Despite his reputation as the leader of the group, BTS’ RM was nearly the last of the K-pop juggernaut’s roster to chart when it came to their solo music. Now that the group is going on hiatus due to their military service, we’ve seen a couple solo outings in rapid succession – but none with a full-length studio album. Indigo, the follow-up to two mixtapes released in 2015 and 2018, is full of high-profile collaborations from both of the planet’s hemispheres, as RM demonstrates his versatility across a range of pop, R&B and hip-hop tunes, showing off a lot more than his bars. With the kind of unexpectedly rhythmic, joyful and upbeat energy of BTS’ best tracks coursing throughout – despite a couple of lyrics that reveal the downsides of being a global superstar – Indigo is a nice late-year surprise.
While there’s a lot to appreciate about what RM is bringing to the table throughout the project, the opening two tracks find him adapting to the world of his guests – luckily, they’re pretty spectacular guests. “Yun” kicks things off with a feature from Erykah Badu, as the instrumental behind the two melts into her typical smoky jazz club setting. RM kicks things off by casually mumbling about Plato’s philosophies in Korean before a charismatic verse seeking happiness and fulfilment in life and art. Badu sounds great as ever on the hook, solidifying the themes as she reminds RM that while his endeavours may change, he has to be a human for the rest of his life – something that he reflects on a catchy hook. “Still Life” remains in a more R&B-flavoured zone, but gets a little bit more instrumentally extravagant as the infectious, raspy voice of Anderson .Paak appears to belt out the title on the hook a couple times. A highly danceable celebration of being alive, the track’s sound certainly fits the bill as RM comes through with some of his most impressive flows. Even better is how the beat changes to adapt to them, some of his biggest mic-drop moments accentuated by hi-hat rolls and horn stabs. “Everyday is my day 1, brother,” he raps, living in the moment.
The positive energy continues with the song “All Day,” bringing another K-pop icon in Epik High’s Tablo on board to trade some bars. Seemingly in a tirade against algorithms and their effect on artistic expression, RM once again raps about staying true to himself over a bouncy pop-rap template. You have to imagine how thrilled he was when learning English curse words, because it’s always a bit of an adrenaline shot when he says them with such passion. RM’s rhythmic abilities are better than most rappers out there, staying firmly in the pocket and taking listeners through a beat switch into trap territory with a stuttered “OK.” Briefly showing off his singing voice at the end, it adds a nice topper to the sunny proceedings. It proves that he’s an underrated vocalist when he tries, but he does sound pretty weak on the fully sung follow-up “Forg_tful.” An emotional acoustic duet with Korean singer Kim Sa-wol, his duet partner’s breathy higher notes are the highlight of the track, but they don’t show too much chemistry together despite the engaging sentiment as the two muse over life going by in a blur and getting overloaded.
RM’s wide-ranging ambitions and versatility continue to show up as things progress to the second half. Even if he doesn’t always have the right toolkit to pull everything off flawlessly, the impressive ideas are always there. “Closer” finds him innovatively using guest vocalist Mahalia’s chorus like a toned-down sample – complete with interludes of radio static to make it sound all the more vintage. It’s a little break before the trap beat and melodic rap flows come in, RM and Korean vocalist Paul Blanco sinking into the chilled-out alt-R&B soundscape. Blanco does it a little better with a solid verse, while RM’s singing style fits in more when the guitars start building up near the end. The interlude “Change pt. 2” packs enough into it for a full track, as RM is backed up by a glitchy, industrial, almost dubstep-esque cavalcade of crunchy synths. It evolves into a robotic, digital soundscape before fading out in jazz pianos. Despite another rather weak vocal performance, it certainly shows his creativity. The track “Lonely,” on the other hand, does the opposite. The most generic millennial-pop song of the bunch – from the midtempo Ed Sheeran-style guitar riff, to handing the heavy lifting of the hook to a high-pitched synth, to the surface-level lyrics about being sad – it sounds incredibly dated.
The track “Hectic” almost sounds like RM is trying to adapt to today’s pop-punk trend (with his delivery) and the 80s disco trend (in the instrumental) at the same time, but it actually kind of works. You have to imagine that he literally wrote this after a stressful day of press, as the song sounds appropriately hectic while he sings about his crazy day – it gives off the energy of stumbling through an endless party a little dazed and confused. “Wild Flower” recruits a Korean rock legend in Cherry Filter’s Youjeen for a massive stadium anthem with echoing percussion. It’s the perfect landscape for her voice to soar on the hook, while RM equals her in just how much passion he has behind every word. As soon as it lands with the orchestral, subdued version of the chorus before a final explosion, you know it’s ready for crowds of 80 thousand. The closing track is “No.2,” which is another song radiating nothing but positive vibes as RM and singer parkjiyoon speak about not looking back and living for now over some jazzy piano chords, the two vocalists sounding relaxed and complementing each other well.
Out of all of the BTS’ members solo exploits, this has to be the best one yet. Cycling through a variety of styles and breaking out from his typical roles in the larger group, RM proves that he has a lot bubbling under the monolithic BTS formula ready to break out.
Favourite Tracks: Still Life, Yun, Wild Flower, No.2, All Day
Least Favourite Track: Lonely