The viral “dirty pop” hitmaker dissolving facades to bare his truest self.
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“Girl, would it kill you just to show a little bit of attention?” George Miller — better known as Joji — moans over an mournful, repetitive chord pattern on the opening track of his debut album BALLADS 1. “[‘Attention’] starts with this continuous loop, and it gets to the point where it’s almost unbearable – but then it lets go at the end and opens up a little bit,” the Japanese-Australian singer says, highlighting a sound progression he uses on most of the record’s tracks. “And that’s kind of like what goes on inside a lot of people – it’s OK to be sad or whatever right now, but there’s always hope. There’s always a relief at the end, one way or another.”
Though Joji’s BALLADS 1 is varied, its 12 tracks are infused with a consistent sense of melancholia – created through ominous shaky reverbs and atmospheric synths, or hauntingly airy melodies. But, as he highlights, its dewy nonchalance somehow feels hopeful, a paradoxical blend of light and darkness that’s drawn direct comparison to his former career in off-centre, character-based comedy – a true but tenuous link, and really, one that needn’t be made at all. “I’ve learnt to be fully myself,” he says of leaving fictitious personas behind, and making serious music full-time. “It’s the closest to me so far – obviously it’s like an exaggerated version, which most musical artists would do.” As Joji, Miller is creating entirely for, and as, himself.
Like all the best love affairs, he was first drawn to music through the strictly forbidden: aged about 11, Miller befriended a classmate he’d been advised not to play with, whose “cool big brother” introduced him to American rap rock. Before long he was recreating his favourite beats to gain cool points at school, and mixing music with friends on Apple’s GarageBand.
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(RIGHT) Coat YANG LI
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Though his trap-infused “dirty pop” ballads are a far cry from the Limp Bizkit inspired mixtapes of his early teens, Joji has proudly retained the same DIY ethic. His six-track 2017 debut EP “In Tongues” was completely self-produced, and though BALLADS 1 features co-production and collaborations, the 26 year old resolutely maintained full creative control. “I was more anti-social when I was doing the first EP, so this time it was a chance to make music and make friends as well,” he explains. “For me it’s important that I’m overseeing, and at the end of the day the core is all me. Anything else that’s added is just like whipped cream, the cherry on top […] But ultimately, if I want to feel at peace I have to go back to just my room, to the songs that I make by myself from scratch.”
While songwriting’s become a personal sanctuary, Joji’s ultimate goal extends far beyond it – he wants to use his visibility to make a tangible difference in the world, from working with charities to aiding research to fight causes such as climate change. “I think if you’re like, ‘I get to make music and touch people’, it’s like oh – you left some MP3s? That’s great…” he laughs sarcastically. “It’s not so much about being big or anything for me. Eventually I feel like it’s a duty to get into more philanthropic things, funding and fighting for things.”
For now Joji’s preparing for a US tour this February, as well as working on his next project – “hammering things out, getting back into the groove”. He tells me he’d love to put out an acoustic album soon, or perhaps a record featuring SpaceX technology entrepreneur Elon Musk: “I’ll just throw him a beat like, ‘Hey, Elon – here’s an instrumental I made, just do what you want over it.” Niche? Yeah. But also, a bizarrely fitting feature for an artist who’s already proved he’s unafraid of controversy, and moreover, whose immersive, cinematic music leaves you feeling like you’re floating in slow motion through space.