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Shock Rock

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Shock Rock is, to put it simply, rock music designed to shock and offend. Musicians often don theatrical costumes, and live show are frequently elaborate affairs, often with the image or performance being as important, if not moreso, than the music itself. As befitting its name, Shock Rock lyrics often consist of taboo subjects such as violence, sex, obscenity, blasphemy, horror, gross-out, S&M, necrophilia, bestiality, and more recently, political incorrectness. Despite the name, Shock Rock is less a music genre than it is a performance type, and as such can run the gamut from relatively mundane rock music to brutal extreme metal/punk in sound.

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The roots of Shock Rock can be traced back for as long as rock music has been around, with singers such as Elvis Presley, Little Richard, and Screamin' Jay Hawkins combining sexually explicit (for the time) lyrics with risque/shocking performances that would frequently whip Moral Guardians into a tizzy. Equally macabre, theatrical performers like Arthur Brown and Screaming Lord Sutch would carry the torch well into The '60s, but the genre itself wouldn't come to prominence until the 1970's with the rise of Glam Rock bands like Alice Cooper, KISS, The Stooges, and David Bowie, who, in addition to shocking lyrics, would put on elaborate performances and wear dark or effeminate costumes designed to provoke audiences. Later in the same decade, the first wave of Punk Rock appeared. As Punk was, at its heart, subversive, it quickly developed its own brand of shock aesthetics (tattered clothes, outlandish hair, violent concerts, and offensive, anti-authoritarian lyrics) that was epitomized by bands such as Sex Pistols and The Exploited.

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In The '80s, shock rock likely reached its zenith. Hair Metal bands such as WASP, Mötley Crüe, Twisted Sister, Poison, and Guns N' Roses dominated the music scene with their extravagant performances/music videos, heavily androgynous appearances, and extreme Sex Drugs And Rock N Roll lyrics and lifestyles. Less popular but just as notable were the underground shock rockers, which included bands from Hardcore Punk (Dead Kennedys, Crass), Post-Punk/Alternative Rock (Big Black, Killing Joke, The Cure), Industrial (Throbbing Gristle, Skinny Puppy), and the more extreme forms of Heavy Metal (Venom, Slayer, Celtic Frost,Mercyful Fate). The 1980's is also notable for the rise of three genres that would later play a large part in the future of the genre: Death Metal (Death, Morbid Angel, Sepultura, Possessed), Visual Kei (X Japan, BUCK-TICK, Seikima II), and Grindcore (Napalm Death, Carcass, Terrorizer, Extreme Noise Terror).

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Shock rock dissipated as a mainstream force starting from the Turn of the Millennium, around the time the panic around Marilyn Manson (Mis-blamed for the Columbine High School massacre) was superseded by a much more racially loaded moral panic around the hip-hop artist Eminem. However, Eminem has cited the genre as a major influence on his own "shock rap" style, and has homaged it in his music, videos and live performances, in turn influencing later shock-rappers like early OFWGKTA. While a pop artist, Lady Gaga's use of shock in her work nodded as much to shock-rock as it did to shock-pop pioneers like Madonna, with her album Born This Way taking clear musical influence from Hair Metal. While the pure form of shock rock may have faded, its DNA still exists in some of the most mainstream pop and hip-hop artists available, from Taylor Swift and Lil Nas X to Nicki Minaj, 6ix9ine and Billie Eilish.


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