As controversies continue to build up around Joker, the inclusion of the Gary Glitter song, "Rock and Roll Part 2", on its soundtrack has raised many eyebrows. Despite Joker receiving glowing reviews (among some truly poor ones), Joker has had its fair share of controversies. It’s inevitable that a movie like this, one that was designed to push buttons, would get people talking and taking various sides on the debate. However, there is one issue with the movie that’s united everyone against it. In the pivotal scene where Arthur Fleck (played by Joaquin Phoenix) embraces his role as the Joker and dons the outfit, he does a celebratory dance on the steps to "Rock and Roll Part 2". It's not the scene but the song itself that's drawn ire.
Gary Glitter is a former glam rock singer who achieved major success in the 1970s and '80s. For a period, he and his music were beloved features of sporting events and the British rock scene, but in 1997, he was arrested after pornographic images of children were discovered on his computer and in his home. Then in 1999, he was sentenced to four months in prison and placed on the UK sex offender register. Following his release, he moved to Cuba, then Cambodia, where he was detained for his previous offenses before being deported to Thailand. He later moved to Vietnam and was once again arrested for sex offenses featuring underage girls. In 2006, he was tried on charges of committing obscene acts with two girls, aged 10 and 11, then, after being found guilty, sentenced to three years in prison. He was released in August 2008 and deported to the UK. In 2015, he appeared in court in London accused of attempted rape, indecent assault, and other sexual offenses against three girls between 1975 and 1980. Since 2015, he has been in jail serving a 16-year sentence.
Especially in the UK, Gary Glitter’s downfall is one of the most shocking and well-known celebrity stories of the past several decades. For a whole generation, he’s better known for being a sex offender and pedophile than he is a singer. The choice of Joker to take one of its most notable and entertaining scenes – the one that’s on the poster and highlighted on social media – and score it to a Gary Glitter song cannot help but feel extremely misguided on several levels. It’s a strange moment in the film for many reasons. On a purely stylistic level, it’s incongruous with the rest of Joker's musical choices. That may very well be the point of the scene, although given how effectively Joker uses songs by artists like Frank Sinatra, as well as that stunning score by Icelandic composer Hildur Guðnadóttir, it still feels like a missed creative opportunity.
There’s also the very real topic of royalties. Glitter still gets money for the use of his songs and his many convictions don’t change that. Various reports have stated that Glitter may have earned as much as £1 million from royalties alone from the Oasis song "Hello" which samples of his biggest hits, "Hello, Hello, I'm Back Again." Use of the song "Rock and Roll Part 2" in the NHL has earned Glitter around $250,000, according to a 2014 report by Billboard. You can still buy his songs online. Joker made a lot of money already, and it stands to reason that Glitter will certainly pocket a decent amount of cash from the movie’s use of that song. The two-minute use of "Rock and Roll Part 2" could net him hundreds of thousands of pounds, although the actual amount is unclear and he wouldn't get every penny from the licensing rights.
There's no way the people involved with making Joker didn't know that this song choice would be controversial and ethically problematic given that using the song would require them to allow a convicted sex offender against children to profit from the decision. It’s another Joker controversy the film just doesn’t need and one that should have been flagged up many months ago as something that would be universally derided. Even for people who love Joker and that scene, which is a real peak for the movie, can’t help but have a bad taste in their mouths over this ill-chosen choice of song.