Hair metal grew out of the dirty streets of Los Angeles, where disaffected youth searched for kicks in a society whose unsavory underbelly often escaped notice, at least on the surface. Some of these lost youth turned to punk rock and found an outlet for their anger and aggression. Others coming from perhaps more stable backgrounds preferred the party-hearty hard rock scene, which emphasized sex, drugs and rock & roll far more than its edgier underground cousin.
Hair Metal's Early Years:
Following the West Coast punk explosion in the late '70s, the club scene of Los Angeles began to flourish with would-be glam rockers of a new generation. Pioneers like Van Halen laid the groundwork for a scene in which bands could emphasize style, fashion, and the search for a good time above all else. As the raw, power-chord-fueled music began to reach wider audiences, the recording industry began to take notice, a development that helped launch this heavy metal derivation.
Metal Or Not?:
Once fully realized, hair metal bore little resemblance to any form of its partial namesake heavy metal. After all, the former stripped away most traces of the dark explorations of bands like Black Sabbath and the mystical fixations of Led Zeppelin or Iron Maiden in favor of a fun-in-the-sun mentality. Therefore, hair metal songs tended to focus on lighter and more shallow subjects than genuine metal, including romantic relationships, parties, glitz and glamour.
MTV & the Triumph of Image:
As MTV began to take notice of early hair metal bands like Motley Crue, the subgenre's popularity took off like a rocket. As a result, aspiring rock bands began to see the advantage of putting on same makeup, teasing or curling their long hair and primping on stage or before the camera. After all, a gritty and very masculine band like Twisted Sister even jumped on the makeup bandwagon after years of pointless toiling in clubs.
The Inevitable Decline of Hair Metal:
By the late '80s the hair metal phenomenon had begun to run its course, as more and more formerly successful bands like Quiet Riot and Ratt began to fade into oblivion. Still, the success of Def Leppard and Poison kept the form alive even as the gritty, threatening new breed of hard rock introduced by Guns N' Roses began to gain popularity at hair metal's expense. The genre's death knell, of course, would effectively come in 1991, with Nirvana and the advent of grunge.