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Do Hanse: K-pop’s Pop-Punk Poster Child

The Victon rapper on his rock-inspired fashion sense, visual artistry, and the importance of self-expression

Riddhi Chakraborty May 18, 2022

"To be honest, I'm very spontaneous, so I just tend to carry out the images that come to my mind right away." -Do Hanse. Photo: Courtesy of the artist

This story appears in Rolling Stone India’s K-Music Special Issue, on sale now. Buy your copy here.

If you haven’t heard of Do Hanse, you’re missing out. He’s one of the most gifted rappers in the Korean music industry, with the face of a manga protagonist, but there’s also a definite rockstar vibe there courtesy of his many punk-inspired ensembles, piercings and tattoos. He’s unforgettable at first glance and dangerously talented to boot. As the main rapper and producer of K-pop group Victon, Do gained attention thanks to his distinct higher vocal tone, his ability to spit fiery verses like a machine gun, and of course his sharp, cat-like features. He’s bold, fearless and innovative, so we knew the Fashion segment of Rolling Stone India’s ‘K-Music Special Issue’ would be incomplete without him 

Scoring an interview with the charismatic rapper was a slight task since he’s currently not promoting solo, and is instead focusing on making new music with Victon; artists generally don’t do press outside their promotional cycles, but he decides to make an exception just for us. His team and ours hurtle through time zones and overflowing schedules to make it work, coordinating frantically as we ignore deadlines and wrestle with translations to lock him in – and, of course, he is absolutely worth every minute of the madness.

“I hope you think more about your own dream rather than thinking about what others think of you,” he says at one point when we connect for our conversation. I had asked what advice he’d give to someone who wants to experiment with their fashion and music and forge a path different from what society expects, like he did. “Don’t lose sight of your path and do what you want while doing some research about it. I think fear is quite an unnecessary feeling to start something.”

“I just think my vibe was a little different from others.” Photo: Courtesy of the artist

Do was one of the first idols in K-pop to not just show off his tattoos, but make them a part of his core style concept – something that was considered pretty taboo up until just a few years ago. In fact, most Korean artists are forced to cover up their ink with clothing, makeup or bandages when they perform during broadcast shows since it’s still prohibited on national television (the after-effect of tales of yore where tattoos almost always meant gang affiliation). He was also one of the first K-pop stars to rock facial piercings – a sleek snake bite on his lower lip and a tiny nose stud. Since then, a lot of idols have been bolder with their body mods – GOT7 member Jay B’s iconic anti-eyebrow piercing and BTS member Jung Kook’s glorious tattoo sleeve are distinct early examples – but it’s taken hitting the 2020s to catch on among the industry as a whole. So how did Do find the courage to dive in as early as 2018?

“I just think my vibe was a little different from others,” the rapper says. There’s a frankness to his answers that I quite enjoy, and a confidence in his words that can only come from someone who knows exactly who they are. “Even when I was very young, instead of the clothes my mom chose for me, I chose my clothes myself.” The visual change took place roughly a year after Victon’s debut in 2016. Do went from being a fresh-faced teen crush to sharp, sleek and suave, eventually morphing into a reflection of punk-rock royalty. The piercings and ink grabbed my attention in Victon’s 2019 music video for “Nostalgic Night,” the lead single off their third EP Identity. Do had made a complete transformation and that, paired with his deadly verse delivery, made him an artist to watch out for. When I ask if he had any specific influences to thank for the evolution of his style, he says that his outlook is more about just wearing what he feels at the moment rather than looking for sources that dictate the way he dresses. “I’ve had many artists and people who were an inspiration to me from time to time, but these days I don’t have any special interests!” Since then, he’s treated audiences to dark and glamorous transformations on every comeback, outdoing himself each time with bold hair styles, nail art, jewelry and couture.

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Do’s look these days is a delightful blend that spans pop-punk, cyberpunk, emo, glam rock and grunge – all with a touch of androgyny. “I like trying various styles, so my style keeps changing,” he shares. “About a year ago, I fell in love with pop punk and rock music, so I think I still like the punk look and wear it pretty often. Because I like pop punk and rock music, I think I’m influenced by musicians who do that genre.” His Instagram account is packed full of crisp, flash-drenched shots that feature vibrant hair shades, glittering chokers, chunky shoes and a plethora of black-and-white ensembles – all while putting his ink and piercings front and center. There are splashes of color here and there (in his more recent posts, he’s shown off a neon pink manicure to match his hair) as well as anime-inspired artwork. It’s beautiful chaos and it suits him well. It’s that same vibe that filters into his work as a musician, and not just in terms of the dazzling visuals he presents (we’ll get into that in a moment) but also within his sound. “I do what I want to do spontaneously. That is my style of music making.” 

This spontaneity echoes right back to when he first fell in love with music. “I liked to dance and listen to music since I was young, so naturally I’ve always wanted to do music,” he says, explaining that he initially aimed at being a dancer, but the art of lyricism won him over. “So, while learning street dance and hip-hop songs, I suddenly wondered, ‘What are they singing and talking about?’ While looking for the lyrics’ interpretation, I realized that those rappers wrote what they wanted to say and spit out their lives in the recording studio. I thought it was cool and as a teenager, I was shocked. I just naturally started writing lyrics and rapped like that.” Do changed lanes, becoming a K-pop trainee by the time he turned 18 in 2016, and later that same year debuted with his group, quickly making a mark as a songwriter on their first album Voice To The New World. Over the years, the rapper gained fame as a producer and songwriter on every Victon album, but there still remained a thirst to show audiences what he was capable of as a solo act. “When we were not active as a team, other members showed great performances in musical, radio, drama, and entertainment programs. I always thought, ‘I should show my own skills through music.’” 

After wrapping up promotions for Victon’s 2021 LP Voice: The Future Is Now, Do immediately got to work on his debut EP, Blaze. He dropped the six-track record on his 24th birthday in 2021, led by the fiery single,“Take Over,” and leaped through genres like house, alternative R&B (“Scent”), pop punk (“Public Enemy”) and more, focusing on including what he personally loved rather than catering to the taste of mass audiences. “I have a unique voice tone, but I think there can be some likes and dislikes since tastes change from person to person, so I was worried about it and studied about tones a lot earlier,” Do explains. “Now, I think I’m just comfortable with whatever I feel, and I think I’m putting the tone that just naturally comes out of my body into my music.” He feels there was more freedom in discovering who he really is with Blaze, as compared to previous releases with Victon or experimentation with singles. “When I work on Victon’s music, I try to express the title, theme, and atmosphere of the song in my own style. I think of the overall image of the song. When I do my own music, I feel more comfortable and freer to do as I want, so I try not to put any restrictions on it.” 

The crowning glory of Blaze, however, was “Take Over” and its dazzling music video that sees the rapper reign supreme over a world of glitter, neon, pop art and high fashion. His look in the clip is unlike anything we’ve seen before on a male K-pop star thanks to his waist-length platinum blonde tresses, and he pairs the visuals with stunning Nineties-influenced house drops and grimy trap. Take it in all together, and it’s glorious. “When I produced my solo album, I had many thoughts about the composition of each song and coordinated it with the producers,” Do recalls. “For ‘Take Over,’ which was the main title, I wanted to make a song that would come out during Fashion Week, so I thought about the costumes and the music video concept while making the song. I told the company that I wanted to build a completely different image from when I was working as a team, and it was fun to see the outcome incorporating a lot of my opinions in terms of visuals.” The video features some truly gorgeous wardrobe choices: intricate crowns, bejeweled jackets, plus an all-white look similar to a futuristic knight or king – with pearls and lace in lieu of chainmail – complete with Do seated regally upon a horse. “Take Over” also features some of South Korea’s most prominent names in drag: Nana Youngrong Kim, Vita Mikju, Bambi and Serena, who together make up the art collective Neon Milk. It’s the first time drag queens have featured in a K-pop male soloist’s work, and Do shares that the dance sequence with the quartet is his favorite moment in the entire music video. 

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“For ‘Take Over,’ which was the main title, I wanted to make a song that would come out during Fashion Week, so I thought about the costumes and the music video concept while making the song.” Photo: Courtesy of the artist

People are often tempted to find symbolism embedded within every look in “Take Over” (and K-pop videos are usually created with this in mind), but Do wants to put the spotlight on the fashion for exactly what it is. “With ‘Take Over,’ many people remember me with a genderless and kitsch image. Actually, there is no clear message in the song and music video,” he says. “There are many interpretations, including those who think that I am talking about gender issues, but I made this song with a unique and colorful visual and rap as the focus; there’s no special message or meaning. So I think it would be good if you could watch and listen comfortably without much interpretation.”

Do’s sense of styling within music videos comes with an understanding of avant garde – to wear art as fashion. He reminds me of greats like David Bowie, G-Dragon, or Taemin, because his art incorporates fashion to be appreciated for what it is. I tell him this, but he waves off the praise with humility. “Whenever I am asked questions like these, I feel like I need to answer like there are some big reasons and motivations behind my art,” he says. “To be honest, I’m very spontaneous, so I just tend to carry out the images that come to my mind right away. I’m sure I’ve been influenced by a lot of things because I literally do whatever I want to do, so it’s hard to say where specifically I get my inspirations from.” While discussing his various striking stage looks and outfits, I ask if there’s a difference between the Hanse we see onstage versus the Hanse offstage. “I think it is just a matter of me having full makeup or no makeup,” he says, explaining that he personally doesn’t see much of a distinction between these two sides of himself – the man and the artist. “The me offstage is a lot gentler than you think. I think that’s all.” The fierce, androgynous and DGAF attitude he channels onstage flickers up often within the soft-spoken but firm demeanour he slips into during interviews, and what he says immediately makes sense.

As we start to wrap up, we discuss the demands the entertainment industry makes of artists and the pressure many celebrities feel to adhere to mainstream media’s idea of popularity. Do says he’s lucky he hasn’t been forced into an image he doesn’t stand for. “I don’t think I’ve ever had much trouble with disagreements or issues like this because the company respects my opinions and style a lot.” There’s no fear when it comes to trying bold new looks and concepts and that’s exactly the way it should be: artistic expression over hesitation at what critics might say. “I’ve never ever hesitated at all!” he assures me and indeed, it’s hard to imagine him catering to fleeting trends. 

Sure, there are people who don’t understand what Do Hanse is all about – the long hair, makeup, tattoos and piercings still tend to scare a scant handful – but the rapper doesn’t let the hate bother him. “Not only do I not feel the need to respond, but I actually don’t really care at all,” he says breezily. “That’s because I think it’s more stressful not to be able to do the style I want than to just receive such criticism and feedback.”

Watch Do Hanse’s music video for “Take Over”:

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