Buckle up y’all, the #jojiisoverparty is the only party I’ve been invited to in months, so you’d better believe I’m gonna make the most of it. If you weren’t cool enough to have heard about it though, don’t worry, it’s mostly bad vibes.
Nothing gets the folks who frequent Twitter dot com quite as riled up as a good old fashioned outrage party, and this past week, the guest of honour was one George “Joji” Miller. Fans unfamiliar with Miller’s remarkable career path found themselves shocked to learn about some of his former exploits as comedic YouTube personality “Filthy Frank”.
Miller exploded into mainstream consciousness as Joji in 2018, with the release of his debut album, “Ballads 1.” The project hit #1 on the Billboard Hip-Hop/R&B albums chart in early November of that year, also making Joji the first Asian-born artist to top that chart in history.
Miller began his musical journey as a teenager in Japan, but found success in New York, playing absurd characters with edgy humour for his YouTube channel. You have him to thank for that really epic time your whole middle school did the Harlem Shake challenge in 2013, but his most popular character was the host of the eponymous “Filthy Frank Show”.
Foul-mouthed and offensive, Filthy Frank attacked pretty much every demographic imaginable through long, creative rants, with curses and slurs abound. Fans ate it up, and it was this brand of humour that would set the tone for Miller’s first foray into professional music.
Miller released two comedic music projects, one in 2014 and one in 2017 as “Pink Guy,” another character from his YouTube channel, and enjoyed success among, y’know, people into that kind of thing. His album “Pink Season” contains the satirical song “White is Right,” with the lyrics “Hitler did nothing wrong,” and “Everybody seems equal in our savior's eyes, except for f****ts and except for n***ers”. Those lyrics are uncensored on the track, by the way.
The R&B star has since stated that he had always intended to pivot to “normal music.” In late 2017, Miller stopped working on his YouTube channel and related characters, instead opting to work with Asian and Asian-American label 88rising. This led to his success as Joji, who, he told Billboard, is not a character, but rather is “just me”.
Alright, so having read all that, you now know more about Miller/Joji/Frank than, apparently, all of the hosts of the #jojiisoverparty. (Yes, I’m going to keep using the party metaphor because I can’t go to one and I’m sad about it). For the sake of clarity, I should mention that the hashtag is almost entirely being used by fans who were aware of Miller’s past, making fun of those who were not.
But why? Apart from the fact that people on the internet love to make fun of people who don’t know things, as well as the fact that the hashtag was coined by a K-pop fan, a type of person that people on the internet also love to make fun of, who then also used an offensive slur for a black person (you seriously can’t make this stuff up), why are concerns over Miller’s creative past not valid?
The ‘hashtag [insert celebrity here] is over party’ trend is essentially a formula for releasing the public shaming dogs of war. Public shaming is not a new concept for humanity. In his opus “Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind,” historian Yuval Noah Harari explains that very likely one of the most important reasons humans have been so good at not dying is our ability to gossip.
Determining whether or not a person is worth our respect was the key to survival around 70 thousand years ago, and it remains that way today. If, 70 thousand years ago, my friend told me that a few miles away there was a guy that was unreal at killing lions, I would go there and make friends with him immediately. In the same way, if I heard that in my country there is a woman who has a plan to reduce housing prices or get rid of my student loans, for example, I would vote for her to run my country. The only difference between these two scenarios is that our methods of gossiping have become incredibly complex.
Twitter is the most powerful gossiping tool in history, and when it’s used properly, it can achieve incredible things. Public shaming was instrumental in the downfall of some very powerful and very dangerous people through the #MeToo movement. It’s why we rightly cringe at the beginning of Pulp Fiction when the Weinstein company logo flashes us, or why Roger Ailes is no longer sexually assaulting every female Fox News anchor.
But the culture around that public shaming, sometimes known as ‘cancel culture,’ is controversial. Some feel the power that the gossiping and shaming tools of the internet provide is too great for randoms to be throwing around. In 1988, before the advent of the internet as we know it, Yale Law School professor James Whitman described the process of public shaming as “intuitively barbaric.” In 1998, Columbia Journalism professor James Carey also warned that public shaming leads to “dangerous moments in the life of democracies […] when the power of the state, public opinion or both is inscribed on the body.”
So, the Jameses probably wouldn’t be the biggest fans of cancel culture. And in the contemporary context, we’ve seen the culture around internet shaming lend itself to some pretty objectively messed up stuff like ‘doxxing,’ or the release of personal information without consent, as well as ‘swatting,’ a practice which usually involves calling a SWAT team to the house of some kid that killed you too many times in COD, and which led to the 2017 death of an innocent man.
Honestly though, why do people not care about Joji’s past hobby of slinging slurs for the amusement of mid-2010s edgelords? It could be that the backlash cancel culture has created against its own frequent misuse and frankly scary amount of power has led the public to be wary of new proposed cancellations.
It’s also possible that the satire excuse is legitimate in the eyes of fans, many of whom had already accepted and moved on from Joji’s past. The legitimacy of an explanation does tend to matter, even if it doesn’t feel that way when staring down a throng of internet shamers. Joji’s label-mate, Indonesian-born rapper Rich Brian has been the subject of similar cancel campaigns in the past. Brian learned English from the internet in the early 2010s (probably right before he was forced to do the Harlem Shake in a sweaty middle school gym -- the rapper is 20 years old), and some of his old tweets were not great.
However, Brian previously explained when he stopped going by his old stage name Rich Chigga (also not great) that he never understood the meaning and history behind the slurs he proliferated, and had since learned from his childhood mistakes. Fans seemed to accept this explanation, and nothing came of the backlash.
In any event, whether or not you agree with the criticisms nibbling at Joji’s heels this week, it looks like he’s gonna make it through this one. At the time of writing, the artist has not addressed the issue publicly. And next time, if you feel like a celebrity should be held accountable for their actions, probably don’t be racist immediately after you bring it up. Seriously, this is so funny.