Is Metal Still Counterculture? Is Anything?

Lady Gaga
Lady Gaga

Vogue published an article last week online about The Rise of Metal Iconography in Fashion, and in the last few months, MetalSucks has posted about Bieber, Kim Kardashian, Kendall Jenner and others in the mainstream appropriating metal and its culture for their own purposes. It made me wonder: is metal still a genre for outsiders, or has it officially gone mainstream?

When I met Vince in 2007 and he broke the news to me that not only did he listen to metal but he was trying to get a metal blog off the ground with his BFF, I didn’t know what to say. I truly did not know that metal, beyond the Whitesnake and Def Leppard radio songs of my youth, was still a thing at all. And it wasn’t just me. As I tried to explain that my new boyfriend was into metal, everyone around me was confounded. My friends and family were confused. They had questions I couldn’t answer.

I wonder: if Vince and I started dating now, would my loved ones and I have that same reaction? Would the same thing happen today? Or like so much of what was once alternative, is metal just now included in the wide net of mainstream culture?

With the amount of information that flows in and around us ruthlessly and constantly, there needs to be more of everything to keep up that pace, more content to feed the beast. Things that were once underground or outside mainstream culture have been forced inside as the circle widens and widens until it includes genres and cultures that would have been obscure even ten years ago. This is not say that the underground and obscure no longer exist, it’s more to say that everything has moved up a level in terms of visibility. The once unconventional becomes completely mainstream while the for-real underground becomes merely alternative. Keeping something just yours becomes more difficult.

When I was 15, I was at a hotel in suburban New York for a cousin’s Bar Mitzvah. Also in the hotel was a conference of sorts for overweight gay men called “mirth and girth.” At the time, this blew our minds. It seemed obscure, specific and almost radical. But now, think of how many meet-ups all across the country, online forums and specialty porn there is for this exact group, and other similarly “fringe” groups.

When does outside culture stay on the outside? The short answer is never. Think of the things that used to be considered alternative that certainly now are not. The list is endless. You could start with things as common as feminism or vegetarianism. Midwestern Christian teens have purple hair. Everything is for everyone. Metal, in my mind at least, was for people who felt different — felt the darkness of life and embraced it — but now everyone feels that darkness. Everyone is depressed and feels different! The blonde cheerleader archetype of the 1980s is not the popular kid anymore; it’s the dark haired gal in the corner with her headphones on that is the protagonist in the new American story.

I understand how it feels. My lifelong hobby of smoking weed has too become part of established culture. Something that once felt like it was just for my hippie friends and me to do secretly before parties and in dark alleys is now everyone’s. We can basically do it anywhere and everywhere: outside restaurants, all over California, with our dads. It barely registered when Miley bragged about it at the VMAs, and even seemed lame. Obama has had no qualms about sharing his stoner past and a swing state like Colorado is now famous for pot tourism. If this makes marijuana more accessible, decriminalized and eventually legal everywhere then it is certainly a great thing, but the transition has been weird, unsettling and at times awkward.

The accessibility of music, pornography and communication comes at a price, and that price is sharing everything. Nothing is sacred. That metal band you hold close to your heart is everyone’s now. The vintage Metallica t-shirt you wore down to the perfect amount of shredded for two decades is frequently spotted on a socialite. Deafhaven are playing the Pitchfork festival. We can not have our cake and eat it too. We can not enjoy the accessibility to absolutely everything without losing our subcultures and secrets.

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