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Ngọt's original lineup includes (from left) Trần Bình Tuấn, Nguyễn Hùng Nam Anh, Vũ Đinh Trọng Thắng and Phan Việt Hoàng. Photo courtesy of Ngọt

Indie music created without the interference of record labels – has been introducing fresh sounds to the Vietnamese contemporary music for some time.

Ngọt or Sweet, a young indie band, brought a breath of fresh air when they entered the music scene a decade ago and were one of the top trendsetters in Việt Nam's music scene until their recent split.

In the early 2010s, the public started to grow impatient with the same old cheesy pop, solely about romantic love. It was a time when singers favoured releasing singles as opposed to albums, and all around there was a bit of a creative lull musically.

Established in late 2013, Ngọt, comprising Vũ Đinh Trọng Thắng, Nguyễn Hùng Nam Anh, Phan Việt Hoàng and Trần Bình Tuấn, was a breath of fresh air and was soon deeply embedded in youth subculture.

Nestled within a naive and impetuous life narrative, Ngọt's songs such as Cho tôi đi theo (Let Me Follow), Em dạo này (You Recently), and Không làm gì (Doing nothing) embody a simple yet profound philosophy and youthful dreams.

The internet brought the melodies of Ngọt’s alternative-rock songs everywhere, as the band came to represent “the voice calling” of the young generation grappling with identity crises.

Musician Đỗ Bảo believes that Ngọt was "a new spirit with a unique style that does not mix with others", while musician Quốc Trung praises the band as having a "distinctive personality on the Vietnamese music scene".

However, Ngọt desired more than performing on small venues – they pursued a career as a professional band performing on more prominent stages. The band incorporated experimental elements into their music and became more and more complex with each new release.

“Music is like a game to us, but when we play it, we play it properly. Many indie artists release their songs online, but we want to follow a more well-defined path, get closer to the audience, and promote our music professionally,” said Hoàng, Ngọt's former bass player.

Songwriter and lead singer Thắng said: “Some refer to us as an Indie Rock or Pop band, but Ngọt has never wanted to associate ourselves with a particular style of music. We perform music the way we like and the way we feel.'”

Over the past 10 years, Ngọt have released four outstanding albums – Ngọt (Sweet), Ng'bthg, 3, and Gieo (Sowing) and three EPs. With their tireless dedication, the band has had undeniable success in becoming the most adored band among the younger generation.

Ngọt won the New Artist of the Year and Song of the Year for You Recently at the Devotion Awards presented by the Sports and Culture newspaper in 2018. The band was honoured in the list of "30 Under 30 Vietnam", as voted by Forbes in 2020. Thắng was also nominated as the Musician of the Year at the Devotion Awards 2020.

Duy Đào, a Vietnamese designer and art director for Ngọt’s album Gieo, has been nominated for his design for a Grammy in the "Boxed or Special Limited-Edition Package" category. This indicates the band's dedication to detail in every musical creation and the way Vietnamese music is gradually gaining recognition globally.

Sudden disbandment

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Ngọt performed at Monsoon Music Festival 2023. Photo courtesy of Monsoon Music Festival

Last year, the band grandly celebrated their 10th anniversary at the Monsoon Music Festival 2023 – one of Việt Nam's biggest music festivals – with a special 90-minute performance.

Thắng, the frontman, called this "just the first 10 years". However, “the second 10 years” could not come true, and this March the band abruptly announced they had stopped performing live, and cancelled all of their upcoming concerts.

Even after Ngọt declared that they would stop performing, their fans were awaiting the group's appearances at a few prearranged concerts as an official farewell to 10 years of togetherness. Fans were left in shock, disappointment and even anger at the band's sudden disbandment and unprofessional way of cancelling the show.

Some might even argue that Ngọt's legacy as the vanguard of the indie wave in Việt Nam today was marred to a slight extent by the hasty goodbye. Nevertheless, it is undeniable that Ngọt kick-started the culture of indie music in the country, and directly and indirectly impacted the artistry of the new wave of young singer-songwriters.

The success of the band supports the belief that distinctiveness in music, and professional and well-groomed musical effort will lead to success.

The show must go on, and the two music shows that Ngọt band abruptly cancelled, CAM GALA: “i” and Những Thành Phố Mơ Màng (Dreamy Cities), continue to welcome new names to perform.

The next wave of indie bands continues with the emergence of The Cassette, Minh Tốc & Lam, Mèow Lạc and other indie singer-songwriters such as Trang, TÙNG, and Thịnh Suy.

Although Ngọt have disbanded, they have left behind a dreamy body of work that will continue to instruct and inspire - as one of their most renowned lyrics says: “Last time walking together/ Embittered but not hurting.” VNS