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Culture Focus

Ngot “3” album – Paving the Way into Vietnamese Youth’s Soul

Thi Thanh Ha Doan January 27, 2020

Image: 3 (tuyển tập nhạc Ngọt mới trẻ sôi động 2019) by Ngọt on Spotify

After two and a half years of working and preparing, Ngot’s newest album “3” was released in  October this year. Ngot (or sweetness in translation) is one of the few Indie bands in Vietnam with five members Vu Dinh Trong Thang as the lead singer, Nguyen Chi Hung as the lead guitar player, Phan Viet Hoang as bass guitar player and Nguyen Hung Nam Anh as main drummer. The band recently gains high popularity in the country, so it comes as no surprise that  a few days after its release the album immediately ranked no.3 on Spotify and sold over 1000 copies the first day. Originally just a band performing in a coffee shop and having their first album production costs funded by fans, Ngot has moved forward and become the first Indie-pop band to receive “Song of the Year” and “New Artist of the Year” at the Dedication Music Awards the Vietnamese version of the Grammy, in 2018.

For the album “3” freedom appears to take the center stage. The name of the album was simply title with a seemingly random number, and there was no specific concept and storyline throughout their latest 14 tracks, which were originally written by the members themselves. The flexibility allows the band express various and diverse feelings of a young person, of an artist and even of a child, which proves the band’s growth and maturity. The 14 songs’ sequence does not follow any  order or flow. The band went as far as keeping their songs lowercase, mixed with capital letters. All of these details are meant to give the audience the freedom to imagine, to feel and to listen to the songs on the album in random order. As fans might also notice, there is a significant change in melody and tone throughout the album as the band’s folk and waltz influences are more subtle, and their music is now more diverse with a little bit of funky strumming and bass runs. 

The album opens with MÀU (đen trắng), or COLORS (black and white) in English, which is filled with power chords and distorted guitars. It is a song about contemplation and nostalgic longing for the “colors” of the past and the music of a bygone era. The writer feels that he has lost an essential part of himself and felt that everything he does now is not as satisfactory as in the past. This feeling of dissatisfaction and incompleteness affects every artist, including Ngot themselves. Talking about this, Trong Thang, the band’s leader and main vocal, used to share with Vietcetera “I know I’m a creative guy, but I’m not creative all the time. It fades a little, like something is getting in the way. Is creativity a skill that you can hone? If you practice it, will you be better at creating something like a knife that can be sharpened?” On the other hand, (tôi) ĐI TRÚ ĐÔNG is a Beatles-influenced song that evokes a chilling and relaxing effect for listeners. It is written for young people who are exhausted because of love, expectations and hustle life in cities. The song becomes my top list in this season — the holiday season where we can finally get some time off, sit back and reflect about what we have done in this year. 

By far, my favorite in the album would be the song CHUYỂN KÊNH (sản phẩm này không phải là thuốc), which can be roughly translated to SWITCHING CHANNELS (this product is not drugs). The song’s background music is rock-influenced and fast, yet Trong Thang’s singing is slow and creates constant suspense and haunting feelings. Quiet moments are shattered by loud intrusions thanks to his whisper-like vocals. Perhaps, this is the best way to express “Chuyển kênh”. Its lyrics is both satiric and empathetic, with some deducting it as the fact that television, or media in general, is as much a reflection of ourselves as it is a stage. Nevertheless, to me, the song also reflects a generation living in urban area and growing with the development of technological devices, or “urban parasites” as called in the song. Their attention is completely seized by these products, making them indifferent to important matters “In the past few years what have I done aside from watching TV?” the song asks. Moreover, the audiences exert their power through the action “switching channels” to find content that pleases and entertains them instead of valuing meaningful one. The sentence “If you are bored of me, then just keep switching channels” lingers in the head of listeners as the song comes to an end, leaving a subtle and distressing message about society that few Vietnamese artists have the courage to express. 

The “3” album is not meant to grip your attention right from listening, but rather to draw you into a contemplative and fun adventure. Compared to previous albums, this one is more of an exploration of various music genres and also the band’s recognition of complicated thoughts and feelings of a person experiencing the transition into adulthood. 

By all means, the 14 tracks deserve a careful listen and a close look of anyone looking for a unique music style in Vietnam right now.