(photo: Charles Sykes/Associated Press)
Throughout music history, some artists have become as known for their mouths as much as they are for their music. On various occasions, they’ve made outrageous statements in interviews that have grabbed headlines and alternately thrilled and outraged fans and haters. Here’s a look at some of them.
Chrissie Hynde gets prickly when responding to the sexual assault controversy spurred by a revelation in her memoir (NPR Morning Edition, October 2015)
While doing press to promote her new autobiography Reckless: My Life as a Pretender, Hynde has created a stir with her story about being sexually assaulted as a young woman by a gang of bikers and blaming herself for the attack.
In her NPR interview last week, Hynde pointed out that she never used the word “rape” in her book and seemed not to understand the backlash her comments have attracted. When questioned further about the incident, Hynde eventually lost her cool and hit back at those criticizing her for her failure to toe the politically correct line on sexual abuse.
“I’d rather say, just don’t buy the f—ing book, then, if I’ve offended someone. Don’t listen to my records. ‘Cause I’m only telling you my story, I’m not here trying to advise anyone or tell anyone what to do or tell anyone what to think, and I’m not here as a spokesperson for anyone,” she said. “I’m just telling my story. So the fact that I’ve been — you know, it’s almost like a lynch mob.”
John Lydon says, “We ain’t no band, we’re a company” (The Tomorrow Show with Tom Snyder, June 1980)
This classic interview was awkward and contentious out of the gate. The smoking Snyder kicked things off by asking Lydon, who was joined by then-Public Image Ltd. guitarist Keith Levine, if the band’s name was “Limited” or “Unlimited,” and he promptly followed with: “What is that? Is it a band? Is it a public relations firm? What does it do and what is it?”
Lydon, looking disheveled, disinterested, and annoyed, answered, “We ain’t no band. We’re a company. Simple. Nothing to do with rock 'n’ roll. Doo-dah.” Snyder kept probing, and Lydon and Levine kept being incredibly difficult.
The Sex Pistols cuss up a storm (Thames's Today with Bill Grundy, December 1976)
Four years before his run-in with Snyder, Lydon (then leading the Sex Pistols under the name Johnny Rotten), his Pistols bandmates, and various hangers on (including Siouxie Sioux) appeared on British TV. The band’s single “Anarchy in the U.K.” had just been released, and they pretty much brought anarchy to TV with a foul-mouthed free-for-all of an interview.
Grundy set the tone by saying ,“They’re as drunk as I am” in his introduction of the “punk rockers,” before airing a clip of the band destroying the Stooges’ “No Fun” live. Initially bassist Glen Matlock, who’d soon be replaced by Sid Vicious, fielded Grundy’s question about their 40,000 pound advance seeming “slightly opposed to their anti-materialistic way of life” by responding, “No, the more the merrier.” Guitarist Steve Jones threw down the first F-bomb, before Rotten showed that he was the star of the band by sarcastically claiming that Beethoven, Mozart, Bach, and Brahms are “all heroes of ours, ain’t they?” Lydon added, “They’re wonderful people. Oh! They really turn us on,” raising his eyebrows, sneering, and dropping an S-bomb. After Grundy flirted a bit with Siouxsie, he opened the floodgates, saying, “Go on, you’ve got another 10 seconds. Say something outrageous” – thud prompting Jones to call him a “dirty bastard” before unleashing a few more F-bombs. The segment ended with Grundy bidding the audience goodnight, but telling the Pistols, “I hope I’ll not be seeing you again.”
Lana Del Rey says, “I wish I was dead already,” when discussing her heroes Amy Winehouse and Kurt Cobain (The Guardian, June 2014)
Alt-rock’s favorite ice queen shocked almost everyone by publicly wishing she was ice cold – as in dead. She made the shocking revelation in an interview with British newspaper The Guardian. Prior to the bombshell revelation, journalist Tim Jonze asked Lana if she thought dying young was glamorous, and she responded, “I don’t know. Ummm, yeah."
When Jonze instinctively responded with "don’t say that” and “you don’t,” Del Rey insisted, “I do! I don’t want to have to keep doing this. But I am.” Jonze further questioned, “Do what? Make music?” Del Rey responded, “Everything. That’s just how I feel. If I wasn’t that way, then I wouldn’t say it. I would be scared if I knew [death] was coming, but…”
Following the statement, Del Rey became engaged in a Twitter conversation with Cobain’s daughter Frances Bean, who tweeted that “the death of young musicians isn’t something to romanticize.” Del Rey went on to explain, “[The interviewer] was asking me a lot about your dad. I said I liked him because he was talented, not because he died young. The other half of what I said wasn’t really related to the people he mentioned. I don’t find that part of music glam either.”
Jonze later put up audio of his conversation with Del Rey on Soundcloud to prove he had not twisted the singer’s words.
Billy Bob Thornton gets difficult (Canada’s CBC Radio/Q TV, April 2009)
Sometimes successful actors who try their hand at music develop a bit of a chip on their shoulder when asked about their day jobs. In this interview, Thornton apparently went off the rails due the glowing introduction by host and future controversy-baiter Jian Ghomeshi, who mentioned that in addition to leading his band the Boxmasters as the principle singer, songwriter, and drummer, Thornton is an “Oscar-winning screenwriter/actor/director.”
Ghomeshi asked the seemingly softball question, “Billy Bob, you guys formed only in the last couple of years, right?” Thornton lurched into near-Lydon mode and responded, “I don’t know what you’re talking about.” Surprised, the host came back with, “How so?” – to which Thornton replied, “I don’t know what you mean by that.”
Apparently Thornton could speak, but he temporarily lost his ability to understand English. Awkwardness ensued.
Keith Richards calls the Beatles' Sgt. Pepper’s "a mishmash of rubbish" and “a load of s—” (Esquire, August 2015)
Richards has never been one to hold back his opinions, and he seems to be getting even pricklier with age. In an interview to promote Richards’s new solo album Crosseyed Heart, interviewer Scott Rabb compared some mid-period Beatles albums to the Stones’ efforts during that same era, setting the stage for Keef to unload on one of the most beloved albums of all time.
“The Beatles sounded great when they were the Beatles,” Richards said. “But there’s not a lot of roots in that music. I think they got carried away. Why not? If you’re the Beatles in the '60s, you just get carried away — you forget what it is you wanted to do. You’re starting to do Sgt. Pepper. Some people think it’s a genius album, but I think it’s a mishmash of rubbish, kind of like Satanic Majesties — 'Oh, if you can make a load of s—, so can we.’”
In subsequent interviews, Richards also took shots at such similarly sacred rockers as the Who and Led Zeppelin.
Kanye West compares himself to Steve Jobs, Walt Disney, Henry Ford, and others (The New York Times, June 2013)
Kanye West is the gift that keeps giving. Almost on a weekly basis, Yeezus makes headlines with his often-outrageous thoughts. In the last month, he gave an interview filled with ridiculously long awkward pauses and then in another chat he proclaimed that Keeping Up With the Kardashians should be awarded armfuls of Emmys. Whatever you say, Kanye!
His most outrageous, however, might be this chat with The New York Times just prior to the release of his 2013 album Yeezus. When talking about his “trendsetting,” Kanye veered into third person to compare himself to some of the most famous individuals of the 20th century.
“I think what Kanye West is going to mean is something similar to what Steve Jobs means. I am undoubtedly, you know, Steve of Internet, downtown, fashion, culture. Period. By a long jump. I honestly feel that because Steve has passed, you know, it’s like when Biggie passed and Jay Z was allowed to become Jay Z,” he said. “I’ve been connected to the most culturally important albums of the past four years, the most influential artists of the past 10 years. You have like, Steve Jobs, Walt Disney, Henry Ford, Howard Hughes, Nicolas Ghesquière, Anna Wintour, David Stern.”
Wow, just wow.
Speaking of Yeezus, Kanye certainly isn’t the first pop star to compare himself to Jesus, and he likely won’t be the last. John Lennon famously did it in an interview that failed to generate much outrage, until it was quoted five months later in an American teen magazine called Datebook. Soon after, protests, which included Beatles record-burnings and their songs being banned from radio playlists, sprung up the southern U.S.
The controversy coincided with the band’s August 1966 American tour, prompting Beatles manager Brian Epstein to call a series of press conferences to allow Lennon to explain himself – with mixed results. Despite those efforts, some continued to picket the band’s tour stops, including the Ku Klux Klan.
Elton John comes out (Rolling Stone, October 1976)
At the time, John was the biggest pop star on the planet, but then he came clean to Rolling Stone about his sex life – at a time when the world was far less accepting of homosexuality, 39 years before the Supreme Court ruled that same-sex couples have the right to marry.
“There’s nothing wrong with going to bed with somebody of your own sex,” John told interviewer Cliff Jahr. “I think everybody’s bisexual to a certain degree. I don’t think it’s just me. It’s not a bad thing to be. I think you’re bisexual. I think everybody is.”
When Jahr pointed out that John hadn’t acknowledged this “in print before,” John responded, “Probably not. [Laughs] It’s going to be terrible with my football club. It’s so hetero, it’s unbelievable. But I mean, who cares! I just think people should be very free with sex – they should draw the line at goats. Shirley MacLaine said the right thing to Tom Snyder on TV. She said, 'Oh c'mon, Tom. Let’s stop all this stupid macho business. It really is a bit passé now.’ And he didn’t know what to say to that. Shirley’s got the right approach.”
John may have taken the right approach by being honest about his sexuality, but some of his fans weren’t ready. This admission coincided with the end of streak of seven No. 1 albums in America. Blue Moves, the album released at the time of the interview, stalled at No. 3.
Sting proclaims he has tantric sex for seven hours (Demolition Man, October 1998)
This story was first revealed in Christopher Sandford’s biography of the Police frontman 17 years ago, but soon after became fodder for subsequent Sting interviews to this day.
In 2009, Sting’s daughter Coco Sumner blew the lid off the story by telling the U.K. magazine Love that it was nothing more than a joke created by Bob Geldof. In 2014, Sting further came clean on the myth during an interview with James Lipton on Inside the Actors Studio. “If we had seven hours, I would demonstrate,“ Sting joked. “Maybe not. But there is some truth to it.” But then he got a bit serious about the subject. "The idea of tantric sex is a spiritual act,” he explained. “I don’t know any purer and better way of expressing a love for another individual than sharing that wonderful, I call it ‘sacrament.’ I would stand by it. Not seven hours, but the idea.”
Then, he added, “Seven hours includes movie and dinner.”