Archive for the ‘Taboo Artists’ Category



Tony Gwynn was a Hall of Fame baseball player (2007) that played from 1982-2001. His nicknames consisted of Mr. Padre—for he was one of the best San Diego Padres ever—and also Captain Video, because he was known to watch all his plate appearances on videotape, which at the time was virtually unheard of:

“Gwynn, whose nickname was Captain Video, was baseball’s jolliest supervillain dork: famously friendly, with multiple lairs. His first lair was his house, replete with his own personal 1980s YouTube. He had every single one of his plate appearances on videotape, and days’ worth of tape documenting the delivery of every pitcher he might ever face. These weren’t VHS tapes. They were smaller, about the size of audiocassettes, and could be paused and deconstructed on a frame-by-frame basis with more reliability.”[1]

Gwynn used this “lair” to perfection. For his career he batted .338, only second to Ted Williams .344 since 1939. Now almost every baseball player and team uses footage to improve statistics across the board. We have Gwynn to thank for making baseball a better game, a more scientific game.

Breakdown: Don’t be afraid to do what nobody else is doing. It might seem out of place at the time, but one day it might be looked back upon as ahead of its time. Isn’t that where you want to be, ahead of time?


[1] Jon Bois, Tony Gwynn, baseball scientist, has died, (2014).

Tim Minchin is comedian-musican and an actor. His genre  is a fusion pop, rock, and classical, mostly played on the piano while he sings about subjects in taboo ways.  Below are three videos of Minchin doing what he does, making fun prejudice, religion, and censorship.


Again, Jake Emlyn is back doing what he wants. Check out his new song and video below and read this great article from by Karim Khan explaining Emlyn’s taboo style. Jake intends to change rap and pop music. The future will let us know if that’s possible.

And watch this to see the polar opposite of the previous song.

Then try listening to a poem.

Even if he doesn’t appreciate the nickname, many call Ed Sheeran the Ginger Jesus for a reason. On stage he is a one-man band, using a loop pedal, his beat-boxing skills, and his guitar to put together full songs in a few moments. Rap, hip-hop, grime, and pop are all part of what he does. Sheeran has the ability to sing boy-band-esque-songs or even ballads that might make Damien Rice sad and then switch to a grimy rap that would make many rappers envious.

Sheeran plays the guitar exceptionally well, but it is his soulful vocals and rapping which have led to much of his popularity. No musical genre can accurately describe where Ed Sheeran should fit. Although he’s currently being thrown into the mess that is popular music today, Sheeran still has the ability to “make a new sound” if he listens to himself. Sheeran is an evolving lyricist with the potential to take his music to numerous places without ever feeling out of place in any of them. If his growth isn’t stunted by the music industry or bad decisions, we may be looking at one of the greats. Whereas many artists try to rap and sing, Sheeran actually goes beyond trying—he does it, and without of the help of autotune.

Music needs someone like Ed Sheeran to refuse to be labeled as a certain kind of artist; it needs someone to build a bridge between the mainstream and the so-called uncommercial. Only a fusion of the two will allow for the evolution of art. The instrument playing rap-singer is now the future, artists who feature themselves rather than others and computers.

Watch the two videos below (“Lately” and “You Need Me, I Don’t Need You”) to see what Sheeran has to offer.

Jake Emlyn very well might be the next big thing in music. The London based rapper is more than just a rapper: Emlyn is the future of art, a musician able to “spit the sickest rap and then sing a freaking ballad.” His fashion sense reminds one of Prince meets Ziggy Stardust meets Lady Gaga, and yet his style remains very much his own, a mixture of Willy Wonka and Olivia Newton-John more than the former musicians. Emyln is androgyny itself, at times looking more feminine than masculine. Still, his lyrics are ultra-masculine, ultra-witty, ultra-futuristic, and ultra-sexual.

However, musically he is a fusion of rap, hip-hop, grime, electronica, and pop music with folksy melodic undertones.  So much of what makes Emlyn fascinating is his confidence, bi-polar style, and ability to put together quick, often intelligent rhymes while looking like “nobody that you know.”

You can download his 10-track EP Scandinavian Alien on his website

And you can check out many of his videos on youtube, such as “I Don’t Rap,” where he shows off his impressive rapping ability. Below is a live video of his song “Wonka Hath Landed.”

If David Bowie paved the way for some of Prince’s antics—which the case can be argued if you compare their careers—then Prince perfected those so-called antics. His 1980 album Dirty Mind is a tour de force, thirty minutes of one man allowing you to see inside an untamed mind.

On stage, the shirtless Prince slipped on high-heeled shoes and leg-warmers that questioned his sexuality. He didn’t seem completely straight; he wasn’t quite gay. He was aggressively ambiguous. Breaking every remaining taboo, the pansexual polymath sang in a girlish falsetto while manhandling his macho Stratocaster, then crossed the color line to french-kiss the white woman playing on keys. 1

Dirty Mind “proclaimed the prodigy’s disregard for convention” while focusing on the notion of “taboo dreams.”2 The track “Uptown” actually speaks of a place where “it’s all about being free”: “Where I come from we don’t give a damn/we do whatever we please.” That freedom allowed Prince to take art to strange places both lyrically and musically. His androgynous  appearance very much did the same.

Truly Prince does whatever he pleases. He changes musical styles from song to song and album to album, delving into R&B, rock, funk, gospel, heavy metal, jazz, fusion, punk, rap, country, etc. He has worn clothes that most wouldn’t even attempt to wear, and linked sexuality and religion in ways most wouldn’t dare. At the height of his popularity, he was the boundary-maker, breaking old taboos and making new ones.

Because of Prince’s recent tameness, we forget that his album Purple Rain helped bring about the parental advisory stickers. For years he was taboo seeker, willing to flaunt his ass as much as his willingness to push the boundaries further than his predecessors. His desire for individuality led him to be one of the ultimate taboo artists.

1 Matthew Carcieri, Prince: A Life IN Music (Bloomington, Indiana: iUniverse, 2004) 11.

2 Matthew Carcieri, Prince: A Life In Music (Bloomington, Indiana: iUniverse, 2004), 9.

Aladdin Sane_ 30th Anniversary

How many greater rebels are there than musician David Bowie? Bowie didn’t just break taboos. No, he picked up the pieces of the broken taboos and wore them as clothes. When he wasn’t destroying fashion taboos, he was destroying musical taboos and even the invisible taboos that we, as a society, drape upon one another:

David Bowie’s androgynous persona was an underground sensation […]. The glam rock scene in London started happening in 1971 when rock musicians like Bolan and David Bowie’s Spiders from Mars began mocking sexual taboos while churning out throbbing hard rock. [They] evolved into Warholesque collages of cross-dressing and gay impersonation that proceeded to take over the rock world, the fashion industry, and the avant-garde on both sides of the Atlantic.1

Bowie practically made it cool to fellate a guitar when he was Ziggy Stardust in the 70’s. (This is something we’d see once again in Prince’s hit movie Purple Rain in the 80’s.) Ziggy Stardust helped make it normal to be different, to be individualistic, to love aliens. Ziggy Stardust was a mixture of earthling idiosyncrasies and space-infused intricacies. There was a reason that his backing band the Spiders were from Mars, a planet very much different from Earth and yet still in the same galaxy. Much of what we see in Lady Gaga can be traced directly back to Ziggy; and yet Lady Gaga is still seen as taboo breaker although she breaks what has already been broken.

On January 22, 1972 in the United Kingdom magazine Melody Maker Ziggy Stardust/David Bowie/David Jones informed the world of his sexual predilections: “I’m gay and I always have been, even when I was David Jones.”2 In the 70’s this was a daring confession, and perhaps even today it still is, if not somewhat less taboo. Nevertheless, “Bowie rode the shockwaves of this announcement to new levels of notoriety. His professed homosexuality/bisexuality added an element of danger and taboo that only enhanced his stature among music fans.”3

This “element of danger and taboo” should not be overlooked. The power of taboo in art is as interesting an infusion as any other, and the effects can be twofold: 1) taboo as mere spectacle 2) taboo as statement of truth. In other words, the first effect is simply reworded as being controversial just to be controversial, to incite attention. Both effects seem true in the case of Bowie’s career, but it is hard to say if either effect is the lesser of the other. In the best parts of lowbrow culture you’ll find the best aspects of highbrow culture. The intellectual and the un-intellectual are, in most cases, not divorced from each other. Shakespeare, like Bowie, learned how to marry the two in order to create something better.

David Bowie is a master of creating himself in the image of the unknown until the unknown becomes the known. One that could turn heads and keep them turned by just the color of his hair or lack of eyebrows.  As much as Bowie seems to be a lover of controversy, he is also really a questioner of life. And perhaps one of the best ways to examine life is to examine life’s taboos. Bowie is one of music’s all-time taboo artists. Everyone can ask: “Why?” But how many ask: “Why not?”  What makes a great taboo artist is not their ability to simply break a taboo, but rather their ability to mutate taboos into accepted taboos.

1 Aerosmith & Stephen Davis, Walk This Way: The Autobiography of Aerosmith (HarperCollins: New York, 2003), 151-152.

2 Alan Cross, David Bowie: the secret history, (HarperCollins: New York, 2012), eBook.

3 Ibid.