On “Jack in the Box,” J-Hope Explores Fire Grounded in Hope

J-Hope of BTS invited us to Hope World in 2018 via his debut mixtape. A world residing only in his “Daydream,” he declared it to be “my own world,” “exactly as I imagined it” – but one that wouldn’t “be eternal / Shit.” The bright track thus ended on a somber note: “If I want something / If I want something now / That’s a daydream.” But the key is that this world full of realized ambitions was never a “denial of reality,” nor a result of “dissatisfaction, maladjustment.” Rather, it was a sketch of something different. Something possible.

J-Hope released Hope World, then “Chicken Noodle Soup” in 2019 and an extended version of the mixtape’s final track “Blue Side” in 2021. These highlighted his roots as a kid from Gwangju, South Korea, who enjoyed street dance and old-school hip-hop; one who grew up to join an idol group, nourishing his great ambitions for worldly success and personal satisfaction through the “Base Line” of hard work.

But as he released his first solo album Jack in the Box on July 15, J-Hope shared that all these prior efforts were within the comfort of his box. Now, he’s jumping out. He asks, half-confidence, half-fear, “Can Hope World materialize in reality? Will others join me once more?”

In the first half of the album, J-Hope claims his origin story and dreams excitedly of what he’ll do once he leaves his box. Pause for an instrumental interlude to indicate the pivotal moment. Then, a second half where J-Hope faces his shadows to question his essence and convictions. As a complete work, Jack in the Box traces the artist’s desire to ask these big questions, to search for more while also beginning to delve into the fiery risks for doing so — can hope exist in flames?

(J-)Hope, a Gift to Humankind

For the “Intro,” a woman narrates the origins of hope in Greek myth over chimes and sustained notes which reverberate and glow. A beautiful creature hidden in the nook of Pandora’s Box, its release gives humankind the “will to carry on living amidst the pain and strife.”

“Pandora’s Box” follows, with J-Hope adopting the myth as a metaphor for himself. “The ray of light left in the box by Pandora / is projected onto an innocent boy / Till the end, this framed him to become Bangtan’s hope, / a ceremony for a fate given just like that / That’s my name / Together with a meaning deepened by myth, / on my way.” Through these two tracks, hope and J-Hope intertwine to curious effect.

“MORE” builds on this character declaration, as J-Hope expresses how his passion, ambition, and greed is bubbling over the confines of his box. He wants more stadium concerts, trophies, and Grammys, yes, but it’s first and foremost regarding his art.

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