j-hope’s “Hope World”: songwriting as an architectural tool for the persona
Art can be a medium for self-expression and a powerful way to connect with others through sharing your feelings — it can even be a way for healing through that.
However, it is also true that art is a powerful tool to build universes and stories.
Although fiction is mostly related to literature and dramatic arts, it can be present in music too. Even when the topic of your lyrics is yourself.
After all, no one is entitled to the artist’s feelings, not even in their own art; and vulnerability, honesty, and emotion are not songwriting techniques — they can be the reason why you want to write a song, but they will not write the song for you.
Regardless of having any music background or songwriting training, being a songwriter is about using words, imagery, notes, chords, in varying degrees of consciousness.
Conscious usage of music and writing resources can also do wonders when used as a vehicle to build the persona of your dreams.
One remarkable case is the rapper, dancer, and songwriter Jung Hoseok, rather known as j-hope of BTS. His song “Hope World”, from his 2018 same-titled mixtape, is emblematic of how he uses music as part of his arsenal to be the person he has decided to be.
On several occasions, Jung Hoseok and his fellow BTS members have mentioned how, after choosing “j-hope” as his stage name, his mood and personality have changed: he became a brighter person.
He sums it up better than anyone else: “My name is my life”, says the first line of “Hope World”. And he goes on describing what this name represents to him and manifests through his presence and art: a “hopeful vibe / Rather than to be negative, a positive type” (Muish’s translation).
But hope, to j-hope, is not only about smiles and rainbows; it’s also about hard work and discipline: “To speak about myself, every day is a D-day / A life of appreciation for what’s given / A life created by anticipation of life” (Doolset’s translation).
His word choice makes it clear how hope, to him, is an exercise, in the sense of making a conscious choice to be gracious every day.
It also shows how aware j-hope is about one’s ability to build a life through the power of resolution (“a life created”).
This resolution manifests not only through his overall cheerful and positive attitude that is easily seen by anyone. j-hope is “a sunshine”, as fans say, but this sun does not shine in a one-dimensional way.
His bright temper manifests in the form of energy in his dance and stage presence; in the form of sweetness in the way he communicates with fans. It even manifests in his fashion and overall creative choices — so strongly that it birthed a whole brand (not in the formal sense) without him even marketing it into the audience: the “Hobicore”, as informally called by fans (“Hobi” is one of his nicknames, created by Korean fans but used by international fans too). The Hobicore inspires and influences fans in their fan art, outfits, jewelry making, and more.
So what is the musical Hobicore?
Music-wise, j-hope’s rapping persona is quite distinguishable. His inimitable vocal imposition sounds somewhere between raspy and excitement-shouting. His flow switches in a way and frequency that can only sound convincing if the rapper has the style and energy to back it up (otherwise it might just sound like bad improvisation), which he does. There are some other notable elements:
- usage of onomatopoeias (as pointed by Guillermina V);
- variety and movement in his rap delivery (probably influenced by his sense of rhythm from his street dancing background);
- action-oriented lyrics (“Let’s travel around the world”; “Just trust me and run”);
- repetition and epistrophes (“Say hello to my Hope World / This is my world”; “Yup, to fall passionate about something / Yup, to try exploring / Yup, to go meet the challenges”);
- soothing metaphors that can hold deeper and even darker meanings (“Everyone together just happily / We can be like the swan above the surface of water” — Muish explains that “swan”, in Korea, can be a metaphor for things that look easy or positive in the outside, hiding the “hard work and not-so-serene side”).
Even going for what could be seen as cliche and an approach that is mostly adopted for Public Relations rather than art (the 24/7 smiling personality), j-hope was able to build an unique brand for himself, and a persona that, instead of taking away for the genuineness of BTS’s hip hop-print, blends with it perfectly.
That was possible because Jung Hoseok is a great world-builder, a great visualizer and manifestator, but also great at using songwriting in his favor.
j-hope’s musical print is so effective that even the elements that are most significant of his joyful side work well when used in “sadder” songs too.
For example, in his verse in the pre-chorus of BTS’s “Young Forever”, his inflection of voice, which can also be heard in bouncier BTS songs such as his “Fire” opening verse, instead of sounding confidently happy, just sounds like he’s crying his heart out. It’s devastating, and it’s actually perfect.
After all, embodying hope is not necessarily about being “a romanticist” — which he says, in the lyrics of “Hope World”, that he isn’t.
j-hope is positive not because life is, but despite life not being it — or at least not all the time.
The song “Hope World” summarizes his story, his worldview, as well as how he uses music to help to manifest and actually build the reality he wants to live in.
Jung Hoseok is like an architect making music to make new things, to build new worlds. And if every building has a foundation, his is j-hope, the persona he created.
A persona, writes Murray Stein, “is a type of mask.”
“[Persona] hides parts of the self that you do noy want to be seen by others, and it also express who you feel you are at the present time. Personas are created by choosing a particular life style, by clothes, by hairstyle and adornments (…). The persona also includes behavior and plays itself out in roles that say who you are for and with others. But it does not say who you are when you are alone. And it is by no means all of you.”
How much does j-hope’s persona match what he really thinks and feels? We might never know. Until he decides to say it (that if he ever does), his music goes down as one of the most remarkable proofs of how much a conscious resolution of living a positive life can lead to real change, starting from the own musician’s life.
j-hope’s determination to work hard for his dreams and keep a positive attitude helped bring himself and his group to a place where they can do what they love the most, make a living with music, support their families, travel the world, be a source of pride for their country and lead shifts in the world’s biggest music markets.
Actually, it’s not only about changing your life on the outside. During the Bangtan Attic special, in 2019, j-hope shared that “for once, I can be my own hope too”.
His hopeful world-building also involves the audience, the fans. “I live up to my name but ain’t no price”, he raps in “Hope World”, and as Muish’s translation and comments inform, we’re all benefitting from his resolution.
‘I live up to my name’ in Korean is ‘I’m worth the price of my name.’ Although he’s worth the price of his name, he’s not going to charge you.
j-hope (BTS) — Hope World (English Translation + Ramblings), Muish
Ultimately, it is up to the artist to live up to their name, whatever that name is and represents. It is the artist’s choice to use music in whatever way they want. And j-hope has proven that conscious use of music and songwriting, aligned with hard work, discipline, and genuine care for yourself and for whoever your music will reach, can create reality that feels like magic.
While this safe, colorful, vivacious place that j-hope seems to live in does not always find resonance in the real world, it will always be accessible through the art of artists like him. Shout out to his Hope World.
Doolset. (2018, June 1). Hope World. https://doolsetbangtan.wordpress.com/2018/06/01/hope-world/
Muish. (2018, March 12). j-hope (BTS) — Hope World (English Translation + Ramblings). https://muish.wordpress.com/2018/03/12/j-hope-bts-hope-world-english-translation-ramblings/
Stein, Murray. (2019). Map of the Soul: Persona — Our Many Faces. Chiron Publications.
V, Guillermina. (2020). Language Structure and the Rapline’s Poetic Styles. Rhizome Connect. https://rhizomeconnect.com/expo-hall/rapline-poetic-styles/