Hana Vu


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Is there anything we like to be sung to about more than youth? A universal and yet elusive time that has a hold over all of us, it’s often evoked by the same platitudes. We’re told it’s a breathless stream of novelty and ecstasy, and we’re told even more often how quickly it ends. Yet we so rarely hear about its embedded grief. If youth’s ephemerality is part of its magic, doesn’t it make sense that an integral part of the experience might be mourning the days piling up behind you? “I was recently so close to childhood,” says Hana Vu, as she eats a piece of candy in her sun-striped Los Angeles apartment. “At the cusp of becoming a more capable and mature person, I feel grief for my naivete.”

This deep duality informs Romanticism, the newest album from Vu. She’s been making music since high school, with a full-length debut and several EPs behind her of glowy, brooding anthems of abstraction and emotion. On Romanticism, her guitar-driven synthy pop and plush contralto fill out the coming-of-age experience with slick and sorrowful precision. These songs pulse with meaning and jolt with playfulness, anchored by her powerful, sonorous voice. Her voice is a low and silky boom on songs like “22,” accompanied by dissonant guitar strums underlining the angst and dissolution of adolescence. It’s a muscular, soaring chant on songs like ‘Hammer,’ which layers clipped guitar and mandolin strums with an ascending, floor-coating bass. An artist aware of the contradictory compulsions of growth and human nature, she leans into that truth in juxtaposition. Romanticism can feel both reminiscent of guitar-heavy late-aughts indie rock, and expansively futuristic in its layered synth bass. Vu adds, “I’m just trying to convey my perspective as boldly as possible. To succinctly crystallize how it feels to be young, but also to be deeply sad.”

“Do you remember getting older / can you tell me what it's about?” Vu sings on “Airplane,” winking at the desire for tangibles in the unknown. With her previous work, Vu welcomed feedback as she went, but while crafting Romanticism, she shielded herself from outside opinion to preserve a singular vision. For over a year she holed up to work on her songs alone, waiting until she felt the album was fully-formed enough to show it as a whole. The result is a unified collection of songs aching with depth and intimacy. “Do you believe in starting over?” “Airplane” continues. “Can you tell me what it’s about?”

“Being young, there's so much that I experience for the first time, all the time. But as I experience more things, I become more desensitized to those things,” Vu explains. “You get wiser–– I feel quite wiser–– but less fervent, less hopeful.” She captures this liminal state poetically. Many of the songs invoke the contradictory feelings of youth directly–– “I'm just getting old / I'm just 22” on “22”; most of them wander into the existential–– “Forever seems like too much time / but I just got here, stay awhile” on “How It Goes”; and all of them are written concisely while providing windows of grand emotion. Most potently, this album somehow captures the luster of impermanence, in all its building wisdom, in all its funneling hope.

“Being a romantic is different from being a romanticist,” Vu clarifies, and Romanticism does have less in common with lovetorn ballads than it does with 1700s Europe, when artists called for heightened emotion over argued reason and sensory details over logical ones. These songs luxuriate in an intensified, distilled picture of the rush of feelings that follow adolescence. “The nexus of this album is indulging in these sad feelings, indulging in the senses,” Vu says as the sun begins to set through her windows. “It's just not commonplace in society that people really can value the beauty of being so sad, of feeling grief and heartbreak.”

And though it may not be stereotypically romantic, there is a powerful thread of sticky, hopeful devotion. “My hands fall off if they’re not holding on / I'll hold a love until it turns to dust,” she sings on “How It Goes.” “When the airplanes fly / over LA and say goodnight / I dream a window seat /across the world for only you and I,” goes the twinkling “Airplane.” And in the aptly-named “Dreams,” there are the ethereal lines, “love doesn't fade away / and everyone stays the same / and no it doesn't hurt to be alive.”

There’s a great sense of seeking that pervades Romanticism. “There is no answer / but I want one anyway,” she probes in “Hammer.” While Vu isn’t religious, she is spiritual, and music and songwriting are a place where she goes to connect with her spirituality. “I do plead with the world, or the universe, in writing,” Vu says of her writing process. “My writing of songs is where I feel inclined to ask questions and look for answers within myself.” But she also delights in the not-knowing, bathing in the process of asking. That’s where great artists linger, and our luck is getting to watch them turn over these questions in their mind. “What kind of person am I? / I don’t know, I don’t know. / What kind of lesson is life?” Vu sings hauntingly on the electric “Find Me Under Wilted Trees.” “I don’t know, I don’t know…” Romanticism is a lush example of how thrilling it can be to look directly at our feelings, to sing their sorrows and praise. Under Vu’s magnetic gaze, soaking up sadness has never felt so alive.

— Kyle Lucia Wu