If you have a comment, suggestion or just want to get in touch with me, email me at [email protected]
Joji’s Broken Heart Smuggled as Beautiful Sadness
Five years ago, George Kusunoki Miller decided to leave his Filthy Frank persona, a conflation between You Tube prankster and clown that became viral many times and allowed him to create a fan base that projected him to the mainstream the moment he decided to change gears and be Joji, the serious indie singer cum mainstream. His boyish lo-fi third generation immigrant aesthetics and his vibey middle-class self confidence are excellent vehicles for delivering current trap-flavored R&B. On his 2020 record, Nectar, Joji incorporated orchestral arrangements, cinematic strings, grander production, and brief genre departures into his musical palette. The project had a wider range and was, by far, more ambitious that his 2018 debut, Ballads 1, and largely succeeded with breakthrough singles like “Run” and “Sanctuary”, which integrated elements of psychedelic rock and electropop. However, Nectar suffered from overindulgence, forcing too many filler songs in between the album’s singles. The record showed potential and featured some of his best hits but failed to function as a cohesive project. With this album cycle, Joji’s first single “Glimpse of Us” went viral on TikTok, leading the single to debut in the top 10 of the US Billboard Hot 100. It’s a simple yet effective piano ballad, featuring some of his best vocals to date. As you can see, up to this point, this review is another example of the well informed, technical and emotionally detached way music critics have deployed their analytical skills for the post 1990s generations of that adopted Neoliberal self disciplining as a virtue, even a morality that allowed them to navigate the tricky waters of consumerist guilt and ascetics. I used to live in Hackney and it was around there where the hipsterism hijacked one of Britain’s most self assuring and also brutal, inventions; the notion of cool. In fact what hipsterism and later decolonialism as a coffeeshop fad brought with them was brutal; on one side, the most brutal entrepreneurial individualism that, as with Stockholm Syndrome, appropriated the mandate as independent thought and thanked capitalism for the freedoms of a gig economy; while, on the other, it was a frontal attack on freedom of expression by moralising the difference between social networks and mainstream media that became more than ever before, the definitive view on life styles. Something similar happened with queer lives who decided to assimilate patriarchal notions of happiness only to institutionalise internalised homophobia as if it was left in automatic pilot and the only way to throw the frustrations inherent to the reality of being born with a polarised sexual identity onto other gays. In this space, however, I would like to practice a different kind of cultural criticism where a focus on my situated gaze and on the material conditions that make it possible for me to speak are the same conditions that create an interior voice that prevents me from doing so. It is on that self-colonisation where I see the problem we share as members of a society. A paradox that manipulated with honesty and humour could provide me and my readers with a kit of survival tools for the Post-Pandemic New Normal. The question is how to talk about art and ourselves and about trying to make things better for us without falling into empty slogans. How not to feel that we are boring the other, if we decide to tell our experience avoiding claiming any right or any role model status. Let’s remember that in this culture the weight of morality and fear has put institutions on their knees with little oxygen for express themselves, let alone, think.
I found in this melancholic Joji a level self indulgence, emotional codependence, melodrama and heterosexual hegemonism that is too attractive not to devour. Its release coincided with the end of my summer romance with a guy I met during my three month stay in Crete, earlier this year. Let’s call him for anonymity sake though I might be given a bit too much as a clue, The King Thebes which suits him because of his calm type of leadership that, at first, I understood as gravitas but it was, actually, emotional unavailability. He compensated, however, with a gentlemanly attitude that allowed me to explore my feminine side letting him pay the dinner and take charge of our schedules which he needed to do because he is in the closet. To hide you need to take initiative. To be honest, I had never been treated in such a courteous way by a gay partner. So when the fairy tale was over, the reality of a life woven through lies, internalised and objective homophobia, I found my self listening to Joji’s Before the Day Ends with Gregorio Fuens who would become my Podcast’s partner in a project that aims at elevating the medium (blogging) to artistic status. The name of the podcast was given to me by renown British novelist and best friend Sally Gardner and is ‘Everyone is Queer Except You and Me’ to which you can subscribe at the top of this website’s homepage or subscribe on Spotify, Amazon Unlimited, Apple Podcast, etc. Going to back to the link between my emotional needs and Joji, I don’t think I was in love with the King of Thebes but I love him anyhow. But what is to love from someone in denial. I think I love the unfulfilled deferred promise that the caring form that his self denial conveyed. I also like the secrecy of our relationship. Not having to be introduced to the family, for example. So, Joji’s music, again hits a chord in my inner self at the right time.
The King of Thebes: Self Denial as Civic Virtue
My ex’s name was so convoluted that the word itself, and this is no joke, is a well known exercise for foreigners who want to give it a try at learning Greek. His name is long but our time together was short, the three months I stayed in the island and an additional month waiting like Penelope for Odysseus to visit her as promised. This goes against all my beliefs. After years of failed relationships and so much joy with my many one night stand lovers, I am a homosexual man that, at times, thinks that his private practices might be actually political interventions. In a different context, people that thought like that were called libertins but today I rather consider myself part of a tradition of radical homosexuals who reject the drive to be accepted by hegemonic society. This concept has not been forged by me but it engages with a tradition of gay thought that has transformed theory into activism. It started with European gay anarchists as a reaction against the pathologization thorugh psychoanalysis and even worse, medicine, of our “condition”. Those inspired debates soon jumped the Atlantic Ocean and landed in Dictatorial Argentina with many gay intelectuals exiled in Brazil where Argentine sociologist, poet and activist Nestor Perlongher forged a series of theorisations fuelled d by French Situationism which in the 1968 Paris student riots was a political form of resistance against the normalisation of life as “wake up-go to work-go to the pub with colleagues-back home”. The Situationists resistance failed, of course, against the emergence of a Leviathan system which publicised through the media sexual liberation but in fact, promoted a new, more sophisticated type of Victorian self discipline. This left us, at least in the Latinamerican and Continental European contexts, addicted not only to sex but also to the belief that there is some kind of truth lying in our sexual practices that through psychoanalysis we could unearth. The Situationists, by contrast, got drunk and started walking the city without purpose or direction and they continued doing until today. For them, the pleasure lies in the process instead of in its outcome. From a homosexual point of view, however, such “derive” as it is called in French, was very similar to gay cruising with the additional frisson of the dangers of doing so in a more patriarchal and economically polarised society like Sao Paulo’s or Buenos Aires’ where male prostitutes, probably bisexual, would sleep with men for the money to go back to their sweethearts and never acknowledge the trauma of not being able to pursue their desire. But more times than necessary those encounters that were usually between two different classes and races ended up in a clash that, as we know, in many occassions meant that the client was robbed and murdered by the prostitutes. This did not only happen because of the material needs of those darker coloured bisexual paupers but it could also be understood as a rite a purification. To detach themselves from the “dirt” they had to penetrate for money. This is our history. Thus, gay cruising could be understood as a Situationist urban intervention where one loses oneself or even better, refuses to acknowledge the oppresor (straight people of the patriarchal kind). By turning our back against them not to confront but to ignore them, a space for the marginal is created and gays can become role models not for consumerism as they are now but for freedom and real art. For those margins to exist, there must a border were productive spaces of life and joy such as dark rooms, saunas and alleys that a little later, straights and also homosexuals would morally condemn as places of transmision of HIV become places of sociability. Of course, those sames critics said nothing of the husbands that sustained a whole economy of transexual workers as the further visual point of acceptance of their bisexuality and how they used their economic power to ask for bareback intercourse in the midst of an epidemic. It was then when whether you were poor or rich, many times, defined surviving AIDS or dying in isolation and invisibility. Of course, gay sociability is more fragmentary and attached to the present than a notion of heterosexuality committed to the future through the control of the female uterus and kids. But, with the advent of globalisation, the media imposed one model of homosexual as the only acceptable one: it was, in principle, white, professional, hard working, promiscuous until the moment he wanted to settle down and become a pater familiae. In other words, the straight idea of happiness was imposed onto, at least, three generations of homosexuals that were not intelligent but numb because they just had not been allowed to mourn their dead. We were numbed by the guilt of not providing grandchildren to our disappointed parents and the psychic pain of surviving our friends. Some of us have lived a life having sex in fear (of HIV) until deciding, fuck it, let’s have fun and get it. Drugs were and are, of course, part of a combo that is often moralised but actually should be understood as a form of self medication which as any is good and bad depending on the context and the amounts but allowing the virus to penetrate us, for some of us, was a form of freedom.
The Negative as the Only Positive Way Forward
This means that, at least, in my particular case and I am not preaching here, the way to go is the “negative” one and soon in our Podcast I will be chatting with Thom Roach who is probably one of those intelectual lights that queer should become familiar with. Mostly after his astonishing and forward thinking case in favor of Grinder relationality avoiding the common place of the moralisation of gays for not settling down. This counters those gays that “positively” try to be accepted through deeds and labour by a majority that insists that we should take part in the reproductive aspects of society and the future, in general. Such debates could be traced to the European reaction to the Northeamerican medicalisation of homosexuality which, paradoxically, was very similar behind the Iron Curtain and in Cuba where hospitals to heal us where instituted. This created a chasm between Communist Parties’ agendas in Latinamerica and the Homosexual Movement. But radical homosexuality believe neither in becoming acceptable nor visible to the rest of society. The moralisation of dark rooms and alleys has more to do with the gentrification of cities that demanded that order and moral hygiene were the precondition for the property bubble to sustain itself. In the Global North (UK, US, etc), the replacement to God is the morgage. It is actually why far more people than we imagine, fall in love. They do not love their partner but the possibility of owning a property, being chilled about the future and having certain security which is not life but shit. But what will happen when sooner than we think the property bubble bursts.
What the Hell This Has to Do with Joji’s Last Album
At this point, you must ask yourselves what is the agenda behind such detailed landscape of gay trauma and ways of dissent and, most importantly, what the hell this has to do with Joji’s last album. The answer is simple and although it might be my unconscious aesthetic ambition in this blog, I am not intentionally allegorising the logic of cruising in how I tackle my topics as if cruising them and, all of a sudden, when another topic seems more exciting, forgetting about the previous one and follow the other. But I committed to say why I love Joji so much and at the same time, I feel that that affection is pus still suppurating from the wounds that the system he wants to profit from caused on people like me through insult, exclusion and sometimes, without even realising, through a culture of friendship with straight people where, most of the time, I ended up being used as their emotional bin or infantilised by them because of my liquid, and certainly independent, lifestyle.
The King of Thebes’ Hypothetical One Teardrop
The truth is that with Smithereens, Joji moved me again during a dissappointment more than a broken heart because the truth is that I was too experienced to believe that such a Hollywood acting could be anchored in the feelings my Summer love allowed himself to feel. Like Joji’s ex, my Cretan beauty became distant and cold to prove a point that was already clear. If he did not rush into my arms by jumping onto a very convenient and cheap direct Easy Jet flight Chania-Gatwick after a month without feeling this hairy chest it is not because he did not like me but because the costs of liking me were too high, that is telling his family that he needed two days for himself and having fun with me, in that context, would create to much guilt to make it enjoyable. We all know that on the edge of the closet, guilt works in very strange ways and he evaluated what could be easier to decapitate, and he went for the weaker link that is not me but him and probably, the rich girl he will marry and his children. This is what we do, we maim ourselves for the love of those who supposedly know best how to love ourselves. The price is paid in blood, literally.
So Joji’s melodramatic allure forces us to explain what melodrama is. It is not a dramatic genre like tragedy for elevated bodies nor minds but it is the way men imagine women see the world, pathetic like soap operas. Joji in his album, presents himself as a narcissistic victim that hurried into a new relationship without loving the new person enough not to humiliate her in front of millions by confessing that he is still in love with his previous one. From courtly love or the love of the knight for the ethereal to the use of the women (and his friend, the gay man) as a bin where to throw the vomit that comes after the hangover of the real relationship. The question is then, what is in this myth of the artist as a tortured soul and the woman as either nothing or as someone so dangerous that a gaze could turn men into stone. A cockroach or the Medusa, what they both have in common is their monstruous quality. In two weeks, in my podcast, I will chat with my dear friend Lewis Burton, factotum of the Inferno nights and household diva of, no more nor less than the Institute of Contemporary Art on the Pall Mall. From the coach to the canon, Lewis unlocked the riddle of the effeminate gay as either diva or freak and turned it upside down.
Post Scriptum: This Blog as a Hauntology and US as Wizards
During the week, our in house digital designer and artist Gregorio Funes will be adding doodles commenting on this post to this platform and Instagram @the_loveartnotpeople. But his work will not illustrate my text for that would be barren. Instead he will tackle these issues from an affect point of view. So his art is not about what he says but about which memory you will be haunted by.