Glam / Pop Metal

GLAM / POP METAL (1978-present)

Glam Metal (also known as Hair Metal, Sleaze Metal and often used synonymously with Pop Metal) is a sub-genre of Hard Rock and Heavy Metal. It combines elements of those genres with Punk Rock and Pop Music, adding catchy hooks and guitar riffs, while borrowing from the fashion of 1970s Glam Rock.

Pop MetalThe style can be traced back to acts like Aerosmith, the Alice Cooper group, Boston, Cheap Trick, KISS, The New York Dolls and Van Halen. It arose in the late 1970s and early 1980s in the United States, particularly on the Los Angeles Sunset Strip music scene, pioneered by bands such as Mötley Crüe, Quiet Riot, Ratt and the New Jersey band Bon Jovi. It was popular throughout the 1980s and the beginning of the 1990s, bringing to prominence bands including Poison, Cinderella and Warrant. Glam Metal was also associated with flashy clothing and makeup. Poison (refer to the photograph below), for example, had long shaggy or backcombed hair, accessories, metal studs, leather and make-up during their live performances.

The genre lost mainstream interest in the late 1980s as the perceived excesses of Glam Metal created a backlash against the genre. A factor in its decline was the rise of Grunge in the early 1990s, which had a stripped-down aesthetic and a complete rejection of the Glam Metal visual style. It has enjoyed a revival since the beginning of the new millennium with reunions of many popular acts from the genre’s 1980s heyday, as well as the retro styling of new bands including The Darkness from the UK and Steel Panther from Los Angeles.


Musically, Glam Metal uses traditional Heavy Metal songs, incorporating elements of Hard Rock and Punk Rock, while adding Pop-influenced catchy hooks and guitar riffs. Like other Heavy Metal songs of the 1980s, they often feature shred guitar solos. They also include extensive use of harmonies, particularly in the characteristic power ballads — slow, emotional songs that gradually build to a strong finale. These were among the most commercially successful singles in the genre and opened it up to a wider audience that would not have been attracted to traditional Heavy Metal. Lyrical themes often deal with love and lust, concerns inherited from Blues Music, with songs often directed at a particular woman.

PoisonAesthetically Glam Metal draws heavily on the Glam Rock or Glitter Rock of the 1970s, often with very long backcombed hair, use of make-up, gaudy clothing and accessories (chiefly consisting of tight denim or leather jeans, spandex and headbands). The visual aspects of Glam Metal appealed to music television producers, particularly MTV, whose establishment coincided with the rise of the genre. Glam Metal performers became infamous for their debauched lifestyles of drugs, strippers and late-night parties, which were widely covered in the tabloid press.


Sociologist Deena Weinstein points to the large number of terms used to describe more commercial forms of Heavy Metal, which she groups together as Lite Metal. These include, beside Glam Metal : Melodic Metal, False Metal, Poodle Bands, Nerf Metal, Pop Metal or Metal Pop, the last of which was coined by critic Philip Bashe in 1983 to describe bands such as Van Halen and Def Leppard. AllMusic distinguishes Pop Metal, which refers to the whole Pop-tinted Hard Rock and Heavy Metal scene of the 1980s (including Def Leppard, Bon Jovi, Europe), from Hair Metal, the characteristics of which are flashy clothing and heavy makeup (as embodied by Poison, and Mötley Crüe). Use of the derogatory term Hair Metal started in the early 1990s, as Grunge gained popularity at the expense of 1980s metal. In the “Definitive Metal Family Tree” of his documentary ‘Metal : A Headbanger’s Journey’, anthropologist Sam Dunn differentiates Pop Metal, which includes bands like Def Leppard, Europe and Whitesnake, from Glam Metal bands that include Mötley Crüe and Poison.



The visual style of the New York Dolls influenced the look of many 1980s-era Glam Metal groups.

Music journalist Stephen Davis claims the influences of the style can be traced back to acts like Aerosmith, KISS, Boston, Cheap Trick and The New York Dolls. KISS and to a lesser extent Alice Cooper, were major influences on the genre. Finnish band Hanoi Rocks, heavily influenced themselves by the New York Dolls, have been credited with setting a blueprint for the look of Hair Metal.

Van Halen has been seen as highly influential on the movement, emerging in 1978 from the Los Angeles music scene on Sunset Strip, with a sound based around the lead guitar skills of Eddie Van Halen. He popularized a playing technique of two-handed hammer-ons and pull-offs called tapping, showcased on the song “Eruption” from the album Van Halen. This sound, and lead singer David Lee Roth’s stage antics, would be highly influential on Glam Metal, although Van Halen would never fully adopt a glam aesthetic.

Def Leppard, often categorized with the New Wave of British Heavy Metal, released their second album High ‘n’ Dry in 1981, mixing Glam Rock with Heavy Metal, and helping to define the sound of Hard Rock for the decade. Their follow-up album Pyromania (1983), certified Diamond by the Recording Industry Association of America (over 10 million copies sold in the US), reached number two on the Billboard 200. The singles “Foolin'”, “Photograph”, and “Rock of Ages”, helped by the emergence of MTV, reached the Top 40. Def Leppard’s Pyromania style was widely emulated, particularly by the emerging Californian scene.

First Wave (1980-85)

In the early 1980s a number of bands from across the US began to move towards what would become the Glam Metal sound. These included Kix from Western Maryland, who released their eponymous debut in 1981. From San Francisco Night Ranger’s first album Dawn Patrol (1982), reached the top 40 in the US, but their breakthrough album was 1983’s Midnight Madness, which included the top five single “Sister Christian”. From New York, Twisted Sister originally formed as a Glam Rock band in 1972, released their first album, Under the Blade in 1982.

The most active scene was in the clubs on Sunset Strip, Los Angeles, including The Trip, the Whisky a Go Go and Starwood. These began to avoid booking Punk Rock bands because of fears of violence, and were colonized by Metal bands, usually on a “pay to play” basis, creating a vibrant scene for Hard Rock music. Quiet Riot’s US debut Metal Health (1983) was the first Glam Metal album, and arguably the first Heavy Metal album, to reach number one in the Billboard music charts and helped open the doors for mainstream success by subsequent bands. Increasing numbers of L.A. bands were able to produce début albums in 1984, including Ratt with their breakthrough Out of the Cellar (1984), and W.A.S.P. with their eponymous album. In addition Black ‘n Blue, formed in Portland, Oregon released their eponymous debut and New York-based Danish-fronted band White Lion produced Fight to Survive (1985). In 1985, Mötley Crüe changed to a Glam Metal sound with their album Theatre of Pain. All of these bands played a prominent part in the developing the overall look and sound of Glam Metal.

Second Wave (1986-91)

By the mid-1980s, Glam Metal had begun to be a major mainstream success. Los Angeles continued to foster the most important scene around the Sunset Strip, with groups like London, which had originally formed as a Glam Rock band in the 1970s, and had seen future members of Mötley Crüe, Cinderella and Guns N’ Roses pass through its ranks, finally releasing their début album Non Stop Rock in 1985. Pennsylvania also produced successful bands, with Harrisburg’s Poison and Philadelphia’s Cinderella releasing their multi-platinum début albums, respectively ‘Look What the Cat Dragged In’ and ‘Night Songs’ in 1986. Stryper, formed in 1983 in Orange County, California, made their mainstream breakthrough in 1986 with their platinum album ‘To Hell with the Devil’ and brought Christian lyrics to their Hard Rock music style and Glam Metal looks. Van Halen released 5150 (1986), their first album with Sammy Hagar on lead vocals, which was number one in the U.S. for three weeks and sold over six million copies. The anthemic The Final Countdown (1986) by Swedish group Europe reached the top ten in several countries, including the U.S. and while the title single reached number one in 26 countries. Some established Heavy Metal acts of the era such as Ozzy Osbourne and Judas Priest began incorporating Glam Metal elements into their sounds and images, as the genre’s popularity skyrocketed in 1985-86.

The most commercially significant release of the era was by Bon Jovi from New Jersey, with Slippery When Wet (1986), which mixed Hard Rock with a Pop sensitivity, and spent a total of eight weeks at the top of the Billboard 200 album chart, selling over 12 million copies in the US. It became the first Hard Rock album to spawn 3 Top Ten Singles, two of which reached number one. The album has been credited with widening the audience for the genre, particularly by appealing to women as well as the traditional male dominated audience, and opening the door to MTV and commercial success for other bands at the end of the decade. During the mid-to-late 1980s, Glam Metal bands were in heavy rotation on the channel, often at the top of MTV’s daily dial countdown, and some of the bands appeared on the channel’s shows such as Headbanger’s Ball, which became one of the most popular programs with over 1.3 million views a week. The groups also received heavy rotation on radio stations such as KNAC in Los Angeles. By the second half of the decade, despite mostly negative critical reviews and being shunned by certain sections of the music industry, Glam Metal had become the most reliable form of commercial popular music in the United States.

Appetite for DestructionMötley Crüe with Girls, Girls, Girls (1987) continued their run of commercial success and Def Leppard with Hysteria (1987) hit their commercial peak, the latter producing a Hard Rock record of seven hit singles. L.A. band Faster Pussycat released their eponymous début in July. While being amongst the acts commonly credited with introducing a diverging sound from Glam Metal in the world of Hard Rock music, the greatest success was Guns N’ Roses, originally formed from a fusion of bands L.A. Guns and Hollywood Rose, who released the best-selling début of all time, Appetite for Destruction (1987). With a “grittier” and “rawer” sound than most Glam Metal it produced three Top 10 Hits, including the number one “Sweet Child O’ Mine”. Such was the dominance of the style that Californian Hardcore Punk band T.S.O.L. moved towards a Glam Metal sound in this period.

In the last years of the decade the most notable successes were New Jersey (1988) by Bon Jovi, OU812 (1988) by Van Halen, while Open Up and Say… Ahh! (1988) by Poison, spawned number one hit single “Every Rose Has Its Thorn” and eventually sold eight million copies worldwide. Britny Fox from Philadelphia and Winger from New York released their eponymous débuts in 1988. In 1989 Mötley Crüe produced their most commercially successful album, the multi-platinum number one Dr. Feelgood. In the same year eponymous débuts included Danger Danger from New York and Dangerous Toys from Austin, Texas, who provided more of a Southern rock tone to the genre. L.A. débuts included Warrant with Dirty Rotten Filthy Stinking Rich (1989) and Skid Row with their eponymous album (1989), which reached number six in the Billboard 200, but they were to be one of the last major bands that emerged in the Glam Metal era. Glam Metal entered the 1990s as one of the major commercial genres of popular music. In 1990 débuts for Slaughter, from Las Vegas with Stick It to Ya and FireHouse, from North Carolina, with their eponymous album reached number 18 and number 21 on the Billboard 200 respectively, but it would be the peak of their commercial achievement. Guns N’ Roses’ Use Your Illusion I and Use Your Illusion II (both in 1991) and Van Halen’s For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge (1991) showcased the genre’s popularity.

Decline (1992-96)

The 1988 film ‘The Decline of Western Civilization Part II : The Metal Years’ captured the Los Angeles scene of successful and aspiring bands. It also highlighted the excesses of Glam Metal, particularly the scene in which W.A.S.P. guitarist Chris Holmes was interviewed while drinking vodka on a floating chair in a swimming pool as his mother watched. As a result it has been seen as helping to create a backlash against the genre. In the early 1990s Glam Metal’s popularity rapidly declined after nearly a decade of success. Successful bands lost members that were key to their songwriting and live performances, such as Mötley Crue’s frontman Vince Neil, Poison guitarist C.C. DeVille, Def Leppard guitarist Steve Clark and Guns N’ Roses guitarist Izzy Stradlin. Several music writers and musicians began to deride Glam Metal acts as “hair farmers”, hinting at the soon-to-be-popularized term “Hair Metal”. Another reason for the decline in popularity of the style may have been the declining popularity of the power ballad. While its use, especially after a hard-rocking anthem, was initially a successful formula, in the late 1980s and early 1990s audiences lost interest in this approach.

One significant factor in the decline was the rise of Grunge music from Seattle, with bands including Alice in Chains, Pearl Jam and Soundgarden. This was particularly obvious after the success of Nirvana’s Nevermind (1991), which combined elements of Hardcore Punk and Heavy Metal into a dirty sound that made use of heavy guitar distortion, fuzz and feedback, along with darker lyrical themes, a stripped-down aesthetic and a complete rejection of the Glam Metal visual style and performance. Many major labels felt they had been caught off-guard by the surprise success of Grunge and began turning over their personnel in favor of younger staffers more versed in the new scene. As MTV shifted its attention to the new style, Glam Metal bands found themselves relegated increasingly to late night airplay and Headbanger’s Ball was cancelled at the end of 1994, while KNAC went over to Spanish programming. Given Glam Metal’s lack of a major format presence on radio, bands were left without a clear way to reach their audience. Other (earlier Hollywood) alternative rock bands like the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Jane’s Addiction also helped in the popularity of the genre.

Some artists tried to alter their sound, while others struggled on with their original format. In 1995 Van Halen released Balance, a multi-platinum seller that would be the band’s last with Sammy Hagar on vocals. In 1996 David Lee Roth returned briefly and his replacement, former Extreme singer Gary Cherone, left the band soon after the release of the commercially unsuccessful 1998 album Van Halen III. Van Halen would not tour or record again until 2004. Warrant released Ultraphobic in 1995, an album with much more of an alternative / grunge approach. It had little commercial success. Guns N’ Roses original lineup was whittled away throughout the decade. Drummer Steven Adler was fired in 1990, guitarist Izzy Stradlin left in late 1991 after recording Use Your Illusion I and II with the band. Tensions between the other band members and lead singer Axl Rose continued after the release of the 1993 covers album The Spaghetti Incident?. Guitarist Slash left in 1996, followed by bassist Duff McKagan in 1998. Axl Rose, the only original member, worked with a constantly changing lineup in recording an album that would take over ten years to complete.

Revivals and Nostalgia Festivals (1997-present)

During the late 1990s and the 2000s Glam Metal began to enjoy something of a revival. Some established acts who had managed to weather the storm enjoyed renewed popularity, others reformed and new bands emerged to emulate the Glam Metal style. Bon Jovi were still able to achieve a commercial hit with “It’s My Life” (2000). They branched into Country Music with a version of their 2005 song “Who Says You Can’t Go Home”, which reached number one on the Hot Country Singles chart in 2006 and the Rock / Country album Lost Highway which reached number one in 2007. In 2009, Bon Jovi released The Circle, which marked a return to their Hard Rock sound and reached number one on the Billboard 200. Mötley Crüe reunited with Vince Neil to record the 1997 album Generation Swine and Poison reunited with guitarist C.C. DeVille in 1999, producing the mostly live Power to the People (2000); both bands began to tour extensively. There were reunions and subsequent tours from Van Halen (with Hagar in 2004 and then Roth in 2007). The long awaited Guns N’ Roses album Chinese Democracy was finally released in 2008, but only went platinum in the U.S., produced no hit singles, and failed to come close to the success of the band’s late 1980s and early 1990s material. Europe’s “Final Countdown” enjoyed a new lease of popularity as the millennium drew to a close and the band reformed. Other acts to reform included Ratt, Britny Fox, Stryper and Skid Row.

Beginning in 1999, Monster Ballads, a series of compilation albums that feature popular power ballads, usually from the Glam Metal genre, capitalized on the nostalgia, with the first volume going platinum. The VH1 sponsored Rock Never Stops Tour, beginning in 1998, has seen many Glam Metal bands take to the stage again, including on the inaugural tour : Warrant, Slaughter, Quiet Riot, FireHouse, and L.A. Guns. Slaughter also took part in the 1999 version with Ted Nugent, Night Ranger, and Quiet Riot. Poison and Cinderella toured together in 2000 and 2002 Rock-of-Ages-movie-headerand in 2005 Cinderella headlined the Rock Never Stops Tour, with support from Ratt, Quiet Riot and FireHouse. In 2007 the four-day-long Rocklahoma festival held in Oklahoma included Glam Metal bands Poison, Ratt and Twisted Sister. Warrant and Cinderella co-headlined the festival in 2008. Nostalgia for the genre was evidenced in the production of the Glam Metal themed musical ‘Rock of Ages’, which ran in Los Angeles in 2006 and in New York in 2008. It was made into a film released in 2012.

Glam Metal experienced a partial resurgence around the turn of the century, partly due to increased interest on the Internet, with the successful ‘Glam Slam Metal Jam’ music festival taking place in the summer of 2000. By the early 2000s, a handful of new bands began to revive Glam Metal in one form or another. The Darkness’s Permission to Land (2003), described as an “eerily realistic simulation of ’80s metal and ’70s glam”, topped the UK charts, going quintuple platinum. One Way Ticket to Hell… and Back (2005) reached number 11. The band broke up in 2006, but reunited in 2011, releasing the album Hot Cakes the following year. Los Angeles band Steel Panther managed to gain a following by playing 80s style Glam Metal. In Sweden the Sleaze Rock movement attempted to revive the genre, with bands including Vains of Jenna, Crashdïet and H.E.A.T. Other new acts included Beautiful Creatures and Buckcherry. The latter’s breakthrough album 15 (2006) went platinum in the U.S. and spawned the single “Sorry” (2007), which made the top 10 of the Billboard Hot 100. Bands known for their Metalcore background such as Black Veil Brides and Blessed by a Broken Heart have changed their style to be Glam Metal inspired, both musically and visually, with Black Veil Brides adding a Gothic spin to the traditional Glam image.


(Courtesy : Metal Evolution)


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