It’s the day before J-Hope’s headlining performance at Lollapalooza, and if he was nervous it didn’t show. Relaxed in a relaxed Balenciaga fit, he beamed a smile as he reflected on the historic moment. On Sunday, he became the first South Korean artist to headline a major US music festival while also making his solo live debut.
Despite his cool demeanor, he worked tirelessly for the night and his expectations are high. “It’s actually a big challenge for me as an artist J-Hope. It’s a very important impulse to just move forward,” he says Rolling Stone Backstage via an interpreter in a locked enclave in the artists’ area. “So I had to prepare really hard because it’s a very meaningful moment and an important part of my artistry. After this performance, I might feel a lot of things. I’m sure it will help me as an artist to take the next step.”
The prep work included deep dives into perfecting his live delivery of the first two singles (“More” and “Arson”) from his debut solo album, jack-in-the-box, and it’s the songs he says he’s most looking forward to playing for the first time. “They’re also songs with styles I’ve never performed before,” he explains. “So I practiced a lot because it’s quite difficult to play songs live.”
The singles, he says, require a lot of energy and he put a lot of time into rehearsals. “I just have to perform these songs depending on my voice and vibe. Not the usual weapon I have, which is dancing,” he adds. “In that sense, I’ve been very focused on these two lead singles, which are very meaningful to me.”
Going solo also meant rehearsing without his six other BTS bandmates. The experience was “lonely,” he laughs. “I miss my members.” But that has also presented me with major challenges – physically, energetically and mentally – having worked in a group for the past 10 years. “[It’s] very challenging but also very fun. Actually, I find it very positive to take on new challenges, [which] will actually help me as a person. So I’m actually enjoying the whole process. Every moment is very funny and very new and I feel like I’ve gone back to the old days.”
With jack-in-the-box, J-Hope is the first member of BTS to release a solo album – and it’s truly solo with no features. “I filled the entire album with just my voice. So I made this album so I could prove myself, you know? I wanted to show people that this is the music I make. That’s the mood I’m in. I wanted many other artists to hear my music; that I want the artists to know, ‘Oh, J-Hope makes this kind of music,'” he says. “I’m looking forward to collaborating, so maybe I can do a very cool and awesome collaboration with other artists. Nothing is set yet, but it’s just my bold ambition. I’m open to any future plans like this. If I do a next collaboration, it will probably feature my ultimate weapon, which is dancing.”
It’s only been a few weeks jack-in-the-box arrived, but J-Hope has already had one big festival gig and had time to reflect on some lessons he’s learned.
“The most important thing is that I realize that taking on this huge task to do what I wanted to do right in that moment was a huge challenge. Looking back, I think I realized that if I hadn’t done it now, I wouldn’t have been able to release this album,” he says. “So I think this in itself represents a big milestone in my musical journey. After this album I’m actually slowly starting to define the direction in which I want my music to go next. I’ve learned that maybe I’m a little bit arrogant, maybe a little bit lacking and a little bit inexperienced. But I learned so much from this album. In that sense, I think this album is very, very meaningful to me.”