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Friday, 9 February, 2001, 13:01 GMT
Never mind the headlines...

As US rapper Eminem hits the UK, the media storm surrounding this controversial singer intensifies. But haven't we heard it all before?

"Public Eminem No 1", the Daily Mail dubbed rapper Marshall Mathers III last summer. But the headline was no mere pun, it came from the heart.

"He preaches hatred and violence, while his songs glorify drugs, incest and rape," it declared.


Daily Star, 2001
The Sun has been even more scathing of Mathers' "obscene rants". They not only "glorify", they "promote drugs, gun-running, torture, incest, murder, rape and armed robbery".

However, some newspapers - perhaps jaded by decades of reproaching pop star excesses - can no longer muster indignation.

The Daily Telegraph, for instance, said: "Whether Marshall Mathers is a nice guy or not is irrelevant". The Guardian compared him to Robert Browning.

But a brief look through the history books finds that the media has not always managed such tolerance. The number of vilified pop stars are legion - here are just a few from down the decades:

Marilyn Manson


Daily Star, 1996
Before Eminem, Brian Warner was the last pop star to light a bonfire of controversy under the media, with his alter ego Marilyn Manson.

His charmingly-titled 1996 debut LP, Antichrist Superstar, horrified many in his native America.

His notoriety increased when it was suggested the Columbine High killers Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris were fans - a conclusion since questioned.

In the UK, the Daily Mail testified Manson was "a rock star who promotes violent death in almost every song he sings".

The resolutely tabloid Daily Star took offence at "monstrous" Manson's live stage shows, which it decried as "pro-pervert" and "blasphemous".

However, in a recent interview the same paper was surprised to find the 31-year-old it had demonised was "a charming, quietly spoken individual".

Frankie Goes to Hollywood

Despite being a more innocent time, before the Bible-ripping antics of Manson, the 1980s boasted its own "fearsome and nasty" pop stars - Frankie Goes to Hollywood.


The Sun, 1984
The Sun came to this rather odd conclusion after reporter Martin Dunn conducted an interviewing with the Liverpudlian "loudmouths" - who topped the charts with their single Relax despite a BBC ban.

"They throw popcorn at me. They insult Gene Kelly. They swear on radio," wrote Mr Dunn.

Sex Pistols

Swearing on TV won the Sex Pistols instant press opprobrium in 1976.


Daily Mirror, 1976
"The Filth and the Fury! Uproar as viewers jam phones," fumed Daily Mirror when the surly punk rockers spiced up an arguably condescending interview by chat show host Bill Grundy with some choice expletives.

The paper even found an Essex lorry driver who had kicked in his television rather than allow his young son hear any more from the foulmouthed punks, elevating him to minor celebrity.

"It blew up and knocked me backwards," admitted James Holmes, himself a self-confessed swearer.

When, in the Queen's Silver Jubilee year, the Pistols released God Save The Queen, the Daily Telegraph said all those associated were "grubby people", profiting from "nastiness and chaos".

The Sun looked to Cliff Richard, golden bachelor boy of decent folk, for a stinging condemnation of the Pistols' republican anthem.

"I don't like what punk rockers do - especially to themselves."

Rolling Stones

It wasn't foul mouths, but bushy barnets which vexed the Daily Mirror in April 1964.


Daily Telegraph, 1972
It reported the president of the National Federation of Hairdressers was offering a free haircut to the next group to have a number one.

"The Rolling Stones are the worst," he said. "One of them looks as if he has a feather duster on his head."

Contagion took just a month to spread, noted the Mirror, when a Coventry headmaster suspended 11 boys because of their "Mick Jagger" hairstyles.

Seeking a compromise the paper contacted the teacher: "Yesterday he said they could return if they cut their hair neatly - like the Beatles."

Things got more serious as the summer wore on. The Daily Worker reported: "Two girls had their clothes ripped off when the audience got out of hand during a performance of the Rolling Stones at the Hague, Holland. Fans, unable to get seats, did more than 1,000 worth of damage to the hall."

The rows were continuing 10 years later. The Daily Telegraph in 1972, pictured right, reported a row about a "long-playing record album" - Exile on Main Street - after Mary Whitehouse had complained about offensive words.

An investigation found it was too difficult to make out what the words actually were.

Cliff Richard

Despite some accusations that Cliff Richard was too sexy, particularly after he had appeared on an edition of ITV's Oh Boy in the late 1950s, a lot of press coverage of the time was very deferential and respectful to him.

A Times review of a London Palladium show in 1960 found Cliff "round, soft-eyed, and appealing as a well-fed puppy".


Daily Express, 1963
"He puts over his beat numbers with considerable brio and throws himself wholeheartedly into his performance."

The young "pup" did not escape controversy entirely - the Yugoslav embassy protested at how its country was depicted in his film Summer Holiday.

An eager film writer called Barry Norman wrote in the Daily Mail the film was considered "humiliating and insulting to Yugoslavia and her people".

Cliff also got it in the neck after visiting South Africa in 1963. Herbert Kretzmer of the Sunday Express reported some perhaps ill-advised and naive comments the 22-year-old Cliff had made after a tour of South Africa.

Infuriated by this analysis, and by the way the youths of "this pop-obsessed age" considered Cliff "some kind of god", Kretzmer offered stern advice.

"If Cliff Richard wants to do himself a favour he might resolve in future to open his mouth in public only to sing - and not, for Heaven's sake, to talk."


Remember when pop stars of your youth were given a hard time? Fill us in with the details in the form.

Your comments

You brought back a memory with this article. My mother would not let me go to a Frankie concert when I was 13, because she heard it was a "horrible sex show". Still, I must thank the tabloids. When I was a frustrated Californian teen in the 80s, nothing got me to the record store faster than the people having Iron Maiden and Ozzy Osbourne bonfires. There was nothing that a 16-year-old living under Reaganomics wanted to hear more than what was putting a thorn in society's side. "Judas Priest on trial? I've got to hear that!!"
Jeffrey McDonald, USA

I remember when Alice Cooper brought out Elected and some dimwitted M.P wanted him banned from the country just in case he stood for parliment
Mick Craven, UK

Let's not forget Elvis was only filmed from the waist up to begin with because his waist wiggling was deemed to provocative! Did people turn into perverts when they did film the whole of him? I think not.
Laurie Anderson, UK

In June 1969, when my college had its Midsummer Ball, invited artistes included Wilson Pickett and Spencer Davis. When it got to Spencer Davis' turn, the college received calls within his version of "Purple Haze" complaining of the noise, to which Spencer retorted: "It's still another two hours to midnight." But to make up for him not being allowed to create too much of a din we were treated to a medley of ballads which he kept for the over 60s! As a result the dance floor was full of waltzing couples.
Hazel, UK

Yep, indeed we have heard it all before. Every couple of years there is a big thing made by the tabloid press about how "they must be banned from touring". Lest we also forget The Beastie Boys, circa summer 1987, who were alleged to have told some kids who had recently had chemotherapy treatment that they were "baldies". Still, we all went to see them, a nice bit of publicity, Free of charge as well.
Stuart Hirons, England

The Dead Kennedys, the most insightful of the US Punk bands, were sued for the inclusion in the Frankenchrist album of a poster by Alien set designer HR Giger, the poster being an illustration of decomposing male and female genitalia. In the end, the band were found not guilty of obscenity, but the costs and stress of the legal battle led to them breaking up. In the end, therefore, censorship was imposed indirectly.
Mark B, UK

Beatie Boys - 1986 - rip off those VW badges! Although I do remember VW then offering free badges to all wannabe Beasties if you wrote in with a self addressed envelope. Not really the point I felt!
Jonathan, UK

Don't forget William Blake, the eighteenth-century rapper who wrote "Jerusalem", and was prosecuted for treason after allegedly shouting in a tavern that "All soldiers are slaves!" Blake claimed in court that he had been drunk, and apologised for his remarks; the judge accepted his plea, and fined him the princely sum of two old pennies.
Pete, France

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08 Feb 01 | Entertainment
Anger as Eminem begins UK tour
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