Cockiness in rock: why we need more frontmen (and women) like Alex Turner

by - Thursday, February 20, 2014

Image Courtesy of The Huffington Post

Like three quarters of final year students, I spent my Wednesday night simultaneously writing my dissertation and watching the Brit Awards. Gone are the days where I set aside all commitments to pore over the ceremony - I think the last time it provided anything truly entertaining was when Busted shouted ‘Fuck’ at the end of their pre-watershed appearance back in 2004. but i digress. every year has it’s 'OMGicannotbelievetheyjustdidthat-ohwaityesican' moment, and this year it belonged to our very own Alex Turner. Bagging the gong for Best British Album, our be-quiffed hero swaggered onstage like Elvis reincarnate, holding his newly won prize like a bag of shopping and delivered the following, sprawling yet enlightening speech, with a grin playing at the corner of his mouth like Danny Zuko after a particularly good sprint round the ol’ athletics track:

"That rock 'n'roll, eh? That rock'n'roll, it just won't go away. It might hibernate from time to time, and sink back into the swamp. I think the cyclical nature of the universe in which it exists demands it adheres to some of its rules.But it's always waiting there, just around the corner. Ready to make its way back through the sludge and smash through the glass ceiling, looking better than ever. Yeah, that rock'n'roll, it seems like it's faded away sometimes, but it will never die. And there's nothing you can do about it."

Dropping his malfunctioning microphone to the floor, with a sardonic ‘invoice me later’, he sauntered off, ready to be bombasted by three quarters of the audience and a surprisingly amount of my twitter feed.

Blasted for his arrogance, for hypocrisy over turning up to an event he professes to hate and for being ungrateful to the BRIT academy, Turner quickly became about as hated online as Katie Hopkins on a council estate.

Dropping a microphone and requesting an invoice probably isn't the most ‘grateful' of moves. But do we really disagree with anything he’s said, after winning an award in a category of frankly uninspiring acts? If the majority of the British public had taken a second to calm down before grabbing their smartphones, they might have considered that Alex’s comment is a very pertinent and topical one, in the wake of this weeks news that Rock music is once again performing well in the charts. Now, we’re not sure that Mumford and Sons shifting a few thousand mp3’s constitutes Rock’s rebirth either, but it’s a good sign nonetheless. ‘AM’ was an example of an unashamed, glorious rock record at it’s finest, and it seems natural to me that Turner might revel in it’s parent genre’s triumphance in an acceptance speech for best album.

As for his general demeanour, I’m somewhat bewildered as to when Britain lost it’s sense of humour. We as a nation laugh at rape jokes, disability jokes, sexist jokes, but simply don’t know to do when an artist is less that gushing when they collect an award. It’s like Glastonbury-gate all over again, where everyone criticised his ‘Americanised' accent, not taking into account the possibility that it might well be part of the show. And when you deliver a headline set the way this band did, why should it matter what tongue the lead singer chooses to speak in when his is ‘in character?'

It seems that the backlash against Alex Turner and Arctic Monkeys new found form of expression is akin to mothers who don’t want to accept that their sons have gone off to college and might not be coming back after graduation. They’ve experimented with hair cuts, made some new friends in the students union, experimented with some party drugs. The assertion that nearly 10 years after their debut, they should still be pretending to hang around street corners swigging White Lightning is frankly ridiculous. Sure, putting on a front is somewhat ironic from a band who wrote hipster-baiting athem Fake Tales of San Francisco, but is it too much to imagine that a relatively shy man should feel the need to invent a persona to deal with the dizzying heights of fame he now faces? It’s a sentiment he put across to NME when discussing the issue back in June, telling the magazine that the ‘accent’ was far from intentional and defying another not to feel nervous in front of an audience of that size. Lest we forget also, that we are talking about a man who slots more quaint anglicisms into his lyrics than almost any other mainstream band; it’s this turn of phrase that cemented him as one of our country’s most important voices, and clearly isn’t something he’s giving up anytime soon.

Let’s be honest, love or hate Turner, he provided a well needed shot of adrenaline to an otherwise flagging event. At a ceremony where prison rape and sex jokes seemed to be fundamental to James Corden’s presenting shtick, female performances relied once more on flashing the flesh and gyrating, and the majority of winners, were dull predictable choices, a little mischievousness or outspokenness never hurt anybody. It was hardly Liam Gallagher propelling a heavy metal statue into the audience was it?

Turner may well be more eloquent in song than in spoken word, but the guy never professed himself to be a great public speaker. When he woke up this morning, it was probably in a fig of regret and serious hangover. But without that risk of saying something (shock) interesting on live telly, the Brit Awards would be nothing at all. Turner's sarcasm, wit and cockiness is part of the act and demeanour that has propelled Arctic Monkeys out of the UK and off to world domination - nobody ever got anywhere by being shy and retiring. By condemning him for pomposity, we’re glossy over years of music history where artists choose to trade off of self-importance and an inflated ego to inflate the pedestal they find themselves on. Did Oasis get to where they are by telling journalists they were 'an okay kind of band'? Or does Kanye West really sit at home telling his family how godlike he is? (actually, he probably does) If Alex Turner really is an arrogant tool, so be it. But at least he looks good doing it, and at least it gives us something to talk about at work the next day. He makes it clear that being media trained simply isn't conducive to original thought, and quite frankly, as a Music journalist, it's far more of a nightmare to interview who has nothing to say that somebody who says things you disagree with. Freedom of expression - it’s what all good entertainment is based on. And I’d take that over a mumbling bloke from Bastille thanking his mum any day.

Watch Alex's speech here:

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