Arts and Entertainment

Inside the Artist: The Mythical, Fantastical Joji

Joji has undergone the unique transformation from YouTuber to musical artist, and has been able to do so because of his artistic genius.

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By Vivian Lu

In popular culture, creators seldom venture into other media; throughout their careers, musicians remain musicians, actors remain actors, and so on. Very rarely do we see an artist successfully create forms of art different from the field in which they began their career. It truly is an extraordinary feat to be able to effectively produce two forms of art, which is why so few have done so. While a small number of actors and musicians have made this transition, it has never been the case that a YouTuber has ventured (successfully) into alternative media. That is, with the exception of Joji.

On YouTube, Joji, born George Miller, was most commonly known as Filthy Frank. Filthy Frank was one of a number of Miller’s online personas, among others like Pink Guy and Chin-Chin. Filthy Frank was obscene, grotesque, and unrelentingly offensive. He ruthlessly and shamelessly perpetuated racial, religious, and ethnic stereotypes, incessantly used explicit language, and seemingly never ceased his efforts to make the viewer vomit. Yet despite the disgusting content of his videos, Filthy Frank has garnered an enormous fanbase with 6.3 million subscribers on YouTube.

If you were to look past the repulsiveness of his videos, Filthy Frank is actually part of something that many fans consider to be beautiful and artistic. Around Filthy Frank, Miller has created a number of other characters, all part of his fantastical world. Almost akin to Greek mythology, the world of Filthy Frank is a narrative with a number of different, nuanced characters. Each video is a moment in the amazingly detailed plot of the Filthy Frank saga, with an intricate series of storylines, conflicts, and figures. The ability to create such an incredible mythological world is inherently artistic, and so while many think of Joji’s YouTube career as a blemish on his artistic career, it can also be considered a testament to his artistry and creativity.

Miller began his musical career with the release of “Pink Season” (2017). The album, none of which was meant to be taken seriously, was released under the persona “Pink Guy,” one of the many characters in the world of Filthy Frank. “Pink Season” is hard to categorize into a specific genre, simply because of its unorthodoxy. The album includes songs like “Gays 4 Donald,” “Please Stop Touching My Willy,” and “Hentai,” a song that includes the lyrics, “Yes, I love hentai / It helps me / Control my rape tendencies.” The entire album was intended to be facetious, upholding Miller’s public persona at the time of being funny, offensive, and provocative. Although some people, both at the time of the release and today, are offended and repulsed by the lyrics, “Pink Season” was also beloved by many who were intrigued by the provocative styles.

Later that year came Miller’s first album, titled “In Tongues,” (2017) under the name Joji. In great contrast to Miller’s previous releases, “In Tongues” is more serious, emotional, and chill than the upbeat melodies and droll lyrics of “Pink Season.” “In Tongues” contains songs like “Will He” and “Demons,” both of which are much more personal than anything Joji had previously put out, containing lyrics such as, “Will he treat you like [expletive] just the way that I did? / 'Cause I don't blame ya / 'Cause I don't need to know / I just want to make sure you're okay.” Such statements are an intimate display of Joji’s feelings of insecurity and doubt, which are made all the more significant when juxtaposed with his previous work.

While “In Tongues” gained some recognition, without the facetious tone of “Pink Season” that fans of Miller were used to, it was not able to perform as well. Miller’s fanbase was most familiar with the completely ironic content that had been put out until that point, and the change in tone was difficult for some to adjust to. The sound of the album was also very different from that of “Pink Season,” with calm, muffled vocals throughout, driven by simple riffs and beats.

Just under a year after the release of “In Tongues,” Joji released his sophomore album, “BALLADS 1” (2018). The album cover was a grainy, blurry and overexposed closeup of Joji’s face, potentially a testament to, quite literally, the personal nature of the album. Following the moderate success of “In Tongues,” “BALLADS 1” debuted at number one on Billboard’s Top Hip-Hop/R&B Albums and number three on Billboard’s 200 list. The album contains “SLOW DANCING IN THE DARK,” Joji’s most popular song to date. It is beautiful and harmonic, while remaining gritty and interesting with a slow, simple riff over a drum beat that gradually intensifies. Despite the song’s simplicity, it gains emotion and energy, culminating in an explosion of the chorus—arguably the emotional peak of the record. The entire album, while lyrically remaining as equally personal and powerful as its predecessor, has a slightly lighter tone to it; in lieu of the mumbling that dominated “In Tongues,” Joji sings on “BALLADS 1,” often very powerfully and evocatively.

Since George Miller made his YouTube channel in 2013, he has accumulated a wide fanbase for a number of artistic accomplishments. On YouTube, he has garnered an enormous following for creating an amazing (and often repugnant) mythology of characters and stories. In the music world, he has risen to prominence, with an original combination of simultaneously calm and emotional songs that are favorites to many. It truly is an extraordinary feat to be able to be so immensely successful across two distinct media.

In the past few years, creators on YouTube have worked toward becoming respected artists on the platform. While the work of YouTubers like Casey Neistat and Freddie Wong conform to the more traditional definition of art with videos similar to short films or TV series, others on the platform have had a more difficult time branding themselves as artists, hindered by more juvenile creators and prank channels. With that, George Miller has become a model for YouTubers, an otherwise neglected and disrespected group, who hope to make the same transition. His unbelievable creativity, artistry, and execution of ideas have allowed him to demonstrate to the world what YouTubers are capable of, which makes him an incredibly unique and talented figure.