If you passed Minh on the street, you might take him for a normal kid just out of high school. But he’s that rare thing: a local artist primed to break out internationally. After all, the gifted 19-year-old has all the right ingredients. “Start with a base of Ed Sheeran and Adele, and add a sprinkle of Sam Smith. Mix well and add a pinch of Billie Eilish for seasoning. Add a little Troye Sivan and Taylor Swift for colour. Then cook until you get the aroma of Prince!” Minh laughs as we sit down to get his guest mix to celebrate the launch of new single “Fake Happy”.
Đọc bài viết bằng tiếng Việt
Minh’s music does have universal appeal, sentimental without being corny, poppy without being attention seeking. His sings in English too thanks to an international-school education. In fact, listening without knowing his story, you’d guess he was American or maybe British. There are elements of Charlie Puth and Shawn Mendes in his lyrics and delivery too. Understandably, he’s seen as one of a group of artists – with people like Thai singer-songwriter Phum Viphurit – who share an artistic worldview that reflects typical Gen-Z concerns: the narcissism of social media; defining love in the digital age.
“For me, success means being honest and authentic. That’s based on the kind of artists I’ve grown up admiring,” Minh says, “I can’t write songs differently, they’re representative of who I am, being as naked as I can be in public.” A relentless work-rate is driving his success so far too. “When I hear that my favourite artists often write and record over 50 songs for an album, it makes me work even harder. I’ve probably made over 100 songs since signing with InQ International but only about 15 are release-worthy,” he shrugs.
Describe your new track “Fake Happy” to someone who hasn’t heard it yet?
“Fake Happy” is one of the first tracks I wrote after signing with InQ. You can hear lots of elements I like to employ, acoustic instruments, with the vibe of modern pop that takes in hip hop, soul and R&B, and even a touch of classical. And the lyrics are really about being part of Gen-Z. We’re growing up with pressures other generations didn’t have to deal with. Things like the pressure to always be happy and successful on social media. It’s so ridiculous now, this need to be fake happy…
And if you had one track of your own to introduce yourself to a new audience, which of your tracks would you choose and why?
I’d probably pick “I Should’ve Known”. It’s a song that showcases my storytelling abilities and truly represents me as an artist and singer-songwriter. The song talks about betrayal and regret, which I believe a lot of people can relate to.
What’s the secret of a great musical collaboration like your track “What Is Love?” with Tuimi?
I think the secret is objectively asking yourself ‘what does the song need?’. The mood of the song “What Is Love” required a female artist with a soft, sultry voice, which Tuimi definitely has. She also loved the song which is another prerequisite. I definitely could not work with a singer who’s ‘meh’ about the track!
So, what is love?
Love is individual, undefinable, untouchable…but something that everyone wants.
Who would be your dream collaborator…and what would it sound like?
I have a list already! I’d love to do a power ballad with Sam Smith. Then maybe a softer poppy track with Taylor Swift. Then some dream pop with Billie Eilish. And an acoustic track with Phum Viphurit…
What are your favourite lyrics you’ve written? And how do you approach love and other universal themes in your music in an interesting way?
For me personally, the lyric is my key. I also have the perfect foil in co-writer Benjamin James. We write very comfortably together and the interaction is stimulating.
There are two specific lyrics of mine that come to mind right now. “They only see the highlights, calculated high life,” in “Fake Happy” and “You gave me hope, when nobody else did,” in “Blame”. The reason I’m choosing these lyrics is that I remember having an ‘Aha!’ moment after writing them. Suddenly writing the rest of the song was easy. I think that’s because those lyrics really encapsulated all the emotions and intentions I wanted to include.
If you’re part of a new wave of Vietnamese and Asian artists, what traits do you all share?
I guess we have the internet in common. For my friends and many of my generation, the access I have to the world beyond Vietnam has made existence borderless. So I guess the most common trait would be that we don’t like being segregated. Plus, most modern pop music came from the US, so English is the obvious language for singing for artists like us.
What’s the nicest thing you ever heard someone say about your music?
The nicest thing someone’s ever told me about my music is that it’s helped them through a tough time and that they feel my music puts into words how they really feel. I think that’s incredible. Writing music is very cathartic for me personally, so it feels great to discover that it’s now helping others too.
Aside from being self-critical, I don’t think I’ve ever heard someone say anything mean to me about my music. If it happened, I’d take it with a pinch of salt and use the feedback as constructive criticism to improve myself…and hopefully, prove them wrong.
What do you listen to when no-one’s around?
Honestly? I listen to the same music whether there are people around or not. I don’t have any guilty pleasures. I listen to what I like and what relates to me. Right now, that means I’m listening to AJ Mitchell, Ashe and Finneas.
You have one track to play someone to make them love music. What do you play and why?
That would depend on so many things. What emotional state the listener is in? What time of day is it? But to make someone fall in love with music it would have to be a classic that has stood the test of time. I would have to pick “Yesterday” by The Beatles.
What song would you like played at your wedding…and at your funeral?
At my wedding, the playlist should be banger after banger. Maybe one slow Ed Sheeran jam to say we did it but I would like for it to be a fun time the rest of the time. As for my funeral, definitely not my own music that’s for sure…I will resurrect and find whoever was responsible!
You’ve made us a guest mix. Can you describe it in a few sentences?
It’s a collection of work by singer-songwriters and songs that had a big influence on my life as well as my music career so far!
What mood should your mix put our listeners in?
They should be relaxed. Zen mode.
Where would be the perfect place to listen to this mix? Why?
Where nature is at its best. And with as little human distraction as possible. Probably on a mountain top somewhere…one that has a bathtub!
Describe the ten tracks you’ve chosen…
First, Adele’s “Rolling In The Deep”. It’s just great to sing along to! And it also shows the power of Adele’s voice. Then Ed Sheeran. I choose “A Team”, the best track off his first album.
After that, Lana Del Rey’s “Summer Time Sadness”, a track that will forever remind me, nostalgically, of my teenage years. Then Elton John’s “Your Song”. He’s simply one of the greatest singer-songwriters ever to record. And this is one of the greatest songs ever. Classic.
Next up, Conan Gray’s “The Story”. These are great lyrics from a young songwriter. Then we have “Firework” by Katy Perry, a song that had a positive impact on my self-confidence. Then another modern superstar, Bruno Mars, and his perfectly executed “When I Was Your Man”. Amazing vocals. Following that is Billie Eilish. “Everything I Wanted” is so honest in the way it’s written, which is why I relate to it.
Then Miley Cyrus’ “The Climb” is more modern nostalgia for me. And we finish with a goodbye, Sam Smith’s “Too Good at Goodbyes”.