And SM’s mystery man is…Super Junior-M‘s Henry! Kudos to all you sharp-eyed fans who caught the clues (literally) tattooed all over the teaser pictures long before the announcement was made.
Henry will be releasing a solo mini album entitled Trap on June 7th. It’s been thirteen years since SM has debuted a male solo artist, which of course makes Henry’s solo debut all the more notable…but can we just talk for a moment about how this is probably the most logical thing SM has done in recent memory? Never mind the fact that solo artists are hot in K-pop right now — arguably even moreso than idol groups — and it’s high time that SM jumped onto the bandwagon.
SM’s choice to give Henry solo activities makes sense in so many ways. Henry sticks out like a sore thumb amongst the rest of SM’s idol roster in that his area of expertise is in composing and producing, to the point where his activities as an “idol” seem to serve more as a stepping stone on his path to becoming a music producer. At this point, there’s no way to know for certain the degree of creative control that SM is willing to hand over to Henry. However, the thing about K-pop solo activities is that they really make a point of playing up the abilities and unique talents of the solo artist in question — an endeavor that requires a sizable amount of creative input from the solo artist himself in order for the solo endeavor to truly live up to its potential. Henry is the one SM artist that has demonstrated an invested interest in media and entertainment production, and while he’s produced and composed for some other SM artists as well as himself, there’s no better way to let an aspiring producer like Henry stretch his wings than allowing him to take control (and responsibility!) for his own solo material.
Furthermore, allowing Henry to concentrate his efforts on production and composition serves as an all-too-rare instance of SM making the best out of the unique abilities of their artists. I don’t doubt that other SM artists also have unique talents that deserve far better treatment than SM’s usual cookie-cutter approaches, but Henry’s skill set is so out of left field that it would make far less sense for SM to continue playing Henry off as a typical singing and dancing idol when his actual talents and interests lie elsewhere.
Lastly, given that all goes well and Henry does end up holding significant creative control over his solo material, the fact that SM has one whole artist under its roster who produces his own stuff and has a creative streak really does SM a huge favor for their public image. While it’ll probably take eons before SM fully sheds its shiny pink veneer of idol perfection, having Henry as the token creative, free-spirited butterfly might make SMTown look a little less plastic, fantastic, and elastic and a little more open to “real musical artistry” — or at least, as far as “real musical artistry” can go in the world of K-pop.
The news of Henry’s solo debut can be seen as both exciting and expected, but it doesn’t come without a host of potential problems. For one, while Henry is certainly a good composer, he’s not an extraordinary performer by any means. Most K-pop idols who pursue solo careers often start out as extremely charismatic performers who are able to hold up a stage by themselves without needing five or six other group members to support them. Henry, however, is most likely pursuing a solo career because of his penchant for music production and not for his performance charisma. It’d be a real shame if his comparatively lackluster performance skills cause him to become a mere vehicle for his self-produced music.
And on top of that…what about his crew?! Most by now are familiar with the fact that Henry is now part of Noizebank, a music production team Henry formed alongside Gen Neo, Isaac Han, and Neil Nallas. All four are talented musicians and all four attended the Berklee School of Music, but looking at Noizebank is a bit like playing a game of One-of-These-Things-is-Not-Like-the-Others. It’s clear that while Noizebank will undoubtedly play a big part in Henry’s solo debut, Henry is the obvious choice for the “face” of their pop-electronic styled music. On the one hand, it’s a huge plus to have a K-pop idol promote your music because, hello, instant exposure. At the same time, I can imagine how tough it might be to have one member of the group receive all the glitz and glam while the other three are left to sit quietly behind the soundboard back at the recording studio. Like Quincy Jones and Michael Jackson, or Macklemore and Ryan Lewis. Or the Cheetah Girls.
But maybe it’s still too early to tell. After all, so many of us have been expecting a Henry solo debut for ages, but I don’t think anyone thought it would be heralded with pictures of Henry pretending to drive a car while wearing nothing but body paint, saggy jeans, and Abercrombie & Fitch boxer briefs. While experience tells me that surprises from SM are rarely a good thing, I’m willing to take my chances on this one. Besides, I just like this kid too much to not be excited about this. The countdown to June 7th starts now.
(SportsSeoul; images via SM Entertainment and Henry Lau Thailand)