A warning that this piece, much like the music itself, gets quite dark. It’s okay to put this aside for another day.
I have not listened to Namjoon or Yoongi’s mixtapes RM and Agust D many times.
There are a couple of reasons for this.
First, there is a layer of inescapable anxiety when I listen to a track by BTS that I have not yet translated. For most songs, the layer is thin, transparent, and easier to ignore by the day. After all, there are other good translations, and I am not arrogant enough to believe mine are necessary. But it does remain, persistent.
Second, this is not background listening. Many of the tracks are a cacophony of sounds; the harsh beats reverberate without pause, and they’re overlaid with words that are ugly and defiant. Others are existential crises put to echoes; quieter and therefore even more devastating.
I make it sound painful, and that’s because it is. What a reminder that the world is as ugly as it is beautiful; that I am both a victim and perpetrator of this truth. Entertainment is funny until it hits home, and then you only feel sick.
RM and Agust D are the most intense of albums BTS has ever put out, and I hope that continues to be the case. (Perhaps this is a well-meaning but dangerous expectation for a fan to have – that their music continues to be all the things it is but without that 2015-2016 brand of frustration and defensiveness.) Don’t get me wrong, I do love them. But I respond viscerally to them because it brings forth the older parts of me that have, since then, thankfully mellowed out and found safer homes.
When I first heard ‘The Last’ from Agust D and got to that oneline, my breath failed me. For days after that first listen, I was stunned that he had said what he did. And I was immeasurably grateful. ‘Life’ from RM was softer but just as severe. I felt like the gentle orbs of light were close by, but that for now, I would have to continue lying in bed like a corpse for awhile longer. But still, immeasurably grateful. Always, always grateful.
I know these stories aren’t unique, and that’s why they’re so powerful. I believe that one of the reasons art is so special is that it gives a concrete expression to feeling. Someone, somewhere, has expressed something about this vast universe — and someone else, somewhere, comes across it, and says — yes, thank you for sharing something that I knew not — for expressing something that I could not — for reminding me of things that I am and am not (anymore).
We know Namjoon better through mono., his second non-mixtape. It is not that his melancholy has lifted, or he has found the answers. But he has continued to live, and that makes a difference. ‘Moonchild’ is sent as an earnest gift for those who are unable to breathe in the daylight. He said through his mono. behind on VLIVE that they are “people like me. I don’t put as much weight in the night now. But I made this song in a time where I believed the night would set me free.” And in the same VLIVE, he chose ‘Forever Rain’ as the song that is most like himself; the song he would most like to have at his funeral. It is a more mature album.
I wonder if it’s partly because he had, since RM, recognised his own contemplations and wanderings weren’t useless — that there was solidarity in knowing that we struggled too. It is not about feeling better as much as it is about being understood.
This is why RM and Agust D is even more important now, years later. Both albums stand impressive on their own, but also as cases of juvenilia – pieces produced by an artist in their youth that serve as building blocks to understand recurring themes and techniques throughout their body of work. We are validating what they felt back then. We are adopting them as our own stories when necessary. And most importantly, we are remembering that it wasn’t the end. In these next paragraphs particularly, I speak only for myself. But I think it’s good to speak them, nonetheless.
There was a period in which I could not distinguish myself from my depression; a period in which it was the ugliest of creatures that burrowed itself in my darkest corners and began to swallow all else. I experienced a living death. I would not do the most harmful of things because I believed there was a light ahead — faint, but there, surely? — but also because it would take too much effort.
I don’t remember much of those days anymore, which is a fucking relief. But something I do remember: my then boyfriend asking, “You keep saying you’re going to overcome it. That it’ll be over. But what if it doesn’t go away?”
If I didn’t throw him the most hateful glare then, it would’ve been because I didn’t have the energy.
But that question stuck with me. And I recognised it for what it was. My mantra slowly shifted from “One day … one day” to “I’m learning to live with it, and it doesn’t hold as much power over me as it once did.”
So, even now, I don’t always want to rest in an armful of bright flowers and a promise of better days. Oh, I will, for I believe in happy endings, and even a happy tomorrow. But before that, I may need someone to swear and cry in my stead. It is in these interim moments that I listen to these mixtapes.
And this is why though I have not listened to RM and Agust D often, they are dear to me.
I have wanted to share with you my translations for these two mixtapes for a long time. I am now ready to begin the process. I hope I am able to relay a little of the comfort that I myself receive from them.