2016 In Review

Wayne Coyne Reviews 2016: The Flaming Lips Frontman On Pokémon Go, Lemonade, Ken Bone, Harambe, & More

We’ve started a little tradition here at Stereogum: each year, I call Wayne Coyne and ask him about a bunch of the big stories from the last 11 or so months. Sometimes this is detritus, like funny internet ephemera or goofy trends. Sometimes it’s the music or pop culture that dominated the year’s conversation, or that particularly struck either of us. Occasionally, we veer into more serious subjects. And as 2016 comes to a close, it’s hard to do this type of interview the same kind of way. After the election, everything from earlier in the year got recontexualized. Something that was at one point mostly harmless and entertaining, like Ken Bone, in hindsight becomes part of some collective delusion that things were going to be okay.

Coyne has been busy this year — the Flaming Lips are putting out a new record, Oczy Mlody, in January. Sometimes I have to catch Coyne up on some of the year’s stories, but he has a way of finding whatever wit there can be in a situation, while still reasoning through some of the bullshit we pay attention to these days. Even if he can come across as freewheeling or off-the-wall in interviews, I’ve always found him to be hilarious but grounded whenever we’ve spoken. So, like we did in 2014 and 2015, I asked Coyne to review 2016. Here are his thoughts on this year.

STEREOGUM: Obviously the first thing I want to ask you about is Harambe. That was the gorilla who got shot at the zoo when the kid fell into the pen.

WAYNE COYNE: It’s one of those situations that’s bad on all levels. And then the election happens and everything kinda becomes … you have a different view about it.

STEREOGUM: Doing this interview in general this year is a little stranger because of that. Last year one of my questions was about Trump but it was kinda flippant. It feels sorta terrible, looking back and seeing how we still kinda thought it was a joke.

COYNE: Maybe because we didn’t take it that seriously, that’s the reason we’re in the situation we’re in now. And maybe we’re not in a situation. Maybe we overblow everything to seem like that it’s us that matters and it’s us that failed and maybe the world isn’t about us, is what we’re finding out. There’s a whole world out there that doesn’t give a fuck about our music and our ideals and our ways or whatever. I think we felt like, because we got Barack Obama elected, we’d done our duty. I think he would probably say, “No, man, I got elected without you motherfuckers. I didn’t need you.” I think part of this was just … wrong. I think we felt like the world was smarter and different, or was past wanting someone like Trump to be elected. We were fucking wrong.

STEREOGUM: There’s a ton to unpack with all of that, and I want to ask you some more election-oriented stuff. But let’s go back for a second — the reason I bring up Harambe is that the weird thing was how it became this meme. People were sad about the gorilla and then it turned into “Dicks out for Harambe,” etc.

COYNE: I don’t really pay much attention to that, in a way. Some of that to me just gets too smarmy. It’s like, the kind of person who does nothing and has no real opinion can put down or make fun of everything that’s ever happened because they don’t have to do anything themselves. They never have to have anything happen to them where they have to make a decision. It’s easy to sit back and make fun of everything, make fun of people trying to make it a better world.

STEREOGUM: Did you see these news stories about people dressed as clowns in the woods?

COYNE: Yeah, yeah. It seemed like it was around Halloween … I remember going to the big Halloween store in town and people being repulsed like, “How could they be selling clown costumes when real clowns are killing people?!” Real clowns are killing people. You really think this is something you can say in public. Seriously? Again, I think that kinda served a story and half of it is based on the smarminess of people making fun of saying shit that’s stupid. It’s real and it’s absurd and yet it’s kind of not that unbelievable. That’s the way this is. Sometimes we can’t really believe it’s happening.

STEREOGUM: Well speaking of the smarm of the internet and all that … do you remember Ken Bone?

COYNE: Was he one of the guys in the second debate, when they have questions from the audience?

STEREOGUM: Right, he was an undecided voter.

COYNE: At the time, that would drive you crazy. How could you be undecided? But people were. To me, we get so used to living in our circles of what we think is right and wrong or whatever. But you could really be undecided about that. It’s a joke. But it’s not a joke to them. If nothing else, we should learn a great lesson about that. Anyway, I forget what the story was.

STEREOGUM: I guess it was just some combination of his outfit and his demeanor, and he wound up becoming like, a temporary celebrity. SNL parodied him, he was talking on the late night shows. Even then, some people were saying things like that, “We’re turning this guy into this meme but this situation isn’t funny.” Similar to what you were saying, it was this nonsense while there was real shit going on.

COYNE: Well, I don’t think at the time that we thought real shit was going on. That’s probably where the joke would be on us. We kept making fun of it like, obviously we’re smart and we read the right newspapers and we know what’s up here and this guy’s undecided and he’s an idiot. Clearly, that’s us being smarmy. That’s us making fun of the way he looks, or whatever. Who are we to decide, you know? We let our politeness and our tolerance go away and we’re able to make fun of people. Why would they want to watch anything except for Fox News? Everywhere they go, people just make fun of them. Why wouldn’t they want to do that? We act like, “We’re the people who are right, we are the cool, smart people, get out of the way.” I don’t know. I just feel … there’s already been enough of that said. I’m like, yeah, we played along with that instead of taking the election seriously, and we got Trump. Hope it’s funny.

STEREOGUM: How did you react when the Brexit decision happened?

COYNE: Well, for me personally, I thought it was a good thing. Here was a great, living, happening scenario of a population that didn’t give a fuck until it went too wrong, too bad. I thought, this is a great wake-up call for America here. We should look at this and say, “This could be us,” so that it doesn’t happen to us. Yet we looked at it and said, “Maybe this could happen to us” … and then, it did. [laughs] So, fuck. Yeah. I was talking to people in England on that very day when the Brexit vote happened. I don’t think they were the ones to blame. I think they feel the same frustrations as people in America [who don’t like Trump] do. It’s … do you people actually go out and vote? It’s appalling how many people — somebody like a Kanye West, being actually proud of the fact that he didn’t vote. I’m like … well, good. I kinda thought he was a pompous idiot anyway, and then he says that and it’s like, really? You’re proud of that? You’re proud that you don’t vote? You’re such a cool, radical guy. Good thing you’re hanging out with the Kardashians. You’re just too cool for me anymore. When people don’t vote, it’s appalling. And again, it’s that smarminess. “Voting is a hoax.” I can tell you for sure it’s not a hoax. I vote in all the local elections here and if you don’t vote here, it’s not going to improve. The vote I did earlier in the year … they fucking won by 20 votes. One of them was mine. It fucking matters. It’s hard to see when you’re living in Oklahoma, such a big Republican state. But it’s not all the president. That very day that fucking Trump won, there was a lot of local questions on the ballot that got passed. We woke up with Donald Trump as president but Oklahoma was slightly more progressive than it had ever been. Ever. We had drug laws change, we had farming laws change, we had alcohol laws change. It matters. But people think Kanye is so cool and so smart.

STEREOGUM: Last year we talked about another Kanye moment, when he first said the whole Kanye 2020 thing.

COYNE: I didn’t really like the idea that Kanye would position himself as the great I’m The Only One Who Will Say Anything. He told the world that George W. Bush didn’t like black people, and then it kinda feels like every six months he’s gotta have some big social thing to say. A lot of it is sorta stoner rants like the thing at the VMAs. It’s like, OK, not sure what you said but I’m glad you felt you had to say it. It’s like, OK, you’re right, you should have your opinion and you should say it if you want and believe it if you want. But I feel like it does more damage in the wake of Trump winning than him being cool does for the world. Him being cool, I think, isn’t serving the world that well right now if he thinks being cool is liking Donald Trump and not voting. If that’s your version of cool, maybe I’m just a weird, old white guy who doesn’t get it.

STEREOGUM: Alright, I’m going to take us into more of a pop culture direction for a minute. I’m sure you saw that Bob Dylan won the Nobel Prize.

COYNE: I did. I didn’t know if that was a joke or if it was serious.

STEREOGUM: It’s real. And the funny thing about it is that, in classically Dylan fashion, he doesn’t really seem to care. That’s the thing that’s kept generating headlines. Him not responding to the committee’s phone calls, him not going to the ceremony.

COYNE: I think if the Nobel committee had done any research over the past 30 years of Bob Dylan’s public life they would’ve known he didn’t give a fuck, and they would’ve known he wouldn’t show up. They would’ve said privately, “Wouldn’t it be great if we gave him one but let’s not do it because it will look silly.” I think a lot of people just aren’t that in awe of Bob Dylan anymore. People still put him up on a pedestal. I like some of what Bob Dylan did a long, long time ago, but I honestly don’t pay attention to his opinions or his ideas or even his records that much now. Maybe that’s just me. He just doesn’t seem that relevant to me or the world right now. To give him this prize … he was probably thinking, “No one gives a shit about me anymore, good” and then he gets this and it’s like “Oh, fuck! Why are you bothering me?! I just want to be a fucking weird-looking old musician that no one cares about.” Now we’re trying to celebrate him again and he’s pissed off about it. To me, it’s like, of course that’s what he would do. Give it to someone that likes it! I don’t know. It’s like when you get a Grammy. If you’re not going to show up and receive it and like it, they’re not going to give it to you. You don’t get one given to you and be allowed to be indifferent or bitter about it. To me, I thought it was like, of course that’s what Bob Dylan would do. I didn’t pay that much attention to it just because I don’t think about Bob Dylan nowadays that much.

STEREOGUM: How’d you react to all the big icons dying this year, Bowie and Prince…

COYNE: I think we’d been trying to get David Bowie — anytime we did something in New York, we’d put out an open invitation, “It would be great to see you” or whatever. We didn’t really know him and I think we all knew that he had been ill for a little while. You don’t know how serious. When he died, it was like … I think for a lot of people, you just don’t consider that they’re dead or alive. You know, they’re just these mythological creatures even though they’re really still alive. Prince surprised us probably the most. Prince definitely surprised … he’d be one where, if someone said, “How old is he?” I’d say, “I don’t know! He could be 100 years old or he could be fucking 35, I don’t really know.”

STEREOGUM: Did you watch Stranger Things?

COYNE: Ummm, kinda detective kids, set in the early ’80s? I don’t think I watched all of them but we liked them quite a bit, yeah. I’m trying to think of the shows that came on this year. I watched the O.J. one that had John Travolta in it. We watched that one and thought it was good. There’s quite a few of them. You get addicted to them being on and then if there isn’t one on, you don’t know what to do. I think TV is where everybody’s going to watch the great movies and such now. Man. There’s so much good shit. There wouldn’t be enough time in your life to get to sit down and enjoy it all. There’s so many great shows.

STEREOGUM: This year in particular, it seemed like there were a ton of new shows I wanted to watch. I’m still catching up on a lot of it. It was hard to keep up while being on tour or traveling for festivals all the time.

COYNE: I mean, if you live any actual life, you find yourself missing out on a lot of stuff. Luckily, we fly around on airplanes once in a while and we do get to watch movies and TV there. Fuck. So much great stuff, for sure.

STEREOGUM: Did you like Beyoncé’s Lemonade?

COYNE: I do, kind of. I like that it’s so weird and kinda unlistenable. She, surprisingly, feels more arty than I ever gave her credit for. But at the same time, I don’t like the songs as much. But I like that they’re weird. Does that make sense? There’s part of her … I don’t really like … she’s always on her agenda. And I don’t really care about that. But I was surprised at how weird it was. I didn’t get to go to any of the concerts, which I wish I could’ve gone to. I didn’t get to go to any of the Kanye concerts, which I wish I could’ve gone to. I like [Lemonade], but I never really listen to Beyoncé the way I would Rihanna or Miley or something like that. It was just never in my scope of things I listen to. But being confronted with it as a HBO show … it was weirder than I thought, for sure.

STEREOGUM: Did you like the new Rihanna album?

COYNE: I like the Tame Impala song and I like the bigger … the hit she had with Drake. I like those, for sure. I’ve heard it, but I don’t know if I know it as a whole album.

STEREOGUM: How about the Pokémon Go phenomenon? Did you play it at all?

COYNE: Some of the guys in the crew, as we’d go on tour, would do a little bit of that, but I never really … that was something that I wouldn’t even know how to play along with. But I did see people around Oklahoma City out late at night following invisible trails and being excited about it.

STEREOGUM: There were people on your crew like, looking for Pokémon in the venues?

COYNE: Yeah, yeah. And around wherever we’d be, they would do it. They were excited about it. I love those sorts of things that bring people together. They make people laugh. I’m all for it. I didn’t personally do it, but I don’t think it was meant for me.

STEREOGUM: How about all the buzz surrounding Hamilton? Do you want to see the play?

COYNE: This is where Pence showed up and they singled him out and they booed him or something?

STEREOGUM: Well, the play itself was a big deal on its own. It’s a rap musical about Alexander Hamilton and it had become crazy popular. You know, it’s impossible to get tickets to and all of that. But it did wind up in the headlines again because Mike Pence went to see it and the actors addressed him at the end, talking about the diversity of the production and, essentially, hoping he took something away from that versus the policies he has supported. Then Trump took to Twitter to bitch about it.

COYNE: I don’t know…I kinda feel like, in this day and age, anything you do is going to draw attention to it and it’s going to be more … they’re going to use it to their advantage. It felt to me like, the Trump people got more use out of it saying, “Yeah, here’s how stupid their production is” or “how offensive their production is” than the other side got from it. I don’t think I would’ve done that. I think I just would’ve said, “He’s here. He’s not here because he’s the Vice President, he’s probably here just because he wants to be here.” It’s not up to us to decide, to yell at him. There’s probably people in the audience who have done actual horrible things, they don’t just stamp a stupid thing. There could be people there who have done horrible things and nobody said anything to them. I don’t know. You’re going to get attention for that and it’s probably not going to go the way you want. But I don’t believe people should hold back, either. I probably would’ve taken it like, “He’s here. Maybe our art will have an influence on him,” more than our arguing with him and scolding him. I think that’s art’s greatest power, its indifference. You get to walk away being affected by it. If every concert you went to fucking Bruce Springsteen came out there and picked a fight with you, you probably wouldn’t like it that much.

STEREOGUM: Did you follow the story of Hulk Hogan’s lawsuit taking down Gawker Media?

COYNE: I think I saw that for a second, yeah. He was being sued?

STEREOGUM: Well, they published a sex tape of his, so he sued Gawker Media and it came out over time that he was backed by Peter Thiel, who had a vendetta against Gawker Media. So he backed Hogan’s lawsuit and the settlement was so extreme that it shut down Gawker Media, essentially.

COYNE: Wow, I didn’t know all that. I thought the beginning played out like, Hulk Hogan was in the right, that those people had fucked him over…

STEREOGUM: It’s complicated, because he kinda was, but then it became this larger, controversial thing.

COYNE: It seems shitty on both sides, to have so much revenge in your heart when you have so much going for you. Who gives a fuck, you know? And yet, [for Gawker] to be so petty and to be exposing these parts of celebrities and insulting them or whatever … it’s sort of shitty on both sides.

STEREOGUM: The idea of a Silicon Valley billionaire being able to take down a media company as we’re heading towards Trump’s America — do you find that disconcerting?

COYNE: Repulsive, yeah. Why would they fucking care? You think at some point people would be above it. It’s like Trump watching SNL. It’s like, dude, this is dopey entertainment for 14-year-olds, why does it fucking matter? Why so much put-on “I’m going to show you who has the power here?” Fuck, if I was a billionaire, I would not waste it on trying to show anybody how powerful I am and how tough I am. It’s repulsive on both sides. Because, you know, magazines and everybody — they love talking about that shit. They love to make it a controversy. It’s all repulsive, I think. It’s also when it gets beyond being funny. Making fun of people is repulsive, unless they’re having fun, too. Being around Miley Cyrus, we see things where we know people are making fun of her, but it’s funny! You can have a sense of humor about some stuff. When it goes beyond that, I’m like … I don’t have time to make fun of people for real. I don’t really care. I feel sorry for people in that sort of position where they do feel embarrassed and they do feel ashamed like, “Oh, I wish people didn’t talk about my stuff in this way.” I’ve only been talked about a very little bit in the public area about my life and stuff. I can easily say, I don’t really give a fuck. But some people do. And I think it’d suck to be hounded one way, but it would be awful to be hounded by this billionaire, too. It’s all repulsive, but it’s interesting, yeah.

STEREOGUM: Alright, Wayne. Thanks for being up for this again this year. Things got a little darker since the last time.

COYNE: Yeah! Thanks for including me.

STEREOGUM: Talk to you next year.