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As a rule, metal will always dwell in the underground. This isn't to say metal bands can't headline arenas or don't deserve major awards, only that the genre is one that will always reject mainstream appeal due to the price of compromise that usually comes with it. Metal fans will often secretly envy pop acts for always landing the Super Bowl Halftime Show, and adore heavy acts that lean towards the theatrical and easy-to-love side of things (looking at you, BABYMETAL), but deep down most metalheads know that this sort of broad appeal would water down their favorite genre. Just as Groucho Marx would never want to be part of a club that would have him as a member, so too would fans be bummed if an Obituary were used in a Pepsi commercial.
What's especially interesting is when this goes in the other direction. While pop stars seem to reject metal in their sounds and sensibilities, there's a long tradition of mainstream artists using parts of metal's image and culture for their own devices. And while the most typical example of this is the appropriation of merch and style – the fashionable vintage concert shirt, the logo done in kuh-razy black metal font – it occasionally goes deeper, illustrating a deep-set appreciation for the genre's core power and meaning.
Here are 10 times that big non-metal acts have decided to take a stab at the left-hand path…
When Beyoncé hit the road on her Formation Tour just as “slay” was entering mainstream vocabulary, metal fans saw the inevitable end. Sure enough, the pop singer sold 'Slayoncé' pins as part of her tour merch, written in the Slayer font and going for as much $40 on eBay. Not only were most actual Slayer fans unimpressed, but guitarist Kerry King’s wife Ayesha called Bey out on Instagram, including the hashtag, “#whenittakes12writerstowriteasongforyouofcourseyoustealfontsandlogos”. Cold.
Of the bands on this list who would get a pass for using metal imagery, it’s Muse, who metalheads love despite them not being metal. The British arena rock band have always had a metallic edge with their crashing riffs and dark lyrics. But Supremacy off of 2012’s The 2nd Law isn’t their heaviest, which is why the video – featuring corpse-painted beach bums surfing and waving flaming swords from bikes – smacks of the early 2000s tendency to use black metal’s grimness ironically a la Portlandia. Why didn't Muse just write a satanic metal song – we'd be here for that.
At least Justin Bieber’s people did their homework. When the pop singer created specialized merch for his Purpose Tour, he had none other than extreme metal artist extraordinaire Mark Riddick design them for him. Besides his Metallica-esque main logo, the Biebs also had the title of his tour done in the style of doom metal overlords Pentagram. “In essence, I was a subcontractor, and I treated the entire experience the same way I do with any underground metal band I work with,” said Mark at the time, “that is, the same fee and the same interaction. It was a very straightforward process.” Moral of this story: Mark Riddick’s a mensch.
One of the more high-profile examples of a pop star considering metal little more than a fashion statement was singer Chris Brown rocking a leather jacket covered with thrash and crossover logos. This felt especially egregious given that the accusations of assault surrounding him at the time felt at odds with many of the bands' messages. Things got especially ugly when Noel Austin, the man who designed the jacket, came out and said, “I didn’t sell [the jacket] to him! Do you really think Chris Brown goes online and buys his own clothes? He doesn’t even write his own music.” That said, it was Municipal Waste's tweet above that was truly the cherry on top.
By the mid-Aughts, boy band culture was dying, but ironic metal humor was at the height of its popularity. Maybe that’s why the Backstreet Boys decided to do a take on classic documentary Heavy Metal Parking Lot with the video for their song Just Want You To Know. Unfortunately, the genuine love that makes a parody truly resonate with fans just wasn't present here; instead, the Boys play into a bunch of gross cliches and come off like try-hards wishing they could have the lasting power of a band like Judas Priest. Next time, go full Venom.
Like Justin Bieber, Rihanna had a famous extreme metal letterer – in this case Christophe Szpajdel, a Belgian artist whose logo clients include Emperor, Moonspell, Borknagar, Desaster, and Abigail Williams – to create a logo for her. Hers went a bit more hardcore in a death metal vein, though, with its spiny exterior and sweeping twin scythes underneath reminiscent of the original Sepultura logo. The singer premiered the design at the 2016 MTV Video Music Awards, thought she’d been seen for some time wearing rock and metal shirts onstage. At least the design is awesome.
READ THIS: Inside the world of extreme metal logos
For his entire career, Michael Jackson made a point of using the cooler parts of street culture – breakdancing being the most prominent – to heighten his image. By the late ’80s, he was going deep in on the booming world of hair metal, especially with his look on 1987’s Bad. The Dirty Diana video shows him trying his hardest to embrace the culture, clad in chain-wrapped leather and playing alongside guitarist Steve Stevens dressed in his best Nikki Sixx costume. At least Ozzy never licked up his urine.
When former One Direction singer Zayn Malik designed his Mind Of Mine fashion line, he worked with artist Mark Wilkinson – whose work adorns the covers of albums including Iron Maiden’s The Book Of Souls – to create shirts that “[gave] a nod to vintage rock-band T-shirts but with [his] own concept.” Except that truthfully, what Zayn did was write his name in the Slayer font and have Mark depict him as a figure who’s essentially the Iron Maiden Trooper. A little more than a nod, if we're being honest.
The latest pop star who’s used metal imagery to add an extra esoteric vibe to their image is Billie Eilish. The Bad Guy singer released several merch items with her name drawn as an extreme metal logo. That said, Billie’s one of the few who walks the walk in her spare time – she’s known for repping bands including Rob Zombie, Cradle Of Filth, and Type O Negative in her stage garb, with the former's approval on social media. With taste like that, who cares if she doesn’t know who Van Halen are?
Pop-punkers Sum 41 are easily the most metal band on this list, even if their music couldn't be mistaken for metal. The band’s deep-seated love of the genre inspired them to create their own metal side-band, Pain For Pleasure, who the dudes have dressed up and performed as many times in the past. Like Steel Panther if they listened to Saxon, Pain For Pleasure exists somewhere between parody and tribute, and as such gets a pass for being a funny band created by dudes who genuinely love metal rather than an attempt at cashing in on some ironic fad. All killer.
The Kerrang! Chart
The ultimate new music countdown – every Friday!
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