Was Billy Idol Really a Punk Rocker?



With his spiky blonde hair and trademark sneer, Billy Idol is one of the most recognizable pop stars of the 1980’s. But was his punk rock style authentic, or artful deception?

With a rebel yell, Billy Idol wanted more, more, more. And he got it – becoming a bona-fide pop rock superstar in the 1980’s. Idol was nominated for multiple Grammys and MTV Video Music Awards during his 80’s heyday, and his 1983 album Rebel Yell peaked at #6 in the U.S. Billboard charts, eventually reaching 2x Platinum status.

Aside from his successful solo career, Idol is also known for fronting the London punk band, Generation X, from 1977 to 1980. Generation X were a fairly controversial group in the London punk scene, due in part to being highly fashionable and much more good-looking than just about anyone else. London punks were also probably suspicious of Generation X after they were the first punk band to appear on Top of the Pops in September 1977, performing their pop-punk hit “Your Generation”, which would surprisingly reach #36 on the U.K. charts.

Punks have long been suspicious of magazine cover looks and mainstream success – but does possessing these attributes automatically disqualify an artist from being a true, authentic punk? The questions begs an answer: was Billy Idol ever truly a punk, or was he just another fashionable opportunist trying to ride the punk rock bandwagon to stardom?

Reasons to think that Billy Idol was a real punk:

Reasons to think that Billy Idol wasn’t a real punk:

Our Verdict

The evidence against Billy Idol being a real punk, at least in his early days, is weak and subjective. Despite some obvious musical differences with other punks, such as owning up to loving and being influenced by the Beatles, Rolling Stones and Elvis Presley, and despite a decided “pop” feel to their music, Generation X were clearly a legitimate punk rock band with close ties to some of the most notable punk rock icons in the early U.K. punk rock scene. By extension, that means that Billy Idol was definitely a punk too, though his having played guitar in Chelsea and having been part of the Bromley Contingent are more than sufficient credentials in our eyes to establish that fact.

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