Holland made waves earlier this year as Korea’s first openly gay idol star, and most of us were happy to overlook a relatively subdued (some would even say “dull”) debut song for the larger meaning behind it. Now, he’s returned with stronger production and an even ballsier statement. I’m Not Afraid isn’t quite perfect, but offers the first glimpse of what could be a lasting style for Holland’s burgeoning career.
I’m Not Afraid shimmers with a moody disco beat, supporting Holland’s vocals with layers of gorgeous synth. There’s a definite 80’s edge to the instrumental, but the song never feels like a pastiche. He’s clearly found inspiration in pop contemporaries like Robyn and Troye Sivan, and this is a smart sound to emulate. I can’t think of anyone else in K-pop who’s currently going down this musical route. It certainly has a Western influence, but doesn’t yet feel played out.
Many found Holland’s vocals to be overly nasally on Neverland, but his performance is much smoother here. It helps that the song’s atmosphere requires him to sing in a lower, more hushed tone. The languid melody doesn’t require any vocal fireworks, but that suits the song just fine. This is the kind of track more concerned with mood than hookiness. Its chorus is pretty underdeveloped, but succeeds on the basis of its message and the strong production behind it. In many ways, I’m Not Afraid feels like a stepping stone for Holland, and I can’t wait to see what he does next.