Alt-R&B singer/songwriter Joji has long nibbled at the fringes of the pop mainstream, scoring big streaming hits and reaching the lower stretches of the Billboard Hot 100 with singles like “Run,” “Sanctuary” and particularly “Slow Dancing in the Dark.” But this week, he fully breaks into pop’s center with the viral explosion of his new single, the stripped-down ballad “Glimpse of Us.”
“Glimpse” debuts at No. 10 on the Hot 100 this week — easily his highest peak on the chart to date — thanks in large part to the song taking off almost immediately on TikTok, where its heartfelt delivery and romantically conflicted lyrics have resulted in it being used as a soundtrack to countless relationship-themed videos. It’s far from the first big TikTok-boosted hit of the year, but the quickness and velocity of its growth is something that will invariably capture a ton of industry attention.
Why was this song able to connect so instantly? And what can the rest of the music world learn from it? Billboard staffers discuss these questions and more below.
1. We’ve seen plenty of hits take off on TikTok so far this year, but few if any of them have gotten as big as quickly as “Glimpse of Us” has. What about the song made it so ready for this kind of platform-crossing domination?
Lyndsey Havens: As a longtime Joji fan (and believer in a good old-fashioned hit based on musical merit alone), I’m a bit biased, but I genuinely believe this song was primed to perform well even without a TikTok boost. Sure, it would not have performed this well… but Joji has been churning out beautiful and effecting music for some time. “Glimpse of Us” is not only his first single since his acclaimed 2020 second album Nectar, but also his first since a particularly newsworthy performance at Coachella (he stopped mid-set due to health concerns, though ultimately finished the gig). When you take all of that into consideration and add the benefits of virality, “Glimpse of Us” was destined to take off.
Jason Lipshutz: I’ve spent the past week trying to answer this question, and I keep circling back to the song’s striking combination of lyrics and vocals. Joji has demonstrated his gentle touch as a performer before, but the wistful tone of “Glimpse of Us” – the rhetorical questions he asks his ex about her new partner, the quiet storm in wondering, “Does he laugh the way I did?” – suits his delivery to a tee. “Glimpse of Us” is solid, Joji’s voice is impressive, but the way Joji sings “Glimpse of Us” elevates the song into a special territory.
Kristin Robinson: I think this song’s chorus is incredibly accessible for so many people. I see users interpreting these lyrics in so many different ways: touching pet videos, ironic and funny boyfriend/girlfriend videos, crying videos, etc. Clearly there’s something about the combination of open ended lyrics and poignant melody that is connecting. Also, it’s not super common for ballads like this to become huge on the platform, leaving an open space for this song to fill.
Andrew Unterberger: The chorus cuts through, both with melodic directness, and with a lyrical perspective not often (ever?) heard before on a big pop song. It makes itself understood very easily and impactfully on one listen — like, say, another mega-viral lovelorn ballad from early last year.
Christine Werthman: A forbidden fruit pop song is universal catnip, whether an artist plays the single underdog or the coupled-up one, each yearning for what they cannot have. It’s such a relatable position of longing and regret that it is no surprise the Joji song took off — but what really helped it on TikTok is that the sentiment is perfectly summarized in a 15-second snippet, making it an ideal soundtrack for short clips from “her” sympathizers, those who need a good cry, and even sad pomeranians.
2. It’s not Joji’s first hit on the Hot 100, but it’s his first hit to reach the chart’s top half, let alone its top 10. Did you see this kind of success coming for him eventually, and would you have expected this to be the kind of song to reach these levels for him?
Lyndsey Havens: I have indeed been waiting for this kind of success for Joji so I’m not shocked — and even quite pleased — that this sparse of a ballad was the one to get him to the Hot 100’s upper echelon. To put it plainly, dude’s a romantic; One of the artist’s subtle strengths is delivering debilitatingly real lyrics (see: “Slow Dancing in the Dark” or “Like You Do”) and it seems the second in honed in on that alone and stripped the production way back, his fanbase — and likely a whole slew of new listeners — were quick to grasp on.
Jason Lipshutz: Yes to the first question, no to the second. Joji has a distinct voice and a rabid fanbase, and those two qualities signaled a mainstream breakthrough back when his 2020 album Nectar scored a No. 3 debut on the Billboard 200 albums chart and launched a few promising tracks onto the Hot 100. A top 10 Joji track shouldn’t surprise anyone paying attention to his career trajectory — although sorrowful piano ballads from any artist rarely cross that upper threshold, making “Glimpse of Us” a downright shocker as the song to get him there.
Kristin Robinson: I didn’t expect him to get this big this quickly, but after hearing his debut album and seeing the crowd that came to support him at Coachella, I realized Joji is definitely a force to be reckoned with and is capable of making good music. I would’ve anticipated a slow build to the top for this one because it’s a ballad, but the immediate success shows there’s something special about this song.
But also, I think this song sounds incredibly similar to the recent work of James Blake — especially in the melody and chord progression. I think Blake’s work has become popular enough so that people are accustomed and primed to this style, but Blake has never broken through like this. It’s disappointing to see Joji’s breakthrough is so similar to the work of someone else, but I guess that’s show business.
Andrew Unterberger: You never know for sure that anyone is gonna have a song like this until they actually have it, but it’s not particularly surprising that Joji would be an artist to score this kind of hit — he’s been on the precipice for about a half-decade now, and “Slow Dancing in the Dark” in particular has proven to be one of the most enduring streaming hits of recent years, never straying too far from the Spotify US Daily charts and racking up over 850 million plays on the platform. I might’ve expected something with a little more production to it to eventually be the song that cut through for Joji, since his sonics are usually as interesting as his songwriting, but the longer I live with “Glimpse,” the more undeniable it feels.
Christine Werthman: If I’d only known him as Pink Guy, probably not. But since he hung up that shtick years ago, he has proven himself as an artist who uses his melancholy voice to convey surprising moments of honesty (See: “You should be with him/ I can’t compete” from “Slow Dancing in the Dark” and “’Cause what you want is what I want/ Sincerity” from “Sanctuary”). “Glimpse of Us” drops the electronic backdrop we are used to hearing him against and replaces it with a muted piano, Joji’s layered vocal on the chorus and little else more. The fact that he does so much with such a simple song shows he has the foundation to support even bigger growth.
3. It’s pretty rare to have a ballad this sparse become a major chart hit in 2022. Do you see it continuing to grow from here — and possibly expand to radio and other formats — or will its crossover popularity only last as long as its TikTok virality does?
Lyndsey Havens: It’s quite possible a remix or radio edit could be on the way given the immediate popularity of the original. “Slow Dancing in the Dark,” for example, was treated to a sped-up version courtesy of Loud Luxury so it’s within the realm of possibility his team is considering another dance act to step in here. That said, I don’t think the song needs it. Sure, it’s summer and a heartaching ballad isn’t the most obvious pool party playlist addition — but perhaps that’s the point. At a time when there’s a lot of noise, the welcomed quiet of “Glimpse” might be what helps it cut through.
Jason Lipshutz: That’s the key question for “Glimpse of Us”: Will it cross over to radio with a force that recalls a song like Lewis Capaldi’s “Someone You Loved”? If so, the streaming hit could climb even higher on the Hot 100, but if not, Joji might have to settle for a No. 10 peak. That’s a hard jump for any artist without a track record at radio to land, so right now I’d bet against it, but Stranger Things have happened at radio lately, so to speak.
Kristin Robinson: Yes, I see it growing from here. I see it having the kind of radio trajectory as something like “When I Was Your Man” by Bruno Mars. I don’t think we can expect that radio will latch on for about a month though — he’s still a new name for radio, and stations tend to be pretty hesitant with names their audience might be hearing for the first time.
Andrew Unterberger: I think it’s a question of if the song can stay big enough on streaming for radio to have to give it at least an initial look — because once it does, I imagine it’ll catch pretty quickly, and for a long time to come. The song’s daily numbers have remained formidable so far in its second week, so I think signs are pretty good that this is gonna end up one of the defining songs of the summer for 2022.
Christine Werthman: This song is not just for TikTok. It contains complicated feelings in a simple, singable package that will resonate on radio and beyond. Anyone from Keith Urban to Billie Eilish to Usher could cover this song and it would work. Haters may try to dismiss this as a James Blake rip-off, but mark my words: This is not a fleeting “Glimpse.”
4. Though the song has taken off immediately, Joji has been relatively hands-off in terms of its promotion — basically just some announcement posts and a music video to accompany it. Is there anything artists and/or labels can take from its success that might be replicable, or is it mostly a spin of the TikTok wheel that happened to land in the right place?
Lyndsey Havens: I think a lot of this question helps me prove my point in the first answer: Joji’s hands-off promo strategy is quite on brand for the artist, so if anything, I think artists and labels can learn that there is in fact a way for virality and authenticity to co-exist in 2022 — and just maybe that authenticity is what fueled the virality. (I say this now… but in a few days or weeks I could very well be proven wrong with the unveiling of an elaborately hatched TikTok campaign and strategy. Who knows!)
Jason Lipshutz: Out-of-nowhere artists have taken off thanks to TikTok trends over the past few months, but Joji isn’t one of them — I wouldn’t discount the support that Joji has amassed over the past few years, both from 88rising fans and casual listeners. TikTok certainly helped “Glimpse of Us” spread during its first week of release, but if the song hadn’t gone viral whatsoever, Joji is a big-enough artist that the song would have landed on the Hot 100, and the excitement around his first single in two years outweighed his relative lack of promotion.
Kristin Robinson: I don’t think so. This song just shows that if you start with a great song, then it will make the rest of the work way easier. It’s interesting, however, to see him being so hands off on the promotion, considering he came from a content creator/YouTube background.
Andrew Unterberger: A lot of it is just unpredictable, but I think that’s a lesson in itself. So many artists have buckled in recent months under the weight the labels put on them to make their song a thing on TikTok — but really, at the end of the day, it’s mostly out of their control. Some artists you’ve just gotta trust to do their thing, and if the song is right, the moment will come to them. (It’s also worth noting that the music video is phenomenal: a super-visceral hybrid of “Smack My B–ch Up” and “We Found Love” that doesn’t seem like it should fit the song, but ultimately adds new layers of resonance to it, like all great videos should.)
Christine Werthman: You can’t manufacture virality? Maybe? Halsey recently aired their grievances with their label in a TikTok for allegedly withholding a single release until they created a viral moment on… TikTok. It was a clear reminder of the platform’s importance when it comes to fan communication and feedback, but perhaps what can be learned from Joji’s success is that there’s only so much promotion you can do, and it all comes back to the music.
5. Though “Glimpse of Us” is Joji’s first top 10 hit, it’s not the first time he’s played a big part in a major chart success — his comedic videos as YouTuber Filthy Frank helped turn Baauer’s eventually Hot 100-topping “Harlem Shake” into a viral sensation. Who’s another YouTuber/internet personality (or just a modern comedian) you could see making a big chart impact someday?
Lyndsey Havens: There’s really only one correct answer here: Pete Davidson. Put Travis Barker on drums and we have ourselves a rap-rock epic.
Jason Lipshutz: This is sort of a copout since he’s already had a big chart impact, but I’m waiting for “Bo Burnham smash single” to become a reality, after Inside earned him a gigantic listenership. He’ll have big albums, but why not standalone hits, too? After all, “Weird Al” Yankovic has visited the Hot 100’s top 10!
Kristin Robinson: It’s a hard question. I think people assume that being an influencer gives you an open door to a music career but I don’t believe that’s true. Sure, you might get a record deal, but music fans are so fantastic and sniffing out inauthenticity. You really can’t do music part time. As we’ve seen with Joji, who has really focused his efforts on music, it is definitely possible, but it’s not a guarantee. I’d say maybe Lexi Jayde because she shows the same level of dedication to music that Joji has, but it’s hard to predict the future.
Andrew Unterberger: Maybe not as a performing artist — though also, maybe as a performing artist — but I bet you we’ll see a Dril writing credit on a major pop hit someday.
Christine Werthman: I don’t know if Elsa Majimbo has musical ambitions, but if she translated her hilariously astute observations into song, I’d tune in.