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How Jedward became the unlikely face of the revolution

A shot of Jedward posing
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Until recently, Irish twins and singing duo Jedward (John and Edward Grimes) had been hiding in relative obscurity. Sure, nobody ever really forgot about them after they appeared on the UK version of The X Factor in 2009 – not with hair or short-lived infamy like that – but we didn’t really think about them, either. While there were likely real fans left standing, ones who bought all four studio albums and followed their career from their Eurovision song entry to sporadic appearances on TV, for most of us, they flew under the radar. 

Then came Twitter, and a lockdown which seems to have left the twins a little bored, despite the fact that they were both quarantining with actress Tara Reid. Last June the pair made headlines for DMing fans out of the blue (it’s not clear which one does the posting, so we'll just assume they share an office chair and both type at once). Unlike a lot of the times musicians randomly DM fans, the messages were sweet and totally appropriate, even personalised: “cool style!” “JEPIC!” “keep rocking!”.

But the weirdest twist to the Jedward story has come in recent months, as the pair have escalated their posting on Twitter, carving out an identity for themselves as online activists. Their tweets are often flippant yet empathetic, sharply calling out injustice where they see it. When the Pope recently approved an announcement that the Vatican could not bless same-sex unions, they were quick to tweet: “The Catholic Church is the main cause of homophobia! It’s time they remove their sinful teachings from our schools and Life! You don’t own God! @Pontifex we cannot bless you”.

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Following the tragic murder of Sarah Everard, they fired off heartfelt tweets like: “Rape and sexual abuse is mentally and physically traumatic for a whole life time! Women don’t need to die to justify the damage caused!” but also condemned Keir Starmer’s inaction with a more explicitly political (and funny): “Don’t really know who you are @Keir_Starmer but get it together your actions are kinda pointless!”. They also criticised the actions of the police in response to vigils held in Everard's memory: “Sarah didn’t die in vain for more violence to be inflicted by the hands of men using their strength and authority for their power trips!” 

From supporting women, to beefing with Piers Morgan, to begging Ant and Dec to use their platform for good, their tweets run the gamut of political issues. The tweets – sometimes funny, often thoughtful – are interspersed with promotion of their new music, so a cynic could think it’s all a bit. After all, isn’t this the first time you’ve thought about Jedward in a while? Could this all be a carefully orchestrated PR move? Call us naive, but their passion on these issues seems self-evident. It’s more likely that they genuinely do care and have realised that the best thing to do with their unlikely platform is use it. 

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Artists with such aggressively mainstream, normie origins – i.e., they're famous because your nan thought they were cute – rarely have countercultural stances. Historically, we’ve expected “alternative” musicians and artists to speak up on racism, misogyny and other political issues, and for pop artists to keep to themselves. But in the last several years, many of us have found ourselves disappointed in the people we once looked to as the voices and faces of the “alternative”. Male artists who once stood for outsiders are accused of being misogynists, abusers and bullies. Punk icons lose their edge as they age, like Johnny Rotten, who now vocally supports Trump and spoke against gay couples becoming parents, or Jello Biafra, who mocked people for using terms like "microaggressions". Morrissey, once an idol for shy outsiders, is now a loud, brash Brexit dad. Killer Mike is a self-professed “compassionate capitalist”. 

A photo of Jedward on a BLM march

(Image credit: Hollywood To You/Star Max/Getty Images)

There are a lot of reasons to feel disillusioned with “alternative” culture when our “alternative” icons now spout mainstream, often right-wing views. There are also a lot of reasons to feel hope, as a new generation of women, people of colour and activists are dominating corners of alternative music and using their platforms in ways that matter, albeit on a smaller level. Punk isn’t dead, but we might need to look in different places than the white men of the 70s or 80s to find artists with values that echo our own.

There are many more artists in the mainstream now, like Taylor Swift, who are politically vocal where they weren’t before. But Jedward are something different: something so accessible that they became a parody of pop itself. They are two white guys appealing to a similar demographic, and that audience is responding to their political evolution. They're in the replies either thanking the twins for speaking out on issues, or disagreeing with them and retracting their fandom.

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That is precisely why Jedward’s relentless posting, while funny or dorky on the surface, is both important and a little brave. They have a lot to lose – their fans don’t expect them to have political opinions or even thoughts. A scroll through the responses to their tweets makes that much clear. They’re not from a world where speaking out is expected or accepted, and they’re pissing people off.

Which is why, in a lot of ways, Jedward’s seemingly out-of-character tweets on political issues matter more than if they came from someone on the “alt” side of the fence. While their outbursts infuriate some fans who’d rather not hear it, they might also educate some people who otherwise had no “in” to those kinds of views. Two recently-radicalised mainstream artists using their platform to subvert their position as laughing stocks and give people access to different opinions when it comes to social issues carries a lot of weight, which is probably why they’re worried they’re going to get "disappeared".

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While many of Jedward’s opinions seem pretty run-of-the-mill if you’ve been entrenched in left wing politics or alternative culture for a while, for someone in their position and with their audience, they’re pretty out there. They recently tweeted, “If something suspicious happens to us! We aren’t gonna be silenced! Just for Future reference incase anything happens!” which is kind of funny – are the British government going to “silence” Jedward? Probably not! But their repeated insistence that they won’t be silenced, either by the government, or by homophobes, or by a handful of outraged fans, means a lot to the marginalised people who've started to look up to them. That’s a lot more than we get from some of the artists who've claimed to be punk these days.