Moonchild, Don’t Cry: Duality and Loneliness in RM’s Mono

Mono tracklist

Released at midnight Korean time on October 23rd, Mono is the second solo mixtape by BTS’ leader and main rapper, RM (real name Kim Namjoon). The seven song set, dubbed a “playlist” rather than a mixtape, contains collaborations with artists and friends RM has known for years including British duo Honne, Korean indie rock group Nell, and a song featuring eAeon, a Korean rocker from the group Mot.

Along with the album, a music video for the final song, “Forever Rain,” was released on YouTube at the same time. The animated video was directed by Choi Jaehoon and is entirely black and white, reflecting the monochromatic theme of the album. The minimalistic style is all the more stark when compared with the saturated color and bombastic style of BTS’ most recent single, “IDOL.”

“Forever Rain” official music video

“IDOL” is full of self-assurance and swagger while Mono reveals private pain and loneliness. Even the most confident person has doubts, and Mono is a much more personal examination of those doubts. It isn’t that the message of “IDOL” is untrue, but it’s only one half of RM’s story.

In the third track, “Moonchild,” the song opens with the lines,

“We’re part of the moonlight
Ain’t a fantasy
Can’t breathe in the sunlight
Gotta hide your heart”

If the songs of BTS, especially their most recent series, “Love Yourself,” can be seen as the sunlight, Mono is the moonlight, an important part of the duality of RM’s artistic career.

Duality is a central theme of many of the albums tracks. The chorus of the second song, Seoul, memorably states “If love and hate are the same words, I love you, Seoul. If love and hate are the same words, I hate you, Seoul.” These mixed feelings continue throughout the song, where RM praises the “fishy smell” of an area of Seoul and admits “I love even your fumes and nastiness.”

In the speech he delivered to the United Nations earlier this year, RM called for people to embrace all of themselves even — and perhaps especially — their faults and mistakes. When he sings about Seoul, he does the same. He loves and hates it for all its flaws and faults while still being tied to it.

In a later track titled “Uhgood” in English but which has a meaning closer to “Out of Step” in Korean, RM details the breakdown between his ideal self and his current reality. It chronicles the pain and torment that can come from knowing that your thoughts are destructive and even knowing how you should change them, but still being trapped inside them.

“All I need is me
All I need is me
I know I know I know
I know I know I know”

The desperate repetition of the beginning lines and the tone of the whole song make it feel like a conversation in someone’s head or even a private diary entry. RM details the kind of thoughts he torments himself with: “Do you only amount to this?” “You need to do so much better,” “If you’re going to fail, you might as well die.”

But crucially, that dark voice isn’t the only one in the song. The focus of the song is trying to bridge the gap between his ideal self and his present reality. In this case, the duality between the two different versions is what causes him to feel “out of step” with himself and leads him to strive toward finding his real self.

The following track, “everythingoes” gives solace in the fact that everything, whether good or bad, eventually passes. It embraces the fact that every life will have good and bad things.

“Just like the night leaves and the morning comes
The spring leaves and summer comes, but
Just like the flower wilts and the fruit grows ripe
Everything needs to go through pain”

Like in the previous track, “Uhgood,” the key RM finds to endure is to accept duality and integrate it into a whole. This philosophy is very similar to the concept of “Abraxas” in Herman Hesse’s 1919 novel, Demian. Demian was also the main work that BTS’ 2016 album, Wings, was based on. Along with a music video for their single, “Blood, Sweat, and Tears,” BTS released seven solo short films for Wings, each detailing a scene based on the book. Each video also contained a relevant passage of the story read by RM.

The central idea of Abraxas is a god that encompasses both good and evil, rather than just the good of the Christian God Demian was raised to believe in. The novel preaches about the dangers and difficulties of trying to live and embrace only one side of things and that without both sides of a duality you will always be incomplete.

Short film for RM’s solo song, “Reflection”

“Forever Rain” takes a step back from this kind of philosophizing for RM to reflect on his life which moves, “too quickly.” With over five years living as an idol, and having released at least two albums every one of those years, it’s no surprise that he would call for “slow rap, slow jam, everything slow.”

RM has been moving fast for a long time. Mono comes over a decade after he first began writing lyrics. As a middle schooler he would secretly hide them in his school books and upload his recordings to amateur hip hop sites where he gathered a following that still talked about his songs years later. He performed at clubs in Hongdae (an area of Seoul famous for its cultural scene) under various monikers, the most well-known being Runch Randa, before a fateful audition connected him with the CEO of his present company Big Hit Entertainment.

RM joined Big Hit Entertainment in May, 2010, as the company’s first male trainee. Originally meant to debut in 2011, he featured on numerous tracks by Korean artists like 2AM, Kan Mi Youn, and singer-actor Lee Seung Gi before the debut was canceled and BTS was restructured into a more performance oriented idol group.

But even during the three years he spent as a trainee with an uncertain future, RM continued to write songs and lyrics. While BTS’s debut was postponed, he wrote tracks for Big Hit’s girl group, GLAM, as well as for BTS.

RM released his first solo mixtape, RM in March of 2015. The eleven track mixtape was well received and was even voted as one of Spin’s “50 Best Hip Hop Albums of 2015,” the only Korean entry on the list.

Official Music video for “Awakening,” the third track on RM’s first mixtape

His first mixtape had two central themes, the first being RM’s struggle between his identity as an artist and as a K-pop idol. Three years on from its release, RM seems to have settled that question for himself, embracing both titles while knowing he is more than what he’s labeled as.

The second theme of the work, loneliness and pain of living, was explored mostly on the back half of the mixtape on songs like “Life,” and “Adrift.” Loneliness continues to be a theme in Mono. RM states that he feels alone with himself in “Uhgood,” and talks about the “lonesomeness” of Seonyudo, an area in Seoul. As Mono also leaves this question unresolved, it will likely continue to be a theme in his work in the years to come.

With a career spanning over a decade, and one that’s taken him from a teen to a young adult, from an artist in obscurity to an artist that can top the itunes charts in over 88 countries, RM has shown a remarkable unity in the themes and ideas he presents in his work, both as a soloist and as the leader of BTS. His work has evolved over the years, incorporating new influences and giving him greater control in the freedom and composition of his songs, but the core remains true. As he urged others to do just one month ago, RM is an artist that knows the meaning of “Speak Yourself.”