Elvis Costello

Why Do People Hate Elvis Costello?

Elvis Costello burst onto the music scene as an angry young man with a biting wit and cynical lyrics. While he developed a cult following early on, some listeners were immediately turned off by his attitude and found his music abrasive.

Even as Costello’s talent as a gifted songwriter was recognized over time, he’s continued to sharply divide public opinion between ardent fans and passionate detractors.

What aspects of Costello’s music do critics dislike?

Critics often cite a few key factors that fuel dislike of Costello’s music:

Early punk and new wave styles were jarring

Costello’s early work had a punk and new wave sound that was quite different from the soft rock and pop dominating the airwaves in the late 70s. The raw energy and venom in songs like “Pump It Up” and “Radio Radio” sounded abrasive next to smooth tracks by artists like Billy Joel or Steely Dan popular at the time.

Lyrics could be mean or cynical

Costello’s caustic wit and razor-edged lyrics took aim at many targets in ways that felt mean-spirited to some. Songs like “Alison” and “Watching the Detectives” have an undercurrent of nastiness in both their words and tone that rubbed many listeners the wrong way.

Attitude seemed off-putting

The combination of his angry persona, critical lyrics, and tendency to create controversy led some to find Costello generally unlikeable. Between baiting crowds and making derogatory comments about other artists, his punk rock attitude failed to win over fans outside his niche.

Versatility led to an inconsistent sound

As Costello explored an eclectic range of styles over his career from new wave to country to jazz, his musical identity became less defined. For some fans of his early work, his experimentation could seem more undisciplined than artful.

Rejected being called “another angry young man”

Ironically, Costello resisted being stereotyped as an angry punk or new wave artist. But his prickly reactions against being pigeonholed often just reinforced perceptions of him as bitter and difficult.

What are some of the notable controversies around Costello?

Costello stirred up a few major controversies that shaped many people’s negative opinions of him:

ControversyYearWhat Happened
The Ray Charles Incident1979In an interview, Costello referred to Ray Charles as a “blind, ignorant n*****”. He apologized but the racist remark angered many fans and colleagues.
Saturday Night Live Banning1977Costello was banned from SNL after waving his fist and yelling “Stop” during a performance of “Less Than Zero”, against the wishes of the producer. His defiance irked industry insiders.
The Bonnie and Clyde Comment1989When asked about his divorce, he called his ex “Bonnie” and her new husband “Clyde”, alluding to violent criminals in an insensitive way that grabbed tabloid headlines.
Rock Hall of Fame Speech2003Inducting the Clash, Costello went on a rambling rant about long-dead jazz and country musicians instead of celebrating punk icons, frustrating the audience.

These PR disasters highlighted the most disliked aspects of Costello’s personality for both fans and foes alike.

Has Costello become more liked or disliked over time?

Costello’s reputation has slowly improved over decades based on a few key factors:

Songwriting mastery improved his critical acclaim

Even those put off by Costello’s early work recognize his talent for sophisticated pop songcraft. Albums like Imperial Bedroom and All This Useless Beauty have made him one of the most acclaimed songwriters in contemporary music.

Political activism won some admiration

Costello positioned himself as a vocal critic of war, inequality, and former UK PM Margaret Thatcher. While still considered preachy by some, his progressive stances have brought him some newfound respect.

Collaborations brought new listeners

Younger generations discovered Costello through his work with artists like Burt Bacharach, Paul McCartney, Questlove, and Billie Joe Armstrong, introducing him to demographics once prone to dislike him.

Recent music harkened back to early work

On energetic recent albums like Momofuku and Hey Clockface that recall the spirited sound of his early years, Costello dialed down some of the experimentation that lost fans of those formative works.

Curmudgeonly persona has softened over time

While his sarcastic wit remains, Costello comes across as less angry than in his youth, having settled into the role of respected veteran musician rather than young provocateur.

But for some detractors, their negative opinions had already hardened before his mid-to-late career makeover. And a few high profile disputes as recent as 2018 keep Costello’s pricklier side in some people’s minds.

Who comprises Costello’s “haters” today?

In 2023, most of Costello’s haters fall into a few categories:

Long-time detractors

Those put off by Costello early on whose opinions hardened decades ago are unlikely to reassess an artist they long ago dismissed. First impressions stuck for many and they continue cataloging his missteps.

Hip hop and contemporary pop fans

Major music genres like hip hop and slick pop now dominate charts over Costello’s preferred rock and singer-songwriter styles. His wit and wordiness translate poorly to fans of today’s spare, groove-driven hits.

New wave purists

Even as Costello eventually achieved mainstream success, some fans of his late 70s angry new wave phase still consider his shift away from those raw, punky origins an unforgivable betrayal.

Rock traditionalists

Through collaborations with classical and jazz artists and experiments with genres like country and electronic music, Costello distanced himself from standard “rock god” status in a way that alienates stalwart rock fans.

Rivals and ex-bandmates

High profile feuds with peers like The Who’s Pete Townshend or estranged Attractions bandmate Bruce Thomas keep personal grudges against Costello simmering.

Political conservatives

Even as his activist leanings improved his reputation among progressives, his overt liberal perspective on issues like Brexit or the Trump presidency naturally sparked criticism from conservative circles.

Will Costello ever lose his “hater” contingent?

Costello emerging as a universally beloved figure at this late stage seems unlikely with his polarizing background. We can likely expect a few factors to sustain pockets of anti-fandom even as his senior statesman status grows:

Holdouts clinging to past grievances

A few ideological purists angered long ago likely represent lost causes who will stubbornly cling to decades old grudges.

Residual discomfort with his persona

Even slightly muted by age, Costello’s innate sarcasm and tendentiousness keeps affirming certain perceptions of him as aggressive and off-putting for segments of casual listeners less willing to warm up to his pricklier personality.

New fans focusing narrowly on hits

As emerging music consumers discover Costello strictly via streaming hits, their understanding remains limited without context for his experimental flip-flopping between styles that models his appeal so uniquely.

Backlash from collaborators’ devotees

Just as joint tracks brought Costello new listeners, projects like his work The Roots risk alienating zealous factions of his partners’ fanbases less receptive to sounds stepping outside their expectations.

Social media accelerating new incidents

The rapid pace at which miniature spats now escalate into exponentially bigger stories means one stray, insensitive remark caught on video could instantly snowball via shared Facebook clips and viral tweets into renewed calls to “cancel” Costello by offended parties.

In that sense Costello faces the same struggle as any veteran rock star whose decades long career guarantees occasional missteps bound to frustrate select admirers. Still, the overwhelming artistic consistency reflected across thirty studio albums explains both the loyalty of longtime listeners willing to accept Costello’s periodic faux pas – as well as the sustained frustration by those snubbed early on unwilling to reconsider first impressions hardened by isolated unpleasant encounters or caustic quotes encapsulating his thornier attributes.

Conclusion: No Easy Resolution to the Long Shadow of Early Hostilities

Elvis Costello emerged from punk and new wave origins in the late 1970s brandishing a brash persona and prickly reputation he never quite shook even decades later as a respected rock auteur. The sheer breadth of styles, shifting lineups, and outspoken opinions throughout his boundary-breaking career certainly flouted expectations for standard classic rock leadership. Yet they equally risked whiplashing both fans and critics struggling to grab hold of his mutable musical identity.

Of course, the same stubbornness bucking mainstream trends also fostered singular innovations, ensuring Costello channeled his malcontent muse in uncompromising ways respecting neither arbitrary genre lines nor commercial prospects. Indeed, the inherent contrasts of his personality and music practically guaranteed a legacy destined to enthrall and enrage listeners in equal measure depending on their appetite for his idiosyncratic vision.

In retrospect, the startlingly transparent insecurity fueling his belligerence toward naysayers or fellow icons betrayed punk posturing masking profound ambition. Behind each spiteful comment lay desire to one day reside beside the very luminaries he sniped at as peers rather than rivals.

That likely explains why late career magnanimity from admirers like Sir Paul McCartney or Sir Elton John clearly touched Costello as profoundly as early snubs by The Eagles or Rolling Stone stung his pride. Perhaps with time such acceptance soothed lingering worries over his legacy hashed out in critics’ columns or Twitter feeds.

For even as regrettable moments resurfaced across the years, Costello ultimately forged singular acclaim by answering only to the uncompromising musical imagination that briefly jolted the industry but now has sustained his icon status across more respectable generations of thoughtful listeners open to letting intriguing creative contradictions just be.

And the reward for such artistic integrity remains the rare achievement of sustained output Sharp fans young and old cherish despite, or even partially because of, the evocative strong feelings always elicited whether via gorgeous piano ballads or a middle finger waved at detractors during angry rockers from eras when punk bravado carried far more currency than lasting musical influence.

FAQs About People Disliking Elvis Costello

What albums tend to be most divisive among Costello fans and critics?

Some of Costello’s most controversial albums include:

  • Almost Blue (1981) – His set of country covers polarized fans who felt it abandoned his punk rock roots.
  • Punch the Clock (1983) – The pop sheen and female backup singers marked an uneasy transition toward mainstream sounds.
  • Goodbye Cruel World (1984) – Often considered his worst album, its dull tracks signaled a mid-career creative nadir.
  • North (2003) – His set of piano ballads and orchestral pop confused critics and undersold.

What are some of the worst things Costello has said or done publicly?

Controversial incidents tarnishing Costello’s reputation include calling Ray Charles a racist slur, getting banned from Saturday Night Live, joking about murdering his ex-wife, and hijacking his Hall of Fame induction speech. His tendency to openly bait audiences and slap at fellow musicians also fueled his early quarrelsome image.

Why does Costello have long-running feuds with some other musicians?

Costello has had high-profile disagreements with peers who accused him of musical theft (like The Who’s Pete Townshend), former bandmates with lingering resentment like Bruce Thomas, and even artists he himself criticized, like Bono who he dismissed as pretentious before an awkward public apology attempt. Costello admitted his competitiveness among legendary contemporaries sometimes manifested in petty public squabbles.

Who are some musicians who have spoken negatively about working with Costello?

Musicians with less than flattering takes on collaborating with Costello include ex-Attractions bassist Bruce Thomas (who criticized Costello as egotistical), producer T-Bone Burnett (who said Costello was overly demanding), and violinist Nathalie Delon (who blamed Elvis for their fling ending her marriage).

Why do some fans and critics think Costello is just a poor man’s version of other artists?

Since Costello integrated many styles and evolved an unmistakable yet ever-changing sound, critics saddled him with unflattering comparisons to musicians perceived as superior practitioners of styles Costello was accused of merely mimicking instead of advancing.

These include Bob Dylan (for lyrical prowess), Burt Bacharach (for sophisticated songwriting), Paul McCartney (for Beatlesque pop), Leonard Cohen (for bleak balladry), Webb Pierce (for country music), and The Clash (for new wave punk).

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