One does not need to be a winner to be a star. This is certainly true for one of Vietnam’s up and coming superstars, Trúc Nhân (pronounced Chook-Nian), who took part in The Voice Vietnam six years ago. Though he did not win the competition, Nhân did gain a lot of attention.
He wanted to use this opportunity to carve a direction for himself in the Vietnamese music scene, one that goes against the usual trend of sweet love ballads that Vietnamese pop is known for. He felt that the local music scene needed a different voice.
Nhân is now known in the Vietnamese music scene for singing about topics society generally avoids discussing openly. His lyrics and videos take on a campy tone that uses humor to tame the sensitive subject matters of his message.
In his latest song and video, “Sáng Mắt Chưa (Eyes Wide Opened),” he attends the wedding of his gay lover who is about to marry a woman to please his older and more conservative family members. Nhân — who is openly gay in real life — plays the role of a jealous and scorned lover, and threatens to reveal his relationship with the groom, but (spoiler alert!) eventually wishes the newlyweds all the best. LGBTQ issues remain a taboo subject among the older generation in Vietnam, many of whom do not live in major cities and have very limited exposure to other cultures.
The video — Nhân’s most expensive investment to date — has paid off with more than 40 million YouTube views since its debut two months ago. Nhân flew his entire team from Vietnam to a remote province in neighboring Thailand to shoot the video.
In one of his other hits, “THẬT BẤT NGỜ (It’s Surprising),” Nhân takes a dig at the entertainment industry, singing about scandals and bad deals. The video was set in a small rural residential community, with the folks who live there going about their normal daily activities alongside its fair share of controversy existing in the underbelly of the community. It seemed this was meant to be a microcosm for the entertainment industry. The song shocked his peers, but the public loved it, and Nhân was rewarded with two awards for the song in 2016.
Billboard Vietnam recently spoke to Nhân about the success of “Eyes Wide Opened.” “The recognition and love I received from the audience for ‘Eyes Wide Opened’ is both a lucky streak, but at the same time, due to a lot of hard work,” he shared. “I decided to put in a production budget four times greater than my last music video project, “Lớn Rồi Còn Khóc Nhè (Grown Up But Still Crying).”
Nhân describes himself as a fastidious and yet defiant person. When collaborating with someone, “I am willing to forgo that relationship with that person just to get what I want.”
In creating “Eyes Wide Opened,” there was a lot of back and forth with his co-writer Mew Amazing, a famous young Vietnamese songwriter. “When I hold in my hands the song I love, I will be able to sing it with as much joy and love as I plan to convey in my music,” Nhân shared. “I am not able to perform any song well if I truly do not have a love for it. I would not be able to live with myself.”
Nhân said there was pressure associated with creating an expensive music video, but that it was worth it. “If you have seen my previous music videos, you never see Truc Nhân emerge from a private jet, or be driven around in a luxury limo, or associated with high-end expensive items, but I still value and want to ensure I deliver a top-notch quality music video …
“Anyway, I am still young, therefore I should take this time and energy to invest and build my career. I am indeed very happy and fortunate that being a young person, I am able to pursue my passion and see its success.”
Nhân’s song “Bốn Chữ Lắm (Four Words Lam)” fuses the contemporary with traditional folk music. As for his music videos, Nhân uses simple ideas and scenes from everyday life to communicate his message.
We asked Nhân if his goal is for his music to go international. “Yes, all artists and musicians would love to have his or her music heard from far and away. However, before one does that, the artist needs to ensure their music is ready to be heard by an international audience.
“For myself, I remind myself everyday to keep evolving one step at a time, and to become the best version of myself, to have enough confidence to present my music outside Vietnam, to the world out there. I need to ensure I represent my country proudly, that Vietnamese music is good. It would be my dream to achieve that status.
“I remember when Dong Nhi performed ‘Bad Boy’ at the Asia Song Festival. As a performer and artist, I really admired her for having that confidence and a voice strong enough to stand in front of an international audience and perform it well. This is where I aspire to be one day.”