Being gay in the k-pop industry is pretty much unheard of. Not totally unheard of, of course–but heard of, maybe like, 3 times? It’s a little nebulous where the lines are drawn: while indie singer MRSHLL was heralded as the first openly gay k-pop artist when making his debut in Korea last spring, and Maman was rumored to have been dropped from her label for being a lesbian, a new name on the scene–21-year-old soloist Holland–is now making headlines as the first openly gay k-pop idol. I’ll admit the distinction between idol and artist here is slightly lost on me, since they’re both solo acts from relatively small labels–but I digress.
While whether or not he’s the “first” may be up for debate, the truth remains that Korean society is generally still pretty homophobic, out-and-proud entertainers are rare, and with his debut MV Holland is unmistakably breaking new ground by featuring what seems to be the first full-on, canonical same-sex kiss in a k-pop music video–not implied, or subtextual, or coded. Just an honest-to-goodness love story between two men, portrayed by at least one gay-IRL (the other actor’s sexuality is unknown) artist.
K-pop idols love lives are infamously restricted by their labels–to keep themselves “available” in the fantasies of their legions of fans, many are forbidden from pursuing public relationships. So a cute new idol coming out as gay, then visually and artistically expressing his sexuality in his very first MV so that fangirl hopes are immediately shut down without even a bias-snatching SO to blame?? Revolutionary. (A little weird that it’s so revolutionary considering how many male idols play kissing games or even full-on makeout with each other on stage in the name of fanservice, catering to the huge contingents of stans that actually ship bandmembers together as couples–but that’s a topic for another time.)
And while many indie and even big-name Korean artists and groups have introduced LGBT themes in their music videos–often featuring love triangles, unrequited feelings, implied three-ways, or even just suggestively homoerotic dance moves–never has the relationship been depicted so straight-forwardly, so explicitly. (Not sexually explicitly, mind you; it’s just a kiss! Although apparently that was enough to get the video a 19+ rating in Korea.) For once, there’s no reading in between the lines, or searching for symbolism. They’re unambiguously GAY! They’re unambiguously in LOVE! They’re unambiguously SMOOCHING! Passionately, romantically, definitively-not-platonically smooching. And it’s beautiful.
Could this be the beginning of a new era of LGBT acceptance and representation in k-pop? It’s too soon to tell. It seems the MV is making more of a splash in the West than in Korea, judging by the general internet buzz–but it’s still a step in the right direction.
Authors Note: I got so caught up in my feels I didn’t even talk about the song, y’all. It’s so good. It popped up in my Youtube queue via a background tab I was listening to, so I heard the song and was full-on bopping to that mellow beat before I went back and looked to find the artist, and then a full day later actually watched the video. So stan this guy.