Recent years have seen an influx of political involvement by non-political public figures. Using their increased platform to spread messages they deem important has led to plenty of backlash from those with conflicting views. Within the music industry, artists have utilized social media, interviews, and on stage performances to speak to the masses. Few, however, have taken their actual music to a political level. Josh Tillman, the former Fleet Foxes drummer and current solo act known as Father John Misty, challenges this norm with his signature style of critically sarcastic lyricism.
Tillman’s casual inclusion of controversial lyrics in his melodic indie ballads can come as a shock to causal listeners. He utilizes a bluntness that is only alive in vulgar raps nowadays. This was in full effect during his recent performance at Douglas Park’s annual Riot Fest when he stopped halfway through his nuanced critique of modern society in “Pure Comedy” to tell the crowd “Oh, it gets worse.”
This uncommon boldness can be viewed as exceptionally courageous in a world of music plagued by palatability. Tillman doesn’t view it this way. He has stated that he finds joy in the negative press his music receives. The backlash is precisely why his ambiguously frank songs are necessary to counter the careful political correctness of modern art.
The Kanye of Indie
“Total Entertainment Forever,” opens with Misty uttering the line “Bedding Taylor Swift every night inside the Oculus Rift.” This drew plenty of comparisons to Kanye West’s infamous line in “Famous” about his potential to still have sex with Swift. The understandable outrage was received on a much smaller scale to West’s due to the two artists significant difference in audience reach, but still found its way into the reporting of music giants like Pitchfork and Rolling Stone.
This addition of vulgarity, as well as the casual way he discusses sensitive subjects like Satanism and suicide, is not new in indie music, but usually comes from far less recognizable artists within the genre. The ability for Tillman to present them in such a way that the possible intentions of irony, criticism, or flat out sarcasm are so difficult to navigate is impressive to say the least.
A Rare Talent
His effortless humor and suave demeanor have allowed the artist to maintain a cult following. His most recent album, “God’s Favorite Customer” has been critically acclaimed and it’s simply the same genius he has been delivering his fans for years. How will the rest of this polarizing figure’s career pan out? Not even Misty cares to know. As he said to Rolling Stone last year, “I think certainty is completely grotesque.”