Musicians are showered with money, fame, media attention, and fawning fans, and often at a relatively early age. The big surprise may not be why there seem to be so many douchebags in the music business, but why there aren’t much more. Add the virtually unlimited access to booze and mind-altering substances that kind of money can buy, and it’s a recipe for unsociable behavior from temper tantrums to abusing the help to serious criminal charges. The money and the spotlight can make the elements that would normally result in minor character flaws escalate into full blown dysfunctional behavior. That annoying sense of entitlement becomes a nightmare of diva-like demands. The common office bore becomes a figure with a world stage on which to spew their ill-conceived views and opinions. There’s no one around and no reason apparent to put on the brakes when rich, spoiled pop stars get used to having it all their way.
From verbal assaults to fights, when music artists go bad, it’s often the fans who can find themselves in the line of fire, with social media to add fuel to the flames. Feuds with bandmates, fellow artists, and management litter the careers of many on our list. There are even music artists that have a history with repeated lawsuits. Still, it’s hard to judge when the temptation to go overboard is so clear. If you never had to put up with inferior service again, and could afford whatever you wanted, whenever you wanted, would it bring out the douchebag in you?
15. 50 Cent
As a drug dealer by the time he was 12-years-old and a survivor of 9 bullet holes in a failed murder attempt years later, it’s not surprising that Curtis James Jackson III, aka 50 Cent, should have a rep for acting outside of the usual bounds of propriety. He was arrested in 2003 with guns in his car and again in 2005 when he went after an audience member he said hit him with a water bottle. He’s had public feuds with Ja Rule and other rappers. His reputation for mayhem was boosted in 2013 when he received a domestic violence charge for allegedly kicking his baby mama and rampaging through her apartment. The charges were later dropped to a misdemeanor on a plea deal and he was sentenced to three years probation and 30 days of community service, along with counseling sessions and $7,100 in restitution. But, 50 Cent just can’t stay out of trouble. In May of 2016, he got into hot water for a video where he accused an autistic airport employee of being high, and in June, he was arrested for swearing on stage during a concert in St. Kitts.
14. Liam Gallagher
There are few figures in the music industry who seem quite as proud of their own douchebaggery as Liam Gallagher, half of the brotherly duo who made up the British ’90s sensation Oasis. Siblings, Paul and Noel, say the behavior trait dates back to Liam’s childhood when trouble at school saw him suspended 3 months for fighting. After their 1994 release Definitely Maybe became the fastest-selling album in the UK ever at the time. Liam, who has an obsession with The Beatles’ John Lennon, proclaimed that Oasis was the “best band in the world…. Better than The Beatles.” In 1996, he opted out of Oasis’ US tour to go house hunting, a fact that he announced to bandmates 15 minutes before their plane took off. The move left brother, Noel, to soldier on and deal with irate fans without him. He later told the press, “I come first, before any f—er.” In 2009, at the end of the Dig Out Your Soul Tour, a brawl between the two brothers ended the band forever. Time hasn’t softened Liam, however, who ignited a Twitter feud with Noel in the summer of 2016 even as there’s been talk of a reunion tour.
While the pop star has had an enviable decades-long career in the music biz, Madonna is apparently a little tone deaf at times when it comes to how she comes across in public and to her fans. At the Venice Film Festival in 2011, a fan brought her a bouquet of flowers. Madonna forgot that her mic was on and as the man turned to go, she rolled her eyes and said, “I absolutely LOATHE hydrangeas.” To respond to the online furor over her ungrateful attitude, she made a video apologizing to the flowers but not the fan. When she was questioned about the high prices for tickets to her shows, she said, “My fans need to stop whining and get a better job.” Rumors have been rampant for years about her diva-like behavior with dancers, nannies, and other staff members. During an appearance at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2011, she made headlines when she insisted that volunteers at her publicity event had to turn their eyes away from her as she walked past them. Never missing a chance at self-promotion, her tribute to the 2016 Orlando nightclub shooting included a pic of her and Britney Spears kissing at the 2003 VMAs, a move that earned her a social media backlash.
12. Chris Brown
R&B singer, Chris Brown, and Barbadian beauty, Rihanna, seemed like a cute couple until that fateful night in February 2009 when she emerged from an argument in the car bruised and battered. The photos of her battered face were plastered over tabloids and headlines, and is burned into memories of both Rihanna and Chris Brown fans. Brown was charged with felony assault and hasn’t seemed to be able to drag himself out of a state of constant controversy since then. He’s thrown bottles at Drake in a New York City nightclub (allegedly over Rihanna) and fought with Frank Ocean too. Brown spent 108 days in jail for violating the terms of his parole in 2013, when he assaulted a man outside of a hotel. In 2014, Death Row Records founder, Suge Knight, was shot during a party in West Hollywood hosted by Brown. Rumor has it that Brown was the intended target of that shooting. In August of 2016, he was arrested and jailed briefly for allegedly pointing a gun at a woman in his LA home. After the woman called police, it resulted in a bizarre standoff that included an Instagram post where he called police “the worst gang in the world” while plugging his own talent and new song. Just two months later on October 8, 2016, he broke a fan’s cell phone in Mombasa when she tried to take a selfie with him.
11. Kanye West
Some artists carefully guard their public image, while others seem to delight in giving their publicists nightmares. Whether he’s dissing Michelle Obama, Taylor Swift or former girlfriends on social media, Kanye West has made as much a name for his personal life than his professional life. Stunts included various public feuds to over the top remarks to the 2006 Rolling Stone cover where he was pictured as Jesus Christ (a figure he’s often compared himself to). His 2016 Twitter battle with ex-girlfriend, Amber Rose, made headlines but he can be just as abrasive in person as online. In 2006, he jumped on stage at the MTV Europe Awards to complain when he didn’t win Best Video award but he’s probably most famous for cutting a teenage Taylor Swift off the mike at the 2009 VMAs with his notorious rant about Beyoncé. In 2015, he stormed the stage at the Grammys during a performance by Beck once again to advocate for his pal Beyoncé. He demanded that Beck “respect artistry” and give up his Best Album award to her. In 2016, he publicly asked Facebook founder, Mark Zuckerberg, via Twitter to invest $1 billion in his ideas. Nowadays, he is known for having a huge ego without any filter, and a persona that is filled with nothing but hot air.
10. Justin Bieber
Where did it all go wrong with Justin Bieber? When this Canadian child star first started as a sweet and innocent YouTube hopeful, no one could have ever guessed what would become of the pop star. Bieber signed onto a major label record deal at the tender age of 15, and traveled the world with loads of cash. Yet, abrupt and spectacular fame doesn’t always bring out the best in a person. Justin’s been criticized for artistic choices like feigning Black culture and his status as a teen heartthrob, but it was a string of legal troubles that began with an accusation of reckless driving in 2012 that permanently tarnished his squeaky clean image. He’s been in trouble for charges of vandalism, DUI, and drug use. Over 270,000 people signed a petition to have him deported from the US after his 2014 arrest on the DUI charge, speaking to his fall in popularity. In January 2015, he went so far as to release a YouTube video where he essentially apologized for arrogant and conceited behavior. The time when he urinated into a mop bucket while leaving an NYC nightclub, the racial slurs on camera and the plethora of fights just ensure Justin’s lifetime membership in the club of musical douchebags.
9. Azealia Banks
Azealia Banks‘ musical releases may be few in number, but her name has been kept in the spotlight by her outspoken social media presence and acrimonious relationships with everyone from her record companies to Lady Gaga and Rihanna. Her social media rants and hateful posts (including racist rants against Zayn Malik in May 2016) have gotten her banned from Twitter and cost her work opportunities when other artists bailed on collaborations. Yet, it’s not only other artists who’ve been the brunt of her juvenile behavior. She’s been caught on camera more than once shouting homophobic and racist slurs at random photographers, flight attendants, and others, and was charged with assault after biting a security guard in the breast at a nightclub in 2015. While she’s often advocated for African American civil rights issues, she went public with her endorsement of Trump right up until the sexual assault tapes went public in October 2016. With a new mixtape just released in 2016, it seems like she has no intention of going away anytime soon.
8. Ariana Grande
Ariana Grande seemed like a sweet, innocent pop starlet until social media started to show her diva side. The first indication was the infamous donut incident when she stopped by a California shop with then-boyfriend, Ricky Alvarez, for a snack en route. As they waited for their order, Grande and Alvarez were caught on film licking the donuts and then leaving without paying for them. That was apparently the tip of the iceberg. She’s said to have charged exorbitant fees for meet and greets and demanded to be photographed from her left side only. Grande has a reputation for backstage antics when things don’t go her way, like a recent performance in Toronto where she fell on stage and then allegedly treated her crew to a screaming fit. After an appearance at a radio station in Manhattan, the New York Daily News reported that once the elevator doors closed on her adoring fans, she said, “I hope they all f—ing die.”
7. Lily Allen
Since emerging into the spotlight in 2006 after her hit debut release, Alright Still, British pop star Lily Allen has been gracing the airwaves and social media with her unfiltered opinions. Her barbed social media assaults and the fact that she seems to love escalating her diatribes into full-on public feuds has earned her the moniker, Sheezus, in the press. Paired up with music legend, Elton John, at the GQ Awards in 2008, she was obviously drunk on stage. When Elton made a sarcastic comment about it, she told him, “F-off Elton. You know what? I’m 40 years younger than you. I’ve got my whole life ahead of me.” She got into a Twitter war with celebrity blogger, Perez Hilton, in 2009 after he posted a Tweet about being cast in her new video. She replied, “Oh, I’m sorry, we’ve already cast the jealous and bitter lonely old queen role. Next time, eh?” Lily interrupted her set at England’s Glastonbury Festival in 2014 for a curse-laden rant against the head of FIFA, the international soccer governing body in front of confused music fans. While she hasn’t had a release lately, she’s made headlines in 2016 for drunk and disorderly behavior, including allegedly collapsing after a binge drinking session in August.
6. Courtney Love
Let’s leave aside the persistent rumors that she had something sinister to do with her husband’s untimely death. There is still more than enough evidence to qualify for douchebag status even though it’s near impossible to get away from the Kurt Cobain legacy when it comes to talking about Courtney Love. In 2001, Love blocked Dave Grohl and Krist Novoselic, the remaining members of Nirvana, from releasing the band’s final track. In suing for control of the group’s legacy, she effectively held up the band’s last release of new material until 2004. She berated a fan from the stage during a festival appearance with Hole in Brazil in 2011, launching into a rant about Dave Grohl after she saw the fan holding a picture of Cobain in the audience. In 2014, Seattle police released a handwritten note found in Cobain’s wallet at the scene of his suicide, calling her, “a b**** with zits and siphoning all yr money for doping and whoring…” Despite the bad blood, that same year, she and the rest of the band seemed to have buried the hatchet with a hug between Love and Grohl at the induction of Nirvana into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Love is currently involved in a legal battle with daughter Frances Bean Cobain’s ex-husband over ownership of one of Kurt’s old guitars.
Morrissey, founder and vocalist of the seminal British group, The Smiths, seems to love controversy. An outspoken vegan and supporter of PETA, he’s made headlines for demanding meat-free zones for his concerts and berating fellow musicians for allowing their songs to be used for fast food ads. There were rumors that he fired The Smiths’ bass player by leaving a Post-it note on his windshield. In the 1980s, he went public with his support of a woman who’d been jailed for playing a role in the abduction and murder of young children. At times, his outspokenness has landed him charges of racism or right wing ideology. He’s called reggae “vile” and spoken publicly of a supposed conspiracy to promote black music in Britain. In August of 2016, he added fuel to the fire by criticizing London’s mayor, Sadiq Khan, even as he praised right-wing figures. His fans seem to expect the controversy; in the fall of 2016, he’s still selling out concerts around the world.
4. Anton Newcombe
As a band, Brian Jones Massacre is renowned more for their influence on the music industry (including the current neo-psychedelia revival) than any large scale success. Frontman, Anton Newcombe, developed a reputation for what we can call difficult behavior through constant (and acrimonious) personnel changes in the band, along with public feuds with other 1990s bands like the Dandy Warhols. Still, Newcombe’s reputation as anything other than a singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist would probably be long forgotten if not for a film. The 2004 documentary Dig! chronicles the band’s rise in the mid-1990s, with Newcombe in full douchebag mode as he stops concerts to berate band members for their alleged mistakes and gets into a fist fight with an audience member who gets on stage. Reputedly off the drugs and booze these days, Anton, along with a new line-up of band members, announced plans for a new release in October 2016.
3. Axl Rose
Few figures in the music industry have managed to isolate themselves as much as Axl Rose, singer and frontman of the hugely popular 80s and 90s heavy metal band Guns N’ Roses. Axl has always had what could be called a dysfunctional relationship with his fans. He quickly became renowned for dealing with the rowdiest audience members with a personal touch, sometimes even jumping off stage to take them on himself. Fans at a Montreal concert in 1992 started a riot when he walked off stage after playing just 9 songs. Axl also managed to offend a whole slew of people and groups with lyrics that include racist and homophobic terms. He’s written songs about killing girlfriends, and two of his former girlfriends (Stephanie Seymour and Erin Everly) claim that he was physically violent in real life. There’s no love lost between him and former bandmates, Slash and Duff McKagan, who have sued Rose for allegedly bilking them of over $1 million in royalties. He’s also feuded with Kurt Cobain and Jon Bon Jovi, and punched fashion designer Tommy Hilfiger out at a nightclub.
He’s known almost as much for his philanthropic work these days as for the legacy of seminal Irish rock band U2, but it’s not so much what he does as how he does it that rubs many observers the wrong way about Bono. Bono’s been fielding accusations of using philanthropy to get attention and for seeming to set himself up as a spokesperson for developing nations who didn’t ask him to speak for them for years. Accepting a Knighthood in 2007 from the Queen of England, that bastion of the conservative British Establishment, struck many as at least questionable, and when it was revealed that U2, as a corporation, had moved their funds to the Netherlands to avoid paying any taxes in Ireland at a time when Bono was calling on the Irish government to increase aid to Africa, the charge was upgraded to outright hypocrisy. Supposedly an advocate for peace, he partnered with war-friendly George W. Bush, who he often praised. Bono has also frequently taken heat for publicly taking credit for projects like debt relief or AIDS treatment for African countries, when in fact, it was local people and governments who had done the majority of financing and the work itself.
1. Ted Nugent
Detroit rocker, Ted Nugent, gained fame in the late 1970s and 1980s with hits like Cat Scratch Fever, but since then, has garnered attention largely for his verbal assaults on just about anyone who crosses his red neck sensibilities. Ted Nugent has gone after Obama, Clinton, gays and animal rights activists in a very public way. During a performance in 2007, he waved an assault rifle around on stage, threatening both Obama (who he called “…a piece of s–t. I told him to suck on my machine gun”) along with Hillary Clinton. He’s called gays “disgusting and immoral”, although he also claims he’s not homophobic. In 2000, he spat on and screamed at animal rights activists at an anti-fur demonstration outside a department store and then claimed that he’d been assaulted. In 2014, he called Obama a “subhuman mongrel” and it cost him gigs as two casinos canceled appearances due to his “racist and hate-filled remarks”. In 2016, the 68-year-old once again drew attention when he made anti-Semitic posts about gun control advocates, proving that his bigotry hadn’t diminished with age.
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