His fans have always been willing to put up with his less endearing qualities, but the English singer’s recent antics may have proved too much even for them
With recent antics, is Morrissey out of tune with his fans?
Is Morrissey actively trying to alienate his fans? Never a performer known for his public relations charm, the British singer-songwriter’s recent conduct has been so unashamedly prickly, belligerent and conceited, it’s easy to imagine the former Smiths frontman is getting a crabby kick out of biting the hand that feeds.
His notoriously devoted fanbase is well used to healthy doses of eccentricity and antagonism, but one wonders if, after 30 years as a solo artist, 2017 is the year Morrissey pushes the boat of narcissism too far into the ocean of contempt.
Among the numerous controversies littering recent months, Morrissey was denounced for tasteless comments in the aftermath of the Manchester bombing. He also cancelled a concert apparently because it was cold, and at some that went ahead he banned the sale of all meat. In a new campaign alongside PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals), Morrissey is now even taking aim at his fans’ festive lunches with the slogan “Holidays Are Murder on Turkeys”.
Then there’s the small matter of new album Low in High School – released today – the cover of which depicts a boy outside Buckingham Palace, the United Kingdom’s royal residence, brandishing a hatchet and a sign reading “Axe the Monarchy”.
Wit, poise and irony and a stinging turn of phrase are, after all, what we all love most about Morrissey – or should that be loved?
As any supporter of the walking contradiction born Steven Patrick Morrissey will know, many of these righteous crusades and habits – animal rights, republicanism, cancelling concerts, courting controversy – are recurring themes in his uncompromising world.
But the fervour of his disagreeable antics and the frequency with which they are now almost daily being reported risks exhausting audience goodwill.
Worryingly, despite slamming the 24-hour news agenda in new single Spent the Day in Bed – claiming the media seeks to “frighten you… make you feel small and alone” – Morrissey is now stepping into the fray himself, recently joining Twitter.
One wonders how much offence the blue-tick verified @officialmoz will cause in the recently expanded 280-character offerings.
Social media isn’t exactly a hobby you might expect Morrissey to sign up for, and the move might fuel the idea that what’s driving all the questionable behaviour of late is in fact a deliberate, shrewd bid to command clicks and garner publicity for an 11th solo album in an era where record sales have dwindled to a trickle.
In showbusiness there is, we’re repeatedly told, no such thing as bad news. Outrageous demands and egotistical posturing traditionally do little to harm a rock star’s commercial viability.
Yet there’s a nastiness, a jagged arrogance, which sets Morrissey apart from, let’s say, the buffoonish attacks of Liam Gallagher, who managed to score record-breaking success for last month’s debut solo outing As You Were by spending the preceding months saying silly things on sites like Twitter.
If Morrissey is trying a similar approach to his fellow Mancunian, then he may have squarely underestimated his own fanbase.
The wave of antipathy crested when Morrissey cancelled that concert in central California, on November 4, apparently for no other reason than it was a little chilly.
After fans had assembled in the Vina Robles Amphitheatre, some poor lackey was reportedly forced onto the mic to blame an “inoperable heating system on stage”; many present held the opinion the singer could perhaps consider donning a sweater when temperatures dipped slightly below 10°C in the venue. “Forget that drama queen. Never again. Rot in hell,” opined one Twitter user.
Morrissey is renowned for pulling out of concerts – music website Consequences of Sound counted 124 cancelled or postponed shows since 2012, which in fairness included an entire axed 2014 tour following a cancer battle, dwarfing other cited causes that included food poisoning, lack of funds and issues with his support band and management.
Earlier in 2014, Morrissey axed the seven remaining dates on his Italian tour after an encounter with a police officer who drew his gun, which the singer branded an act of terrorism. He brushed with authorities again a year later, filing a sexual assault complaint against a security guard at San Francisco International Airport, for which the Transportation Security Administration found no supporting evidence to act upon.
Terrorism is a subject Morrissey might have learnt to leave well alone following the international headlines sparked when he spoke out in the aftermath of the Manchester Arena suicide bombing that killed 22 and injured more than 500 in May.
In a widely condemned Facebook rant he slammed Queen Elizabeth II and declared politicians “are never the victims”, less than a year after MP Jo Cox was shot and stabbed to death by a far-right extremist.
Meanwhile, he claimed Sadiq Khan “does not condemn” ISIL, suggesting that as a Muslim the London mayor – who has condemned the terrorist organisation on several occasions – has a special responsibility to state the obvious.
As if to punish the offended fans, for his recently announced upcoming UK tour Morrissey pointedly snubbed his hometown, with no concert scheduled in Manchester in 2018.
It really is personal: last year he released a list of the cities he felt “most appreciated by” on his last tour – topped by Philadelphia, Brooklyn and Hong Kong – with his hometown only making it to number eight, one place below laidback Helsinki. You read that right: it seems Morrissey feels comfortable in rating the enthusiasm of the people who have paid to see him perform.
With the same arrogance, Morrissey banned the sale of meat at his recent Hollywood Bowl weekender. As a practising vegetarian, I fully support Morrissey’s morals, but wouldn’t demand guests at my birthday party refrain from eating meat – let alone dictate the diet of strangers paying to squint at me on a stage.
For someone who has fiercely denied accusations of racism, Morrisey has an uncanny ability to attract the charge. For example, there is the questionable T-shirt hurriedly pulled from Morrissey’s website in March following widespread condemnation. It featured a headshot of the black author and civil rights activist James Baldwin alongside the slogan “I wear black on the outside / ’cause black is how I feel on the inside”, quoted from The Smiths song Unloveable.
The same worrying undercurrents could be said to be present in the new song, Jacky’s Only Happy When She’s Up on the Stage, which appears to address the UK’s immigration policy in the increasingly bitter post-Brexit fallout.
“Scene two, everyone who comes must go,” he sings. “Scene four, it’s blacker than ever before/ Scene six, this country is making me sick.”
During an explosive interview with poet and celebrity fan Simon Armitage in 2010, Morrissey dismissed the entire Chinese race as a “subspecies” because of the country’s lack of animal cruelty laws.
Morrissey’s strict vegetarianism and animal rights views are well documented.
In 2011 he outrageously compared fast food chains to Norwegian mass murderer Anders Breivik, and in an online fan Q&A three years later voiced the explosive opinion that there is “no difference” between eating animals and paedophilia.
Likewise, Morrissey’s attacks on both Britain’s politicians and royal family are nothing new. Morrissey once declared that “the only sorrow” of the October 1984 Brighton hotel bombing, which killed five people, was “that [Margaret] Thatcher escaped unscathed”.
Such comments undoubtedly divided the general public – but it’s important to remember that the then-prime minister was already a deeply divisive figure herself, and the kind of people who embraced the bookish neuroticism of Morrissey’s lyrics were unlikely to be Tory voters.
But times have changed. The sad truth remains that most people typically become more politically conservative as they age and take on greater responsibilities. Morrissey needs to face up to the fact that while his adolescent antagonism has been unwavering, his audience might have grown up a little.
In the same way, the public perception of the royal family has evolved since the divided class warfare of the 1980s.
Recent years have seen a flowering renaissance of affection for the royals, the result of a cumulative public fervour greeting the queen’s Diamond Jubilee, a royal wedding, two royal babies – and a third on the way – all within the past six years.
Morrissey’s sloganeering no longer chimes with the era. More than anything, it just all feels a bit tired.
A young trendsetting band proclaiming the queen dead in the mid-1980s feels very little like a cranky iconoclast, cynically provoking outrage by plastering “Axe the Monarchy” on the front of an 11th solo album, more than 30 years later.
Low in High School is out today