On a recent Tinder date I met someone rarer than a snow leopard: a rock star with right-leaning political views. We had matched a few days earlier, when he had chatted me up by asking if I liked the Canadian professor Jordan Peterson.
Peterson has been deemed an “alt-right” hero by Guardianistas, so I wasn’t sure how to respond, given that so many musicians seem to be tree-hugging left-wingers. Much to my surprise, he was happy to hear I was a big Peterson fan.
At a trendy cocktail bar, we discovered we had much more in common.
For one, we’re not keen on Jeremy Corbyn.
Two, we voted Brexit.
And we believe men and women aren’t wired the same way.
The list of unfashionable worldviews went on and on.
But there was one crucial difference…
As a journalist, I can say what I think; for rock stars, it’s not so easy.
That’s because the record industry is rather like Mao’s China, where one orthodoxy is allowed to prevail. One of the Corbynista, globalisation outlook.
Later he told me:
“I would bet that the number of artists hiding their political views is very significant and probably far higher than the screeching Twitter mobs could stomach.”
I started to wonder about whether he was right – and just what the extent of the problem was… How many creatives there are holding back in a world of Lily Allens and guitar strumming socialists?
When I polled my Twitter audience on what some of the uncoolest political views for artists are, 62 percent said “Liking Trump”, 16 percent said “Voting Brexit”, and 11 percent said “Voting Tory”.
Of course, this is rather obvious from the way celebrities behave. At American awards shows, it’s almost a competition to see who can screech loudest about how much they hate Trump.
In British politics, Remain was always the coolest campaign, with almost 300 big-name celebrities signing a letter to support it – and no Leave equivalent.
Being a Corbynista is also extremely edgy, with the likes of Professor Green, Stormzy, Kate Nash, Alexa Chung and Maxine Peake declaring their love for the Absolute Boy.
On the other hand, few artists would ever preach about Leave or the Conservatives. And if they do, they’re normally people that have nothing to lose. (No offence Jim Davidson).
To understand how widespread this issue is, I asked creatives on social media to contact me if they’d experienced fear of sharing their views. I received secretive messages. Almost everyone who replied sought assurances I wouldn’t tell a soul.
One girl told me her membership in a university Conservative association had ruined her acting career. She said it was like “walking into the ADC (the famous theatre for students at Cambridge University) with two heads”.
A Brexiteer artist said that “it would be career suicide for me to be public about my opinions”.
Another Twitter user who once worked with the Royal Shakespeare Society confessed, “I recall being mocked for reading the Telegraph in an RSC rehearsal room, and was ostracised for wearing a pro-Israel T-shirt.”
And there was a writer who wrote: “on a personal level, every single artist/ producer I’ve encountered has been on the left or far-left of the political spectrum.” He also said that some arts schemes now scan for left-wing sentiment.
Getting funding from the Arts Council England, for instance, requires applicants to explain who will be the beneficiaries of a piece of art – as if it were some sort of socialist endeavour.
One artist who’s proud of his Brexiteer status is Michael Lightfoot. He’s started the group Artists for Brexit, and has tried to encourage others to come out, but it hasn’t been easy:
“There has definitely been a chilling effect within the creative Brexiteer community due to the continuing protesting of the hardcore Remainers,” he told me.
“I’ve spoken to people in the music industry, and I’ve had some quite big names dropped here and there, and I’ve been sworn to secrecy about that. One person told me that there’s a big manager of musical acts in London who voted for Brexit, but because of the general atmosphere around it they feel that if they were to be public they might end up losing one of the people on their books… because of general perceptions and attitudes that are out there. It’s just easier to keep out of that.”
It’s become impossible to know the extent of artists hiding political views – given that the stakes are now higher than ever to appear right-on. The levels of ostracisation for those who dare to challenge progressive politics can be dangerous, at worse.
Folk-punk singer Frank Turner has said he received “close to 100 death threats and hatemail a day” after The Guardian discovered quotes from interviews he had given that said: “I consider myself to be pretty rightwing”; “The BNP are a hard left party”.
Earlier this year Lionel Shriver lost a judging position and received massive backlash when she dared to criticise diversity initiatives.
In August, actor Israel Broussard was in trouble after fans dug up controversial political Tweets from him. He has since been forced to apologise and said they were a mistake – even though, reading his other stuff, this backtracking sounds rather phoney.
Now, of course, he will have to toe the party line – of the enlightened liberal luvvy. It seems that vegans in Jesus sandals now preside over the gates of public opinion.
One comedian who isn’t afraid to speak his mind is Geoff Norcott, who describes himself as a “Right Leaning bloke” on Twitter. His political views have become his unique selling point, and will feature in his October/ November show, Traditionalism.
When I ask Geoff what his most controversial viewpoint has been, he says:
“Probably in 2016 at the Fringe in the immediate aftermath of the referendum. Simply admitting having voted Leave felt like an edgy proposition. I had walkouts and even Metropolitan Tories calling me ‘traitor’. Despite holding views in line with 52% of the population I felt like a naked busker in Riyadh.”
Geoff reckons there are “probably more comedians who voted Conservative or Brexit than mention it”, though says speaking out about it hasn’t been as bad as one might imagine. “Most comics are fair with me… I haven’t had any spats in person”, though he confesses he’s been called Katie Hopkins.
Maybe others need to take more heart from the likes of Norcott and be bold about their convictions.
In the US, Kanye West seems to have completely stopped caring about what anyone else thinks.
Most shockingly for the music world, he supported Donald Trump. In one Tweet he wrote (sic), “You don’t have to agree with trump but the mob can’t make me not love him. We are both dragon energy. He is my brother. I love everyone. I don’t agree with everything anyone does. That’s what makes us individuals. And we have the right to independent thought.”
Strangely enough, this hasn’t had quite the detrimental effect many music producers might anticipate. In June, his new album Ye became his eight No.1 album on the Billboard 200 chart.
Perhaps it’s time other artists became more courageous about sharing their opinions, too. There may even be strategic advantages for them to diversity their viewpoints. Last month, Mumford & Sons had a photograph taken with Jordan Peterson.
Peterson may be controversial among some circles, but he has a massive appeal with young men – many of whom are also Mumford & Sons target audience. Could the band be onto a winner?
Given the way the population voted, it doesn’t make sense for the artistic world to be so conformist in its outlook. Even in London, where many creatives live, there was a significant portion of Leavers (40 percent), versus Remain (60 percent).
Westminster voting intention in mid-August was 41 percent Conservative and 38 percent Labour. So there must be much more lurking in the political closet.
Maybe it’s time they all came out.