There’s more to Hwang Minhyun than meets the eye. While a notoriously handsome idol, his appeal doesn’t just start and end with his elegant visuals. When Pledis Entertainment announced his first solo venture nearly 11 years after he debuted as a member of NU’EST, there was a lot of mystery around just who exactly Minhyun would choose to be on his own. After over a decade of being promoted from trainee, to idol, to now actor in dramas like Alchemy of Souls, developing the many sides of his artistry, Minhyun flips the typical expectations for a solo debut on their head. He capitalizes on that debut mystery to compel us with who he is and is yet to become in his debut mini album, Truth or Lie.  

True to its name, Truth or Lie is a series of contrasting sides, full of contradictions that lurk beneath the surface of answering who Minhyun is. He never really gets to the meat of the matter, but that seems to be the point. The naming and order of the tracks also seem coy, like “Honest” being followed by “Hidden Side”, making for an even more intriguing portrayal of all the pieces that make Minhyun whole. As he glides from song to song, the question remains: Is what he’s saying true, or is it a lie? 

The first track, “Honest,” dares to answer this question right off the bat. However, take a closer look at the lyrics and it’s not all that simple. Even as he plays “honest” in this lowkey, piano-heavy ballad, he reveals that he’s been anything but:

I was so afraid my feelings would be revealed

That answer that was so simple

But I couldn’t be so honest about it

So maybe that’s why I was wandering tonight

He later even goes to hide his true self further, singing: “No one really knows me.” At the same time, as Minhyun expresses these words, his hushed delivery against the calming piano and strings backdrop comes off as utterly sincere. 

The dichotomy of “Honest” leads to an interesting contradiction that continues throughout the album, and in the following track and lead single, “Hidden Side.” As with “Honest,” “Hidden Side” isn’t exactly as its title suggests. While “Honest” was more of a discussion of hiding his true self in the name of protecting his heart, “Hidden Side” is Minhyun opening up and telling the listener to “look inside and find [his] hidden side.” The track is also more in line with the typical seductive musical stylings of NU’EST, and therefore a much more expected selection from the singer, especially for a title track. It’s possible there are layers to this as well — are we meant to assume Minhyun’s “hidden side” is the typical smooth talker? Or, as he mentions later in the song when he sings “you can fill it however you feel,” is that assumption meant to be false? These questions linger as Truth or Lie builds on its own musings and assumptions in a clever bid to draw listeners even deeper into Minhyun’s world. 

This pattern returns with the next pair of contrasting tracks, “Crossword” and “Perfect Type.” Like “Honest,” “Crossword” presents a new side of the idol, both in persona and sound. The track is completely different from the first two, or really anything Minhyun has tackled before, with Afro-Cuban percussion elements and a bright, jazzy guitar. Out of all of the songs on the album, “Crossword” is also the one most pointed at the question of who is Hwang Minhyun? He refuses to answer, instead posing the question back to the listener in a continuous taunt to solve him like a crossword puzzle: “What do you think? So many words to describe me?”

“Perfect Type,” on the other hand, reverts to the NU’EST-adjacent tone of “Hidden Side.” Here, Minhyun traverses between his lower register and falsetto alongside a sneaky beat and sultry retro-inspired instrumentals to make for a seductive serenade. He may be the perfect type, but he’s also suave and mysterious enough to be a heartbreaker. The album’s final track, “Cube,” follows the same thread as the aforementioned tracks in both sound and theme, with Minhyun exposing his feelings as he reminisces on his pursuit of love: 

Alone and silent in a small garden

I hold my breath like a perched bird

I become a single flower

With emptiness in my heart, oh-oh-oh-oh-oh

Endlessly I bloom you

Rather than addressing his feelings head on as he does in “Cube” and “Perfect Type,” he blissfully skirts past them in “Smile.” Like “Cube,” “Smile” cements Truth or Lie’s — and perhaps Minhyun’s own — two contrasting sides. One, portrayed throughout the odd-numbered tracks, is unfamiliar and complicated. He’s lofty and tricky to the point where he feels realer than the alternative, expressed in the even-numbered tracks. While the suave and smooth Minhyun in these songs feels more familiar, they again beg the question of whether that side of him is the truth, or just another lie. 

Truth or Lie is an unusual solo debut, but one that works to smash expectations. As a long-time veteran of the industry with plenty to still explore and show of himself, Minhyun is the perfect subject for a first mini album of this unique nature. It takes a certain level of artistry to ensure that an album with layers upon layers of complex intricacies such as this one is brought to life in the right way. Luckily, and on every level from lyrics, to production, to singing style, Minhyun gets the job done.

(YouTube. Lyrics via KGasa, Genius, AxomLyrics [1][2]. Images via Pledis Entertainment/HYBE Labels.)