Rob Halford Says the Glam Metal Scene Was Confusing to Watch as a Closeted Gay Man


Back in the 1980s, metal was going through a strange, yet extremely compelling time. On one side, you had bands seeking to be the fastest and heaviest they could ever be, with the Big Four leading the charge. Yet on the other side, you had Motley Crue, Poison, and other glam metal bands racing up the charts and hogging all the airtime on MTV, making money hand over fist the entire time.

For Rob Halford, who at that point had been in the metal scene since 1969, the transition from machismo to mascara was a strange one. And that strangeness, he said in a recent interview with Ultimate Classic Rock, was compounded even further by the fact that Halford was a closeted gay man who was afraid of ever coming out.

“When you think about the glam rock movement, what it was, specifically, two bands that really pushed that for me were Motley Crue and Poison — and, to some effect, Cinderella maybe some Winger, L.A. Guns. There was a lot of stuff coming through at that moment in the glam rock era. And definitely Sebastian [Bach, then-Skid Row singer], you know, when guys looked like girls. And that worked. And I could never quite figure that out, because of the homophobic stuff that was going on in the ’80s. And there’s all these guys with makeup on, looking … I have to watch my words here, but you know what I’m saying? Looking in a specific way, that everybody else is like, ‘Yeah, man, they’re really hardcore,’ and all that kind of stuff. And then me as a closeted gay man, it’s like, ‘Am I missing something here? How am I not able to come out for fear of losing my career and my band, but these guys are going out there looking like they do, and everybody’s falling over them?’ Not everybody, but, you know, just the general perception of the imagery was just, everybody has to look that way. Everybody has to dress that way. It [was] a remarkable time in heavy metal and rock to think about in a broader sense.

“And I love those guys. While we’re talking, I must get the message across that I love those guys. I love their music, I love what they achieved and everything. They’re very, very important. And maybe there was a sense of opportunity within the LGBTQ community because these guys were there then, doing what they did. Maybe they opened a little tiny chink in the door for acceptance. Because a lot of guys used to go to the shows looking like that. One of my friends here in Phoenix in the ’80s used to put the makeup on and the hair and everything. They would look like that, and then they’d go out to see those bands. So in terms of the anthropological aspect, the social connection between looking like that and it being cool and accepted without any pushback was quite remarkable. It’s a really interesting part of that time in heavy metal. And I include myself — not entirely, in that respect, but if you look at [Priest’s] Turbo [album], you look at the way that we’re looking, look at the way Glenn’s [Tipton, Priest guitarist] got his hair and Ken’s [K.K. Downing, then-Priest guitarist] got his hair, we were all in that same melting pot, really. The ’80s was a remarkable time for metal, glam rock, rock, whatever you want to call it. The visual presentation was extraordinary.”

Halford eventually came out as a gay man during a 1998 appearance on MTV News. These days, we couldn’t imagine ever turning away the Metal God for his sexual orientation, and luckily metal embraced him after he came out. Still, it must have been hard seeing all these popular bands cosplaying and dressing in women’s clothing while Halford was afraid to be outwardly be open about his reality.

Show Comments
Metal Sucks Greatest Hits