It’s the day before J-Hope’s headlining appearance at Lollapalooza, and if he was nervous, it didn’t show. Relaxed in a casual Balenciaga ‘fit, he flashed smiles as he reflected on this historical moment. On Sunday, he became the first South Korean artist to headline a major U.S. music festival while also making his solo live debut.
Despite his chill demeanor, though, he has been working tirelessly for this night, and his expectations are high. “It’s actually a huge challenge for me as artist J-Hope. It’s a very important momentum to just to go forward,” he tells Rolling Stone backstage via a translator in a cordoned-off enclave in the artist area. “So I actually had to prepare really hard since it’s a very meaningful moment and an important part of my artistry. After this performance, maybe I’m going to feel a lot of things. I’m sure it’s going to 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 first solo album, Jack in the Box, and they’re the songs he says he’s most excited to perform for the first time. “They are also songs that have styles that I haven’t performed before,” he explains.”So I practiced a lot because they are kind of difficult songs to do live.”
The singles, he says, require a lot of energy, and he spent a lot of time in rehearsals on them. “I have to perform these songs solely dependent on my voice and vibe. Not the usual weapon that I have, which is dancing,” he adds. “So in that sense, I focused a lot on those two lead singles that are very meaningful to me.”
Going solo also meant rehearsals without his six other BTS bandmates. The experience has been “lonely,” he laughs. “I miss my members.” But that’s also presented good challenges — physically, energetically, and mentally — after having worked the past 10 years in a group setting. “[It’s] very challenging, but also very fun. So actually, I think it’s very positive to take on new challenges, [which] are actually going to help me as a person. So I’m actually enjoying the whole process. Every moment is very fun and very new and it makes me feel like I’ve gone back to the old days.”
With Jack in the Box, J-Hope is the first member of BTS to drop a solo album — and it’s truly solo, housing no features. “I filled the entire album with only my voice. So I created this album so that I can prove myself, you know? I wanted to show people that this is the music that I do. This is the vibe that I have. I wanted to let many other artists to hear my music; that I want to let the artists know that, ‘Oh, J-Hope does this kind of music,’” he says. “I’m looking forward to a collaboration, so maybe I can do a very cool and awesome collaboration with other artists. Nothing’s 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’ll probably showcase my ultimate weapon, which is dancing.”
It’s only been a few weeks since Jack in the Box arrived, but J-Hope already has a big fest performance under his belt and has had time to reflect on some lessons learned.
“The most important thing is that I realize that taking on this huge task, it was a huge challenge to do what I wanted to do right at this moment. Looking back, actually, I think I realized that if it wasn’t for now, I wouldn’t have been able to release this album,” he says. “So I think that itself marks a big milestone in my musical journey. So actually after this album, I kinda slowly start to set the direction where my music should be headed next. I learned that maybe I was a little bit arrogant, maybe I was a little lacking, and I was a little inexperienced. But I learned so much through this album. In that sense, I think this album is very, very meaningful to me.”