Queer Artist Spotlight: Holland & A Slowly Changing K-Pop Landscape
With the major success that K-Pop has seen here in the U.S. and a growing international audience, it should come as no surprise that new idols and groups are getting more exposure. One idol that made headlines with their debut this year was Holland. Holland saw a lot of attention come his way because he is the first K-Pop idol to be openly gay at the start of their career.
Holland debuted at the start of this year with “Neverland” and the accompanying music video which featured him in a relationship with his male co-star. This received a lot of internet buzz due to the open portrayal of a gay relationship that isn’t often seen in Korean culture or music. However, a lot of this buzz seems to be from outside of South Korea. In South Korea Holland’s video received the equivalent of an R rating, due solely to the kiss between two men, this means his video will get zero airplay on television.
On top of this, Holland is working independent from any agencies, labels and entertainment companies. Meaning he has to work much harder to get any attention and media coverage. Upon debuting he said his goal was to get the attention of an agency and get signed, especially since he had been turned away by labels and agencies prior to his debut when he said he wanted to be open about his sexuality. However, more recently in an interview he said he will proceed working independently. This is a good way for him to control him image, but this means going forward it will be an uphill battle to receive the same recognition as his peers.
This is especially interesting since Holland has amassed such a large international fanbase with only one song and video under his belt. This is indicative of the conservative views on the LGBTQ+ community still present in the country. To not capitalize on the success and potential is an oversight. Holland has said that he isn’t as well know in his native country compared to other countries and after his video went viral he did not receive a lot of contact for media interviews.
There is some radio silence on news of any upcoming singles or an album from Holland. But this is understandable since any music or promotional tours are coming out of his pocket or from a small group of sponsorships. Luckily, Holland has said due to his background at an arts college and connections through there he’s been able to deliver quality videos on a small budget. His video is very visually appealing especially given the smaller budget, and here is hoping Holland can keep delivering quality content with what resources he has.
Although he is the first openly gay idol, Holland is not the first artist within the LGBTQIA+ community to be out in the Korea’s music scene. He joins openly gay singer Marshall Bang, stylized as MRSHLL, who was born in the U.S. but returned to Korea to pursue a music career. He released his first solo EP breathe earlier this month.
Prior to both of them you had a string different groups and idols who either were dropped after coming out or disbanded after a short time. Maman might actually be the first out K-Pop idol, however she came out after she debuted and was then dropped by her label. She did sign to a new label afterwards, but she’s been inactive for a few years now. There has also been a few different solo artists and groups with or made entirely of trans women. For the group acts they were very short lived, including Lady which was comprised of all trans women. However this was an instance of fetishization of trans women’s bodies as well as attempting to capitalize on the success of Harisu, a singer and actress who received notoriety for her transition as well as being one of the first Koreans to legally change their gender.
In Korea it is important to note that Holland is openly gay, because there are very few out artists or idols, but in other parts of the world it is important to see him as an artist first and not exploit the fact that he’s openly gay. Sexuality can be an important part of identity for many LBTQIA+ people but it should not define us, or Holland.