POP-ED: Billy Idol

POP-ED: Billy Idol

We revisited the face of '80s MTV to discuss his latest record.

We revisited the face of '80s MTV to discuss his latest record.

Text: MATHIAS ROSENZWEIG

Text: Zoe Elefterin

Digital Editor Mathias Rosenzweig writes portraits of individuals who've shifted popular culture as we know it today.

“Yeah, I could put it on and party to it.”

That Billy Idol would want to party to his own album isn’t shocking. Billy Idol: Revitalized, his latest release, is comprised of new remixes by the likes of Moby and Paul Oakenfold. I can personally testify that you don’t have to be a ‘70s baby nor an Electric Zoo fanatic to want to party to it yourself. Idol’s curation of new, electronic-friendly artists paired with his older tracks is representative of the 62-year-old’s current taste. Seeing as how he helped pioneer the marriage between dance music and punk back in the ‘80s, his knack for fusion and artistic foresight is worth revisiting. And while the album is a continuation of what Idol started over three decades ago, there’s still something for those who are fairly new to the ride, myself included.

“Remixes have been a part of my career going back to punk rock,” he says. The original Vital Idol, his first remix album, came out in 1985. It featured renditions of his most famous singles at the time, like “White Wedding” and “Mony, Mony”. “Those versions are sort of classic now,” he says. “It’s sort of interesting to see how another remix world has come along, and it’s a world unto itself.”

Born William Michael Albert Broad, Idol found success in the ‘70s with a punk rock band called Generation X after leaving a group called Chelsea. He moved from London to New York City in 1981 to launch his solo career, which was more or less an immediate success. The name Billy Idol, also the title of his first album, was inspired by a schoolteacher calling him “idle” at a young age. Obviously, the spelling Idol chose for himself was ultimately more accurate than its origin; he’s had an extremely prolific career that will kick off 2019 with a 10-show Vegas residency. It’s unclear if and how the new remixes might appear in the show. It’s also possible that some of those audience members wouldn’t want them there.

“I know there’s some purists who like my music. It’s so hard to explain to people. We’ve already got remixes. In time, I think these versions will gain their own place. I think they already have—the fact that we’re #9 on the Billboard Dance/Electronic charts…”

In many ways, he’s remained current because he’s always stayed one step ahead. As mentioned, Idol navigated the middle grounds between punk and dance music, forging a path that countless other acts have since explored. He embraced remixes early on to help breathe new life into old music, which has kept tracks like “Dancing On My Own” recognizable even to youth who aren’t familiar with Idol himself. In 1993, he released an album called Cyberpunk, which he’d produced entirely on a Macintosh before the days of Garage Band. Prior to that, in the ‘80s, he was more or less the face of MTV during its launch. The spiked, bleach blond hair atop a face with a perpetually gnarled lip became iconic. This early adaptation to an image-heavy music world seems comparable to artists who embraced social media early on; MTV was a new platform that exploded, and along with it, Idol’s career in the US.

“At the beginning of the ‘80s, they needed something to happen to kick-start the decade,” he says. “And, in some ways, cable television really arriving in force in the ‘80s…along with it started to come this idea that there would be a 24-hour cable music channel that would be devoted to music videos...It was fun doing them, although, after four or five years, we started calling it ‘video hell’, because you had to do everything in a very short period of tims,” he explains. “Sometimes things would go overtime and you’d be on a video set for three days, practically the whole time.”

And truly honestly, if there’s anything that you need to take away from this, it’s that Idol’s currently really into my all-time guilty pleasure, Post Malone. “I quite like what he does, funnily enough.” He adds—“I do listen to Kendrick Lamar. I like his kind of jazz-infused rap.”

You can listen to Vital Idol: Revitalized here, and buy tickets for his Vegas residency here.

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