From his days on Harlem Shake to holding records on the Billboard, Joji has swept the world with his heartfelt lyrics and irresistible beats in just the past few years. Joji has now become an inspiration for young Asian-Americans around the globe. Born in Osaka, his Japanese background shines as a token of hope and pride for young AAPI youth. Underneath the company, 88rising, with fellow artists such as Niki, Rich Brian, and Stephanie Poetri, Joji has helped make a name for Asians in the mainstream music industry. His greatest feat came with his album, Ballads 1, when he became the first AAPI artist to claim the #1 title on Billboard’s R&B/Hip-Hop chart.
When analyzing his first “big hit”, Ballads 1, it can be seen that each track holds a unique story that Gen Z can relate to in its themes of coming-of-age experiences. His narratives range from personal journeys to romantic ones through songs such as “SLOW DANCING IN THE DARK” and “NO FUN”.
Surpassing 521,000,000 streams on Spotify, “SLOW DANCING IN THE DARK” is known by many as the song that brought Joji’s popularity, but many are unaware of the story that lies beneath the lo-fi bop. The song surrounds the metaphor of, as said in the title, slow dancing in the dark, in relation to a relationship that is falling into pieces. He describes how this falling is similar to dancing in the dark where your partner’s face can’t be seen. Using such charismatic concepts, he delivers the feeling of uncertainty and fear that comes with love when it starts to fade; a notion that any youth who’s been in a relationship can relate to all too well.
Similar to this loss of love, “NO FUN” depicts the loneliness that comes from the loss of friendship. The eighth track on Ballads 1 encompasses Joji’s experience with friends and peers leaving him one-by-one and the emotions that came throughout it. This again is a familiar episode that all teenagers have gone through at least once. While it is a natural part of life, losing someone you once cared about is just as painful each time. Juxtaposing this bittersweet idea is an upbeat and tropical tune— a twist that is what exactly makes fans so obsessed.
Since his debut album, Pink Season, Joji has grown immensely both in and outside of America. This can be seen through his most recent release, Nectar, which took the first place spot on domestic and international music charts within hours of its drop. Channeling stories of love, manipulation, and fame through seductive and mellow beats, he creates a deeper connection with listeners through raw but beautiful honesty. In a digital age where emotion has taken a more superficial turn, his songs have helped reignite sentiment and intimacy in today’s generation. Bringing comfort to millions of young adults struggling to find their own voice and path, especially in times of the pandemic, his music has warmed the hearts of many in these cold and uncertain times.
Joji’s rise in fame has not only helped amplify the voices of Gen Z but particularly the AAPI community. His becoming the first Asian-born artist to top the Billboard R&B/Hip-Hop charts was a monumental moment for young Asians and Asian artists. Diverse representation in media, art, and music has and will always be essential. Without it, symptoms such as internalized racism and insecurities are prone to arise. It’s only until you can’t see people who look like you in these fields that you truly become grateful for figures such as Joji who represent the Asian community proudly. As Joji and hundreds of other marginalized artists scream for love and recognition, it is up to us as the next generation of changemakers to give them exactly that.
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Angela Kwak is a rising junior at The Stony Brook School and is a first-generation Korean-American who grew up in Saudi Arabia. At school, she helps lead the Asian Student Union while being involved in many student councils, all while pursuing a passion for filmmaking. Her main interests are film, writing, and above all, amplifying the stories of today. Through Zenerations, she hopes to shed light on issues that are less recognized.