Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness is Netflix's No. 1 hit, and has become the go-to distraction this pandemic season. It stars a self-described broke-as-shit, gun-toting, gay polygamist, tiger breeder-zookeeper named Joe Exotic at the now-defunct G.W. Zoo in Oklahoma. Even by Okie standards, Joe Exotic’s white tiger mullet is flamboyant; it’s business in the front, and a meth-fueled, kinky sex party in the back.
The redneck renaissance man of our generation, Joe Exotic (who also has some wild ties to Dallas) once ran — remarkably unsuccessfully — for president of the United States and finished third in the Libertarian Party primary for Oklahoma governor. He famously once said at a debate, “I’d like to introduce my wife, but my husband’s at home feeding my brand-new baby kangaroo.”
Exotic had plenty more to say, and expressed himself via song by releasing two albums and several music videos, gems that still shine on YouTube: “I Saw a Tiger,” “My First Love” and “This Is My Life,” to name a few.
His masterpiece, yep, his "Sistine Chapel," if you will, is "Here Kitty Kitty," made legit by 3 million views, a Tupac vs. Biggie-esque diss track aimed at industry rival Carole Baskin, owner of Big Cat Rescue in Florida. Baskin doesn’t think it’s funny — it portrays her as the person responsible for her second husband’s disappearance. With cartel vibes, the video features a Baskin lookalike feeding her dismembered husband to tigers. Like the entire documentary series, the music video is so bonkers that you can’t help but laugh, and wince simultaneously.
Baskin isn’t interested in discussing "Here Kitty Kitty” or anything Netflix-related. When the directors of Tiger King approached her five years ago, she expected to be part of something like Blackfish, the documentary that exposed the abuse taking place at SeaWorld and similar parks around the world.
“A lifelong animal lover, I was immediately drawn to the possibility of exposing the misery caused by the rampant breeding of big cat cubs for exploitation and the awful lives these majestic creatures are forced to endure in roadside zoos and backyards if they survive their time used for petting," Baskin wrote in a statement to the Observer. "There are no words for how disappointing it is to see that the series not only does not do any of that, but has instead chosen to be as salacious and sensational as possible to draw in viewers.
“As part of that, they devoted an entire segment to 23-year-old lies and innuendos suggesting I was involved in my husband Don’s 1997 disappearance.”
Largely in part a big cat industry exposé, the Exotic and Baskin feud is one of many disputes highlighted in the series. Joshua Dial, former campaign manager and one of about 20 employees who once worked for Joe Exotic at the G.W. Zoo (aka, Exotic Animal Park) said it best: “We’ve lost sight and lost touch of what really matters here, and that’s the conservation and protection of the species of this planet.”
Amid an onslaught of catastrophic scenarios: The violation of animal rights, murder for hire, an unsolved murder, accidental death, accidental dismemberment, cults and much more, Tiger King feels like a comedy crime plot straight from Quentin Tarantino's mind. From start to finish, Tiger King has the highest ratio of WTF-per-minute of all time.
According to Vince Johnson of The Clinton Johnson Band duo, Joe Exotic the musician is a fraud. “I connected with Joe Exotic on Craigslist; he posted an ad looking for a singer-songwriter,” Johnson tells the Observer from his home in Vancouver, Washington. “Me and Danny Clint, he sadly passed away last October, but we wrote and recorded ‘Here Kitty Kitty,’ ‘I Saw Tiger,’ ‘My First Love,’ ‘Bring It On,’ ‘This Old Town,’ ‘This Is My Life’ and others, then we sent the songs to Joe. We were told the songs were for his reality-TV show and then I found Joe Exotic’s music videos with him lip-syncing over our songs. We weren’t paid, we weren’t credited, we were bamboozled.”
With conviction, Johnson swears that this is another Milli Vanilli scenario and that the late Danny Clint sang all of Exotic’s songs. Indeed, Exotic sounds more like a Honda dirt bike than the enunciated, in-control, deeper vocals we hear in the music videos. He's currently serving a 22-year sentence in federal prison for the mistreatment of animals and his role in an attempt to kill Carole Baskin in 2017. When he's released from prison, and despite his shortcomings as a vocalist, Exotic may still be a capable frontman, hype man and support vocalist, not lead. Perhaps his hurdle with plagiarism won’t be the end of his music career.
“I’m a songwriter ... I can’t sing a lick, but I’m in the process of finding another lead singer and then we’ll take the songs we wrote out on the road,” Johnson adds.
A deep dive into the fibers of Tiger King reveals a connecting chaos with every character involved in the series. Among the documentary’s chief characters, Orlando Cicilia, the Miami coke dealer, came out looking the best. Perhaps directors Eric Goode and Rebecca Chaiklin's initial intentions were to create something like Blackfish, but then on-camera interviews happened and the ship righted herself.
Exotic was revealed as a Teflon con with a list of poor decisions longer than his mullet mane, but audiences are still perceiving him as likable. His flaws aren’t stopping the #FreeJoe movement, led by Cardi B, and though he’s likely lip-syncing to The Clinton Johnson Band’s music, the songs and videos are becoming increasingly popular.
Here are the top five music moments from Tiger King:
5. “Bring It On”
“I wake up, I go to work,” Exotic "sings," along to the clichéd visuals of coffee pouring into Exotic’s mug. The catchy tune tells the story of a hardworking man, tiger breeder and zookeeper, against a world dead set against him. Perhaps the highlight of the video is the scene of Joe in the recording booth laying down vocals. Nice song, but c’mon Joe, you didn’t sing this damn song.
4. “I Saw Tiger”
It’s at this moment in Episode 1 where the audience considers that Joe Exotic is a modern-day Michelangelo, a superhuman creative machine. We learn that the big cat community is different from anything else we know, we learn of the murder-for-hire, we see that Joe is in the Grady County Jail and that he prefers to “free ball it,” but mostly, we feel slightly empty that we haven’t been watching Exotic’s online TV show since its inception. Then Joe appears standing on the hood of a truck, kinda half-ass, strumming a guitar and singing “I Saw Tiger,” a part love song to tigers and part plea to hunters to put down their guns. When a shirtless John Finlay (Exotic’s husband for 11 years) appears, the race is on.
3. “This Is My Life”
The charm of this music video lies in the absurd fantasy that Joe is actually doing the singing. “So, this is goodbyyyyyyyyyyyye,” he wails with pipes that would earn a Vegas show more successful than Siegfried & Roy and Celine Dion's combined. He’s got tigers, he’s singing, doing magic; it’s Joe Exotic! He could've been president of the United States.
2. “Here Kitty Kitty”
Doc Antle, owner of the Myrtle Beach Safari, raves, “The best thing [Exotic's] done ... it’s worth just bringing up ... the music video 'Here Kitty Kitty,' about Carole killing her husband and a lookalike Carole, walking along with him while he’s singing, feeding body parts to her cat. If you haven't seen ‘Here Kitty Kitty,’ you don’t know what you're missing.”
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1. “This Old Town” (Live at Travis Maldonado's funeral)
On Oct. 6, 2017, Travis Maldonado, Joe’s husband No. 2 out of two, died of an accidental self-inflicted gunshot wound. It’s a grim turning point in the docuseries. Eight days later, Exotic serves as the funeral’s master of ceremonies and headline performer. Suited in Westernized Catholic priest garb, Joe shares Travis’ passion for flashing his balls, then digs into a live performance of “This Old Town.”
Also worth checking out: “Beautiful, Wild and Free” by Terez
Further proof that music videos are hard to execute properly with a limited budget. This one from way back in 2010 is a Carole Baskin production and promotional item for Big Cat Rescue in Tampa. The enthusiastic Terez is a better vocalist than Exotic but falls short on stage presence.
Exotic filed a $94 million lawsuit March 17 in Oklahoma City federal court claiming he was convicted based on false and perjured testimony. We will never forget the COVID-19 quarantine and our frail battle cry, “Stay safe!” A decade from now we’ll recall the toilet-paper hoarders, the loads of streaming DJs and virtual concerts too. In the thick of it all was Joe Exotic, with a Liberace-and-Billy Ray Cyrus mashup swag, like the world has never seen before or since.