He’s been in the public eye for almost 40 years, but today, Morrissey is a figure submerged in controversy. The latest news on him is that he’s been brought onto Chicago’s Riot Fest lineup as half of a replacement for Nine Inch Nails (the other half being Slipknot) and fans are rightfully upset.
Morrissey’s last appearance at Riot Fest in 2016 left many festival-goers angry, and his current political views are the antithesis of punk.
So, with the announcement that Nine Inch Nails, a band whose songs are left-wing, progressive, and politically charged, would be dropping out of the festival, fans were incensed that Morrissey, an outspoken right-wing musician would replace them. But what exactly is the controversy behind Morrissey? He’s a classic musician who rose up as the lead singer of The Smiths, so what happened to him?
There wasn’t always controversy around Morrissey.
When Morrissey was the frontman of The Smiths, he was an icon. Outsiders and rejects felt understood by the music and lyrics of The Smiths and felt they could identify with Morrissey.
With lyrics like, “I am the son and the heir of a shyness that is criminally vulgar; I am the son and heir of the nothing in particular,” from “How Soon Is Now?”, how could we not suddenly feel like someone just gets us?
But disagreements between Morrissey and The Smiths’ guitarist, Johnny Marr, led to the group splitting after only five years together in 1987. That’s when the controversy with Morrissey began.
He brought over a major fanbase from The Smiths to his solo career, so when he first claimed things like reggae being “the most racist music in the entire world” and said that he “detests … Black modern music,” his fans largely ignored his remarks.
Morrissey grew more controversial with time.
At first, people wanted to dismiss Morrissey’s controversial comments, but as he continued to stand by them, it became harder and harder for his very progressive original fanbase to ignore them.
In 1992, he waved the Union Jack flag, back then a clear symbol of the far-right at a festival that welcomed skinheads. In his solo work, lyrics like, “Shelve your western plans and understand that life is hard enough when you belong here,” were so clearly anti-immigration that he began losing fans.
As politics in Britain grew even more divisive with Brexit, Morrissey spoke up. He wasn’t just pro-Brexit, but he was pro-For Britain, a far-right satellite party led by Anne Marie Waters.
The For Britain movement states that Islam “is directly responsible for unimaginable cruelty to women, to atheists or apostates, to children, and to animals,” and has an entire manifesto dedicated to turning British citizens against Muslims.
In 2019, Morrissey wore a “For Britain” pin on his appearance on The Tonight Show, further cementing his political stance. Not only is For Britain extremely Islamophobic, but they are staunchly anti-immigration and anti-Black Lives Matter.
For Britain spread false information about refugees and asylum seekers, claiming that they “present a direct threat to the safety of British people.” In another recent website post, For Britain called Black Lives Matter “Marxist-Anarchist.”
The controversy that follows Morrissey has only continued.
While Morrissey’s strong support of For Britain is just one nail in the coffin, it’s basically equivalent to being a die-hard Trump supporter. So naturally, it’s not too surprising that he’s made other spotty remarks throughout the years, like positing, “Everyone ultimately prefers their own race,” as well as railing against the #MeToo movement.
In 2017, Morrissey defended Harvey Weinstein, Kevin Spacey, and more known sex offenders, and he said some pretty questionable things. “If you go through the history, almost everyone is guilty of sleeping with minors,” he said in an interview with the German magazine Der Spiegel. “Why don’t we throw everyone in jail?”
He continued on to say that Anthony Rapp should have known what was going to happen and that Spacey was “unnecessarily attacked.”
When it came to Weinstein, he insisted, “Those people knew exactly what would happen [when they went up to Weinstein’s hotel room], and they played along. Afterwards they were embarrassed or they didn’t enjoy it.” In both situations, Morrissey does a great job of victim-blaming without taking into account the perpetrator abusing their power.
The most ironic thing about the controversy around Morrissey though is that his animal rights stance somehow also draws backlash. Even though animal rights tend to fall on the progressive end of the political spectrum, he uses his views to denounce halal practices, a Muslim tradition.
In addition, he forces his veganism on everyone else while touting "free speech." At the 2016 Riot Fest, he mandated that food vendors were not allowed to serve any meat, and festival-goers were not happy.
One brave vendor, Puffs of Doom, whose owner and head chef is vegetarian, actually released a statement explaining how all Morrissey’s “meat mandate” did was hurt small businesses and result in food waste. In classic Riot Fest fashion, they created a “Pork Morrissey” sandwich to satirize the situation, which fans appreciated.
At a festival that tends to lean towards social rights and progressive activism, Morrissey will once again be an outsider.