Today’s singers can learn from hair metal


Nathan Polk, Staff Columnist

Today’s music will collapse into itself like a dying star without new artistic developments in the near future.

I love the glam rock, also known as hair metal, of the 1980s. I remember the first three songs I downloaded onto my first-generation iPhone years ago: Whitesnake’s “Here I Go Again” and “Is This Love,” and Boston’s “More Than A Feeling.” As a self-proclaimed music junkie, I’ve always had a particularly soft spot for the era-defining rock of the ‘80s. From Mötley Crüe on Los Angeles’ Sunset Strip to Cinderella and Twisted Sister on the East Coast, hair bands dominated American radio waves and captivated millions. 

 Many say hair bands’ popularity faded because of Nirvana and the grunge movement beginning in 1991. However, a deeper look into the decline of one of the biggest musical genres in American history proves otherwise. Hair metal was formulaic. It reflected the excess of the era out of which it was born. A big economy and a big culture needed a musical complement. Studios were churning out band after band marked by big hair, heavy makeup, flashy clothes and a rebellious attitude. David Coverdale (Whitesnake), David Lee Roth (Van Halen), Vince Neil (Mötley Crüe), Joe Elliot (Def Leppard) and others were all more or less the same in appearance and sound. Roaring riffs, whining vocals, heart-wrenching power ballads and line-crossing sexuality emanated from every album of the era. The artistry of the genre’s forerunners regressed to patterned noise sold to the masses. What was once great art became a caricature that was all flash and no substance.  

Music today is much the same. Though I love country music, today’s country songs tend to be closer in lyrical depth to “Rednecker” by Hardy than to George Jones’ narrative masterpiece, “He Stopped Loving Her Today.” They’re about image and stereotype rather than human relationships and emotions. I love hip-hop, but Megan Thee Stallion’s grotesquely profane “Hot Girl Summer” is a far cry from Nas’ “N.Y. State of Mind.” An era of hip-hop impersonating gangster legends and celebrating the excess of fame’s riches has replaced gritty commentary on life in America’s toughest places. Modern music would rather amplify image to maximally monetize talents than explore difficult themes. 

I don’t contend that there is a golden era of music to which we must return. Even Antonio Vivaldi, a composer of unquestioned genius, was criticized in his day and in current times for his tendency to be repetitive. He’s been dead for over 250 years. Musical progression historically trends toward obsolescence. When’s the last time you heard swing? How many opera singers, except for maybe Luciano Pavarotti, can you name from the last 100 years?

 Though styles and lyrical priorities in music inevitably change over time, we should all agree that much of what is streaming on our phones now is rancid garbage whose production could be avoided. Current chart-topping songs are about the excess of the artists along whatever lines the genre’s culture dictates, such as the proliferation of extremely “redneck” identity themes in country music. Transcendent music always includes themes about the human condition, lyrics with narrative progression and innovative utilization of instruments. Though I like hair metal, the story of that era ought to be a warning to current artists. Without development, we’ll all eventually grow weary of the uncreative, image-obsessed sameness and spend our dollars elsewhere.