A call from an unknown international number lights up my phone.
On the other end of the line is George ‘Joji’ Miller, the mysterious man behind absurdist web series Filthy Frank TV—and most recently, the creator of one of the strangest albums to ever reach the top of the iTunes charts, Pink Season.
Before the call, Miller made me jump through hoops to prove my identity, worried that I was one of his “very creative” fans pulling an elaborate prank on him. Apparently these are the precautions you're forced to take when you’ve built a massive cult following (four million YouTube subscribers and counting) in the weirdest corners of the internet.
Having spent the afternoon watching Miller thrash around in a pink body suit on YouTube and hearing his Pink Guy alter-ego yell about small dicks and dog-eating festivals on Pink Season, I half expect him to spend the whole conversation screaming obscenities into the receiver.
I have no idea what I’m getting myself into.
“Hey, what’s up, dude?” a friendly, even-tempered voice greets me.
I begin the conversation with some questions about the world Miller has built around himself—hoping for some insight into his comedic style and the obsessive fans who pushed his oddball album into the ranks of industry heavyweights like The Weeknd on iTunes.
“I was doing music way before the Filthy Frank stuff,” Miller says of his creative beginnings. “I've always wanted to make normal music. I just started the YouTube channel to kind of bump my music. But then Filthy Frank and the Pink Guy stuff ended up getting way bigger than I thought so I had to kind of roll with it.”
I just love making music and doing nasty shit, so I combined the two.
Expecting to hear him answer with an origin story about stumbling into music as a way to deliver his comedy, this catches me off guard.
Diving into a SoundCloud account dedicated to his serious music after the call, Miller’s world comes into focus as my preconceptions begin to fade away.
On the opposite end of the spectrum as his brash internet personas Filthy Frank and Pink Guy, his serious music as “Joji” is, well... it's beautiful. With a captivating, understated quality, it’s hard to believe that this is even coming from the same person.
So, how did we get here? Why is a talented musician like Miller spending so much time and energy on a bizarre comedic alter-ego?
As with everything else about him, the answer unfolds in layers. Miller's knee-jerk response is a simple one: “I just love making music and doing nasty shit, so I combined the two.”
Then, things get a little more interesting.
“I thought the best way to get [my music] out there was through a character that's kind of zany and wacky,” he tells me.
“My main goal is to be able to make music seriously one day. I'm just going with what's most marketable at the moment.” Miller adds, “It was the only way that I could get music out and still keep an audience.”
He has a point. Mainstream music’s current obsession with internet culture is indisputable. As we enter 2017, the top two songs in the country are “Black Beatles” and “Bad and Boujee,” a pair of tracks propelled to the top of the charts by memes.
Four years later, the lines between internet culture and the music industry continue to blur.
“All these young producers are really into internet culture. At the end of the day, they're all kind of nerds who wear cool clothing,” Miller says. “A lot of DJs and producers who are under the age of 24 that are in my generation fuck with the internet pretty hard […] They get it. In about twenty years, it's going to be a whole different environment. Right now is the tipping point.”
You can't just force internet culture on people. Those kinds of things happen on their own.
As the industry scrambles to catch up and use internet culture to its advantage, Miller is able to leverage his natural comedic side to build a large audience that's happy to consume everything he does across all mediums.
“You can't just force internet culture on people," he says. "Those kinds of things just happen on their own. The biggest things that blew up musically through internet culture and memes and whatnot, they all happened naturally. Like, Ugly God, when he put out ‘I Beat My Meat,’ he wasn't [forcing] it. It just happened.”
For an entertainer with a diverse set of talents and aspirations (Childish Gambino comes to mind here as well), it might be just as feasible to launch a music career from a popular YouTube account as it is through traditional music industry channels. As strange as that would have sounded even a few years ago, it’s the reality in 2017.
Considering how the music industry might attempt to manufacture viral moments on its own, Miller notes, "It's going to be really hard for [them] to force internet culture. It's not going to work that well. Kids generally don't vibe with professional industries getting involved with internet culture. They tend to think it's kind of lame. So, they need it to be directly from the source. It can't be through the industry.”
What flows out of Miller most naturally is a wildly offensive brand of humor that takes aim at anyone and everyone. He’s not the kind of entertainer to pull punches out of fear of a negative reaction.
"That's all part of the fun, getting emails from disgusted parents and stuff,” he says. “That's part of why I do it.”
My goal is to bring everyone down to the dirt. Make fun of literally everyone, including myself.
Outside of shock value, Miller reveals that a subtle, more fulfilling agenda lies at the root of his most offensive material as well.
"The internet is so dark. And it sounds cliché, but the world's really dark, too,” he explains. “There's just a bunch of groups hating on each other. So, my goal is to bring everyone down to the dirt. Make fun of literally everyone, including myself.”
An equal opportunity offender, Miller pokes fun at every group and ethnicity—including his own.
“I'm half white, half asian,” he tells me. “In the album, I made a song called 'White Is Right,' and it's so blatantly making fun of white people. And I don't see enough of that, so I thought it would be nice to—you know—I just make fun of every race, every religion an equal amount. Just so people can understand that you can have that sense of humor and not be biased or racist. Just make fun of everyone, including yourself. Don't take yourself or anything too seriously.”
“I'm not trying to piss people off," Miller says. "I'm not trying to just take it as far as I can. I just kind of wanted to make waves in an unorthodox way, really. No one's done anything quite like this. I just wanted to be the first to make it to the top of the charts doing this. Or at least try to, with this kind of content.”
Of course, any time a white rapper takes a comedic approach to hip-hop (especially with racially charged lyrics), it's easy to see it as a white dude making fun of rap music—and potentially black culture in general.
As soon as I bring up the topic, his voice takes on a serious tone.
“I fuckin' love rap music,” Miller responds. “All kinds, all sorts. It's not my intention to make fun of rap music. Some songs are lighthearted parodies of today's rap culture, for sure. But I don't want people to make the mistake thinking that I'm hostile or aggressively making a fool out of rap culture. It's just a light parody."
Similar to his way of handling culture and race, Miller's parodies take the shape of multiple genres over the course of the 35-song project. In addition to hip-hop, the album also takes aim at angsty pop-punk songs, ukelele ballads, banjo-driven hick anthems, and more. But his personal tastes tend to lean in the direction rap.
“I love Lil Yachty, Thugger, all of them. I fuck with their music really hard,” he says. “I just like to parody everything. It's not just rap music. Even in my videos, I'm parodying different cultures. Everything. Just going hard at it. Am I making fun of rap music? Absolutely not. As a producer myself, I just like making things that sound good to the ear."
I'll keep dropping music, whether it's serious or garbage.
“Me and Josh were always homies,” he says of the natural collaboration. “I think we just randomly met one day and he was like, ‘Oh, let me do a song for you.’"
As he’s done several times throughout the conversation, Miller then steers things back to his ambitions as a serious musician: “[Josh and I] have been working on a few things, like seriously as well. Not in a comedic form.”
Filthy Frank and Pink Guy fans shouldn’t worry about a suddenly ultra-serious Miller, however. He tells me a “long overdue” tour is in the works and he's already begun working on the next Pink Guy album, with "so many songs ready to go." A full, serious project as Joji is on the way, as well.
“All it comes down to is I just enjoy making music,” he explains. Filthy Frank, Pink Guy, and Joji all satisfy different creative needs for an entertainer overflowing with ideas.
“No matter what the content is, if you can vibe to it, you vibe to it, you know? I just want to keep going in this direction,” Miller says. “I'll keep dropping music, whether it's serious or garbage. It really doesn't matter as long as people can vibe to it. I just want to have a good time and I want everyone else to have a good time.”