People, Personas, and the Pursuit of Popular Culture
“Who am I?” It’s a question that has plagued the greatest minds in history and a question each person must answer for themselves. The answer to that question creates our identity, allows us to understand our hopes, fears, and dreams. We then use these answers to connect with others in hopes of creating a meaningful connection. However, there is a class in society that we do not allow to answer this question and that is those in the upper and celebrity class.
BTS leader RM, properly named Kim Nam-joon, was born in 1994 and attempted to audition with Big Deal Productions in 2009 at the age of 15. After failing to make the cut he would train under Big Hit Entertainment with fellow rappers Suga and J-Hope for three years. Eventually, the group would add singers V, Jimin, Jin, and Jungkook to the mix. Like many other early child entertainers RM was unable to get a grasp on his own identity before one was created for him. The lead single “Persona” from the upcoming album of the same name highlights the struggle with identity facing the BTS frontman.
In the opening verse he asks himself “Who am I’ the question I had my whole life. The question which I probably won’t find an answer to my whole life” along with “How you feel? How’re you feeling right now?” The only answer the rapper seems to be able to give is “I’m real good but a little uncomfortable. I’m still not so sure if I’m a dog or a pig or what else but then other people come out and put the pearl necklace on me.” These lines speak to a higher crisis of identity as he states his uncertainty of even being a human being without others approval.
The next verse however RM does state a childhood dream of his own “I dreamt of becoming a superhero now it feels like I really became one.” He equates his becoming an entertainer to becoming a superhero. This is little surprise given the idol status we give those in the entertainment industry.
At 1:05 RM makes an appearance dressed as America rapping “Hey have you already forgotten why you even started this” forcing himself again at 1:38 “who the hell am I?” The success of BTS in the American market has forced RM to deal with another identity change as the group now must keep their eye on the charts in a country harder to please than their own. The aftermath of this crisis is revealed at the 2-minute mark when he addresses himself as only “R.” This switching of rap names marks the third for the rapper as he moved from his debut name Rap Monster to RM during the Love Yourself era. Yet it’s the visuals of this scene that bring about its true significance. RM is surrounded by robotic figures that have little expression. They are simply there to RM and dance to his music following the giant larger than life figure created by Big Hit Entertainment since RM’s debut.
As the song closes at the 2:33 mark the robotic fans, the ARMY of RM fans, again place him on a pedestal while the same two verses are repeated “Persona, who the hell am I? I just wanna go. I just wanna fly. I just wanna give you all the voices till I die. I just wanna give you all the shoulders when you cry” reveling the celebrity persona of RM is one that will overshadow the life of the real Kim Nam-joon.