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Morrissey perhaps said it best when he mentioned the issue of controversy in the public eye. "I've never intended to be controversial, but it's very easy to be controversial in pop music because nobody ever is."
Indeed, when one looks at some of the industry figures who've fancied themselves as trouble-makers over the years, (the likes of Kanye West, Marilyn Manson, Madonna and Eminem) it's not hard to see why Morrissey pushes people's buttons far more than anyone else. For his are not empty gestures geared towards creating a public buzz or a publicity stunt designed to get people talking: the apparent "controversy" of Morrissey, both as a person and an artist, is that he is simply himself.
There is no mask. No media courting, no "self-edited" niceties and certainly no pretenses. In this, Morrissey is one of the most unique artists of our time, for he has never tried (or needed) to create a storm around his career. He, quite simply, is the storm, and his fans adore him for it.
When we look to today's current and upcoming stars of the music world, there appears to be a sort of "limpness" to their public persona. Witty tongues are whittled down to sensible smiles and polite nods; words that have an edge are quickly filed down into something media-friendly, and public apologies come slipping out of their mouths like the damp squibs that they are.
Insincere, safe, well-trained figures that toe the line and are usually quick to distance themselves from whatever the world has decided that day must be targeted. There is often, to artists like this, no back-bone. And for those that choose to stand up and trade their media praise for honesty, the price is often high. Morrissey knows this more than anyone, but perhaps his detractors do not: he's as adored and loved as an artist today because of his spirit of genuineness and truthfulness—not despite it.
It makes people uncomfortable, perhaps, that Morrissey doesn't reign in his tongue, his thoughts, his opinions. We have become acclimatized to safe public figures who brand themselves as a commodity like a soft drink, palatable at first but devoid of any substantial nourishment.
We've come to expect artists to be scripted, rehearsed and pandering to the perpetually-outraged social media mob and this makes Morrissey all the more an easy target for not shying away when standing up for his opinions and beliefs. He is not standing for the popularity contest; for him there is no contest. He dances to his own tune and those that appreciate him follow.
Opinions on Morrissey vary widely depending on who you ask. From his early days with The Smiths right up until his solo releases in recent years, he appears to be a divisive figure. The mainstream media have sadistically enjoyed cultivating a mock image of the man so far removed from the truth that probably the artist himself no longer recognizes who they are speaking of. His peers in the music industry seem keen to shovel disparaging words towards him, lest they be viewed as being "like him" (they needn't worry, few of us believe most of the meandering beige bores would be capable of being like him if they tried).
When it comes to "playing it safe," there is an almost humorous aspect to watching fellow famous figures being asked their opinions on Morrissey in press interviews. "Well, we like his music," they all mewl awkwardly, "but of course we don't agree with a lot of what he says," they all hasten to add, thus removing any possible "guilt" they must bear from admitting their admiration of the artist's rock solid back catalogue of pop gems.
Rarely do these figures ever really explain anything specific about their opinions, usually there is a mere parroting of some of the (by now) cliched headlines that have been banded about over the years—the usual baseless talk of racism and his political opinions. Even less are the number of people who realize Morrissey in real life is the Morrissey of his lyrics: they are one and the same, making admiration of his music but disdain of his opinions a sort of insane minefield that leaves us in wonder at how anyone can miss this larger point.
Few have seemingly examined Morrissey himself beyond the myriad of press stories, or they would wonder why his supporting of a party that believes in the equality of women, respect for all animals and a sensible approach to immigration has become, somehow, a nightmare of epic proportions for which the UK press, especially, withhold their "forgiveness." With this, too, should come the question about the destruction that the Conservative Party in the UK has wreaked upon it's own citizens in recent years—not caring for the vulnerable in our society and destroying the arts, yet seemingly it is a respectable thing to do to keep voting them in—the same party who are destroying that which they claim to value.
It was earlier this year when The Smiths' guitarist Johnny Marr's son, Nile Marr, began to make public pops at Morrissey. "Give me your best new tourism slogan for Manchester," one fan asked him. "Sorry about Morrissey," Marr replied. Not stopping there, he also shared a picture of a t-shirt with "Morrissey Is A Racist" printed across the front.
Quite what he is basing his opinion on he hasn't really said (maybe he doesn't know why himself). It seems particularly intriguing that Nile Marr wants to display public animosity towards the very artist who has afforded him a platform in the first place. It seems obvious to most that without the legendary output of The Smiths and Morrissey, the status and following that Marr Jr. was handed would be non-existent. Maybe some should choose who they make enemies of a little more wisely?
Just last week, Suzanne Harrington—a reporter for The Irish Examiner—made her futile opinion on Morrissey publicly known on the news website. "It's a blow when heroes like Morrissey turn out to be idiots," she blasted, adding further on that she believes Morrissey is "relevant now only to a handful of die-hards."
Whilst it's rather infantile of her to try to rewrite reality and truth to fit into her narrow, erroneous opinion of the legend, it really doesn't take much "research" to see her words couldn't be further from the truth. His career has gone from strength to strength. Just last year, Morrissey released the critically lauded California Son, reaching #7 in the US Billboard chart and #3 in the vinyl chart. From the success of this
He released "I Am Not A Dog On A Chain" in March of this year, which debuted at #3 in the UK and was the springboard for a sold out tour. Furthermore, Morrissey completed a string of sold out Broadway residency shows—with more planned for 2021, if Covid allows. This type of career is the stuff of dreams for the likes of Marr Jr.
Whilst his critics have nothing more than empty headlines and immature jibes towards one of the most important songwriters and singers of our time, Morrissey need not worry, for he knows he has a dedicated army of fans across the world who appreciate him not only for the music, but for the very thing that tortures his critics: his insistence on standing up for the uncomfortable truths in a world terrified of offending the loud-mouthed minority.
With a career that few others can dream of, Morrissey has indeed attained the impossible: he's enjoyed success without playing the game. He has aligned himself not as a media darling or a panderer to the people, but as authentic and genuine to himself. For that, he'll always stand apart from his peers. There is truly no other artist like him, and all the while the media crucify the outspoken individuals of the world, there probably never will be again.