Posted by: markfender | October 24, 2012

Headphone Diaries – January 23, 1990

Skipping ahead a week to cover something dark and terrible – hair metal.

I’ve never actually listened to Slaughter. I’m not about to start now. I might know some of their songs because I heard them on the radio, but I couldn’t identify any of them. I hope I never recognize any of their songs. But this album provides an excellent example of what we were dealing with in the early ’90s – the twin scourges of boy bands and hair metal.

Boy bands and hair metal are two sides of the same coin, that coin being “convincing teenaged girls to sleep with me.” Boy bands were generally the nice, uptown version of that – they were well-dressed, clean-cut, and couched their desperation in soaring love ballads. Hair metal was the skankier version of that same thing. They weren’t interested in scoring with the prom queen. They were interested in scoring their way across the trailer park. When a boy band deflowered his love, it was a tender moment where two people became one. When a hair metal band deflowered someone, they got a new tattoo and moved on to the next conquest.

And, god, were they popular. Sometime in the late ’80s, they figured out the way to get radio play was the power ballad. Even if you were a metal-head looking for somewhat hard rock, you had to put up with at least one power ballad on every album. Perhaps the greatest power ballad that demonstrates my point was Extreme’s “More Than Words,” a heartfelt, soaring acoustic number that should have probably just been titled, “Stop Being a Prude and Fuck Me.”

I’m painting a picture of hair metal bands as being sorta trashy and that was certainly true. But they also were exceedingly sculpted to be trashy. No one has perfectly feathered hair like that without hair care products. Those jeans did not develop those holes through hard-living. Brett Michaels was obviously wearing makeup. It was an image carefully crafted and when you’re a stupid teenager desperately looking around at the world for some “truth,” hair metal was a pretty egregious violator of that. It had a “bad boy” image, but that’s all it was – an image.

Not to mention the annoying singing. That falsetto thing just seemed unmanly somehow. I’m not sure when it became important for metal singers to hit really high notes all the time but it always annoyed me. Leave the high notes for the ladies, please.

Of course, the big question when you discuss genre is what bands are considered part of that genre. Who the hell knows? In my experience, a genre gets defined broadly and then gets exceedingly sub-qualified and sub-qualified until fans of the genre spend all their time arguing about whether certain bands are part of certain genres. Go on Youtube and look at the comments to any band ever. Chances are that argument is happening right now. My general rule for hair metal is a simple one: Could I find pictures ripped from magazines of their elegantly-coiffed manes in my locker mate’s locker? Hair metal. And also a good indication of who to never listen to.

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