By Fiona Dodwell
Morrissey. Say the name to ten different people and you will get ten vastly different reactions; he is an artist that defies our expectations with his decades-spanning career and constant refusal to be an easy player for the mainstream press.
While many other public figures pander to the latest trends and seem happy to offer their easily digestible platitudes to audiences, Morrissey stands firm: he is completely and unequivocally true to himself. This strength of character has not made his life easy; in fact, it appears to be quite the opposite when one considers the relentless backlashes he has faced as a result.
Yet buried beneath the blanket of the press and the carousel of online stories which attempt to target and undermine him (to the point of caricaturisation) exists a very human Morrissey that has proven himself far ahead of his time in this so-called era of the “woke.”
With the moral panic of the social media age at the forefront of our daily lives, there are few artists out there who have been as transparent and honest as Morrissey has, whether it's pointing out the hypocrisy of the elite or offering a voice to the voiceless.
Here are just five ways that the legendary artist has proven himself to be way ahead of his time…
1/ Animal Rights and the Environment
Morrissey slayed the music world with his release of Meat is Murder (with The Smiths) back in 1985. Never had a public figure made such a bold statement in regards to the meat industry. His passion for animal rights has been evident throughout his life (with Morrissey himself having refrained from eating meat since childhood).
Since the early days of his career, he has been an outspoken proponent of the vegetarian/vegan diet, eagerly promoting the lifestyle in both lyrics and interviews, even when the topic was not met with warm reception. With the Quorn meat-alternative company only starting in the mid 80s, and the Linda McCartney vegetarian food range available only from the early 90s, Morrissey was way ahead of his time through famously promoting a diet that diminished animal cruelty and offered an alternative lifestyle. He made it okay to point out the violence of the meat industry in the public forum, instead of placating audiences who were perhaps too comfortable with their dietary choices.
In today's world of environmental issues and climate protestors, it is interesting to note the media regularly report that the meat industry is one of the main contributing factors and now promote meat-free diets as a way to help our environment.
“Serving meat and dairy at an event to combat climate change,” Morrissey once said, “is like selling pistols at a gun-control rally.”
2/ No Gender Stereotyping
It's an important thing, in 2019, to not feel hemmed in by society's outdated expectations of what it actually is to be a man or a woman. Just how much gender stereotypes effect people has become more evident over time, with more and more awareness being raised of how damaging it can be to individuals and society as a whole when we push people into tiny boxes according to our expectations. Morrissey has never appeared comfortable with the idea that he has to do certain things to be considered a so-called “real man” and has used his music career to challenge gender perceptions.
From the early days with The Smiths when Morrissey would stand, slender and beautiful, clutching onto flowers whilst taking centre stage, to the frank lyrics contained in I Am Not a Man (from the World Peace is None of Your Business album) he has not been held captive to any gender archetype:
“Don Juan, picaresque
Cold hand, ice man
Well if this is what it takes to describe
I'm not a man
Beefaroni, but lonely
Well if this what it takes to describe
I'm not a man, I'm not a man….”
Looking at those lyrics and beyond, to the human Morrissey, who refused to live up to the archetype of the alpha male rockstar, promoting a lifestyle of excess, groupies, sex, drugs and rock n' roll, it is evident without much digging that Morrissey has not ever aligned himself with the expected, and has instead walked a path of individuality, not strangled by societies idea of “male bravado.”
3/ Standing up to Bullies: The Hell of Education
It's not a secret to anyone that bullying happens, and for some, the school years are the hardest. At a time in our world when people are encouraged to be themselves and to speak up when they are being targeted, bullied or mistreated, Morrissey has been far-ahead of the game. Outspoken about his hellish years at school at the hands of certain teachers (he explores this in his book, Autobiography) and comfortable with being honest about how bullying and mistreatment at school effected him, he even went on to pen a song rumoured to be about his early years – You Have Killed Me, which is seen as an anthem by many fans who also experienced hard times at school.
Even in adulthood, when the media seem to slander anyone who does not fit the dot-to-dot prerequisite for palatable reading, Morrissey faces demeaning headline after demeaning headline, yet he remains strong. Bullying has not silenced the real Morrissey, not then and not now. Instead it has birthed in him a view of life that is alien to some, but exquisite to those who have experienced similar suffering in their youth – there is healing in art and solace to be found.
4/ Women's Liberties
It's 2019. The world seems full to the brim of ideas about how women should (rightfully so) be treated as absolute equals in the world, yet there seems a discord in regards to what aspects of this topic can be tackled. When Morrissey spoke about his support of UK political party For Britain, many were up in arms. But what did they truly know about his support, beyond controversial snippets from the mainstream press?
The ill-treatment of many women in Islam is well-known, but receives little exposure in a climate overly concerned with political correctness. The plight of the female in the name of religion includes (but is not limited to) arranged marriage, genital mutilation, being forced to cover-up with head scarves and child marriage, yet Morrissey merely having an opinion is seen as extreme? It is surprising that not more people share the same concerns that Morrissey does.
Of course it seems obvious to many that Morrissey's big draw to the party stems from the fact that they are hugely active within animal rights, but one of the other main tenets of For Britain is the mistreatment of women due to religion. If this isn't an issue to be raised and analysed in 2019 (even if one doesn't agree with all policies of the party) then something must be going very wrong. Morrissey was ready for this conversation a long time ago – why does everyone else appear frightened to discuss it?
5/ Never Sell-Out: The Cost of Morals
A veteran in the music industry since the early 80s, Morrissey remains a creative force to be reckoned with to this day. In most ways, he has been – and continues to be – an artist like no other. His constant refusal to pander to the press and the music industry in general is a rarity amongst artists of his calibre. Many years ago, Morrissey said he would never attend the Brit Awards, which is an unheard of rebellion for any artist, and he has spent his entire career unsettling the status quo, rather than courting the media.
Whilst most public figures rely on these institutions (media, journalists and award ceremonies) to survive, Morrissey has frankly spun around and driven the other way. He simply doesn't believe in it. Ever the contrarian, it seems Morrissey does not want to be there simply as a “people pleaser.” He instead wants to be bold and have something worthy to say: if he merely wanted to please the press, he would not have produced the body of work he has today, for it would be lacking the truth and insight to which all of his output is heavily flavoured by.
Morrissey has become the remarkable figure he has because of his determination to walk the hard road - the rewards for him are much greater and more gratifying when he is true to himself. It's a concept we are only just beginning to appreciate in society – sticking to our guns, not selling out on our beliefs and morals, despite the hardships that may come with it, or the missed, quick-gained glories afforded by cheap compromise.
Morrissey's new single, "It's Over" is scheduled for release in the second week of November on the label BMG.