Follow TV Tropes


Music / John Lydon

Go To
"I am an anti-Christ
I am an anarchist
Don't know what I want
But I know how to get it
I want to destroy the passerby
Cause I want to be anarchy"
— "Anarchy in the U.K."

John Joseph Lydon (born January 31, 1956 in London, England), better known by his former stage name Johnny Rotten, is a singer and songwriter best known as the lead singer of punk rock band the Sex Pistols from 1975 until 1978, and again for various revivals during the 1990s and 2000s; and the lead singer of the post-punk band Public Image Ltd., which he founded and fronted from 1978 until 1993, and again since 2009. Together with Sid Vicious, he is the most famous punk musician in the world.

Lydon came from a poor working class background in North London. At age seven he was struck with spinal meningitis and spent many months in coma in the hospital. As a result he had lost most of his memory and had to learn to talk again. School became very difficult for him and at age 15 he was expelled. Meningitis also gave him his trademark Thousand-Yard Stare. His bad teeth gave him the nickname "Johnny Rotten", which he would adopt when he became a member of Sex Pistols in 1976.

As legend would tell it he was made lead singer of a new rock group by manager Malcolm McLaren after he saw Lydon walking around in a Pink Floyd T-shirt with the words "I Hate" written above them. (Ironically, Lydon didn't actually hate Pink Floyd; he was just wearing the shirt to be a troll). Lydon couldn't sing at all, but he had the right sarcastic attitude to life and a lot of anger and frustration about the Crapsack World he was brought into. Under his new name "Johnny Rotten" Lydon became Punk Rock's first hero. His Brutal Honesty about the class system, The British Royal Family and the state of Rock and Pop were embraced by countless teenagers and vilified by just about everybody else. By 1977 the Sex Pistols were the most talked about and polarizing rock band of the year, despised and feared by many people. Their album Never Mind the Bollocks, Here's the Sex Pistols (1977) was a bestseller and "God Save The Queen", "Anarchy In The U.K.", "Pretty Vacant" huge hits.

Still, Lydon felt that he and his fellow members were being exploited by McLaren and that Punk Rock was also being commercialized. In January 1978 he ended the Pistols' tour in the USA with his legendary quote: "Ever got the feeling you're being cheated?" and left the band. While McLaren tried to keep the Pistols going for another year, with Addled Addict Sid Vicious as the new lead singer Lydon left his Rotten persona and started a new band: Public Image Ltd..

Public Image Ltd was a collaboration between Jah Wobble and Keith Levene and more true to Lydon's actual interests in Avant-Garde Music. They abandoned Punk Rock's musical style, but kept the anarchistic and anti-commercial attitude. For what remained of the 1970s and most of the 1980s Public Image Ltd would be Lydon's most famous endeavour. Still he never left the shadow of the Sex Pistols, being frequently asked for interviews by reporters in search of some audacious quotes. He reformed the Sex Pistols in 1996 for a reunion tour and admitted it was just for the money. Lydon is still frequently seen on TV, either as a presenter, an interviewee or a political and musical commentator. In 1984 he also starred in the Cult Classic "Copkiller" (1984), where he played alongside Harvey Keitel. And in the late 2010s, he had a recurring voice role in the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles series Rise of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (seriously).

In his homeland he remains as polarizing as he ever was, though the British have grown accustomed to his snarky, uncompromising, yet intelligent remarks about a variety of topics. Some hardcore punks see him as a Sell-Out, especially after appearing in so many TV shows and doing a commercial for butter, but he is considered somewhat of a Magnificent Bastard. The best proof of his national treasure status is the fact that in 2002 he was nominated for the title of 100 Greatest Britons and was voted to the 87th place.


Sex Pistols

Public Image Ltd.

  • First Issue (1978)
  • Metal Box (1979)
  • The Flowers of Romance (1981)
  • Commercial Zone (1983)
  • This Is What You Want... This Is What You Get (1984)
  • Album (1986)
  • Happy? (1987)
  • 9 (1989)
  • That What Is Not (1992)
  • This Is PiL (2012)
  • What the World Needs Now... (2015)

Solo Album

  • Psycho's Path (1997)

John Lydon's career provides examples of

  • Anarchy: Johnny said:
    Anarchy is mind-games for the middle class. Itís a wonderful philosophy if you've got the spare time to indulge in it. Itís more like French abstract art than reality, because ultimately you would destroy everything. Whatís the point of that if you've got nothing to replace it with? Anarchy is a problem. Itís not a solution. But itís worthy of some thought.
  • The Antichrist: "Anarchy in the U.K."
    I am an anti-christ
  • The Band Minus the Face: After Lydon left the Sex Pistols the band still went on for a few months, with Sid Vicious as their new lead singer.
  • Beware the Nice Ones: The quickest way to get on his jerkass side is to interrupt him (repeatedly) when he's trying to make an uncomfortably honest point. Good Morning Britain found that out firsthand.
  • British Teeth: His nickname "Rotten" was inspired by his bad teeth.
  • Burning with Anger: He is known for his aggressive shouting and passionate fury during concert performances.
    Anger is an energy note 
  • Celebrity Is Overrated: Lydon has never felt any reason to show awe or respect to celebrities, just because he is supposed to. Many reporters try to poke him into making outrageous comments about people, but he doesn't always give them what they want. For instance, despite having criticized the Margaret Thatcher government for years Lydon didn't feel the need to celebrate her death in 2013 and even called out other people for doing this. He respects certain musicians for their actual talent or authenticity, rather than loving or hating them just because they are mainstream pop stars.
    • Notably, a case where this appeared Harsher in Hindsight was a televised interview where Lydon mentioned he'd like to "kill Jimmy Savile" because of "seediness that we all know about, but are not allowed to talk about. I know some rumours." He then added that what he said wouldn't be "allowed out", and sure enough, it was cut from the broadcast. The uncut version didn't emerge till 2013, after Savile's death, when it was public knowledge that the rumours Lydon had heard were probably Understatements.
  • Cluster F-Bomb: Uses a lot of swear words.
  • Country Matters/Last-Second Word Swap: Rotten puts very deliberate and gleeful emphasis on the last syllable of the Sex Pistols song "Pretty Vacant."
  • Even Bad Men Love Their Mamas: Okay, bad man is really stretching it, but despite his "bad boy" image and abrasive demeanour, he clearly loved his parents and especially his mum. Every time he mentioned them during interviews, the bad boy persona evaporated and he became very emotional.
  • Everyone Has Standards: While Lyndon is known to criticize the UK government, he flat out called everyone who was happy about Margaret Thatcher's death (keep in mind some people were dancing on the streets and the song 'Ding Dong the Witch Is Dead!' went up the charts when Thatcher died) insensitive and obnoxious. And just for the record, he himself criticized the Thatcher government.
  • Evil Laugh: The very first thing uttered by Rotten on their very first single.
  • Free Handed Performer: He generally performs as an animated instrument-free singer on stage. On albums, however, he performs keyboards, guitars and various percussions. His first solo album, Psycho's Path, was mainly recorded by him.
  • The Gadfly: Lydon has always been a non-conformist. Before becoming a member of the Sex Pistols he was a geeky child who like Avant-Garde Music bands like Can, Van der Graaf Generator and Captain Beefheart. He wore a Pink Floyd shirt with the words "I Hate" written above the band name, yet he didn't actually hate them. His eclectic musical tastes which threatened to make him persona non grata in the Punk scene became more pronounced when he formed PiL.
    • Insult Backfire: Pink Floyd's David Gilmour had no problem with it, since the Floyd were "a target of substance" and that Lydon couldn't have gotten as much out of an "I Hate Yes" shirt.
  • Good Is Not Soft: His heart is in the right place but he's infamous for his abrasiveness, temper and foul mouth.
  • Hidden Depths: In the documentary The Filth and the Fury, Johnny Rotten showed his softer side when describing the sad saga of Sid and Nancy and Sid Vicious's downward spiral and death.
  • Implausible Hair Color: Often has bright green, orange or red haircuts.
  • Jerkass: Just watch any interview with Johnny Rotten/Lydon. His passive-aggressive interview style often makes it unclear whether he is angry at the interviewer or not. Usually he makes good points, but is often frustrated with the inane or poorly informed questions asked of him.
    • Jerkass Has a Point: Often, Johnny uses his abrasiveness to good use. Agree with him or not, at least he often has something intelligent to say...
  • Knight in Sour Armor: He's stated that does have hope for humanity. Not a lot, but still. More specifically, a lot of the vitriol he has for politicians and royalty is from disgust at their apathy towards the working class.
  • Lifesaving Misfortune: He was scheduled to fly on Pan Am Flight 103, but he and his wife missed the flight after she failed to pack in time.
  • Not Even Bothering with the Accent: He always talks in his local accent.
  • The One Thing I Don't Hate About You: He HATED the movie Sid & Nancy and is quick to point out all its inaccuracies and its romanticism of a tragedy. However, he did like Gary Oldman's performance as Sid and praised him as an actor.
  • Only Known by Their Nickname: Most people know him as "Johnny Rotten" rather than "John Lydon".
  • Pop-Cultural Osmosis: He is still recognized around the world as Johnny Rotten, the "former Sex Pistol", even though he was only part of the band for 14 months and has been recording under his own name since 1978! Similarly he is also the most famous punk musician alongside Sid Vicious, yet most of the music he made throughout his career is actually closer to Alternative Rock, Avant-Garde Music and Post-Punk.
  • Protest Song: His songs are meant to shake people awake out of their conformity and frequently target all echelons of our society.
  • Refuge in Audacity: Lydon has made a career out of doing and saying exactly what he wants, and not giving a toss what people think of him.
  • Stage Name: Johnny Rotten.
  • Take That!: Rotten is known for his verbal insults and attacks at people, celebrities, and institutions.
  • Thousand-Yard Stare: His famous stare is a result of meningitis. He has to do this to focus on what he is looking at.
  • Trrrilling Rrrs: Famously did this during "Anarchy in the U.K." and "God Save the Queen."
  • True Companions: He and Sid Vicious were close friends and he downright hates Vicious' mother for being a narcissistic parent who got him addicted to heroin, exemplified by Sid's mother giving him heroin for his 16th or 17th birthday.


Video Example(s):

Alternative Title(s): Johnny Rotten


Comedy Interrogation Act

In this notorious 1979 clip from the music show Check It Out, John Lydon (formerly Johnny Rotten of Sex Pistols) abandons a particularly patronising interview when trying to promote his new band Public Image Ltd. PiL bassist Jah Wobble soon follows suit, but not before delivering an epic string of (bleeped out) obscenities.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (5 votes)

Example of:

Main / ScrewThisImOuttaHere

Media sources: