Hair Metal

Primary Stylistic Influences:
Secondary Stylistic Influences:
  • Glam Rock, Punk Rock

Don't need nothing but a good time
How can I resist?
Ain't looking for nothing but a good time
And it don't get better than this
Poison, "Nothin' But a Good Time"

A subset of Heavy Metal popular mainly during The '80s, so called because of the tendencies of the musicians to sport '80s Hair. Some bands accentuated this by wearing gender-neutral (at best) clothing and sometimes makeup as well. While none of this was actually originated by Hair Metal itself, the decade's emphasis on visual presentation has made the style synonymous with the term (which, today, is commonly used in a decidedly derisive tone). To the ire of fans of other metal sub-genres, hair metal codified the general public's image of metal; when a layperson refers to "heavy metal" (or even "hard rock"), they most likely mean this genre, when they don't think of some weird Frankenstein of Death Metal, Black Metal, and Slipknot.

This is something of a hard genre to pin down musically, considering its name really refers to fashion more than anything else. Naturally, more bands than just the ones of this designation had '80s Hair at the time, and, also naturally, bands vary heavily. However, a few generalized aspects common across many bands are comparatively high-pitched vocals (compared to other metal, some of which has a noticeable bias for low voices), and a sound that seems to echo. Hair Metal also tends to be less "raw"-sounding, making full use of studio engineering equipment and audio modification devices such as reverb and other electronica. It is worth noting that hair metal came into vogue around the same time Arena Rock was on its way out (indeed, Bon Jovi's breakthrough album Slippery When Wet was released in the same year as Raised On Radio, the last Journey album to feature Steve Perry on lead vocals for nearly ten years) and consequently inherited much of that genre's penchant for melodicism which leavened its heavier riffs, vocal harmonies and guitar pyrotechnics.

Hair Metal bands often became as famous, if not more so, for their hard-partying lifestyles as for their music, as befitting the "decade of excess".

Note: "Hair Metal" as defined here can run the gamut from Glam Metal (Mötley Crüe, Ratt, Poison) to '80s Hard Rock (Van Halen, Guns N' Roses, etc.) and Traditional Metal/Hard Rock (Scorpions, WASP, Spinal Tap).

It should also be mentioned that, while some of these bands are still around, practically none of them these days stick to the Hair Metal sound and image of its glory days. So their newer music may not fall under this label.

Hair Metal may have fallen out of fashion for many people, but it still has a dedicated fanbase. If you meet any of them today, you might not want to risk mentioning grunge...and also, in a recursive way, the appearances are actually beginning to come back into style due to a variety of factors, those mostly being that the most rabid hatedom has itself become less respected or calmed down via Enemy Mine when all rock and metal died out in the mainstream, that many people began to realize that the looks weren't the reason for the flood of un-artistic, unoriginal music, and that with the resurgence of metal and hard rock outside of the West and in the underground in the West, many of the artists involved never saw the problem to be looks and/or have influences from Visual Kei or scene or similar.

Also see Visual Kei, which is what happened when Hair Metal was allowed to grow to its fullest, diversify as a genre of music and fashion, and become a cultural phenomenon, rather than die.

Often associated with Glam Rock. Almost all of these bands also overlap with Hard Rock, due to being both essentially the '80s equivalent, and for mostly evolving from it.

Notable Hair Metal acts include:

  • Accept (Eat The Heat though they quickly went back to heavy metal once David Reece left and Udo returned to the group)
  • Alice N' Chainz (Yep, that Alice in Chains). Facelift is SLIGHTLY less dark than their later albums and has some traces of their original sound. The box set has a few demos from before they found their own sound.
  • Andy Taylor (having grown dissatisfied with Duran Duran's New Wave style, the guitarist tried a kind of hair metal sound during his solo career in the late 1980s).
  • Arsenal, the main fake band from Rock of Ages.
  • Black Veil Brides (a non 80's example, they started as metalcore but switched to this and made it their signature style; also another rare example where the singer has a low voice)
  • Michael Bolton, yes, THAT Michael Bolton, before he went adult contemporary.
  • Bon Jovi (until the mid-1990's when they converted quite successfully into an Adult Contemporary band.)
  • Britney Fox
  • Celtic Frost (The Cold Lake album, considered an old shame)
  • Cinderella (Night Songs mostly, though Long Cold Winter is halfway between their hair metal and the bluesy/hard rock sound used on later albums. Even then, however, Night Songs was a lot rawer and edgier than other glam albums.)
  • Gilby Clarke
  • Crashdiet (A fusion of Hair Metal and punk, currently active as of 2013, having replaced vocalists due to Dave Leppard's death)
  • Crucified Barbara (Active band as of 2013, part of The New Tens' Hair Metal revival)
  • Alice Cooper (Constrictor Raise Your Fist And Yell Trash and Hey Stoopid)
  • Danger Danger (until the mid-90s when Ted Poley left and the band went for a more alternative sound with Dawn then they re-united with Ted and returned to their roots with Revolve)
  • The Darkness (notably not an 80s band; this English band is pretty much the possible love child of T. Rex and Judas Priest, hence hair metal as per formula. The music video for their 2003 breakthrough hit "I Believe in a Thing Called Love" helps hammer it home)
  • Def Leppard (originally a NWOBHM band influenced by Glam Rock and Arena Rock, the melodic hard rock of their breakthrough album Pyromania in 1983 - not to mention its immensely popular music videos - influenced virtually every successive band in this genre)
  • Dokken
  • Enuff Z'nuff (these guys were actually a slightly hard sounding, Cheap Trick-influenced power pop band who were marketed as a Hair Metal band by their record label despite not actually being, you know, a metal band, whatsoever)
  • Europe were a shining example during the Final Countdown years, but the album they recorded after that was closer to arena rock than hair metal, though the styling stayed same.
  • Extreme (influenced by funk metal; attempted to become a deconstructive parody in the early 90s)
  • EZO and Masaki Yamada, though he is arguably proto-Visual Kei that later became completely Visual Kei
  • Faster Pussycat
  • Femme Fatale (One of the rare hair metal bands which feature a female lead singer)
  • Firehouse
  • Lita Ford
  • Great White
  • Guns N' Roses (According to Slash, the band went through a "glam period" that was short-lived because the band got tired of borrowing stuff from a carousel of girlfriends. By the time Appetite for Destruction came out, only trace elements remained. The group actually made themselves staunch opponents of the Hollywood glam scene, particularly Poison. Appetite for Destruction (1988), the band's wildly-acclaimed debut, was a darker and edgier take emphasizing punk and blues influences. The followup Use Your Illusion (1991) instead hewed toward arena-sized bombast, contrasting all the more with the incoming grunge craze.
  • Hanoi Rocks (generally treated as a trope codifier, but they were musically closer to Cheap Trick, New York Dolls, and The Stooges, who incidentally were among their main influences)
  • Hardline (their first album was their only straight example. Their second album had traces of this, but by their third album, they had successfully transitioned away from that)
  • Heart (starting with their self-titled album in 1985 and continuing until Desire Walks On in 1993)
  • Joan Jett (some examples in her mid- and late-80s releases, though mostly punk rock)
  • Judas Priest (Turbo, though it was heavier then most examples)
  • KISS (during their 1983-1996 unmasked phase)
  • Kix
  • Limozeen (a fictional example)
  • Lizzy Borden (straight Power Metal that just so happens to place heavy emphasis on Alice Cooper-style theatrics)
  • London
  • Loudness (from around 1985 until 1992, see Minoru Niihara below. In 1992 they dropped Hair Metal for a heavily thrash-inspired sound...)
  • Love/Hate (one of the darker and more experimental acts)
  • Luna Sea (they soon evolved into goth rock)
  • Mother Love Bone (along with grunge; like Alice in Chains, they were a bridge between glam and the more metallic side of grunge)
  • Mötley Crüe
  • Mr Big
  • Nelson
  • Minoru Niihara
  • Nitro, a stealth parody band which took all of Hair Metal's aspects to their logical extreme.
  • Pantera (though they'd rather you forgot they were)
  • Poison
  • Precious Metal
  • Pretty Boy Floyd
  • Princess Pang
  • Quiet Riot
  • Ratt
  • Saigon Kick
  • Saraya
  • Seikima II (at least early on, being much like KISS. They became Visual Kei pretty fast)
  • Sex Machineguns (They began as this and eventually shifted to straight-up thrash, but kept the hair and costuming as part of their Visual Kei image)
  • Show-Ya (All-female Hair Metal band that eventually became Visual Kei)
  • Skid Row
  • Slaughter (not to be confused with the Canadian thrash band)
  • Spinal Tap (a parody from the titular film)
  • Steel Dragon (a fictional example)
  • Steel Panther (a modern-day example beloved of our own ad server!)
  • Stryper (a Christian-rock variant)
  • Sweet (partial trope maker/codifiers, they were a British bubblegum group in the early seventies, then became heavier without abandoning their pop melodies)
  • TNT (Have dropped in and out of the genre's purview. In the band's beginning they were a very bluesy Traditional Metal group. When they actually began to fall into this, they kept prog-rock elementsnote . By the mid-90s the band slipped into an almost "Alice In Chains-meets-The Beatles" style of music, and the band themselves have denied actually being glam)
  • Tesla (characterized by the influential rock magazine Kerrang! as "the thinking man's Van Halen" upon their debut, they were another more bluesy band)
  • Twisted Sister (they personally define themselves as Hid-Metal)
  • Van Halen (arguable trope-makers along with Hanoi Rocks, they were at least were very influential in its creation)
    • David Lee Roth's solo career also qualifies, especially Eat Em And Smile and Skyscraper.
  • Vinnie Vincent Invasion
  • Vixen, a rare example of an all-female Hair Band
  • Warrant
  • WASP (while they were often lumped into the the glam scene thanks to their image early on, musically they were closer to traditional heavy metal, and they continued to grow heavier as time went on. By the late 80s they had dropped most of what little hair metal influence they had.)
  • Whitesnake (One of the very few hair bands in which its lead singer (David Coverdale) had a baritone voice. Jumped on the hair bandwagon in the later stages of their career, but had existed for years as a bluesy, Bad Company-style band, and were actually the remnants of a broken-up Deep Purple).
  • White Lion (unlike most—if not all—other bands of the genre, these guys relied a lot on environmentalism as a lyrical theme—though Loudness and EZO were also well known for the occasional Green Aesop)
  • Winger (sold mostly on the strength of lead singer/bass guitarist Kip Winger's looks, which often overshadowed their technical skills—they've been called "the hair band version of Dream Theater"—and eventually went down when a misunderstanding made them the regular subject of ridicule on Beavis and Butthead. Their reputation has improved of late to some degree due to both their musicianship and Pull, which was easily one of the darkest, most mature albums to ever come from a glam act.)
  • Wolfgang von Colt (another fictional example, from Rock of Ages. Well, almost the movie's entire soundtrack is hair metal.)
  • X Japan (at the very beginning as "X". Combining thrash metal and a heavy punk sensibility and far darker lyrics, it became one of the founding bands of Visual Kei at the same time as a truly genre-busting act encompassing everything, eventually, from thrash metal and speed metal and power metal to goth rock to classical-inspired piano ballads and more.)
  • Music/XYZ (not to be confused with Minoru Niharara's solo group)
  • XYZ-A (Minoru Niihara's solo band. Was a recursive combination of this and Visual Kei. The guitarist was actually Visual Kei and the band was formed way after Hair Metal had crashed and burned, but the singer was Hair Metal trying to be Visual Kei, until the end of the 1990s and the reformation of his old band, Loudness, when he dropped the vestiges of the style.)
  • Yokosuka Saber Tiger (first band for both hide and Rolly, both of whom would go on to be influential in Visual Kei, hide as X's lead guitarist, Rolly as an image actor and solo vocal.)

Tropes associated with the genre:

  • Ambiguous Gender: Many artists early on. Some of them would eventually change into a less androgynous appearance as they matured.
  • Bar Brawl: Unfortunately, the genre became almost synonymous with these both in the US and Japan. Band rivalries were common, and when rival bands or fans of rival bands met, the result was so often one of these that some bars and venues banned specific bands, specific people (Axl Rose and Yoshiki were both frequent ban targets), a characteristic look of the worst troublemakers ("no blondes," "no all leather outfits," "no spikes"), or even imposed a ban on people discussing or promoting bands known to cause brawls in a variant of Ban on Politics.
  • Black Sheep Hit: Almost all hair bands have at least one, usually a Power Ballad (see below).
  • The Beautiful Elite: The most popular bands were these.
  • Costume Porn: Almost all hair metal bands provided this in one form or another.
  • Dude Looks Like a Lady: Apparently the trope namer was written about the guys in Mötley Crüe (specifically, Vince Neil), and Poison pulled out an issue of Cosmo on their first photoshoot and told the makeup artist to "Make us look like this".
  • Groupie Brigade: Because hair metal was a genre of music with a lot of female fans, groupies were often found backstage at shows. In Motley Crue's autobiography, Vince Neil mentions that when they were on tour he would frequently have sex with several different women in a single night. Nor were/are all of the groupies Always Female - one of the rumors/stories about Michael Monroe's bisexuality involved a male groupie.
  • Ho Yay: Not as much as in Glam Rock but you know in Poison's Talk Dirty To Me when Brett yells to C.C. "C.C. pick up that guitar and talk to me" yeah, that happened.
    • A few of the artists from Michael Monroe to Minoru Niihara have been rumored to be gay or bisexual. This has led to an actual slash fandom subset in Hair Metal (or pairing up Hair Metal artists with early Visual Kei artists in crossover Fan Fic.)
    • And of course, pretty much any of the early Visual Kei bands that began as Hair Metal. X and SEIKIMA-II, for example, once had thriving slash fandoms that only died out with time, newer visual kei bands becoming more popular for Yaoi Fangirl attention leading to attrition, and Flame War over whether it was "okay" to write slash or not. The bands that would become Visual Kei also happened to attract far more gay or bisexual male fans/groupies/roadies than most US Hair Metal bands did, both from the Japanese metal scene of the time's higher population of out gay and bisexual men, from the perceived availability of some of the bandmen, and from the Visual Shock scene's open acceptance of male bisexuality as it developed. As in where US Hair Metal tried to downplay Glam Rock Ho Yay, the Japanese scene that would become Visual Shock and then Visual Kei took it and ran with it.
  • Intercourse with You: Unskinny Bop by Poison, Slice of Your Pie by Motley Crue, Hell On High Heels by Crue, Lick Summer Love by Hanoi Rocks, Tragedy by Hanoi Rocks, Rattlesnake Shake by Skid Row... basically the favorite theme of this genre.
    • Stab Me In The Back by X Japan fused Intercourse with You and Ho Yay in a way few other bands of the era would have even dared to approach, being a blatant song about male/male sex. It's arguable that Lick Summer Love by Hanoi Rocks could be another fusion of Ho Yay with Intercourse with You in hair metal, though heavily disguised by the female backing vocals and far less blatant than Stab Me In The Back - the rumored bisexuality of the lead singer and that the lyrics are just vague enough that they could describe man on man sex as well as man on woman are the main argument there.
  • Improbable Hairstyle: Young C.C. Deville's physics defying do' for one. Toshi when he wore the "french fries" hairdo - a common joke being his hair was half his height.
  • Long-Haired Pretty Boy: How the genre got its name.
  • Mohs Scale of Rock and Metal Hardness: Anywhere from one to eight, with the more thrash-oriented bands higher up the scale, and the more mainstream bands at the lower end.
    • A couple of the thrash-oriented bands have approached nine. Those would be Loudness and Sex Machineguns, especially in their post-80s work.
  • Power Ballad: A staple of the genre. During the hair metal era it was common for an album to contain at least one power ballad, the reason being that ballads often became mainstream radio hits and sold a lot of singles.
  • Pretty Boy: Young Poison, young Motley Crue, young Hanoi Rocks, young X (and arguably most everyone there still is)
  • Outlaw: Bon Jovi's Wanted Dead Or Alive plays with this archetype and even Skid Row's 18 and Life references it. Ratt's "Wanted Man" plays it straight.
    • X was literally a band featuring three real outlaws (in a certain sense of the word) in its early days, as were most of the first round of Extasy Records bands. Yoshiki, Taiji, and Toshi were all bosozoku at one point (Japanese Delinquents and bikers). Music/Tokyo Yankees and Grand Slam were also bosozoku/yankii heavy bands, with Tokyo Yankees even naming themselves after yankii. This actually led to major problems in X's and the label's early days, as they (and some of their rougher fans) would get into repeated Bar Brawl with rival bands, and even outright threaten their critics or haters with actual violence, going as far as to mail them bloody knives and harass them at their homes. It was officially ended as a practice by the bands and label around 1988-89 when X signed major with Sony and the realization that it could do more harm than good to their image, but some of the fans still continue it against everyone's wishes.
  • Sex, Drugs and Rock & Roll: The musicians who played in hair metal bands were often infamous for the debauchery of their personal lives.
  • Spiritual Successor: Visual Shock, as pioneered by X, SEIKIMA-II, EZO/Masaki Yamada, and Loudness, which would later evolve to the Visual Kei phenomenon.
  • Stage Names: Rikki Rocket, Nikki Sixx, Michael Monroe, His Excellency Demon Kogure, and many, many others.
  • Stripperiffic: The costumes for both the bands and their groupies.
  • Trope Codifier: Either Mötley Crüe or Poison.
  • Word Salad Lyrics: Ride the Wind by Poison features the unforgettable "Taste the fire, lick the wind" and keeps bringing up "The Midnight Sun" (which is something that's usually tied to references to Alaska) in a song that seems to be about riding motorcycles.

Alternative Title(s): Glam Metal