Heavy is the head wearing the crown. RM, the leader of BTS, seems to know this truth all too well. As the seven-member group skyrocketed onto the global stage, the 28-year-old singer, songwriter and producerHe found himself not only becoming the de facto spokesperson for his band due to his fluency in English, but also an ambassador for his home country of South Korea and Asians in the diaspora. Although praised for his moving speeches at the United Nations General Assembly (three times!) White Househe talked about the increasing pressure to represent the opinions of others.
“I debuted as a singer and happened to take on a responsibility in society and even in the world,” he said in June, when the band announced they would be pausing group promotions. “In a sense, we may not even be qualified for all those things.”
On his debut solo album Indigo, artist-born Kim Namjoon reclaims his pen, free at last from the obligation to be anything but himself. Though he compares his life to a painting that is “on constant display” on the upbeat hip-hop song “Still Life,” he raps about running ahead on his own terms, freed from yesterday’s regrets and tomorrow’s expectations. “Ya can’t lock me in the frame, I’m moving,” sings collaborator Anderson .Paak in the hook, accompanied by jazzy horns. Made with this restored self-involvement, Indigo is an adventurous sonic portrait of RM’s inner world, the work of an artist who finds his voice by bringing together the influences that resonate with his soul.
Longing for a time before the pressures of capitalist art, RM raps about reconnecting with his younger self on album opener “Yun”. “I wanna be a human, before I do some art,” he raps determinedly over a dusty boom-bap beat, after Erykah Badu offers her sharp vocals on the importance of silence. The song’s hook is a reinterpretation of advice from the late South Korean painter Yun Hyong-keun, whose voice was sampled for the song, and is known for his monochromatic paintings that combined Korean traditional ink calligraphy with Western abstraction.
Similarly, on “Yun”, RM synthesizes his appreciation of Korean contemporary art with 1990s American hip-hop and R&B, paying respect to their innovations and creating a sonic meeting place for these two legends to meet. The exciting combination is a reminder of RM’s earlier bibliography – building on BTS songs, in which he alluded to both Haruki Murakami and Jungian philosophy, creating a universe of references that made their music so easy to get lost in.
Building on the sense of icy loneliness that permeated his 2018 mixtape mono, Indigo is a project brimming with RM’s reflections on alienation. On the stadium rock-influenced pop track “Lonely,” RM sings about being stuck in hotel rooms surrounded by “buildings I don’t know,” while “Closer,” an atmospheric R&B track featuring British singer-songwriter Mahalia and Korean-Canadian rapper Paul Blanco sees him longing for someone late at night to “roll him in the deep end”. Meanwhile, “Change” has RM talking bitterly about everyone and everything that has changed around him, as the production suddenly shifts from an erratic electronic beat to jazzy piano chords.
RM is not all alone Indigo, which invites a host of collaborators from emerging Korean indie artists like Colde and Kim Sawol, to musicians he grew up listening to, like Tablo of hip-hop group Epik High, with whom he exchanges verses about forging your own path on “The entire day.” The slightly acoustic guitar ballad “No. 2″ also notably features parkjiyoon, singer of the 2000 K-pop hit “Adult Ceremony,” an artist who began releasing music on her own label after claiming that her former agency gave her an image that elicited debilitating public scrutiny. That experience makes her words about not looking back all the more poignant.
Past, present and future all meet Indigo standout “Wild Flower”, an explosive rock song whose choruses find Youjeen, the lead singer of beloved Korean rock band Cherry Filter, promising to “shine through the sky” like a “flower arrangement”. Though the verses allude to RM’s endless anxieties – “When will this wretched mask finally come off”, he raps exhausted – using the symbol of an exploding blossom to represent his hope, painting the picture of an open field as a place where he can reconnect with his purpose and inner child.
Towards the end of the song, RM recalls his earliest days as a boy whose “beginnings were poetry / My one true strength and dream that protected me until now”. It’s a reminder that his writing has become his superpower as millions around the world have identified with his introspective, deeply-felt lyrics. Just as he has found solace and resilience through the art that inspired him, Indigo is RM’s chance to do the same for its millions of listeners today.