Since it first climbed out of rock and roll’s primordial ooze, metal has been wary of what it considers the ultimate transgressor: the poser, someone who dresses metal and/or talks about the genre as if they know it, but in fact just likes the trappings and attitude of the scene without giving a shit about the music or culture. This in turn waters down the strong draught that is true metal (or something like that). Lately, poserdom seems rampant, with countless celebrities and their fans rocking metal shirts without being able to name any songs by those bands. It seems that posers have now infiltrated even the highest ranks of pop culture and government.
And honestly? It doesn’t fucking matter. Rather than bristle and snarl at non-metal fans mis-wearing metal merch, supporters of the genre need to learn to get over it. We don’t have to love posers, or think what they’re doing is awesome, but if metal is going to grow, we need to get over our gatekeeping tendencies and learn to either support burgeoning metalheads or let this shit roll off our backs.
The idea of poserdom first appeared in the ’80s, but it really blossomed in the ’90s as metal sunk further underground. Adopted from punk, which was sometimes so fashion-obsessed that good songwriting felt like a low priority, the threat of posers infected metal as the genre became more and more fashionable and mainstream. Because rabid devotion was a huge part of the culture, metal fans began declaring hierarchies to announce how cool they were. This got even more intense with thrash, which adopted hardcore’s attitude that any bands who relied on fashion or catchiness to heighten their appeal were automatically assholes.
However, anti-poser mania seemed to really solidify in the ’90s when metal fell out of public favor. As millions of fans traded their bulletbelts for flannel shirts, diehard headbangers realized that honest acolytes were few and far between, and only they with their Celtic Frost bootlegs and Nailbomb longsleeves truly believed in the cause. Those who supported any sort of pop-culture institution like MTV, which played less metal as fewer people asked for it, were here for the trend and not for the music.
More so, as ’90s rock became obsessed with gritty, real-world toughness, a metal fan’s stature was suddenly quantified by how hard their life was. Unless you grew up poor, had your eye socket punched in, had almost overdosed on GHB, or got molested, you didn’t understand the horror and intensity of metal, and were therefore weren’t welcome (the hardcore scene went more specific about economic differences, railing endlessly against the rich kids who were ruining the scene).
That last attitude is, of course, silly. Everyday people who’ve only experienced everyday hardships can love metal for its killer riffs and how it helps them deal with negative emotions. But more importantly, the hard lines of tribalism that metal drew in the sand automatically made it inaccessible, which in turn fucked over the scene by keeping newcomers out of it. If we’re being real, the majority of posers out there are just kids who are only learning about metal now — how are they supposed to be true metalheads when they’re 13 and don’t know shit about anything? That’s like when companies insist a potential intern have 5+ years of professional experience before getting hired.
And hey, look, a little gatekeeping won’t kill anyone. Many metalheads, this writer included, discovered some of their favorite music because some old head crossed their arms and said, “Yeah, listen to _____ and call me.” But if they’d posted a video of us online for millions of people to shit on, that might not have been so funny. When gatekeeping becomes this aggressive, superiority complex-driven attitude, it’s an active detriment to metal music and culture. Is it annoying and ridiculous when a teenager doesn’t realize that their favorite Tiktoker is ripping off a band you grew up with? Sure, but publicly shaming them for it makes you worse than they’ll ever be.
A recent example of this was a teacher featured by MetalSucks who went around asking her students to tell her one song written by the band on their shirt. When her kids can’t, she says, in this tired, smirking voice, “Exactly.” Exactly…what? What did you prove here? That these kids are young? That you’d rather call them out than teach them new things? What the purpose of this is other than to be mean-spirited and show your kids they’re fucking posers, we’re not sure.
@coachhhhj #teachersoftiktok #tiktokteachers #blacktiktokteachers #coachesoftiktok #peteachersoftiktok #fyp #foryoupage ♬ original sound – Coach J💜💛
So if these kids don’t know these bands, where’d they learn that these shirts are cool? The answer is the group that metal fans seem most bitter about: celebrities. When a famous rapper or reality TV show star wears a metal shirt, it is to metalheads the ultimate example of poserdom. The idea that these people might have listened to some songs and liked them isn’t even taken into consideration. These people must just want to seem hardcore at their own convenience. No one so beloved by the daylit world could possibly love the music we keep insisting should soundtrack everything all the time.
That’s the thing: where did all these posers come to think they needed a Slayer shirt, even if they didn’t know what wearing one meant? The answer is, from us! We’ve spent the past few decades telling everyone that metal is the way, and that guts, huge riffs, and spiky logos should adorn every piece of art in history. Then, when famous people begin to appreciate that, it’s a problem, because…well, why? Because they didn’t suffer through the shitty venues and ill-fitting boots that we did? Because they weren’t there when this genre was hated and demeaned?
Have we been enjoying this underground music scene as some sort of cultural currency, so that we can later point at a fictional scoreboard? Hasn’t this just been about loving music? And if not, then fuck — are we the posers?
This is the first step towards metal getting over its gatekeeping problem: looking in the mirror. Once we acknowledge that maybe we’re not perfect, and we could stand to celebrate out favorite music more than police it, we can begin to accept others into the fold a bit better. Sure, there’s nothing wrong with throwing a couple of light-hearted jabs someone’s way — Oooh, an Arch Enemy shirt, we’re feeling edgy today! — but let’s follow it up with some support, advice, or encouragement. Tell someone about another band they should check out. Tell ’em about a cool show, or a record you just discovered. Especially if they’re younger, these fans might just need some help, not regulation. Fuck the wolf, be the shepherd.
And for the celebrities? Those public figures whose adoption of your favorite band’s logo makes you actively furious?
Well…fuck ’em! Turn around and walk away. Why do you care? No one’s saying you have to like it when some douche who’s all over the TV can’t name a song by the band whose shirt they’re wearing. But grousing about it helps no one. If anything, that level of salty involvement just proves that you’re a far bigger dumbass than they are. If these people don’t matter to you, then their wearing of a metal band shirt shouldn’t, either, other than that it might give that band a few more fans and, therefore, opportunities. The correct answer is either, Good for them, or, Ah, whatever.
A recurring topic metalheads bicker over is where the next superstar band is going to come from. Where’s the next Metallica? Where’s the next Mötley Crüe? Why isn’t metal topping the charts? Well, maybe us spending all of our time telling people metal is for us, not them, is an answer to that question. As fans of this music and culture, we need to put our focus and energy into raising up new bands and letting the world know how fucking awesome they are. Remember, every poser is just a diehard soldier of metal who hasn’t been invited to the party yet.
Words by Chris Krovatin. All opinions expressed in this piece are his own.