IN THIS PHOTO: Morrissey/PHOTO CREDIT: Monika Stolarska
Should Artists Like Morrissey Be Snubbed Because of Their Political Views?
IT is a bit handy that I have been speaking about...
IMAGE CREDIT: Spotify
one world-famous and iconic artist being judged because of their personal life and now, with Morrissey, I get to explore another controversial story. To be fair, there is not the same sort of attention aimed at Morrissey as there has been Michael Jackson – given the allegations of sexual abuse being levied at him. I will not talk more about Jackson but, with regards Morrissey, he has announced a new album. In fact, the news broke late last year but I think it might have passed many of us by. It seems, however, to be a bit of a departure for Moz:
“Morrissey has announced a new covers album, titled ‘California Son’.
The former Smiths frontman made the announcement on his official website late yesterday (December 5), revealing that he’s recorded versions of songs by the likes of Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell and Roy Orbison for the new album.
‘California Son’ has been produced by Joe Chiccarelli and will comprise of 12 tracks. BMG are releasing the album – although an actual release date has yet to be confirmed – and you can see the tracklist below”.
He is tackling songs by Joni Mitchell (Don’t Interrupt the Sorrow) and Bob Dylan (Only a Pawn in Their Game) and we just got the video for his version of Roy Orbison’s It’s Over. There is a good selection of songs and Morrissey definitely adds his own stamp to the Orbison classic. It follows his 2017 album, Low in High School, and gives a chance for the former Smiths lead to hook up with other artists. It is fascinating seeing some of the names that will appear on the new Morrissey album. He has been a little quite on the new music front for a while so it is good to have more stuff from him. There are reservations, from some fans, that Morrissey’s political views are offputting and many have boycotted his shows. Morrissey has come out in support of far-right groups and has been very vocal regarding the British government and how they operate. The man is no stranger to controversy and having his say. In the past, he has talked about animal rights and been pretty direct regarding chains like McDonald’s; been critisised because of his rash and bold statements and, over time, we have grown use to the ageing Morrissey being a bit grumpy and angry. Not that this is any excuse but one would not refuse to work with him based on some of his comments of the past.
I apply that statement to anything other than politics because, as he has talked about the far-right, this sort of raises questions. The Guardian wrote an article where it was announced some people were shocked to see left-leaning artists unite with the more extreme Morrissey:
“Morrissey, 59, announced a new album earlier this week: California Son is his first covers album, and will feature protest-themed songs by the likes of Bob Dylan and Buffy Sainte Marie, along with various guest vocalists. Many were surprised to see ostensibly left-leaning artists such as Green Day’s Billie Joe Armstrong, and Ed Droste of cult indie group Grizzly Bear, among those backing the controversial singer.
Droste declined to comment. The only artist willing to speak with the Guardian was Canadian vocalist Ariel Engle, who performs with cult indie outfit Broken Social Scene. She received a call from the American producer Joe Chiccarelli asking her to contribute backing vocals for a cover of Joni Mitchell’s Don’t Interrupt the Sorrow. “I thought, ‘Oh the Smiths, sure’,” she says. “It was $500 for two hours’ work.”
Engle says she didn’t become aware of Morrissey’s political views until the album was announced and a friend emailed to question her involvement. “It’s a very weak argument to claim ignorance,” she says, “but it is my argument. It’s not an excuse but it happens to be the truth.”
IN THIS PHOTO: Ariel Engele of Broken Social Scene/PHOTO CREDIT: Norman Wong
There have been backlashes and problems regarding Morrissey before. This is, as the article continues, not the first time there has been that clash between his politics and his music:
“There have been visible protests against the singer. “The backlash against him has been particularly strong in Manchester,” says author Dave Haslam, who organised an anti-racism party to coincide with Morrissey’s scheduled shows in his home city last July, “in response to Morrissey’s divisive views, and his support for the far right”. The gigs were then postponed due to “logistical circumstances” that the singer’s management insist were not linked to the protests.
But one prominent UK concert promoter says such controversies are still unlikely to have a significant impact on the star’s pulling power. “There’s always going to be demand for him. There are plenty of people willing to see past accusations, perhaps looking at things through rose-tinted glasses and able to take a more lenient stance because of their affections towards him”.
I will provide my thoughts and argue why the debate is not that clear but, before then, I have been lured by an article from FADER. In the article, the author provides a brief recap of the controversy Morrissey has stirred over the last few years. I shall not mention them all but here are a couple of prime examples:
“For those lucky enough to have avoided the back-and-forth between Morrissey and the world over the past decade, here’s a non-exhaustive recap. A little over a decade ago, in an interview with the NME, the singer went off on a tangent about immigration in the UK. "England is a memory now,” he was quoted as saying. “The gates are flooded and anybody can have access to England and join in." He took the NME to court for libel, gave £28,000 to Love Music Hate Racism, and eventually got an apology from the magazine, but he wouldn’t stay out of the headlines for long. In a 2010 interview with the Guardian Weekend Magazine, the singer, upset at China’s treatment of animals, referred to the Chinese people as a “subspecies”.
It goes on to say why artists like Billie Joe Armstrong would align themselves with Morrissey given their own political views – and what they have to gain from these collaborations:
“But it’s difficult to imagine what, precisely, that something might be. Billlie Joe Armstrong turned literally millions of kids against his country’s war-mongering government when Green Day reemerged with American Idiot. Ed Droste feels queasy about bringing politics and art into the same space, but he said that he was devastated by the fact that the people he met on the campaign trail with Bernie Sanders — LGBTQ people and Muslims in particular — were facing aggression in the wake of the Trump election...
IN THIS PHOTO: Green Day’s Billie Joe Armstrong/PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images
Because, at root, a guest spot on California Son isn’t just an opportunity for these artists to sing alongside someone they liked when they were teenagers. It’s a co-sign, one that gives Morrissey credibility to a younger generation. And for what? Will any of these musicians really see a spike in sales or popularity by collaborating with Morrissey in 2019? Will their own credibility be burnished by singing alongside a man who so openly backs the far-right? If it’s a calculated risk, what’s the pay-off? Who wins except Morrissey?”
Articles like this show there were some artists who were getting pretty political in 2018. To be fair, most of these were aiming their words at leaders like President Trump and how he is leading the U.S. When we hear songs here and in the U.S. that have a political edge, they are usually aimed at those currently in power; people making bad decisions and figures that are generally unpopular. Is there a difference between those who attack current leaders in the U.K. and U.S. because of their ineptitude and those like Morrissey who support the far-right? There are many who say the two things are the same but Morrissey’s support and understanding of the far-right is a world away from bringing people like President Trump to justice and putting them under the spotlight. I cannot think of another musician who supports far-right groups and I think it would be very dangerous to come out and admit that.
Everyone is entitled to their beliefs but far-right groups breed hatred, intolerance and discrimination. Someone like Morrissey supporting their views – or being understand about their agenda – is more radical and troubling than a politically-motivated artist talking about current leaders (those in power who are not extremists) and striking against them. Does that mean, like an artist who is accused of sexual assault, we should boycott or ignore artists with political views that do not match ours? Some have boycotted Morrissey and are no longer fans but most are sticking with him and buying his records. I feel uncomfortable supporting Morrissey knowing his politics and would not go and see him perform live – lest he use the stage to let his mouth run away. I am definitely still listening to his music and, like Michael Jackson, I can separate the man from the artist. I think the case is a bit difference when it comes to musicians collaborating. It is strange that the artists who appear/will appear on California Son are unaware of Morrissey’s stance and his beliefs. Many say it is all about the music and few are making a fuss it but it seems a bit ironic that someone like Billie Joe Armstrong would perform with Morrissey – given the fact they are on different ends of the political spectrum. Listen to a lot of Green Day’s songs and we find Armstrong attacking corrupt leaders and rallying against hatred.
IN THIS PHOTO: Sameer Gadhia of Young the Giant/PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images
Morrissey is not exactly rallying and marching in protests but he is unafraid to share his views and it definitely clashes with Billie Joe Armstrong – and most other musicians for that matter! I am sure all the musicians connected during recorded and there were no beefs but Billie Joe Armstrong’s charged and inspiring songs are a world away from Morrissey’s political beliefs. Political beliefs are very important and they can define a person. If an artist were sexist or homophobic then one would hope other artists would stay away and not collaborate. On this occasion, the fact Sameer Gadhia (of Young the Giant), Ariel Engle (of Broken Social Scene) and Petra Haden have their voices on California Son is not going to affect their careers and cause much damage.
IMAGE CREDIT: @officialmoz
They would not necessarily have known about Morrissey’s politics but, going forward, should other artists be a bit more wary? By collaborating with someone like Morrissey, you are not actively supporting his viewpoints and politics but it might send the wrong message to fans and followers. Maybe the preoccupation with Morrissey’s politics is a British thing but I think it is down to artists, wherever they live, to be more aware and conscious when it comes to collaborating and that other artist’s beliefs. Everyone is different but I, personally, would never collaborate with someone who backed right-wing groups because it flies against everything I believe. Everyone is entitled to make their own choices but I do think the case of California Son should be a bit of a lesson: whether you think political beliefs are a big issue or not, there is that commercial risk and it might send conflicting messages to fans. California Son will do well and I am sure it will get great reviews but I think the should-people-sing-with-Morrissey debate is an interesting one. I do wonder, if the artists on the albums on the record knew about Morrissey’s past statements and controversies, they would have been as eager...
TO record with him.