Post-Vine success for the duo came from their That’s Cringe commentary series, poking fun at the most ridiculous things YouTube has to offer. Then, after a struggle with repeated demonetization on that platform -- YT has had something of a sensitive trigger finger when it comes to pulling support for content they don’t deem "appropriate" to the platform’s brand image in recent years -- they went independent and found so-far-sustainable success with the Patreon-funded TMG podcast.
This allowed their skits, d--k jokes and eventually music to truly flourish as well as create an open dialogue with a rapidly growing, die-hard fanbase populating their Discord server. TMG aren’t the first to take such a path -- even their one-time adversary Jake Paul caught the wave from Vine through YouTube to a platinum-certified single -- but theirs is a particularly absurd journey.
Today, the pair release their new single "Broke B--ch," after signing to Sony Music’s Arista Records imprint back in October. They’re also dealing with having to reschedule their month-long cross-country Spring tour to the second half of the year to ease a hectic schedule. These problems are a far cry from the ones they had during those existential days behind desks -- “It’s weird seeing where we are now... I just assumed it’d never happen," says Miller -- but such are the opportunities available to content-savvy hustlers in the viral age.
Speaking to Billboard as they get ready to head out on the European leg of their Global Domination Tour, Ko and Miller seem to be handling it all well. They’re grounded in the work it took to get here, excited by the possibilities of the future and -- most impressively considering how much they do together -- aren’t sick of each other’s company, constantly making the other laugh with their answers and offhand remarks. Below, they reflect on the wild ride the last few years have been.
It’s a long time ago now, but why was Vine the platform that got you guys into creating content?
Ko: I think it just lowered the barrier to entry for so many people -- me included. I would never have bought a DSLR camera and figured out an editing program. I just wasn’t down to do any of that s--t. But it was so easy on Vine that a lot of us were suddenly like, ‘Oh, maybe I could be funny and I could edit these little videos and I could shoot content.’
Vine unlocked the right side of my brain and made me realize I was more creative than I thought, and it’s lead to everything that’s happened since. Then I remember that the traffic was clearly dying and we all noticed it, YouTube seemed like the new frontier for me.
Miller: I kinda had some stuff there already, but after the Vine traffic just died I think we both felt the situation where we needed to, like… hustle.
Listening to the podcast’s early episodes, you can hear you both figuring out what to do next as you hit a wall with demonetization, and difficult job situations. Noel, you seemed to be gravely wondering what you were doing with your life at times...
Miller: I had gotten into an engineering career and within those few years it was the first time in my life where I didn’t have debt. So at that time I was like “I’m gonna be poor again, here we go.” It was really hard for me to sit there like, “Yeah, dude. It’s gonna happen!” when Cody would get excited about something, ‘cause I didn’t know.
Ko: That was a really weird moment for both of us. Neither of us had ‘made it’ on YouTube yet, in terms of having enough traffic to warrant a full time salary or anything like that, and we were both in this limbo where we weren’t sure if it was working, not working or ever going to work. It was a scary time, honestly.
It’s one thing listening back knowing it all works out okay, but at the time it must have been an intense thing to put out or even to listen to. You both talk very openly, almost flippantly, about struggles both professional and personal on the show in general -- are you even aware you’re doing that?
Miller: S--t, I hadn’t even really considered it. I think we use those moments to just be genuine -- I’m the first one to say, “Yo don’t f--kin’ pretend dude, there’s no reason to.” And we don’t try. Cody and I are just pretty committed to not bulls--tting anybody, or ourselves I guess.
Ko: It’s also that the people listening are tuning in ‘cause they like listening to us talk to each other and all of that stuff is good fodder for conversation - there’s no reason it can’t happen on the show. It acts as a bit of therapy for us to sit together and chat about it too.
When you spoke about making music in the early days, you clearly took it seriously and appreciate the art of it. How do you strike a balance between doing a very unserious thing but taking it seriously?
Miller: It’s definitely hard. I’m a rap nerd, and all my rap idols absolutely would not approve of what we do, but I don’t let that influence me in a negative way. It just pushes me to write harder, so that even if the subject is stupid I want to make it undeniably good. I try not to use humor as an excuse too much. We want people to think “D--n, OK, they actually put effort into this to make it listenable -- and it’s funny."
Ko: It’s funny cause Noel also makes… “real” rap music, I guess? Under his own name, songs that I’ve produced, that haven't been released yet -- so there is definitely potential for non-comedic music. But as far as TMG goes our lane is keeping it fun and comedic and not taking it too seriously... while also making f--king bangers at the same time.
Miller: Yeah -- we don’t take it seriously, but also we make f--kin’ slammers, bro.
Noel, you used to make "serious" music before TMG though right?
Miller: Yeah. Me and my friends made a lot of, like, backpack rap. The stuff we wrote was “I can rap better than you” stuff -- and TMG kinda reminds me of that, ‘cause it’s about what’s the funniest or coolest s--t you can put into a 16-bar verse.
I’ve always wanted to write music but never really pursued it, so maybe this year I’ll mess around with some serious stuff.
It makes sense that you’d be hesitant about what sincere material you put out, given that you made a name through laughing at bad sincere material with That’s Cringe...
Miller: That’s the main problem. Right now on my hard drive, I have two songs that sound like that extremely Boot Camp Clik style of writing that I grew up on. But I had to sit and look back at them and admit that there’s literally no way I could put this kinda stuff out. People would just be like, “You’re the ‘Sugar Gay’ dude, what the f--k is this?!”
Ko: I think letting it affect what we do is dangerous though. We should be looking back at stuff we were doing a couple of years ago and think it’s cringey.
One of the most endearing moments on the show was when you were talking about touring for the first time, and having the “It’s just like being in a real band” conversation...
Ko: That was honestly straight out of a dream. How cool is that thought when you’re like, sixteen? “Being on a f--king tour bus? That’d be the best thing ever, but it’s never gonna happen for me cause I’m a computer scientist and that’s what I do.” Fast forward thirteen years and we’re booking a tour bus for our own tour. It was surreal. It’s a thing that never happens and it was happening to us!
Through all the crazy things that have happened -- the beef with the Pauls and the Dobre Brothers, hanging out with Post Malone at Elon Musk’s house, and signing to the label that put out David Bowie and Biggie Smalls -- are you still grounded in just how ridiculous this all is?
Ko: Oh man, we’re very aware that this is all insane.
Miller: [Signing to Arista] is easily one of the weirdest things to come out of everything we’ve done.
Ko: This is a perfect parallel to everything we’re talking about. Yeah all this s--t is very weird, but one thing we’ve learned is that if you open enough doors weird and cool s--t is just gonna happen.
With this single out, does that mean bigger TMG release plans for 2020?
Miller: The goal with TMG this year is to demonstrate some more range with what we do -- what that means I can’t comment on right now. We’ll just have to let the people see. But just quoting Cody here, but we’ve got some absolute slammers in the can. Just cookin’ in the kitchen. Sittin’ on the grill. That’s right, these are humble bangers.