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.

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.

Consider the fact that the man was once known as Bono Vox. While this likely deserves a chuckle, also consider than 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 reason most often given for this hatred is the bombastic presence of their lead singer Bono. He’s loud, he’s brash and he want 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 too 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. By 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 important 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 a large 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, hold down the fort musically and have endeared themselves to fans through their personalities.

While U2’s simple three-chord, choppy guitar song of their early albums could be categorized as punk, Bono has always manifested a tendency towards 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 3 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 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 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 special 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 biggest power players could not do without.

Maybe this is an unrealistic complaint. After all, most stadium selling groups relly 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 into a defender of the rights of the lower class and his status as a multi-millionaire, do not exactly 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.

To his credit, Bono’s charity work is known to have helped millions of people and help draw awareness towards serious issues that benefited from the media exposure that U2 could offer them.

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 Eduard

Eduard is a writer, blogger, and musician. As a content writer, Eduard has contributed to numerous websites and publications including FootballCoin, Extra Time Talk, Fanatik, Sportskeeda, Nitrogen Sports, Bavarian FootballWorks, etc. He runs and acts as editor-in-chief of the alternative rock music website www.alt77.com Eduard is also a musician, having played and recorded in various bands and as a solo artist.

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16 Comments on “How Bono became the most hated singer in alternative rock”

  1. Why people hate Bono?
    1. U2 is overrated
    2. Bono sings like a drunkard attempting opera after enough Guinness to drown a ship
    3. They don’t know how bad they are
    4. Bono thinks he’s gonna save the world.

    Nuff said

    1. I never liked U2, but your reasons for hating Bono are immature and childish, chances are your a loser working in electronics retail and still live with your parents

  2. The people that hate U2 must either not know their music, or not have good hearing. The Joshua Tree is a masterpiece. So are Achtung Baby and War. They play to millions of fans across the world and Bono is a man that has given millions to charity. Come on, can so many millions of people be wrong?
    I think he is just hated by those entitled hipsters that think anything successful has to suck. U2 doesn’t. They actually prove that you can sell millions of records, get played on the radio and maintain your artistic integrity.
    As for Henry Rollins, he is probably just jealous that he’ll never play the Super Bowl.

    1. I believe you thoroughly nailed it in your comment, so basically my comment is just going to be an echo (with a bit of reverb and a touch of distortion). Like it or not the goal of virtually everyone who decides to make a living making music is to be BOTH famous AND rich or at the very least, comfortably well-off. It’s the dirty little secret of Show Business, no matter how much the purists deny it. If you manage to maintain your integrity throughout all the riches and Glory of rock stardom, that’s just an extra bonus. Where is it carved in stone that in order to be true to the art form you have to end up like The Sex Pistols; If you fail financially because your music sucks lyrically and/ or instrumentally and fails to connect with a statistically significant chunk of the buying audience, and no one buys your music, that doesn’t make you hero and “true to your values”; it just makes you a casualty in the musical world. If you can’t make money you cannot continue to make music neither good nor bad. In an interview Peter Gabriel said the songwriting royalties from the brilliant work Solsbury Hill allowed him the freedom to pursue anything he chose musically. And people MAKE money in the musical world because they write great songs, people realize it and buy the music. Not every song or album has to be a masterpiece to achieve this status. Christ, look at the Stones. Haters are like sharks; if they don’t keep moving and hating someone new, they sink to the bottom and drown.

      1. Thanks for the detailed comment. That’s a very good point.
        The majority of musicians started out since they wanted to achieve some measure of success.
        It’s also fair to say that the music industry did genuinely offer such opportunities at some point.
        I think that hating on a group or artist is wrong, especially, if you’re not working as an artist yourself. At the same time, a group that is as excited about being seen and heard as U2 is, may become the subject of criticism. There’s nothing wrong with having an opinion about someone who wishes to be seen as much as Bono does.
        With that being said, the artistic merit of U2 is undeniable and their success is clear. Thanks, again, for taking the time to comment!

  3. I don’t think people hate U2 because they’re a bad band or because Bono is a crap singer. I think the trouble is that they are overrated and they like to blow their own horn.
    Like, let’s be honest here. Is Joshua Tree the best album ever? Some people seem to think that. In what Universe is the Joshua tree the best album?!?! It’s a decent album. Sure. Is Achtung baby that good? It’s got One on it. But, that’s about it.
    A decent 80s band with a singer that has a Christ complex.

    1. Interesting point. I don’t think that Bono’s abilities of a singer have ever been doubted. Whether or not the group is overrated is, I think, an interesting point to discuss.

  4. Neil Young and some other musicans also seems to have have 50 % fans who love them- and 50 % of people who hate them. Perhaps a new trend in the world- to spread hate….. also on Internet. It never happening in the Hippie-age (1967-1975) when the words was: “Love love love, we love all you- all you need is love- peace love and understanding- peace love and happines a.o.

    1. No doubt, they’ve had a massive influence on the music work, for better or worse. That’s not exactly something one can say about some of the other commercial bands of the 1980s.

  5. Mock Rock.

    When you get into a band there is an emotional investment in them and you get payback from their music.

    I dont beleive their sentiment and when that happens your emotional investment doesnt pay divvies.

    I just dont beleive them, simples.

  6. People love Bono and U-2. The haters are mostly jealous. I saw them perform a sold out stadium show in San Diego 2 or 3 years ago, and they crushed it! Their last cd sucked, and the one before that wasn’t any better, but who gives a rat’s ass about what Henry Rollins thinks. He never recorded a great song, let alone a great album. What punk band was productive and urgent even ten years into their career?

    1. Thanks for the comment! Good point.
      It’s true that they’ve consistently sold out stadiums worldwide. I agree that there are few bands/artists who have been capable of doing this. Perhaps, some people have a problem with Bono’s perceived self-importance, rather than with his abilities or achievements.

  7. U2 had an early high with New Year’s Day and then a couple of albums that did OK, plus a decent live video release but then after Live Aid, were off most peoples’ radars until Joshua Tree. A similar pattern evolved and they were off the radar with Rattle and Hum – which most people who had been into the band in the 1980s didn’t like that much. They then went off the radar again only to totally revamp their image and musical direction by moving to Berlin and doing Achtung! Baby. By far their best album, this album contained some massive hits and so did the quick follow up Zooropa. These two albums elevated U2 to a higher level than before and by the mid 1990s were a true powerhouse music group with a massive following. The ZOO TV tour is considered probably their finest moment – especially The Fly perfomance. Anyway I just wanted to mention a couple of points like this having grown up alongsise all the stages in the career of U2 that I mentioned. U2 were absolutely massive in the 1990s and early 2000s and that should not be understated.

    1. Thanks a lot for your detailed comment! They’ve certainly been on top of the world, commercially-speaking, for a very long time. Agreed, I also really enjoyed their Zoo-TV period. I think that that at that stage they were top of the world.
      I don’t think that it’s a matter of bands like U2 and REM declining. But, I think that many of the points in the article have to do with Bono’s personality.
      To be fair, none of the rockstars that became marvelously famous ever remained the same. It goes for any of the large rock stars, in my opinion.

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