by Staff Writer Sreetama Chowdhury
The first and only openly gay K-pop idol, singer Holland debuted in June 2018 with the dreamy, nostalgic R&B single “Neverland,” and since then, he hasn’t tied himself down to any one genre. It’s a testament to his range as an artist that he’s able to flit between different sounds with such ease — his self-titled EP, released in 2019, contains everything from mellow piano to EDM to funky upbeat summertime pop. The one constant throughout his discography is the gentle sound of his uniquely expressive voice: imperfect and emotional, it gives all his music a distinctly personal quality.
Holland came out as gay before he even debuted, even kissing a boy in his first music video — an extraordinarily bold move in South Korea, a country where legal protections for LGBTQ+ people are limited and homophobia is still widespread. Being out in any capacity means automatic backlash from the Korean general public, but Holland hopes to provide hope and comfort to LGBTQ+ Korean youth. “ I want [my fans] to know: there’s nothing wrong with you, never lose who you are, and focus on finding what makes you happy,” Holland said in a 2019 interview with Teen Vogue.
Holland’s music is often autobiographical, quietly vulnerable yet growing steadily more confident. He sings about first love and loneliness, faces his insecurities, and with his most recent single “Loved You Better,” promises to love himself, singing, “Now I treat myself like a queen/I’m going to give myself everything.” The real standouts of his discography, though, are twin singles “I’m Not Afraid” and “I’m So Afraid,” both released in 2019, in which he opens up about how it feels to be out in the public eye. Combining wistful vocals with an echoing, electronic beat, he talks about being afraid of losing loved ones but ultimately choosing to be his truest self. The songs mirror each other, from parallel lyrics to side-by-side promotion to their trendy EDM sound.
While backing in South Korea has been limited, Holland has received an outpouring of support from international fans, many of whom are LGBTQ+ themselves. It was thanks in part to money crowdfunded by his fans that he was able to release his EP and tour in Europe in 2019. His interactions with fans show a deep appreciation for them, as evidenced by his thriving social media presence, where he affectionately refers to them with terms of endearment. Sweet, talented, and outspoken in an industry where identifying as LGBTQ+ can be a career killer, Holland is making history. He’s out, proud, and — most importantly — not going anywhere.