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Metal is Girlypop
via TikTok

‘Metal is girlypop’: why TikTok’s metal fans are embracing cuteness

From the ‘Slipknot is girlypop’ trend to online sub-genres such as bimbocore and Barbiegrind, the girlies are proving that metal is for everyone

It was only a week ago that we announced that goths are making a comeback, but now another subculture is getting an internet revamp – the girlies are reclaiming heavy metal. One of the most popular expressions of this has been the ‘metal is girlypop’ trend on TikTok, in which users perform ‘girly’ or ‘cute’ dances to metal songs, commonly putting a hand on their waist, holding out their other arm like they’ve got a handbag on it and shaking their hips. The most popular song is Slipknot’s 2014 hit “Custer”, which went viral near the end of last year, and typically features girls dancing to the track to prove that, actually, ‘Slipknot is girlypop’. The trend even earned the approval of Corey Taylor, the band’s frontman, who told Dork back in November: “Just when I think I’ve figured out where young people are going to go, they hit me with some crazy shit like that, and I fucking love it.” 

Altogether “Custer” has featured in over 185,000 TikToks and garnered 6.2 million views, though more recently, the trend has mutated, with users dancing to Korn’s 2004 hit “Y’all Want A Single”. Further variations have seen users take it a step further, mashing up Custer” with Aqua’s “Barbie Girl”. Some are even going as far as to film their pet kittens ‘dancing’ to the track. 

“The ‘Slipknot is Girlypop’ trend is an example of music lovers who don’t necessarily fit the expected mould coming together on TikTok to have some fun,” says Adam Read, TikTok’s music editorial manager in the UK and Ireland. “‘Custer’s’ success is indicative of a broader movement we’re seeing towards the democratisation of music fandom through TikTok too. Our users feel less restricted by labels and genres and are engaging with music that just makes them feel good.”

On the surface, metal is the exact opposite of anything pink and girly – with roots in the late 60s, the typically male-dominated genre is associated with straight [predominantly white] men in mosh-pits – but this incongruousness is exactly what makes its online girlification so compelling. As with anything cute and innocent-seeming, giving metal the girlypop treatment is subversive because it’s so unexpected, hammering home the fact that femininity doesn’t make you any less of a metal fan, especially with the genre finding new [and younger] audiences via TikTok.

The use of hyper-femininity also injects some fun into a genre that frequently passes itself off as rather serious. But it only takes a brief glance at the number of people in novelty hats or costumes at metal festivals to realise that metalheads are often quite a silly bunch – look at the fantastical stories told in power metal, or pirate-themed metal bands such as Alestorm and Dropkick Murphys. Like, if Viking rowing pits are a common and accepted occurrence in live shows, why not bring in the girls?

But fans aren’t the only ones using girly aesthetics to reclaim metal, but musicians, too. One of the most prominent is Scene Queen, an artist who came up on TikTok after posting clips of herself blending heavy metal sounds with a bright pink, Y2K aesthetic, a style that she terms ‘bimbocore’.  I think me making my aesthetic and music so camp and hyper-feminine has been monumental in creating a safe space at my shows,” she says. “People showing up in costumes or just being themselves extremely extra creates this electricity in the air. Historically, the rock world loves to paint women as [being] strong as men, but I think it’s also incredibly important to highlight the beauty in femininity.”

Similarly, New Orleans-based metalheads Brat describe their music as ‘bimboviolence’ [a play on the metal sub-genre ‘powerviolence’] and ‘Barbiegrind’ [as in grindcore]. “We knew we wanted to use pop samples during our live set just to keep it fun,” explains frontwoman Liz Selfish, “but then we decided to use the name Brat and the combination of those two things created our whole aesthetic – and we thought ‘bimboviolence’ sounded funny.” They add that the hyper-feminine aesthetic has coincided with the visibility of women on stage increasing rapidly. “When I was a teenager going to shows, I didn’t really see any women [on stage]. There was a boys’ club mentality, but we’re slowly moving away from it.”

Then again, as far back as the late 2000s, East Asian women have been mixing metal and cuteness together in the form of kawaii metal, a J-pop-leaning metal subgenre. One of the most recognisable is Babymetal, whose genre-clashing sound has forged the path for a new generation of artists, such as harajukucore band Hanabie and hybrid group Atarashii Gakkou, who incorporate elements of heavy metal into their live sets. 

There is a great gap that is created when a Japanese girl band goes out into the world and performs intense metal that is contrary to their appearance,” Hanabie explains. Take the video for their hit “Pardon Me, I Have To Go Now”, for example, where the band perform choreographed dance routines in innocent-seeming schoolgirl outfits paired with a vicious cacophony of power chords. “We also believe that creating that unexpectedness (gap) is one of our biggest strengths. When Hanabie started to perform live, we didn’t show our femininity, but we thought it would be more interesting if we didn’t hide our individuality and personalities.” 

It’s only natural that we’re seeing genres like metal embraced by wider audiences online. Social media like TikTok has made it more accessible than ever to tap into past subgenres – both emo and nu metal had revivals post-pandemic, attracting a younger generation of listeners who brought with them a more inclusive approach. It’s also no secret that girls are having a moment online, as is cuteness, so it makes perfect sense that this is the moment the ‘girlies’ are entering the scene. As the female-fronted, Grammy-nominated band Spiritbox puts it: “metal is for girls.”

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