Illustration by Macey Keung
Across all forms of media, Asian people have been largely unappreciated. They are often typecast into roles, and often Asian properties are whitewashed and stolen. Only now has a huge wave of Asian representation started to sweep through entertainment industries. In film, large movies such as Crazy Rich Asians have swept the box office.
In the music industry, the all Asian label 88rising has proven itself to be a powerhouse. Earlier this year 88rising released the album Head in the Clouds, featuring artists such as Rich Brian, and had both a festival and a successful tour. One of their biggest artists, Joji, recently released his first full length album, Ballads 1, and became the first Asian born artist to top the hip-hop/R&B charts.
George Miller started his career as a youtuber turned comedy rapper, but in 2017 retired those personas to focus on his budding music career under the name Joji. He released his first EP as Joji in October 2017, titled In Tongues. The EP was largely viewed by critics as boring and uninspired with some standouts, so when Joji started releasing his beautiful singles for Ballads 1, people were extremely hyped. Sadly the album doesn’t live up to the hype, with the singles being the main standouts.
Overall Ballads 1 blends together. Joji has a great voice, but he too often resorts to mumbling, making the lyrics hard to understand. On tracks like the opener “Attention” his already soft voice is overpowered by the beat. While the pianos and bass can sound nice, they become annoying when songs meant to focus on Joji’s lyrical abilities are taken over by the instrumentals. The main counterexample to this is the lead single for the album, “Slow Dancing in the Dark.” This song is beautiful, and even when Joji is mumbling, his voice can be understood. During the chorus he demonstrates his vocal ability, and it leaves listeners wishing the rest of the album was so strong.
Joji’s mumbling can sometimes contribute to his style, but the overreliance on it makes many of the songs blend together. Most of the tracks are comprised of slurred and sad lyrics over pianos and typical drum beats. This makes the album sound like one giant song that doesn’t really switch up at all. Joji has always resorted to this style, so it’s sad that he isn’t doing a lot of experimentation. It’s really clear that he has lots of room to grow when hearing his few upbeat songs. The mood on “Can’t Get Over You” is much more happy and it feels like a really nice new step for Joji, but then the rest of the album returns to overwhelmingly melancholy tracks.
Ballads 1 would have served much better as a shorter project. Every single standout track is towards the beginning of the album, so the end feels useless and boring. If Joji had cut some of the tracks and worked harder on variety in vocals and production, he could have created a really solid EP.
Joji went too quickly into creating a full length album without giving himself any time to grow or experiment. The EP is such a strong musical medium because it allows the artist to focus on a few tracks and experiment with new sounds without having to worry about meeting a quota. Joji has never fully exploited the benefits of this medium.
His strongest songs throughout his whole career have been singles that he was able to spend time making unique. When he released On In Tongues, he didn’t actually experiment at all and instead stuck with the sound that had worked on a couple songs in the past. All his experimentation fell into a very small box. The exact same is true for Ballads 1.
While Joji has the strong potential for greatness, he has room to grow. He needs to experiment more and try creating different sounds before tackling another full length album like Ballads 1.
In their current form, Joji’s songs blend together way too much, leading to boring albums. Once he starts to try new things and focus more sharply on smaller amounts of songs, he will definitely become an artist to watch out for. We just have to wait a year or two more.