Of the many people I’ve interviewed over the decades, my favourite subject has always been Bono. When you’re in conversation with him, his concentration is intense, which has the effect of making you believe you are the only person in the universe that he cares about at that moment.
He has to be one of the best Irish gabbers of all time, quick with witty observations and often eloquent powers far beyond most mortals. And he will happily talk with you until someone (often literally, in my experience) drags him away to his next appointment.
Like many people, I first read about his remarks to Rolling Stone about being “girly” from other media outlets. And my reaction was maybe the same as yours “What? That’s a bit…socially incorrect, lad. That’s not like you to make such a quotable faux pas. You’re going to get some stick for that.”
People spent the days since the interview’s publication being most annoyed with him and has resulted in quite the backlash. Women, especially, have had an issue with this particuar descriptor. Good. Pushback is warranted.
— Clickbait Robot (@clickbaitrobot) December 28, 2017
Yes, the use of the word “girly” was uncharacteristically ham-handed and, well, dumb. There’s no defense for a man so good with words to be that tone-deaf.
But if you look at the entire quote and look beyond the outrage on the Intertubes, you’ll see that many took Bono’s words somewhat out of context and didn’t focus on the bigger message. Let’s review what was actually said.
How do you discover new music?
The band is always listening to music, and I have got my kids. Jordan [one of Bono’s daughters] is a music snob, an indie snob. Eve [another daughter] is hip-hop. Elijah [his son] is in a band, and he has got very strong feelings about music, but he doesn’t make any distinction between, let’s say, the Who and the Killers. Or, you know, Nirvana and Royal Blood. It is not generational for him. It is the sound and what he is experiencing. He believes that a rock & roll revolution is around the corner.
Do you believe it?
I think music has gotten very girly. And there are some good things about that, but hip-hop is the only place for young male anger at the moment – and that’s not good. When I was 16, I had a lot of anger in me. You need to find a place for it and for guitars, whether it is with a drum machine – I don’t care. The moment something becomes preserved, it is fucking over. You might as well put it in formaldehyde. In the end, what is rock & roll? Rage is at the heart of it. Some great rock & roll tends to have that, which is why the Who were such a great band. Or Pearl Jam. Eddie has that rage.
And therefore you think that there is space still available. . . .
It will return.
If your issue is with his use of the word “girly,” I get it. Bono does come off as sexist, dismissive and machoer-than-thou. He might as well have used words like “feminization” or even “pussification,” for that matter. Bad Bono. Bad.
But if you replace “girly” with “soft,” “poppy,” “weak,” “overproduced,” or “fluffy,” Bono’s position becomes clear: music has been in a soft, poppy cycle for quite some time, something that I’ve been complaining about for almost two years.
Go back and read what Bono said. If you’re a young male, the most testosterone-ridden era of a man’s life, rock hasn’t been your vehicle for venting your anger, rage and energy. Hip-hop has. And outside of a few bands over the last couple of years–Foo Fighters, Muse, Royal Blood, Death from Above and a handful of others–rock has been dominated by the pop end of the genre combined with an introspective woe-is-me attitude (cf. the whingeing of Twenty One Pilots’ “Stressed Out” or The Lumineers’ “Ophelia”), the down-tempo, minor-key sort of stuff we got from Hosier et al over the last five or six years or the alt-rock fallout wrought by Mumford & Sons’ banjos.
The use of “girly” is unfortunate for another reason: it leaves the impression that women aren’t/can’t be as angry as men and therefore unable/unwilling to express themselves through music. That, it goes without further explanation, is total horseshit and requires no further comment.
Lost in all that outrage is this from the interview:
[Streaming] is very, very young, and it’s very, very pop. It’s dominated by frequency of plays, but that is not actually a measure of the weight of an artist … If you are a teenager and you are listening to whatever the pop act is, you’re probably listening to them 100 times a day. It’s a teenage crush, but in a year’s time you won’t care about that.
When you move from an ad-based model to a subscription model, a funny thing happens. Then, the artist who will make you sign up is actually more valuable … artists that have a connection with you and your life, you pay for the subscription service.
If not for the “girly” clunker, we might be talking about that part of the interview. But probably not, since offense and outrage make for better headlines and more clicks. And at a time of the year when website traffic is at its slowest and music news is hard to come by, that’s where the web will go. Just Google “Bono girly” and watch what comes up.
Yes, you might have issues with Bono and his continuous pontificating, wishing that he’d just shut up and go away. And use of the word “girly” was certainly–ahem–ill-advised.
But in this case, put those feelings on hold and focus on what he was actually trying to say: That rock needs to get angry again–made angry by practitioners of both sexes and all persuasions–if it’s ever going to once again become any kind of cultural force that can rival all other genres.