No one loves an artist the way Joji fans love him. On Monday night, Rod Laver Arena is a swarm of people in pink morph suits, their Nike best and excited chatter. It’s a school night, but still the kids are out. Ready for a night of high-energy debauchery and soul-sucking ballads.
Joji, or George Miller, started his career on Youtube, way back in 2008. Making videos under the pseudonym, Filthy Frank, Miller’s videos were confronting dark-comedy that took the internet by storm. During his time as Filthy Frank, he started releasing music, including an album called Pink Season. His musician alter-ego at the time, was a weird little guy in a pink morph-suit, aptly names Pink Guy. And then, suddenly, Miller retired from YouTube and his music. The edge lord king had fallen. Three-ish years later, he was back with the absolute gut-punch that is BALLADS 1. Joji was his new identity, and he had shed that strange exterior, for the squishy insides of a heart-broken twenty-something, spoken over the driving heartbeat of an R+B track.
The Pandemonium tour is an homage to the Duality of Miller. A set divided up into three sections, it lets him croon, lets him misbehave and lets him drive us wild. Joined by US Rapper SavageRealm as both his support and “mix-master”, as well as a four-piece band who look straight out of a Weezer cover band, Miller is about to blow the roof of this arena. The stage looks beautiful. Five or six boxes rise out of the ground, bordered by LED lights. Each one of them is a projection screen. So is the floor. So is the back wall. Everywhere is awash with light and swirling imagery. It’s breathtaking.
To open up the night, we are hit with some of Joji’s more up-tempo songs. I can barely hear Miller sing over the top of the beautiful choir of voices pouring out of General Admission and the stands. From Sanctuary through to Yeah Right and Daylight, the crowd knows every word. They’re putting on a show of their own, desperate to put all their energy to good use. It’s like we’re playing a game of energy-tennis with Joji, and each side is hitting a grand-slam (I don’t know tennis metaphors). Moving towards the crowd, Miller smiles down at GA. “You. I know a pretty boy when I see one.” And in we go to Pretty Boy. The soy-boy anthem, it’s a personal favourite of the night. It’s funny, it’s catchy it’s a little sexy – it’s a nod to Miller’s days as Frank. It also represents one of the many energy shifts of the night. He pulls out a merch gun and starts firing it into the crowd. At only 5’8, he is getting some serious air on those shirts. What a pro. The night is gearing up to be something high-energy, and unlike anything I’ve seen before.
Miller understands the unholy grip artists saying the name of the city they’re in on their audience. I think during every song, and every interlude, Miller screams a guttural scream of “Melbouuuurneeeeee!!!!” and everyone goes ballistic. Every time. The first time, and the fiftieth time, are both set to make Rod Laver Arena’s sunroof fly open. I peer down and spot a couple on facetime with a middle-aged man in high-vis, he looks blank-faced but on the verge of tears. There’s a young couple in front of me, she’s looking at him, and he’s glued to Joji. There is something about the masculine experience Joji captures, and you really see that at his live shows.
In the middle of his set, Joji and his merry band return, as the absolute insanity that is Yebi Labs. My jaw is on the floor. What the fuck is going on? Blow up balls, pool straws and confetti are thrown onto the crowd. The lights have turned towards us and are moving through the air, covering us in strobe, green beams of lights and yellow dots. Yebi Labs is like… Hardstyle?? Covers of rap tracks. I don’t know my electronic music well enough to describe it, but trust that it’s deeply unhinged, unexpected and an absolute vibe. Once I’m done being shocked, I really lean into it. The camera is swirling around GA, and looking at all those beaming grins, dinner-plate pupils and friends moving around like they’re at the best festival none of us have ever heard of. Yebi Labs close out with a ridiculously fun version of a song that makes me want to stick my head under water and scream; a Joji original, Glimpse of Us. And on that note, they’re finished. To prove how amped up we’re feeling, the second they leave the stage, people groan and scream and beg so loud I feel it all the way up in the stands through my feet.
As they saunter back onstage, suddenly the tech crew have got a game of Super Smash Bros on the back projection. People shove a controller into Joji’s hands, and the hands of his keyboardist. “I always whoop your ass, man. Better to play without me.” SavageRealm brags, casually. Joji mournfully and earnestly agrees. As the game starts, I’m rooting for him. Of course. I love an underdog. And in a shocking turn of events, from only two wins out of their many tours, Miller clinches it. We go crazy, and Miller leans into his Australian roots to reward us with the ultimate symbol of love; the shooey. He slurps down a full can of beer in his shoe, more than anyone asked for. When it’s done, he just stands there, real quiet. “Oh…. Oh man…. Give me a second….” And looks wavey on his podium.
Once the shooey trauma has left him, we get the Third Act of his tour. My personal favourite, this final third is packed to the brim with Joji’s saddest and most heartbroken ballads, his crème de le crème if you ask me. Opening with Die For You, I am absolutely sucked onto the stage. I can’t tear my eyes away from him. His voice is so good it sounds like the recording. On Die For You, his vocals are perfect. They’re buttery and soft, yet decidedly assured. In another life, he could’ve been a crooner, but for now, he’s paving out his own genre. Winding his way through this final act, he leaves after Gimme Love, which of course has everyone out of their seats. Even those of us not in GA are standing and moving and letting it all out.
I hate encores, but Miller is self-aware. As he comes back, voice dripping with sarcasm, he leans into the mic; “I think I forgot a few songs. My bad.” Slow Dancing in The Dark is a showstopper. Handing the mic over to us for the chorus, it’s stunning to see nearly 15,000 people scream those lyrics at the top of their lungs. The backing track goes quiet as we yell, and the arena air bounces around our voices, like a choir in a church. Goosebumps.
Glimpse of Us is such a gut-punch of a song. But Miller has decided that he’s been a little too earnest with that last tear-jerker, and first major hit, so he’s going to be a little silly to finish off. The lyrics normally go:
A Glimpse of us
Tonight, they go more like:
A Glimpse (Of WHAT Melbourne?!) Of uuuuuuussssssss
Even as he add-libs, the camera is floating through the crowd again. Men in bear hats, minion costumes and morph-suits stare up at the stage, tears brimming. Phones are mostly down as an audience is spellbound, and people embrace. Joji can’t disguise the power of his music. And we are all the better for it.