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Earlier in June, BTS shocked fans with a hiatus announcement during their annual dinner party, which forms part of their debut anniversary celebrations, BTS Festa. Luckily for everyone, they just meant that they will be focusing on their solo projects for a while. J-Hope, one of the rappers of the group, is starting off by running as one of the headliners for Chicago-based music festival Lollapalooza, and sharing his pre-release single, “More.” All over social media, it seemed like every celebrity was at J-Hope’s pre-listening party for his album, Jack in the Box. J-Hope and Hybe Corporation made sure there was plenty of hype for his second solo project.
Having hype is one thing, but the content is what is going to set J-Hope apart from his persona in BTS, which his first solo mixtape, Hope World, tapped into. During the Real BTS Dinner Party, the members discussed having lost direction due to the pressure of continuously putting out music, alluding to the few English family-friendly pop songs they released in recent years that contrasted with their previous discography. They expressed hopes that with their solo projects, they can feel revitalized and get a clearer idea of their own identity. J-Hope kicks things off by separating himself from his previous upbeat music and image with the release of “Arson,” a gritty hip-hop track with an apocalyptic MV.
The MV is based largely on J-Hope strolling nonchalantly through the visual chaos that surrounds him. Around him, cars, homes, and even people are bursting up in flames. The MV does not hold back on special effects–this is a Hybe production, after all–and J-Hope really does look like he’s walking through an expensive movie set. Whereas recent BTS MVs are a combination of their more bubbly aesthetics along with choreography shots, “Arson”‘s concept is definitely different, focusing more on the symbolism behind the visuals with a grittier vibe.
With “Arson,” J-Hope takes a step back from his identity with BTS as a dancer and K-pop star, and showcases someone who has been through a trying journey. In the beginning, J-Hope’s outfit is clean and his face is clear. However, in the second half, the set turns smokey, and he is covered in soot, symbolizing everything he has been through. At the end of the MV, we see that his face is burned, but he has a look of determination. The lack of distress shows that J-Hope is ready to continue running through the fire as he continues his career, regardless of the obstacles he will face.
In another prominent scene, the scene switches from the flaming sets to an animation of his charred-up heart beating to the tempo of the song. In keeping with the same metaphor, this further emphasizes that he is still going despite all the damage that he might have sustained. These visual messages suggest that as successful as he has been, it has not been an easy journey.
The act of burning carries a double meaning in “Arson.” In the lyrics, J-Hope discusses both the highs and lows of fame. In the beginning, J-Hope uses “burn” and “hot” to refer to his many musical accomplishments. However, towards the end of the song, J-Hope references his feelings of fear towards his fire burning out. “Burnout” is a common phrase to describe the feeling of emotional exhaustion, which puts a negative spin on the fire metaphor.
The combination of the two symbolic meanings of fire gives a clever twist to “Arson,” and sheds light on J-Hope’s vision as an artist. Despite his fears about his current success and what lies beyond it, he knows that he is in charge of his own destiny:
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
“Arson” has a great start with the MV and song. The MV jumps at you with a fiery set along with J-Hope’s cool demeanor as he walks toward the camera. The people running through the set, seemingly away from the fire, also add dynamism to the set. However, while the MV and song have a great concept, they did not deliver an equally epic conclusion. There was room to explore more symbolism with the burning items in the background, and more imagery to fully bring the concept to its potential.
Likewise, the song begins with a nice beat, and J-Hope’s deep voice pulls you into the song immediately. But just as the lyrics begin to touch on his fears regarding the future of his career, the song goes back to the chanting, and it ends suddenly. It feels like it is missing one more verse to move the single in a stronger direction and take it to completion. If J-Hope expanded more on his fears, it could have helped to round out the song. Although the song and its concept are good, it really does feel unfinished, leaving you wanting more.
Overall, however, J-Hope still gives us a clear taste of the direction he is going in with the album, as well as how he is developing his own sense of artistic identity. As a rapper, it makes sense that instead of giving us a catchy chorus, J-Hope is keeping to the hip-hop genre and offering more meaningful lyrics. If anything, taking his lyrics further can help J-Hope to fully come to his identity as a musician.