Many performers have declined invitations to perform at King Charles’ coronation in May. Some believe that the royal family’s recent “public relations disasters” are to blame.
Geri Halliwell kissed Prince Charles on the cheek after attending a Royal Gala dinner in 1997. Because you’re only authorized to shake a monarch’s hand according to royal tradition and etiquette, the scandalous incident made the front pages of newspapers and went down in pop culture history. Instead of daring Ginger Spice to kiss Charles a second time, The Spice Girls have decided to shun him entirely.
The trio is among a number of British musical singers that have declined to perform during his coronation in May. Adele, Harry Styles, Robbie Williams, and Elton John were reportedly approached to perform but declined. When asked why, the teams for all of those musicians declined to comment, with the exception of Elton John’s, who said he was requested but couldn’t play due to schedule conflicts. Musicians used to queue outside the palace to perform at any important royal occasion, but times have changed. The general public is curious if any prominent stars will agree to portray King Charles III’s coronation.
“British pop culture in the 1990s was very different. “It was New Labour, everyone was lighthearted and a little cheeky,” says Michael Cragg, author of Reach For The Stars, a book about British music from the 1990s and 2000s. “That cheekiness simply isn’t present anymore,” Cragg says. Now we truly want to know who individuals are and the version of the Royal family we’ve lately learned about thanks to Prince Harry’s book and how the Prince Andrew affair was handled: the reality is terrible. You couldn’t be the biggest band in the world and walk up to them and plant a kiss on them and expect it to work.”
To play at a royal function in 2023 is to identify yourself with open controversy. Many are still reeling from the new revelations of Prince Andrew’s link with Jeffrey Epstein and an alleged sexual encounter with one of Epstein’s victims. And so is Andrew’s awful BBC Newsnight interview from 2019. Unfortunately, before people could reconcile their sentiments about Andrew, Prince Harry and his wife Meghan Markle declared publicly that they were stepping away from royal duties. In the years afterward, Harry and Markle have leveled various allegations against the royal family and the UK press, saying that their respective treatment of Markle has caused her mental and physical health to suffer. The couple’s and the Institution’s developing divide has been vividly highlighted in Harry’s 2023 tell-all memoir Spare and the couple’s Netflix series Harry & Meghan.
“The royal family has had a number of public relations catastrophes in recent years, and anyone performing at the show would have to consider whether there would be a response from being in front of their fans,” says Simon Jones, publicist for Little Mix, Niall Horan, and Louis Tomlinson.
In the same vein, declining an opportunity to play for numerous musicians would be a laughably simple decision. Kingsley Hall of political band Benefits, whose 2022 anti-monarchy single “Flag” was number one on the Official UK vinyl the week of the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee, explains of the British cultural temperature, “We’ve had so much exposure and negative exposure of the Royal family – jubilees, weddings, fallings out, accusations of racism, notable deaths, someone being accused of being a sexual predator – in what I would classify as short space of time. People are tired of it and are unlikely to participate as a result.”
Royalism is a dirty concept for many millennial and Gen Z fans, particularly in the United Kingdom. Meg, the CEO of a major British music public relations firm, observes that both Styles and Adele are at a stage in their careers where they must define themselves beyond a successful decade in music. “Right now, storytelling is incredibly essential for kids,” adds Meg, whose real/full name has been omitted at their request. These large symbolic links carry a lot of weight and are physically written in bold and highlighted in historical texts. I can see why there would be a big PR debate about whether or not artists should do it.”
Whereas the Queen was traditionally seen as the nation’s grandmother, Charles is more of a blank emblem of the royal family than the country’s grandfather. “I’m not sure what artists stand to gain by working with him,” Meg says. “Some people thought she was wonderful and dazzling with the Queen. Charles adds nothing – he has no legacy that anyone would want to connect with. Yes, it’s televised, so a lot of people would hear your songs, but in terms of long-term public relations strategy, I’m not sure if performing would add favorably to an artist’s narrative unless they were strongly pro-monarchy.”
A Buckingham Palace official did not immediately respond to Rolling Stone’s request for comment. The BBC, which is organizing the coronation, was also contacted by Rolling Stone.
Moreover, this coronation takes place in a year when the UK’s cost of the living problem has reached dangerously high levels. “Take back the gold and red robe, and you have a country where parents have to choose between feeding their children and keeping them warm,” Ellie (whose real/full name has been omitted by request), founder of a British pop music PR company, explains. What is the expense of the coronation to the taxpayer? Playing feels like a political statement.”
Each artist that declines will have their own set of political considerations based on their Britishness. Adele is a passionate promoter of being working class from Tottenham, one of the most ethnically diverse districts in Britain, as Adele superfan Grace Martha from London points out. “The pomp and circumstance of this coronation do not reflect her principles at all,” Martha argues. “This is such a cultural issue; Americans could assume, ‘Well, she’s from London and a cockney, why wouldn’t she do it?'” Yet, they are unaware of the intricacies of diverse locations, cultures, and identities here. She represents the ‘everyday person,’ and the ‘daily younger person in London who no longer values the royal family.”
The British empire’s colonialism has been a major topic of discussion throughout the last two years. According to Hak Baker, a London-based musician, this is the driving force behind the challenge to secure A-List British acts: “I’d rather avoid any situation in which I’d bow to an overtly racist colonial imperial government that refuses to apologize for its past and erasure of my people’s history. We are now more cognizant of the past. They are not exempt from being recognized. “I believe they will have a difficult time.”
Han Mee of Manchester band Hot Milk strongly agrees, calling it an “outdated institution” that does not reflect modern Britain. “It’s as ancient, aged, and pricey as the whisky that props it up, but without the strength and merriment,” she explains. “I liked Liz, but she should have died with it – the coronation is a slap in the face at a time when this country has never been a shitshow.”
The true question is, why do the royals require this level of entertainment? “No one is talking about the date or the visitors,” Meg observes. “For now, the big stories surrounding the coronation are which musicians are in and which musicians are out, emphasizing the importance of music and the symbolism of an endorsement from one of these megastar singers.” It looks like the royal family requires musicians more than musicians require the royal family in 2023.