Mixtape Review: “Mono” by RM
“The BTS rapper strikes it out alone once more — and this time he’s produced a dynamic, distinctive record. His time is now.”
“Mono” is the second mixtape released by BTS leader RM (Kim Namjoon). As we are entering the month of October, this month would mark as the one-year anniversary since its release.
In a recent episode of BTS’ documentary-series “Bring The Soul”, it was clear that Namjoon was anxious to release his music to the world. It was revealed that he worked on “Mono” over the course of 3 years — through sleepless nights, meetings with producers, and his self-reflections. Namjoon explained how much releasing his own music means to him, saying, “What would they [the audience] think of this music? How would they respond? These are what keeps me going.”
To commemorate the one-year anniversary of “mono”, I will be reviewing Namjoon’s mixtape, as well as adding my own personal take of how his music has comforted me during this past year.
In December of last year, I was struggling my studies — I kept finding myself worked up until a panic almost every night. It was through YouTube’s recommendations that I found Namjoon’s mixtape.
It was an odd experience for me as I didn’t speak nor understand the Korean language. Yet, I found myself being comforted immensely throughout the whole album. It felt introspective, yet calming. It touched on the sad things, yet it was comforting. “Mono” was about struggle, yet hope — hope that you will not be stuck in your season of life.
There are 7 tracks on this mixtape:
A video posted on YouTube provided a lyrical guide to “mono”. It was brought up that “Tokyo” written in the Korean language has the same pronounciation as the phrase “longing from afar”. Hence, Namjoon’s lyrics has a play on words — not only was he referring to the city, but also to a sense of longing for familiarity. Namjoon seems to reference to his homesickness in this track.
In “Tokyo”, he describes how he feels disconnected within himself. The track’s combination consisting of the playing of the piano, strings, echoes, and whistling contributes to a haunting yet empty setting. He muses:
Do I miss myself?
Why do love and hate sound just the same to me?
- Seoul (prod. HONNE)
In “Seoul”, Namjoon describes his inner dilemma of the way he perceives the city of Seoul. On one hand, Seoul has been his home and his comfort all these years. On the other hand, he implies having a love-hate relationship with this city:
The days of my youth seem so far away
What kind of soul do you have?
I don’t even have anything to reminisce about you
I’m so sick of you now
No, no, I’m afraid of myself
Because I have already become a part of you
If love and hate are the same words,
I love you Seoul
I hate you Seoul
In this track, Namjoon ends up describing what he notices about the city of Seoul. He has become so accustomed to its surroundings, yet he feels lost.
What was significant about the accompanying music video for this track was a clip of Namjoon being by the Han River in his vehicle. He was then asked when he would be returning home through a phone call. The word “Han” translates to sorrow or suffering. Although it is unclear what the interpretation should be, it does show that even within “home”, Namjoon looks for a space to escape even for a little while — whether it be from his feelings, work, or things he may be struggling with.
This is not the first time that Namjoon uses the term “moonchild”. He also used this term during his duet with fellow band member V, in their song “4 O’ Clock”.
However, Namjoon has left this term “moonchild” up to the public’s own interpretation. Does he find peace in the midst of night? Does the presence of the moon keep him calm? Has the moon become the company he’s used to, since they have schedules that sometimes goes into the late of night? He provides comfort to anyone who too identifies themselves as a moonchild:
We need the night view more than anyone
Only I could console myself, not anyone else
It’s okay to shed the tears
But don’t you tear yourself
Moonchild, you shine
When moon rise, it’s your time
Moonchild — don’t cry
When moon rise, it’s your time
BTS often talks about the need to be sincere and being their authentic selves. But where does one draw a line in sharing about themselves, especially when it comes to juggling a public and private life? Namjoon too worries about this issue, which is what makes “mono” a brave attempt to openly share about some of the thoughts he’s had:
You say you wanna die, but you live life much harder
You say you wanna let go, but put on another burden
Thinking of not thinking is still thinking, you know
Actually, this is our destiny, you know
Smiling in endless pain, you know
There is no freedom to saying “freedom” out loud, you know
Despite the pain he feels, Namjoon affirms that we are not alone going through this journey of life. We are able to learn from each other’s experiences, as well as being there for one another:
You know there’s a lot of thorns on that streetlight too
Look closely at that blinking light for once
Isn’t the night view such a cruel thing?
A magnificent sight of someone’s thorns
Someone will be consoled by looking at your thorns for sure
We are each other’s night view, and each other’s moon
- Badbye (with eAeon)
This song may be the shortest track on the album — barely at the 2-minute mark — yet it stands out. There is a mysteriousness and ambiguity behind its meaning. Although we are uncertain of what Namjoon is trying to say with this track, the lyrics alone seems to be telling of an emotionally low point of a one’s thoughts:
Kill me, kill me softly
Please break me into little pieces
According to the lyrical guide that was referenced earlier, the English title “Uh Good” is the pronunciation of a Korean title — which translates to “not being where you are supposed to be”. In this context, it means “falling short” (which is mentioned in this song).
This was one of the songs I felt most comforted by, as I could relate. I understood the fear of not being enough, I understood the pressure of expectations. He sings in his lyrics:
Sometimes I’m disappointed with myself
Honestly, I step on myself
“Is this all you got?
You need to do much better.”
“You need to be much cooler
If you lose, you might as well die.”
You have to win
And what’s worse than expectations? Failing expectations. Namjoon talks about falling short of them, saying:
Falling short is such a painful thing
If you haven’t went through it, you can’t know it
My ideals and reality, so far apart
But still I cross that bridge, I want to get to me
To the real me
Although Namjoon openly talks about struggling, he still delivers a message of hope. Although he feels lonely, sad, and hopeless at times, he refuses to give up:
All I need is me
But why do I feel so lonely when I’m with me
In life, one might end up getting rained on
Only then can you receive rain
It may keep raining for days
Even in the desert, rain can fall
But sorry, I can’t give up on myself
I can’t let the me that I know go
- Everything Goes (with NELL)
Namjoon starts the song with the affirmation that things will pass — eventually, definitely, and certainly. Just from the title alone, I felt comforted. Despite what all of us may be going through, everything we are feeling or struggling with — these all will pass. In this track, Namjoon comforts both himself and the listener that everything passes with time. There is a purpose for pain, and it will be revealed to us. We may not always be happy, and that is okay. It’s okay to feel frustrated — but we should bask in the knowledge that no darkness, no season will last forever:
Just as morning comes after night, summer comes after spring
Just as fruit ripens when the flower dies, everything needs to go through pain
Embrace the world and take a deep breath, the hot air that fills up my lungs say everything
The long, painful, dull times I wanted to run away are right there
Everyday I pray — That I may become a slightly better adult
And everyday I stay — Because both people and pain die eventually
You can’t stay in a dream forever
Instead of saying vague words like “cheer up” and lies like “we’re all like that”
Just pray that this will pass like the wind
- Forever Rain
This track, like its title, starts with the sound of rain in the background. In this track, Namjoon talks about how the rain provides him comfort. The rain allows him to truly express himself, as his sadness gets disguised by his surroundings:
I wish it would rain all day
Because I would like someone to cry for me
I wish it would rain all day
Because then people wouldn’t stare at me
Because the umbrella would cover the sad face
Because in the rain, people are busy minding themselves
Rain allows him to take a breather, to pause, to reflect on himself. Being in this industry, his life often goes by at a fast pace. When he helps to produce music, he’s used to be being given deadlines. He muses about how even his rapping is fast:
Gonna breathe a little slower
Because my life and my rap, they’re usually too fast
Now everything goes back to its place
My shadow’s reflected on the sky
I’m standing on the darkness
Head down, to my heels
Slow rap, slow jam, slow rain
The rain is something he enjoys, he feels at peace, and it’s become his companion:
When it rains, I get a little feeling that I do have a friend
Who keeps knocking on my windows, asks me if I’m well
And I answer: I’m still a hostage of life
I don’t live just because I can’t die, but I am chained to something
Just like you, if I could just knock somewhere, if I could kiss the whole world hard —
Would someone welcome me?
And maybe embrace my weary body?
Please don’t ask any questions
But do keep pouring forever
I’m not lonely when you’re pouring
Please stay by my side
“Mono” introduces us to Namjoon. Not Rap Monster, RM, leader of the group BTS, the IQ 148 genius, Runch Randa, underground rapper — but Namjoon as who he is and what he thinks. Namjoon bares his soul; he pens down how he genuinely felt during that season of his life. His openness in talking about his feelings of loneliness, sadness, darkness, and eventual hope, provides a safe space for his audience to know that it is okay to feel.