Rock Star Interviews That Went Terribly Wrong

Celebrity interviews have always fascinated people. The opportunity to hear the unvarnished thoughts of a creative famous person is exciting, and skilled interviewers can elicit surprising revelations and unexpected insights from their subjects.

When interviews are with bonafide rock stars — who are associated with a wild, liberated lifestyle that includes lots of experimentation and an unconventional worldview — there's another level of intrigue and excitement. The folks who make incredible popular music usually march to the beat of their own drum, and that means that interviewing them can — and often does — go off the rails at any moment. 

Sometimes this occurs in the form of an awkward exchange or a controversial statement — but sometimes an interview goes so spectacularly wrong it becomes a legend. The funny thing is, no matter what they say or do they tend to get away with it precisely because they're celebrities. We like our rock stars to cause a bit of trouble every now and then. Whether it's arrogance, inebriation, or a simple desire to rebel, they can be unpredictable interview subjects. These are the rock star interviews that went terribly wrong.

James Brown, 1988: It's a man's world

James Brown was a musical genius and an electrifying performer, but his life was far from perfect. As noted by his daughter, Yamma Brown, he regularly beat his wife, and NPR reports that he was raised by a violent father and had an unstable home life. He spent time in prison, fathered a lot of illegitimate children he took no interest in, and had a drug addiction.

As noted by Far Out Magazine, these themes all came together for Brown in 1988, when he was arrested and charged with attacking his wife with a lead pipe and firing a gun at her. At this point in his life, it's believed Brown was addicted to PCP. Also known as Angel Dust, PCP is known for being the sort of drug that makes your behavior kind of ... unpredictable — which is also how Brown's interview with CNN in April of that year went.

According to Esquire, many thought Brown was high during the interview. At various points, he bursts into song and once goes into detail about his sexual prowess. The disastrous interview is so infamous that Jordan Peele hilariously recreated it back in 2016 and basically didn't change a thing.

If you or anyone you know is struggling with addiction issues, help is available. Visit the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration website or contact SAMHSA's National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357).

Rivers Cuomo, 1996: Hangovers are rough

In 1996, the band members of Weezer were following up their hugely successful debut album with their sophomore effort, "Pinkerton," and lead singer Rivers Cuomo dutifully hit the promotional circuit. While touring Australia, he popped on an ABC program called "Recovery" hosted by Dylan Lewis. The interview started off awkward and only got worse.

First, Lewis gets Cuomo's name wrong, calling him "River Weezer." According to Junkee, Lewis realized he couldn't remember Cuomo's last name (In a Reddit Ask Me Anything thread, Lewis said that Weezer wasn't well-known in Australia at the time.) so he just improvised, thinking he could get away with it. He didn't. Cuomo, visibly irritated, more or less refused to engage throughout the rest of the interview. 

Cuomo also claimed to be "jetlagged," though Lewis states pretty firmly in Junkee that he was "wasted." At the very least, Cuomo does look hungover, displaying the sort of painful energy anyone who's had a few too many can recognize. Cuomo also weirdly refuses to make eye contact with Lewis, looking around aimlessly throughout the entire grueling experience.

But it was Lewis who got a lot of blowback over the interview, with Australia's Weezer fans blaming him for the band's lack of touring Down Under, according to ABC Melbourne. Lewis isn't a fan of constantly being reminded of the interview, saying via Junkee that he wished it could be taken off the internet. 

Major Lazer/Diplo, 2013: Artificial controversy

In 2013, Lisa Kennedy Montgomery — known professionally as Kennedy — was backstage at Lollapalooza, where she interviewed Diplo and the other members of the electronic dance group Major Lazer. The interview was instantly legendary for how incredibly awkward and oddly combative it is. Kennedy, who gained fame as a VJ for MTV in the 1990s and has leaned into her libertarian political views ever since, insults her interview subjects repeatedly, informs them that she could have them murdered, and mocks the world-famous DJ Diplo for accepting $400,000 to perform in Dubai. As noted by Tone Deaf, she seems intent on provoking them — and she succeeds. At one point when she asks who the most annoying person they've ever worked with is, Diplo snaps "Probably you."

Complex speculated that Kennedy engineered this viral moment to boost the sales of her book, "The Kennedy Chronicles: The Golden Age of MTV Through Rose-Colored Glasses," which had just been released. The fact that Kennedy, a television veteran and VJ at MTV, would get a genre of music wrong (calling EDM "EMD") seems like the sort of on-purpose mistake one makes when trying to get a reaction out of people. Whatever the reason, the interview has taken its place as one of the most awkward and uncomfortable ever conducted.

Madonna (and Courtney Love), 1995: A live hijacking

In 1995, Madonna was well-established as one of the biggest pop stars in the world, and Courtney Love was a major force in rock music after the release of her band Hole's second album, "Live Through This." When MTV's Kurt Loder sat down with Madonna after the MTV Music Video Awards, the world got to see an interview go off the rails in real-time.

As noted by Louder, Madonna's poise is tested early on when Love — clearly far from sober — begins throwing things at her, prompting Madonna to say "Courtney Love is in dire need of attention right now." Loder invites Love to join them — Garage notes that this inspires obvious alarm and fear in Madonna — and Love proceeds to ramble on drunkenly while you can almost literally see Madonna's soul leave her body. Far Out Magazine reports that Love accused Madonna of being rude to her on a prior occasion, apparently believing this justified her interrupting Madge's promotional work. Madge, as you might imagine, does not agree.

Before a brief and scrambled conversation about shoes, Love gets on her knees to tell Madonna that she and her late husband Kurt Cobain loved her film "Truth or Dare." This freaks Madonna out completely, and she signals to her team that she's done, leaving Loder to attempt to salvage the fiasco by continuing to chat with Love.

The Sex Pistols, 1976: The legend

As reported by Louder, this interview should never have happened. In December 1976, the rock group Queen was scheduled to make an appearance on the "Today" show on British television hosted by Bill Grundy. Lead singer Freddie Mercury came down with a toothache and canceled, and in the scramble to fill the spot, Queen's record company offered up a new act: The Sex Pistols.

To say the interview did not go well is an understatement. As noted by Far Out Magazine, for two and a half minutes the band and its entourage (including Siouxsie Sioux and Steven Severin of Siouxsie and the Banshees) managed to launch themselves into controversial fame — while also basically ruining Bill Grundy's career. Grundy introduced the band by saying: "They are as drunk as I am," an off-the-cuff quip that Grundy would come to regret. Grundy is simultaneously disinterested in the band and determined to mock them, eventually prompting Johnny Rotten to utter an expletive live on the air — which caused quite a stir. Grundy later flirts with some of the women in the entourage and makes the mistake of asking the band to "say something outrageous," prompting even more cursing.

The band got the publicity they wanted, but things didn't work out for Grundy. Ultimate Classic Rock reports that Grundy was suspended for two weeks in the aftermath, and his show was canceled.

Kanye West, 2018: Kanye has thoughts

Anyone who's followed Kanye West's public appearances in recent years knows he can be a bit ... unpredictable. But the knowledge that Ye always brings a bit of chaos in his wake couldn't prepare anyone for his interview on TMZ in May 2018 — an appearance Vanity Fair rightly describes as a "meltdown."

Aside from a vivid defense of Donald Trump, who Kanye claims the rap community loved before he became the United States' 45th president, it was West's comments about slavery that really transformed this rambling interview into a train wreck of epic proportions. Noting that slavery was an institution in America for four centuries, West says that 400 years of slavery "felt like a choice," implying that the generations of people brutalized and oppressed by slavery had in some way chosen their fate. As reported by Spin, that prompted some in the TMZ offices to actually clap back, with reporter Van Lathan saying, "I think what you're doing right now is actually the absence of thought."

After the slavery comments, it was easy to miss the rest of Kanye's meltdown — including his admission that he underwent liposuction because he worried outlets like TMZ would call him fat, that he became addicted to opioids as a result, and that the street gang the Crips wanted to assassinate him. In other words: The interview did not go well.

Iggy Pop, 1979: Blame it on the jet lag

As Tone Deaf points out, Ian "Molly" Meldrum is a bit of a legend in Australia, and his pioneering music show "Countdown" is a big part of his legacy. In 1979, the legendary Iggy Pop was booked to be interviewed by Meldrum and then perform a song from his new album, "I'm Bored." To say both the interview and the performance went terribly wrong would be an understatement.

Pop is an irritating mess right from the start, interrupting Meldrum's introduction by shouting "Hiya, dogface!" and proceeding to jump around, making strange noises, and even playing the old "something on your shirt" trick. Pop is incoherent and makes exactly zero effort to respond to any questions or even pretend to be engaged. When he performs, it's just as bad — he makes no effort to lip-sync and generally exhibits contempt for the entire experience.

While most people assume Pop was under the influence of a few substances, according to ABC's Double J, Pop claimed that the intense jetlag combined with a feeling of being "tricked" by his record label led to the disaster. He was exhausted from the trip, and upon arrival learned he wouldn't be performing live anywhere as he'd expected, which made him angry. He recalls saying to himself, "Do not let yourself take this guy seriously" while Meldrum was trying to interview him. Mission very accomplished.

Billy Bob Thornton: Offended

Have you heard of a band called The Boxmasters? Chances are the answer is "no" unless you're a big fan of the band's founder, world-famous actor Billy Bob Thornton.

Nothing wrong with using your fame and fortune to pursue your artistic dreams, but as reported by The Village Voice, Thornton insists that journalists pretend his acting career has nothing to do with his band. As noted by The AV Club, in 2009, Canadian radio host Jian Ghomeshi found out the hard way just how angry Thornton could get when Ghomeshi dared to note that Thornton acts. Instead of being classy about it, Thornton proceeded in the interview for the Q radio show on CBC to offer profanity, non-sequiturs, and generally rude behavior. Worst of all, he decided to insult everyone in Canada, calling them "mashed potatoes with no gravy."

According to Entertainment Weekly, Thornton is generally regarded as a good interviewee, so rumors flew that he wasn't entirely sober — rumors his management team denied. One thing is certain: Thornton felt no remorse, even after having to cancel some concerts in the wake of the show. According to Rolling Stone, he appeared on "Jimmy Kimmel Live!" shortly afterward and shrugged off the criticism, stating that he'd pulled similar stunts when interviewers ignored his instructions and dismissed the viral nature of the video by saying, "it gave humpback geeks all over the world something to do for a couple days."

Ace Frehley, 1979: Back in the drunken groove

In 1979, the legendary rock band KISS seemed to be on top of the world. As noted by Ultimate Classic Rock, KISS was an unusually hard-working band, grinding through a grueling tour schedule for years until their 1975 live album, "Alive!" broke through in a big way. Between 1975 and 1979, KISS kept the pace punishing: Three studio albums, more touring, and a solo album for each member (Paul Stanley, Gene Simmons, Ace Frehley, and Peter Criss). But there were big problems under the surface. KISS had oversaturated the market and was seeing declining ticket and album sales. Plus, the band members hated each other. It all came to a head when the band appeared — in full makeup — on "Tomorrow" hosted by Tom Snyder.

In his book "Makeup to Breakup," Criss admits that he and Frehley — who was "intimidated" by interviews — got roaring drunk backstage. This prompted Frehley to take over the whole interview, cackling and cracking joke after joke. As Louder notes, this clearly annoyed Simmons and Stanley to no end. Stanley later said that Frehley's behavior showed "a contempt and lack of respect for the audience and the fans."

Criss admits in his book that the band had settled into two opposing camps and the friction between them during this interview was a sign of things to come: By 1982 both Criss and Frehley were gone.

Sigur Rós, 2007: Terminally bored

When a media outlet publishes an article asking if an interview "disaster" was "our fault or not?" you know something has gone very, very wrong. That's exactly what NPR did in the wake of its 2007 interview with Icelandic rock band Sigur Rós. Unlike most disastrous rock star interviews, this one wasn't marked by chaos and inebriation, but rather a sense of suffocating boredom.

The best way to describe this interview is "awkward." As noted by the Miami New Times, co-host Luke Burbank made some easy errors that seemed to put the band off — coming off like he had no idea who they were and hadn't done any research on them. (Asking if they started out as "a more 'regular-sounding' band" isn't exactly the way to endear a band.) For their part, the band members greet each question with lengthy silences followed by short, generic answers. For example, one particularly fascinating exchange begins with Burbank asking how the band creates a song, to which they reply, "We just sit down and create a song."

As Maximum Fun reports, Burbank clearly kept trying different approaches to break through and get some kind of response from the band, noting that if an interview subject doesn't care about your audience, there's simply not much an interviewer can do.

Bee Gees, 1997: Not in on the joke

Rock star interviews can be fawning, superficial affairs designed solely to promote a new album or tour, so any time an interviewer gets a little aggressive, it's exciting. But in 1997 British talk show host Clive Anderson went a little too far in an interview with the legendary Bee Gees — Barry, Maurice, and Robin Gibb — that went epically wrong.

According to The Telegraph, the group was promoting a new album and was told Anderson was a "huge fan." But as noted by Smooth, Anderson's strategy for the interview was more insulting than provocative. He opens up by suggesting they were bad songwriters, proceeds to mock their famous high-pitched falsettos (claiming he thought they were sisters instead of brothers), calls them "tossers" (British slang for "stupid person"), and claims not to remember some of their hit songs. Barry Gibb referred to the experience in an interview with The Sun as "a barrage of inferred insults."

The group tries to play along, but eventually, Barry has enough and simply walks off. His brothers follow a moment later, leaving Anderson a bit flustered. According to The Spectator, the interview was a last-minute addition to the show, and Anderson came to regret his "poor" jokes, saying he made the mistake of not realizing the Bee Gees wouldn't find his humor entertaining.

The Beatles, 1966: Bigger than Jesus

The Beatles attained a kind of fame no one had ever experienced before. They handled it remarkably well — until 1966, when, as Slate reports, The Beatles gave a series of interviews that appeared in the London Evening Standard in which John Lennon quipped: "We're more popular than Jesus now. I don't know which will go first — rock 'n' roll or Christianity."

As noted by Rolling Stone, the quote was ignored for a long time. But a few months later, it sparked a controversy when a magazine called Datebook used Lennon's line about Jesus on its cover, and it was finally noticed. Afterward, there were protests in the American South, public destruction of Beatles' records and merchandise, and even death threats. The band eventually organized a press conference where a visibly shaken Lennon tried to explain the nuance of his point, which he said was more about the state of organized religion than the greatness of The Beatles.

What is truly remarkable about this disastrous series of interviews is that Lennon's line about Jesus is just one of their awful quotes. As Slate notes, Paul McCartney refers to the U.S. as a "lousy country" and uses a racial slur. Ringo Starr refers to his much younger wife more or less as property. And Lennon expresses some pretty xenophobic views about "ugly people" being "foreign." All in all, the band might have been lucky that Lennon's quote is the only one anyone remembers.