WHY THE HATE?: Hair Metal

WHY THE HATE?: Hair Metal

The 1980's were a time of excess and debauchery. Nothing exemplified this with the genre known as Hair Metal (also called Glam Metal, but we are sticking with the Hair Metal term for this article). With hair that reached the heavens in height, androgyny in its look and sex appeal to fans, and songs about partying, love, sex and overall good times. Bands like Poison, Bon Jovi, Def Leppard and Mötley Crüe would rule the decade with countless hits, platinum selling albums and sold out concerts all over the world. But, then the party came to a crashing halt, with the rise of Grunge. Most famously by Nirvana's "Smell Like Teen Spirit" being a sign of the new sound. Signaling the "last call" for the popularity of Hair Metal. Going from a successful "live it up" party of the 80's, to the depressing and dark hangover of the 90's.


Looking back at it now, Hair Metal gets a lot of cringe and lampooning from the metal community. With people brushing it off as the genre metal heads don't like to talk about, similar to the way they look at nu-metal. Which I know I will have to do for this series eventually. But why is their visceral disgust and humor towards a genre, that was a highlight for metal, which at the time, was at its peak successfully? Today, I will look into this genre's music, it's look, it's impact and answer the burning question: Does Hair Metal deserve the hate?


Like I mentioned in the opening, the 80's were a time of excess, sleaze and not a care in the world. Hair metal exemplified that with its lyrics, attitude and sound. Songs like "Nothin' But A Good Time" by Poison, "Wild Side" by Mötley Crüe, and "Jump" by Van Halen were just peak examples of the sound all about having a good time, getting stoned/drunk, and trying to get laid. Which a lot of us were (and still are) trying to do nowadays. Acts like Def Leppard & Bon Jovi took the hair metal aesthetic and aimed it more towards the pop radio audience. More "family-friendly" you could say. Compared to the sleazy drugs and partying lifestyle of the more popular acts. Songs were catchy, had pop-like hooks and would top the charts with its success.

An image I found on Reddit from an episode of The Simpsons that sums up the problems with oversaturation of Hair Metal in the 80's

The problem with hair metal is that with anything new and becoming popular, record labels jump to sign any band that fit the mold to make the label tons of money. With the downside, for the music and scene, is the market becomes flooded with hundreds of bands that sound so similar to one another. That unless you had something memorable about your band like a talented guitarist (Dokken) or a unique vocalist (Twisted Sister), you kind of fell into the herd and didn't really stand out. Songs began to become formulaic, repetitive and nothing original. Falling into the feeling of if I wanna listen to a Bon Jovi style song, I'll listen to Bon Jovi, not five or ten other bands doing a mediocre attempt of copying Bon Jovi or Mötley Crüe or Def Leppard. Similar to "We Have (blank) at home". By the time grunge came along and the writing was on the wall for a lot of 80's acts, very few bands were able to transition out of the 80's to merge the band's 80's sound for Generation X 90's kids. Some bands were kind of able to pull it off, like Mötley Crüe's self-titled album, along with Bon Jovi's Keep The Faith album.

Other bands would completely reinvent themselves for the 90's. I can't think of any other act that did this to such an extreme extent like Pantera. Starting off as a hair metal band in the late 80's, the band would begin to show signs of the band's evolution in their last album Power Metal, which marked the debut of Phil Anselmo on vocals. Two years later in 1990, the band would truly reinvent themselves both in sound and image with Cowboys From Hell. Gone were the days of spandex, massive hair and songs about partying and love. The band was now pissed off and the music reflected it. Infusing thrash metal into the band's sound and creating what would become the groove metal sound that would inspire countless bands in the wake of its release.

Looking back on it, does the music of Hair Metal deserve the hate? No, it was just different times and you could pull the whole "it was a phase" argument, similar to how we went to grunge and then nu-metal in the 2000's. But things always come back around, and you can't look any further then the rise of Steel Panther. A hair metal band that not only pays homage to its 80's brethren in the band's look and sound, but deliver a twist by parodying or making light of the excess of rock n roll of the 80's as well as touring life. Hair Metal doesn't deserve the hate it gets, it was just a different time and a sound that yes, even though was formulaic or had hundreds of similar bands, was important to the rise of metal in the 1980's in not only sales and touring, but influence and some songs that still stand the test of time almost thirty plus years later.


The only other thing that Hair Metal gets mocked at or made fun of was the look. Back in the day (God I sound old as I type this and I'm 37), the Hair Metal genre pushed a band's look into multiple directions. You had some bands like Nitro, who had huge hair and wore studded leather clothing and hair soaked in hair spray. But, the band was talented and featured in it one of the greatest and technical guitarist of all time in Michael Angelo Batio. So even though they had a stereotypical 80's hair metal look, the band could shred with the best of them and deliver a sound that was unformulaic. You also had bands like Christian metal act Stryper, who would wear matching black and yellow leather outfits. Not only making a distinct look for the band in helping them stand out, but was family friendly and wouldn't steer away from their Christian message. Definitely not creating a moral contradiction of a band singing about Jesus while wearing make-up and codpieces (although that might be entertaining to see Steel Panther do).

Then you had the androgynous attire the genre is mainly made fun of. Bands like Poison, Mötley Crüe, and Twisted Sister would push the idea of male masculinity with incorporating wearing makeup, women's clothing and tight-fitting attire. Taking inspiration from early gender pushing acts like David Bowie and The New York Dolls, the look of 80's hair metal really did push the influence and boundaries of what men could wear and be accepted. The look almost fit the music if you think about it. It had songs that were heavy and sleazy that men wanted to hear, but also had the pop-catchiness, good looking men, and a fashion look that women liked too. Making it acceptable for men to dress as women, which is not only a big deal for men, but would also help push the LGBTQ+ movement in acceptance of an androgynous, almost drag look.

Does the look of hair metal deserve the hate? Not at all. It was boundary pushing in it's look. Creating an almost unisex look for men and women to wear, and it was accepted. Looking back at it, it has that "I can't believe I wore that" feel to it, but then again, we ALL have that look in our lifetimes and if you are lying, you never stepped outside of your comfort zone and need to do that more. For the look and influence this look would have for men and women of the 80's and empowerment of the LGBTQ+ movement in acceptance of the fashion, it doesn't deserve the hate at all.

The Hair Metal genre gets way too much hate than it deserves. A genre that was metal at it's peak. Selling millions of copies from multiple bands. Topping the charts that metal today just can't or doesn't do anymore. Musically, songs were heavy, catchy, iconic and fist-pumping classics that still stand the test of time. With a fashion that makes some people cringe and may rub people the wrong away, especially with the whole gender issues we are facing today. But metal needed to be shaken up a bit. It needed to push boundaries, push the genre out of the norm in it's look. It does date the era of the time, but you can instantly identify what genre a band is just by their look (the hair is the giveaway). Hair Metal was a phase in metal history that we may look back on and shrug it off, but you know when one of those songs comes on, you are singing every single freaking word of it. Belting to the rafters of your car or in your office. Bon Jovi said in "Wanted Dead or Alive" a great lyric that does truly sum up the impact of the Hair Metal genre. "I've seen a million faces / and I've rocked them all".

Do you think Hair Metal deserves the hate? Let us know on our social media if you agree/disagree and why. You can vote in the poll below and see if your fellow metalheads agree with you. I'm Justin, Your Friendly Neighborhood Metalhead, and this has been another edition of Why The Hate? .

Does Hair Metal deserve the hate? - Online Poll - StrawPoll
What’s your opinion? Vote now: YES, NO…

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