Travis Mills And The Playlist Life: A Blueprint For Success In The Digital Age

Travis Mills arrives at the 2018 GQ’s Men of the Year Celebration on Thursday, Dec. 6, 2018, in Beverly Hills, Calif. (Photo by Willy Sanjuan/Invision/AP)

Willy Sanjuan/Invision/AP

How many lives can you live by the time you’re 30? If you’re Travis Mills, the answer can be as inspiring as it is haunting.

“This last year has been the year of reinvention…I went from being a musician who strictly sold merchandise and played shows as a means of survival to then having two or the hardest years of my life after one of my best friends died. It was a crossroads of who I wanted to be.”

Introducing T. Mills

Mills was only 19 when, in 2008, he signed with Uprising Records. As of this article’s publication, the main image of their website is an advertisement for Ready, Fire, Aim!, the debut album of “T.Mills,” set to, the site declares, release on September 28th, 2010. The following year, Travis leveled up to Columbia Records. With an entity like Columbia backing his self-professed “hip pop” sound, Travis was positioned for ascendancy.

In 2012, Brian Petchers, in an article for , had this to say: “It is hard to place T. Mills into one genre. While he raps, he also sings, and although he sings and raps his image is that of a punk rocker, while his fan base is something similar to that of a pop star. As an emerging sex symbol/rapper/singer/punk rocker, there is only one term that sums up what T. Mills is all about, and that is a ‘Playlist Artist.’ …his brand within the world of entertainment is a great one to highlight because it represents how young people consume media. They see no boundaries. The T. Mills brand goes beyond music; he sells a lifestyle.”

Petchers’s article ends with the view that “Mills is one commercial hit away from exploding onto the mainstream and sustaining that momentum….”

In an interview with The Pop Break, published at the end of February, 2013, Travis would talk about his forthcoming album. “I don’t think this is going to be the only album I make. I have so much music I feel this is gonna be the start of where I want everything to go…it’s gonna be my first major label album, it’s my major label debut and I’m gonna get to work on a second album.”

Instead, Mills would drop two EPs: All I Wanna Do in 2014, and While You Wait in 2016. The album never materialized. What happened?

Mills summarized: “I found success, first, when I was 21. And I was not happy when I was, quote unquote, ‘blowing up.’ It was the most depressed I’d ever been. It was the most scared I’ve ever been. It was the most insecure I have ever been. And so I look back on those years and, yeah, I had fun, but I remember all the anxiety and the stresses and just who I was. I don’t ever want to be like that again. And so for me to kind of lose it all and rediscover it this time around but being self-aware and confident, not arrogant…it’s a whole different experience.”

Becoming Travis Mills

In the years since his last EP, Travis had a recurring role on the Netflix series , hosted not one but two shows on Apple’s Beats 1 Radio, and started the ADHD podcast. Stepping back, Mills might be a perfect example for the hip hop artist in the digital age. An audience built through social media, music promoted through independent, online platforms, videos that premier on YouTube and go viral, leading to live shows, a contract, then, ultimately, the leveraging of the music industry to make headway into other arenas.

“For so long I had an ego about ‘I need to be a musician. People need to see me as a musician and artist.’ The second I let that go,” said Mills, “it was so freeing and so much more opportunity came my way. I do make music, but I also have a podcast, and host this show on Apple Music, and have a clothing line [a partnership with NC-17 and Zumiez]. When you’re 27 and found a lot of success and then it goes away and you’re back in the same place you were when you were 17, it really just fucks your whole world up. I was done waiting for someone to wave this magic wand and be like ‘Okay, you’re seen as an artist now. You’re legitimate now.'”

In 2016, Mills, in the midst of his soul searching, would befriend Gus Åhr, who went by the stage name Lil Peep. Travis would bring his connections and resources to bear, introducing Peep to First Access Entertainment’s CEO Sarah Stennett. Fireworks followed. Peep, much like Mills before him, reached the tipping point through digital releases and YouTube videos. The EP Hellboy, his first project after signing with First Access, would receive an 8.5 out of 10 from the notoriously stingy critics at . Peep’s debut album, Come Over When You’re Sober, Pt. 1 released in August of 2017 and hit #38 on the Billboard 200. Only three months later, an overdose claimed Peep’s life.

“For a long time that was the only thing I was focused on,” said Travis, about Peep. “When I got the call he had passed, it was like everything stopped. This kid was supposed to be that, you know? He’s a superstar. I felt like I was friends with Kurt Cobain, just somebody not of this world, and in the blink of an eye he was gone.”

Death can be as eye opening as it is heartbreaking. When we realize life is fragile, that our time isn’t guaranteed, the limits we impose on ourselves (or that we allow others to set for us) often dissolve. The cost is awful and unavoidable. Forced to pay, perhaps our best response is to, as Mills has, live inspired by those we loved.

Onward and upward

“I literally feel like I’ve lived 10 lives already. I’m grateful that I’ve been able to diversify and use my talents to create longevity in a field where you have, max, four to five years. I haven’t had a real job in 11 years. Super grateful. I get to wake up and do shit that I want to do every day, and not a lot of people can say that.”

Mills’s latest endeavor is MTV‘S Ghosted: Love Gone Missing. He co-hosts with Rachel Lindsay, a Texas attorney known for her time on The Bachelor and as the season 13 Bachelorette. Of the show, Mills said, “I believed in Rachel. I was like, ‘We’re going to go and do good work.’ And I believed in the crew and wasn’t let down. We made a fucking great show.”

Ghosted: Love Gone Missing – Julia & Delmond | MTV

Ghosted is a follow-up to , MTV’s previous hit. Where Catfish analyzed the act of someone using the potent combination of a false identity and the internet to lure someone in, Ghosted explores the act of total and often surprising ex-communication. In both cases, the idea is to find catharsis, for the receiving party to gain some closure on why this happened. In the promotional episode, Travis and Rachel were able to reunite a pair of wayward hearts. A volatile task that called for copious amounts of diligence, patience, and perspective-traits demonstrated consistently throughout the episode’s hour long odyssey.

Hosting Ghosted, a Beats 1 show, and a podcast, while acting, designing, and making music-that’s a pretty diversified portfolio. If there’s a single term that sums up what Travis Mills is all about, it’s a “Playlist Life.” His brand within the world of entertainment should represent how young people think about their future. Without boundaries.

You can follow Travis on Twitter and Instagram. Ghosted: Love Gone Missing airs new episodes on Tuesdays, 9pm EST on MTV.


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