It is clear that RM is the leader of BTS, though not the man standing at the center of the stage. RM started rapping as a kid inspired by Tablo of Korean hip hop group Epik High, and the reason he originally joined BTS was not to be in a boy band but to do hip hop. He is a ‘music man’ to the bone. And we can see he is pursuing hip hop more for an art than for popularity. Seoul Town Road collaborated with Lil Nas X and Champion (Remix) with Fall Out Boy are good examples.
It is quite natural to waver between being hot boy band and being an artist. Such thought has been partly reflected in BTS’s hit single Idol, which goes ‘You can call me artist/ You can call me idol/ or whatever you may call me/ I don’t care.’ In Intro: Persona, he raps ‘Who am I/ The question I’ve asked all my life/ The question I couldn’t find answer for my whole life…’ It shows that he keeps asking himself profound questions that require deep thoughts.
Though he might look unstable internally, his thoughts don’t lead to confusion but to versatility, maybe due to his creativity. He is just as what the lyrics says in Do you. ‘I’m not pop, I’m not rock, I’m not funk, I’m not R&B or hip hop.’ That is probably why some say RM is asset number 1 of BTS. He is the one in charge of keeping BTS’s musical identity, diversifying musical styles and maintaining aesthetics of the band.
BTS’s rap and music is powerful and attractive, particularly thanks to him. Well, Suga and J-Hope should not be missed when talking about rap and musicality. As pointed out on American online music publication 《Pitchfork》, these three are the pillars of the group, setting its musical tone, and RM especially can be considered the center of the band in this sense.
As BTS began topping the Billboard Hot 100 chart last year, some criticized BTS’s musical sensitivity was not as acute as before. Some people in the music community are expecting RM will help to maintain BTS’s identity, maybe as the savior of the group. He is already upholding the band as a leader, and his role will grow bigger as time goes by.
RM had been writing raps as a teen before joining Big Hit Entertainment (currently HYBE), and he worked with Suga and J-Hope to write songs in BTS debut album. Such beginning tells us that his heart has been on pursuing music itself rather than on enjoying popularity.
What is shared by the musicians who do not desert music even after going through painful failures and finally get to relish sweetness after bitterness is the unstoppable love for music. Their love for music and for the moments dedicated to writing and recording songs is so huge to grab them not to leer at other fields that would pay better.
I personally had an opportunity to meet BTS at the ‘KCON’ held in LA in 2018. Learning that I was running music web magazine 《IZM》, RM said, “I visit the website very often.” He is a typical music man who loves music and tries to learn more about music, the trend and information of music.
RM’s affection is not limited to music. He has profound knowledge in fine art as well. He visits art museums even during overseas tour concerts, and he has donated about 100,000 dollars to a project to provide underprivileged youths with books on art so they have opportunities to learn about artwork. His acceptance speech at EDaily Culture Awards 2019 would be more helpful to understand him rather than his speech at the United Nations in 2018. He said, “What remains strong in my heart is what Kim Gu (who was one of Korean leaders who fought for Korea’s independence from imperial Japan during World War II) said; ‘All I desire to have is the power of culture.’ I believe culture is stronger in breaking the boundaries than any other physical power.” He added that culture was the power to make human as human.
RM does music even as a boy band. He seeks to grow through music. It’s a leader’s dignity.
Im Jin-mo is a music critic, writer and a screenwriter. He joined Kyunghyang Shinmun in 1984 and worked as a pop music journalist. He has been a regular at MBC FM radio Bae Cheol-soo’s Music Camp for 25 years, and has been hosting radio show Popular Songs, Sing about the Times on MBC. His publications include John Lennon (a translation), Pop Realism Pop Artitst, Rock, the Youth Code, World-shaking Masterpiece Albums, Big Stars in Korean Pop Music, About Singers, Pop Music Sings about the Economy, and 100 Pop Songs Koreans Love among many others. He won the Special Award at MBC Entertainment Awards 2020 and the top award for arts and culture at Dasan Awards. He is currently running web magazine 《IZM》 (www.izm.co.kr).