George Kusunoki Miller has hidden behind many personas. Over the past few years, he has worked under many names: Filthy Frank, Pink Guy and now, Joji. But, in his sophomore album Nectar, Miller lets it be known that Joji isn't a persona: Joji is him.
Like many, I first came to know Miller through YouTube, via the Filthy Frank channel. In one of my late–night binges, I stumbled upon “100 Accurate Life Hacks," and immediately upon seeing him eat ravioli from his pocket, I dismissed him as yet another YouTube comedian performing oddly provocative stunts for the internet. A few months later, I saw one of Miller’s other personas, Pink Guy, in perhaps one of the most viral videos of the early 2010s, the Harlem Shake. Fast forward to 2018, when I became acquainted with Miller's most recent persona, Joji, through his new label, 88rising, and their single, "Midsummer Madness." In the blink of an eye, Miller had gone from meme to megastar.
While many creatives, like Donald Glover and Jamie Foxx, have similarly bounced between different roles, switching from comedian to singer to actor, Miller’s transition is much more complex. While the former two had broken into mainstream music after establishing themselves in show business, Miller had not only broken out from the rather niche community of YouTube, but he also broke down a barrier in the American music industry, with his debut album BALLADS 1 becoming the first album by an Asian artist to reach number 1 on Billboard’s Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums chart.
While Joji’s debut album boasted addictive tracks, such as "Slow Dancing in the Dark," the melancholic, slow–burning tracks that have now become the artist's signature were drowned out by the high–quality production. But now, with the recent release of Nectar, Joji has found a way to compliment his soulful crooning with emotional instrumentals, along with strong features from both underground and mainstream artists to spice up the album along the way.
While the cover of Ballads 1 is quite similar to Miller’s other personas, with a long–haired Miller leaning back into camera with a mischievous grin, the cover of Nectar is a stark contrast. In a dark, red room, a clean–cut Joji stands, staring blankly at the camera, a long shadow concealing the left side of his face. The portrait is a display of his true sound: a longing, sensual red with gloomy shadows.
Nectar is an 18–track album, sitting just under 55 minutes, with beautiful strings and piano to compliment Joji’s somber vocals. While the majority of the album consists of a dreamy, dark lofi sound, features from Diplo and Lil Yachty energize a shadowy tracklist. Meanwhile, Omar Apollo and BENEE compliment Joji’s crooning with a similar energy. Though romance and relationships seems to be the main focus of the album, with the emotional "Ew" interpreting heartache and acoustic "High Hopes" exploring expectancy, Joji also delves into fame and its effect on his life.
This album is remarkably consistent. Similar to Ballads 1, Nectar is melancholic, allowing Joji to create a sound for himself. The themes are relatable and the lyricism is easy–going, perfect for a midnight drive or a chill kick–back.
"MODUS" is a stand–out song. With an affecting piano opening, I was expecting a simple ballad track, but was pleasantly surprised with the monotonous opening rap. Its tempo goes from slow to fast to slow, fitting perfectly robotic lyrics about conforming to the music industry. “I wanna be a Chevy, not a Sentra” is perhaps the most interesting lyric in the track. At first, it comes off as a bit random, especially since they’re not the cars most singers would allude to in their music. But, upon further dissection, it becomes a clear commentary on identity. Joji is a Japanese–Australian active in the binary American music industry, which is very closed to experimentation and non–traditional faces. To be a Chevy is to be accepted and to be a Sentra is to be outcasted, but Joji wants to succeed in his own way. He did it on the internet, and he can do it in the music industry.
Nectar establishes Joji. It solidifies Miller as an artist, changing his identity from a YouTuber–turned–singer to a singer–songwriter, record producer, and musician. By finding tracks that compliment his unique vocal style, while employing the energies of both upbeat artists and similar dreary vocalists, Joji has found his sound.