Joji 'Nectar' photo

Look up any article on lo-fi R&B star Joji and you’ll see a variation of the same opening — shock artist turned pop singer, offensive cartoonist transformed to alternative crooner, meme-maker turned heartbreaker, etc. While these recurrent titles have been beaten to death, they reflect a level of enthrallment and titillation that has persisted throughout Joji’s entire artistic career.

The root of this fascination is in part due to the polarity between George Miller’s career as Joji and his previous creative efforts on his former YouTube channel — TVFilthyFrank — and as parody musician Pink Guy. While Joji’s lyrical material wallows in the nether regions of the subconscious, reflecting themes of regret, heartache and vulnerability, his efforts as TVFilthyFrank feature an assortment of bright-colored, animated oddities spewing ignorance and committing debauchery. 

The reason people continuously bring up Miller’s past comedic work is that the material on TVFilthyFrank was not only vile, it was popular. TVFilthyFrank’s YouTube channel has racked up over 1 billion views and amassed over 7 million subscribers. The Spotify page for Miller’s TVFilthyFrank spin-off character, Pink Guy, continues to have streaming prominence with over 1 million monthly listeners despite only releasing one project, “Pink Season,” in 2017.

It’s understandable as to why Miller abandoned the TVFilthyFrank moniker in 2017 after being signed to the distribution label 88Rising, as the channel ended up attracting the audience of misogynists and racists Miller was attempting to parody. Search for interviews of Joji and you’ll find either no mention of TVFilthyFrank or contempt for his previous work. Changing careers is a difficult task in its own right — now imagine shifting your career trajectory when the world only knows you for your less than politically correct behavior.

Comparisons between Miller’s careers as Joji and TVFilthyFrank will persist for as long as Joji sticks in the spotlight. It’s an impossible conversation to avoid, but it’s needed to show Miller’s growth from an artist who mocks to an artist who cares. 

Joji’s material up to the newest release, “Nectar,” showcases flashes of brilliance. The viral hit “SLOW DANCING IN THE DARK” is a melancholic masterpiece, and Joji’s debut album “BALLADS 1” remains a streaming titan; the project has over 3.6 billion streams to date. However, “BALLADS 1” was never able to carry a consistent momentum. The second half of the project fizzles away much like the failed relationships that serve as the album’s subject matter.

The same can’t be said for Joji’s newest release, “Nectar.” “Nectar” is enriched with a deliciously full sound bursting at the seams with rich, intoxicating sad-boy gold. Featuring the best songwriting, vocal performance and production of Joji’s musical career, “Nectar” is an exquisite, multifaceted piece of undeniable emotive brilliance.

A major aspect in conveying this emotive resonance is the improvements in Joji’s voice. Simply put, it is remarkable. One of Joji’s previous bad habits was his tendency to lull in the background of the production rather than paint his strokes in the foreground — moving slowly about with his cadence and adding a downpour onto already muddled production in tracks like “ATTENTION” and “Will He.”

On “Nectar,” Joji doesn’t sound like the same singer of those previously released tracks. “Run” serves as a shining example of his vocal evolution. Joji matches raspy, bassy verses with a delicate falsetto in the chorus. Instead of wading through the reverb-infused guitar licks and beefy drums, Joji fights through these rich tones while still maintaining incredible vocal control. It’s a dynamic and effective performance that showcases a newfound vitality compared to previously inactive performances. 

Joji flaunts his improved falsetto in a multitude of tracks. The opener, “Ew,” features Joji’s falsetto at its most fragile. The gloomy ballad sounds like a James Bond title track, with captivating, legato violins occupying the space between Joji’s gauzy warbles. “Mr. Hollywood” presents an equally delightful performance. In its verses, the sad-boy star fluctuates between his bassy undercurrent and peaks with his upper register on the first beat of each measure. With so many shifting notes, it’s stunning to hear Joji keep such control when he reaches his breathier side.

The songwriting has received just as much of an upgrade as the vocals. Joji’s subject material is relatively the same. All the songs essentially serve as a love song with a twist. For example, “Pretty Boy (feat. Lil Yachty)” is a clever love song where nihilism is confused for self-love. The music video also reflects this, as Joji’s made-up pop band “Pretty Boys” admire their botox-ballooned faces as they speed down an empty highway. Lyrics like “living so loud you could never hear me cry” and “no more fear and no more lies/I tell myself to sleep at night” serve as poetic jabs to those who let the lifestyle of the Hollywood Hills consume their very being.

The major improvement in songwriting is due to Joji being less direct in his lyrical punches. Just like the added depth provided in the vocal performances, the lyrics delve into a vast display of sadness. “Like You Do” offers the best songwriting on the album, as Joji poses questions to a lost lover, asking them “when everything’s so pure, can it be aimless?” It’s a tear-wrenching track that, when accompanied by Joji’s cries for reunitement and wobbling synths, is arguably the best track among the aforementioned standouts.

“Nectar” is a wonder on the ears and marvelously curated for repeated listens, as I frequently have uncovered a new ear-worm or instrument I missed on the first listen. It’s a high achievement from the enthralling artist and should be recognized as one of the best projects of the year. With “Nectar,” Joji has officially marked his artistic transformation from a YouTuber making crude humor with friends to a chart-topping star.