J-hope is no stranger to making history. It’s something he’s done several times as part of BTS — breaking YouTube records on more than one occasion, being the first Korean act to reach No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100, and too many other accolades to list here. But tonight (July 31), the rapper, dancer and producer is putting himself in the spotlight to become the first South Korean artist to headline a major festival in the United States.
Headlining the Bud Light Seltzer stage on the final day of Lollapalooza 2022, J-hope’s monumental set feels like both a triumphant return and an introduction. His headlining performance is the first live solo attempt by a BTS member since they embarked on the group’s “second chapter” in June; one that will place more emphasis on individual projects. If the second chapter is a chance for the seven members to prove themselves as individual artists as well as being part of the biggest band in the world, tonight J-hope is more than up to the challenge.
That he’s starting this next step stepping out of an ensemble designed to look like a jack in the box seems symbolic – as if he’s jumping into new, unfamiliar territory, but doing so explosively and confidently, rather than launching himself timidly tiptoeing into the wider world. Pyrotechnics soar from the stage as he stands and surveys the massive crowd gathered before him for a moment, before he launches into the recent rock-rap single ‘MORE’ and sets out to prove he is. belongs to such a big platform, regardless of what he has achieved with his main group so far.
Just like his first solo album ‘Jack in the Box’ tells the story of its creator, just like his set tonight. The first half largely deals with newer material and its darker, bolder styles, but also weaves in older tracks that fit a tale of ambition, greed and fame. “HANGSANG” and its celebrity-focused lyrics play 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 delves deeper into the performance, so does the story. The bright and slightly funky ‘= (equals sign)’ shares a message of love that sounds all the more beautiful when a crowd sings it in unison. After an incendiary ‘arson’ – which opens on stage with a single flame blazing above the jack in the box on stage – the rapper returns inside the giant toy box, only to burst minutes later in a new white outfit. .
What follows are sunnier songs from his catalog, starting with BTS’ tropical remix of “Dynamite” before moving on to “Daydream,” on which he accepts his dreams won’t last forever. Each is enhanced by the addition of a live band which makes the first part of the performance harder and heavier, and adds more dynamism to the last part.
Throughout, J-hope never forgets where he came from and often recalls his roots. During “Base Line,” screens lining the stage show images of landmarks and streets in Korea, including the observatory at Sajik Park in his hometown of Gwangju. When he performs “Cypher Pt.” by BTS. 1′, they show clips of him with his six bandmates. The roots of his music aren’t forgotten either – when he plays ‘Chicken Noodle Soup’ with a special guest Becky G towards the end of the set, he makes sure to shout out DJ Webster and Young B, the writers of the original song sampled on the track.
It doesn’t matter if the rapper is in dark or light territory tonight, however, he pulls out all the stops in every song. “I put my heart and soul into my music,” he told the crowd early on, but it’s something that feels like a no-brainer when you watch him play. When J-hope launches into a rendition of a slow-burning “safe zone”, he looks completely lost in the music, every move he makes is tied to the music and the emotion and the the energy it contains. His set also showcases his versatility brilliantly – from rock star rapper screaming guttural lines in ‘What If…’ and ‘MORE’, skilled dancer on ‘Dynamite’ and dazzling performer with an infectious spirit on ‘Outro: Ego’ and ‘Hope World’.
In just over an hour as J-hope lights up the stage, he speaks briefly with the audience, welcoming ARMYs and non-fans alike and sharing his thoughts throughout (“What’s what the fuck… I feel like I’m going to die,” he says after an energetic “Hope World”). Before saying goodbye, he takes a moment to speak in Korean, discussing his thoughts on her album and the honor of being the headliner of Lollapalooza.
“To me who was able to get over 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 tell myself that I’m really proud of you.” As the uplifting opening notes of the latest track ‘Future’ kick in and the rapper wows one last time, it’s a sentiment you can only agree with. At Lollapalooza, J-hope once again makes history, but more than that, he proves exactly what he is capable of with or without anyone by his side – true greatness.
‘POP (piece of peace)’
‘= (equal sign)’
‘Dynamite (Tropical Remix)’
“World of Hope”
‘Curiosity: Just Dance’
‘Chicken Noodle Soup’