The internet has not always been kind to Axl Rose. Right now, though, he’s winning Twitter.
The singer, never known for filtering his opinions, has taken to criticizing the Trump administration on social media, chiming in about the California wildfires, the unauthorized use of Guns N’ Roses songs at Trump rallies, and encouraging followers to vote. Many of his fans are very here for Axl’s political side, calling him #wokeaxl.
Woke Axl knows how to engage his 1.25 million followers—not only does he vote, he votes early and urges his fans to do the same. His profile picture is an adorable French bulldog. There’s a @wokeaxl spoof account. Mr. Rose has arrived.
He also stays on brand. Axl, as he is universally known, almost never types out the word and. Nor does he deign to use an ampersand to save characters. His tweets follow the Guns N’ Roses stylebook, exclusively employing n’ as his conjunction of choice in an impressive display of loyalty to a decades old band name.
The way he talks about women is still a problem. It’s always been a problem. In 1992 he told Rolling Stone, “I’ve been hell on the women in my life, and the women in my life have been hell on me,” simultaneously acknowledging his reputation as a domestic abuser and not taking full responsibility for it.
Calling the first lady a “former hooker” on Twitter isn’t exactly out of character for someone whose most famous album features a song with the lyrics, “Turn around bitch I got a use for you/Besides you ain’t got nothin’ better to do, and I’m bored.” No amount of wishing Twitter followers a “Happy International Women’s Day” can really balance that out.
In another tweet he calls out systemic American racism by posting a video of a mall cop arresting, manhandling, and threatening a 12-year-old African American boy, along with the commentary, “Come do that to me u fuckin’ pussy; I’ll be waitin’.”
Oh, Axl. Yes, it’s very woke to identify and condemn racism. Less effective when you use misogynist, homophobic language to do so. These contradictions–Woke Axl still not exactly conforming to the language and customs of wokeness, and not seeming to even realize it–embody his signature brand of ego-centric contrarianism every bit as much as refusing to spell out the word and.
Axl Rose has always been a ridiculous bundle of contradictions. Let’s not forget that he has written and performed, with gusto, some very ugly lyrics. “One in a Million,” from Guns N’ Roses’ second album is a racist, homophobic dumpster fire that uses the N-word to shock. He also wrote and performed, with gusto, “Civil War,” an anti-war song that contains a quote from the Paul Newman movie Cool Hand Luke, a quote from a Shining Path guerrilla, and Axl’s eerie whistling of the Civil War ditty “When Johnny Comes Marching Home.” It also references the assassinations of Martin Luther King, Jr. and John F. Kennedy, and the way the Vietnam War shaped Axl’s view of the country and the government. It’s not “Masters of War,” but it’s a not a dumb song either.
In a 1991 review of the Guns N’ Roses albums Use Your Illusion I and II, Jon Pareles described a band and a body of work that espouses racism, nationalism, and misogyny. He refers to the band’s first album, Appetite for Destruction, as “the epitome of Reagan-era individualism, plus a personal streak of misogyny.” That assessment would easily find a home in a think piece about Trump–the two share a reactionary, easily riled quality.
This may account for the singer’s clear and visceral distaste for the president—even Woke Axl, as delightful as he is, lacks self-awareness, as the very behaviors he calls out in others he himself often displays. The irony of two men whose personal expressions of masculinity are deeply and publicly problematic being locked in a Twitter battle is so very 2018. Woke Axl almost perfectly encapsulates this moment with the strangeness of a man who was once one of the biggest n’ most notoriously wild rock stars in the world, tweeting about forest management.