BTS’ RM is known for many things — being a talented rapper-songwriter, a charismatic leader, a multilingual genius, and for having an introspective personality. And while many appreciate not just Namjoon’s, but BTS’ lyrics as a whole, it’s not uncommon to see the beauty of his lyrics overlooked in the flurry of the excitement of a comeback, or from the general nuances lost from a Korean to English translation. Other than the songs that the rapper has put out as part of his solo albums, Namjoon has worked on multiple songs for BTS, as well as part of collaborations with numerous other artists. Over the years, as Namjoon has grown as an artist and strayed from the Hip Hop genre, he has shown some incredible lyricism in his discography.
The first track that comes to mind is “Ddaeng”, an unofficial track created by him and the other BTS rappers, Suga and J-Hope, along with J. Pearl. In just one verse, Namjoon used the word “ddaeng” in 5 different ways, all of which brought about a different meaning.
The sound of the cashier collecting bills, ddaeng.
When I was younger, I liked playing freeze-tag, ddaeng.
I’m ding-dong, you’re ddaeng.
You’re a 7 keut*, I’m ddaeng.
Sleeping right after eating ramen, the face is ddaeng.
You losers, do your thang.
Look at me, I’m your errthang.
You’re dope? Cool? Damn ridiculous.
Even when he refers to “ddaeng” as an onomatopoeia, he uses it differently. In one instance, he uses it to explain the cashier’s sound, and in the other he uses it to explain that someone else is wrong, as “ddaeng” is the sound associated with striking a bell when someone is wrong (and “ding-dong” when someone is right).
In other lines, he refers to the Korean card-game of Seotda, where the “7 keut” refers to a poor combination of cards, and the following “ddaeng” refers to him having a better combination. Lastly, he calls his haters’ faces “ddaeng”, whereby the word comes from an expression used to describe round faces when one’s face swells up after falling asleep after eating ramyun. In the final line, Namjoon uses the sound of “ttaeng” to rhyme the entire verse, but not before playing with languages and using “thang”, the slang word for “thing”, to prove his point.
Another song in which Namjoon shows off his wordplay ability is “Trivia: Love”, his solo off the Love Yourself: Answer album.
I’m just a person, person, person.
Your erode all my corners,
and make me into love, love, love.
We are people, people, people,
inside the myriad of straight lines (in a circle).
My love, love, love,
if I sit slightly on top of it, it becomes a heart.[…]
I live so I love.
(Live & love, live & love).[…]
You make I to an O.
Because of you,
I know why “person” and “love” sound the same.
You make live to a love.
Once again, Namjoon interchanges between Korean and English to play on words. The Korean word for “person” is “사람”, and “사랑” for “love”. Visually, these characters have only one difference — the edges being rounded out. On the first listen, it may sound as though Namjoon is simply referring to someone who makes him want be a human capable of giving out more love. However, upon inspection of the hangul, it’s obvious to see that his lyrics run deeper.
He continues to use this imagery to transform this rounded character into a heart: “If I sit slightly on top of it, it becomes a heart”, which allows him to extend this wordplay to the English language. Using the heart to bring in the concept of love, he interchanges the letters “i” and “o” to further iterate his message.
More than wordplay, the rapper-songwriter’s lyrics are usually rife with metaphors. The lyrics of V’s “Singularity”, written by Namjoon, are inextricably linked to the visual metaphor of a frozen lake and ice. There aren’t any complicated lyrics in the track, but Namjoon succinctly captured the emotions of a troubled relationship by comparing the persona to a winter lake. Ice is coldness, the absence of love. It’s the rigidity and frigidity of Earth, not conducive to life. By showing how the persona in the song willingly threw himself into the frozen lake to appease their supposed love interest, the lyricist managed to bring across the toxicity of the relationship without explicitly mentioning it to be so.
It’s ringing again, that sound.
A crack is forming on this frozen lake.
I threw myself into the lake.
I buried my voice for you,
as I was thrown over the winter lake.[…]
Above the winter lake in which I threw myself away,
A thick ice has frozen over.
In the recent months, Namjoon’s lyrics have shown an inclination to the idea of the moon and the sun.
In “moonchild”, Namjoon wrote:
Can’t breathe in the sunlight,
gotta hide your heart.[…]
Moonchild, you shine.
When you rise, it’s your time.
C’mon y’all, Moonchild, don’t cry.
And in “4 O’Clock”, he continues:
The sun suffocates me,
and the world strips me naked.[…]
I can’t help it, there’s no other way.
I collect my shattered self beneath the moonlight.
What’s interesting is that the Sun is usually associated with a great, cosmic energy. It represents new starts, the beginning of a day, light, and anything inherently positive. Namjoon, though, associates it with discomfort. Feeling too exposed and unsheltered, the daylight conversely brings Namjoon uneasiness and unrest. On the other hand, the moon is often linked to the dark side of nature: monsters in the dark, the supernatural, and a sense of spookiness. However, it’s also a symbol of enlightenment, introspection and reflection, which is how Namjoon interprets it. Instead of your usual takes on these common literary symbols, he finds his own meaning in them, which make his lyrics more personal and special.
Honestly, Namjoon’s discography has far too many songs for all of them to be discussed, especially as he’s been expanding his genres and lyrics, making his songs varied. It’s always refreshing to read his lyrics though. They bring a new perspective or bring up points you wouldn’t have otherwise noticed, and it’s a quiet, fun game to play every time he releases something. His affinity to speak and write well shows in his lyrics, and it’s always a pleasure to listen to what he puts out.