Joji redefines himself on ‘In Tongues’ tour at the Warfield

Anissa Nishioka/Staff

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After an hour and half of openers from media company 88rising and a performance by the Higher Brothers, a Chinese hip-hop group from Chengdu, a hunched figure with a beanie pulled over his eyes slouched out from the side of the stage. “What’s up, San Francisco?” he yelled in a gruff voice. The crowd went into an eruption of cheers. A shrill wail of “Marry me, Papa Franku!” shot up from the pit. An oversaturated shot of a crab wavered over the screen as Joji opened the show with “Will He” — the first track he released under the Joji moniker.

His formal name is George Miller, but growing up in Osaka, Japan, he went by the nickname “Joji.” Although his recent music has attracted significant attention in the months following its release, this isn’t Miller’s first time in the limelight.

Joji’s In Tongues isn’t even his first time in the music game. In January 2017, Miller released Pink Season, a 35-track mixtape made under the persona “Pink Guy” — one of the characters from his “The Filthy Frank Show” empire. From 2008 until about four months ago, Miller had been producing game-changing YouTube content. In 2013, he emerged under the guise of a gruff-speaking internet troll that went by the name of “Filthy Frank.” Through years of producing explicit, boundary-pushing content ranging from hair cake tutorials to social commentary on weeaboo culture, Miller had amassed more than 5.6 million subscribers to his YouTube channel, TVFilthyFrank.

After the release of his surprisingly well-received In Tongues, Miller went on tour with the Higher Brothers and Rich Brian (formerly known as Rich Chigga), beginning Wednesday at the Warfield in San Francisco. During “Will He,” Miller screamed “Unblock me, bitch!” during one of the pauses in his song — an exclamation that prompted a wave of supportive cheers from the audience.

During his set, Joji brought a “sad boy” vibe to the stage — most of his songs center around cheating and heartbreak. Though he would crack a few jokes in between songs, each rendition of every chorus found a melancholy Joji swaying across the stage. Nevertheless, Miller’s repetitious yelling to be unblocked kept the concert from becoming stale.

Through In Tongues and his cultivated persona as Joji, Miller seeks to redefine himself. Music had always been a passion for Miller that ran underneath all the meme side projects and personas. Yet it’s this passion that may disappoint fans of Filthy Frank when they see Miller in concert. There is no trolling or memeing on stage. There’s just a guy who’s made a few looping beats and some songs about how much it hurts to have your heart broken.

Instead of the lewd “prejudice equality” humor of the Filthy Frank show, Joji’s humor is a little darker, a little more introspective. After he performed “Window,” he yelled into the audience, “Who’s sad?” to which the audience responded with a sea of cheers and applause. Miller cocked an eyebrow, let out a little laugh and responded, “Wow, that’s a … a lot of sad people.”

His concert featured a few more antics — shoving the microphone down his pants to look like a boner, yelling at someone that their mom wasn’t real — yet the show was pretty tame for someone who rose to fame by dressing up in a spandex pink suit and cooking rats he found in alleyways.

In some ways, it was almost too tame. The sole factor that truly impressed was Miller’s ability to produce his own tracks. During the show, there was no live performance of his actual music — it was just Joji, walking on stage or squatting on a stool and singing a few of the lines from the song.

In the end, the online hype built around the artist through Vice interviews and Genius specials fizzled away in his live performance, but through his “sad boy” aura, Joji brings an authenticity to his work that has made this album, and its accompanying tour, a milestone in his career.

Annalise Kamegawa covers music. Contact her at [email protected].