Let’s Talk About Billy, the Metalhead Asshole of Stranger Things Season 2
To try and avoid the hype and social media insanity, I waited until earlier this month to finally watch the second season of Stranger Things, and man, did it deliver. Full of heartfelt drama, well-utilized special effects, Lovecraftian horror, and some of the greatest acting I’ve ever seen (from kids, no less — Noah Schnapp, you are the fucking man), this season of the hit Netflix series scratched all the itches that the first one did, and then some. I was impressed across the board…
…except, of course, for the show’s need to include a heavy metal asshole. Yes, just like their role model Stephen King did with the bullies in It, Stranger Things creators the Duffer Brothers felt the need to make Billy, the drunk, psychotic, sadistic new kid in town, a heavy metal fan as well. They finally chose to involve metal in the 1980s nostalgiaverse of Stranger Things, and in keeping with the cliches of old, it’s music loved by pieces of shit.
For those of you who haven’t seen this season, let me introduce you to Billy. Billy loves lifting weights, smoking cigarettes, lifting while smoking cigarettes, driving his muscle car, and tormenting his little sister Maxine. Some of his other pastimes include drinking games, running down children in his car, engaging in homoerotic basketball feuds with other boys, and of course, listening to popular heavy metal tunes. But wait–later, we discover that it’s not Billy’s fault that he’s a horrible asshole who likes metal, because he’s got, wait for it, WAIT FOR IT, a prick for a dad. Yes, Billy’s dad is a violent shithead who slaps him around and calls him a fag, which is meant to serve as a window into his love of pumping iron to Ratt. Basically, what you’re left with Judd Nelson’s character from The Breakfast Club only more violent, less eloquent, and blonde.
To be fair, Stranger Things thrives on these sorts of cliches. The show doesn’t seem like it’s taking the 1980s at face value, but instead presenting a hyper-emphasized cinematic version of the decade. In some ways, this manifests itself surprisingly well. For example, psychic female preteen Eleven is constantly being helped by shlubby dudes who an edgier director with a 1990s streak would have made depraved child-rapists. And I appreciate that lack of trying to be tough and gritty; I like that the Duffers are showing their own vision of an Eighties that maybe never really existed.
What sticks in my craw is that the show’s creators obviously love the music of the time, from Cyndi Lauper to Devo, and as such their use of metal as the asshole bully’s music feels uninspired, lazy, and lame. This is in direct opposition to punk, which is used throughout the show as the music of nuanced rebels, such pervy loner Jonathan, who loves the Clash (ah, the Clash, house band of fictional characters who are meant to be outsiders but need to be presentable in a working-class sort of way). Like, well, most pop culture historians, the Duffers obviously consider punk to be real weirdo music, because it involved haircuts and military jackets, while metal is just the musical standard of the deranged alpha male.
The most disappointing part is that they almost did something interesting with Billy’s musical development. Billy’s first appearance is soundtracked by The Scorpions’ “Rock You Like A Hurricane”, while later he’s seen listening to Ratt’s “Round and Round”. Finally, at the end of the season, he’s blasting Metallica’s “The Four Horseman”. This suggests actual progression in terms of 1980s metal fandom, going from NWOBHM to hair metal to thrash…but it feels incredibly incidental. It’s not even made clear that Billy likes metal–he never rocks out to it or talks about how great the bands are, it’s just on in the background when he’s being a cocksneeze (even worse, when Spotify made Billy’s playlist, it was called ‘Pedal to the Metal’, and then featured Top Forties hair metal anthems and shitty modern indie rock that’s supposed to be tough, described by the streaming service as “80s hair metal and aggro rock paired best with after-school beatdowns, road rage, and mullets.” Go fuck yourselves).
Look, at the end of the day, this is an incidental slight against metal, and one that we’ve all blown off or chuckled at a million times before. I enjoyed Stranger Things 2 despite this character, and I’ll definitely watch Season 3. It’s just a shame that the show’s creators went such a typical, boring route with their metalhead. All of us metalheads, especially those who love 80s metal, know that the portrayal of heavy metal fans as the worst kind of dick is stupid and shows a lack of depth and originality. We were also the loners and weirdos, we just liked leather, Halloween, and big-ass choruses. And it’s just shame that a show so deep and original gave the other aspects of 80s music cool characters, and gave us, well, this guy.