Given his reputation for sparking rows with provocative statements, Morrissey may seem a strange choice to entertain guests at a ceremony dedicated to furthering world peace. And true to form, his appearance on the bill at the Nobel Peace Prize concert next month is already stirring controversy.
The singer has not even opened his mouth on the topic of world peace yet, but in Norway – which will host the ceremony on 11 December – people have not forgotten his words after the far-right extremist Anders Behring Breivik killed 77 people in Oslo and on Utoya Island in July 2011.
A few days after the atrocity, the former Smiths front man entertained fans in Warsaw with a rendition of his anthem to vegetarianism, “Meat is Murder”. He then declared that the “murderous” events in Norway were “nothing compared to what happens in McDonald’s and Kentucky Fried sh*t every day”. Morrissey refused to apologise, instead posting a message on a fan website defending his comments and saying that if a person was horrified by the massacre in Norway, they should also “feel horror at the murder of any innocent being”.
So when the Norwegian Nobel Committee announced this week that Morrissey was joining Mary J Blige and James Blunt at the Oslo ceremony, the Norwegian news website The Local suggested optimistically that it was “a sign he may have been forgiven”.
That proved premature. On Wednesday, Norway’s Aftenposten newspaper ran a comment piece arguing that relatives of Utoya victims and many other Norwegians would find the decision to invite Morrissey “incomprehensible”. Comments on Twitter and newspaper discussion forums echoed the outrage. “Morrissey doesn’t deserve to stand on a stage in this country ever again,” one reader of The Local wrote.
Geir Lundestad, director of the Norwegian Nobel Institute, defended its decision to put Morrissey on the bill, telling The Independent that free speech was an intrinsic value of the Nobel committee and it would never censure an artist.
“We have had for the Nobel Peace Prize concert several hundred musical stars, and many of them have said things which we as organisers strongly disagree with,” he said. But he added: “They are not receiving the Nobel Peace Prize – they are here to be part of a musical tribute to the peace prize laureate.”
Morrissey will perform three songs to an audience of 6,000 in Oslo’s Spektrum Arena as the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons picks up the gong.
The Norway comment was not the first time that Morrissey’s words have landed him in trouble.
The Smiths’ song “Suffer Little Children”, a haunting tune about the Moors Murders, was criticised by victims of Myra Hindley and Ian Brady for exploiting the crimes.
He remains as outspoken as ever. This week he criticised another Nobel Peace Prize winner – US President Barack Obama – for setting an “abysmal example” by tucking into turkey for Thanksgiving.