An Underbelly of Beauty: Metal’s Influence on Fashion & Beyond

For the sake of personal integrity, let’s just say that I have a TikTok for journalistic reasonings & intentions and journalistic reasonings & intentions ONLY, and that I definitely only ever use it for such, and never to sublimely fall into an eyes-glazed-over rabbit hole light-year-long-loop that only ever ends when my phone battery dies, my bath water turns cold, or am accidentally shown a friend embarrassing themself in my hyper-vigilant Suggested For You feed.

During one of these Highbrow Research Deep Dives, I was guided down a dark path, which admittedly I knew all too well, and was probably divinely led to through my own playlists being monitored. I have encountered my own teenage flux and onslaught of metalhead friends, lovers and confidantes through every chapter of my own life, but when I realized I had found myself in a not-so-sub culture of young metalheads around the world (#metalheadsoftiktok, to be exact) I was still rather shocked to see it all so pronounced and casual, so unabashedly and proudly on display.

The metalheads I grew up with were doom-dwelling solitary anarchists, keen on seeing the modern world disintegrate, doing anything possible to rail against a banal existence of over-consumption, refusing to be force-fed pop songs and cheery ideologies of hope in government, religion, and acceptance of quiet psychological control. While some of my IRL metalhead friends are not necessarily the most socially keen of humans, they have consistently shown themselves to be the smartest and most independently-thinking, and whether they want to hear it or not, are also admittedly some of the most stylish. And I guess I’m not the only one who sees that. 

In 2015, paparazzi got a shot of Kylie Jenner wearing a Slayer tee while out shopping in Los Angeles. Days later, Slayer played a show in Brooklyn during a stop in their sold out final world tour;  guitarist Gary Holt (again) wore his custom Kill the Kardashians tee in response and the internet went wild. When asked about this visual statement, Holt says: 

“I left Bruce Jenner alone because I’m all for sexual identity freedom. I have nothing against the trans community, or gay and lesbian people. I’m all for personal freedom and whatever nature meant you to be is who you are. The rest of the family are fodder enough. I don’t begrudge them for their money, I just fucking hate people that are superstars for doing nothing. The Kardashians now stick their name on products no one needs and get fucking rich off it. I hate this.” 

This was eight years ago. And while it’s easy to say the Kardashians are slapping their name on things and expecting it to sell, the profit Slayer saw on their own name-branded merch was a generous uptick in sales thanks to the Kardashian they so actively disavowed. While I am not a fan of the social repercussions the Kardashians are having on a body dymorphic generation myself, the irony on profiting from a name, be it yours or someone else’s, is not lost on me.

Nearly a decade later, metal has fully integrated itself into the norm. It’s walking down runways, it’s taking over prominent art galleries, it’s in make up collections at Sephora, it’s queued up on Netflix. Given the overarching sense of general malaise and discontent in the world, it comes as no surprise. Musical subcultures have historically influenced style, and the market bolsters this accordingly. When Demna arrived to Balenciaga, he brought with him gimp masks, mud, black garb, and perhaps most importantly, his dark, brooding counterpart BFRND, who took over runway playlists, gleefully shocking front row attendees’ ear drums, fronted campaigns with a scowl and black curtained hair, and actively encouraged the couture line to lean into a stark underbelly of beauty and grievances. With his husband as a secret weapon, Demna held a mirror up to the world- ugly as it ever has been- and told fashion editors and consumers alike to either like it, love it, or leave it the fuck alone. That’s the spirit. 

I asked a couple metal friends what they thought about this fashion paradigm usurping all the good band tees on eBay, and if they think a newfound metal camaraderie is cheapening the scene, or strengthening it: 

“I don’t see any problem with metal being a passing fad aesthetic, something new will come along for everyone to buy into. Metal fans will remain true to their beliefs and why we wear what we wear, I don’t think any of us are considering Vetement’s tee shirts as a threat, nor do we believe much in cultural appropriation anyway. I see Darkthrone shirts everywhere, but I don’t care. I would tell TikTok stars to at least research the bands they’re representing. Though I think it would be hilarious to see influencers wearing the wrong Burzum era, getting themself cancelled out of stupidity.”

“Metal has two components: the creative process is personal, aggressive, antagonistic etc. but it’s also a heavily commercial thing: massive tours, merch, Ozzfest, the aesthetic. There are still acts who disavow a lot of modern techniques of engagement, but we are also in a weird age in which people’s ‘fandom’ is such a personality trait that it’s commodified via social media. Before, metalheads went to pubs or gigs or drank cider in parks, but now they post on TikTok.” 

Vetements RTW 2020
Vetements RTW 2020

While some of the #metalheadsoftiktok are drawn solely to the music itself, many followers are also inherently drawn toward a supportive community, sensing the foreboding stench of societal collapse as we know it, finding a solace in each other which metalheads have shared for 50+ years. We are living in a hyper-tapped in world, in which anonymity is a luxury. The mystique of corpse paint comes as no wonder, the tutorials for it are thus no surprise. Wars rage on, the classes further divide. Metalheads have been screaming about this for decades, encouraging the people to act now or reap the consequences. Of course the general population is slowly coming to understand what the headbangers have been going on about, and why they’ve been looking so angry all the time. And while taking a match to your nearest Protestant church is not yet trending (at least not on TikTok), I’m in full support of seeing metalheads taking over conversations, runways, artist residencies, and definitely the Kardashians.