I almost didn’t write this. I kept going back and forth, feeling conflicted about interpreting RM’s Mono, his second solo project after the first self-titled mixtape RM.
In a VLive, RM mentioned he doesn’t like it when schools teach poems:
I didn’t like that they define the meaning. Because it may not have such meaning. The poet may have used the word just because he liked it. But why do they define the meaning? Whether the poet is dead or alive, who can decide the intention of the poet? Also, the poet might have written the word with a double meaning on purpose.
That’s why he intentionally didn’t release the lyrics for any songs in Mono. “I left lots of blank spaces,” he says, so we can find our own meaning and interpretation.
Then, for me to write “this is what RM wants to say” or “this is what the line means” defeats his vision of the project.
I’ve been writing about the books I read, the movies I watch, the music I listen to, and the places I visit for several years now and RM made me reflect on why I feel the urge to analyze and interpret art and the experience it offers.
It’s interesting how something RM said made me question this while something else he said answered it.
RM always talks about his projects as “archives of his life.” He believes the music he makes, the lyrics he writes, and the concepts he creates are a record of who he was as a person during a particular period.
For example, talking about Mono, he said the project defines who he was between 2016 and early 2018. The playlist, as he calls it, is a collection of thoughts, feelings, and experiences he had during that phase in life. As he grows, he may no longer resonate with these ideas, but they’ll be memories that won’t disappear due to being forgotten.
Many people capture their lives like this through photos and videos. RM does it through music, I do it through writing. So when I analyze art, it’s less about what the artist said and more about what I got out of it.
What were the ideas I was exploring at the time? What held my interest? Why? How did I perceive it? What did I learn from it? How did it change my life?
Everyone interprets art differently. In fact, the same person can perceive the same artwork differently if they experience it at another point in life.
Have you never revisited a book/movie/song that you loved or hated at first but changed your mind about as time went by?
Humans are not static. We’re dynamic beings with complex, ever-changing ideas about ourselves and the world. So when I encounter a new experience, I process my feelings and develop my ideas through writing.
It’s a nice bonus that a few years down the line, I have a solid record of how far I’ve come and what I went through to get here.
RM’s Mono analyzed
RM’s Mono was a pleasant surprise. Like Agust D, RM’s first mixtape is aggressive, showing off his rap skills, dissing the haters, and establishing his identity outside of BTS.
Again, quite similar to Agust D, the second solo project, RM’s Mono is comparatively mellow, as if he got the anger out of the system and is now ready to make the kind of music he actually wants to make instead of trying to prove himself.
As he said in the VLive:
What I wanted to do the most when I released this album was, to relax. ‘I’ll show them, I’ll do something,’ I wanted to get away from that. Even if I prove something, people wouldn’t appreciate it. I just wanted to do what I wanted to do.
This sentiment reflects through all of the tracks in RM’s Mono. Everything seems warm and intimate. These are not meant to be chart-topping dance anthems. Everything is soft, gentle, and painful in a beautiful way.
In fact, one of the best ways I’ve found to describe the playlist is that it’s so good it hurts and then makes you feel it’s okay to hurt. It makes all your pain feel comfortable.
Usually, songs try to be positive and give messages of hope but here, RM’s Mono doesn’t brush things under the rug. He doesn’t tell you to wipe your tears, to smile, or to believe that everything will be okay. He just acknowledges the pain and sits with you in the dark in silent solidarity.
Are you listening to Mono or is Mono listening to you?
What I (and many other listeners) found the most surprising is how much RM and Mono make you feel seen. The songs address some experiences that you would have been 100% sure no one else could possibly understand, much less experience and write about.
For example, in Moonchild, RM talks about all the people who stay up late at night because that’s the only time they can truly be themselves without the obligation and judgment of the world.
During the day, you have to work, show up for events, take care of those around, and attend to any notifications (emails, doorbells, people calling your name, etc.). You also have to dress well, put on a pleasant face, and be on guard so you don’t behave inappropriately.
In a nutshell, you are under a lot of pressure to act a certain way. Especially if you don’t live alone, you’re almost always watched and need to be aware of and responsive to your surroundings.
At night, all of this disappears. You’re no longer expected to be productive or presentable. No one’s watching you or asking anything of you. You could do whatever you want, behave however you want. For a while, you can be yourself.
Many people try to extend this window of liberation by staying up later and later even if it affects the next day negatively. The trend even has a name now: revenge bedtime procrastination.
Everyone seems to be talking about it now, but back in 2018 when RM released Mono, hardly anyone paid much attention to the behavior. It was something many of us did without giving it much thought.
Many felt like there was something wrong with us for how we chose to sacrifice our health and productivity for just a few hours of leisure. Few, if any, knew other people were experiencing similar struggles until RM talked about it in Moonchild which made everyone feel deeply seen and heard.
Another track, uhgood, also touched on a super personal yet universal experience: feeling like you’re not the best version of yourself.
Countless self-help books, articles, podcasts, and videos talk about how to improve and become the best version of yourself but few acknowledge that it’s a never-ending and actually a quite painful quest.
Through uhgood, RM showed how much it hurts your heart to live feeling like you’re not enough.
“My ideal and reality are too far apart,” the lyrics say, adding the internal monologue many of us have had:
- “Is this the best you can offer?”
- “You have to be so much better.”
- “You have to win/succeed.”
Along with highlighting how we beat ourselves up for constantly falling short of our lofty expectations, RM really digs deeper to show the internal conflict.
In one verse, he acknowledges that it’s normal to fail. But in the next few lines, he says he still can’t let go of the desire to become the ideal self. He can’t settle for less than what he thinks he’s truly capable of.
“I can’t let go because you in my head are so perfect,” he says.
If you don’t relate to this, you’re one of the very, very few lucky ones. The majority of us spend most of our lives wishing we could be prettier, fitter, smarter, richer, and fix what we think we lack.
The harsh truth? Most of us will always feel like something’s missing. Human brains aren’t designed to be satisfied. When we reach one goal, we crave another. When you find something you’re looking for, you’ll start looking for something else.
The dichotomy of human emotions
RM’s Mono explores this dichotomous human tendency in another song on the playlist, Seoul, where he talks about both loving and hating his city. It’s strange, at first, to think how could someone both love and hate something at the same time. Aren’t they opposites?
Throughout his discography, RM has tackled the concept of “양가감정” which one native Korean speaker explains as “dichotomy or juxtaposition of emotions.” She mentioned that in an interview, Namjoon said when you think about love you also think about farewell and when you think about success you also think about falling/failure. We cannot really escape the opposites, the juxtaposition.
Through his songs, RM has shown they’re actually two sides of the same coin and not opposites. For example, in Seoul, he describes everything he hates about the city but soon follows it by saying he still feels attached to the place now that he’s been a part of it for so long.
It’s like you may think the pollution sucks or that the traffic makes your life miserable, but you also have beautiful memories and important relationships in the city that wouldn’t have developed if you didn’t live here.
It’s not just about a city though. This is a metaphor for life and how we’re grateful for and despise various aspects of it. This ties well into the aforementioned track “uhgood” showing how you may appreciate some aspects of yourself but there will always be a part of you that you feel critical about and vice versa.
Such is life and RM has the gift of expressing these deep human experiences in a beautiful way that makes you feel like you’re not alone and that it’s okay to feel this way.
That’s why fans say: Are you listening to Mono or is Mono listening to you?