Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Holy 80s! The Rise and Fall of Hair Metal

Once upon a time in the 1980s, a bunch of guys from Los Angeles' Sunset Strip put on some spandex, combed up their hair and picked up their guitars. What came of this was known as "glam metal," or the term I prefer,"hair metal," which MTV coined.

It's basically like this: at the dawn of the 1980's, hair metal emerged as cheapened and more commercially accessible brand of glam rock. Unlike the avant-garde rock music from the 1970s, the 80s incarnation relied on a mishmash of pop melodies, shred-heavy guitar solos and hard, spastic drumming.

While screeching vocals were often heard from the balls crazy lead singers, we owe this genre credit for inventing the "power ballad" (and yes, I mean that sarcastically). You know what the
power ballad is about: super cheesy lyrics, heartfelt, passionate singing from the huge-haired singer, and the slow building pace until the MEGA DRAMATIC CRESCENDO WALL OF SOUND that tops it off at the end.

Note: I am sure you can tell that I'm not a fan of this style of music. So I plan on making the best of it by analyzing the trends while making fun of them, which will be enjoyable for all of us.

Hair metal rose to fame in Los Angeles, California-- the land of all the glitters. The Sunset Strip is an epicenter scene-making
and glamour in LA, where many popular boutiques, rock clubs and nightclubs are located.
It was there where bands like Mötley Crüe (above) were drinking,
snorting and boning their way
to rock star status.

As I said earlier, the hair metal look was an evolved form of the glam rock aesthetic, zeroing in on the gaudiness and flamboyancy of acts like New York Dolls and Queen. However, what set them apart was the excessive nature of the decade and therefore nothing was too much: outrageously tight clothes, spandex and acid wash jeans, shrunken leather, animal print, rainbow color palettes and metal-studded everything. Bare chests were a must. Accessories were piled on, like scarves and chains. I can't imagine anything being "too wild" in their dressing rooms. Their costumes were the stuff Halloween dreams are made of. I truly wish I could interview Bret Michaels about the appeal of this fashion (and notice how his former glam looks are currently degrading into something icky).

Besides styling their bodies, hair metal acts took great care in dressing up their heads. In my research, I found no real explanation as to why the hair was so fucking huge. I asked my mom how and why she succumbed to the sky-high hair trends and her only response was "It seeps into society," with a shudder and a frown. I do love her response, though. Huge hair was in vogue for men and women alike. The wearers of metal hair made a bold statement, a statement of confidence, wildness and an aversion to wind, rain, snow, helmets and hats.
I don't know who are pictured on the left, but I think some of them are women. I'm honestly not sure, and I think that's hilarious.

The make up is downright baffling to me. I'm so perplexed! Unlike
Ziggy Stardust, who sculpted his fair face with makeup to create a futuristic, martian image, these "dudes" caked on the foundation, plastered their pouty lips with lipstick and liner and rouged up their cheeks with hot
pink blushes. Their eyes were not only lined but shadowed, usually in purples and blues. They. Looked. Like. Women. (right). And the women? They fucking loved it! These men were the epitome of sexy to many ladies in the 80s. What is sexy about sharing your expensive hairspray with your boyfriend, or envying his long lashes as you watch him whip your tube of Great Lash across his eyes? I really don't know. Thankfully I wasn't around to find out.

A source of their popularity must be traced back to MTV, which my mom reminded me was only created in 1981, right before the hair metal craze hit. MTV is certainly responsible for putting their music videos into heavy rotation, spreading the glittery vibes across the country and poisoning young girls with the songs of bands like Poison. The music videos showcased ultra-extravagant images of hot chicks, booze guzzling and wild partying. Except for the power ballad videos, which showed the guy throwing his bottle of booze because all of his wild partying led his hot chick to leave him, so he's sad and sings a song about it in a dimly lit room.

Note: What is "metal" about these bands? I think of metal and I think Metallica, Black Sabbath, Slayer, those crazies in Scandinavia, even 80s metal contemporaries Guns 'n Roses. But metal is hard, evil, trashing and face-melting. Alas, maybe I am missing the point. The huge hair stands alone.

Thankfully, it's gone now. Kurt Cobain killed it. Not intentionally, but an odd thing happened at the dawn of the 1990s. Something drastically opposite from hair metal came into fame, and the people responded. Hair metal was buried in its own shiny grave.

RIP Hair Metal.

Here's a song of Motley Crue's that I don't hate called Kickstart My Heart

I found this video in my research. I forgot how the US Senate became involved with lyrical obscenity in the 1980s and held trials enforcing censorship. Dee Snider, front man of Twisted Sister, was asked to speak. As someone who doesn't really enjoy the hair metal music, I can totally appreciate their rock and roll spirit and their "fuck you" attitude. I really respect Dee Snider for standing up against censorship.
Finally, here's a video of a British kid giving a tutorial on how to get glam metal hair. Enjoy!


  1. I find the gender bending that these male rock stars carried out to be an interesting paradox of how men are viewed in our society. While they were taking on typically female adornments, especially in the hair and makeup department, they were at the same time viewed as masculine sex gods. Great, article, Mossberg.

  2. I need someone to explain this paradox to me!! Like I said, I'm so perplexed! How is looking so much like a woman appealing to women? What does that say about women?!

  3. I would like to know in what era I can try my hardest to look like a man, and still be considered beautiful and womanly. Flannels and baggy jeans yes plz!

  4. hmm that might be grunge, my dear, coming soon. or perhaps the part of the hardcore punk section!