J-hope is no stranger to making history. It’s something he’s done multiple times as part of BTS – breaking YouTube records on more than one occasion, 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 is stepping into the spotlight firmly on his own to become the first South Korean artist to headline a main stage at a major festival in the US.
Topping the bill on 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 headline performance is the first live solo endeavour by a member of BTS since they embarked on the “second chapter” of the group in June; one that will put more focus on individual projects. If chapter two is a chance for the seven members to prove themselves as individual artists as well as part of the biggest group in the world, tonight J-hope more than rises to the challenge.
That he begins this next step by bursting out of a set made to look like a jack in the box feels symbolic – like he’s leaping out into new, unknown territory but doing so explosively and confidently, rather than timidly tiptoeing out into the wider world. Pyrotechnics fly up from the stage as he stands and surveys the massive crowd gathered in front of him for a moment, before he launches into the recent rock-rap single ‘MORE’ and sets about proving he belongs on such a huge platform, regardless of what he’s achieved with his main group so far.
Just as his debut solo album ‘Jack In The Box’ tells its creator’s story, so too does his set tonight. The first half deals largely with newer material and its darker, edgier stylings, but also weaves in older tracks that fit a narrative of ambition, greed and fame. ‘HANGSANG’ and its stardom-focused lyrics get an airing before ‘P.O.P. (Peace Of Piece)’ showcases the star’s desire to become an artist who can provide exactly what the title suggests.
As J-hope drills further through the performance, the story moves on also. The bright, lightly funky ‘= (Equal Sign)’ shares a message of love that sounds all the more beautiful with a crowd singing it in unison. After an incendiary ‘Arson’ – which opens with a single flame blazing on top of the jack in the box on stage – the rapper returns to the insides of the giant toy box, only to burst back out minutes later in a new, white outfit.
What follows are sunnier songs from his catalogue, kicking off with the tropical remix of BTS’ ‘Dynamite’ before moving on to ‘Daydream’, on which he accepts his dreams won’t last forever. Each is bolstered by the addition of a live band that makes the early part of the performance hit harder and heavier, and adds more vibrancy to the latter part.
Throughout, J-hope never forgets where he came from and calls back to his roots often. During ‘Base Line’, the screens that line the stage show images of landmarks and streets in Korea, including Sajik Park Observatory in his hometown of Gwangju. When he performs BTS’ ‘Cypher Pt. 1’, they show clips of him with his six bandmates. 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 makes sure to shout out DJ Webster and Young B, the writers of the original song sampled on the track.
No matter whether the rapper is in dark or light territory tonight, though, he puts his all into each song. “I pour my heart and soul into my music,” he tells the crowd early on but that’s something that feels like stating the obvious when you watch him perform. When J-hope embarks on a rendition of a slow-burning ‘Safety Zone’, he looks completely lost in the music, every move he makes entwined with the music and the emotion and energy held within it. His set, too, shows his versatility brilliantly – from rock star rapper gutturally screaming lines in ‘What If…’ and ‘MORE’, slick dancer on ‘Dynamite’ and dazzling performer with an infectious spirit on ‘Outro: Ego’ and ‘Hope World’.
In the just-over-an-hour that J-hope lights up the stage, he speaks briefly with the audience, welcoming ARMYs and non-fans alike and sharing his thoughts throughout (“What the fuck… I feel like I’m gonna die,” he declares after an energetic ‘Hope World’). Before he says goodbye, he takes a moment to talk in Korean, discussing his reflections on his album and the honour of headlining Lollapalooza.
“To myself who was able 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 tell myself I’m really proud of you.” As the uplifting opening notes of final track ‘Future’ kick in and the rapper wows for one last time, it’s a sentiment you can’t help but agree with. At Lollapalooza, J-hope makes history once again but more than that, he proves exactly what he’s capable of with or without anyone beside him – true greatness.
‘Cypher Pt. 1’
‘P.O.P. (Piece Of Peace)’
‘= (Equal Sign)’
‘Dynamite (Tropical Remix)’
‘Trivia: Just Dance’
‘Chicken Noodle Soup’