Black eyeliner, lipstick, mascara, and the whole makeup kit and kaboodle are back — or at least backstage, on the dressing room tables of emo, punk, and rock bands trotting out the “glam” look yet again.
Why are all of these guys, many in hard-edged bands beloved by young men who wouldn't dream of dipping into their sisters' lip gloss, suddenly discussing the merits of Revlon vs. L'Oreal?
The answer lies less in a renewed musical interest in exploring androgyny than in our collective comfort level with such images in popular culture.
In short, they're making up and rocking out because they can.
Certainly the phenomenon can't be ignored, as a look at this year's MTV Video Music Awards indicates. Years of exposure to boys in boas and fake eyelashes has made it possible for a new breed of rockers like Panic at the Disco (which won video of the year), My Chemical Romance, AFI, and 30 Seconds to Mars to play dress-up without anyone questioning their sexuality or making much of a stink at all.
Of course, a little glitter decorating your five o'clock shadow is not a novelty. Think of the sparkles dotting the cheeks of T. Rex's Marc Bolan in the early 1970s, or most influentially, the kabuki makeup fancied by David Bowie in his Ziggy Stardust heyday.
These were reactions to the gritty rock ethos of 1960s groups, from the Rolling Stones to the Doors.
“The creation of overtly artificial theatrical personae onstage ... was a very significant move because you were coming right off the '60s, where that kind of thing was anathema,” explains Philip Auslander, the author of Performing Glam Rock: Gender and Theatricality in Popular Music.
But for Bowie (bi-curious and intellectually inclined) and his ilk, androgyny was also a commentary on the rigidity of gender roles. Boys did not wear dresses; as a result, Bowie was routinely asked about his sexuality and forced to get defensive when talking about his theatrical flamboyance on chat shows.
"The new crop of fops is responding less to gender roles...than musical styles - especially the harder-than-hardcore machismo of hip-hop and rap rock during the past 10 years."
The new crop of fops is responding less to gender roles, which have gotten blurrier and looser over time, than musical styles — especially the harder-than-hardcore machismo of hip-hop and rap rock during the past 10 years.
The members of Panic at the Disco recently marveled in a magazine interview — one that detailed their hour-long pre-show makeup ritual — that the jocks who used to taunt them in the hallways are now front and center at their shows.
Indeed, the music that once got you stuffed into a locker is now in heavy rotation in the locker room.
Bowie excepted, many glam-rock stars of the first wave were merely seeking shock value with their “man” dresses and platform shoes, as they continued to sing hard-rocking songs about girls.
Later performers emphasized horror (Alice Cooper) or shtick (Kiss) to shock parents and engage teen audiences. (Descendants like Marilyn Manson carried on these traditions). You'd be hard-pressed to find an angry mainstream talk show host these days demanding to know why Jared Leto of 30 Seconds to Mars wears fingernail polish and whether that makes him unfit to be a role model.
In part, that's because over time bands of so many genres have swathed themselves in eyeliner as to render the gesture, by now, almost meaningless.
Denizens of Los Angeles' avowedly hetero metal scene like Motley Crue and Poison flipped the script, recognizing that chicks dig guys who aren't afraid to look pretty for them. While they may have shouted at the devil, their ruby red lips also called out to girls, girls, girls, who could hang backstage and offer application tips.