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How Bono became the most hated singer in alternative rock

U2 singer, Bono

Ridiculed by John Cooper Clarke through verse. Dissed by Henry Rollins in a spoken word engagement, in Ireland of all places. The butt of the joke of South Park‘s and Robin Williams’ comedy routines. How did Bono, the incredibly famous singer of U2, one of alternative rock’s most successful bands, become such an object of ridicule? We have an idea or two about that.

Today we look at the prime reasons we think Bono (real name Paul David Hewson) has become anathematized by many of rock’s listeners. One of the singularly most hated singers in rock, as well as one of music’s most recognizable characters. How has it all come to this, and is this son of Ireland responsible for his reputation?

U2 singer, Bono. Source: Reuters/Dylan Martinez
U2 singer, Bono. Source: Reuters/Dylan Martinez

Bono is perceived as pompous. Why?

You don’t sell millions of records without acquiring some enemies along the way. With U2 having sold in the region of 170 million albums, it’s easy to assume that some casual listeners may be rubbed the wrong way by the band from Ireland.

Why do people hate Bono? In a nutshell, the answer probably ultimately revolves around the fact that he is perceived as pompous, a self-ordained savior of rock and the world living the highlife afforded to him by his earnings and status.

Why does everyone hate Bono? Consider the fact that the man was once known as Bono Vox. You wouldn’t name your cat that and expect it not to receive humiliation across the neighborhood. While this likely deserves a chuckle, also consider that most of rock n’ roll, no matter under which genre banner it has been paraded under has been just as ridiculous throughout its decades-long existence.

U2 in disguise. Bono of the rock's most hated figures

It is odd though, how a group that built its reputation on creating an innovative post-punk sound and infusing it with socially relevant lyrical topics would come to be so fiercely disliked by some. And when we say some, we mean many. And, when we say disliked, we mean hated. 

The fact is, also, that U2’s Bono most certainly once to be loved. Loudly! While G.G. Allin or groups like The Mentors might revel in being vigorously disliked, this Irish quartet never hid away from their ambitions. G.G. Allin wore his time in between jail sentences like a badge of honor. Bono’s not the man for self-effacing comments or one that would endure public ridicule.

The reason most often given for this hatred is the bombastic presence of their lead singer Bono. He’s loud, he’s brash, and he wants to save the world. It may have all started during the 1980s with U2 performing at the Live Aid concert. While the group endeared itself to many across the world, others perceived them as preachy.

Why do people hate Bono, a man who has managed to draw the world’s attention to serious issues? The Irish singer’s community to social causes seems to be a genuine one, judging by the sheer amount of time and resources he has spent on them. His tone and approach, naive rather than cynical, makes many wary of developing trust in the band.

With Bono’s commitment to becoming an advocate against world hunger and international debt, certainly weighty issues, some felt the singer was taking himself a little too seriously. Frequent meetings with political and industrial leaders like George W. Bush and Steve Jobs helped little in this matter.

Comparing themselves to the Beatles and the Rolling Stones

While U2 have frequently attempted to associate themselves with the punk movement of the late 1970s, many feel they may have missed some crucial points when scheming through the punk leaflet.

Does U2 = Bono? No. While the group’s singer acts as the focal point and is, without much doubt, their most famous member, the other three bring their contribution to the end result. Guitarist the Edge may not possess an extensive repertoire of guitar tricks but makes up for this in terms of inventiveness and writing. And the rhythm section, while certainly never in danger of being stolen away by a complex jazz unit, holds down the fort musically and has endeared themselves to fans through their personalities.

While the simple three-chord, choppy guitar songs of early U2 albums could be categorized as punk, Bono has always manifested a tendency toward emoting his lyrics. Apart from that, the band are known to boast about their songwriting prowess, even going so far as to compare themselves to the Beatles and the Rolling Stones. There are some, of course, that would compare them unfavorably to Echo and the Bunnymen, not least of all Ian McCulloch.

U2’s desire to remain relevant and top of the pop charts has furthered the perception that the group may have used the punk and alternative rock movements as a platform for reaching their own commercial gain.

While Bono and U2’s other three members may seem obsessed with being perceived as cool, it is hard to deny their long-lasting appeal, an achievement that few rock bands can boast of having. The Tonight Show had U2’s head-honchos playing in disguise on the subway. How well do they fare? Let’s just say that Bono’s singing has never been subtle. Even so, it’s interesting to see how much the singer is still playing himself no matter the clothes and fake facial hair he may be sporting. Bono is the lead singer of which famous rock band? U2, dammit. And, don’t you forget it.

Bono’s fashion sense and business involvement

You don’t get to be one of the world’s richest musicians without nurturing a good image of yourself. While Bono has always resembled confident singers of old, a la a drunken Jim Morrison, this self-belief has only increased as years have gone on.

Bono’s sunglasses, the U2 singer’s hat, and his unique Machphisto wardrobe became part of the singer’s image. It’s these images of himself that Bono takes rather seriously, judging by reports. One such news item claimed that the singer once flew his hat in first-class accommodation to a charity concert. Clearly, a prop, one of the music industry’s most prominent power players, could not do without.

Maybe this is an unrealistic complaint. After all, most stadium selling groups rely on showmanship and image in entertaining a large crowd. Were it not for Bono’s personality, as well as his glasses and wardrobe, U2’s world domination would merely have remained a fantasy for the group’s members?

Live costume aside, U2’s most starch critics will also point towards Bono and the Edge’s (U2 guitarist) business involvement. The two apparently own a hotel in Dublin and other businesses. While it is certainly not fair to begrudge someone making a living, others feel that Bono‘s frequent posturing as a defender of the rights of the lower class and his status as a multi-millionaire do not precisely coincide. It’s certainly odd how some of the most hated musicians and bands of all time also happen to be some of the best-selling ones. Notoriety equates to success oftentimes, but it also opens these well-known people to criticism and the ire of those looking to extend their criticism.

Bono has his admirers and downright imitators as well. One such character, Scott Stapp of the Christian rock band Creed, has also achieved great riches, yet has tended to become a hated man in the eyes of rock listeners. Nickelback have more recently taken on the mantel. And, if you want to look further down rock’s history, there’s always the Monkees, a group designed as an American equivalent to the Fab Four.

Robin Williams famously made fun of Bono’s taste for dramatic speeches. Ego trips are nothing new in rock. And, a brief history into the world of people like Prince, Crosby, Stills, Nash, Rick James, or James Brown will show the casual reader just how much musicians’ personalities can be altered by the cocktail of success and an insufferable amount of self-esteem.

Is Bono a good person? To his credit, Bono’s charity work is known to have helped millions of people and assisted in drawing awareness towards serious issues that benefited from the media exposure that U2 could offer them. Furthermore, by most accounts, while street-smart, Bono and his bandmates started out as lovely Christian boys.

Diminishing results

The young U2 had albums like Boy and the Unforgettable Fire, and Bono was perceived as an underground rock superstar. They resembled a kind of Rage Against the Machine of their time, loudly political, yet accepted by many in the mainstream.

The soundscapes crafted on 1987’s Joshua Tree made them a worldwide success. U2 were especially embraced in America. And, they spoke of the rights of those in Africa and South America, a nice gesture.

Then, the electronic experimentation of Achtung Baby and singles like One and Mysterious Ways offered them critical and commercial recognition.

While, unlike REM, U2 have maintained their mainstream appeal to the present day, there are many who feel that their recent albums have suffered. All that you can’t leave behind was a commercial juggernaut with Beautiful day dominating the charts. Yet Black Flag’s Henry Rollins famously described it as middle of the road crap. U2, and Bono in particular, have always enjoyed calling themselves a punk rock group, one in the vein of the Clash. Ironically, many well-respected figures from the punk scene, people like Henry Rollins, tend to view them with suspicion.

Their more recent albums haven’t fared much better with some believing U2 has attempted to guess what their audience most desires and have failed to deliver it. Songs of Experience and Songs of Innocence, their most recent albums, were even part of a news scandal involving Apple, when the company decided to include the latter in all of its subscribers’ Itunes library, something the audience had not been consulted on previously.

U2 remains one of the most successful bands to have ever been associated with alternative rock music. Bono remains a world-renowned figure and someone who, indifferent of his past or future achievements, will remain fiercely disliked by a large contingent of rock fans and passionately loved by many others. Alternative singers don’t come much more well-known in the mainstream than this spiritual hymn yodeler.

The years of 2019 and 2020 haven’t been very kind on U2 either. The group is still massively successful in terms of a live concert draw, but their very legacy is viewed with skepticism by numerous fans and critics alike.

Do I hate Bono personally? No way! I’ve heard most of their records, even the really bad ones. I admire a man with such ambition. And, I really have to believe that someone willing to fly his hat first class must possess a tremendous sense of humor. U2’s Bono is noteworthy within the history of rock. For better and for worse.

About author

Eduard Banulescu is a writer, blogger, and musician. As a content writer, Eduard has contributed to numerous websites and publications, including FootballCoin, Play2Earn, BeIN Crypto, Business2Community, NapoliSerieA, Extra Time Talk, Nitrogen Sports, Bavarian FootballWorks, etc. He has written a book about Nirvana, hosts a music podcasts, and writes weekly content about some of the best, new and old, alternative musicians. Eduard also runs and acts as editor-in-chief of the alternative rock music website Mr. Banulescu is also a musician, having played and recorded in various bands and as a solo artist.
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