Mumford & Sons are the biggest band in the world right now. Today ‘Babel’, their second release, has become the fastest-selling album of the year in the US as well as the UK. It’s gone straight to number one on both charts, selling faster than albums from Lana Del Rey, Emeli Sandé and Green Day. After Adele, the band are our biggest music export to America (One Direction haven’t sold as many records at the time of writing). ‘Sigh No More’ went double-platinum and it looks likely the follow-up will enjoy similar success. The LA Times even suggested this week that ‘Babel’ could win the Grammy for album of the year. And are we proud?
Not really. Not only is it unseemly to like Mumford & Sons in certain circles, it is shameful. Mention the “Mumford” word and faces fall as if you’ve brought a dead kitten into the room. Album reviews and comment threads sneer readily at the banjo-toting, cider-drinking four-piece and the language used about them can be stingingly vituperative and crude. There’s even an ‘I Hate Mumford & Sons’ Facebook group. Its mission statement is as follows:
Let us forget our conflicts and put our differences aside, for there is a new evil at hand that threatens the very fiber of our being. Humanity must now unite in our hatred for the treacherous banjo bastards Mumford and Sons and join together as one force to ensure that our future is kept safe from the destruction of euphoric banjo anthems sung by annoying upper class waistcoat sporting husky little fucks.
“To be able to look at a banjo without being overcome with a desire to use the neck end to beat its owner to death is a beautiful and underrated thing,” said one review of ‘Babel’ recently. Others have sniggered at “lesser pop musicians dressed like mid-19th century farmhands” making an “album of stomping hoedowns and widdling banjos”.
You’d be hard pressed to find a music journalist willing to own up to being a fan. One told me he’d rather defend Hiroshima. In fact, the band have become so unpopular it wouldn’t be a shock if Lewes chose them for their annual public figure to burn on the bonfire this year. Another website suggested that their entire output could be represented by this one GIF:
But why are Mumford & Sons so loathed? Because they’re posh? Spiritual? Successful? Have an ampersand in their name? Include a grown man who calls himself “Country” Winston Marshall?
All valid reasons, but it seems the real target of people’s hate is their inauthenticity. From their very moniker – a punt at an “antiquated family business name” – to ripping off Shakespeare for their lyrics, the boys are trying to be something they’re not. We can be sure that they don’t drive tractors or walk around with hay hanging out of their mouths. This is a case of Amish role-play. But it’s easy to have double standards when it comes to authenticity in music. Mumford and his “sons” are no more a pose than Nicki Minaj’s alter ego and Lana Del Rey’s “gangster Nancy Sinatra”.
It might be that Mumford’s plundering of something so homespun and rootsy as folk and bluegrass makes it harder to stomach – but are they really that hateful? I saw them play at Isle Of Wight around five years ago before they were famous and they weren’t offensive in the slightest. They can sing, play instruments and write OK songs. ‘White Blank Page’ even featured on a Read Platform (the online magazine run by the same guy who founded Boiler Room) mix a few years ago and it’s a genuinely sweet track. I would suggest our ire could be better directed elsewhere. How about the vapid, money-focussed stars in the charts singing about arses and cars?