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From Indulgent Sadness to Renewed Optimism: The Evolution of Nhạc Của Trang

Over the last few years, Ngô Minh Trang (better known as Nhạc của Trang) has become a household name of the local indie scene thanks to a repertoire of melancholy, poignant songs. This year, after taking a break, Trang has put behind the “blue 20s” era to open a new chapter full of peaceful contemplation and gratitude in her new album “Chỉ Có Thể Là Anh.”

'Một Người Nhẹ Nhàng Hơn' — Trang x Tiên Tiên.

When Nhạc của Trang turns a new leaf

Trang started making music when she was just 17 years old. At first, she wrote songs based on karaoke tracks of her favorite tunes, but gradually, having to depend on existing samples no longer felt fulfilling. That was the impetus that pushed Trang to compose the first few melodies, record them, and share the results on her SoundCloud. At the time, Nhạc của Trang bore “a deep shade of red,” by her own admission, as she had her reservations about expressing personal emotions.

Be that as it may, it’s undeniable that many of Trang’s sleeper hits from that era, like ‘Mời Ăn Cơm, ‘Bụi Hoa Giấy’ and ‘Thương Anh,’ struck a chord among Vietnamese music enthusiasts who fell in love with their intimate lyrics and elegant ambiance.

The sorrow continued to deepen, spilling over into everything I wrote. The songs became like a wordy lament on my sadness.

Following her high school graduation, Trang went abroad to study music in the United Kingdom to delve deeper into the craftsmanship of music composition, production, and arrangement. Her own works also became more polished, judging by the warm reception of her debut album “Tỉnh Giấc Khi Ông Trời Đang Ngủ.”

Most importantly, across Trang’s professional development as a serious musician, she allows ample room to experience more corners and slices of life. Trang learns new life lessons from traveling adventures, through performing with industry juggernauts like Min and Uyên Linh, and in her own mistakes in past songs. From someone who, she admits, likes “hiding in a secluded corner in her head,” she learns how to embrace sadness in a healthy way and how to be gentle with herself. Nhạc của Trang, as an inevitable development, transforms into something lighter, more optimistic, and more hopeful.

Writing life into music

Trang has written scores of songs in the span of her career, but ‘Thư Cho Anh’ is not only her favorite, but also serves as the turning point helping her cement a guiding mindset in making music. ‘Thư Cho Anh’ is a slow-tempo ballad that was written during a time when Trang felt she didn’t have a firm grasp on the technicality of writing songs.

“At the time, after I finished writing any song, I didn’t want to listen to it again because I feared finding mistakes. But with ‘Thư Cho Anh,’ I was determined to keep on fine-tuning it until I couldn't find any fault no matter how challenging it was,” she explains. That steely resolve paid off and she still feels happy with the song. ‘Thư Cho Anh’ became Trang’s personal reminder to always be strict with herself in order to create high-quality music.

Another watershed moment in Trang’s music career was the release of ‘Bài Hát Của Em’ — which is arguably one of the most heart-wrenching songs in her oeuvre. The story behind the single’s conception, according to Trang, is surprisingly not that deep.

Trang wrote ‘Bài Hát Của Em’ five years ago on the cusp of an incomplete relationship. One day, while in a cafe with a close friend, she started humming a song by a favorite female artist. “My friend jokingly scolded me, asking why when I’m sad, I don’t sing my own song, but somebody else’s. I thought that was a clever prompt. And the song was born,” she reminisces.

After ‘Bài Hát Của Em’ was written, she decided to send it to Uyên Linh instead of singing it herself. “The reason is that when I sang it before, it always felt like I was indulging too much in my heartbroken situation. On the contrary, the way Linh performs it is much more mature, filled with the wisdom of an experienced woman looking back at a failed relationship.”

Knowing that the song could be so much more than just an evocation of sadness, Trang realized that she has put the morose days of her 20s away when she had the chance to perform ‘Bài Hát Của Em’ five years later.

Trang performing 'Bài Hát Của Em' five years after writing it.

“Chỉ có thể là anh” and a level-headed love story

Through learning how to approach negative emotions in a healthier way and how to be kinder to herself, Trang hopes to inspire her listeners to find the same revelation. Her sophomore album “Chỉ Có Thể Là Anh” was created with that aspiration in mind.

The initial plan set the album at eight tracks and a release date in June 2021. The pandemic changed all that, so the production team acquiesced that it would have been a shame to put out a record when it was impossible to meet and talk to fans. Thanks to the postponement, Trang had an opportunity to polish the album and added three more songs. Finally, “Chỉ Có Thể Là Anh” consisted of 11 tracks and three music videos to be released in summer 2022.

Trang at Acoustic Bar in May 2022.

“‘Chỉ Có Thể Là Anh’ is nearly a complete contradiction of my first album,” Trang says. “If ‘Tỉnh Giấc Khi Ông Trời Đang Ngủ’ is quite sad and drenched in pity and regret, in the new album, the mood I wanted to convey is more relaxed and bright.” All the tracks in “Chỉ Có Thể Là Anh” still revolve around a romance with all the different shades of positive and negative emotions of a woman. But this time, Trang has penned a love story of grace and optimism, no longer indulgent like previous songs. The new direction is evident in the lead single ‘Chạy Trốn Với Nhau.’ This is the key message she wishes to convey through her music: “Slow down, have a look around your surroundings, feel and revel in life from even the smallest things.”

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