If the release of j-hope’s album Jack in the Box is the first page in BTS’ Chapter 2, we can be sure it will be one for the books. Drawing upon a combination of “old school hip-hop,” emo rock, and thoughtful lyrics, j-hope expands himself lyrically and musically to demonstrate that both he as an artist and hope itself are more nuanced and multilayered than one might suspect.
The Man, The Myth, The Legend
The album’s first two tracks confirmed what many ARMY speculated weeks ago: the title Jack in the Box connects rapper j-hope and the Greek myth of Pandora’s Box. Intro is actually a recording of the myth’s ending, wherein all of the evils of the world are released from a box to punish humans for their advancement (full story here). However, “hope…was kept in the innermost nook of the box,” and “gave people the will to carry on living amidst the pain and strife,” the last in the box to be released. In Pandora’s Box, j-hope takes on the persona of “the one remainder, hope” left in the box, which he metaphorically opens to tell his story: the evils that plague both him and the world, and what we might do about it.
“All that was foul was now unleashed upon the world”
The album then launches into MORE, the lead single released a few weeks ago. Blazing in emo rock glory about j-hope’s continuing hunger to improve and excel, the rapper reminds the audience that his driving force isn’t fame and fortune, but rather that “my work makes me breathe, so I want MORE.” According to the Rolling Stone article, both the track itself and the music video surprised fellow BTS members and fans alike, with its heavy drums, headbanging chorus and dark aesthetic, setting the tone for j-hope’s increased musical and thematic range throughout the album.
STOP (세상에 나쁜 사람은 없다), the next track, slides into more comfortable territory in both theme and genre: a catchy hip-hop beat underpins lyrics asking for listeners to come together in a world with “too many viruses” that produce hate and violence (a great throwback to Dis-Ease). j-hope muses that even though “It’s a smart world these days” technologically, it’s “not smart for the most part” and rather “an online conference of rage.” Despite this, j-hope raps that a “single grain of belief rules over me / ‘There are no bad people in the world.’” Rather, “the environment, education, system they’ve lived through” can produce differences between people, and the world is what we make of it. In = (Equals Sign), the rapper’s R & B-inspired vocals suggest a solution to these complex ethical problems: ourselves. Encouraging listeners to recognize the “difference between discrimination and difference,” the song’s outro encroaches us to “come together / Equality is you and me.”
Behind the Hope, Beyond the Scene
The 79 seconds of breathing in Music Box: Reflection provides a vulnerable transition into the album’s deeply personal second half, which opens with What If… In this deeply thoughtful reflection, j-hope grapples with his own privilege, asking if it would be possible to maintain his image of “hope, positivity, constantly smiling…even if you lost everything and hit rock bottom?”
This acknowledgement of his persona’s limitations is continued in Safety Zone, a smooth R & B confession of the rapper’s own doubts and insecurities. While j-hope might bring hope to millions, he shares that finding something or someone to consistently lean on hasn’t been so easy. He opens up the chorus asking, “어둠 속 안도의 한줄기 빛은 어디일까? Where is the ray of light of security in this darkness?” Much like Blue Side, a previously released song about j-hope’s mental and emotional struggles (which is actually referenced in Safety Zone’s chorus), the vulnerability and honesty of Safety Zone have made it an early fan favorite.
Ultimately, j-hope concludes that he actually can’t answer many of the questions he raises in the second half of the album. Because everything is “constantly changing,” he chooses to “hang my future” on hope itself. Future sees the rapper deciding to go with the flow, bringing courage and positivity along in his wake.
“It’s Done” But More Is Yet to Come
Arson, accompanied by a gasoline-soaked music video that premiered with the album’s release, proves that saving the best for last is still a classic move. With lyrics discussing the self-immolating nature of accomplishment, j-hope explores the crossroads upon which BTS stands at the beginning of Chapter 2: do you burn out the flames of success at their height, or burn yourself out feeding the fire?
The answer, hopefully, is to find a third path, which BTS seeks to do with the release of solo albums like Jack In The Box. ARMY will hopefully get a live performance of these new tracks in just two short weeks when j-hope headlines Lollapalooza, and ARMY Magazine will be on the scene to tell you all about it!
Written by: Mariko
Edited by: Marcie
Designed by: ThornToHisRose
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