Meet the First Openly Gay Korean Idol, Holland
For 22-year-old Holland, bravery takes form in music
Let’s start things off with a comparative study of sorts.
Imagine the local showbiz scene, or go big and think of Hollywood even. Try to think of all the openly gay or lesbian celebrities in those playing fields. Try to count them. Then look to the K-Pop scene. Whether you’re neck-deep into K-culture or have to look to a search engine to generate your answer for you, the headcount will remain the same. To date, there is one openly gay K-Pop idol.
The delightfully closed-minded often have a mouthful to say about the way Korean musicians look. I’ve heard just about every version of it: they look like women, they wear too much makeup, they look feminine and are touchy and therefore must be gay. Ah, if only things were that simple. Korean society, despite its progress in other aspects, continues to shun homosexuality. Male idols can endorse makeup brands, female singers flaunt so-called “girl crush” concepts like nobody’s business, they can hold hands and be effeminate or boyish but to come out of the closet is downright unspeakable. It’s a dangerous current, but 22-year-old Holland swims upstream.
Unlike the big-time K-Pop groups that most of us have heard of, Holland is not signed under an entertainment label. He is an independent artist standing on a foundation of sponsorships, favors from friends and sheer willpower to speak up for those who can’t. Thankfully, people are hearing out his message slowly but surely. His debut single, Neverland, amassed over a million views in just 20 hours—an impressive feat for an artist fresh on the scene, especially one who doesn’t promote on music shows like most do.
It seems that this skyrocketing popularity is driven by a trifecta of musical releases, the hunger for proper representation and a well-nurtured connection with his fans. His last two singles, I’m Not Afraid and I’m So Afraid, feature deeply personal lyrics set to synth-heavy instrumentals. These back-to-back tracks show both sides of the coin: the former tells a story of coming to terms with one’s sexuality, while the other reveals the fear that accompanies one’s coming out.
Despite the emotionally charged songs that are gradually filling his repertoire, Holland has a way of keeping things light and easy. He presents a human side to himself that many long to see more of in their idols, even drumming up a casual search for a boyfriend when asked about his relationship status (“If there’s a smart, nice, handsome guy around, tag [him in] the comments. I’ll take him,” reads one of his most viral replies. Relatable.) He makes playlists and shares them with his audience. He makes an effort to communicate with people who fuel his hustle. That, in itself, is hard not to appreciate.
There’s still plenty of ground to cover, though. A quick look through the comments on Holland’s music videos and Instagram posts are telling of his dominantly international fanbase. While the worldwide support has earned its merits (securing him the winning spot for this year’s Dazed 100 among the biggest), local support continues to be spread thin. It’s predictable that his releases would neither chart nor gain public support in his native Korea.
After all, he’s a threat to the norm. He’s a deviant who waves flags of divergence in the form of music and self-expression. He’s got a story to tell and a platform to lift off from, all he needs now is for the rest of the world to listen.
Art Alexandra Lara.