“This news is perfectly in keeping with the relentless galvanic horror of 2020. We would be critically insane to expect anything positive,” Morrissey said Monday in a statement to his fan site Morrissey Central, which is run by the singer’s nephew. A source close to the situation confirms that Morrissey and BMG are parting ways — adding that the deal came to a close and BMG chose not to renew it.
“BMG has released three exceptional Top 10 albums from Morrissey over the past three years, including some of the best work of his career,” a BMG spokesperson tells Rolling Stone. “That three-album deal has now come to an end. We wish him well in the next chapter of his career. BMG continues to represent much of Morrissey’s catalogue and are working with his team to ensure it gets the attention it deserves.”
Morrissey agreed with the BMG’s assessment of the quality of his albums in his own statement: “My three albums with BMG have been the best of my career, and I stand by them till death,” he said to Morrissey Central. “Recording them has been a pivotal period in my life, and I thank the previous BMG team and everyone involved for that. It’s still important to me to do music my own way, and I wouldn’t want to be on a label that dictates so specifically how their artists should behave — especially when the word ‘talent’ is notably never mentioned.”
According to the fan site, the new leadership at BMG “have appointed a new executive who does not want another Morrissey album” and is choosing to prioritize “new plans for ‘diversity’ within BMG’s artist roster” rather than supporting further Morrissey records. But Morrissey spokespeople have not confirmed whether that comment was written by Morrissey himself or the fan site that published his statement.
In recent years, Morrissey has embraced far-right ideologies and has sported a For Britain button at concerts, signaling support for a conservative, anti-Islam movement in the U.K. with political ambitions. A Welsh record store made headlines last year for refusing to carry Morrissey’s covers album, California Son, because of his social stances. But a source close to the situation says Morrissey’s viewpoints were not the reason BMG chose to not renew his deal.
This past June, BMG’s CEO Hartwig Masuch said the label would be reviewing “all historic contracts” with an eye toward diversity and equity, especially for black artists. “We are not as diverse as we could be,” Masuch said, according to Music Business Worldwide. “Despite numerous initiatives over the years, we have not made sufficient progress.” He underscored his drive to diversify the label in another June memo. “We have all been called upon to confront the awful reality of racial prejudice and disadvantage in the past weeks,” he wrote. “The test of whether we really care is if we actually change our actions as a result and whether we do so for the long haul. I am committed to ensuring BMG passes that test.”
But another reason BMG might have decided not to renew Morrissey’s contract could be dwindling sales. Although his last three albums charted in the Top Five on the U.K. chart, they have had less success in the U.S. Low in High School (2017) made it up to Number 20 on the Billboard chart, while California Son bowed at 95. His most recent LP, I Am Not a Dog on a Chain — which came out on March 20th of this year, one week into pandemic-related shutdowns — did not chart at all on either the Billboard or Rolling Stone charts. (Morrissey Central claimed I Am Not a Dog on a Chain charged anywhere between Number Two and Number 18 in the U.S., “depending on which official chart you follow.”)
Morrissey signed with BMG in 2017, and the label was effusive in its excitement about the union. “There are not many artists around today that can compare to Morrissey,” BMG Executive Vice President Korda Marshall, who works in A&R, said at the time. “He is an extraordinary talent. He is prodigious, literate, witty, elegant and above all, courageous. His lyrics, humor and melodies have influenced many generations. The music on this new landmark record will speak for itself and we are delighted to welcome him to BMG.”
The singer was equally optimistic and had many kind words for Marshall in his own statement. “It is an indisputable fact that most record company executives can barely walk on land, and need to be turned over every 30 minutes,” he said. “Their success makes you worry for music. But Korda strikes fire because he loves music, and he wants others to. He listens with every nerve alert, and for those of us who have too frequently cruised the bars looking for a new label, Korda is a relief and a blessing. … May Korda rule the waves and waive the rules for many years to come.”
Additional reporting by Ethan Millman