The 10 Biggest Music Beefs Of 2013
As time-tested album cycles are discarded and abandoned, so too is an artist’s traditional publicity window. In 2013, the best way to stay in the public eye was not to do interviews, but to bicker, troll, and brawl — on Twitter, on TV, or in person. Yes, beef was what’s for dinner in 2013, and while it would be cynical to assume artists were making multiple trips to the buffet in order to maintain visibility, it would be naive to blindly assume otherwise.
To that end, several of 2013’s Biggest Music Beefs were not isolated incidences, but recurring squabbles, or variations on a theme. Heck, Azealia Banks alone was involved in such an array of beefery that we had to eliminate her from this competition so that her own 10 Dumbest Beefs could be examined up close. Same for Death Grips, who topped our list of 2012’s Biggest Music Beefs. And you want to know the absolute craziest thing? Even if we were to lump both those acts’ respective beefs into single entries on this list, I still don’t think either of them would have been able to wrest the crown from the artist who eventually claimed its top spot.
So pull up a chair and dig in. Beef is on the menu, and the feast begins here.
Robin Thicke Vs. Marvin Gaye's Estate
Robin Thicke's "Blurred Lines" was probably the most ubiquitous song of 2013, and it came with several controversies, none harder to follow than the beef that erupted between Thicke and the estate of late Motown god Marvin Gaye, whose song "Got To Give It Up" was an obvious stylistic inspiration for "Blurred Lines." First, in August, Thicke preemptively sued Gaye's estate, to legally establish that "Blurred Lines" didn't violate the other parties' rights and the "Gayes do not have an interest in the copyright to the composition 'Got to Give It Up' sufficient to confer standing on them to pursue claims of infringement of that composition." Then, in October, it came out that the Gayes had turned down a six-figure settlement with Thicke -- only so they could sue both him and the song's publisher, EMI, claiming numerous counts of copyright infringement and breach of contract, among other things. THEN in November, Gaye's son Marvin Gaye III filed his own countersuit, with slightly different allegations that those claimed by the rest of Gaye's estate. At present, none of the suits have been settled, meaning this beef will drag into 2014 (and perhaps beyond).
M.I.A. Vs. The NFL
During the 2012 Super Bowl halftime show, M.I.A., who was performing alongside Madonna, flipped off the cameras. It was not exactly a Janet Jackson-level world-destroying public scandalization, but just the same, a couple months after the incident occurred, the NFL demanded the singer deliver a public apology and $1.5 million. That battle was waged privately in courtrooms for more than a year, till going public in 2013. In September, NFL lawyers moved to have M.I.A. "deemed liable for her actions" before moving to trial for damages. In legal documents, the league called the finger an "offensive gesture… in flagrant disregard for the values that form the cornerstone of the NFL brand and the Super Bowl." M.I.A.'s lawyer Howard King replied by saying, "She is going to go public with an explanation of how ridiculous it was for the NFL and its fans to devote such furor to this incident, while ignoring the genocide occurring in her home country and several other countries, topics she frequently speaks to … Of course, the NFL's claimed reputation for wholesomeness is hilarious in light of the weekly felonies committed by its stars, the bounties placed by coaches on opposing players, the homophobic and racist comments uttered by its players, the complete disregard for the health of players and the premature deaths that have resulted from same, and the raping of public entities ready to sacrifice public funds to attract teams." In November, while doing publicity for her new album, Matangi, M.I.A. asserted that her action wasn't an act of defiance, but one of religious observance. "Well, you know gang signs -- in America you have gang signs, and people throw up initials and stuff like that," she told NPR. "Well, 5,000 years ago, there was thing called a mudra, which is your sitting position when you do yoga or you're meditating or praying or whatever. And you have different ones based on what you're meditating over. There's not a lot of them that are named after gods and goddesses, but the middle finger is specifically named Matangi -- the Matangi mudra."
DIIV Vs. SXSW
Zachary Cole Smith made the tabloids after getting busted with 42 "decks" of heroin in September, but that was merely the most notable of numerous rough patches dotting the DIIV frontman's 2013. Back in March -- right in the middle of SXSW -- Smith railed against the music-industry convention (where his band seemed to be playing about 20 shows over the course of four days), via a Tumblr post. Wrote Smith:
Hi Austin. Fuck SXSW. There… I said it.SXSW never responded -- there was plenty of truth to Smith's accusations, after all -- but a suspicious person might wonder if Smith's diatribe was partly in defense of his girlfriend, Sky Ferreira, who admitted to losing her voice during a show, then doing three SXSW shows with a blown voice, before finally canceling another.
Here, the music comes last. 5 minute set-up, no sound check, 15 minute set. The "music" element is all a front, it's the first thing to be compromised. Corporate money everywhere but in the hands of the artists, at what is really just a glorified corporate networking party. Drunk corporate goons and other industry vampires and cocaine. Everyone is drunk, being cool. "Official" bureaucracy and all their mindless rules. Branding, branding, branding. It's bullshit… sorry.
Stone Temple Pilots Vs. Scott Weiland
Stone Temple Pilots have been on-and-off beefing with on-and-off frontman Scott Weiland since the Clinton Administration -- Weiland was first kicked out of the band in 1997. (But before you go blaming the democrats, be fair: Weiland was booted again in 2002, at which point Dubya had been in office for more than a year.) But in February 2013, the DeLeo Brothers officially axed their singer via press release, which read, simply, "Stone Temple Pilots have announced they have officially terminated Scott Weiland." The severance reportedly surprised Weiland as much (and in fact, presumably more) than it did the rest of us. Said Weiland afterward: "I learned of my supposed 'termination' from Stone Temple Pilots this morning by reading about it in the press. Not sure how I can be 'terminated' from a band that I founded, fronted and co-wrote many of its biggest hits, but that's something for the lawyers to figure out." STP replaced Weiland with Chester Bennington, of Linkin Park -- a move that vexed Weiland, who responded, "First of all they don't have the legal right to call themselves STP because I'm still a member of the band. And more importantly, they don't have the ethical right to call themselves Stone Temple Pilots because it's misleading and dishonest to the millions of fans that have followed us for so many years." Soon afterward, STP sued their ex-singer, claiming to have lost millions of dollars on the Stone Temple Pilots 20th anniversary tour because Weiland was late for shows and promotional events. "Enough is enough," said band's lawsuit. "Without relief from the court, Weiland will continue violating STP's rights, misappropriating STP assets and interfering with the band's livelihood." As of 12/16, "legal things are [still] pending."
Black Flag Vs. FLAG
It's fair to say the world didn't need one reunited Black Flag, but in 2013, we got two. In one corner, we had Black Flag -- featuring Ron Reyes (Black Flag vocalist from 1979-1980) and guitarist Greg Ginn (the only constant member of the band since its 1976 inception as well as the sole legal owner of the Black Flag name and the band's iconic 'bars' logo). And in the other corner, FLAG -- featuring original Black Flag vocalist Keith Morris, Black Flag bassist Chuck Dukowski (who, while not an original member, wrote a large portion of the band's most well-known tunes), drummer Bill Stevenson (Black Flag member from 1983-1985), and guitarist/vocalist Dez Cadena (Black Flag vocalist and occasional guitarist from 1980-83). It was bound to end in agony. In June, Ginn filed a lawsuit against the members of FLAG, claiming the band's re-purposing of Black Flag's name and logo "infringes on Black Flag rights owned by him and his label, SST Records." In October, the court ruled against Ginn, but that didn't slow down his release of a new Black Flag album, the poorly received What The…, in early November. Later that month, though, Ginn fired Reyes onstage, during a performance in Australia, replacing him -- with two songs left in the set! -- with former skateboarder/stuntman Mike Vallely. Reyes released a long statement soon afterward, in which he stated that the sacking came in part because he remained friends with members of FLAG. Said Reyes, "Yes it is my opinion that we fell very short indeed and the [diminishing] ticket sales and crowds are a testament to that. However it was made clear to me that raising these issues was tantamount to a blasphemous stab in the back to Greg. How could I question him, his efforts and hard work? How could I dare be a fan of OFF! and/or be friends and a fan of Flag? I was told that I had to chose sides. But I refuse to treat someone like an infallible Pope figure. No guitarist deserves such unquestioning blind devotion. And so I have been excommunicated in a very strange fashion."
Frank Ocean Vs. Chris Brown
Chris Brown is one of modern music's most notorious beefers, and that reputation remained intact in 2013. In January, Brown and Odd Future crooner Frank Ocean got into a fracas at Westlake Studio in Los Angeles, allegedly over a parking spot. Accounts varied -- TMZ reported Brown went to shake Ocean's hand and one of Ocean's friends ignited what turned into a brawl; Ocean claimed to have been jumped by Brown and friends. But it wasn't even the biggest flare-up between the two artists in 2013: In February, Brown famously refused to stand (and openly sulked) when Ocean was awarded the Urban Contemporary Album Grammy. If anything, the parking lot brawl was the culmination of a beef that dates back to at least June 2011, when Brown compared Ocean to James Fauntleroy, and Ocean responded by comparing Brown to Sisqo and Ike Turner. Ocean would pour additional fuel on the fire in July 2013, dissing Brown in a remix of Migos' "Versace." Sample lyric: "you can stay seated/ I'm taking that Grammy."
Kanye West Vs. The Fashion Industry
Kanye had more than his share of beefs in 2013, but none so dramatic as his numerous flare-ups with various parties in the apparel industry. In a September interview with Zane Lowe, Kanye went on a long diatribe about the problems he's encountered trying to move into fashion -- a "glass ceiling," he calls it -- from his frustrations with Fendi, who allegedly turned down his proposal to design leather jogging pants for the brand six years ago, to his inability to secure backing for his fashion-based business proposals, to his aspirations to make "uniforms for a city." A couple weeks later, Kanye went on Jimmy Kimmel and continued on this subject, saying (among other things), "I wanna make the next Ralph Lauren." In a November interview on Hot 97, he discussed his decision to terminate his deal with Nike -- whose Kanye-designed Yeezy sneakers, he claimed, were the most exciting shoes since Air Jordans -- and work instead with Adidas. "I am gonna be the Tupac of product," said Kanye. "I'm gonna be bigger than WalMart." The next day, during an interview with The Breakfast Club, he further vented his frustrations at not being able to break into fashion at the highest levels, explaining how he was unable to arrange a meeting with Louis Vuitton CEO Bernard Arnault (the 10th richest person in the world, according to Forbes), who didn't understand why he had to take a meeting with West. Said Kanye:
OK, you don’t understand why you need to take a meeting with Kanye West? I’mma show you why you need to take a meeting with Kanye West: EVERYBODY IN ATLANTA RIGHT NOW AT THE LOUIS VUITTON STORE IF YOU BLACK DON’T GO TO LOUIS VUITTON TODAY. [Silence.] THAT'S WHY YOU NEED TO TAKE A MEETING WITH KANYE WEST, BERNARD ARNAULT.
Miley Vs. Sinead
It started with a compliment, when Miley Cyrus told Rolling Stone her "Wrecking Ball" video was "a modern version of Sinead O'Connor's Nothing Compares 2 U" video. Sinead responded to this perhaps ill-advised reference by writing an epic open letter to Cyrus, gently mansplaining "in the spirit of motherliness and with love" that in Sinead's opinion, Miley was being "pimped [and] exploited, and it is absolutely NOT in ANY way an empowerment of yourself or any other young women, for you to send across the message that you are to be valued (even by you) more for your sexual appeal than your obvious talent." Miley responded with a Twitter jab at O'Connor (and Amanda Bynes), trying to brush off Sinead's advice essentially by saying "she crazy" and providing some visual evidence of O'Connor's history with mental illness.
O'Connor, naturally, was offended by this. So she sent Miley another letter, this one a bit more aggressive than the first, demanding an apology, threatening legal action, and saying, "taking me on is even more fuckin' stupid than behaving like a prostitute and calling it feminism." Miley again responded on Twitter, saying: "Sinead. I don't have time to write you an open letter cause Im hosting & performing on SNL this week. So if youd like to meet up and talk lemme know in your next letter. :)"
A next letter did indeed arrive! Sinead opened by saying, "I have no interest whatsoever in meeting you" and closed with, "Cease behaving in an anti-female capacity. You will become the victim of it shortly. Soon it will be you the media [is calling] 'crazy' .. and you will not enjoy it.. and you will appreciate people (like myself) standing up for you. Which I will be happy to do.. if you earn my respect today by apologising publicly."
This time, Miley responded during a spot on The Today Show, where she told Matt Lauer: "I think [Sinead is] an incredible artist, I think she's an awesome songwriter, and I was really inspired by her for my 'Wrecking Ball' video, which was what started the whole thing. I don't know how someone can start a fight with somebody who said, 'Hey, I really respect you. And I really love what you what you did.' 'You know what? You suck! I don't like you!' That was kind of crazy. But as I said, I'm a big fan of hers, so it doesn't really matter."
Not an apology, exactly -- plus, use of the word "crazy." Sinead's fourth letter was the longest yet, although it repeated a single theme: You were wrong and now you have to apologize publicly. Wrote Sinead: "You may disagree with what I advised you in my first letter.. That is your entitlement. However the letter was written in a spirit of motherly care. You're entitled to have told me to go fuck myself if u liked.. But to respond to it in a way that has caused so much personal harm and damage to me and to people who may struggle currently with suicidal feelings.. And to abuse Amanda Bynes .. is beyond my understanding, as is your refusal so far to apologise, along with your further calling me 'crazy' today."
To this, Miley did not respond directly. But when asked in an interview if she and O'Connor would ever "kiss and make up," Miley simply said: "I don't know. Are we supposed to kiss?"
Sinead's fifth letter answered that question right off the bat: "No, worry not," wrote Sinead, "there's no need for kissing.. But let me state again.. You're supposed to apologise for the mocking of any person who sought help, publicly or privately, to prevent themselves from committing suicide. You're also supposed to apologise for mocking people who are mistakenly or otherwise perceived to be mentally ill."
That was on October 14. Then, silence. But on November 5, Miley DID apologize. Not to Sinead, however. No, here Miley apologized to ex-fiancee Liam Hemsworth, with whom she was trying to re-connect. And -- as if taking additional inspiration from Sinead -- Miley's apology came in the form of what she called an "open letter" (it was, in fact, just a regular letter). And in that letter, Miley apologized for her "wild ways" and said she was "sorry for acting so mad."
For her part, Sinead has taken to posting subtweety pictures on Facebook, miming sex acts with vegetables, and flashing big freaky smiles that look a whole lot like those worn by Cyrus … or a crazy person.
Artists Vs. Spotify
Last year, David Lowery's back-and-forth with NPR intern Emily White came in at No. 3 on our Beef List -- although, in truth, Lowery's issue was not so much with White, but the mentality she embodied: a general satisfaction with music-streaming services such as Spotify and Pandora -- services deemed by Lowery (and others) to underpay artists. This year, that cause was taken up by countless other musicians. Thom Yorke spoke out against Spotify, and removed the Atoms For Peace catalog from the service. Foals spoke out against Spotify. Johnny Marr spoke out against Spotify. So did Beck. So did David Byrne. And it wasn't just Spotify: Pink Floyd spoke out against Pandora, and David Lowery spoke out against lyric websites like Rap Genius. And this represents only a handful of the growing number of artists who took on sectors of the internet in 2013 in an attempt to express alarm or dissatisfaction at the ways in which the pie has been divvied. It's a war that will continue to find new enlistments and casualties in 2014, as new services like Beats Music and others try to wrest some market share away from Spotify, presumably not, however, with the interests of Lowery, et al., in mind.
Morrissey Vs. The World
Morrissey didn't release a note of new music in 2013 -- even though he was openly exhorted to do so by none other than 2012's Beef Queen -- but he managed to dominate music blogs just the same. Yes, it was a beefy year for this vegan activist. Let's look at it chronologically. First he was canceling nearly every show he had scheduled, and delivering longwinded apologies for those cancelations. The he was battling with the Staples Center -- back and forth and back again -- over a supposed agreement that the arena would go "100% vegetarian" for their scheduled Morrissey/Patti Smith concert. (Ultimately, Morrissey played the gig, and the venue did not go vegetarian for him.) Then he refused to perform on Jimmy Kimmel on an episode that would also feature cast of Duck Dynasty, and when Kimmel made fun of Morrissey's ultimatum, Morrissey lashed out at Kimmel. Then he took on Paul McCartney -- demanding Macca surrender either his knighthood or his animal-activist bonafides. Then he canceled all his remaining U.S. tour dates (again with a theatric apology). Then, he delivered a vitriolic takedown of Margaret Thatcher, only a week after her passing. Then, he canceled all his South American tour dates due to "lack of funds." Then, after getting publishing house Penguin to agree to the genuinely insane demand that his autobiography be issued as part of their Classics line (alongside the likes Aristotle and Homer), Morrissey halted its publication. (When it finally was published in the UK, it included lots of score-settling, as well as details of a homosexual relationship. Soon afterward, Morrissey went on to state publicly that he is "not homosexual." Those details were then edited out of the subsequent U.S. version of the book.) Then, he released a statement denouncing Melissa Bachman, Pippa Middleton, and David Cameron. Then he released another statement denouncing President Obama and the idea of Thanksgiving. And to close out 2013 -- in an act of presumably unintentional irony that must have tickled Moz just the same -- he performed at the Nobel Peace Prize concert. No, "peace" was nowhere to be found on Morrissey's agenda in 2013. But when it came time to award prizes for beef, Moz took home the gold.