K-Pop: ‘Jack In The Box’ Review

Promotional photo of J-Hope (Jung Hoseok) for his new album ‘Jack In The Box’. Copyright goes to Bight Music and J-Hope.

Hey! Hallie here!

J-Hope’s full ‘Jack In The Box’ album just dropped! We all knew this album was going to be amazing. Hoseok always puts his all into every solo project, and this one promised to demonstrate a completely different side to him that he hasn’t discussed before. This album gave me so much more than I expected. Not only does it go into his struggles with fame and keeping up his hopeful persona, but it also discusses societal issues and the ways we treat one another. Among these amazing messages and introspective lyrics are both hip-hop roots and rock elements that completely blew me away. ‘Jack In The Box’ might just be my favorite album of all time and it certainly showcases J-Hope at his best. Let’s go through each track in this album and look at the elements of each song that make it so deserving of its critical praise!

“Intro”:

Obviously this isn’t a song, but I do really want to talk about this Pandora’s Box theming. From the beginning of BTS, Hoseok’s talked about how influential this story is to him. One of the main reasons he chose the stage name J-Hope was because of the idea that, despite all of the bad things that came out of Pandora’s box, hope was left at the bottom of the box and made all of those other things bearable. The meaning of this story represented to him an opportunity to be the light to make the darkness others are experiencing bearable. But he’s a human being, and this album, while embracing his identity as the hope in the box, is a reminder that he can still be effected by all of the negative things that were also in the box. J-Hope has wanted to address Pandora’s Box in his work for a long time now, and I think waiting until he had the opportunity to make a more complicated work around the story really paid off.

“Pandora’s Box”:

This song’s purpose reflects some of the things I already discussed. The song begins with mentioning the importance the story has to the persona of J-Hope within BTS. Pandora’s box inspired him to be the hope for other people. It also encouraged him to keep up this constantly cheerful, hopeful persona and led him to create ‘Hope World’ as a kind of thesis for his entire existence. But then the lyrics begin to discuss his doubt. He describes wondering if there are other things he could say in his work and whether or not that would be a betrayal of his image. He also reminds the audience that, as a human, he’s effected by the negative things in the world just as much as the rest of us. He ends with the conviction that he feels his name and his purpose as J-Hope is necessary, but warns against a narrow view of what that means. This really powerful look at his own experiences is delivered at a pretty fast pace with a backing track that gets louder and more urgent as the song goes on. There’s a tension you can feel throughout the entire song that perfectly matches the struggles Hoseok has gone through with his persona.

“MORE”:

I have an entire post about this song alone, so I won’t get too deep into discussing this one. This song remains my favorite on the album for the punk rock sound of the chorus and the really addicting flow of each of the verses. I also really love how this song directly tackles the toxic relationship he has with his work and the way he constantly pushes himself to keep going regardless of exhaustion. It’s a message many people need to hear, not just to treat those with fame like regular people but also to avoid a work lifestyle that prioritizes perfectionism. After the recent break BTS announced, I think multiple members of the group have wanted to get something similar off their chest. In fact, “Disease”, a song Hoseok wrote for BTS in one of their most recent albums, already expressed some of these themes. This song goes into even more depth than “Disease” did though, and it really shines because of it.

“STOP”:

This song’s message is shocking in an extremely pleasant way. In the first verse J-Hope questions why the differences between people cause humans to fight so much, despite the fact that none of us are fundamentally different. The next verse goes even deeper, beginning with the judgements he makes about criminals before he rewinds, and starts to question the differences in situation, education, and environment that make some people more inclined to become criminals. Yeah. J-Hope made a song that addresses the way society fails underprivileged people and pushes them into criminal behavior. The last verse finishes it all off with the outlook that no one is fundamentally bad and that we can overcome the polluting parts of our society in order to find common ground with one another. This song has a fun beat but is delivered at a pretty casual pace, leaving room for the sounds of policemen shouting and handcuffs being clamped in the background. It makes the whole thing feel like a critique of the way law enforcement operate in multiple parts of the world. The way that J-Hope dove into this heavy conversation with such nuance and clarity completely floors me.

= (Equal Sign):

We get to hear him sing in this one! Piggy-backing off of the last track, this one is all about loving and understanding one another. The first verse talks about how no one is better than anyone else and asks the listener to remember that in todays world where change seems imminent. The second verse questions why some people are so narrow minded when the world is so large and so many people have already fought to prove their equality. He questions why anyone should be judged for who they are, where they come from, their age, or their gender. (J-Hope says LGBTQ+ rights!) He also points out that everyone suffers in a world where discrimination is normal. And then we get an English chorus sung beautifully by Hoseok that reminds us “It costs ya nothin’ to be kind”. This song is pretty short, but it packs a really whimsical sounding backing track with some important lyrics. Of all the songs on this album, this one feels the most like ‘Hope World’.

“Music Box: Reflection”:

This is an interlude track, but it’s such a GOOD interlude track. I’m a sucker for music boxes and the ominous piece this one plays fits so well with “What If…”, the following track. The intense beat in the background adds a whole other level to this interlude, as does the heavy breathing. It’s such a satisfying amount of pretty and foreboding.

“What If…”

This song is one of my favorites on the album and very easily gets stuck in my head. The lyrics for this one are the most direct at deconstructing Hoseok’s J-Hope persona. The first verse is literally him asking himself if he’s really capable of always being hopeful and optimistic like his persona always seems to be. He then asks himself if, under different circumstances, he would even be able to maintain the cheery persona. Verse two gets even more introspective, addressing how his fame and fortune puts him in a unique position of privilege where this persona is easier to put on. But then he goes so far as to ask himself whether or not he could do it if it put his fame and fortune at risk. The last chorus extends beyond what the first chorus does, going farther than asking himself if he could still do what he does without hope or vision, and also asking if he could be hopeful if he didn’t have a car, a house, or anything to rely on. The beat of this song manages to move from calming to stressful within very little time and the haunting piece that plays before every chorus feels purposefully unsettling. This song is the most openly I’ve seen an artist explore their doubts on a track and it’s impactful.

“Safety Zone”:

This one has a more R&B sound than the other tracks, which is a nice break after something as hard-hitting as “What If…”. This song is another one that tackles Hoseok’s career. In it he describes how he’s always been running to achieve the success he’s dreamed of. Especially with how the world, and the music industry, constantly changes, he feels as though he always needs to keep up with it. He also goes into how constantly working has felt like an obligation for him and while he’s appreciative of those around him, he doesn’t find rest in them because of the pressure he puts on himself to make them happy. In the chorus of the song he wonders where he can finally let all of that go and rest. Despite the restlessness expressed in the song, which is reflected by the fast flow of the rap, the chorus slows slightly and the backing track is calming, as if reflecting the safe zone itself. It’s a surprisingly comforting song despite how its focus is, relatably, about the stress of not finding time or a place to rest.

“Future”:

This song goes back to a message he covered briefly in “Pandora’s Box”. The lyrics, which are partially in English, are essentially Hoseok admitting that he also needs the hope and positivity he tries to provide for other people. He talks about how he came from humble beginnings and is grateful for the life he has now, but also notes that none of that means he doesn’t fight with himself or struggle with internal issues. At the end of the song he gets more into the title, confessing that the future scares him but telling himself, and us, that going with the flow, and having courage and hope, is the best way to move into the future. This song also has a more calming beat, and the singing in the chorus feels more upbeat than some of the other songs. I especially loved the childrens chorus that comes in at the end, really emphasizing a more hopeful outlook for the future.

“Arson”:

This song. You don’t really have to wonder why this is the other title track of the album. First off, let’s talk about the MV. This MV is pretty simple. Various set pieces are on fire here, including multiple cars and road signs. Hoseok walks through them in a white jumpsuit, but as the song gets more intense, the jumpsuit changes. The brown and black burns that cover the second jumpsuit he wears strike a clear message, which only gets clearer when Hoseok’s face becomes burned at the very end of the video before he falls down amongst the flames. And what’s the message all of this is trying to get across? The lyrics for this song dig even more into his fame and his career than the other songs on this album do. Verse one Hoseok talks about how he burned all of his hopes and ambitions up in order to get his success. Then verse two gets into how he, himself is burning along with all the other people (clearly BTS) he went to the top with. Verse three is probably the most interesting in terms of what this song is saying about his career. In verse three everything’s already burned. J-Hope notes that there isn’t much left and states that he wants to leave early, while there’s still applause, but the fire he lit is too large and too difficult to put out. In verse four he confesses that he feels a dark path is ahead regardless of what he chooses. Which all leads into the chorus, where he asks whether or not he should continue to burn brighter or put himself, and his career, out. This song sounds unhinged in the best way, mixing a siren-sounding beat to a jagged rap that inflicts the same amount of raw emotion as the burns on Hoseok’s face in the music video. This is the thesis of the album. The question of whether or not his persona, his fame, and his perfectionism have ruined him forever. And though I know J-Hope has no plans of quitting the music industry any time soon, it feels as though his relationship with it all has reached a bit of an impasse. Regardless of what conclusion he comes to, I hope that his time creating ‘Jack In The Box’ helped him explore himself and his reasons for creating in a way that was enlightening to him. And I wish for him, after all this promo is over, to find some sort of safe zone to peacefully rest in for a little while.

Don’t do anything fun until I get back!

Hallie

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