In conversation with: Henry
«I'm very excited. It's coming out in two minutes». When Henry appeared on my computer, he was smiling in his recording studio. It was D-day: after two whole years, his new single, Moonlight, was going to be released. Words were running fast; the clock was ticking, and we were going to witness live, with him, the first seconds of his new music coming to life. «Wait, where are you?» he asked me, seeing the sunlight through my window. «I'm in Italy. In Milan». «Oh, wow. So I'm spending time before my release with Italy right now. That's amazing». Henry was smiling even more. Only one minute and a half left.
Before digging into our long conversation, we want to tell you more about who this multi-faceted artist is.
Born in 1989, Henry Lau is a singer, songwriter, actor, and classical violinist. If you can name something else in the creative field, Henry can do it. Of course, he's also an artist. His paintings are well known and acclaimed by the public and were for a long time part of an exhibition at the worldwide famous Saatchi Gallery in London.
When he was young, shortly after being awarded the Gold Medal in Violin Performance from the Royal Conservatory of Music in Canada, Henry launched his music career. It was in 2008 when he debuted as a member of the popular Korean pop group Super Junior-M. A few years later, in 2013, Henry launched his solo artist career with his EP, Trap. Since then, Henry has released numerous chart-topping singles and produced music for other artists, TV dramas, and movie OST. After leaving SM Entertainment and joining Monster Entertainment Group in 2018, Henry has begun to redefine his musical sound globally, starting with releasing his digital single, Untitled Love Song. As we said, Henry is also an actor and has several movies and K-dramas under his belt. To name a few, in 2015, he played a supporting role in Persevere, Goo Hae Ra (칠전팔기 구해라) and was a supporting actor in the hit-drama Oh My Venus (오 마이 비너스) acting side by side with So Ji-sub, Shin Min-ha, and Sung Hoon.
His Hollywood debut was in 2019 with "A Dog's Journey," where Henry plays a lead role in the Amblin Entertainment (Spielberg's studio) film. In the same year, Henry made his China film debut in "Doubleworld," playing the lead protagonist in the Alibaba and Filmko-produced film. In 2014, Henry debuted in Final Recipe with co-stars Michelle Yeoh and Chin Han. Henry is also a familiar face in unscripted Korean and Chinese television and appears as a regular cast member on the top Korean and Chinese programs, including Korea's "I Live Alone" and China's "Back to Field" series.
Henry, nice to meet you. It's unnecessary, but can you please introduce yourself to the Italian public?
How do you say hi? Is it right, Ciao? Ciao, my name is Henry. I'm releasing my new single in 1 minute, and I'm spending that time with you guys.
Moonlight is coming. Can we talk more about your new single?
It's one song on my album that I spent about a year making. And this song, it's a song for just everybody, especially the people around me, because I saw that everyone around me, while I was writing, was very stressed and just fed up with a lot of things and because there was Covid and everything. So I wanted to give a song back to the people. A song that when you listen to it, you're just very happy, and then you forget about all your stresses. And that's the kind of song that Moonlight is.
What does the word Moonlight mean to you?
I was actually imagining myself dancing on the street just by myself or with a friend or friends, everyone just having a good time. And then I imagined that in my head, and I also imagined the moonlight. And that's the word.
You are back after more than two years… how does it feel?
So I'm very excited. There's about 30 seconds left till the release, but it's been a long time since I released new music, and I know there are a lot of fans waiting for my new music, and I know there are a lot of fans in Italy as well that were also always supportive of me. And I'm just very excited to show everybody what I've been working on for so long.
While Henry and I were talking and laughing, time was running fast. Less than thirty seconds left to the release. I had my phone open on Spotify, ready to add Moonlight to my playlist in real-time. «I hope one day I could have a concert or even a smaller fan meeting or something in Italy,» he said. The time struck. Moonlight was officially out in the world. Henry's happiness was tangible. He raised his hand, and we shared a virtual high-five.
Let's take a walk into your career. You were first starting when you were just a kid. You started playing violin at six years old. What's your relationship with this instrument?
So I started playing violin, piano, and classical music when I was very young. And my main instrument, I would say, is the violin, which is from Italy. The violin I have right now is actually Italian. And so I started with classical music, and then when I was in high school, I began to dance and create all the pops and everything. If I was dancing on stage, I was like, oh, wait, I should also sing. And then that's what started. So I began to sing, and then later on, one thing led to another, and then now I'm just combining everything. So if you have a chance, you can check out some of my performances. But I play the violin and piano and try to do everything.
Then, while you were in Toronto, you auditioned for a K-pop agency, and everything started. What did you expect back then?
Oh, I had no expectations. My friend just told me there's this big company they're looking for new talent, and I just went, and I didn't know what I was expecting. But I think that's what shows anything can happen to anybody. I wasn't any special person, or I didn't have any special connections or anything like that. I was just a normal kid from Toronto. One thing led to another, and this is what happened. I think there are a lot of kids out there right now who also really want to do music or do other things. It doesn't matter. It doesn't have to be music. And I just maybe want to say to them, like, anything could happen.
You were part of Super Junior M and witnessed the evolution of K-pop music. What do you think about it? How did it change?
So back then, K-pop wasn't that big; it just started. And then suddenly, it just got huge and ginormous. And then, one day I was in New York performing, and the next day somewhere else. And then the next thing everyone started to recognize you and everything. But it's just amazing how music can connect everyone. It doesn't matter where you're from or what nationality. So for me, it's like, whatever, it doesn't matter where you are, you're from. I'm always happy to perform and show my music and art to anybody.
What do you think of the actual stage of K-pop music? Is it too fast or hectic, or is it a wave we need to ride at full speed?
I don't think there's ever too much. I think the more that comes out, the more everybody is happy. But I think it's because people here (in South Korea) work so fast. Everything here is high-speed. And even for me, when I'm here, I work faster. I was like, oh, I have to do all this. I think it's a result of a lot of hard work. And I'm very happy because the more that comes out, the more everyone can improve.
You are a multi-hyphenated artist. Last year you were in London for the Start Art Fair, and your paintings were exposed at the Saatchi Gallery. How do music and art collide?
Well, I think music and art are all expressions of your emotion, right? I think everyone expresses it differently. It doesn't have to be art. Some people, they could be, I don't know, any sort of, you know, they could be writing books, studying. That could be your expression of art and expression of emotion. But for me, definitely, arts and music are expressions of my emotion. And my paintings, I never expected them to go to the Saatchi Gallery, but I'm just it doesn't matter what form of art it is; I will keep doing everything I can to show people.
And then there is your actor side. How does the Henry musician differ from the Henry actor?
Acting and music are very different. I mean, they're both performing, but acting is something more: you have to focus for a very long time because, you know, you film for, like, four or five months on one movie or something. While music it's quicker. It's just, you know, boom, and then do something else. And boom, and then do something else. But I enjoy both. And if there's any Italian movie or Italian series that needs somebody like me...
Back to your music. Now we had Moonlight. Can you give us some spoilers on what's next?
So, as I said, Moonlight is one song from the album. The album is done. I have to work on showing you guys now and bringing those the final productions, so I'm very excited about that. I'm working as fast as I can. And then this year, I'm planning a lot of different performances and opportunities to meet the fans. So in Italy, I would be thrilled to meet people even if there's only one fan in Italy that wants to see me, I would love to reach out and perform for you.
If you could give the younger Henry entering the K-pop world a piece of advice, which would it be?
The young Henry, actually, the young Henry, he was amazing. I wish I were more like the young Henry right now because I was fearless back then. When you're young, you don't think about anything. You just do it. So sometimes, when on the next day I had a performance, I was like, "oh, I'll switch the song. I'll just perform another thing or something". But now I would never do that because I worry a lot. I want to practice, and I want to get it perfect. But I think it's time for me to be more like the old Henry.
In one word: how will you describe yourself right now?
Right now? Excited. Nervous. The song just came out, let's say more excited.