A Young Poet’s Diary
Some may be confused by this album, as it is not one sound, but more like a patchwork of different music genres. It only makes sense when approaching it with the understanding that the artist is primarily a rapper. With the long credit list that accompanies each of the songs in BTS it was hard to know what the exact contribution of RM (aside from rapping) was when he was in the group, but in this album he makes clear that he is a master of words, a true poet, and he plays with language so skillfully and intellectually in a way that few other rappers do. It would take only a perfectly bilingual person to fully appreciate the beauty of the language because he relies on both the sound of the word as well as the meaning to construct his verses. Such clever wordplay was present in some of the lyrics of BTS songs, which we now can definitively associate with him. Rappers in Korea, including RM when he was younger, were inevitably influenced by the great rappers of the US. While some may criticize them as cultural appropriators, Korean rappers wearing dreads, gold chains, and grills were mimicking their heroes. But the themes of sex, club culture, gun violence, and racism in Black rap are not congruent with the culture and experience of people in Korea (of course sex and clubs are universal but the role they play in society is different). RM’s verses are so quintessentially his own experience, but also reflect philosophies of the East that make his story unique and reflective of a sentiment that could not come from a Western rapper. The album, like I mentioned earlier, is a collection of different sounds, but the lyrics portray a story that reads like a diary. It is a bit ironic that his previous album Mono (which he keeps arguing is not an album and just a mixtape) was very consistent in sound but Indigo is not one shade of blue. For fans of RM, it thus makes the most sense to listen consecutively, in the order he wanted the story to be told. There is contemplation, reflection, despair, resolution, and ends on an uplifting note. For normal listeners, though, most likely the album will be picked apart and put into different playlists based on the music genre. What unites this album is really the story RM tells about himself and his journey, his thought processes and philosophies. Each song seems to represent a certain aspect of his life like a documentary. The artists that are featured in the album (though interestingly they are not presented as “featuring”) are an eclectic bunch that have no coherence to each other because they come from different genres. However, from a sound perspective they complement RM’s voice texture. RM has a very distinct breathy quality to the way he sings and raps, which I can only describe as quiet desperation. It is very layered and thoughtful, which was why I thought that the first track, Yun, with Erykah Badu, was the most complementary out of all the featured artists. This piece is the most timeless out of the collection. The worst collaboration was the last track with Park Ji Yoon (no.2) which has a very catchy tune and uplifting message of looking forward in life instead of dwelling on the past but Park’s voice has no depth or uniqueness, just a generic beautiful feminine voice, so it clashes with RM. Taken out of the context of the album, the song would be fine but placed at the end of the album, the bright, sunny yet shallow sound was just so incongruent with the intricate texture of the rest of the album I cringe whenever I listen to it. It should have been a song on Park’s album featuring RM or the song would have been much better with a different artist or if RM had just done one song with no collaborator. The most musically sophisticated song is Change 2, which funnily has the most unsophisticated lyrics (RM drunkenly complaining about a breakup). The chord progression and sound engineering on this song is quite remarkable and spine tingly. Wildflower is a masterpiece but so emotionally overwhelming it does take one to be in a very particular mood to be able to appreciate it, kind of like how one needs to be emotionally available to watch a war drama. The introspective lyrics and philosophy of becoming one with nature is most pointedly a reflection of Eastern philosophies and RM’s own coping mechanisms as he struggles with game and external expectations. Closer is perhaps the most accessible song in the whole album, the lyrics are not as philosophical as his other ones, this is a song that one could expect to hear on an American R&B radio channel. Still Life has the catchiest, bouncy rhythm but the lyrics (with clever word play) are actually quite serious and sophisticated. I loved this one because the lyrics also reflect his love for art, which seems to be a major passion and coping activity he does to decompress.