Part of a new generation of Lao pop star, Jojo Miracle entertains on his fun debut album
Hailing from the Southeast Asian state of Laos, Jojo Miracle is part of a new wave of Lao pop music. Laos has a long history of traditional music forms, but Lao pop as we know it today took longer to form due to Laos’ history of communist rule, where after the victory of the Pathet Lao in overthrowing the Lao monarchy in 1975, most popular forms of music were banned and only traditional mor lam songs were allowed alongside patriotic anthems. Then, in the 1990s, presumably due to the collapse of the Soviet Union and its cessation of aid to Laos, the country began slowly to open up to the outside world, and as such, a Lao pop scene began to emerge. The market was initially and unsurprisingly dominated by Thai, Korean, and Japanese pop stars, but eventually a Lao scene began to flourish, both in Laos and neighbouring Thailand, where over 200,000 ethnic Lao reside. While many of these initial Lao pop stars got their start in Thailand, Jojo Miracle is part of a newer wave of Lao musicians whose career is homegrown in Vientiane. A fascinating article by Timothy Singratsomboune in the Lao diaspora social and current affairs online magazine Little Laos on the Prairie from 2020 about the current Lao pop scene identifies Miracle as one of a few young key players in this new thriving scene. Singratsomboune identifies social media as a key component of these artists’ success. Sidestepping the usual stumbling blocks of needing huge marketing budgets to break an artist into popular acclaim. Miracle and his cohort of Lao musicians have been able to break through to national and regional renown via the use of viral music videos, launched without major backing and without much money from their record labels, and I find that impressive and admirable.
“The younger generation in Laos are clearly enjoying a freedom that was not afforded to their elders, and they are making the most of it.”
Miracle’s debut album, Miracle, is itself pretty enjoyable and fun to listen to, even if it is somewhat unremarkable in its execution. The album is pleasant, with many fun songs seemingly taking most of its inspiration from Western pop and lighter shades of rock, with little, if any, Southeast Asian influence that an untrained ear like mine could detect. The opening song is a good example of this, as its pop-R&B inflections are the closest the album gets to an earworm. The second track demonstrates Miracle’s skill as a balladeer, and the song culminates in a very clean and neat guitar solo. The third track is the closest Miracle gets to indie music, with a fast-paced ballad that sounds akin to something Biffy Clyro might have done circa 2007, but with less guitars. One thing that is apparent throughout the album is that Miracle has a very good voice, and the third track in particular shows that off very well, as he belts the high notes out like nobody’s business, and it’s what makes the third song one of my favourites.
The propensity towards ballads and crooning occasionally grates; it is not my favourite genre of music, but it must be said he at least does so competently. The fourth song is a good example of this. It’s a rather boring song (sax solo aside) but no-one could accuse Miracle of lacking sincerity. Miracle shows his international ambitions by singing occasionally in English. There is one song that is named in English (the eighth track, Goodbye). There is an English chorus and the overtly modern pop feel of it seems designed to have as wide an appeal as possible, and though it is pedestrian, the slowly swaying rhythm of the song does have a certain charm to it. He does occasionally stray further away from the clearly comfortable territory of ballads and pop, namely in the seventh song, a rap-rock number which is a nice break from the softer tunes that surround it.
While this may not be an album I find to be fascinating or supremely enjoyable, it is nonetheless easy listening and emblematic of a wider musical movement in Laos, and due to that context, it find itself in an interesting cultural moment. The younger generation in Laos are clearly enjoying a freedom that was not afforded to their elders, and they are making the most of it. Miracle may not be a masterpiece, but equally it is mostly solid, and it does show some promise, especially as Miracle is a talented singer. He may need more time to hone his skills and talents into recording music that shows more of his personality and originality. Debut albums are rarely present the finished article after all. However, what remains on Miracle is a collection of mostly fun tunes that are worth dipping into.