Hana Vu 2024
Photo: Andrew Yuyi Truong / Pitch Perfect PR

Hana Vu Revels in ‘Romanticism’

Romanticism emerges as a whole, as Hana Vu’s space to ask some big questions, though the answers she’s receiving are mostly ambivalent at best.

Hana Vu
Ghostly International
3 May 2024

Romanticism is “a movement in the arts and literature that originated in the late 18th century emphasizing inspiration, subjectivity, and the primacy of the individual” and “the state and quality of being romantic”. Not coincidentally, Romanticism is also the name of Hana Vu‘s new album, which has cover art that evokes paintings from the Romantic period. Based in Los Angeles, Vu is an indie-pop singer-songwriter of Vietnamese and Korean descent. She was a teenager when she released her single “Queen of High School”, a collaboration with Willow Smith, in 2016. Vu’s self-produced debut, How Many Times Have You Driven By, emerged in 2018.

Listeners following Hana Vu’s career will find that Romanticism consolidates Vu’s work so far while hinting at new directions her future work might take. At the same time, Romanticism feels like a fitting introduction to potential new fans, who will more than likely be enticed to explore Vu’s back pages.  

Romanticism, Vu’s fourth full-length album, finds her grappling with issues of young adulthood – particularly change, identity, and aging – in ways that do indeed emphasize “inspiration, subjectivity, and the primacy of the individual”. In the process, Hana Vu has created a lovely album that might resonate with you no matter your stage of life. 

Vu opens Romanticism with an invitation, perhaps to herself: “Look alive / I think we’re going out tonight / I think I might have lost my rhyme sometime ago.” While “Look Alive” is a moody ballad featuring piano and strings, it draws listeners in Romanticism with its slow burn, but the record does not stay stuck in dirge mode. The second track, “Hammer”, is an engaging midtempo pop song grounded in electric and acoustic guitars played by Vu and primary songwriting/musical collaborator Jackson Phillips, who also shares production credits for Romanticism. “Alone” is even more of a rocker than “Hammer”, with Vu admitting, “And all the world’s a game, I’ve had enough / And I’m just so afraid of ending up / All alone / Alone again.” 

While Romanticism often maintains the sparse, indie feel of her earlier records, Vu also incorporates a musical lushness that matches nicely with her introspective lyrics. That is especially felt on two songs: “22”, a pivotal and expansive track in which Vu notes, “I’m just getting old, I’m just 22 / I just wanna hold on to you”, and “Care”, a lovelorn ballad in which Vu admits that she’s not even sure what the concept of care means.  

Hana Vu closes Romanticism with “Love”, which starts quietly but builds in intensity as Vu contemplates the meaning of a relationship. Vu ponders what to conceal and what to reveal, eventually proclaiming, “I guess this is love / I don’t know what to say / I don’t know how to stop.” Maegan Houang’s viola plays a crucial role in bringing “Love”, and all of Romanticism to an end with a dramatic coda that seems to summarize Vu’s lyrical concerns throughout the album musically.

Romanticism emerges as a whole, as Hana Vu’s space to ask some big questions, though the answers she’s receiving are mostly ambivalent at best. She summarizes this best in “Find Me Under Wilted Trees” when she asks, “What kind of lesson is life?” answering herself with “I don’t know, I don’t know.” But the music she creates to ask these questions is exhilarating enough to show that simply asking is a worthwhile and life-affirming endeavor.

RATING 7 / 10