It’s fascinating to hear how Joji is acclimating to his new view from the top—signing autographs, touring the world, meeting new fans. But while the Osaka, Japan native just became the first Asia-born artist to earn a No. 1 on Billboard’s R&B and Hip-Hop Albums chart, he’s no newcomer to broader internet notoriety. Until his recent ascent to the mainstream spotlight, Joji had been best known for various Youtube alt-comedy projects dating back to 2008, most notably the prank-happy anti-vlogger, Filthy Frank.
Fathering an entire subculture of irreverent meme-friendly humor—with some 6 million subscribers to date on the TVFilthyFrank channel and another 2 million on the spinoff TooDamnFilthy—Joji says he always fostered a more serious passion for music, which he began tapping into with a newer comedic persona named Pink Guy. In early 2017, a debut album, Pink Season, with singles like “STFU” and “Nickelodeon Girls,” had topped the iTunes charts and cracked the Billboard 100 at #70.
“I had a few different characters,” recalls Joji, who announced in December via Twitter that he’d be leaving comedy, citing health issues as one of the main reasons. “Some of it took a musical turn, but for the most part, I was just trying shit out and having fun. There was no master plan or anything. I just wanted to support myself and make some money.”
Accidental or not, it’s hard to ignore how various threads of Joji’s online fame continue to follow him, especially as we’re interrupted by a skateboard-wielding teen who stops by the table with a “Dude, are you Filthy Frank?” before asking to take a selfie. It seemed almost planned. Joji nonchalantly poses for the photo and resumes our conversation to explain how his diverse fanbases have merged more seamlessly than might be expected.
“It’s an age thing—under the age of fifteen, they all know me as Filthy Frank,” Joji clarifies. “It’s also a demographic thing. I feel it’s like a lot of young white kids, like, I had a feeling about that kid with the remote control skateboard. But most other people will either know just my music, or the entire back story. They’ll find the music first, and be like, ‘Wow he used to be that guy? That’s crazy.’”