Whether or not you like The Smiths, or any of his solo music, it is difficult to overcome the labelling of Morrissey as an “excessive” musician. Despite being judged by music critics to be one of the most important artists of the 1980s, throughout his 40-year-career Morrissey has been accused by celebrities, members of the general public and the global mass media of racial insensitivity, promoting far-right views, and defending sexual criminals. If this wasn’t enough, he has also publicly given statements in which he criticises the royal family, that he views as authoritarian and corrupt. It is safe to say that ‘this charming man’ has been described over the course of his career as anything but.
What does it mean to describe a musician as “excessive”? Considering the nature of the popular music industry, we must remember that, essentially, free reign is given to all kinds of craziness. Morrissey is part of an industry in which Lady Gaga can turn up to the 2010 MTV music video awards in a dress made of meat.
So, why do we call certain people “excessive”, and allow others to escape from this label? It is far from unusual for a musician to be outspoken about their values and politics, especially in today’s ‘woke’ culture. This begs the question: why is Morrissey so often criticised for expressing his views and labelled as ‘excessive’?
The answer may be rooted in the fact that he takes his views one step further than most. Take his staunch commitment to vegetarianism, and later veganism, as an example. Morrissey regularly refuses to perform in venues that host companies selling meat, and has been known to forbid his band members from being photographed eating it. In 2011, following the Oslo massacre in which 76 people died, he was reported to have told a crowd it was ‘nothing’ compared to the animals killed for meat in fast-food chains every day. He’s certainly not the only artist to have committed themselves to defending the rights of animals, but I doubt many others would go to such lengths to show it. Whether you see it as an admirable display of integrity or as plainly unnecessary, the ways in which Morrissey expresses his views seem to be especially ‘excessive’ even within the grand scope of celebrity behaviour. Somehow, Morrissey’s controversial views add to his sense of artistic and personal authenticity. For example, he has made comments and taken political stances that even his most loyal fans have found difficult to stomach. In one statement, he called Reggae ‘the most racist music in the world – an absolute glorification of black supremacy’. In a 2017 interview, he defended the accused sexual predators Harvey Weinstein and Kevin Spacey, blaming the victims for ‘overreacting’. More recently, headlines have reported his support for the nationalist group ‘For Britain’, which he has described as “the only British political party that can safeguard our security.” Again, this was a move that fans have questioned, especially considering his support for the Muslim community around the UK.
Then again, Morrissey has alwaysbeen controversial. Who couldn’t be when they write lyrics such as ‘why do I smile / at people who I’d much rather kick in the eye?’. Should his outspoken nature and tendency to shock even come as a surprise? We might even say that part of his “excess” is his unpredictability; his unwavering commitment not to fit the mould, to always keep us wondering what’s next.