MONSTA X's I.M Gets Real on His First Solo World Tour, the Present Moment and Not Caring What Others Think (Exclusive)

The 'Off The Beat' K-pop solo artist talks about gearing up for his first solo world tour There’s no process more natural for I

Published Time: 09.05.2024 - 07:31:13 Modified Time: 09.05.2024 - 07:31:13

The 'Off The Beat' K-pop solo artist talks about gearing up for his first solo world tour

There’s no process more natural for I.M than writing music.

That’s because the 28-year-old K-pop rapper strips away the artificials, like pre-planned lyrics or a thought out message, and looks inward to see what’s beneath. 

Like writing a diary entry with its limitless stream of consciousness, he brain-dumps anything and everything. What’s he thinking and feeling in the moment is a given. Then, he’ll go one step further and draw from his senses, like what he’s wearing or eating. 

What results is a collection of songs that capture a time capsule of who he is at the moment — a solo artist fresh off the release of his third, six-track EP, Off The Beat, and gearing up for his first-ever world tour of the same name.

Right before chatting with PEOPLE on a late evening, I.M’s finishing up a small, sugar-cube infused Korean snack, dressed in a classic black T-shirt with a silver wristwatch. It’s still a few days before he makes the world tour announcement, and consequently, his intense training process.

Naturally, he’s excited to meet his fans as a solo artist across 18 cities in Europe, North America and Asia. At the same time, that’s also what makes him a little nervous — talking to them by himself, as a self-described “not talkative” person.

Previously, when touring as a member of the six-piece K-pop group, MONSTA X, the “X0” singer never needed to worry about doing anything alone. Every performance was a balancing act, a moment of sharing the stage. But now, as the sole member of MONSTA X set to travel the globe, all eyes are on him to “LURE” fans with his rhythmic hip-hop sound.

As I.M thinks about what this means for his ever-changing identity, he’s quick to notice the way his mindset has changed and shifted since his trainee days.

Before joining the leading third-generation group, I.M explains how he had to fight to secure his place amongst other young hopefuls. 

“It’s really like the program name, ‘NO.MERCY,’” the “MMI” singer says to PEOPLE. “It ain’t mercy. But now, it’s just me. I can control that time, and it’s not a survival.”

“Of course, it could be a survival just between myself,” he adds. 

With anyone, an internal battle almost seems unavoidable. There’s the creeping self-doubt that sometimes arises, or the inner engine to keep going into OVERDRIVE. There might also be comparison to a past version of yourself — a DUALITY, which shares the same name with I.M’s solo debut in 2021.

When comparing himself to that past music time capsule of his, the singer almost seamlessly switches between third and first person. 

“When I listen to DUALITY, I feel what he was thinking and what he was trying to do at that moment,” the singer says. “I can find some, ‘Oh, he could do much better than that right now,’ but at that time, I tried my best.” 

“I try to put my 100%, no — maybe 200%, in the music, the moment what I’m doing right now,” he continues, with a nod to his recent EP release. “Compared with that, to this album? I’m better than him.” 

Present-day I.M’s avant-garde persona focuses on fashion almost as much as it does music. Every song has a noticeably distinct visual and vibe, and that’s the first gut instinct he’ll grasp onto when creating. When he’s not strutting on the runway wi -

th some of the biggest high-end luxury brands, he’ll wear something black — a “simple, but fancy” outfit. 

Though his fashion sense has remained consistently classy, his existential sense of the “real” him wasn’t always so clear cut. Back in 2016 and 2017, the “nbdy” performer was still trying to define his “real” self, throughout all the busyness of debuting with MONSTA X. Now, he’s realized he doesn’t need to identify with any definition outside of just himself and who he is.

“I just don’t care about what people think of me, like ‘Oh, the guy from MONSTA X. Oh, the rapper, oh, the long-haired guy, oh, big-nose guy, the nice voice guy,’” he says, adding in hand gestures that come naturally to him when he speaks. “I don’t really care because the real me is every moment of me, and I still don’t know what I am, but I’m sure that I know me.” 

“This might sound a bit strange, but I think that’s the reason why I’m doing music — to find myself, to write it down myself,” he continues. “Because this time is just this time. Today is just today.” 

Though I.M’s fully in tune with the present and future, he’ll still occasionally allow himself a trip down memory lane. In fact, he might just strut down that lane once more when he arrives at his Boston stop on tour — the city that he lived in for three years and moved to from Israel. It was there as an elementary school student when gained a deeper understanding of music and processed the lyrics of what he was listening to, like “What a Wonderful World” by Louis Armstrong, he tells PEOPLE.

“Musically, Boston means a lot to me,” he reflects. “And I still remember the elementary school name, so maybe if I have some day off, I’d like to visit.” 

With any of the 18 cities, there’s one thing in particular he’s looking forward to trying, and he hints at it in a lyric: 

“Sip me like a wine / I’ll treat you right / Pour it more ‘till we slip the floor,” he sings in “LURE,” with a voice just as suave as wine. 

With all the wine, beer and food tasting he’s looking forward to, there’s no doubt that the tour will present a lot of change for I.M on top of a whirlwind career. However, change is a constant that doesn’t scare him. 

“I don’t try to take it seriously because when the time passes and when you think about the past, it’s just a tiny thing,” he explains. “I believe even if there’s a dangerous moment or that I’m anxious about something, I just think about the future because I bet I’m going to get over that.” 

The same thought process applies to his age, and at 28, it seems like I.M isn’t planning on slowing down anytime soon. 

“Well, the best part — I’m the youngest and the only twenty-something guy in this group,” he says as the group’s maknae, before a chuckle escapes his mouth. “There’s no bad part. I mean, everything is good.

“Everything is the best to me right now,” he adds. “I am enjoying the group, enjoying this moment, my day and I’m going to enjoy the tour. I’m excited for the next step, and I’m excited for my future even if I don’t know.”

Off The Beat is now available to stream.

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