First came devastation: In June 2022, BTS, the biggest band on the planet, announced an indefinite hiatus. A month later, J-Hope became the first member of the septet to release a debut solo album, Jack in the Box, which charmed BTS’s fandom, ARMY, with its ambitious rap-rock. JIN released the pop-rock single “The Astronaut”, co-written by Coldplay’s Chris Martin. Jung Kook featured on an inescapable Charlie Puth bubblegum pop hit, “Left and Right”. It seemed as though, like clockwork, each member would endeavour to make a name for themselves. So where did that leave RM? BTS’s leader—known for his penchant towards the literary, artistic, innovative—had yet to release any solo material. The pressure was on: BTS was the first K-pop boy band to truly break in the West, to access the same sort of global ubiquity afforded Anglophonic boy bands, and as its frontperson, surely he’d bear the brunt of Justin Timberlake, Harry Styles and Michael Jackson comparisons? Was the world waiting for him to step out, eclipsing the careers of others in the process? If that is the case, RM’s elected to ignore such expectation. Indigo, his debut LP and first release since the band’s break, is an experimentalist’s dream. Eight of the ten tracks feature artists from all walks of life, each telling their own story about his experiences. The soulful hip-hop of opener “Yun” features Erykah Badu; the life-affirming retro-pop of “Still Life” has Anderson .Paak. The ebullient K-pop-rap of “All Day” boasts TABLO of the group Epik High, genre progenitors who laid the framework for BTS, while “Closer” is a Y2K R&B slow-burn with up-and-comers Paul Blanco and Mahalia. Each track is meticulously crafted to showcase not only RM’s flow (he’s best known as a rapper, after all), but also his breathy baritone, like in the disco banger “Hectic”, featuring Colde. Indigo is not RM’s first time in the solo arena—there was the hard hip-hop of 2015’s self-titled debut mixtape and the considerably more intimate Mono. in 2018, with its space-rock production (“Forever Rain”) and restrained piano (“Tokyo”). But this album—one RM worked on secretly for four years—is something else entirely. It is a bandleader’s meditative step toward a new kind of career, one where he can express his truest self through collaborative songwriting. It’s a thrill, a maturation, and confirmation that RM stands strong—both within his group and outside of it.

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