George Miller, also known as, Joji, Pink Guy and most notably, Filthy Frank, is a former YouTube star who initially gained his popularity from his own ridiculous antics uploaded on the platform. Now as a budding alternative R&B artist operating under the alias Joji, he seemingly counters that irreverent persona with the creation of his debut album, “BALLADS 1”. The 12-track album is a follow up to his six-track EP, “In Tongues,” which frankly feels more fulfilling than its double-length successor. Unfortunately, despite exhibiting mastery in beautiful lo-fi production and notable vocals, Joji doesn’t seem to step out of the shadows of more established artists such as Billie Eilish, King Krule and Rex Orange County, whose mastery of the genre, as well as its melancholy undertones, make Joji’s debut feel watered down and nonessential.
Parts of this album manage to feel enjoyable, with a beautiful track in “SLOW DANCING IN THE DARK,” and melodically pleasing songs like, “CAN’T GET OVER YOU” and “WANTED U.” However, this still is far from compensation for an album where the remainder of tracks are about as musically dense as a typical 30-second interlude. Without the inclusion of the three aforementioned tracks, one could question why Joji even bothered putting out this project.
What makes these tracks so admirable despite their monotony is that they show Joji’s artistic ambition. His failure to stand out as an individual voice, however, causes him to get sucked into the instrumental and on the remainder of the album makes the other nine songs feel like elevator music. Joji fails to expand his vocal range, or even utilize autotune to supplement his own monotonality, so the majority of his singing sounds as if it’s coming from someone who just woke up. The lyrical makeup of “BALLADS 1” also seems incredibly rushed and sparse, with broad themes never expanding past generalized unrequited love and obsessive infatuation that make Joji seem like a hopeless teenage romantic lamenting over his first break up. With this in mind, it feels as though there’s a lack of confidence from Joji; there’s no individuality felt within “BALLADS 1,” and every track feels replaceable by just about any other song stemming from the current lo-fi aesthetic trend.
“BALLADS 1,” with all of its diluted artistry, is an utter disappointment. “In Tongues” was a sample-size of what Joji could do as an established artist, and this had many fans in high anticipation after spending months looping Joji’s Soundcloud hits such as “i don’t wanna waste my time” or “rain on me” which established him as an up-and-comer with tons of potential. Despite the disappointment of “BALLADS 1,” Joji has exhibited enough raw potential to not be counted out just yet. Even his less serious works under his Pink Guy alias, despite being somewhat “joke songs,” allowed Joji to enter the scene as a polarizing, avant-garde artist who utilized a plethora of experimental, industrial sounds that distinguished him from the very beginning. This initial promise caused an even greater discrepancy with “BALLADS 1,” which isn’t just basic compared to Joji’s past works, but just outright generic compared to any alternative R&B album.
Due to its overly normal and crowd-pleasing features, this album finds itself in this odd state of feeling forcefully diluted in order to appease the masses, yet not being unique enough to attract anyone’s attention. Had Joji come onto the scene releasing “BALLADS 1,” then finding himself experimenting with his sound like he did early on, it would be much more acceptable. Rather, it seems Joji is compromising his sound without managing to gain any sort of traction, especially when compared to his far more successful competitors in the genre.
Verdict: “BALLADS 1” is a head-scratcher that leaves listeners confused as to who Joji is as an artist, and ends up being an oversimplified mess that is nonessential at best. Hopefully this album was just Joji’s attempt to please a large audience and not an indicator of his future creative direction.