How RM’s ‘mono’ became a lighthouse in the pandemic’s darkness

As the BTS leader’s 2018 “playlist” celebrates its third anniversary, one NME writer pays tribute to its healing powers

RM’s ‘mono’ is many things. A “playlist”. The BTS leader’s second solo release following his self-titled debut mixtape in 2015. A record-breaking project that scored the most Number Ones for any album in iTunes history, hitting the top spot in 121 countries. A collaborative effort that featured British duo Honne, Korean indie singer-songwriter eAeon, and Korean rock band Nell. For me, in 2020, ‘mono’ became my life support.

Since its release in 2018, ‘mono’ has long been my go-to record to put on to soundtrack gloomy days, be that melancholy in my head or the world outside. There’s always been something soothing about the way its seven tracks mirror the deep inhale-exhale of everyday life that’s been cast under the shadows of the blues. But as the pandemic threw the world into terrifying uncertainty and personal issues swelled up alongside it, the playlist project became more important than ever, a constant source of calm in a life that felt like it had been thrown off its axis and was hanging precariously in the balance.

When the noise of summer in New York – neighbours’ balcony parties, the persistent nightly phenomenon of fireworks crackling and sparking in the street at all hours – matched the volume of the loud storms whirling through my head, ‘tokyo’ provided relief. Its ambient sounds of traffic and city life should, logically, have only contributed to the racket, but set to RM’s rippling piano melody brought stillness and peace.

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When the dense fog of grief and depression descended and turned my memory into a jet black, endless oblivion, marked only by panic and desolation, the cyclical synths of ‘everythingoes’ wrapped around me. If not back to normality, they lifted me to somewhere where the air was clearer, the thunderclap thwacks that punctuate the song’s final third cracking through the darkness and letting some light pierce through.

BTS are, of course, well-known for the comfort and support that filtrates their music – from the blues-busting brightness of ‘Dynamite’ to the glistening sanctuary of ‘Magic Shop’ and beyond. It’s far from unusual for ARMYs to cite the band’s lyrics as helping them deal with mental health issues or give them something to aid them through other problems. In its poetic explorations of loneliness, hardships and struggle, ‘mono’’s words can take on a similar role.

What makes the record such a source of solace is how it encourages you to find better days and permits you to sink into the wave of lows enough to process them and then swim to higher ground. “It’s OK to shed tears / But don’t tear yourself,” RM empathises on ‘moonchild’. On ‘everythingoes’, he reasons, “Everything must suffer” but that “nothing can last forever in the dream”. It’s a gentle reminder that, although our pain might feel like it’s tattooing itself onto our soul, its needle digging right to our core, its etchings won’t be permanent and will pass in the end.

In ‘uhgood’, the rapper, producer and songwriter first takes us through the words he uses to chastise himself: “Do you only amount to this? / Need to do so much better / You need to be so much cooler / If you’re going to lose, you might as well die.” But by the song’s end, he’s refusing to give up on himself, pulling his head above water and refusing to drown in his sorrows. When you’re trying to stay afloat but feel like you’re floundering, the song becomes a lighthouse in the dark, giving you something to steer towards.

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In a V Live shortly after the release of this “playlist”, RM spoke about how his childhood heroes eAeon and Nell had helped him “believe that sad music can heal your sorrows”. ‘mono’ proves that to be the case too, offering a cathartic, consolatory listen. “I’m not lonely when you’re pouring / Please stay by my side,” RM tells the drizzle that splatters in the background of ‘Forever Rain’. Just as the BTS leader found a companion in the rain, I – and many others – have found a friend in ‘mono’; one that provides refuge without masking problems in escapism and offers a steadying hand through the tumultuousness of life.

That’s an indispensable effect for a record to have during a global pandemic that forced us into solitary existences, isolated from family and friends at the same time as grappling with our own mortality. But even as the world begins to reopen, ‘mono’’s power will remain unchanged, always on hand to guide us through even the roughest of storms.

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