Review: Run, Joji

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I have not always liked George Miller, aka Joji. Growing up I was, of course, aware of Miller’s early fame as the crass, sketch-based YouTuber ‘Filthy Frank’. It was this act that first put him on the radar of many, and which gave birth to the first of Miller’s musical acts, Pink Guy (as whom he invented the Harlem Shake meme). Although I was admittedly never a fan of either of these personas, it was hard to be online and not have seen at least a few clips of him doing any number of ridiculous challenges and singing meme-y songs. The most frustrating thing throughout this period was the clear talent on display in Miller’s musical segments, particularly those of Pink Guy. While his fans praised him for being down to earth, funny, and still being able to put out great songs, critics called for the young musician to abandon the puerile space of YouTube and focus full-time on his sound.

Since doing just that in 2017 to rebrand full-time as Joji, the young artist has intermittently teased greatness in the past. Releases such as Slow Dancing in the Dark proved he has talent; the track’s soulful lyrics and excellent production garnering critical praise at its time of release. Certainly, BALLADS 1 was a giant leap forward from Joji’s meandering start as an artist, trading dreary lo-fi tracks for genuinely well-conceived pieces. Nevertheless, as a whole the album failed to totally shed the edgy lyricism and FL Studio production of his earlier work.

No such thing can be said of Run. The moment the vocals kick in, it is clear that the singer has had extensive vocal training in the two-year interim since his second album released. Desperately soulful, Joji maintains pitch perfect clarity as he belts out the opening verse, avoiding any hint of the mumbled incoherence that have plagued his voice in the past. Choruses are something that Joji has continually struggled with in previous pieces; Slow Dancing in the Dark aside, his composition has been muddy and at times incoherent. Gloriously, Run does not fall into this trap, each lyric not only hitting home but also acting as a platform for Joji to show off the power of his voice.

Impressively, Joji has done more to revitalise his sound and image than just rely on dramatic vocal improvements. Opening with the sombre notes of a guitar, the song is surprising from the start: the artist has long favoured electronic instrumentalisation in his tracks, so the shift to include more traditional elements is both surprising and instantly rewarding. Although he does fall back on an electronic drumbeat – some habits die hard, it seems – the presence of the guitar distances the song from previous singles and ensures the instrumentals are just as exciting as the stunning singing. Two years ago, if you had told me that Joji would seamlessly incorporate a stylish guitar solo into one of his songs and still maintain one of the catchiest and most coherent compositions of the year (so far), I simply would not have believed you. The music video echoes this; slick, interesting and well-conceived, it complements the sound perfectly while nodding towards the videos for both Sanctuary and Slow Dancing in the Dark. It acknowledges how far he has come without relying on nostalgia and promises a newfound and profoundly exiting era.

With Run, Joji moves into a new era as an artist, and displays a level of vocal sophistication that has the music world waiting with bated breath for his next release.

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