasized in the K-pop industry but when it comes to addressing the actual issues like coming out, it can be very sensitive and conservative, which is very “ironic.” Then again, I understand the role of (idols) who are meant to be liked by as many people as possible. I tried to see these things positively.

What did you think of BTS’s speech at the United Nations?

Holland: I was personally thankful. I think it’s not easy for one of the most representative groups from Korea to say those words. I think it was cool more than anything that someone in their position with their influence on such an occasion decided to give that speech. It made me become a bigger fan.
I think they are doing well because of their general message of positivity with their albums and speeches. I can’t remember the speech word by word since it’s been some time but I’m sure there are a lot of LGBTQ’s among their fans and I think it must have made them feel supported.

What’s it like living as a gay person in Korea?

Holland: I’m currently surrounded by people in the arts, many of whom are from outside of Korea, those who have lived abroad and people familiar with the LGBTQ community. So I don’t get hurt often these days. But still, when I meet new people every day in society as a business representative and think things went well, I still doubt myself when I go home and think, “What would they think of me?” and find myself feeling stressed a bit, which I think is indicative of the hardships I’ve experienced so far. I hope things change for the better.

You said your parents didn’t know you were gay in an interview last year. What was it like coming out to them?

Holland: My parents love and support me. They are actually really proud of their celebrity son (laughing). They know that I work hard on my own so they trust me. They are deeply in love with each other and living together happily.

By Yim Hyun-su (hyunsu@heraldcorp.com)

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