Joji: BALLADS 1

Image Courtesy of Roman Koval

Image Courtesy of Roman Koval

By Grace Lemon

Most people probably know George Miller from his Youtube comedy series Filthy Frank, which amassed over six million subscribers for its brutally offensive commentary and impersonations of cultural stereotypes.  However, the Japanese-Australian comedian has since made a complete transition into the world of lo-fi R&B and officially launched his music career under the name Joji in late 2017.  In an interview with Billboard in December of last year, Miller explained his excitement over his new focus, saying, “Now I get to do stuff that I want to hear.” Represented by 88Rising, a record label that primarily focuses on the representation of Asian artists in pop-culture, he has released an EP titled In Tongues and several singles leading up to his debut album, BALLADS 1, which dropped Oct. 26.

In BALLADS 1, Joji embarks on a musical journey to capture the realities of love over the span of 12 tracks. It is an ode to relationships and all that they represent that tackles the themes of vulnerability, unrequited love, dishonesty and change.  Each track epitomizes a unique and unapologetically raw emotion as it delves into the dark depths of romance and lust.

While each track on the album is its own completely immersive experience, three highlights are “SLOW DANCING IN THE DARK,” “WANTED U” and “I’LL SEE YOU IN 40.”   In his music videos for “SLOW DANCING IN THE DARK” and “WANTED U,” Joji showcases the expertise he developed during his prior YouTube experience, which clearly gave him an understanding of the importance of visuals as well as sound. These audio-visual combinations add a new layer of depth to the tracks.

Listening to “SLOW DANCING IN THE DARK” feels like a descent into darkness brought on by loss, with powerful melodies layered over haunting instrumentals.  Paired with the eerie visuals of the music video, which include fluorescent lights surrounded by blackness and a puddle of Joji’s own blood contrasted against a stark white floor, the listener is sent into a trance-like state of numbness.  The lyrics are just as captivating as they are heartbreaking, with Joji lamenting over a failed relationship and begging for a second chance. Though the song depicts the story of a single relationship, Joji explained in his official commentary on the track that his lyrics are based on a series of emotions he has experienced throughout his life rather than a specific relationship.

Contrastingly, the “WANTED U” music video is a collection of grainy video clips put together in a seemingly meaningless order.  This stylistic choice intentionally creates a feeling of chaos and insanity, similar to the stress of the relationship Joji describes in the lyrics.  He is so caught up in this relationship that even he doesn’t know what is real anymore, as reflected through the lyric “I can’t tell if all my answers correlate at all,” and he is clearly in a state of emotional confusion.  The song also plays with an interesting combination of instruments and sounds, such as layering an electric-sounding guitar track under eerie lo-fi vocals. This combination further adds to the confused nature of the track, consistent with the conflicting nature of Joji’s feelings.

The start of the album’s closing track “I’LL SEE YOU IN 40” stands out musically from the rest of the album, which is more elaborately produced.  It opens with a calming ukulele melody, but quickly transitions into an intense, upbeat R&B-style track. The combination of the ukulele and the eerie repetition of the vocalization “please don’t come around” at the beginning of the song creates a feeling of melancholic nostalgia, emphasizing Joji’s difficulty with moving on from a relationship.  The entire song feels like a goodbye to the past, with Joji seeking to move forward and focus on himself.

BALLADS 1 and its accompanying videos prove that Joji is able to beautifully translate his emotions and experiences into a finely-crafted, artistic musical collection.  This album not only represents a successful start for Joji, but a successful escape of George Miller from the crass YouTube comedy that he was ultimately not passionate about. I look forward to the future of Joji, especially if he continues to experiment with unconventional sounds and authentic, heart-wrenching lyrics.  

MusicSteven Norwalk