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Vũ Thanh Vân Makes Staying at Home Seem Effortlessly Cool

Vũ Thanh Vân is not a new name among indie music lovers, as she's well-known for her soothing voice in past singles like ‘Tori,’ ‘Hát Ru’ or ‘Lấy Chồng.’ When I finally meet Vân, I feel her quiet presence underneath the surface of a pretty girl singing love songs on the internet — a singer-songwriter who is strong, determined, and has a keen perspective on life.

During Saigon's lockdown, Vân embarked on the live music series VTV Ở Nhà 1m (Vũ Thanh Vân Home Alone), in which she breathes new colors into old-but-gold songs that some might have forgotten, like the 2000s V-pop hit 'Anh Tin Mình Đã Trao Nhau Một Kỉ Niệm' or the classic 'Khoảnh Khắc.' The project was well-received, and Vân built on the first season's momentum with VTV Ở Nhà 2m, where each episode is a collaboration with a different musical guest.

Despite not being industry insiders, everybody in Vân's family loves music, and she was exposed to many different genres when she was a child. Vân’s passion gradually grew from the songs she listened to from a young age. “I used to sing all day long when I was still in kindergarten,” Vân tells me. However, she did not actually consider pursuing music professionally until half a year ago, after she realized that of the many things that she can do, music was the one thing she both does well and has fun while doing it.

Hailing from Hanoi, Vân is currently living and working in Saigon, and says that living here has changed her outlook on music quite a lot: “[I] rarely listen to Vietnamese music, especially pop music. However, after moving here and seeing the way people purely enjoy music, I feel more comfortable when composing.”

Taking inspiration from life

As Louis Armstrong once said, “Music is life itself.” Vân infuses a different story of hers in each of her compositions. She draws inspiration from her personal life as well as the world around her. In ‘Hát Ru’ (Lullaby), she borrows from the life of those she knows from her life: "I know a lot of people who work with their hands. And since childhood, I have always noticed the difference in their thoughts and feelings compared to those who work desk jobs."

"There is something different in their eyes, their aura, how they perceive love. After composing the melody, I realized that it was very sad [song], similar to the lullabies that I often heard from a young age, so I named the song 'Hát Ru.'" She adds: "I also write based on phrases or keywords that I came across. I try to explore perspectives that are rarely mentioned in Vietnamese music."

When writing music, Vân has only one rule: to remain true to herself. She explains: “The stories in my songs don't necessarily happen to me, perhaps I’m just imagining them, but as long as they are true to my feeling and I don’t feel forced when singing, it’s fine. I don’t want to make any demands regarding how the audience chooses to perceive me through my music. A song can be interpreted in many ways, so can its author's sense of self.” Through talking to Vũ Thanh Vân, I couldn’t help but admire her, not only for her talent, but also the depths of her thoughts and personality.

In January this year, Vân released the music video for her single ‘Lấy Chồng’ — a mark of transformation from someone who only did music "for fun" to a professional artist. Behind the dreamy track is Vân's contemplation on the dynamics of her girlfriend group. A member of the group announced her engagement even though they once made a group promise to "stay forever single and free."

Going live in a quarantined Saigon

Following the success of Ở Nhà 1m, Vân knew she wanted to continue. "With Ở Nhà 1m, I already renewed some old songs by other artists. So I thought 'why not do the same thing with my own music?'" she explains. "But it's a bit tedious to work alone, so I decided to combine my songs with ones that I really enjoy from other colleagues. In Ở Nhà 2m, I want to give the audience a different take on those songs, as well as bring good music closer to listeners."

The production of the series is one of the reasons why its existence is remarkable. “The most difficult thing was to maintain the frequency of one episode a week, and to arrange the schedule to fit with my guests because everyone is way too busy,” she recalls. “A video usually takes about four days to complete, from recording to filming and editing.”

Each with a different mood and tone, the songs were selected and blended based on their vibes or similar tunes. "'Chạm' [by Vân] and 'Sao Hỏa' [by Tuimi] were chosen based on their matching chord progression, while I chose ‘Hà Nội Khóc Hộ Em’ [by Vân] and ‘Hà Nội Ở Sài Gòn’ [by Trang] because of their similar themes."

Each episode of the series delivers a different listening experience. While ‘Anh Có Bao Nhiêu % Tori’ featuring Tùng is a great choice for the days when Saigon turns cold due to the sudden bouts of rain, the smooth voices of Mỹ Anh and Vũ Thanh Vân in ‘Chiện Tình Yên’ [a mashup of 'Chiện Tình' and 'Yên'] can generate a strangely peaceful and romantic feeling towards life. The latter is also a combination Vân is particularly fascinated by, as the uniqueness in the chord really challenged her. When it was finally completed, she was extremely happy.

"After Party," an EP for those in their 20s

Although Ở Nhà 2m has come to an end, rest assured that Vũ Thanh Vân still has many surprises in store for fans. Most recently, Vân released a five-track EP featuring Itsnk called “AFTER PARTY.” The duo had been working on this for almost three years while still learning new things about music. Vân says that this EP can be dedicated to 20-year-old Vân, since all the songs are written based on her personal experience. “I hope when listening to this EP, the audience can find themselves an empathetic friend of the same age.”

Quãng 8, which means "octave" in Vietnamese, is a series of articles on Vietnam's new generation of unique music personalities. Know an interesting musician and want to introduce them to our readers? Send us an email via contribute@urbanisthanoi.com with your ideas.

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