Shirley Manson, leader of Garbage, collected the Icon Award at the VO5 NME Awards 2018 on February 14. With 25 years with the rock band clocked up this year, it seems like the perfect time to look back at the career of a woman who has always stood for something while delivering some of the most vital and inimitable records. Here are 10 of the star’s most iconic moments over the years.
When she stood up for her fans
The Garbage leader isn’t here for your nonsense, especially when that involves hurting her fans. At a 2012 gig in Atlantic City, Shirley spotted a man in the crowd allegedly hit a woman, and immediately halted her band’s performance mid-song. “Dude, never hit a fucking woman,” she told him as he was ejected. “What is wrong with you, man?”
When she advocated for acceptance
“Behind closed doors and under stars/It doesn’t matter who you are,” the frontwoman sings on ‘Androgny’, from 2001’s ‘Beautiful Garbage’. The song’s message of being true to yourself, accepting people’s differences, and embracing the varied ways people choose to express themselves has been called ahead of its time. No matter the decade, though, it’s a track to live by.
When she wore a dress with Garbage’s artwork on to the Grammys
Getting glammed up for a fancy awards ceremony isn’t out of the ordinary, as one look at any red carpet will tell you. But how many artists wear their own band’s artwork on their clothes on the big night? Not many, but Shirley did back in 1999 when Garbage attended the Grammys.
When she embraced getting older
At 51 years old, the frontwoman has seen a lot, including how older woman get treated in the music industry and society in general. But Shirley has refused to try and hide the natural progression of time, or be ashamed and embarrassed of doing what we all do in the end – ageing. She summed up why in this mid-set speech in 2013, telling the audience that getting older didn’t mean the end of the world. “You can still have an amazing career, you can still have amazing sex, you can still do crazy shit,” she said. Sounds good to us.
When she was on the NME cover for the first time
Shirley Manson’s face might be a familiar and recognisable one now, but back in 1996 she was still a fledgling to fame. Garbage’s first NME cover pictured her alone, seemingly wrapped up against the cold. The coverline declared “The rubbish band come good”, but you could tell by her piercing stare above there was nothing rubbish about her.
When she was the voice of sexual liberation
Long a feminist idol by the time the band’s fourth album ‘Bleed Like Me’ was released in 2005, Shirley added to her status with ‘Sex Is Not The Enemy’. Inspired by the heavy media coverage of Janet Jackson’s Super Bowl “wardrobe malfunction”, the song is an anthem of sexual liberation that came at a time when the Bush administration were trying to clamp down on reproductive rights. Its relevance, sadly, hasn’t waned in the interim.
When she was named activist of the year by Forbes
Shirley has long been speaking out for what’s right throughout her career, be that supporting LGBTQ people and causes, being a feminist icon, or working with charities like the MAC AIDS Fund, PETA, and The Pablove Foundation. Last year, Forbes recognised her unwavering efforts by naming her Activist Of The Year – something that couldn’t have been more deserved.
When she made fun of grunge (and her band) on ‘Only Happy When It Rains’
The band sent up the gloomy ’90s grunge scene on one of their earliest and most iconic tracks. “It developed into a very tongue-in-cheek poke at what we felt was a lot of miserabilism at the time,” she told us in 2015. Garbage weren’t above the joke, though. “There’s definitely an element of self-deprecating humour because the fact is we are all quite miserable,” she added.
When she sung a Bond theme
Only three Scottish women have sung a Bond theme so far – Lulu, Sheena Easton, and Shirley Manson. Our icon got her turn 1999 when Garbage were asked to record ‘The World Is Not Enough’ from the film of the same name. Her voice suited the song perfectly, weaving between strings and computerised sounds to add an air of mystery and shadowy intrigue to things.
When she crashed into the Top Five for the first time
‘Stupid Girl’ might have been Garbage’s fifth single, but it was their first to receive an entry in the Top Five on the Official UK Singles Chart upon its release in 1996. Dripping with moody nonchalance, it tells a tale of squandered potential, and was accompanied by a gloriously gloomy video in which Shirley introduced herself to the wider world as the rock scene’s new star. It remains their highest charting single, and an absolute classic of the ’90s and beyond.