J-Hope’s Jack in the Box Album Helps Us Understand BTS

TBTS’s men have enjoyed myth and allegory since childhood. You can see the Jungian influences in their first albums. Consider “ON,” their 2020 single, rife with biblical references and callbacks to apocalyptic movies. You can find them here. Jack in the Box, rapper J-Hope’s first official solo album, he doubles down on Greek mythology and the concept of hope, aptly enough.

The first solo project after BTS had announced that in June, they would no longer be working as a group. Jack in the Box is also a more serious follow-up to J-Hope’s uplifting 2018 mixtape Hope WorldHere is his personal mission statement, along with a reflection of the forces, worries, and ultimately ambitious goals that motivate him. It addresses where BTS has been—and suggests where they might be going.

Returning to his—and BTS’—roots

An English voiceover tells the story of Pandora in Greek mythology. It is a beautiful, but tragic tale about a woman who opens a mysterious box and unleashes all sorts of evil things into the world. Her curiosity was not quelled even though Zeus had warned her against it. There is a silver lining to the story: Hope, which was the last thing out of that famous box. “Hope gave people the will to carry on living amidst the pain and strife,” the narrator intones in the intro track.

This rapper is,When it comes to his motivations and his faith in the power of his work, and his influence on his fans, he is not trying for subtilty. Nor is he trying to downplay the impact that BTS’s outsized success has had on him—as an artist and an individual. With Jack in the Box, though, he returns to his roots as a serious rapper, and to BTS’s roots as an act focused on shedding light on the fears that drive us. It is mostly written in Korean with few features. The first half is tinged with darkness in its beats and its focus; the second half a bit lighter, with some R&B moments.

J-Hope doesn’t care about chart success; the songs that are most popular this summer don’t count. Unlike BTS’s most recent releases, many of which leaned into bright pop and were sung in English, his Korean rapping is foregrounded, with a few English lines thrown in for emphasis. The rapping feels just like BTS early: it’s experimental, inspired by classic hip hop, and unapologetic. (He even samples Wu Tang Clan and Ol Dirty Bastard’s “Shimmy Shimmy Ya.”) It does not sound like the K-pop many newer fans may be used to, of singable choruses and uplifting messages meant to make summer brighter or get the people dancing.

The point is his return to himself. J-Hope is the BTS member who always smiles the largest in interviews. However, here, that smiling mask of optimism has been intentionally loosened. The album offers many facets of his mindset: his constant striving (“More,” “What If”), his desire to create positive experiences for others and a place of respite for himself (“Equals,” “Safety Zone”), and his personal struggle to decide where to go next (“Arson”). In many ways, it echoes BTS’s previous—and more introspective—albums and lyrics. J-Hope’s passion for self-development, understanding and criticism is what has made them stand out from other K-pop groups. His audience also sees him as a person who is more open about the hardships of his past decade.

A hint at what’s to come for BTS

He actually said these words Jack in the Box only help illuminate the group’s decision to focus more wholly on their individual works, citing a sense of creative depletion with their group projects. After all, where do artists go when they’ve broken every record in the book already? On “Arson,” the powerful closing track, he brings it all home: “Now I ask myself, choose what? Burn brighter or put out the fire. My dreams, done/ Success, done/ My part of the job, done/ What else, none.” It’s a poignant—and revealing—question.

However, what if? Jack in the BoxIf the past is an indication of future events, then this chapter must be one of creativity liberation as well as maturity. As he said, Rolling Stone, each of the other members inspire him and bring their own “color” to their work. J-Hope’s color right now might well be a burning red: urgent, intense, willing to burn everything down to build back up again, and unafraid to alienate those who don’t understand this new, more nuanced version of him. “I crash and fall to make my art/ I want it, stadium with my fans, still,” he raps on “More.” “Bag all the trophies and Grammys too, I already know it/ Fame, money’s not everything, I already know it/ My work makes me breathe, so I want more.” BTS may be taking a group breather, but Jack in the BoxThey are far away from being done.

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