U2 frontman Bono deserved all the 'rage' he got for lamenting that contemporary music has 'gotten very girly'

Gautam Chintamani

Jan,20 2018 17:34:11 IST

The reactions to legendary rock frontman Bono’s statement suggesting that music today had “gotten very girly” were expectedly quick and far-reaching.

The statement, which was a part of Bono’s Rolling Stone interview, also included an observation that the U2 lead singer made. Bono felt that there were some good things about that (music becoming girly) but hip-hop was “the only place for young male anger at the moment – and that is not good.”

Musicians, Adam Clayton, from left, Bono, Larry Mullan Jnr and The Edge, of the band U2, perform on stage at Twickenham Stadium in London, Sunday, July 9, 2017. (Photo by Joel Ryan/Invision/AP)

Musicians, Adam Clayton, from left, Bono, Larry Mullan Jnr and The Edge, of the band U2, perform on stage at Twickenham Stadium in London, Sunday, July 9, 2017. (Photo by Joel Ryan/Invision/AP)

The quote triggered heated arguments across social media and although it might be difficult, even implausible, to see any other aspect of the statement, could it be possible that Bono unknowingly hinted at something that has been drowned by the tsunami of response?

It is not easy to disregard the blatant sexist or, as a tweet of Roisin O’Connor, a music correspondent with The Independent, suggested the seemingly ‘racist stereotyping’ context of Bono’s statement. Yet, considering that since the early 1980s hip-hop artists have been accused of objectifying and demeaning women and also violence as well as sexual abuse against women the genre becoming a popular form of male expression could somewhere be linked to promoting a kind of violent behaviour. Of course, one must also contextualize hip-hop and yes, not all hip-hop gives rise to sexism and sexism has been prevalent in other forms of music too but what separates the genre is the manner in which its stars are celebrated.  

In rap, says Amy Zimmerman, authenticity just like in any other art form is crucial. In an essay called Bad Role Models, Zimmerman talks how young rap artists such as XXXTentacion and Kodak Black have all been praised for “the way they keep it real” by speaking out on painfully personal topics such as suicide, cycles of abuse, their own crimes, and incarcerations that other celebrities and artists will not touch.

Yet, the gruesome details of XXXTentacion’s alleged assault of young woman becoming public following her deposition did little damage to his popularity. In fact, in 2015, when he did time for armed home invasion, his popularity exploded and it would not be incorrect to say that there is a direct connection between XXXTentacion’s various alleged crimes and his growing influence.

While the focus has been on Bono's sexist comment, should one also look at the other point – how troubling is the notion that hip-hop could be the only popular form of expression of male anger left? To say that hip-hop today could be the only platform left for ‘male’ expression of rage or young males identifying with only a rap artist is wrong.

As a young adult in the mid-1990s, this writer, a south Indian Army brat who grew up in the north, found as much solace in the lyrics of Bruce Springsteen as in the angst expressed by a Caucasian woman from Canada. The aggressive tone and the piercing vocals of Alanis Morissette in her international debut album Jagged Little Pill and particularly on the track 'You Oughta Know' easily overcame the context of the song, which in other words would not traditionally connect with a young male.

The discovery of Sheryl Crow’s debut album Tuesday Night Music Club (1993) and a world within a world landscape of a track such as 'Strong Enough' was just the perfect antidote that many girls and boys were seeking at the time. In fact, an entire generation believed that Crow’s ‘version’ of the hypnotic Led Zeppelin classic 'D’yer Mak’er' was the only one out there. Similarly, a couple of years ago, Tracy Chapman’s ability to connect with perfect strangers and her emotional vulnerability were not ‘female.’ Nearly a decade later, Dido did the same for millions of men across the world and a few decades earlier, Janis Joplin, Joan Baez and Patti Smith managed to do just that.

The expression of raw, visceral emotion and more specifically rage, has been the mainstay of many artists irrespective of their sex. That does not change when an Adele is a go-to artist for many young boys. Perhaps what Bono meant or could have meant was that the classic rock sound has been missing for a few years now. Some years ago in a conversation, Salman Haider of Junoon-fame mentioned to this writer how he missed the ‘big band Junoon sound’ and no matter how hard he tried to move on (the band had broken up), the fans would always seek vintage Junoon songs. Classic Led Zeppelin riffs and the energy of a Jimi Hendrix inspired Haider and this is more than apparent from the east-meets-west sound of 'Yaar Bina' from their album Azaadi.

In many ways, U2 is the last of the big rock bands out there to have evoked a specific kind of passion in musicians not only in the west but also the Indian subcontinent. One can see the spirit of Adam Clayton, the U2 bassist, guiding Brian O'Connell in Junoon’s 'Dosti' and even AR Rahman often turned to U2 when it came to expressing manic rage. Be it the title track of Dil Seor “Tauba Tauba” from the album Vande Mantram (1997), Rahman appears to be have been inspired by David Howell Evans, or as he is better known by his stage name, the Edge.

Regardless of what Bono might have meant, perhaps it is time for a #MeToo like tipping point in the music industry and chiefly hip-hop that openly rewards rappers who abuse women.

Updated Date: Jan 20, 2018 17:34 PM