With Indigo, RM Makes Fleeting Moments Feel Permanent

The post With Indigo, RM Makes Fleeting Moments Feel Permanent appeared first on Consequence.

The album cover of RM’s Indigo includes artwork by Korean artist Yun Hyong-keun, a painter known for meditative, contemplative pieces characterized by splashes of umber and ultramarine. While the contemporary paintings are relatively minimalist, they’re technically complex, and all the more layered considering the artist was a bold, persistent figure who survived one of the most turbulent and traumatic periods in South Korea’s history. The streaming press preview of Indigo included extensive notes on the record; it’s there that Yun Hyong-keun is noted as RM’s favorite painter.

RM, who was born Kim Namjoon, is the leader of BTS, the biggest pop group on the planet. He’s also a vocal supporter and passionate collector of contemporary art, particularly interested in elevating work by South Korean artists like Yun. He’s the kind of writer who seems like they have to create or they might burst — with over 200 songs under his belt for BTS, other artists, and solo efforts, he’s the youngest and second-most credited name in the Korean Music Copyright Association.

Indigo, which arrives on Friday, December 2nd, is RM’s first full-length solo effort. His two previously-released mixtapes feel like time stamps from different eras of his story so far and speak to his role within BTS, a group that was formed around his love and unabashed affection for hip-hop over a decade ago. RM, released in 2015 (just two years after BTS had debuted) is a portrait of an impassioned young man brimming with frustration and intensity. mono., a 2018 solo mixtape that he prefers to call a playlist, is the other end of the spectrum — the poetic, melancholic collection is a wistful capsule of young adulthood.

Now, Indigo is something else entirely. BTS’s second chapter is officially in full swing — following fellow rapper j-hope’s dark, experimental Jack in the Box and Jin’s dreamy “The Astronaut,” RM is the next member to share original solo material. While each member of BTS has otherworldly pressure on their shoulders, there’s often a different kind of weight reserved for RM as the leader of a group that has both spoken at the UN and broken countless chart records.

When this time to explore individual endeavors alongside group activities was announced, it was clear that the members were ready for a reset of sorts; Indigo, which RM describes as “a sun-bleached record faded like old jeans,” feels like a gift to his own creative spirit as much as it does a gift to the listeners.

Give Indigo a spin below, and let’s dive in.

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I Wanna Be a Human

Prior to release, RM requested that the album be listened to in order, and there is something of a linear structure to the record. “Fuck the trendsetter, I’mma turn back the time,” he says as an opening on “Yun (with Erykah Badu)” over a nostalgic, smooth R&B beat. The first song on the record includes not only soulful vocals from the iconic Badu, but also archival audio from Yun Hyong-keun, which should indicate to listeners what kind of album this will be. “I wanna be a human before I do some art,” RM repeats throughout the song, underscoring the complicated relationship with identity he’s grappled with at many points in his solo work before.

In a social media post prior to release (written in Korean and translated here by doolsetbangtan), RM shared, “You might have found it a little strange to see many people being featured in my first solo album, but this album is like an exhibition that I curated myself.” All but two tracks on Indigo feature a collaborator, each with their own distinct color and tone.

The cleverly-titled “Still Life,” for example, offers a characteristically joyful performance from Anderson .Paak, a very vocal BTS fan himself who joined the group in June for an exuberant live performance of their 2022 single “Yet to Come.” “Still life, but I’m moving,” RM sings on the bouncy, addictive track, referring to the painting style of capturing intentionally arranged inanimate objects. He and .Paak seem to be having absurd amounts of fun together here, bantering between the bridge and final chorus before RM sends them off with, “Fuck it, let’s go.”

Then, it’s a genuine thrill to see RM team up with Tablo, the leader of Korean hip-hop trio Epik High. RM and Tablo share plenty of overlap when it comes to artistic texture; deep introspection and deliberate honesty are two hallmarks from both artists, but “All Day” isn’t the moody or pensive collab some might have expected. Rather, the track sees both rappers trade off between English and Korean as they unpack the battle of creating from a place of originality. It’s upbeat in a way that wouldn’t feel out of place on a BTS record, but the tracks with Tablo and .Paak incorporate more straight pop elements than have typically been prevalent in solo material from RM.

It’s not the only place he tries something new; while the rapper usually prefers to be spitting bars, track four, “Forg_tful (with Kim Sawol),” is an acoustic guitar ballad that sees him on a vocal track, spending time in his raspy lower register.

There’s also “Change pt.2,” the resigned follow-up to the optimistic “Change” RM released in 2017 with Wale. “The world is gonna change,” he proclaimed hopefully five years ago. “Things change, people change, everything change,” he now grumbles over an industrial, roiling beat. “I can’t believe I loved you once,” he spits. “You can’t love someone like I do.”

Documentation of Youth

While themes of heartbreak and love have certainly been explored at length throughout BTS’s enormous discography, things naturally feel much more personal here with the spotlight entirely on RM. “Closer (with Paul Blanco, Mahalia),” produced by electronic duo HONNE, is confessional and seductive, packed lyrically with the desire to be as physically close as possible to a lover. “If I could live under your skin” is the wish expressed in the chorus. Here, that kind of pure desperation feels utterly human; even romantic.

Then, the aforementioned “Change pt.2” is where things presumably fall apart — “Chemistry we had for sure/ Gradually we wanted more,” he explains. This is immediately followed by the second solo offering on Indigo; “I’m fucking lonely,” he confesses easily over deceptively upbeat guitar on “Lonely.” “I tried a million times to let you go/ So many memories on the floor.”

“Hectic (with COLDE)” is the disco-toned bounceback, feeling like it takes place in the moment when dawn arrives and it’s time to decide what kind of day to have. “Still love and hate this city,” RM says, recalling “seoul” off mono. in which he shared, “If love and hate are the same words, I love you, Seoul/ If love and hate are the same words, I hate you, Seoul.” The record is rounded out with the gentle conclusion of “No.2 (with parkjiyoon),” a promising look towards morning.

Dreams, Devouring

It’s “Wild Flower (with youjeen)” where he lays it all bare, though. The sweeping ballad is marked as the lead single off the album, and it’s with a bracing honesty that he reveals his feelings about this moment in his story. “When everything I believed in turned distant/ When all this fame turned into shackles/ Please take my desire away from me/ No matter what it takes, let me be myself,” he beseeches the listener. Between expansive choruses from youjeen, vocalist of South Korean rock group Cherry Filter, RM all but begs for a grounding human connection. “I can’t go to the stars again, I can’t,” he admits.

The idea of fame as a double-edged sword is far from a new one, especially in art, but it’s worth remembering that the path the members of BTS have walked — particularly the scope of their specific journey — is unique to them. While there’s presumably plenty of joy that’s been found along the way, it’s clear that the person who is Kim Namjoon offstage, away from flashing lights and camera bulbs, has struggled immensely, too. “My start was poetry/ My one and only dream that protected me so far,” he says, “Nothing was ever meant to be mine/ And don’t tell me you gotta be like someone/ Because I’ll never be like them.”

Indigo captures something about the human experience, which is that there’s room for the kind of bone-deep heartache expressed in “Wild Flower (with youjeen)” alongside the joy in “Still Life (with Anderson .Paak). At the end of the lead single, RM invites the listener to meet him in the field of titular wild flowers in the times that are hardest: “When your feet don’t touch the ground/ When your own heart underestimates you/ When your dreams devour you.”

The Last Archive

Indigo contains many things — an artist expressing the frustrations of a uniquely isolating chapter of life, creative catharsis, room for experimentation, poignant unraveling of heartbreak and hope. Most of all, though, it’s a record from a writer at the very top of his game who has proven that he still has so far to go and so much to share. RM paints with brushstrokes of his own that are never broad, and always intentional; remember, Yun Hyong-keun’s paintings may look simple, but the technique needed to achieve them required more time and effort than many artists could imagine.

While so many people have spent time scratching their heads about how BTS became such a global phenomenon, the answer is truly not that difficult. The group was born of and always guided by a love for music and performance, rooted in the spirit of a nineteen year old kid who had a vision of scoring the good, the bad, the ugly, and the joy of youth. RM deserves to know that he succeeded.

Essential Tracks: “Still Life (with Anderson .Paak),” “All Day (with Tablo),” Wild Flower (with youjeen)”

Indigo Album Artwork: 

With Indigo, RM Makes Fleeting Moments Feel Permanent
Mary Siroky

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