Korean artist Holland received widespread global attention for his debut single “Neverland” in 2018. Or, more accurately, for the song’s music video, which featured a kiss between the openly gay independent singer and another man. In the world of K-pop, same-sex affection (physical or otherwise) is encouraged, but only ever as an extension of fan-service. After all, Korea is still deeply conservative, and that’s a line artists can’t publicly cross without scandal. Until Holland, “K-pop’s first openly gay idol.” But it wasn’t until his second single — the shimmering EDM track “I’m Not Afraid” — that Holland’s potential, both as a queer trailblazer in the industry and as a singular artist with a vision, came into focus.
“I’m not afraid anymore,” he sings over a moody, house-infused beat that’s somewhat reminiscent of Troye Sivan’s celebratory “My My My!” The hook is repetitive, sure, but it’s also a powerful affirmation. “I am saying that I am no longer afraid to reveal that I am gay,” he said of the song’s meaning upon its release last year. “I’m not afraid of standing in front of the public anymore.” Truthfully, the 23-year-old singer’s greatest strength is his willingness to open up about his own experiences as a young, queer man just living his life — completely unafraid of and unbothered by other people’s opinions. —Crystal Bell