RM stays truthful to every moment
The joy of admiring beauty, the passion to humble oneself and learn, the determination to fight complacency: The essence of youth, the essence of RM.
As this is a written interview, I imagine that you’re answering these questions at your convenience. Could you tell the readers where you’re writing and what time it is? What do you see around you now?
I didn’t want to type my answers on my phone, so I waited until I could return to my studio and turn on my computer. It’s 10:30 p.m. on a Saturday, and I’m sitting on a chair in my studio, having worked out in the gym and worked on some songs. Looking around me, I notice a painting by Yun Hyong-keun that’s been decorating my wall for some time, and the studio equipment. I’m surrounded by familiar objects.
You’re scheduled to do a Vogue Korea cover shoot at the Korea Furniture Museum. Your fans expect you to take part in such photo ops for some sort of purpose beyond just producing nice pictures. What are you aiming for with the upcoming Vogue cover?
It’s actually my first time to appear on a cover all by myself. And the publication is Vogue, of all things! My fans are right to expect not just photos that are pleasing to the eye, but photos that express who I am, what I’m thinking, what I believe. There are so many other people who’d be more pleasant to look at on the cover than me. Since I’m doing this with Bottega Veneta, I also hope the brand’s philosophy will come through, but in a less obvious way.
An artist often suffers alone during the process of creation and expression, but some creative processes, like the upcoming photo shoot, can be very collaborative, involving many people. What are your rules on collaborating with others to achieve a certain artistic outcome?
I find myself meeting and working with a wide range of new people these days. This is quite refreshing and inspiring because I was used to working either alone or with just a few people. As for the rules … I’d say that I’m still working on them. The only rule I can think of now is to make sure that any stories about me convey my creative convictions, whatever the outlet may be. In order to convey these convictions, I believe I must consider my life from multiple viewpoints and live each day as fully as possible. I believe creativity comes from a commitment to life and a commitment to play. I try not to forget the fact that artistic creation is a job, just like any other.
You’ve exchanged comments on Instagram with Matthieu Blazy, Bottega Venetta’s creative director, with Blazy welcoming you to the brand family by posting pictures of your campaign. You responded that you were happy to join the effort. And you attended Bottega Venetta’s Fall/Winter 2023 fashion show in Milan this past February. Your all-black look was both Bottega Venetta and RM at the same time. You’ve spoken at length about music and art on many occasions, but you haven’t shared many of your thoughts about fashion. What does fashion mean to you?
I remember being quite impressed when I heard somewhere that “fashion is ideology.” This might sound like hyperbole, but I saw some truth in it. I’ve always thought of fashion as a statement of one’s attitude. You can’t walk around naked, can you? Fashion seems to give you an elegant and subtle tool for self-expression, but not in a way that forces others to consider and follow you. These days, though, I try not
to read so much into anything, partly because I’ve learned that that kind of habit can eat away at me. Nevertheless, I still love fashion and see its importance. My own fashion has evolved over time, from street style to gothic, to American casual, to minimal.
You’re known for your love of fine art, especially works by Korean artists. You mentioned, in your last interview with Vogue, that “hanging a work of art at home is a spiritual experience.” Personally, I had my first intimate encounter with art at the Mark Rothko exhibit held at the Hangaram Art Museum in 2015. His red abstractions seemed to swallow me whole. I even heard a kid standing nearby say, “I want to paint colors like that.” Have you had a similar experience? A powerful first encounter with art?
Since our memories tend to edit themselves, I can’t vouch for the accuracy of mine, but I believe I had a moment like that while viewing paintings by Monet, van Gogh and Seurat at the Art Institute of Chicago. I think it was toward the end of 2018. I was on tour at the time, but I decided to use some free time to visit a museum that day. When I saw those famous paintings that I’d only seen in art textbooks or on the Internet, and actually felt their matières and presence, I knew I’d made the right choice. I have no artistic talent, so I couldn’t help but marvel, with my jaw on the floor, at the incredible colors and techniques of those master artists. For some reason, I was quite shaken by A Sunday on La Grande Jatte.
The exhibitions you visit and the works of art you photograph and post on your Instagram page have gone viral. This phenomenon probably puts pressure on you while also making you proud to be able to use your platform to introduce great works of art to the public. Are there any particular reasons you like to share the art you see at exhibits with the public?
I’ve spoken about this a few times elsewhere, but I think of an Instagram account — especially that of a public figure — as a channel of curation. It shows what the account holder is interested in, what they want to reveal and express about themselves. Yes, I do find my role as some kind of art influencer burdensome at times, but I post about these art shows and works in the hope that people who like me and follow me on social media will also get some enjoyment out of it. Especially so because I’d like members of the young generation, including myself, to take more interest in modern and contemporary Korean art as well as ancient art forms.
You seem to be more interested in paintings and crafts than in media or performance art. Why’s this?
Well, it seems to me that media and performance art is harder and takes more effort to appreciate. I think it’s important to view and experience art in the spaces where it’s meant to be shown, such as a museum. But it’s difficult for me to spend an hour or more watching a media show or some performance art at a certain venue. As I grow fonder of art, though, I expect I’ll develop more of an interest in those forms of art. I do find the works of Nam June Paik, Lee Seung-taek, Hito Steyerl and Bruce Nauman quite fascinating. I haven’t seen any performance art live yet. What I see on YouTube feels a bit weak to me. I enjoy going to art exhibits not just for the sake of art, but also as a pastime, for a change of surroundings. While viewing paintings and crafts, I love interpreting and analyzing the matières and the background stories. To be honest, paintings and crafts are prettier and more accessible, aren’t they? I think it’s hard to deny.
Your passion to learn and gain wisdom was on full display when you appeared on the Korean talk show The Dictionary of Useless Human Knowledge (Alsseulinjab). As people gain experience, and even attain a certain reputation or level of success in their line of work, they can become stubborn and stop listening to others. Being a global superstar like yourself can probably have that effect, too. So, it’s all the more refreshing and amazing to see you striving to stay open-minded and continuing to learn Why do you want to learn so much? What are you learning these days?
Likewise, I’m amazed by people who stay open-minded in their 50s, 60s or even 70s. Being bombarded with information as we are these days can make even a 30-year-old close-minded. I try to be aware of my shortcomings and weaknesses. I try to go beyond the initial sense of discomfort or prejudice that I might feel when encountering new things. As for my desire to gain knowledge, I think it’s only natural to want to learn and study throughout one’s life. There are so many things I hardly know anything about and find interesting. I do believe that I can become better and wiser by studying art history, aesthetics, architecture, world history, Korean history and other subjects. These days, I’m fascinated by photography and ancient art.
I like the song you worked on with So!YoON! for her most recent album. I also enjoy the tracks on your solo album featuring youjeen and parkjiyoon. As I listen to these songs, I can’t help but think that you’re limitless and free-spirited as an artist. What kind of musicians do you like to collaborate with?
I think I had standards in the past about whom I wanted to work with, but I’m not so sure anymore. In whatever I do, though, I tend to be drawn to people who are self-assured and who strive for something bigger at the same time, to people who have not just desire, but also the capability and talent to forge their own path. It’s probably through such people that I try to find my own story, whether they have well-established names or not.
You’ve said your dream is to live in the present. Where did this dream come from? What efforts do you make to focus on the here and now?
Now that I’ve been involved in music and art for some time, I keep thinking that all these efforts are attempts to exist in timelessness. At some point, though, you kind of realize that the ironic shortcut to eternity is to be fully immersed in the present. In this day and age — or maybe particularly in Korea — our minds tend to wander toward the past or the future. We regret, long for, desire and dream about things that are gone or that may never materialize even though we’re stuck in the present. I may pass a day without doing anything significant, but I try to tell myself at the end of the day that I’ve done so many little things and thought so many little thoughts. I also consciously try to avoid being either too excited about good things ahead or too afraid about bad things that might happen. It’s extremely important to set a routine and stick to it. These days, I maintain a routine based on a few keywords, such as work, drinking, art exhibits, working out and taking walks, adding a few more and subtracting others when necessary.
It’s not so bad.
You’ve said that you value having a work-life balance, and that you get stressed out when that balance is upset. It’s not so easy for artists to maintain such a balance, is it? What does work-life balance mean to you?
I say this over and over again, but art ultimately comes from life. I believe I can create something awesome only by continuing to put living and playing at the forefront. I don’t want to pursue music for music’s sake, art for art’s sake, etc. Life always comes first, and that creates the balance needed to work fruitfully. I always think of myself as standing on a balance beam, and try to enjoy it as much as I can. Creating is like punishment. But I try to endure it with pleasure, counting myself lucky to have a creative job.
I try to become a better person. In her short story 30, Kim Ae-ran writes, “How have I changed thus far? I fear all I have managed to become is someone who spends a little more, someone who distrusts others, someone who is discerning only when it comes to the quality of the goods she is about to buy. I fear I have become a pathetic adult.” What would becoming a better person mean to someone like you?
I think trying to become a better person is a passive skill we all apply to our lives. We all want to become better people. But we do need our own definition of what a better person is, just like what love actually entails is much more important than the words ‘I love you,’ for example. I bet the answer differs from person to person. I’ve mentioned the keywords that I base my routine and life around. I try to stay focused on these keywords to remain balanced, continue learning, keep playing and interacting with friends, and be kind to those around me. It’s very difficult to become a better person, not least because it is a lifelong journey. That’s why I admire those who’ve lived a long time but still continue trying to better themselves. It’s almost as if I can see halos around their heads. If there were more people like that, wouldn’t the world be a better place?
Have you tried anything new recently and found yourself enjoying it? Is there anything you haven’t tried yet but want to try in the future?
These days, I’m constantly meeting new people, befriending them and starting to work with them. I think my social life was pretty limited until about the middle of last year. Getting to know new people can feel like a lot of work at times, making me feel embarrassed and even shy at times, but I do feel these new interactions are changing me. As long as I keep my equilibrium during all these new encounters, I think
the results will be positive for both me and my audience. Becoming a solo cover model for Vogue is a huge new experience for me, too. I’m grateful for this opportunity. Stay healthy, everyone. (VK)
- Dukhwa Jang
- Youngjin Kim
- Seungwon Kim
- Sino Choi
- Set Styling
- Hoseung Shin
- Korea Furniture Museum
- Sponsored by
- Bottega Veneta