Wig out! Exploring music's obsession with clowns

Music has a proud history of creepy clowns. Whatever you do, don’t book any of these guys for your children’s birthday party…

Roll up, roll up! If you suffer from coulrophobia – that’ll be a constant and persistent fear of clowns – it may well be best you look away now, because there’s more clowning around on this page than an explosion in a red nose factory, and with the forthcoming release of It Chapter Two this week, everything is getting red and floaty.

The word coulrophobia actually stems from the Greek Kolon word for stilt-walkers. This means that the Greeks not only invented map making, the Olympics and democracy, but the knowledge that ultimately clowns are very, very scary. Let’s hear it for the Greeks!

Sadly for coulrophobics, music is full of clowns. Consider 90’s hardcore hip-hop duo the Insane Clown Posse, who, for thirty-years-now, have negated critical derision with genuine, life-changing adoration from their fans. The Detroit band’s followers call themselves ‘Juggalos’ and gather in their tens of thousands for a yearly festival called, um, the ‘Gathering Of The Juggalos’, an event the band themselves describe as “a Juggalo Woodstock”. Perhaps the creepy clown’s greatest contribution to popular culture, however, is a lyric taken from their 2010 hit ‘Miracles’; “fucking magnets. How do they work?”

Even stranger are the band Mac Sabbath, who – and we sure you would have got this yourselves in time – spend their time performing Black Sabbath covers while dressed like the old McDonaldland advertising characters. Their frontman – Ronald Osbourne, which is really quite good when you think about it – is a deranged clown. The parody extends to their song titles too, with ‘Sweet Beef’ being a riff on the classic Sabbath song ‘Sweet Leaf’. What do the Birmingham born metal pioneers make of all this fast food-based jocularity? They approve, with Ozzy once describing the group as “funny as fuck”.

Seriously, clowns are everywhere in music, not just onstage but in songs too. Written by Stephen Sondheim in 1973 for the musical A Little Night Music, ‘Send in The Clowns’ has been covered by Frank Sinatra, Shirley Bassey, Grace Jones, Barbara Streisand (who earlier this year, performed a version at Maddison Square Gardens criticising U.S. President Donald Trump), Madonna and Cher. Krusty the Clown even performs a version in the episode ‘Krusty Gets Kancelled’ from the Simpsons fourth season. Then there’s Goldfrapp’s ‘Clowns’ (2013), The Kinks’ ‘Death Of A Clown’ (1967), The Replacements’ ‘Lay It Down Clown’ (1985) and, perhaps best of all, Smokey Robinson & the Miracles’ remarkable ‘Tears Of A Clown’ (1970).

Given how upsetting so many people find clowns, it was only natural that one would turn up in Slipknot, with founding member and percussionist Shawn Crahan performing under that very name: Clown. The Des Moines band aren’t for the faint of heart. Famed for huffing from a jam jar containing the remains of a decaying crow before stagetime, having fistfights onstage and – a bit like a baseball team made up of the most notorious horror movie big bads – each member performing with their face hidden by masks, see them live and at the centre of them all will be a burly man in a boiler suit dressed as a terrifying clown. Shaun gets it.

Then there’s Pete Doherty from British indie band The Libertines. Oh wait, we’re not talking about that sort of clown are we? Oh right. Well, there’s plenty to be keeping an eye out for here. Be smart. Be safe. Protect yourself from music’s creepy clowns. And whatever you do, don’t look behind you.

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