Hoàng Quyên: Charting Ten Years Of Growth With ‘A Diary Of Melody’ | Vietcetera
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Sep 05, 2023

Hoàng Quyên: Charting Ten Years Of Growth With ‘A Diary Of Melody’

To Hoàng Quyên, there exists no ultimate “best” or “perfect” moment or manifestation of an individual, given the ongoing process of evolution and self-improvement.
Hoàng Quyên: Charting Ten Years Of Growth With ‘A Diary Of Melody’

Singer Hoàng Quyên at Quyên Gallery | : Dai Ngo

Hoàng Quyên stands out for her distinct and captivating alto-mezzo voice. After releasing three collaborative albums with renowned artists, including titles like “Cửa thơm mùi nắng” and “Về” in partnership with Lê Minh Sơn, as well as “Sóng” featuring Đỗ Bảo and Võ Thiện Thanh, she has now embarked on a fresh journey. In her fourth album, “A Diary of Melody,” Hoàng Quyên showcases her flair for composition, introducing her personal musical narratives.

The album comprises eight tracks, carefully selected from over 30 of Hoàng Quyên’s compositions, mainly revolving around the theme of love. Navigating through the melodies of the album and the art pieces from the Quyên Gallery exhibition, listeners are immersed in introspective reflections infused with profound femininity, deep emotions, and the desires that love and life bring forth.

A week after the album launch and the inauguration of Quyên Gallery, our conversation with Hoàng Quyên revealed the deeper tales and inspirations behind her comeback.

How has your music style and how you connect with your audience changed since the four-year break since ‘Sóng hấp dẫn’?

I’ve never expected or planned anything when making music; the more I force things, the more they seem to unravel. Countless times, I’ve felt the urge to express that music is my deepest love — it’s about being in sync, catching fleeting moments, and sharing a unified emotion. The launch of Quyên Gallery felt smoother than anticipated, perhaps because I’ve been navigating life with a softer touch lately.

Choosing to exhibit at VCCA – a freely accessible venue with many spontaneous visitors — brought me immense joy. People didn’t need to prepare; they could just step in as if entering a blossoming meadow, freely enjoying the experience.

Earlier on, I mentioned that over 10,000 people visited Quyên Gallery in less than a week. By the end, the number might reach 50,000 to 60,000. When asked about my expectations, my answer was simple: I only hoped for around 500 to 1,000 people to listen to my music.

I want people to savor life and my musical creations as if walking into a dreamy locale without any demands. This album and exhibition began purely to satisfy my desires, then to be experienced, and finally, to be shared.

Once I felt content with my own experiences, the urge to share emerged. Everything followed its natural course, leading me to pen a melodious diary filled with varied tunes after my musical journey.

Quyên Gallery’s exhibition space at VCCA Hanoi | Source: Dai Ngo

What difficulties come with changing from a pop singer to a singer-songwriter?

In the past, many recognized and applauded my achievements as a singer— from being the runner-up in Vietnam Idol, to my albums and concerts, and even the songs that suited my voice well and became fan favorites.

However, during those times, when I entered recording studios or collaborated with international professionals, I felt my involvement was limited. My role was mostly to come in, sing, and then leave without having a deeper say in the creative process. I wasn’t deeply engaged because I wasn’t the originator of those songs, nor did I have a background in production.

Now, when I perform, I introduce myself not just as a singer but as the creator behind my songs. Embracing the role of a singer-songwriter, I’ve found that audiences engage with me on a deeper level, eager to know more about my journey and stories. Some even express their astonishment, exclaiming, “Wow, really? That’s amazing!”

This transition has made me realize the clear contrast between my past and present roles in the music industry. Challenges that once felt daunting now offer excitement and learning. The launch of “A Diary of Melody” and the inception of Quyên Gallery have been golden opportunities for me to broaden my knowledge and immerse myself in the production process.

I’ve been fortunate to have a strong support base, so when I introduce new production methods or ideas, my team is always keen to listen and provide valuable input. As a result, I haven’t encountered many obstacles lately.

I’ve always been clear about what I want in my career. The real challenge lies in striving for uniqueness and perfection in everything I undertake. Yet, it’s this aspiration that, after over ten years on stage, keeps my passion alive. Each step I take feels rewarding, and I continuously seek diverse musical experiences.

Does ‘A Diary of Melody’ perfectly represent your songwriting, production, and musical identity?

I can’t confidently say if it’s the definitive version of myself because every morning I wake up, I discover so many new things about me. People often label me as ‘Hoàng Quyên’ with titles like ‘Little Diva’ at different times, but I don’t see myself strictly in those terms.

Every day, I feel different from the version I was the day before, so just calling me Hoàng Quyên is enough. As a still-evolving Hoàng Quyên with many imperfections, I view every task and learning opportunity as a challenge to be conquered.

Life for me is endlessly fascinating in this way. Upon deeper reflection, I realize there’s never a ‘best’ or ‘perfect’ moment or version of oneself, as we constantly evolve and improve. After the inauguration of Quyên Gallery, my curiosity shifted towards what might come next.

Perhaps by the time Quyên Gallery 2 rolls around, I’ll have a more defined vision, complete with specific songs to showcase. Yet, for Quyên Gallery 3, it’s all a mystery. It’s a distant horizon – possibly 5-10 years away. It’s challenging to forecast where life will take me by then or what stories I’ll yearn to tell.

Reflecting on this album, I’m genuinely contented and struck by its production journey. Every day, I find myself gravitating towards a different track, but I have a soft spot for ‘Ngày vụt nhanh trên chuyến đi cùng anh’ (Days That Flew By On Our Journey Together). That’s why I picked it as the backdrop for the lacquer painting video and during the unveiling of the project.

For every song, the most magical phase in the production process for me is setting the chords. When composing, I begin with the lyrics, and the melody comes later to complete the song. I usually handle most of the other stages by myself, but when it comes to chord progression, I need the assistance of an expert, who often co-creates the piece with me.

I vividly recall wanting the piano arrangement of ‘Ngày vụt nhanh trên chuyến đi cùng anh’ to elicit a nostalgic journey back in time. If the piano arrangement was misplaced, it could have become a very ordinary pop song. I experienced this mistake once and had to abandon that particular arrangement. Such memories make me appreciate the wonder of being involved in the production process, an experience I would never have had if I remained only a singer.

Collaborating doesn’t stop with co-composers. Working in harmony with the band is also an incredible experience. For instance, in the song ‘Balcony,’ at the onset, something felt off, so I told the guitarist, ‘My balcony is simple. It has just one paper flower plant, which sometimes blooms, but often, there isn’t a single blossom. To help people visualize this, it has to be conveyed through the guitar. I want a bit of sunlight to illuminate the balcony corner accompanied by the sound of the wind.’

That’s precisely why, when he strummed the guitar at the start of the song, I couldn’t help but exclaim in delight. Such nameless memories make the process of creating this album eternally unforgettable.

Producing one’s album is rewarding, but it’s equally grueling. Previously, working with Lê Minh Sơn or Đỗ Bảo, I didn’t have to stress over such details, as they took care of everything. If my vocals weren’t right, they patiently guided me. Only when you embark on your own do you realize how much support you had and how vast the journey ahead is.

Source: Dai Ngo

I typically don’t pressure myself when starting to write music. I treat it more like journaling, allowing a natural, continuous flow.

My emotional trajectory during that time spanned from track one to eight, ensuring that the language and the musical arrangement meshed cohesively. This was the sole calculated effort during the production. There was no set narrative or thematic demand throughout; I emphasized the experiential essence of composition.

Whether it’s lyrics or sound, to me, they feel like echoes from eons past. I often wonder: Does an artist create the song, or does the song create the artist? When I sit to write, I’m guided by inspiration, proving it existed before me.

In this sense, the deeper we dive into self-reflection and attentive listening, the more captivating themes we uncover, drawing us closer to others.

In composing, I feel an unbridled freedom. While I first toyed with various album titles, I was drawn to ‘A Diary of Melody.’ It’s not a story I dictate but a reflection of my musical journey.

Do you plan to continue using lacquer art for album covers? What type of art will Hoàng Quyên work on for the next album?

Honestly, I haven’t decided yet. During these three years of pursuing this idea, I’ve probably been investing all my passion. I’m still in the present, so I haven’t considered the future. Sometimes, I ask myself: This edition of Quyên Gallery is about paintings, so what will the next one entail? The term “Gallery” here is metaphorical, not something tangible.

I know many artists create but refrain from sharing due to shyness or not being ready to reveal their inner world to others. But I am very open and comfortable inviting everyone in. So, I felt it was imperative to name it “Quyên Gallery.” From there, the next ideas began to form.

“If I have a hit, it would be fantastic, but if not, I’ll follow my heart.” | Source: Dai Ngo

In reality, this project has yet to come to a halt. Beyond what everyone has seen in Quyên Gallery, there’s more to come. But Quyên Gallery 2 might not necessarily be related to visual arts because, as mentioned, “Quyên Gallery” is symbolic.

As for the lacquer painting album cover, I see some incredible materials when I delve into art. Still, lacquer has a unique and distinct emotion, representing our country’s artisans.

I adore the experience of viewing lacquer paintings. When people visit, I’ll wipe it with a damp cloth to enhance its shine for their admiration. Vietnam’s silk and lacquer have already become world-renowned masterpieces. Hence, I had no reservations about releasing a limited edition album with a lacquered cover, as it fills me with pride.

During your 10-year career, you’ve probably heard questions like, ‘When will you get a hit?’ Is having a hit song necessary for an artist?

My beloved fans wish for me to have a hit, to gain more recognition, and some even candidly express their hopes for me to become a top-tier star. It would be wonderful if I ever had a hit, but it’s not the essence of my journey. However, without one, I’d still follow my heart and passion.

Many fans have great media influence and are always ready to support my projects. Yet, funnily enough, I’ve never had a project big enough for them. To me, it’s like raising a child; you love them, but you hesitate to impose expectations. What if one day they grow up and question whether you considered their feelings?

I wish everyone to understand that I’ve always heeded my heart in my musical pursuits. During my Vietnam Idols days, some feedback suggested my singing lacked emotion. Such feedback has always stayed with me. Yet now, people realize, “Oh, it’s not that Quyên lacks emotion.”

Over the past decade, I’ve maintained my composure and always believed in myself. The once “difficult and hard to listen to” comments have become gentler.

At a recent exhibition, a fan shared that their decade-long trust in me was well-placed. I replied, “Throughout those years, my belief in my journey has been unshaken, too.”

My fans support me, not for any dazzling spotlight but for the genuine connection they feel. The heartfelt melodies, the lyrics, and the continued support suggest that what truly endures is authenticity and passion.