Morrissey let me down. After finding the former Smiths singer upon his re-entry into the alternative rock world in the early noughties and then indulging my teenage romantic rebellion in all the revelry and reeling around the fountains that The Smiths offered, it soon became apparent to me that Morrissey was the rock star idol I had always dreamed of. Growing up in a working-class family that championed literacy and music above all else, picking Moz as my cultural North Star was a no brainer. Sadly, as time has passed and I’ve grown up in a world that feels far scarier than ever before, it’s hard to ignore the uncomfortable truth about Stephen Patrick Morrissey.
My story is not a unique one. Whether it was in the early 1980s when Morrissey joined his Iggy-influenced jangle-pop counterpart Johnny Marr to create The Smiths or you caught wind of the poetic rock and roll pomp of the band after they’d already broken up — the band had a habit of changing everything about you after only a few listens. Teenagers, especially, are drawn to the band like mopey moths to an all too enticing flame of flowery language, intellectual snobbery and disdainful danceability. The draw of The Smiths may have been spread across these ideals, championing a literacy within pop music that had never been so desperately needed, but Morrissey’s charisma spearheaded it.
Morrissey has never been a shy or retiring figure. Even from his teenage years, a time he spent reading and writing, slowly walking around the dark and gloomy streets of Manchester, bored by modernity and desperately craving stardom, Morrissey knew that his opinions could get him attention. He would share them in letters and, when given the opportunity by NME, he would use them in reviews of otherwise acclaimed artists. For Morrissey, almost everything, apart from New York Dolls, was below par.
It was a proposition that connected with swathes of a generation in the early eighties. The cultural landscape at the time was blighted by commercialism and a sincere lack of care or creativity. The cocky eighties were a decade that only saw the value in cold hard cash. It turned the music world from a crucible of artistic integrity into a smorgasbord of poorly-produced candied pop. Morrissey and The Smiths arrived with authenticity for their work that, only a year after their inception, in 1984, The Smiths were becoming a nationally recognised pop band. In fact, they were one of the biggest bands on the planet. Having already been crowned the kings of the indie scene, the creative pair of Morrissey and Marr were still set on conquering the world. While some would go to war, The Smiths would do it by providing a genuine alternative to the music scene.
Morrissey used his lyrics and his looks to provide that alternative. Lyrically, he represented one of the most sincere and sought after voices around. Championing the downtrodden, he was sincerely anti-capitalist and a bonafide animal rights activist, providing a voice for those who needed it most. He was authoritatively anti-monarchy, ensuring that the machismo of rock was given a thorough bashing with his bouquet whenever possible and delivering a safe space for a generation of disaffected teens. It saw Morrissey become an idol across the board as one of the most subversive rock stars around. Little did we know that, some years later, this predilection for controversy would change with the times and cast Moz as music’s answer to Tucker Carlson.
There’s no doubt that in the early days, Morrissey showed a nationalistic tendency that seemed innocent enough. After all, artists from The Beatles and the rest of the ‘British invasion’ all the way up to Sex Pistols have claimed their country and apparel for their in one way or another. It would continue into the nineties, with Noel and Liam Gallagher also claiming the Union Jack as part of their ensemble. But for Morrissey, things started to take a more serious turn.
Around the same time as Britpop exploded, Morrissey began getting pictures taken draped in the British flag; he also began making disparaging remarks about immigration. Hell, he even wrote a song called ‘The National Front Disco’. But while Morrissey’s views always gained column inches, as his music waned and the singer’s original fandom began to find themselves in bank manager positions, he began to find his place in the press less and less often. Years later, he made a big return in 2004 with You Are The Quarry, his first new album in seven years. It was about this time, at around 15 years old, that I would become enchanted with Morrissey.
I pawed over his new record, found particular favour in the somewhat strangely placed ‘Irish Blood English Heart’, and began to dive deep into The Smiths rich tapestry of indie-pop. It would sate me in the exact same way as it had for generations before me. Morrissey was not only a singer, a writer of clever and morose lyrics or simply a rock star, Moz was the embodiment of a romantic dream that England seemed incapable of genuine producing. Time passed, the indie explosion hit in a big way and as nu-rave arrived with a Day-Glo sexiness that sitting in cemeteries didn’t produce. I moved on.
That allowed the furore of Morrissey’s comments to largely pass me by. After all, smartphones were still in their infancy, and people’s reliance on social media had only just begun to take root. It was straightforward to ignore the ramblings of an ageing rock star, such as his 2007 conversation with NME journalist Tim Jonze: “Britain’s a terribly negative place,” he said. “And it hammers people down, and it pulls you back, and it prevents you. Also, with the issue of immigration, it’s very difficult because, although I don’t have anything against people from other countries, the higher the influx into England, the more the British identity disappears. So the price is enormous. If you travel to Germany, it’s still absolutely Germany. If you travel to Sweden, it still has a Swedish identity. But travel to England, and you have no idea where you are.” Comments like this could go by without so much as a second glance. These days, it isn’t so easy to keep things quiet.
Over recent years, the volume of Morrissey’s voice has become an ever-increasing one. Having made some seriously disgusting remarks about Anthony Rapp, the accuser of Kevin Spacey: “One wonders if the boy did not know what would happen,” said Morrissey, “When you are in somebody’s bedroom, you have to be aware of where that can lead.” Every disparaging comment made by Morrissey is now picked up like the cheap thrill it is and shared across the globe in seconds.
When it comes to different races or nationalities, Morrissey can get a little more vicious. He labelled Chinese people a “sub-species” because of their animal rights policies; he said he couldn’t understand how the mayor of London Sadiq Khan spoke, saying, “Even Tesco wouldn’t employ Diane Abbott,” about the Cambridge-educated former shadow home secretary. He also supported the far right-wing political party For Britain (largely because they were determined to remove Halal killings) and said the way the press treated Tommy Robinson (a known racist political figure) was too harsh. It all mounts up.
However, one of his worst moments came in 2019 when, after Stormzy provided a generation-defining performance at Glastonbury, Morrissey posted a video claiming that the British institution promoted multiculturalism over white culture. Posting a video titled ‘Nothing But Blue Skies For Stormzy … the gallows for Morrissey’ on Morrissey Central. The clip showed headlines of Stormzy glorious performance contrasting with headlines about Morrissey’s support of For Britain. It has seen the singer labelled as a racist by his detractors.
A swing to the right politically is somewhat expected as the years roll by, but there are other incidents to consider. In 1986, the singer told Mojo that there was a “black pop conspiracy” which was keeping The Smiths out of the charts, labelling reggae as “the most racist music in the entire world” and that he “detests […] black modern music”. In 1992 he caused Cornershop to turn their back on him for his use of the Union Jack in provoking a skinhead crowd into vicious remarks. When the NME wrote a story about the moment, he refused to speak to them for 12 years — a trick that the singer often pulls off when the press paint him in an unfavourable light. He even took shots at The Simpsons this year for alluding to his moral character. But in the last few years, things have gotten far worse.
It’s a view that has left many of his supporters in complete limbo. The man who had given them safe refuge from the cold and careless commercial world was now keen to pull up the drawbridge and start firing out fearsome remarks like a dragon in their turret, happy to cause damage and make dollars whenever he can. The uncomfortable truth about Morrissey is that he has quickly become everything he stood against and let us all down in the process. Perhaps what is even more uncomfortable is that he isn’t alone.
Swathes of the same generations who moved to liberate women, who fought for sexual freedom, championed the rights of refugees, and LGBT people are now succumbing to the easy contrarianism of celebrities like Tucker Carlson, Piers Morgan and, yes, you guessed it, Morrissey. Sadly, after his recent album releases, it has become abundantly clear that the only way Morrissey can continue to remain relevant is to keep making these remarks, firing them out into the ether, unconcerned with the damage they may cause and retreating to his masturbatory echo chamber of fans claiming innocence whenever things get a little too hairy.
For me and many other fans of the singer’s band and his solo work, it can be incredibly difficult to align my own values with that of a former idol. The singer represented such a pivotal moment in my life; he offered so much connection in one of the loneliest periods of my teenage years that it can be easy to get offended by the evidence noted above. It can feel like an attack on one’s own character to have your teen idol be torn down. But really, we should thank Morrissey for making us feel this way.
It is only through his left-wing values in the eighties that we can note just how screwed up his opinions in the 21st century are.