J-Hope’s “Jack In The Box” (his first official album and second solo project after “Hope World”) is a creative experiment.
Through Hope World, J-Hope shared glimpses of who he is outside of the “sunshine Hobi” character he plays in BTS projects, and now with Jack In The Box, he’s ready to dig deeper and uncover more personal, darker sides.
In an interview with Rolling Stone, he said:
I wanted people to realize that J-Hope isn’t limited to bright things…I felt the need to show some of my darker aspects.
When one of my [BTS] members is doing a certain type of music or working on an album, I see their individuality and color, and think to myself, “I have my own color, too. I want to reveal mine, too.”
In another interview, he said:
J-Hope previously had a bright, energetic, and carefree image. This time around, in terms of both music and visuals, it’s gotten much darker.
If [my past work] were all songs inside a box, it’s time to leave the box. I wanted to share the emotions I’ve felt, the stories I’ve told and show another side of me in the shadows. I wanted to show a more artistic side of me.
That’s why Jack In The Box sounds grittier and sees J-Hope tackling bigger themes like Greek mythology, discrimination, good and evil, inner turmoil, and burning for one’s passions.
What does J-Hope mean?
J-Hope starts the Jack In The Box album with a fantasy-esque narration of the Greek mythological story of Pandora’s Box to explain where his name came from.
What Zeus had kept inside the box broke loose from their confinement
All that was foul was now unleashed upon the world…
It was hope that was kept in the innermost nook of the box
Hope gave people the will to carry on living amidst the pain and strife
The second track, titled Pandora’s Box, dives deeper into the myth with J-Hope drawing parallels between the story and his own life, highlighting how the name shaped his identity.
J-Hope has repeatedly expressed a desire to be a source of hope, joy, and courage to people. He acknowledges that he can’t solve all the world’s problems, but he wishes he could at least be a small part of happiness in your life.
As the second track from his Hope World mixtape, P.O.P (Piece Of Peace), says:
If I can give strength to someone, can be a light to someone, I wish, I could be a Piece Of Peace.
Pandora’s Box continues this theme, saying:
Now that I’ve lived through it, I can see through the world
The tens of thousands of high fevers that fire people up
Greed, jealousy, resentment, envy, revenge, and hatred
We need hope
While these tracks explore the impact of the name in how he shows up in the world, another track in the Jack In The Box album, What if, questions who he would be without this name and the identity born out of it.
Here, J-Hope reveals:
Tens of times, I ask myself
Am I really like that?
Hope, positivity, my ever-smiley face…
I start to have doubts…
You have it all now
Money, fame, wealth, and the following of people who like you
“Love yourself and have hope”
If you had all those things taken from you and found yourself at rock bottom
Would you still be able to say such words?
While J-Hope has spent years playing the “sunshine” persona, bringing joy to fans all over the world, in the second last track, Future, he wishes he too could receive some of that positivity. He says:
I need it too
When I said I do
Courage and faith
The rhythm of positivity
Positivity within and beyond
Beyond the self, J-Hope’s Jack In The Box album also talks about the need for goodwill in the world.
One of the boldest tracks in the album, STOP, says there are no bad people in the world.
In one verse, J-Hope acknowledges how low humanity can stoop:
Yeah, I too watch the news
Deadly criminal, can a human being act like that?
The acts of humans that even animals wouldn’t do
I wonder how they can even be considered humans
In the next verse, he sets aside the judgment, digs deeper, and invites us to question what makes people act this way. He says:
Let’s take it back to the origin and see them again
The environment they’ve lived within, education and system
What made us different?
The song references a TV show “there are no bad dogs in the world” where “animal trainers work with pet owners who are concerned with their pet’s behavioral issues to address the underlying reasons (owners’ behaviors, environmental factors, dogs’ past trauma, etc.) instead of framing the owners as victims and the dogs as bad dogs,” Doolset, a popular blog translating BTS lyrics says.
Extending the comparison to humans, J-Hope believes people are inherently good but bad circumstances bring out the not-so-ideal behaviors.
On a similar note, the next track, = (Equal Sign), talks about how everyone’s equal, no matter the classifications we choose to put (gender, race, nationality, income, etc.).
“No one is above or below anyone else,” J-Hope says, adding:
I tilt my head in confusion and hit my chest in frustration
It’s such a big, wide world, and such narrow minds people have
We don’t necessarily have to be the same
But why is it a sin to be different?
He intentionally sings the chorus in English (despite being a Korean artist, creating a primarily Korean album), trying to bridge the difference:
Hate’ll paralyze your mind
Gotta see the other side
It costs ya nothin’ to be kind
Not so different you and I
Lookin’ for love in a different light
Until we find that equal sign
MORE and Arson
After reflecting on the world within and beyond him, J-Hope brings the two together, talking about how the industry influenced his art and how his art shaped the industry.
The two main tracks, MORE and Arson have lots of layers to uncover and deserve a separate analysis/explanation.
While the sound doesn’t appeal to my music taste as much as Hope World did, it’s worth appreciating how J-Hope is exploring his creativity and pursuing projects that feel authentic to his taste rather than following trends and creating generic social media music.