RM’s “Voice,” Off His Debut Mixtape, 7 Years On

Consider “Reflection,” RM’s solo track for BTS’ 2016 album Wings. He stands at Ttukseom, a park facing the Han River in Seoul. It is, according to the first verse, the place he goes when he really hates himself. In the familiar darkness, he lists “people who are smiling, the beer that makes me smile, / and the fear that gently approaches me and holds my hand.” But it’s okay, because “everyone’s in twos and threes, it’s nice for me to also have a friend.”

There is an acknowledgement and a careful embrace of such feelings. But in an echo of the opening, where RM shares that he’d like to comfort himself, he ends the song by repeating the statement, “I wish I could love myself.”

It is this plaintive, raw honesty alongside his music’s charismatic fierceness that has made RM such a valuable and well-respected artist. It is also what has made him so beloved by fans, for he has provided them with apt words for their own individual journeys and the promise that they do not travel such paths alone.

So strong was this sentiment from the fans that throughout the 2017 the Wings tour, it became commonplace for ARMY, BTS’s fans, to chant back “We love you” as RM repeated this refrain. Brazil kicked it off, and other countries followed. RM in response changed the lyrics at certain destinations to “Yes, I guess I should love myself,” “Yes, I do love myself,” and even “I wish you could love yourself.”

The phrase became so significant, of course, that it became the basis for BTS’ next album trilogy — and RM’s now-iconic speech at the United Nations in 2018. At the finale of the Love Yourself: Speak Yourself world tour on October 29, 2019, RM said, “If I think about it, ‘I wish I could love myself’ was the last verse of ‘Reflection,’ released in 2016. I had thought about it continuously since then. To love myself. What on earth does it mean, to love myself? So I thought, ‘Since I don’t know either, wouldn’t it be good to search for it together?’”

Korean idol groups have a long history of organized fanchants. They allow the fans to repeat back key phrases, giving them a unified voice and confirming the lyrics being sung by their artist. But events like these signaled an organic call and response; a clear representation of two separate entities influencing each other in new and different ways.

Yes, RM’s voice always had a direction. He had promised to secretly raise the volume of his voice, so that we could know, so that it would reach us. But could he have known, at the beginning of his career, that his voice would become part of such a powerful dialogue? That he would speak, and fans would speak back? That he would dream new dreams and reach new heights through communication on and off the stage?

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