In music (especially in Rock and Roll music) the image an artist puts forth is almost as important as their songs. Almost.
Musicians are expected to be larger than life, so it's no surprise at all that hardcore rockers might want to look... well... hardcore, if only to meet the expectations of their fans. Every once in a while, though, you come across a musician who looks as hardcore as they come. His music? Not so much. This trope is all about when the tattoo-encrusted Bad Ass-wannabe puts out songs about love and puppies. Someone who's only familiar with the image might find all of their songs to be Surprisingly Gentle Songs.
Note that there's absolutely nothing wrong with having a hardcore appearance and doing soft music. Different strokes for different folks. This trope is about the dichotomy of the image, not whether or not the music fits any individual's tastes. Also note that the extremes change over time: What was shockingly hardcore back in the day is tame now, and what's hardcore at present might be on par with Frank Sinatra once your great-grandchildren start forming their own garage rock bands.
Oddly, the inverse is equally or even more common- many of the bands that play the heaviest and blackest of metal are laid-back, fun loving guys.
Related to Rated G for Gangsta, Mean Character, Nice Actor and Dark Is Not Evil. See also Freaky Fashion, Mild Mind, Rule-Abiding Rebel, and Hidden Depths.
Ozzy Osbourne has been calling himself the "Prince of Darkness" for decades, and his stage show is full of scary Halloween imagery. His music is vanilla heavy metal. Well-done vanilla, but vanilla nonetheless, because he's the Trope Maker, naturally (with Black Sabbath, which used to describe their work as "horror films turned into music") - he's victim along with Led Zeppelin of the Ozzy Is Unheavy effect.
Alice Cooper's act has always been built on horror-show elements and special effects. Like Ozzy, though, his music is pretty mainstream. Sure, one could argue this to be an aversion, he did write "I Love the Dead" and "Cold Ethyl", both about making love to corpses, or maybe an inversion, as he is now a golf-loving, born-again Christian, appeared regularly on a Phoenix kid's show, has been a guest on the Soupy Sales show (he's friends with the host), and was pals with Groucho Marx, but we're talking musical content, not lyrical content.
Alice Cooper's Spiritual Successor, Marilyn Manson, might be a bit "edgier" than Alice and Ozzy, but he's trying so damned hard to be "scary" and "shocking" that no music anywhere - and certainly not his music - could ever live up to the hype.
Lady Gaga is known for her outrageous fashion sense and intimidating public image, but her music is relatively harmless pop (albeit very well done and clearly the work of someone with a lot more upstairs than it might seem at first glance), and more than one music critic has remarked that, without the image, she'd be just another B-list girl pop singer. Similarly, in interviews she comes across as more "eccentric but polite" than "Ax-Crazy."
When Cyndi Lauper debuted in the 1980s, she looked like a punk straight out of the East Village, with strange makeup and a checkerboard shaved into her pink hair. But her power ballads and pop anthems were accessible to music fans from all walks of life.
1990s One-Hit Wonder Jane Child had spiky hair and a chain that cut across her face, connecting her nose ring to one of her earrings. But her only successful song sounded like she found it in Madonna's discard bin.
Dashboard Confessional's Chris Carrabba has teen idol good looks and tattoos up and down his arms. His music seems to fit more with his big Disney eyes than with his "badass" ink.
Legendary producer Phil Spector made some of the most enduring bubblegum music of all time, and his hair would be scary enough even if he wasn't a convicted murderer.
In his time, Elvis Presley scared the daylights out of the United States' more conservative elements. Hail to the King, baby!
Despite the makeup and the pyrotechnics, KISS's music is just as vanilla as Ozzy's.
Twisted Sister. A makeup encrusted Dee Snider might well be one of the scariest things on the planet, but he's still singing standard hair-metal tunes. (Although some of their songs, such as Captain Howdy sound just as terrifying as Dee Snider looks.)
And Dimmu Borgir, full-blown Satanist wannabes whose most extreme song was about torturing and humiliating Christians, actually covered "Burn in Hell" (albeit in TS's traditional campy style).
Most fictional musicians from TV and the movies fit this trope to some extent.
Jem and the Holograms looked like they were supposed to be glam rockers who sang songs that sounded like (and in essence were) toy jingles, but their supposedly punk rivals the Misfits looked tougher and didn't sound it.
The Bones episode "Mayhem on a Cross" featured a so-called "black metal" group. The musicians in question mimed slitting their own throats onstage, hired people to shoot at them, and so on to show how tr00 they were to the music. The music itself, aside from the screaming, sounded like Devil Driver-esque groove metal, rather than actual black metal.
In Danny Phantom, Ember McLain looks pretty "hardcore". Her music is very, very smooth.
Parodied in Mad TV with a skit about a pianist who looks like he came straight out of a noir movie who plays cheery (and vaguely gay) show tunes.
Eclectic and ridiculously prolific breakcore artist Venetian Snares normally makes music just as aggressive and unfriendly as he looks, but a few of his tracks (looking at you, I'm Sorry I Failed You) are soft and melodic, often the ones built out of orchestra samples.
Culture Club, thanks to the androgynous Gender Bender image of lead singer Boy George, came off looking like a band of sexual deviants. Their music was the kind of stuff you'd hear on adult contemporary stations.
Actual goth music sounds nothing like most people assume. The best example is The Cure, whose songs, though sometimes are sad or gloomy, are just as often poppy, bouncy or dreamy love-songs.
Even darker bands like The Sisters of Mercy are often really catchy and danceable.
My Chemical Romance, known for their dramatic stagewear and make-up, once described their music as "violent dangerous pop", and this is pretty accurate considering their post-hardcore edge meets pop punk melodies sound.
It seems that this is becoming a general trend. Music videos are becoming Darker and Edgier and the singers are dressing/acting Hotter and Sexier, yet most of the music itself that you'd see on TV is still very light.
Kimya Dawson looks like she should be drumming for an all-female metal group, but most of her music sounds, well, cute.
Billy Idol, who looked like a leather clad teeth-kicking punk in his younger days, now has his rock and roll songs played during ads for sales at the Gap.
This was pretty much true of him even in his heyday in The Eighties; while he'd started out in the London punk scene, he became famous as an only-slightly-edgy pop singer.
The Misfits. The music's tuned-up pop, and the lyrics are horror-movie cheese.
Their album "Project 1950" is very slightly punked-up covers of 1950s pop songs. If it's been a while since you've heard "This Magic Moment", their version is more likely to have you thinking "That's funny, I don't remember the power chords" than "Sacrilege!"
Demon Hunter has a very hardcore image (their logo is a gnarly horned demon skull with a bullet-hole in the forehead), and a very hardcore metal sound, but the band is Christian metalcore, and the lyrics are quite the opposite of anything satanic.
Taylor Momsen once dressed like this◊ while performing with her band The Pretty Reckless. Black metal image for some pretty straightforward radio rock.
Big Kenny◊ of Big & Rich. He's really a gentle, friendly guy who loves doing charity work and often writes happy, upbeat songs.
Averted with the solo album he did before Big & Rich, which in the words of Allmusic, is "too damn weird to market, particularly to an audience that has no idea who Big Kenny is. It's a swirling, pastel-colored collage of psychedelia, bombastic album rock, swinging British Invasion harmonies, and post-alternative pop, all packaged in an ultraslick, cavernous production and fronted by Kenny, who sings every song, regardless of its sound or sentiment, in his best Billy Murray lounge-singer croon."
The Finnish band Lordi dress in monstrous costumes, but the music is very straightforward and accessible Hard Rock.
"Terrifying" was an adjective frequently applied to early King Crimson music. The band was led by a bespectacled intellectual who played while sitting on a stool onstage.
This is pretty much the rule for any grindcore or powerviolence band. Here's one example. They look like some guys you'd expect to find skateboarding around a mall or something but musically...well just listen.
While Gutteral Secrete◊ do have some elements of metal fashion in their look, they're definitely not a threatening or intimidating bunch of guys. They play brutal death metal with explicit lyrics about rape, necrophilia and torture.
Laura Nichol◊ may be as cute as a box of baby rabbits but she served as the vocalist of the death metal band Light This City. In a bit of a subversion to this she now plays in a melodic pop punk band.
Screamo bands tend to have very bland images and rarely even look like they're part of the punk subculture, but the music is often very brutal and chaotic. Note this video of Ampere who look like a bunch of coffee shop intellectuals. Then they start playing.
Rob Dougan. Impossibly handsome Mr. Fanservice looks, but sings like a grizzled old bluesman and writes songs full of violent imagery called things like "Speed Me Toward Death".
Ladies and gentlemen, Anaal Nathrakh. You'd hardly expect somebody who looks like this◊ to make music sounding like this.
Flagitious Idiosyncrasy In The Dilapidation look like this and sound like this.
Meshuggah looks like it's made up of some pretty nice guys◊. Well, wait until you hear their music.
The Pixies: four normal-looking people from Boston, some pretty weird and occasionally nightmarish music.
The Pixies cut both ways though; their rather upbeat song "Here Comes Your Man" is about homeless people dying in earthquakes. Another of their rather upbeat songs, "Debaser" is about Un Chien Andalou, a Salvador Dali and Luis Bu˝uel film known for its disturbing imagery. They sometimes screen parts of the film onstage while playing the song.
The Decemberists look fairly harmless, and their music sounds fairly harmless (Baroque Pop and Folk Music), the lyrics can get incredibly macabre and nightmarish ("The Culling of the Fold" is particularly notorious, but there are others, as well). Would also be in the "mild-mannered/nice" category, too, but by all accounts Colin Meloy can be a bit of a dick.
The Hives are five fairly clean-cut and normal looking guys who dress in various matching black and white outfits that have included full tuxedos with top hats and tails, but they play almost exclusively loud, raw Garage Rock with album titles that include Veni Vidi Vicious and Tyranosaurus Hives.
One that doesn't directly involve music, but look at any picture of Keith Moon and you wouldn't really think of him as someone who could put Keith Richards under the table twice without breaking a sweat. Not to mention a Trope Codifier of All Drummers Are Animals.
My Bloody Valentine are some bizarre cross between this and a subversion - they're all mild people, and their music is mostly Silly Love Songs. But they're legally obligated to give out earplugs at their concerts due to how loud they are, and their set finisher "You Made Me Realise" contains an incredibly long brutal noise-making middle (which fans call "the Holocaust section") that can last up to 30 minutes and has been known to cause people to hallucinate being swallowed by a giant vagina.
This is somewhat subverted considering that he helped compose the Oscar-winning score for the movie The Social Network.
The score is in itself a subversion, consisting mainly of dark ambient electronica that Reznor had worked on with his co-composer for an earlier Nine Inch Nails album - not usually the sort of music that wins Oscars.
Nivek Ogre from Skinny Puppy is one of the nicest, most gregarious people you could imagine meeting. Skinny Puppy's music is mostly dark and hard-edged industrial, and Ogre sings with his distinctive harsh purring cleans, which sometimes get downright creepy.
William Bennett. He fronts a band who sounds something like this. In his blog and in interviews, he comes off as much more polite, and has even given lectures at the German Institute for Music and Media.
The members of Avenged Sevenfold appear to be this, based off of their two live documentaries. They might be wild and little crazy, but they're actually pretty nice (although the polite tends to swing back and forth).
Kimberly Freeman, the lead singer of the metal band "One Eyed Doll" qualifies. While her on-stage persona is that of an "Ax-Crazy" psychopath who sings about mass murder and cannibalism, she is soft spoken and friendly in interviews. She also speaks Mandarin fluently, making this an example of "Hidden Depths" see also "Freaky Fashion, Mild Mind"
Angelspit perform songs about cannibalism, anarchy and overall destruction, whilst resembling musical nightmares. They're some of the nicest people on the planet.
Godspeed You! Black Emperor perform long, drawn-out, often atonal, minimalistic, and terrifying music. Just from their title, you'd expect them to be a bunch of angsty, long-haired, long-bearded, possibly quite muscular men wearing guitars strapped around their necks, sitting around looking depressed, reading Ayn Rand and speculating about the meaning of human existence, but, no, they're actually a bunch of rather polite Canadians that seem to rather enjoy making orchestral post-rock music and mucking about with how music as we know it works. Here's◊ some◊ pictures◊ of◊ them◊. Not exactly threatening, are they?
Scott Walker (not the politician) composes some of the most terrifying pieces of avant-garde music out there, a lot of which is apparently derived from his nightmares, full of atonal strings, rattling percussion and discordant guitars, amongst other...unusual instruments; one song, "Clara", has the percussionist punching a side of pork to get the right sound effect for someone being beaten with a stick. In person, he's a polite, soft-spoken man who avoids the limelight, and has a kind word to say about virtually everyone.
Look at the back cover of◊ Reign in Blood by Slayer—they look like just a bunch of guys who have fun drinking beer, while singing songs about Satan, Hell and other scary stuff. And their scary frontman Tom Araya, who looks like a demonic goat-man in his old age, is a Catholic, a family man, and sings country songs to keep his terrifying voice in shape.
It has been noted that JR Hayes of Pig Destroyer is rather mild-mannered. Being a grindcore vocalist, his lyrics and vocals are not; several times while performing live, the power to his microphone has gone out and the audience could still hear him clearly.
Industrial Techno project Phosgore present itself as as "dark, uncompromising and severely fucked up". The music is harsh, loud and fast and promotional images usually contain the creator, Flo, looking bloodied and furious. Yet, those who met him in person describe him as "friendly" and "down to earth". He also gains extra Heartwarming points for not only being Happily Married but working together with his wife to create new tracks and set gigs.
Slint. The cover art to their most popular album◊ makes them look normal enough. However, said album has moments so heavy that their singer actually became physically ill due to all the screaming in the final song.
Many hellektro/terror-EBM/aggrotech artists, such as Funker Vogt(Jens Kastel) and Suicide Commando(Johan van Roy), are quite good-looking and mild-mannered, in contrast to the genre's extremely harsh, angsty vibe.
X Japan since dropping their original heavy metal VK appearance is somewhat of a subversion of this. They performed some of their darkest lyrical material and one of their most overtly sexual performances (the BDSM-themed White Poem) while in more "average rockstar dress," and the Murder Ballad Week End (which is actually this very trope played straight since it is an argument for why murder and suicide are hopeless) became one of their biggest hits.
Yoshiki Hayashi is, according to those close to him, this trope both subverted and doubly subverted. While feared for his nigh-legendary temper and control-freak tendencies and hated for allegedly being a male Rich Bitch and ditz, most people who have actually gotten close to him say that he is very intelligent, as well as an incredibly kind and loving person. His music, on the other hand, is all over the map from heavy and dark themes of sexuality and violence to deconstructions of violence and suicide to angsty Love Ballads.
Dir en grey is an interesting case because their music ranges from tender piano ballads to full on Death Metal and while the band is known for their freaky gothic getups, they also appear quite bishie and occasionally fairly normal from time to time.
And offstage, are nice, respectful and fun-loving.
An art example of an inversion: This is Matthew Gray Gubler. He's adorable and is most well-known for playing Dr. Reid on Criminal Minds. He draws stuff like this.
Andrew W.K. is a strange case of both playing this trope straight and inverting it. It's played straight in the sense that he uses a lot of violent imagery (for example, the cover of I Get Wet is just him staring into emptiness while blood pours from his nose and mouth), yet his songs are mostly about partying and generally enjoying life. It's also inverted in the sense that he does write some violent or relatively shocking songs, and even the happy ones SOUND violent as they are very loud, over-the-top and energetic, yet pretty much anyone who ever met him agrees that he's one of the nicest guys ever. Heck, he's even one of the last musicians left to defend the Emo lifestyle!
Oddly, he is fond of playing the piano. One of his albums is solely a calm piano-only album, made in defiance of his record company and touring demands.
Well she used to wear gothic clothing, now it's almost all pink and sparkly...which she wears while singing about rape, death, and suicide. It seems like she'll be going back to Elegant Gothic Lolita clothing when she is to start her "Fight Like A Girl" tour, though.
Granted, in 2012 a punk style doesn't carry the shocking punch it would have in 1992, but singer Michaela Paige wears very unique outfits to put it mildly and has a three color mohawk.
You'd probably expect a band named Ten Thousand Maniacs to be a death-metal band, but the band played gentle, socially-conscious folk rock instead.