It’s J-Hope’s universe and we are fellow travellers on an adventurous journey with him. We are drawn into this world because of its colour, fervour and vibrancy. But along the way, we discover gratitude, hope, healing and positivity. We are regaled with stories about hard-won success, taken through bitter lessons about jealousy and hatred, and comforted with a reassurance of courage triumphing over insecurity, anguish and despair.
Nicknamed “sunshine” by ARMY, J-Hope a.k.a Jung Hoseok, is one of BTS’s three rappers. Born in Gwangju, J-Hope spent his early days learning to dance with a street dance team named NEURON, before becoming one-seventh of K-pop titans, BTS.
Hope World was released in 2018, following his bandmates RM and SUGA’s mixtape releases and subsequent success. A breakdown of the album will lay bare its delightful secrets, and remind us of the validity of J-Hope’s ubiquitous “I’m your hope, you’re my hope, I’m J-Hope.”
Baseline, a groovy track with hints of funk and trap, is the “baseline” not just of J-hope’s life and story, but also of the album Hope World. The aggressive rap in the track paints a picture of a young dancer striving to excel in his craft for ten years. The track is perfect for freestyling, alludes to “movement”, and J-Hope’s overall musical and personal philosophy of hard work, gratitude and success. He also calls out his detractors in the track, rapping, “Why would you feed hatred? I don’t need your hate code.”
In Hangsang (featuring Supreme Boi), J-Hope talks about “taking an airplane with my friends”, and flexes hard when he mumble raps about “gucci”, “kaws toys” and “ripe things in this bitter industry”, all the while referring to “cool things with his cool friends”.
Musically and thematically speaking, Baseline and Hangsang are different from the other tracks in the album, but fit right into the larger narrative of J-Hope’s story. They are an account of his struggles, everything it took for him to reach the pinnacle of success he commands today – all because of effort and perseverance.
In Daydream, J-Hope dreams of a world where he shakes off his stage persona and explores the world. Hoseok’s father was a literature professor and this song is replete with literary references. It charms listeners with direct references to Douglas Adams’s A Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, and Lewis Caroll’s Alice in Wonderland, where he sings about the (rabbit) hole that “Alice fell into”.
In an interview with Time Magazine, J-Hope has said, “I remember being captivated by Jules Verne’s Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea when I read it as a kid. I think I took myself back to that place for new inspiration and brought back a part of it as the motive to start writing Hope World. It’s an introduction to people who are brand new to [me] with me as Captain Nemo showing you around just as the submarine in the book cruised around the world’s oceans.”
The imagery of water is also present in Hope World’s first track which begins with the sound of a splash. The title track brings to light is the J-Hope ARMY knows and loves— emanating brightness, light and positivity. He melodically raps about “a life of appreciation for what’s given”, thanks his parents and asks the listener to trust him on this exhilarating journey.
Piece of Piece (P.O.P) is J-Hope expressing his wishes to become a harbinger of peace in the world. Cinematic allusions are peppered throughout the track when he refers to myriad takes and “NGs” – an abbreviation for No Good, a term often used in Korea to signify bloopers that cannot be used in the final cut of a film. By comparing himself to a cake, J-hope coaxes out epicurean desires, evoking sensory pleasure in the listener’s mind when he touches upon the delight attached to sweet confectionery.
Airplane documents the life that both J-Hope and Jung Hoseok currently live. Part memoir, part confession, the song sheds light on the titanic pressure of being in the spotlight, but does so with ardour and insight. Airplane is also symptomatic of the life led by many successful artists, characterised by a constant struggle – balancing fame and the gruelling hours, the temporary prestige and the effort that goes into building an enduring legacy, all the while grappling with jealousy from external forces and detractors.
Blue Side, the outro, is the musical equivalent of a comforting hug at the end of the album. At 1 minute and 30 seconds, it is one of the shortest songs in the album but is the perfect piece to tie the themes into cohesive union.
Hope World is exceptionally well-structured. Through words, images and storytelling, it emblematizes the core message of BTS’s musical and existential philosophy: that music has no linguistic or cultural barriers. It is a tale of human triumph, without concealing any of the dark concerns of self-doubt. The win is all the sweeter because the listener knows how hard-won it is.
On March 1, the three year anniversary of Hope World, J-hope released a full version of his outro, Blue Side and an accompanying note as a surprise gift for his fans.
Translated from Korean, it reads :
“Back then, I remember that I just wanted to have you listen to my music and hastily and recklessly wrote it down, letting my body and creative spirit lead me.
Perhaps because of that, listening to the mixtape again makes me feel somewhat embarrassed and ashamed, and at the same time it feels like it was the courage and mindset of those times that allowed me to make this mixtape called Hope World.”
The gift could not have been more perfect for ARMY. J-hope uses the colour blue to paint a vivid picture of changing seasons, and the changing nature of human relationships and the loss of innocence that comes with experience: “With everything between us changed, I shout out alone,/Blue/I get colored by you, my eyes get welled up with blue tears, Blue/Spring, summer, fall, and winter, always in that same feeling, Blue/I want to go back to those days when I didn’t know anything, Blue.”
He uses contrasting themes deftly via imagery that poses “the sun” on a “cold” cloud, warmth in his blue heart, and a “blue moonlight” illuminating the night sky, while his “blue” self walks on a “rainbow bridge”. The blue sky is poetry, a symbol of the vastness and infinitude of J-hope’s and Hoseok’s growth and artistic maturity.