Punk’s Not Dead: 20 Of Modern Music’s Most Rebellious Provocateurs


Popular music’s an increasingly corporate world in 2014 – but that’s not to say we’ve run out of rebellious spirits. As Detroit’s always-outspoken, seldom-shy Eminem hits the UK this weekend for a blockbuster show at London’s Wembley Stadium, here’s modern music’s best button–pushers and provocateurs…


MIA: Whether teaming up to record music with Wikileaks’ Julian Assange or giving 100m Americans the middle finger at the Superbowl (to the tune of a $16.6m fine), this pop agitator plays by no man’s rules. Keep fighting the good fight, Maya.
Best moment of rebellion: Claiming in a 2005 interview that governments are spying on citizens via Google. Who’s laughing now?

Pussy Riot

Pussy Riot

Pussy Riot: Feminist angst is considered hooliganism in Russia. This balaclava’d Moscow crew don’t give a fuck though. Their rage against Putin’s homophobic, oppressive political machine is proof punk’s not dead.
Best moment of rebellion: Getting arrested for singing an anti-Putin song in a church in Moscow, then refusing to apologise, landing them a lengthy spell in prison.


Marilyn Manson

Marilyn Manson

Marilyn Manson: Throughout the 90s, Manson’s shocking appearance made him conservative America’s number one scapegoat – most notably after the 1999 Columbine shootings, when it was revealed the shooters were fans of his music.
Best moment of rebellion: Fighting US gun laws and defending “kids who look different” from “baseless media scaremongering” in the aftermath of Columbine.


Bjork: A musical rebel like few others. Bjork simply will not do things by the book, whether that means releasing an album as an app ‘Biophilia’ or battling to free Tibet from Chinese rule midway through a gig in China.
Best moment of rebellion: Delivering one of pop’s most memorable swears: “I’m no fucking buddhist, but this is enlightenment” on ‘Alarm Call’.

Kanye West

Kanye West: Kanye’s a pop culture superpower nowadays, but he hasn’t got there by playing nice. His last album ‘Yeezus’ was an abrasive, experimental firecracker that levelled accusations of racism against middle America.
Best moment of rebellion: Telling America that “George Bush doesn’t care about black people” on live TV at a Hurricane Katrina telethon.

Mike Patton

Mike Patton: The Faith No More and Tomahawk frontman has made a career out of weirding out the establishment and provoking chaos. An icon for outsiders everywhere.
Best moment of rebellion: Making a bold statement against the music industry by pulling out a fake plastic penis and pretending to urinate on press photographers during a 2002 gig.


Aphex Twin

Aphex Twin: Richard David James is a self admitted mad man: “I’m just some irritating, lying, ginger kid from Cornwall who should have been locked up in some youth detention centre.” His cult electronic musical creations are as violently experimental as they come.
Best moment of rebellion: His twisted, sinister ‘Come To Daddy’ music video.

Fat White Family

Fat White Family: Rebellious or just plain revolting? They divide opinion, but no one could ever call Fat Whites boring. Perhaps most controversially of all, they recently started a record label with an uncomfortably rapey name: Without Consent.
Best rebellion moment: Playing in Sheffield recently, singer Lias Saudi jumped naked into the crowd smeared in his own shit.


Grimes: Not only is the 4AD star aggressively experimental in her warped dance creations, but she’s also one of the strongest voices in the fight against music industry sexism, blogging about her struggles as a female artist.
Best moment of rebellion: Striking out in one paticularly memorable website post: “I don’t want to be infantilised because I refuse to be sexualised.”

Lady Gaga

Lady Gaga

Lady Gaga: The crazy costumes. The gay rights campaigning. The strange concept stage shows. Being barbequed on a skewer live onstage at SXSW 2014. Yep, Gaga’s mainstream pop’s prime provocatuer. Whether you like her music, you’ve got to admire the bonkersness of it all.
Best moment of rebellion: Turning up to the 2010 MTV Video Music Awards ina dress made out of raw beef.


Death Grips

Death Grips: This Sacramento crew brought a much need kick in the balls to the music industry when they emerged in 2011 with debut mixtape ‘Exmilitary’, signing to a label (Epic) they then spent 3 years screwing over.
Best moment of rebellion: Leaking their 2012 ‘NO LOVE DEEP WEB’ LP. When Epic subsequently sent them angry emails about the leak, they leaked those too.

Rage Against The Machine

Rage Against The Machine: Fuck you, they won’t do what you tell them! The fearless Rage Against The Machine have ruffled more than a few feathers with their sweary, hyper-politicised rock over the years.
Best moment of rebellion: Shutting down the New York Stock Exchange while filming their ‘Sleep Now In The Fire’ video, directed by Michael Moore.

Beth Ditto

Beth Ditto

Beth Ditto: Outspoken Gossip leader Ditto rallies against gender norms like few others in pop, fighting admirably for LGBT and feminist causes in a narrow-minded music industry with homogenised views of beauty.
Best moment of rebellion: Posing nude for a NME cover in 2007 which, in the words of feminist icon Germaine Greer, challenged “the conventional imagery of women”.

Sinéad O’Connor

Sinéad O’Connor: She hit headlines after writing an open letter to Miley Cyrus recently but the ‘Nothing Compares 2 U’ singer is no stranger to controversy: she’s been sticking it to the man for two decades now.
Best moment of rebellion: Ripping up a photo of Pope John Paul II on Saturday Night Live, branding him “evil” and telling 10m Americans to “fight the real enemy”. Brave.

Alex Turner

Alex Turner: That rock ‘n’ roll, eh? Turner is one of last bastions of rock ‘n’ roll snarl in mainstream music. Funnily, it’s only since leaning more towards R&B on new album ‘AM’ that he’s found his rebellious side.
Best moment of rebellion: That Brits speech, dismissively showing just how little a fuck he gives for that room full of bankers and music industry liggers.

The Prodigy

The Prodigy: These sneering cyber-punks have been at the forefront of British anti-establishmentarism for years now and show no sign of abating.
Best moment of rebellion: ‘Smack My Bitch Up’, which flirted with themes of domestic violence, turning them inside out in its memorable and shocking video.

Miley Cyrus

Miley Cyrus: Love or loathe her, no one stirs a reaction in 2014 quite like former Hannah Montana Miley. Her bubblegum pop might not be to lots of NME readers’ tastes but anyone who can throw the Daily Mail into moral panic meltdown like Miley gets a nod of appreciation from us in the office.
Best moment of rebellion: The 2013 MTV VMA awards. You all know it.

Nicky Wire

Nicky Wire: As Manics’ lyricist, this fierce working class rocker has been flipping a middle finger at corporate Britain for years, his bold statements as much a part of the Welsh group’s appeal as their music.
Best moment of rebellion: Take your pick. Our fave? Him calling Nick Clegg Nick Clegg: “the David Brent of fucking politics. He’s like a bad motivational speaker.”

Thom Yorke

Thom Yorke: A leading name in fights against pollution and the Iraq war, Yorke isn’t afraid to tell it how it is – both in songs like ‘Harrowdown Hill’ (about bio warfare expert David Kelly, who some speculate was murdered by the government) and in interviews.
Best moment of rebellion: Turning the music world on its head with Radiohead’s pay-what-you-want release of ‘In Rainbow’.