The crowd roars as J-Hope, in his dark ragged clothes and wavy hair in a mullet cascading across his face, rises to the Lollapaloosa Theater in Chicago on July 31. With a focused gaze, he looks at a sea of light sticks and pre-emptive faces waiting for him with cheers. All present are here to witness the history, military or otherwise, as J-Hope became the first Korean artist to headline a major American music festival. After a dramatic intro track, he moves on to “More”, singing the lyrics intensely, as if in the studio for the first time.
Just seconds before his grand entrance, red letters flashed on a screen behind the podium that read: “Hope gave people the will to continue living amid pain and conflict.” The message sums up what J-Hope and his band BTS mean to many people. For an hour, time seemed to freeze and a rush of pure adrenaline filled the air.
On Saturday, the day before his music festival debut, I sat next to J-Hope on a sofa in his trailer. The star greeted me with a warm hug, a sweet smile, and a bright, radiant aura. Talking to him felt like you were talking to a friend or neighbor; I forgot, for a moment, that he’s one of the biggest entertainers in the world, selling the most tickets in Lollapalooza’s decades-old history. With the help of a translator, he confidently discussed his first album jack in the boxwhich was released in July.
“I think it is very important to play the music that I want to play now. I feel like I should have done this at some point in my life as an artist,” he said. “Now that I think about it, it was a very brave choice. But since it is my choice, I do not regret anything regardless of the results, regardless of the consequences.”
He is aware of the reception of his work. “There is a lot of feedback on YouTube, and a lot of people were shocked and surprised. So those reactions were really fun. And as befits the album, jack in the boxI was kind of watching, as people weren’t expecting that from J-Hope.” In fact, his 2018 mixtape, world of hope, It has exactly the same opposite appearance. It’s a bright motivational project with many pop-up songs and aesthetics that fit the rapper’s natural charm. It was easy to carry on with this formula for his first full album, but J-Hope’s turn to the dark side creates a compelling anomaly that reflects his artistic journey. His vision is revived on stage the next day.
The show starts off fiercely, especially with songs like “Baseline”, “Cypher Pt.1” and “Hangsang”. During the latter, he would cycle between pronouncing Supreme Boy verses just to tap his foot to the beat while holding his hand in the air, letting the audience sing to him. There is a clear and unspoken connection between him and the music and the sea of people below. It’s fun to watch. He sings his heart out on tracks like “POP”, “Equal Sign” and “Blue Side” and then takes more time to rock with a slew of songs like “What If…” and “Arson”.
Just as the audience adjusts to the intense tone, J-Hope transitions to his brighter persona midway through the show, exchanging his dark-colored clothes for a fresh white set, blue gloves, and neon green sunglasses. I remember something he said during our conversation: “I am an artist who did not start creating music. I really approached music by first dancing.” You can tell he’s in his element when the choreography speeds up during fan favorites “Daydream” and “Ego”. He is disciplined, an artist by nature, and even when he is tired, he does not lose momentum. “Play that shit!” Scream in true rock star style.
I’m an artist who didn’t start creating music. I actually approached music by first dancing.
Performing sounds easy, but J-Hope admitted during our interview, “This is actually quite a challenge for me. As an artist, I think this is a necessary leap that I have to take in order to move forward.” He anticipated the moment just like the fans. “Of course I am nervous?” he said with a laugh. “I think that stress is also a fun factor.”
Everyone watching it is entertained, including fellow artists. J-Hope touched on his close relationship with the other BTS members. “I have learned so much from them. They are such a great inspiration, and I think a huge part of my journey going forward are my members.” “Actually, Jimin came all the way to Chicago to support me, so I get a lot of energy from him as well.” During the show, Jimin is waiting behind the scenes, laughing and beating J-Hope just as much as the crowd. There is a real bond between them, which gives J-Hope the confidence to step into this new career achievement.
He makes sure to honor his roots, performing his own version of BTS’ hit “Dynamite (Tropical Remix)”, as well as singles from BTS albums, such as “Outro: Ego.” In one moment, he made an impressive solo walk on the moon during “Trivia: Just Dance” which ignited audience acclaim. The star in it is undeniable.
On stage, he stated in English: “I put my heart and soul into my music. Even though we speak different languages, I hope you can hear my story.” Later on the show, American singer Becky G joined him for a surprise performance of the second-to-last song, “Chicken Noodle Soup,” which they had never played together before. Featuring Korean, English, and Spanish lyrics, the song is a beautiful blend of cultures that matches J-Hope’s overarching message of inclusivity.
The show ends with “Future,” and even though J-Hope speaks English for the majority of the show, he takes time to share his thoughts in his native Korean. He humbly shouts at the band and his dancers, and when he leaves, fans still enthusiastically chant his name. The word “more” is conveniently displayed on the various surrounding screens; Although many fans have waited outside since the night before, they will likely do so again. The group started at 8:50pm, which gave us an extra 10 minutes of fun, however the 18-song group went through. Compared to a rite of passage, J-Hope’s debut has solidified him as an artist who can hold his own, who has arguably delivered one of the best performances to honor Lollapalooza theater ever.