It takes confidence to be at ease with everyone else’s perceptions of you – confidence that Hwang Min Hyun exudes on his solo debut, ‘Truth or Lie’. Before the mini-album arrived yesterday (February 27), Hwang teased its release with a nonchalant slogan: “Believe what you want”. Because like it or not, he’s going to reintroduce himself anew on this record.
“Compared with my debut era, I think I have physically and emotionally matured, and my [musical] spectrum has broadened as well,” he tells NME over Zoom from Seoul, South Korea. “I wish this current chapter can be a turning point to distinguish [between] the past me and the new.”
In conversation, Hwang Min Hyun comes across as carefree yet attentive. Quick to flash a smile and let out a soft laugh, he also takes contemplative pauses before answering. You can’t forget that he’s a seasoned artist with a decade-long career that has spanned the splendour of K-pop quintet NU’EST and the powerful, albeit transient, boy group Wanna One.
Hwang became a trainee at Pledis Entertainment when he was only 15 years old. Now, a K-pop idol at 27, he is experiencing another type of professional breakthrough thanks to the highly successful K-drama Alchemy of Souls, where he played the empathetic, caring mage Seo Yul. “I tried to make a habit of always putting myself in Seo Yul’s shoes and thinking what Seo Yul would have done in various circumstances,” he explains. “I believe that the process of creating this character provided me with an opportunity to reflect on myself and grow personally.”
“Creating the character of Seo Yul in Alchemy of Souls provided me with an opportunity to reflect on myself and grow personally”
During those months of filming, Hwang also had time to think about his next move. “I shot Alchemy of Souls for a long period of time, so I thought that my passion for music and performance on stage could die down a little,” he shares. Different events, such as the long-awaited reunion of Wanna One at MAMA 2021 and his first solo fan meeting held last August, revived that initial drive that led him to step into the limelight. “I felt that music would be the best way to repay [my fans], so I started working on my album as soon as I finished my drama schedule,” he says.
True to its title, Hwang explores dichotomies in ‘Truth or Lie’. The mini-album is both an inauguration and a reintroduction, its imagery centering on the contrast between dark hues and the colour white while he glides between enticing R&B and pop. The bookends of the record, the ballad ‘Honest’ and the closer ‘CUBE’, are distinctly tender, but in between ‘Perfect Type’ takes a daring turn by exploring how Hwang can, in his own words, be “a perfect lover to anyone.”
This “refined and sophisticated” B-side was an especially novel experience for him: “I jokingly said that I really like rap, but for this song, there are few parts that include singing-rapping, so it was a fresh challenge for me, and I enjoyed the production process.”
He lightheartedly approaches the public’s multifarious perception of him in ‘Crossword’, later expressing a latent desire to break free in ‘Smile’. But it all comes together in the enigmatic title track ‘Hidden Side’, an alluring showcase of his silken vocal tone. “Everything lies beyond expectations / We’re getting closer, you and me,” he sings, confidently over a seductive bassline. “Every angle changes subtly / You look and see another me”.
As ‘Hidden Side’ progresses, doubts disperse and we move towards discovery and acceptance. “It’s tempting but also very strong,” Hwang notes. In the end, he says, the song’s message is clear: “Believe what you see in me.”
“When I was preparing for my solo debut I got the chance to look at myself objectively – I figured out that I still had to work on my singing and dancing”
“As an artist, I cannot choose a title track just because the song itself is good,” he adds. “I have to consider many factors, such as how it will look on the stage and how it will look with the choreography and everything, but when I first heard this song, I just knew it could be very appropriate as a lead single.”
That clarity of vision characterised Hwang’s approach to the entire project. “I actually pitched a lot of my ideas,” he says. “Just as the concept of the album says, I tried to express a different Hwang Min Hyun.”
To strike out on his own meant further honing his skills. Over the years, Hwang earned recognition as an irresistible performer through his natural elegance and evocative voice, but he understood that this new endeavour would be a challenge unlike any he’d faced before. “When I was preparing for my solo debut I got the chance to look at myself objectively,” he says. “I figured out that I still had to work on my singing and dancing.”
That’s the frame of mind that’s allowed Hwang to constantly learn and change throughout what’s been a whirlwind journey. “Every debut, in my opinion, was a distinct milestone for me and it allowed me to approach what I do from a fresh perspective each time,” he says. “In a way, it means that I have had many wonderful opportunities, so I feel appreciative as well. I’m looking forward to presenting another side of myself this time around and I sincerely hope my audience will share my enthusiasm.”
And even though Hwang Min Hyun isn’t the type to worry all that much about the trek ahead, if you ask him what kind of artist he would like to be known as down the line, he has a confident, earnest answer: “I want to be recognised as an artist that continues to grow and evolve, with a distinct colour of my own.”
Hwang Min Hyun’s ‘Truth or Lie’ is out now via Pledis Entertainment