The Irish Times - Friday, October 22, 2010

Love don't come easy: artists we love to hate

Axl Woes: The most hated man in rock?Axl Woes: The most hated man in rock?

Some artists just bring us out in a rash, whether they work at it over decades (thanks, Phil) or burst on to the scene ready to repulse (hello, Mr Borrell). But why? KEVIN COURTNEY puts a peg on his nose and dives in to the musical mire. We pray for his safe return

WE ALL have our favourite pop stars, the ones we’d love to meet for a pint or whose feet we’d like to bow at in abject worship. And we all have our own pop hates, the ones who make us want to drop-kick the wireless, throw our TVs out the window or lock ourselves in a sorting office with a rifle and some hostages.

Some we hate purely for their music. Others we hate for myriad reasons. It may be their smug, smarmy self-regard, their penchant for wearing baby seals atop their heads, their habit of banging on about tantric sex, or their insistence on reminding us at every opportunity how many records they’ve sold, but they’ve become so successful, they’ve forgotten one basic skill – how not to be a dickhead.

Then there are the ones we used to love, but who soon wore out their welcome or stretched our tolerance to breaking point. We may have lost our virginity to their records or trekked for days to see them at Knebworth. But then they started mangling Motown classics, doing noodly jazz versions of their old hits, duetting with Lionel Richie or giving Nazi salutes at anti-fox hunting ban rallies. Pretty soon, they’ve turned from heroes to Marillions, and we have to rush home, sneak their albums out the back door and dump them in a culvert.

So, in no particular order, here’s 10 of the world’s most hated pop stars.

To paraphrase Churchill, never in the field of human endeavour has so much irritation been caused to so many by so few.


REASONS TO BE RILED: Phil didn’t earn our hatred overnight – he really had to pay his dues. As the drummer in prog-rock band Genesis, Collins remained largely in the background, but when the band’s singer Peter Gabriel quit in the mid-1970s, Phil stepped forward from the drum stool, and his hate fate was sealed. Hardly a day went by in the 1980s without Collins being in the charts either with Genesis, with Philip Bailey or with himself (the video for You Can’t Hurry Love featured multiple versions of Phil – more frightening than that multi-Malko scene in Being John Malkovich). He performed at Live Aid, playing first at Wembley, then flying over to Philadelphia via Concorde, just to make sure no one in the US got off lightly. By the early 1990s, Phil phatigue had really set in. Rumblings of a rehabilitation began when a Cadbury ad, featuring a gorilla playing drums to In the Air Tonight, became an internet sensation. Last month, he released Going Back, an album of Motown covers, which topped the charts.

WHAT WE HATE MOST : “Su-su-su-sussudio”.

SINGLE GREAT MOMENT : The drum break from In The Air Tonight , especially if played by a man in a gorilla suit.


REASONS TO BE RILED: The day Capt James Blount put down his rifle and picked up his guitar is the day the music died. While in the British army, Blunty served as a cavalryman – and the horsey influence can be detected in his whinnying vocals. His 2006 chart-topper You’re Beautiful is still the No 1 contender for Most Annoying Song of All Time. Talking to the Daily Mail recently, Blunt complained about being a hate figure, saying, “I wouldn’t get all this flak if I wasn’t posh”. Blunt’s third album, Some Kind of Trouble , is out in November – I think I’ll join the Foreign Legion.

WHAT WE HATE MOST: The cartoonish smile.

SINGLE GREAT MOMENT: The scene in Gavin Stacey in which Uncle Bryn (played by Rob Brydon), sings along to Wisemen in the care. 


REASONS TO BE RILED : Rock’n’roll is filled with white singers itching to prove they’re as soulful as black singers. Despite extensive tests, scientists have still not been able to detect a smidgen of soul in the brick-like form of Michael Bolton, but that didn’t stop him from beating Otis Redding’s Dock of the Bay into submission. Bolton gets a special place in the hate pantheon because he was probably pop’s greatest exponent of the mullet. Have mercy!

WHAT WE HATE MOST : He can’t just leave it at high C – he has to go on up to F sharp.

SINGLE GREAT MOMENT : That split-second of silence before he starts bellowing.


REASONS TO BE RILED : The worst environmental disaster in history? When Sting stripped down to his thong, slapped on the wattle-and-daub and declared his intention to save the rainforest. Oh, the rainforest was fine, but the rock’n’roll world suddenly became a more toxic environment. After he left The Police, Sting struck out for brave new horizons of jazz, classical and medieval music. If a baroque reading of Roxanne performed with full orchestra, trumpet and 12th-century lute is your poison, Sting will happily oblige. If you want the straight bass-guitar-drum version you might find yourself escorted to the door of the Albert Hall by a burly guard who looks a bit like Michael Bolton.


SINGLE GREAT MOMENT: He was Ace Face in Quadrophenia .


REASONS TO BE RILED : There are many homegrown stars worth hating – Ronan, Bono, Sinéad – but all must bow to the chieftain of cheese himself, Chris de Burgh. His global hit The Lady in Red set a new standard for schmaltzy ballads, while his 1975 Christmas song, A Spaceman Came Travelling , will waft out of shops every December until the end of the universe. So no escape there. His new album, Moonfleet, is a prog-MOR concept epic complete with orchestra, narration, jigs and hornpipes. De Burgh takes an active interest in how his career is doing – when the press publishes anything critical about his work, he often responds with a robustly worded missive. His written response to an Irish Times review of his 2009 Gaiety Theatre concert was more entertaining than the gig.

WHAT WE HATE MOST: The eyebrow.



REASONS TO BE RILED : The most hated man in rock? Certainly in Ireland, after his recent O2 concert, during which he managed to alienate another huge swathe of his quickly diminishing fanbase. The one-time frontman for Guns N’ Roses, now fronting a band going by the name of Guns N’ Roses, has always been a stroppy git – that’s what you’d expect from a bunch of hard-partying rebel rockers. These days, though, his strops are just annoying. Sorry Axl, you’re no longer worth waiting for.

WHAT WE HATE THE MOST : He owns the Guns N’ Roses name.

SINGLE GREAT MOMENT : When he was in the real Guns N’ Roses.


REASONS TO BE RILED : Everyone joins a band to get girls, but the carrot-topped crooner with Simply Red got so many girls in his heyday, it smacked of showing off. While Morrissey stuck rigidly to his diet of vegetarian food and celibacy, Hucknall got stuck into the fatted calf and galloped with the fillies at every opportunity. His blue-eyed cover of Money’s Too Tight to Mention must have made Phil Collins green with envy, but Simply Red’s original output was more Stylistics than Four Tops.

WHAT WE HATE MOST : The Wurzels-at-the-Ritz look.

SINGLE GREAT MOMENT: The farewell tour.


REASONS TO BE RILED: By his silly silhouette shall ye know him – the one with the buffalo hat, the flares and the stupid turned-out hands and feet. As if Jay Kay’s self-designed logo wasn’t awful enough, the name – a play on the American Iroquois tribe – was even worse. But nothing topped the terrible headgear that became the singer’s trademark. Jam-irritant went on to enjoy numerous chart hits, all of which sounded uncannily like Stevie Wonder on Twiglets. While Jay Kay’s lyrics urged us all to save the whale, stop climate change and hug a tree, suspicion grew that behind the eco-hipster front lurked a gas-guzzling petrolhead who belonged more on Top Gear than Top of the Pops.

WHAT WE HATE MOST: The headgear.



REASONS TO BE RILED : When historians look back on the turn of the millennium, and discover who was the UK’s biggest male pop star, they’ll wonder was this the same country that produced such colourful stars as Bowie, Bryan Ferry and Boy George. Robbie’s music is made for karaoke bars, hen nights, weddings, football terraces and stag weekends in Estonia. It’s certainly not made for our listening pleasure. He styles himself an “entertainer”, but on stage he acts as if the audience is there to entertain him. It’s rare that the Americans get it right, but they got it right about Robbie – they weren’t having it.

WHAT WE HATE MOST: Muscling in on the Take That reunion

SINGLE GREAT MOMENT: Sexing up with Kylie.


REASONS TO BE RILED : In the battle for most annoying frontman of the noughties, there was no shortage of contenders. The guy named Gerard out of My Chemical Romance? Gaarrgh! The chubby-cheeked one in Keane? Bleurgh! Brandon Flowers? Ptuiee! But the prize must go to Johnny Borrell, the man who has led Razorlight to their exalted status as the new Toploader. Borrell is possessed of a prodigious talent – for mouthing off about his own greatness. This kind of guff is, of course, a prerequisite for pop stardom, but whereas Robert Plant can get away with declaring “I am the golden god!”, if you’re going to call yourself the greatest songwriter of your generation, you better come up with something a bit less lame than America.

WHAT WE HATE MOST : His Vogue cover shot.

SINGLE GREAT MOMENT: His association with The Libertines.

High alert They haven't gone away, you know 

Phil Collins has a new album of Motown covers, Going Back . James Blunt unleashes his latest WMDs (warbles of major dullness), Some Kind of Trouble , on November 5. Simply Red’s final (thank you) farewell tour comes to Dublin’s O2 on November 7 and the Odyssey Arena, Belfast, on November 8. Sting’s Symphonicities album, including Police hits in a philharmonic style, is out now, as is Chris de Burgh’s latest album, Moonfleet Other Stories .

Not so fast, you Dishonourable mentions


Chad Kroeger (Nickelback) 

Johnny Rzeznik (Goo Goo Dolls) 

Gerard Way (My Chemical Romance) 

Fred Durst (Limp Bizkit)



Kula Shaker 



Van Halen 

The Fratellis 

Status Quo 

Level 42

Brandon Flowers 

Mark Ronson 

Kanye West 

The guy out of The Script


Liam Gallagher 

Jack White 

Paul McCartney

Vanilla Ice 

Kenny G 



(Counting Crows)

Courtney Love 

Lily Allen 

The Saturdays 

Mariah Carey 

Alanis Morissette


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