There was a time, not so long ago, when Josh Tillman – best known by his stage name Father John Misty – was almost as famous for his bizarre social media antics as he was for making wry, sardonic folk rock records. In the year that followed the release of his breakout second album, 2015’s I Love You, Honeybear, Tillman would fill his popular Instagram account with all manner of idiosyncratic images: hundreds of stills from virtual world Second Life, dozens of stock photos of men taking selfies, iPhone videos of sunsets and a whole series of himself just staring at his phone.
His Twitter presence was just as trollishly absurd. In June 2016, he claimed to have been responsible for the theft of a crystal from an organic juice bar in Los Angeles. He then released a series of tongue-in-cheek, straight-to-social media songs claiming to be unused Prius jingles, rejected promos for streaming service Pandora and his own “official lyrics” for the theme tune to Netflix’s House of Cards. When President Trump fired FBI chief James Comey in May 2017, there was a jaunty Father John Misty song about the incident on Twitter the very next day.
Always hungry for fresh content, the online pop culture news economy ate it up. Pitchfork placed Father John Misty at the top on their list of “The Top 30 Artists You Need to Follow on Social Media”, writing: “On the one hand, @fatherjohnmisty is an extension of Tillman’s mission to cast a sardonic modern gaze on faded rock’n’roll archetypes; on the other, it’s a great outlet for an incorrigible prankster who gets off when people don’t get it.” It’s true that even many of his most dedicated fans seemed to be left entirely perplexed by the whole performance. Typical comments included: “I don’t understand this page” and “Get off your phone and live brother trust me.”