RM is the second member of BTS to release a solo album this year, in what is expected to be a sequential rollout of individual efforts from all the members in the near term. The just-out album, “Indigo,” is substantially different from the J-Hope album that preceded it; while J-Hope’s eschewed collaborations, RM’s includes featured appearances on almost every track. Interestingly, one of the two songs that doesn’t include a feature is called “Lonely”… something RM is very much not, within the confines of this friend-filled record, as he shares the love with stars from America and South Korea alike.
But even with plentiful guests, it’s still an individualistic affair, ramping up the R&B and hip-hop fans might expect but also introducing elements of rock and flavors of pop that haven’t been combined in quite these kinds of ingredient mixtures in BTS records before. Conversely, it’s also less dark in its tone than much of J-Hope’s album was, which doesn’t mean that RM wasn’t striving to show more vulnerable sides of himself than he’s previously felt comfortable doing.
In a Zoom with Variety, RM talked about the album’s collaborations with personal heroes Erykah Badu and Anderson .Paak as well as Korean rock superstar Youjeen (on the lead single “Wild Flower”), where he’s at with the imminent prospect of military service, and why he believes strengthening the BTS members’ individual identities with solo projects will make them a stronger unit when they come back as a whole.
Fans have some expectations for what they might hear on this album, even though you’ve done a good job of holding it back till release night. What will people have been right about in speculating, and what elements do you think will surprise them?
I think the first interesting point is that I actually had a lot of collaborations and cooperations with a lot of artists. It’s 10 tracks, and basically I had a collaboration with them on eight tracks. And then the second would be that, actually, the 10 tracks have their own 10 different genres, sound-wise. Before this album, I think I would get stuck on a specific concept or genre or texture. This time, I just tried to write like a diary.
I think before this album, I was always concentrating on wanting to prove something to people. Like, “I just want to make you guys listen to this. I want to just share my thoughts. Please listen to this!” This time I was focusing on expanding my personal thoughts to something universal, so people can approach it and think it could be their own stories, too. When I made this, it was all mine. But once I made this whole album, it feels like it’s not mine anymore, and I just give it to people, and people would maybe digest it and, through their own colors, reflect on their own lives.
And the genres? What were you looking to do with having each song so varied from the last to the next?
I don’t care about the genres. I just like the sounds. I like pop because it’s pop. I like rock because it’s rock. I like folk because it’s folk. So I just wanted to try all those things, but I just don’t want it to end as just an experiment. I just hope it could be digested in (the context of) a pop genre, because people think of me as a K-pop star and a band member from BTS. I just tried to make this well-balanced — sound-wise, genre-wise, position-wise.
When did you do most of the work on it, or start it?
The most important song, I started it in 2019 — the main single (“Wild Flower”). I think I started to write three songs in 2019. And most of these songs were made to be complete in 2021 and early 2022. They were almost complete before the decisions (about solo careers) and stuff. But I had until this September to complete the sound and the arrangements.
Do you and any of the other members of BTS share the solo work you’ve been working on with one another, and offer any comments on it, or just wait for everybody to be surprised at the same time the rest of the world gets it?
We’re family, so we have our specific distance from each other. The only one I shared the whole music with was J-Hope, because he gave me a listening session before his “Jack in the Box” came out, so I just paid back the same. And he loved the track with Erykah, and the “Wild Flower,” which is amazing. But yeah, we had our own respect for our own individual stuff. When something comes out, we always watch it or we listen to it, but we’re just, “Aw, that was good. Aw, you look cute.” We just usually don’t judge or easily advise somebody, because it’s their own. And I want just other members to listen to it when it actually comes out, on an actual music platform. The casual listening session would be good, but still, I think we’re family — therefore, we’re too close. We know each other too much. [Laughs.]
In America, Erykah Badu and Anderson .Paak are the biggest names among your collaborators. Can you speak to why those two in particular?
In some point of the process to make a track, I suddenly feel that if some specific frequency actually appears on the track, then, “Oh, this track’s gonna be a whole ‘nother level,” or it could sound more completed. So with both Erykah and Anderson, those two were the only consideration for each track. And especially Erykah: she’s a queen with her own castle. And I hope that there is a specific message in the track. So I thought that if this comes through with her voice and her narrative and her history, then it could be more convincing — like, way more convincing — than a young 20-year-old artist saying that you should be a human and you should keep silent before you do something. And I just love her “spelling” voice — that when you listen to her voice, it’s like casting a spell on somebody. And Anderson? You know, everybody knows Anderson, and everybody loves his own funky vibe and his aura and energy. And actually, he’s our friend. He helped on our last singles, playing drums, and live. So it came out really natural,.
Among the guests that maybe aren’t as familiar in the United States, is there anyone you’d single out that you’re really excited about maybe exposing a little more to the rest of the world, who may not yet be a global superstar like you are?
I love the artists on the tracks that maybe the global listeners may not know, but they’re actually the cream, the legends, in Korea. They built their own genres here, so I just want to shout out their names. And I thought it could be a well-balanced album and a very unique piece if I could harmonize all of these artists, like industry to industry, continent to continent, nation to nation. I especially want to emphasize my lead single, “Wildflower.” There’s an artist called Youjeen. She’s like a 45-year-old, woman rock vocalist [from the band Cherry Filter], and she’s a super-legend. I think the listeners may notice it when they start listening to the track — she’s one of the number-one rock stars that I’ve ever known. So powerful.
How would you describe the theme of the song “Wildflower”?
Actually, the title was supposed to be “Flowerworks,” which doesn’t make sense. When I see fireworks, it happens so fast — it’s so short and beautiful, but it’s gone. And seeing the fireworks, I thought, if I could do a fireworks with some wildflower — you know, not actual fireworks, because it’s just a metaphor — and if I hold some flowers and throw it to the sky, it could be like fireworks. And yeah, I just made up that word. I wanted to call it “Flowerworks,” and then actually rhyming fireworks and flowers — in Korea, it’s rhyming, too. I’ve been thinking about the theme like since 2015, and so it took like actually almost seven years to actually, to make that into an actual song. But if I name it as “Flowerworks,” I was afraid that (people would be) like, “What does this mean?” I changed it so people could feel it more it’s just “Wildflower.” But I think the song is a symbol of my 20s, and this album is as well.
You’ve made a statement about how this album was going to be a summation of your 20s for you. We also know that you may be off the scene for a while because of military service, so was it really important for you to have this album feel like it’d be the summation of everything you’ve been feeling, because it might be your last chance for a while to make a statement that’s really that personal, on record?
When I made this album, I didn’t know what was really coming, like when, or how. So I tried my best, but I think that’s not because of my military service. It’s just because I barely had time to concentrate on my own personal stuff because BTS was so busy and hectic for a decade. I feel kind of like I was destined to release this album in the last month of my twenties, so it’s really strange — I feel really happy to release this album right before I turn 30, so I could rate my twenties.
Fans are wondering how you’re feeling about the military service, and of course they’re disappointed that there will be a break coming. Are there any thoughts you want to share amid that disappointment about whether there any positives to having to take this break, or is it just a case of, the situation is what it is?
There’s no positive or negative on this point, because, you know, it’s just a military service and it’s a law, so every man has to serve the military service. So I think there’s no judging point that I can say it’s positive or negative. It’s just a situation that I have to go through. So I’m just calm, and I’m ready to go through the life that I have to go through.
The song “Lonely” is interesting, as you’re really revealing a lot of yourself on this album. WIth other songs but especially that one, do you feel like you’re getting to be vulnerable with this album about your feelings in a way that maybe hasn’t been possible in a group situation?
When I wrote this song, I think it was in Las Vegas last April. It was our last tour, actually, for the whole world. I really don’t like being just stuck in a hotel for like a week. So, yeah, it’s kind of my really one of my shades on my inside. Like you said, I sometimes get still afraid of showing the actual frank and honest sides of myself. But, you know, I’ve been taught that art is like that. You should… [He stops to rephrase.] No, it’s not “you should,” but sometimes you could show and turn some of your vulnerable stuff into some greater things. It’s still hard, and I’m still afraid of it, but it’s really getting natural to show the frank and honest stuff inside and turn it into music or visuals. And I think it’s one of the most essential and greatest inspirations for all time, for all artists, historically.
Now that you’ve done this album and people are about to see these different sides of you, if you self-assess or self-analyze yourself and where your different skills lie — obviously, a singer, a rapper, a dancer, a live performer, an artist in the studio — do you feel like the emphasis has changed, in where you think you most excel?
I’ve spent 10 years as a BTS member, and 15 years doing music, so when things are changing and when you feel yourself just stuck at the moment … I always go back to the (start). I’ve been thinking about the reasons why I started all these things, and why I’m here still doing this, why I’ve not given up all this stuff. My conclusion was that I always wanted to be a writer — an author or a poet — when I was really young, like 10 or 12. But as I met Nas and as I got to know Nas and Eminem, it changed into rap, because at that time I thought, “rap” stands for Rhythm and Poetry. If you write a rap, it’s still poetry. You know, these days, the industry is changing; the hype is rising. So the importance of lyrics is losing its position. But still, I just want to claim and make a statement about the importance of lyrics. You should be a lyricist; you should be a poet. So I think still my main part of the studio work in all these things is still writing lyrics and designing raps and melodies. The studio work will always be my main part, I think. I just love it.
Is there anything you most hope people will take away from this album who are fans of yours? Any aspects of either your personality or your musical interests where you hope they learn more about you as a person and/or where your musical interests lie?
You know, it’d be good if they could be my fan and maybe get to know me better. But I don’t expect that, because now it’s just music and, like I said before, after I release this album, it feels like it’s not mine anymore. I just want to say that it’s an interesting point that how a BTS, maybe an Asian boy band member, could make harmony with Badu and .Paak and maybe some Korean legends on one album, on 10 different genres — hip-hop, R&B, folk, rock, pop-rock or just pop. So I think I made something unique that could come out from Korea, because I have my own unique position as a maybe a lot of personas — as a rapper, as a poet, as a boy band member, as a Korean. I think I made something really unique, and that would be the one of the reasons that maybe people should check it out. And I’ve been always serious about the music and lyrics. So I hope that they could get something from this, just maybe for three, five minutes or whatever.
To the extent that that you and the others can really be seen as individuals with your records, do you think that could be kind of an important change in how people perceive South Korean music, and who does it and who’s capable of it, to consider the individual performers more?
You know, when you start music, not many people consider or imagine they could be in some serious team, or a group. You know, especially the rappers — it’s not a band,. So when I started in music, it was the same same for me too, because I never thought that I could do music as a team. But still, I’ve been doing this thing with my friends who they call BTS for a decade. So I think to extend and to expand the range of BTS, as we’re now 30, if there is more maybe some individual stuff, because the seven members are all grown-ups and they’re all different and they’ve got their own different things and pros and cons… I think it’s the time to show the individuals to the world. And I think that could extend the range of BTS, and maybe for us, too. Because when you do it as a team, you lose yourself, sometimes, easily. So I think the solo thing is actually just a natural and a healthy way to maybe keep the persona as a BTS member as well.