In the months between HOLLAND’s debut — his coming out, if you will — and his follow-up single, the young man has decided he’s through being tentative. What’s the use of being out and proud of you skimp on the pride? His second single is a bold pronouncement: “I’m Not Afraid.”
First things first. We have to examine the musical quality. All fanfare aside, what it gets right down to is the music.
Contrary to “Neverland,” there’s none of the typical pop fare here to ease him into a mainstream public. “I’m Not Afraid” uses music that’s forceful, brash, exuberant. None of the affected melancholy of a midtempo love song with pseudo-conflict and unnecessary drama. There’s a sharper edge to the music here, a deeper cut that takes elements of House and electro-pop to create a sound that’s more openly expressive and provides a steadier foundation for HOLLAND’s vocal.
As far as his voice, it’s stronger here. While HOLLAND still favors a nasal tone, there’s less breathiness and more substantial air backing his notes. That is instead of the shy timbre we found in his debut, in “I’m Not Afraid,” HOLLAND’s notes are clearer, with more depth. He still has quite a ways to go to reach a vocal peak that would see him compete with his peers in the genre, especially because he is a solo artist and has no one to back him up and flesh out the weaker aspects of his vocal delivery. But this second track shows promise. Here we get further proof of his potential as a competent singer, albeit a singer that may not ever be able to fully compete with the biggest voices in the industry.
Now on to what people really want to talk about: the music video.
Let’s be honest, what everyone was anticipating was the kiss — and with good reason. Something that was missing from “Neverland” was any real agency, a need to raise the roof and proclaim HOLLAND as the the next coming of societal change. While, yes, his very presence and the fact that his videos will by default star a same-sex couple in a romantic relationship already sets him apart from anything Korea has seen thus far, “Neverland” didn’t play up the fact that what we were witnessing was an openly gay on-screen relationship. Which, in my estimation was the point. He and his team allowed you to see the relationship, accept it for what it was and move on. Indeed, the point was to paint this relationship the same as any other: intimate, romantic, at times tumultuous, but ultimately relatively vanilla and lacking any real tension. (Refer to 98 percent of the kisses between heterosexual couples in almost every drama: the infamous “Pancake Kiss.”)
With that initial shock out of the way, HOLLAND seemed very much more willing to explore his sensual side. Now that we’ve seen what a gay couple looks like on-screen (without the K.Will twist or the SISTAR drama), we’re now ready to get down to the real business of untainted and fearless intimacy. The romantic lead in this story showcased what perhaps many weren’t ready for at first: a real grown-up kiss. Tongue, teeth, lip bites and pulls, not to be crude. But that’s what real romance, real sensuality looks like: raw, unbidden, open.
However, “I’m Not Afraid” takes it a step further, exploring all facets of human sexuality. We get a tongue-happy lesbian kiss (even if there is a sliding glass door separating the ladies). We see a glorious drag queen in all her regal attire. We see a few interracial relationships, all intimate, all carefree and natural. We even get personal looks at some of the black characters in the video. In particular a beautiful black woman in a bathtub, looking straight into the camera and proclaiming her own fearlessness. There’s nothing more vulnerable than sheer nakedness. You can’t hide anything. You’re opening yourself up to scathing criticism. But here she is, darker-skinned queen, looking you in your eyes and daring you to judge her.
More than just a music video, “I’m Not Afraid” is the proclamation many expected of his debut. But if we’re being honest with ourselves, the world, no matter how aquiver they were with anticipation, wasn’t ready for that push, that honesty. Perhaps with the first step taken HOLLAND found he was ready to unfold deeper parts of himself. Further still, with the out, proud and unapologetic MRSHLL leading the way with his anthemic “Pose” and his debut EP “Breathe,” maybe HOLLAND found the courage within himself to go a step beyond his comfort zone to thoroughly own his sexuality out in the open and without any of the reserve many cling to in order to avoid ruffling straight conservative feathers.
Whatever the case may be, HOLLAND has moved beyond what may be cookie-cutter “acceptable” of a gay man in the music industry. He’s shoved past the clichés of gay men either acting as comic relief or eunuchs lacking any of the need or desire of their straight peers. I say thank all the gods and angels in the firmament for this young man and his willingness to push even more buttons, damn near shatter any barriers left standing after his initial release and MRSHLL’s powerful declaration of self.
Indeed, HOLLAND has proven unequivocally that he’s not afraid anymore. I can say without hesitation that those of us in the queer community both applaud and thank him for his courage.