Album Review: RM Bares His Soul in mono.

Earlier this week, BTS’ RM unveiled a surprise when he released his latest solo project titled mono. The mixtape is a follow up to his 2015 self-titled solo album and his first individual release since his collaboration with Wale early last year. In the three years between his self titled project and mono., RM has grown into a complex individual. At the crux of his identities as RM, the leader of BTS, and Kim Namjoon, his unadulterated self, mono. delves into his dichotomous feelings, mindset, and worldview in the form of seven fresh tracks. Over the past few years, BTS has embarked on a journey of self-discovery, self-love, and self-acceptance as a part of their three-part “Love Yourself” series. This philosophy continues as a driving force in RM’s mixtape and is used as a foundation for the themes explored in it. However, unlike the group’s albums which promoted an overly optimistic view of love and acceptance, mono. tackles it much more holistically. The album deals heavily with different aspects of duality, examining the intricacies and struggles of growth, learning, and living. The lyrics go as far as to express the feelings of sorrow, vulnerability, and loneliness that might come before love or acceptance. In mono., RM becomes introspective, looking inwardly on the different dualities within him. This examination of duality expands further in the album through lyrics, production, and themes. In the track “tokyo,” RM describes a dissonance in himself, a feeling of emptiness, and the longing for familiarity. In “seoul,” he mentions the contrasting feelings he has for his home, but also the comfort it brings him. Other themes that the rapper examines is the discrepancies between his internal and external behavior when dealing with his inner turmoil. He also makes comparisons of his current self versus the ideal self that he wants to become. RM continues to explore duality through his lyrics by writing in both Korean and English and through songs that feature his rapping and singing. Each of the seven tracks tells its own story, most of it hinting hope while tinged with bittersweet tone. In terms of production, the tracks in mono. are a lot more down beat than RM’s past works. RM is known for getting inspiration from his everyday life and surroundings. This is evident at the beginning of his songs “tokyo” and “seoul,” both songs that begin with the organic sounds of the cities. It wouldn’t be a surprise if RM recorded those sounds himself. The musical style combined with this technique made the songs more reminiscent of “Reflection,” RM’s solo track from Wings, and “Trivia 承: Love” from Love Yourself : Answer than anything from his self-titled mixtape. RM has chosen to collaborate with three different artists for some of the tracks, including HONNE, Korean indie band Nell, and eAeon (of the Korean indie duo Mot). All of the collaborators felt like natural choices for the style that RM’s music has branched into. The delicate, light melodies combined with RM’s vocals and verses made each track sound more like poetry than the run of the mill rap. Despite having collaborated with artists who are known for their distinct styles, none of their contributions seemed to take away from RM’s, instead adding a little bit of flavor to his own. Complementing the album, mono. also came along with the release of three music videos. Unlike previous mixtapes released by individual members, mono. strays away from focusing on RM, instead opting for a different artistic approach. The video for “forever rain” features monochrome illustrations that embodies the feeling of loneliness. The video for “seoul” is a lyric video showing the sights and sounds of the city while messy scrawls of the lyrics flash across the scene. The videos took a different approach from previous visual material that the group or RM has released. Instead of focusing on the artist, the videos are treated like individual pieces of art, delivering the message of the song in the best way possible. Written, composed, produced, recorded, arranged, and performed with love by RM, mono. exudes a more intimate level of vulnerability and sincerity while showing how much the rapper has matured. ‘mono.’ expresses what RM can’t normally share in his BTS work, which makes the album even more personal knowing that all the thoughts in the lyrics are all him. Since the mixtape’s release, mono. has gone on to top iTunes charts in 88 countries and regions, including the US. The album has surpassed records set by BTS themselves. With it’s relatable themes and stories, it’s no wonder that the mixtape became a beloved staple in many fans’ heavy rotations. For many fans, mono. was a welcomed feeling of catharsis; stirring up conversations of having felt similar feelings of loneliness, isolation, and disconnect. Through the mini-album, many fans were able to share their experiences, finding comfort and community with one another. It is a celebration of “it’s okay not to be okay,” but also a reminder of “it gets better.” In a post on the BTS fancafe forum, RM stated that he intentionally didn’t publish the lyrics of the songs at first. His reason for doing so was to allow listeners to interpret the lyrics and meanings of each track with their own language and experience. (Lyric videos and official translations of the songs are slowly being released with each passing day.) So, take a listen for yourself. What does mono. mean to you?
Picture of the author
Pearl Shin