J-hope is no stranger to making history. It’s something he’s done multiple times as part of BTS – breaking YouTube records more than once, being the first Korean act to hit the number one spot on the Billboard Hot 100, and too many more accolades to list here. But tonight (July 31), the rapper, dancer and producer single-handedly steps into the spotlight to become the first South Korean artist to headline a main stage at a major festival in the US.
Topping the Bud Light Seltzer podium on the final day of Lollapalooza 2022, J-hope’s landmark set feels like both a triumphant return and an introduction. His headline performance is the first live solo effort by a member of BTS since they embarked on the group’s “second chapter” in June; one that will put more focus on individual projects. If Chapter Two is an opportunity for the seven members to prove themselves as individual artists and as part of the largest group in the world, J-hope tonight is more than up to the challenge.
That he’s starting this next step by bursting out of a kit made to look like a jack in the box feels symbolic – like he’s entering new, uncharted territory, but doing so explosively and confidently, rather than timidly on to pull his toes out into the wide world. Pyrotechnics flies off the stage as he stands, looking briefly at the huge crowd that has gathered in front of him, before launching the recent rock-rap single ‘MORE’ and starting to prove he belongs on such a huge platform, regardless of what he has accomplished with his main group so far.
Just as his debut solo album ‘Jack In The Box’ tells the story of the maker, so does his set tonight. The first half is mostly about newer material and the darker, edgier styles, but also weaves in older songs that fit a tale of ambition, greed and fame. “HANGSANG” and its star-focused lyrics air before “POP (Peace Of Piece)” shows the star’s desire to become an artist who can deliver exactly what the title suggests.
As J-hope drills further through the performance, the story continues as well. The bright, slightly funky ‘= (Equal Sign)’ shares a love message that sounds all the more beautiful when a crowd sings it in unison. After an incendiary ‘arson’ – which begins with a single flame blazing atop the jack in the box on stage – the rapper returns to the inside of the gigantic toy box, only to erupt minutes later into a new, white outfit .
What follows are sunnier tracks from his catalog, starting with the tropical remix of BTS’ “Dynamite” before moving on to “Daydream”, where he accepts that his dreams won’t last forever. Each is enhanced by the addition of a live band that makes the first part of the performance harder and heavier and gives the last part more liveliness.
J-hope never forgets where he came from and often calls back to his roots. During ‘Base Line’, screens along the stage show images of monuments and streets in Korea, including Sajik Park Observatory in his hometown of Gwangju. When he hits BTS’ “Cypher Pt. 1′ they show clips of him with his six band members. The roots of his music aren’t forgotten either – when he airs ‘Chicken Noodle Soup’ with special guest Becky G towards the end of the set, he ensures that DJ Webster and Young B, the writers of the original sampled track, are on the track. .
It doesn’t matter if the rapper is in dark or light area tonight, he puts everything in every song. “I pour my heart and soul into my music,” he tells the audience early on, but that’s something that feels natural when you see him perform. When J-hope embarks on a rendition of a slow-burning ‘Safety Zone’, he seems completely lost in the music, every move he makes entwined with the music and the emotion and energy trapped within it. His set also brilliantly showcases his versatility – from rock star rapper who screams guttural sounds in “What If…” and “MORE,” slick dancer on “Dynamite” and dazzling performer with infectious spirit on “Outro: Ego” and ‘Hope World’.
In the little over an hour that J-hope lights up the stage, he speaks briefly to the audience, welcoming ARMYs and non-fans alike, and sharing his thoughts all the time (“What the fuck… I feel like I’m going to die,” he declares after an energetic ‘Hope World’.) Before saying goodbye, he takes a moment to talk in Korean about his reflections on his album and the honor of headlining Lollapalooza.
“For myself who managed to overcome this moment,” he begins at one point, referring to the insecurities he felt along the way, “I’m a little shy, but I want to say to myself that I’m really proud of you.” As the uplifting opening notes of the final track “Future” kick in and the rapper wows for the last time, it’s a feeling you can’t help but agree with. At Lollapalooza, J-hope is making history again, but more than that, he proves exactly what he’s capable of, with or without someone beside him: true greatness.
‘Cyfer Pt. 1’
‘POP (Piece of Peace)’
‘= (equal sign)’
‘Dynamite (tropical remix)’
‘Trivia: Just Dance’
‘Chicken Noodle Soup’