Joji, a Legendary Musical Anomaly – From YouTube Popularity to Worldwide Stardom

Today, the name Joji is known worldwide, but in 2011, the now 29-year-old singer-songwriter from Osaka, Japan, was just getting started in the world of entertainment.  Born George Kusunoki Miller, it’s his Filthy Frank persona that launched his fanbase—a character first featured on his DizastaMusic YouTube channel that intertwined comedic skits with intriguing yet bizarre content. Contributing immensely to his popularity, as well, was his creation of the viral dance, Harlem Shake, which inspired the Dj Baauer-produced track of the same name that topped the Billboard Hot 100 in 2013.

While he made his name on YouTube, Joji, was always candid about music being his first love, stating that while he enjoyed creating content for his over 11 million subscribers—spanning his three YouTube channels—one of his aims was to turn his success online into an opportunity to break into the music market. Two Billboard 200 charting studio albums later, the 88rising and 12Tone Music-signee is currently one of the most talked-about Asian acts internationally.

Joji walked away from his life as a Youtuber in 2015, following which he began to focus on music that reflects his true self as opposed to a personality he created. He made this clear in an interview with Billboard, stating “now I get to do stuff that I want to hear.” Emboldened by this newfound freedom, Joji released his first Ep titled In Tongues, in 2017. The project, characterized by lo-fi, R&B, and emo sounds, charted in the United States, Canada, Scotland, and New Zealand, and features six tracks; Will He, Pills, Demons, Window, Bitter F**k, and Worldstar Money (Interlude), with all but one written and produced by Joji.

With such a loyal and enormous fan base mixed with pure talent and eccentricity, Joji’s music career was destined for greatness. Riding on that wave of success, subsequent to his debut EP, Joji released his first album, Ballads 1, in 2018—a downtempo, trap, pop, and R&B-infused collection of songs that he characterized as a continuation of the “Joji roots” he displayed on his extended play.

Ballads 1 further confirmed the artiste’s musical genius, earning him the No. 3 spot on the Billboard 200 and gold certification in 2020. The project also received favorable reviews from music critics, with a 3 out of 5-star rating from Rolling Stone which notes the entry as a confirmation of Joji’s transition to mainstream pop music, as if it were to be drowned in melancholic and soul-stirring melodies.

He couples his talent with other Asian acts as well. Work done with 88rising labelmates Rich Brian and Higher Brothers on songs such as Midsummer Madness and Introvert serve as a few worthy mentions among the list of collaborations he has been involved in.

In 2020, his lo-fi pop style was proven to have evolved even more confidently through the release of his sophomore album, Nectar. Like Ballads 1, Nectar was certified gold, thanks to the top-tier quality of the 18-track production, in which Joji also played an instrumental role.

The album saw Joji experimenting with neo-soul, synth-pop, alternative R&B, trap, and his general lo-fi and trip-hop sounds, resulting in a rich mix of genres. Nectar features collaborations with producers and artistes such as Diplo and Lil Yachty, and charted in over 15 countries, peaking at No. 3 on the U.S. Billboard 200.

With Nectar being Joji’s last full body of work, anticipation is high for his third studio album, and while his fans await any potential announcements, Joji has continued to release music. His latest; Glimpse of Us was released on June 9, 2022, and is a sentimental reflection on a past romance and the tight grip it has that poses a threat to the love of the present.