Kendall Jenner wearing a Slayer shirt via Refinery29.
It’s a tale as old as time: someone is wearing a band shirt (usually metal or some other kind of heavier music), and another person walks up to them, asking them to name three songs from the band. It has happened to me a handful of times and has always been just as irritating and insulting as the first time it ever happened.
But what’s the deal with metalheads getting so angry at people for wearing band shirts? It gets the band publicity! And aren’t they just shirts at the end of the day? The answer to this is a bit more complicated...
If we go way back to the 1980s when metal had begun to gain popularity among the youth disillusioned with the world they lived in, we find ourselves right in the middle of the Satanic Panic. This moral panic was widespread in North America and even in Europe to a certain extent. People believed there was an underbelly of Satanic cults planning to overthrow the government by indoctrinating children and teens through various means. One of these means was—allegedly—heavy metal music.
It got so bad that some teenagers were kicked out of their homes by their parents for listening to heavy metal. There are countless stories online, especially on Reddit, of elder metalheads recounting stories from their youth when they got their band shirts ripped off their backs in broad daylight by Satanic Panic fanatics.
The importance of respecting the struggle of the elders in the Metalhead community plays a part in the resentment that some bear towards so-called “posers” (people who participate in the subculture purely to look cool) wearing shirts from bands they don’t know anything about. Showing respect to older metalheads and older bands is very important in metalhead culture, especially since most of them lived through the Satanic Panic.
Another reason metalheads might resent posers is that alternative subcultures of all kinds have recently been commodified by mainstream media and, subsequently, by clothing companies. With the rise of social media apps like Instagram and Tiktok, people have become exposed to a wide variety of subcultures, which is great!
However, this has led to an increase in these “fake fans.” It is incredibly superficial, making the phenomenon extremely frustrating to these subcultures' members who know exactly what the counterculture movements behind them were. And not only has the metalhead community been affected by this, but also the punk and goth scenes.
Metalheads, like many other members of alternative subcultures, tend to dislike the consumerist aspect of these trends. Just how many people buy shirts from bands they don’t listen to so they can fit into the newest fast fashion trends? What is the point of having counterculture movements and subcultures if they’re only going to become mainstream through commodification, simplification, and similar consequences of capitalism?
Another common argument circulating in online spaces I am inclined to agree with is that of the disappointment felt when you find out that someone wearing a shirt with your favourite band on it doesn’t know anything about them. Just when you thought you could have made a new friend, you are brutally reminded of just how superficial trends can be.
If you ask me, a person wearing a band shirt does not even need to be an expert on the said band. Even if you only know the basics such as the most popular songs, the name of the front person, or the music genre, that’s better than nothing! I have noticed online that this is also the consensus in the metalhead community. Don’t be that guy I met in a class who was wearing a Nirvana hoodie and didn’t even know what Smells Like Teen Spirit was...
Personally, the reason I tend to recoil whenever I see someone wearing a band shirt is usually that I immediately assume they are only in it for the trend (unreasonable, I know...). This is a common sentiment shared by most metalheads. Many metalheads have highlighted online how the people they know who started wearing alternative band shirts were being hypocritical. This is because they are the exact kind of people that bullied and picked on their alternative classmates and peers in the past.
No one is saying your music tastes can’t change (that’s actually pretty normal). Just know that if you used to be a jerk to people who liked that same music beforehand, expect some negative reactions.
If you’re going to wear a shirt from a band you don’t know, that is perfectly fine. But at the very least, find out what kind of music they make and maybe listen to a song or two. What ticks metalheads off is not that they want to be “gatekeepers” but rather the lack of respect they see for the subculture they love. So be respectful about it and be respectful to others—especially if they have different tastes than you.