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I’ve been excited to witness each of the solo endeavors of the members of BTS after the band’s announced hiatus and that time is here! We’re starting off strong with J-Hope’s Jack in the Box and it has been intriguing to listen to. I like to see the story in everything and the story that J-Hope is telling on this album is very interesting and insightful. When I listen to each track of the Jack in the Box album, I’m inclined to think that this is a hero’s journey about the character Hope that any storyteller can learn from and a story that makes me ask important questions. for the purposes of this analysis, I will be differentiating between the character Hope and the actual artist J-Hope.
The Intro is giving prologue, like a contextualization and introduction to the story and more importantly the character of Hope. J-Hope has decided to frame his album with the Greek mythological story of Pandora’s Box, with a focus on how Hope, the last creature to leave the box inspired Pandora to not give into despair. The Intro describes Hope as a “bright most beautiful creature” and this is important because J-Hope is usually seen as the sunshine of the group BTS and is known for his positive, bright, and jokey demeanor. However, maintaining that kind of personality and presence that the moniker implies has to be taxing. The Intro even says, “It trailed behind the miasma of darkness/Assuaging their ill-effects on humankind/Hope gave people the will to carry on living amidst the pain and strife.” It’s like Hope is a warrior against negativity going to battle with the world and even himself every day. Warriors are admired and their strength puts onlookers in awe, but it is hard at the end of the day to come home dragging a battered sword and shield behind you with your armor fractured and dented over your bones. The Intro could be saying that Hope is an amazing warrior in his own right and should be respected for that. However, to be a warrior means you face resistance, pain, and outright devastation, so we should remember that too. Being the hero is not easy, whether you’re a hero for others and especially when you’re the hero to yourself.
The Intro leads me to ask who or what J-Hope characterizes as Zeus and Pandora? He could have chosen any place to start in the myth, but he chose to mention Zeus first. One idea is that both characters refer to fate, if fate were a two-sided coin. Pandora may have opened the box, but it was Zeus who presented it to her. Both courses of action were needed in order for Hope’s destiny to be fulfilled. However, fate is something that people can also find trouble with because even in fulfilling one’s destiny, the hero will have to make lots of trade-offs that make them wonder if their purpose is really worth it or even why it was thrust upon them. But, there’s still something that beckons you to answer the call to adventure.
During the BTS 2022 Festa, J-Hope spoke about how the myth of Pandora’s Box helped him come up with the name J-Hope. I was excited to see if that story concept would play into future work and J-Hope did not disappoint! Pandora’s box is interesting because he compares the box to a Jack in the Box. Pandora’s box contains chaos and evil with this sliver of hope to combat the darkness and Hope is waiting to be let out, like a Jack in the Box. A Jack in the Box can’t open and release Jack until someone cranks the lever on the side. It makes me wonder if J-Hope has felt caged in some way and what he believes is the mechanism that cranked the lever and let him out. While following this line of thinking, there is another note to point out, which is that while in the box Hope is in close proximity to all the bad things and I wonder if that translates to showing how hope doesn’t always mean “ray of sunshine,” but that it also means “I’ve seen some things and I’m still here.” Hope is not always a stroll through meadows. Sometimes, it’s wiping the blood from your mouth and putting your fists back up, which shows how multifaceted Hope is and can explain J-Hope’s indulgence in the dark version of Hope. It kind of reminds me of how Jimin’s “Filter” seems sexy and fun on the surface, but when you dive in, the song is actually a warning about enslaving yourself to constantly changing for others.
“What’s my path?”
“What do I have to say?”
Just keep on doing my thang
A picture I drew
This dream was drawn by Zeus
Is it the only big picture?
The owner’s curiosity summoned me
J-Hope has infused his life story with that of the creature Hope in Pandora’s box. It seems like he’s talking to the listener and talking to himself, both explaining himself and wondering about himself at the same time. Maybe he’s also saying that his designation as hope feels bigger than him, like in his own mind this was what he wanted but it felt like a bigger force was directing his steps and his fate. So many variables came into play to make him into who he is and who he’s becoming.
So on the surface, I’m loving the recall of early 2000’s angst and punk rock. As far as the character goes, we’re watching Hope the character in their element, as if to say that music is their superpower. However, this whole song is an example of how hope does not always look like sunshine, but sometimes it looks like bloodied knuckles. Sometimes, hope comes in shades of grey and black instead of shades of yellow and blue. I can’t help but compare and contrast it to the bright upbeat Outro: Ego on the album Map of the Soul: 7. J-Hope is telling a similar story, but the tone is different, so instead of the character Hope dancing on a sunny beach we feel like the character Hope is walking away from a fiery explosion. It’s the same way that you can take a storyline for a movie, but depending on the way you direct it, it could either be a comedy or a horror. A great example of this is the Youtube channel Editing is Everything where they edited the trailer for the movie Tangled in several different ways, which told several different stories. Just like he calls for himself to keep going in Outro: Ego, he wants some more. As far as specifics go, I love the line “Drunk in the artistic painting, keep hypin’ up Dali.” As an art major, I believe the reference to Dali was because Dali was a surrealist who was constantly building his own reality and showing how he saw the world. Hope has built his own world with Hope World and he’s expanding on it with Jack in the Box as well as showing the audience how he sees the world we live in. He even says “Keep going nonstop, make my mixtape/ Get feedback but still get back,” which summarizes his journey with the creation of Hope World, what he learned from the process, and how he could modify and reshape his new music to align with his new experiences. Given the career that J-Hope has had, he knows that he can sell out a stadium and it only feels like a matter of time before he “Bag[s] all the trophies and Grammys too.”
I always love a song commenting on the social good of the world and this song definitely falls into that category. This song feels very much like a stream of consciousness late 90’s or early 2000’s rap joint. Also, in regards to the character Hope that was once trapped in Pandora’s box, this speaks to the character of Hope actually having to stand against the temptations of the world. Hope is watching the world and is likely getting enraged, which I’m pretty sure is one of those bad things that would have been locked up in the box. This song is a constant reminder to stop in one’s tracks when they’re on the road to a negative thought spiral. J-Hope is saying there is a fine line between observing the problems of the world and letting yourself get wrapped up in them, thereby even becoming part of the problem yourself. He’s also showing that stopping is a constant practice with the mini chorus within verses 1, 2, and 3.
Please stop, stop, stop, stop, stop, stop, stop
Don’t fight, fight, fight, fight, fight, fight, fightCitation here
Wait, stop, stop, stop, stop, stop, stop, stop
Calm down, down, down, down, down, down, down
Stop, stop, stop, stop, stop, stop, stop
Change our minds, minds, minds, minds, minds, minds, minds
On top of that, there are so many lines to pull from that relay the abundance of the ball of confusion that is the world. Each of these mini choruses all sounds like an emergency meditation to keep you from falling into the temptation of rage and negative thought spirals, so that you can maintain hope.
I’ve already heard people comparing this song to Black Eyed Peas “Where is the Love?” If we’re to evaluate this song chronologically in the album, it sounds like the beginning of…well, hope. Pandora’s Box gives the impression that the character Hope has been presented with a mantle, like the Mighty Thor and a legacy lives in the name even before he left the box. Then, MORE exposes Hope to the treacheries of the world and it’s where he really has to dig his heels in and be confident no matter what he has witnessed or felt. STOP (세상에 나쁜 사람은 없다) is where he really has to fight against temptations and = (Equal Sign) is where things are starting to look up. It feels like the sun is trying to stretch out from behind the clouds. Whereas the last song was filled with those emergency meditations, this song feels a little bit more like an exhale. J-Hope is using this song to focus on how to radiate empathetic energy out along with working against bad energy getting in. The line “You must know that the victims of prejudice/Are none other than ourselves/ (Please).” This line alone gets me so excited because many people don’t realize that oppression and hatred is just as bad for the oppressor as it is for the oppressed. The warped sense of thinking that one takes on from believing they are superior fractures the mind and our ability to relate to others going through the same human condition. J-Hope also reminds us that we must constantly look at ourselves to make sure we’re not falling into that thought pattern, as well.
Maybe it’s like homework for everyone
Awaken them that it is just a difference
Not something to discriminate againstCitation here
You can hear heavy breathing and it’s almost like you can hear the anxiety building. This makes me think about the part in the story where everything is going well and we just had a big victory, only to face another challenge that feels bigger than the last giving the effect that all is lost. This time, it seems like the fight is directed inwards against oneself and that is poignantly described in What If…
When I listen to this song, it sounds like J-Hope is battling himself, like he’s trying to determine what’s a persona and what’s really him. The man versus self conflict described in this song asks if J-Hope believes he can maintain his hope even if he were not the international superstar he is now. It is a challenging concept to digest for anyone because sometimes our mindset can heavily rely on circumstances. We may tell ourselves that we have an optimistic and hopeful philosophy, but the real test comes when everything goes wrong. J-Hope fought for his success alongside the other members of BTS and even debated leaving the group, so he knows what it means to go on an arduous odyssey and be on the upside of hope. No one wants to think about the possibility of everything that went right going all wrong, but J-Hope questions if he can still maintain a hopeful demeanor if everything were to go wrong. Another interesting thing to note is that he never resolves the question and leaves the listener digesting what it means to have hope in spite of whatever you go through or could go through. It’s a tall order and I think it’s actually healthy to step back and ask if you can do it or even to recognize that your hope is falling short.
This song feels like a melancholic meditation. It has a calm, mellow sound for a reflective stream of consciousness. J-Hope is wondering where is the place where he can feel safe, the place where he can take down his walls. It’s as if he’s detailing what it’s like to be surrounded by people and still be lonely. He deduces that he’s seen safety zones for others, whether in real life or video games, but he can’t seem to find his own. The line about the Giving Tree is especially interesting.
Someone must have been my Giving Tree
But where’s my stump to go sit and look back for a moment?
There are various interpretations around Shel Silverstein’s story The Giving Tree, including the possibility that the story shows how relationships can degrade or even how humanity’s relationship with our environment can be abusive. I wonder if J-Hope is wondering about a place where he felt safe, but he’s struggling to remember where it was. The tree has always been planted in the same place, but with all of the different events in life and all the different demands, it could be hard to even remember where to go find the tree. J-Hope also acknowledges that there are so many possibilities for safe zones and there is just as much doubt for those places to not be safe at all.
What’s my safe zone?
Here? Over there? or X?
Where is the ray of light for relief in the dark?
A peaceful home? Or is it a distant blue?
Support from people I trust?
(It’s cold when they turn their backs on me)
The people who led me?
(If I think about it, it’s fear I recall)
Those who share blood?
A sense of duty that cannot be confided
It feels like this song is a challenge for each listener to think about as well as the character of Hope from Pandora’s box. We shouldn’t ruminate, but we should consider where we feel safe or if we can build a place where we feel safe. From a storytelling perspective, it feels like this could be the moment where you have to restore your strength before the final battle, but you just have to figure out how.
This song sounds like we’re getting closer to a resolution of the story, but the funny thing is the resolution is not worrying about the answers.
You always fight with yourself
In the end, my heart is covered with bruises
As if I’m wearing something else, try on
J-Hope describes how fighting with yourself is inevitable and how you can’t avoid the emotional upheaval that comes with it. Sometimes, you might even feel like a stranger to yourself. However, the important thing to do is not to get stuck there. Let it come and let it pass. There is a balance between worrying about the future and being carefree in the moment. As for the character Hope in Pandora’s box, Hope will likely still have worries but must accept that he must coexist with those worries as he moves forward.
This is almost like a reprise for MORE like we’re revisiting the idea of hope being more about grit and bruised knuckles than meadows and rainbows. It’s like the listener is witnessing the character Hope storm the castle, which is the moment when the character goes off to accomplish their goal. This song actually makes me think of another Greek myth-Icarus. However, it makes me think of if Icarus flew close to the sun and he didn’t fall, but continued to fly, kind of like the human torch from Fantastic 5. It’s the idea that the antagonist was wrong about the fire destroying the character Hope and instead the fire gave him power. However, J-Hope asks himself if he should “put out the fire or burn even brighter.”
Setting the fire
Is something I did for myself
Who knew the world
Would go up in flames
I see my marks after things cooled down
Fire too big to put out, it was serious arson
The fire itself could be a metaphor for how intense his success is and the effect that has had on him, as well as the world around him. Like he’s explored in previous songs on the album, success is accompanied by sacrifice, doubt, and discomfort which he could be referencing in the following lyrics.
It’s too hot, no
I wake up from the pain
Contact my inner self
Enveloped in fear
Nobody can’t, nobody stop, shit
Putting out the fire
Only I can do that (Yeah)
A fireman of chaos
Oh, a dark path like soot awaits even when the fire is out
The huge hurdle ahead, what’s my move
To sidestep the game board that casts my stone
When J-Hope says he’ll “contact [his] inner self,” it’s as if he’s saying that when it gets hard, he will do more soul-searching like what was touched on in “What If,” “Safety Zone,” and “Future.” Then, he will remember that he’s in control of the steps of his destiny. On top of that, when he encounters hurdles he can dodge them because he’s searched himself enough to not be thrown off by other people throwing their conclusions of him in his face. As far as the character Hope from Pandora’s Box, it’s as if to say that the moniker may have been thrust upon him, but now that he’s out of the box he can determine his destiny, which for the time being is to balance the flames of hope.
Thank you so much for reading and let me know what you thought of the album! What songs really spoke to you?