Demon of Britpop

Britpop was a 1990s musical style that favoured an ‘ironic’ or flattened version of working-class British life inspired by the 1960s – booze, birds and ‘having a good time’.

There is a myth that the movement had to save Union Jack iconography from Morrissey’s fascism.

To recap – in August 1992 Morrissey played 1 of 2 gigs at Finsbury Park, London with the band Madness, who allegedly had a strong skinhead following. While singing Glamorous Glue, Morrissey thrashed the Union Jack around the stage as the crowd reportedly yelled homophobic slurs at him and threw missiles. He refused to play the second gig. The NME interpreted this as Morrissey being racist.

In contrast, The Rolling Stones hired Hell’s Angels to be security at their gig in Altamont, San Francisco in 1969. While they were singing Sympathy For The Devil, a fight broke out and the Hell’s Angels stabbed to death an 18 year old black audience member, Meredith Hunter. This was interpreted by everyone as ‘the end of the 1960s’.

https://www.forbes.com/sites/davidchiu/2019/12/03/altamont-at-50-the-disastrous-concert-that-brought-the-60s-to-a-crashing-halt/?sh=3ddd92ab1941

The Union Jack had always been used extensively in UK pop promotion.

In 1990 New Order released a song for the World Cup with the English football team. Its chant ‘En-ger-land’! became popular without any agonising about it encouraging England’s underbelly of football hooliganism and racism.

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-19596766

https://www.theguardian.com/football/2021/feb/08/english-football-is-consumed-by-racism-and-hatred-can-the-cycle-be-broken

The 90s would see two more hit football anthems, Three Lions (Football’s coming home) by Baddiel, Skinner and The Lightning Seeds, and Vindaloo by Fat Les (We’re England, We’re gonna score one more than you, England!).

Sentimental longing or arrogant bragging, both songs were celebrations of fandom.

Morrissey’s football song – from Your Arsenal, the same album as The National Front Disco – was ‘We’ll Let You Know’ – sinister, mournful, violent – it was anything but a celebration.

How sad are we?
And how sad have we been?
We’ll let you know
We’ll let you know
Oh, but only if you’re really interested

You wonder how
We’ve stayed alive ’til now
We’ll let you know
We’ll let you know
But only if you’re really interested

We’re all smiles
Then, honest, I swear, it’s the turnstiles
That make us hostile
Oh-wah, oh-wah, oh-wah, oh-wah, oh-wah

We will descend
On anyone unable to defend
Themselves
Oh-wah, oh-wah, oh-wah, oh-wah, oh-wah

And the songs we sing
They’re not supposed to mean a thing
La-la-la-la, la-la-la-la, la-la-la-la
La-la-la, la-la-la, la-la-la, la-la-la-la
La-la-la-la

We may seem cold
Or we may even be the most depressing people you’ve ever known
At heart, what’s left, we sadly know
That we are the last truly British people you’ve ever known
We are the last truly British people you will ever know
You’ll ever, never, want to know

Morrissey was excluded from Britpop not because he was the dark side, but because he reminded them that the dark side existed when they wanted to use the fig leaf of irony to enjoy the pride and thrill of being loutish, lustful and national.

I crave extremes. I want to be THAT famous, or THAT known. The only reason I’m in this is to make great rock’n’roll records, for the hell of it, and I’m concerned that everybody thinks I’m this politically correct, right-on woman. (Louise Wener, January 1995, Melody Maker)

We are intensely relaxed about people getting filthy rich as long as they pay their taxes. (Peter Mandelson, New Labour strategist, October 1998, Financial Times)

https://www.phrases.org.uk/meanings/cool-britannia.html

Jingoism

On the 4th of March 2012 Morrissey played a concert in Argentina in which his band wore ‘I hate William and Kate’ t-shirts and he said this about British colony, the Falkland Islands, then a source of renewed tension between Argentina and the UK (the nations had been to war over it in 1982):

You know of course the Malvinas Islands, everybody knows they belong to Argentina so please do not blame the British people, we know the islands belong to you… The government, the governments, never listen to the people, to their pain.

He got a wave of flack in the British press.

https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/morrissey-ive-tried-to-defend-you-but-a-we-hate-william-and-kate-t-shirt-has-pushed-us-to-the-brink-2nlfh382z99

To be a national treasure you have to be likable. Is Morrissey likable any more? I’m almost loth to say that he isn’t, because to do so would be to play into the persecution complex he has been nurturing for the best part of his solo career. Even when he makes pronouncements that, broadly speaking, I agree with, there’s something about the way he makes them that makes me recoil. I’m not a royalist, but pictures of his band lined up either side of him on his recent Argentinian tour, wearing “We hate William and Kate” T-shirts, momentarily made me feel like becoming one. (Pete Paphides, music writer, The Guardian, March 2012)

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2012/mar/10/debate-morrissey-national-treasure

Later that year he was appalled by the jingoism of the London Olympics, the winning bid being tendered by Boris Johnson, then London mayor, now (2021) the UK’s Prime Minister.

“I am unable to watch the Olympics due to the blustering jingoism that drenches the event. Has England ever been quite so foul with patriotism? The ‘dazzling royals’ have, quite naturally, hi-jacked the Olympics for their own empirical needs, and no oppositional voice is allowed in the free press. It is lethal to witness. As London is suddenly promoted as a super-wealth brand, the England outside London shivers beneath cutbacks, tight circumstances and economic disasters. Meanwhile the British media present 24-hour coverage of the ‘dazzling royals’, laughing as they lavishly spend, as if such coverage is certain to make British society feel fully whole. In 2012, the British public is evidently assumed to be undersized pygmies, scarcely able to formulate thought. As I recently drove through Greece I noticed repeated graffiti seemingly everywhere on every available wall. In large blue letters it said WAKE UP WAKE UP. It could almost have been written with the British public in mind, because although the spirit of 1939 Germany now pervades throughout media-brand Britain, the 2013 grotesque inevitability of Lord and Lady Beckham (with Sir Jamie Horrible close at heel) is, believe me, a fate worse than life. WAKE UP WAKE UP.” (Morrissey, August 2012, TrueToYou.Net).

Again it led to a wave of flack in the British press.

The Guardian wrote:

Far from providing a focus of national unity and good cheer, Morrissey, says the Olympics have created a situation in which “the spirit of 1939 Germany now pervades throughout media-brand Britain”.

As ever, he was also misquoted and paraphrased, this time to make him sound like a killjoy racist for NOT flag-waving.

https://www.theguardian.com/music/2012/aug/06/morrissey-olympic-games

Then in 2021 after Harry and Meghan gave an interview to Oprah Winfrey where they accused the UK press and the Royal Family of racism and after the Black Lives Matter protests had led to calls for a reckoning with the UK’s colonial past, some of the same people who took potshots at him in 2012 changed their tune – about royals and patriotism, not Morrissey, who they now believe is an unspeakable British Nationalist.

Here Piers Morgan is referring to his Olympic remarks:

But…

And..

A former colleague who did shifts on the newsdesk there in the 1990s recalls that there was a blacklist of people about whom the paper would not run stories, no matter how good the tale. Top of this list were foreigners and “lowlifes” – who included “anyone with a non-English name, Irish and the entire working class, unless a yuppie plumber”. There were no page leads about black people because page leads had to have an accompanying photograph and “photographers couldn’t take pictures of black people because you couldn’t see their features”.

Meanwhile, over at The Sun (and the News of the World) there was a dread of “poofs” and “queers”, from the “gay plague” and “despicable” gay kiss in “EastBenders” of the 1980s to the “gay mafia” running the country in the late 1990s – when it demanded that all homosexual MPs be outed, explaining: “Their sexuality is not the problem. The worry is their membership of a closed world of men with a mutual self-interest.” (Liz Gerard, March 2021, Press Gazette)

https://theconversation.com/the-royal-family-cant-keep-ignoring-its-colonialist-past-and-racist-present-156749

https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2021/jan/29/the-reckoning-the-toppling-of-monuments-to-slavery-in-the-uk

https://www.businessinsider.com/boris-johnson-record-sexist-homophobic-and-racist-comments-bumboys-piccaninnies-2019-6

In contrast Prince Philip’s ‘off-colour‘ remarks have been consistently framed as ‘gaffes‘.

https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-39806145