what's it like being an openly gay k-pop artist?
Holland's message couldn't have come at a better moment.
Holland photographed by Esteban Vargas Roa
At this point, everyone’s aware of the reach and power of K-pop around the world. BTS, Twice, Exo, and NCT have all been popping up on end of year lists. BTS even won Time’s online poll for person of the year. But what’s it like being an indie K-pop artist in South Korea?
Go Tae-seob, aka Holland, has done everything himself since he started his career. Without the support, or training, of one of the country’s huge entertainment companies, it’s hard to achieve the kind of success enjoyed by other artists. He knew, however, that this was his only choice — Holland is openly gay. In an ultra-conservative society, not only being gay, but actually singing about it, is an incredibly audacious and disobedient act, and meant that none of the big record labels would pick him up.
What Holland didn’t expect, however, was that a generation of young South Koreans would be open to his message of self-love and acceptance. “I don't get hurt anymore,” he tells i-D, when talking about how he deals with the toxic and homophobic comments he gets online. “It's true. Because I have my loving fans.”
i-D spoke with Holland about self-care, his advice for living authentically, and what 2019’s going to look like.
How do you define your music?
My song tells my story. And there are my fans who love my stories and feel many things from them. If my fans and listeners can get my message through my music, I would consider it a success.
Do you write and produce your own songs?
I don't produce songs. Except that, I decide everything, such as genre, lyrics, concept, music video, hair, make-up, costume, cover design and marketing. Of course, I always communicate with the song producer.
Which personal experience fuels your desire to be part of the K-pop entertainment industry?
When I was little, I always wanted to be a musician, watching SHINee, watching how Kim Jong-hyun's singing comforts and heals people. I was truly moved by him. Thankfully, many artists gave me comfort in my darkest hours, so I dreamed of becoming a great artist like them.
Did you ever audition for the big entertainment companies?
Yes, but I cannot tell you any details. Except that it was a really great experience!
For you, what is the biggest misconception of K-pop outside of Asia?
The perception that K-pop cannot grow more internationally. I believe that K-pop will be improved, that the environment and treatment of this industry will make progress. In Korea, there are plenty of artists who can prove it right.
For people who don’t know ultra-conservative Korean society well, can you explain what you are risking or sacrificing by presenting yourself as a gay artist?
Since LGBT figures are very unpopular in the Korean entertainment industry, I am a representative. People will subject the whole community to hate speech if I make a tiny mistake. So I have to be very passive, more cautious, in my words and behavior.
Do you think you are opening the way for more LGBTQ+ Korean artists?
Not yet. I think I have to be more famous and do a lot of work as an artist. I'll work harder so that I can answer 'yes' to this question, so please support me.
What advice would you give to the people that are afraid, to be honest about who they are?
I always tell my fans, "don't doubt yourself, love yourself." To be confident, you have to care yourself and love yourself. You're perfect. Never doubt it.
Who do you admire right now?
Me. I want to know me better and become a better person. I'm maturing as I work by myself. I'm really proud of myself. Am I too bold-faced? Lol.
What music are you listening to?
Obviously K-pop, because I'm a part of the industry. I monitor other artists' new works every day. Otherwise I started listening to carols. Christmas is coming!
How do you deal with online toxic comments?
I don't get hurt anymore. It's true. Because I have my loving fans. But sometimes I leave a nice comment on my news pretending that I'm one of my fans.
What's the best thing that happened to you in 2018?
My debut, getting lots of fans who support me, and the fact that I am making a great album with their support. Isn't it wonderful?
Describe your perfect day in Seoul… what places would you visit?
It's a really hard question. Seoul is huge city. I would recommend Hongdae, Itaewon, Gangnam, since these places are very cultural. If you go around Gwanghwamun, you can see the traditional side of Seoul. It's wonderful. Just grab your beloved's hand and wander around. It would be super romantic. Even though I'm not as amazed, since I live here.
What are your biggest plans for 2019?
I will make a super cool comeback in early 2019. The world tour is scheduled, too! Are you looking forward to it? I love you!
Photography Esteban Vargas Roa
Styling Alina Castro
Hair & Makeup Lee Eun Seo
Production Tam Sun
Text Cheryl Santos
Translation Park Yeha
This article originally appeared on i-D Spain.