Netflix's docuseries Tiger King is full of stranger-than-fiction elements, but by far some of the weirdest segments are those including Joe Exotic's music videos and attempted music career. Was Joe Exotic even singing in his music videos? Like most things to do with the controversial big-cat breeder, the story of Exotic's music videos is full of twists and fakes.
According to Slate, his songs aren't even his own. The songs that are supposedly written and performed by Joe Exotic are, in fact, written and performed by Vince Johnson and Danny Clinton, a pair of musicians from Washington. Johnson told Slate that they originally answered Exotic's ad looking for someone to write a theme song for his private zoo and for a reality TV show about him and his zoo (that storyline was also depicted in Tiger King), and they soon realized that he was simply going to take the songs and take credit for them himself. Johnson and Clinton are listed in the credits of Tiger King, although the nature of their work with Exotic isn't discussed on screen.
Apparently, Exotic was totally inept when it came to music, although that didn't stop him from aspiring to be a country music star. Producer Rick Kirkham told Vanity Fair that Exotic's lack of musical talent was pretty much a running joke on the set of the failed reality show. "One time, Joe got a little bit drunk and high, and we actually coaxed him into singing part of one of the songs. He couldn't even hold a tune. It was just so ludicrous. It was a big joke within the crew and staff that it wasn't him [singing in the videos]—but he was damned insistent to anyone and everyone, including us and my studio crew, that that was him."
Vanity Fair also spoke to Romeo Dupuy, who worked with Exotic on the filming of some of the music videos. He revealed another tidbit: not only could Exotic neither sing nor write music, but he couldn't even play guitar. The shots of him playing guitar in the videos? All fake. "He couldn't even play the guitar. So we would pose him. When we shot him playing these songs, he would be behind grass to cover up his hands. Then he'd lip-sync." The results were the infamously cheesy, over-the-top videos that have gone viral since Tiger King's debut on Netflix, packed with bizarre imagery and custom lyrics — Johnson and Clinton's knack for writing customized songs was reportedly what got Exotic's attention in the first place.
Johnson explained his side of the story to Vanity Fair as well: "I had no idea he was going to Milli Vanilli the songs. It was a couple of months and two or three songs when I was on YouTube one night and just happened to look up Joe Exotic. And there he was, lip-syncing and acting like the ghost of Elvis [in these music videos]. I called him up, I was hot...And he bamboozled me about his reality show—that it was coming soon and he would make everything right as rain. I just wanted the proper credit." He continued, "We all get what's coming to us in the end, be it good or bad. Joe, all in all, was likable. Most people just bore the hell out of me. They have the personality of a lobster. He's a seedy shyster, but he's got personality."