Photo Credit: Joji via Instagram
To be a YouTuber-turned-musician is to have any and all of your musical output treated with suspicion. It’s understandable why; when most people hear the phrase ‘YouTuber-Turned-Musician’, they probably think of someone like Dream – the viral gaming star who received widespread mockery last year following the release of his sophomore song “Mask.” That song represented a crystallization of how so many feel about ‘YouTuber Music’; filled with clichéd, self-pitying lyrics, uninspired arrangements, and underwhelming vocal performances.
But for as many poor musicians as Youtube has produced, it’s also produced some of this generation’s most inventive and inspiring artists – from the electrifying, genre-defying Poppy to twee, acoustic singer-songwriter Dodie; whose music has proved to be a vital salve for her thousands of fans – who skew female and young. Ever since he began releasing music under his own name five years ago – as opposed to under the comedic “Pink Guy” moniker – the YouTube comedian Joji has been attempting to defy the cynicism that YouTube musicians are often met with.
Earlier this year, the 30-year-old seemed to fully and finally do just that when “Glimpse of Us” became his first Top 10 hit. It’s easy to see why the song appealed to so many – a timeless, tasteful, and sedate break-up ballad whose minimalist arrangements have the benefit of putting Joji’s crestfallen voice on center stage. Even if it doesn’t reinvent the wheel sonically – and even if it relies a little too heavily on clichéd metaphors and similes (“She’d turn the rain to a rainbow”) – it’s near-impossible not to be affected by the sheer intensity of Joji’s heartbreak; especially as he reaches towards a delicate, shaky falsetto.
“Glimpse of Us” opens up the YouTuber’s third album under his own name, but contrary to the expectations set by that song, Smithereens is not the sort of tasteful, fully developed, career-high LP many were expecting. Though technically a double album, Smithereens is effectively an EP – akin to a collection of demos. It clocks in at just 24 minutes and over half the tracks clock in at under 2-and-a-half minutes.
Smithereens has undoubtedly been arranged with care and expertise, and if there was any doubt beforehand as to whether Joji was a capable and multi-faceted artist, there shouldn’t be anymore. The LP is bursting with interesting ideas; from the heartfelt balladry of “Glimpse of Us” and the shoegaze-adjacent “Die For You” to the R&B-pop of “Feeling Like The End” and the electronic-infused “Dissolve.”
Smithereens is scattershot, however. It has a lot of fascinating ideas but few – if any – are meaningfully followed through on. Maybe this is because Joji still can’t commit to any one genre, or maybe it’s because he rushed the rest of the album in an attempt to capitalize on the success of “Glimpse of Us.” Whatever the case, one thing is for sure – while Smithereens may be a frustratingly unfulfilling album, it proves that with greater clarity of purpose, Joji is sure to eventually come through with a greatly satisfying project.