On the morning of Jan. 4, pop star Annie Lennox flipped open her laptop and was completely taken aback. The previous day she had attended a peace rally that urged an end to the Israeli offensive against Hamas militants in Gaza. The U.K.-based march, at which Lennox gave a passionate anti-war speech, was attended by more than 10,000 people and covered by hundreds of media outlets. As the most successful British female recording artist in history—a title earned partly from her tenure as the front woman for the Grammy-winning duo known as Eurythmics—Lennox’s participation in the protest was written about extensively—and positively—by the international press. However, when Lennox logged on to her MySpace account to post a blog about the event, she realized her own 50,000-plus fan count was down significantly.
“I lost 4,000 people,” Lennox admits over the phone from her home in London. “They dropped right off my page after I took part in that demonstration! Even though I very clearly said, ‘This is not an issue of which side you’re on, this is about civilians and innocent people and a need for a peaceful solution’—they still left me.”
That same day, Lennox’s Wikipedia entry was vandalized, with the lyrics of Eurythmics’ biggest hit, Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This), used to mock her. “No sweet dreams for the children of Sderot for the last eight years!” read the entry, referring to an Israeli town that was bombed by Hamas rockets (the message has since been removed). Adding insult to injury, Lennox was then attacked by the Jerusalem Post, an Israeli newspaper that published an open letter to the 54-year-old singer-songwriter, implying Lennox was both anti-Semitic and unknowledgeable about Israeli issues. She quickly sent a reply to the paper—which was condensed and published in the Post: “I am not opposed to Israel and I do not support Palestinians. I support an end to the war on Gaza.” (The full response can be found on annielennox.com.)
Then, without legally clearing the song with Lennox or her record company, supporters of Israeli Foreign Minister and Kadima party Leader Tzipi Livni used a Eurythmics track called I Saved the World Today (ironically off the group’s last studio album, 1999’s Peace) in a YouTube film endorsing Livni’s election campaign. “It’s nonsense and twisted,” Lennox says. “The [Jerusalem Post] writer wanted to say I was slandering Israel when all I was talking about was basic human rights for everyone involved. If I see children are suffering from man-made reasons, I will say, this is wrong. A future generation of suicide bombers has been created by this conflict and it’s a tragedy.”
Lennox’s 13-album career with Eurythmics prepared her for outrage. The duo’s trademark for creating envelope-pushing songs (think 1982’s ode to S&M, Love Is A Stranger or 1984’s Orwell-inspired Sex Crime) and avant-garde concept albums (1987’s Savage explores themes of schizophrenia and female identity) turned the status quo on its head in the ’80s and ’90s.
Lennox first felt the fervour of puritan piping with Eurythmics’ massive ’83 chart topper, Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This). The video—which had her sporting a boy-short, flaming-red hairdo, banker’s suit and a rather sinister riding crop—was banned by MTV until, as writer Tony Jasper wrote in his Eurythmics biography of ’85, “Lennox kindly produced a copy of her birth certificate to the U.S. government to confirm that she was not a he.” Lennox fought back against what she now calls “the ridiculous pandemonium” her androgynous appearance caused when she attended the 1984 Grammy Awards in full-on Elvis Presley man-drag, declaring she used her “mannish wardrobe like armour to defend against being seen as just another sexual object.”
A year later, Lennox wrote one of pop’s only hit feminist anthems, Sisters Are Doin’ It For Themselves (a duet that features Aretha Franklin), and in 1989, Lennox penned and released King And Queen of America—a song unabashedly mocking the country’s most ridiculous—and violent—moments in popular culture.
Post-Eurythmics, Lennox’s intensity hasn’t decreased any. One need only look at her new disc, The Annie Lennox Collection (to be released Feb. 17), which anthologizes the most celebrated songs from her last 17 years as a solo artist. Mixing snappy hits such as Walking On Broken Glass (off her 1992 debut disc, Diva) alongside heart-rending radio favourites such as Pavement Cracks (from 2003’s Bare), this “best of” CD showcases Lennox’s ability to write thought-provoking songs that fit genres of soul, electronica and rock with ease.
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