Obsessing over pop music and insecurity in metal

by Aaron Lynn
May 7, 2014 –

justin_bieber-heavy_metal

Insecurity and heavy metal should be as far away from each other as possible as they are from two vastly different worlds. One is of the brave and adventurous mind, and the other frightened and self-pitying. The cognitive dissonance is undeniable.

Still, a large number of “metalheads” choose to (beyond my understanding) make it their mission to “wage war on pop music.” This hits a whole new level of confusion for me, because there is nothing remotely metal about the likes of Taylor Swift or One Direction, but these people continue to insist that there must be. Why else would they compare them?

Modern pop musicians have never tried to infiltrate metal culture. I’ve never seen a tween pop icon wearing an Imprecation shirt, metal band patches, or spiked wristbands. And that’s because metal is separate, dangerous in terms of intensity both in music and lyrical themes, and not meant for mainstream consumption. Pop music and heavy metal are two completely different things that contrast in both ideology and musical form. So why are people who claim to be metalheads so frequently talking about pop music like it’s metal’s kryptonite?

Maybe because they’re insecure about themselves, and engage in this behavior because it makes them seem edgy or tough. They aren’t as into metal as they are into the image that metal provides for them. They want to be seen as the rebel, the enemy of the norm, unique, but with mostly nothing to back that persona up other than a few YouTube comments on Justin Bieber videos. It’s an easily obtained identity, but entirely deceptive.

There is another and scarier possibility as well. A scapegoat is a relatively innocent creature into which people symbolically project their sins so that they do not need to see those sins in themselves. As metal gets more pop, metalheads feel more pressure to point to One Direction and say, “See, that’s pop, not this candy black metal or lite-jazz tech-deth that I consume.” In this case, it’s a status contest for what economists call a “positional good,” or a product purchased to make the purchaser seem more successful and sociable.

If people who participate in this nonsense happen to be reading, know this: that behavior is doing nothing to benefit heavy metal or its future. The only thing it’s doing is making the public incorrectly view heavy metal culture as the whine of insecure teenage brats. It also sets the implication that metal needs the approval or acceptance of the mainstream crowd (which only wants to assimilate it). The future of heavy metal will do just fine without Hollywood’s hand to hold, I assure you.

The sure mark of a poser is one who talks about what he hates more than what he likes. You want to contribute? Support good bands, leave pop music be, and polish the throne. If you’re unable to do that, then it’s about time that you leave the hall.

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29 comments

  • Z.I.Mahmud

    Aaron, you’ve pointed out the perspectives of pop and metal remix in a descriptive and brilliant way! Good to know about your latest article!

  • Bart

    “Modern pop musicians have never tried to infiltrate metal culture. I’ve never seen a tween pop icon wearing an Imprecation shirt, metal band patches, or spiked wristbands.”

    Maybe not infiltrate, but some borrow heavily from it: Ke$ha springs to mind.

      1. frank the tank

        Cobain and especially Grohl were metal fans. They used to jam out Celtic Frost songs at just about every practice the band had.

      2. Bart

        Interesting anecdote. Fwiw, my comment was more oriented towards appropriated/borrowed/stolen visual esthetics of metal (wearing metal shirts, etc.) of pop stars like Ke$ha.

  • Kingdomgone

    I think the strength of metalheads generally has always been the ability to not to give a shit about the mainstream. Meaning not in an ironic or hip way but really not just caring what is happening up there because they really do not have anything remarkable to say to us.

  • Lord Mosher

    QUOTE: “Support good bands, leave pop music be”
    .
    Maybe the problem is not pop music or music itself, but the people that listens to it. Just like the problem is not the existence of bad metal music, but sadly, the fact that there’s people that listens to it. Since it’s easier to create bad music than brilliant one, soon outstanding music gets drowned in a sea of mediocrity.
    .
    I think it’s more of a battle antagonistic worldviews. Pop music will often reward musicians with money and popularity and it’s not too hard to dilute metal with a pop sensibility that will appeal to non Hessians.
    A person that favors pop or mainstream worldview will almost never be able to tell the difference between high or poor quality metal music if asked.

  • Massive Cunt

    This article is completely correct. Pop music does absolutely nothing to either co-opt or dilute good-quality metal, and it should be of no concern to the intelligent metal fan.

    1. Advocate's Devil

      Most people can’t distinguish quality metal from pop music. That’s the problem.

        1. Iceman

          Maybe I’m interpreting this incorrectly, but it seem like you’re saying anyone who has any like or interest in modern metal(even if they highly enjoy the classics) doesn’t know what good quality metal is

    2. Brett Stevens

      Pop music does absolutely nothing to either co-opt or dilute good-quality metal, and it should be of no concern to the intelligent metal fan.

      The bigger threat is music which is metal on the surface, and pop within. Cradle of Filth, Opeth, Cannibal Corpse, Dead Congregation, etc.

      1. Count Ringworm

        Dead Congregation sure isn’t first-rate metal, but Pop?

        South Of Heaven has more cheese hooks than Graves Of The Archangels. Are we trying to be honest or just edgy?

        1. Roger Waters' Unwashed Dildo

          South of Heaven is metal ear candy. Sure the lyrics are weighty and the opening and closing tracks sort of convey a greater purpose through sound, but let’s be real here. Hell Awaits sounds like a series of storys, rather than just metal songs. South of Heaven is just a collection of good metal songs. There is no deeper significance. Nor is there to dead Congregation. They write collections of good metal songs. The disagreements here are little more than differences in taste.

      2. puzzled

        That’s a harsh judgement on DC and not one I can really follow. Their Graves of the Archangels LP was ferocious and energetic and didn’t strike me as being pop – here, in the sense of pre-empting audience desires and pandering to them – any more than any other work which consciously operates within a “genre”. Or is it pop because they get sucked into the new school of old school DM (Incantation worship) fad?

        1. Redman

          DC were doing it before the Incantation trend well and truly kicked in, and they’ve done it better than most. Placing them in the same context as Cradle Of Filth and Opeth smacks of rabble rousing of the worst kind and something that should be beneath this website’s contempt.

        2. Argonaut

          I can see why he’s saying that, though perhaps it’s kind of a sneaky troll attempt.
          Dead Congregation is like a bunch of of Morbid Angel and Incantation riffs stitched together without a purpose.
          It mimics styles and provides a distraction but leaves you with nothing.
          Constant riff changes to keep you interested, without even giving a fuck what was happening 2 minutes ago, like a new old school death metal Edge of Sanity.
          To top it off, the ironic use of Greek orthodox church samples. Meh.

          1. Redman

            There’s practically no Morbid Angel I hear in DC. They’re also far more influenced by Immolation than Incantation in the choice of notes they use, the dynamics they flavor them with in terms of bends and harmonics , and their rhythmic pacing. Death metal slowing down doesn’t automatically imply Incantation-worship.

            The songwriting seems memorable enough to me without having to resort to the wall of noise that all subsequent bands love so much; I can’t honestly say that songs like Martyrdoom or Teeth Into Red are lacking in continuity of concept, gimmicky choirs and all. I’ve kept up with this band since the Purifying Consecrated Ground EP and listening to them never leaves me cold.

            I understand what the poster was trying to convey apropos pop concealed as metal but this band doesn’t fit the bill.

          2. Brett Stevens

            Dead Congregation is like a bunch of of Morbid Angel and Incantation riffs stitched together without a purpose.
            It mimics styles and provides a distraction but leaves you with nothing.
            Constant riff changes to keep you interested, without even giving a fuck what was happening 2 minutes ago, like a new old school death metal Edge of Sanity.

            This is a pretty good assessment. All surface, nothing within. Notice that almost all of the Incantation-clone bands have turned out this way. “We put together some riffs…” that had no shared mood, revelation, contrast, or underlying topic.

        3. Brett Stevens

          Or is it pop because they get sucked into the new school of old school DM (Incantation worship) fad?

          No, it’s pop because it has rhythmic hooks but goes nowhere, and in response to this designs itself entirely around the hook and doesn’t develop underlying content.

          Why does Miley Cyrus pose at being edgy?

          Because ultimately her songs are about nothing. They have no content, and they sound like nothing.

          Kraftwerk’s “We Are the Robots” sounds like an industrial society. Incantation’s “Onward to Golgotha” sounds like demonic vengeance.

          What does Dead Congregation sound like? Incantation with more hook, and none of the songwriting, mainly because the songs aren’t organized around mood and underlying topic.

          1. Lord Mosher

            Iron Maiden – The Trooper sounds like galloping riders marching off to certain death with a romantic hue to it all…

  • Zodijackyl

    “I’ve never seen a tween pop icon wearing an Imprecation shirt, metal band patches, or spiked wristbands.”

    I’m so sorry that I need to expose you to this.

    Tween pop icon Miley Cyrus wearing spiked leather and studded wristbands:
    http://i.imgur.com/t1aTJwD.jpg

    Pop-rapper Chris Brown wearing a spiked leather jacket covered in metal/punk band logos:
    http://i.imgur.com/XBe8qXn.jpg

    Did Lady Gaga borrow these leather bracers from Imprecation?
    http://i.imgur.com/TICrOZ5.gif

      1. Zodijackyl

        Punk and metal fashion in pop music is pretty common these days. Look at One Direction’s Wikipedia article, at the top there’s a picture of them wearing pinned/patched/painted denim vests/leather jackets.

        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/One_direction

        You can google pretty much any pop star name and a few other words (leather, spikes, goth) and find them wearing spiked leather, “high fashion” patched/studded/spiked denim/leather, or some sort of metal look that you dismissed as being too “dangerous” for them.

        http://i.huffpost.com/gen/1176509/thumbs/o-KATY-PERRY-GOTH-570.jpg?5

        http://img2.timeinc.net/people/i/2010/stylewatch/gallery/nyfw/kesha.jpg

        http://www.yournextjacket.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/02/Demi-Lovato-Topshop-Topman-LA-Grand-Opening.jpg

  • mlotek

    Pop music is one of my guilty pleasures, since that was some of the first music I heard in my life, on AM radio and TV, like The Monkees and The Beatles.

    It doesn’t bother me that Miley Cyrus , Lindsay Lohan, or Hilary Duff wear heavy metal t-shirts. I doubt they like any full LP’s, maybe not even more than a couple of the more known/popular/hit metal songs they heard on the radio or seen on MTV.

    It bothers me more I don’t have one of them locked away for myself in my bedroom.
    :)