For a considerable period, being a Smiths fan has been an unconventional experience. Embracing this peculiarity was integral for followers during the ’80s and ’90s, as the band skillfully articulated the sentiments of lonely teenagers yearning for love or perhaps just some affectionate moments at a high school dance.
While my appreciation for the band’s musical prowess and Johnny Marr’s distinctive guitar style grew over time, it’s undeniable that the primary allure for every Smiths fan originated from the band’s frontman, Morrissey.
His lyrics, such as “I wear black on the outside because black is how I feel on the inside,” resonated with us oddballs and our sense of yearning, infusing loneliness and anger with enough wit and humor to affirm that being clever surpassed the pursuit of coolness. The jocks and alphas were the real losers, according to Morrissey.
The Smiths gradually gained a measure of coolness, especially with the rise of “How Soon Is Now?” in 1984, a B-side that initially started as Johnny Marr’s attempt at a Creedence Clearwater Revival-style song.
Morrissey transformed it into an anthem about shyness and the challenges of connecting at gay clubs. Despite the band’s increased visibility, they maintained an underground aura, preserving a sense of belonging for fans who still considered themselves outsiders.
However, challenges arose as Morrissey’s political views veered towards right-wing nationalism and xenophobia, tarnishing the band’s legacy. Negotiating this contradiction became more difficult, but fans remained steadfastly cool even as Morrissey’s public image shifted toward being an antagonist.
The shock intensified when reports surfaced about the Smiths’ iconic song “Please, Please, Please Let Me Get What I Want” being played at Trump rallies. Johnny Marr, a staunch supporter of left-wing causes, expressed his disbelief on Twitter, vowing to shut down any association with the rallies.
Past attempts by liberal musicians to prevent conservative politicians from using their songs at rallies indicated the difficulty in curbing such usage.
The pressing question is how a song about a sad sack pleading for a chance at happiness ended up in MAGA world. Speculation abounds, from the possibility of it being a joke at Trump’s expense to a deliberate choice aligned with Morrissey’s anti-immigrant stance. However, the answer might lie in understanding the evolving perception of the Smiths among Generation Z.
A revelation came when talking to a teenager who confessed to liking the Smiths despite their tarnished reputation. To my surprise, he referred to the band as “incel music.” The term “incel,” denoting involuntary celibates, has infiltrated popular culture, with some self-identified incels being associated with acts of mass violence.
Unbeknownst to me, the Smiths had become the music of choice for certain individuals, channeling their frustrations with celibacy into misogyny.
The lyrics, primarily centered around loneliness, resonated with this group, encapsulated in a post on a Morrissey fansite declaring, “Morrissey’s music isn’t for women,” citing the theme of loneliness that apparently only men could truly understand.
In conclusion, the unexpected transformation of a once-beloved band into a symbol for a divisive political figure and a subculture dealing with deep-seated issues sheds light on the complex and evolving nature of music’s impact on society.
The Smiths, with their nuanced lyrics, have become emblematic of both resistance and appropriation, leaving fans grappling with the paradoxes of their favorite tunes.