If you’ve managed to avoid the incessant coverage, Josh Tillman, known as Father John Misty (FJM) played a song about having virtual sex with Taylor Swift on Saturday Night Live (SNL) this past weekend. “Total Entertainment Forever,” the fourth new release from his upcoming album Pure Comedy (2017), resonated with SNL and FJM fans alike. Media and news outlets had a collective freakout over the number’s opening line on having sex with the Grammy-winning artist through a VR viewer, Oculus Rift, but I think Taylor is besides the point.
What is Josh Tillman thinking right now? And I don’t mean that in a negative “What the hell is he thinking?” sort of way. I offer it as a sincere inquiry. What is he thinking? More specifically: why did Tillman say yes to playing on SNL?
SNL is experiencing its highest ratings in decades this season, with an average viewership of over 10 million people. So, frankly, why was Father John Misty there? As NPR’s All Songs Considered noted, SNL typically books acts that are much more popular than our dear friend FJM. Maybe SNL’s producers were trying to say something through Tillman’s notoriously political lyrics and were attempting to push their “progressive” agenda forward.
It seems to me like the massively corporate and sometimes (but not often) funny SNL is exactly the “Pure Comedy” Misty is attempting to critique. SNL seems to be the type of business bullshit that Tillman so clearly abhors in many of his lyrics (including his recently released “Two Wildly Different Perspectives”) and many an onstage rant. This is all not to mention the bucket-loads of cash he must have been paid for the two-song performance. If it were any other artist, honestly, I’d say more to power to them.
But is it just me or is this completely out of character for the psilocybe-mushroom gorging pseudo-cleric? Just last year Josh Tillman was quoted as saying “I don’t want your fucking burrito money” while addressing his rejection of a $250,000 Chipotle advertisement deal. He turned down a quarter of a million dollars for the sole purpose of not selling out to big business. So what gives?
You could make the argument that SNL isn’t really trying to sell anything, yes. And you could argue that he made some sort of a statement by choosing to perform both “Total Entertainment Forever” and “Pure Comedy” on a national stage. But for whatever reason, the showing still leaves a bad taste in my mouth. Maybe I’m not giving the Father enough credit. He could be working some sort of “insurgent agent” angle, operating within the very systems he hopes to critique to get his message out to a broader audience.
Yet I can’t shake the feeling that FJM playing for mega-media conglomerate NBC-Universal is the sale of a not-so-tiny piece of his insurrectionary soul. Is this what Father John Misty selling out looks like? Will it cover the cost of his newfound, dare I say, mainstream fame? Will this all be passed off as an ironic ploy? Maybe only time will tell.
Written by Jacob Elsanadi