Hair Metal vs Grunge

People act like in retrospect “Hair Metal” was this cringeworthy, horrid thing that NEEDED to die.

But I grew up on “Hair Metal”. I was a metalhead as a teenage girl. From early 1989 until early 1994. My favorite bands were Cinderella, Poison,Guns N Roses, Warrant, Winger, Bon Jovi, Def Leppard, Slaughter, Skid Row, Ratt, FireHouse, Motley Crue and Aerosmith. My older sister( 4 years older than me) was into hard rock and Heavy Metal so i always heard things around the house like Ratt , Motley Crue , Def Leppard, Quiet Riot , Dokken , Judas Priest , W.A.S.P., etc. .

So i started listening to bands like aforementeioned , as well as bands like Bon Jovi, Poison , Cinderella , Whitesnake ( i absolutely loved Jon Bon Jovi when i was 11 year old). Alot of teenagers were into Heavy Metal back than so it wasn’t hard to turned onto new bands all the time. I went to my 1st Motley Crue concert with my older sister when I was 13.

You can call me old all you want but these kids today will never know what it’s like to see your favorite band for 11bucks in a sold out stadium or the thrill of buying your favorite album. loved Sebastian Bach and still do he’s a bombshell, and had a life like poster on my door in the bedroom yummy, I also was in love with Vince Neil, Bret Michaels , Axl Rose, Mark Slaughter , Jon Bon Jovi , Kip Winger , Tom Keifer , Jani Lane … .

Grunge didn’t just lead to the death of hair metal. It led to the death of melodic hard rock and heavy metal in general, and took hard rock from a widely popular and diverse fanbase to a niche market. Today, in 2019, rock songs almost never get anywhere close to the top 10, whereas from the 70s to about 1993, hard rock regularly topped the charts.

Rock music in the 80’s/early 90s was awesome! There were great bands with awesome talent like Guns n Roses, Motley Crue, Def Leppard, etc. The music was fun and full of energy! Bands actually knew how to play their instruments well.

The “Hair Metal” era, roughly ’83 to ’92 or so, represents the last time Heavy Metal was truly relevant. It represents the last time rock was culturally ‘dangerous’ and also fun as a genre – when rockstars still roamed the Earth. I can see the negative thoughts you have about it – being too corporate and gimmicky. But It was a period when rock was good (for me anyway) and then by like 93 and on rock became depressing sounding with snarling growling singers who were depressed.

I honestly think Kurt Cobain was a pretentious, overrated asshole with some real drug issues, and that Nirvana and the grunge scene as a whole buried a lot of talented, 90’s metal act that were keeping the genre alive at a time when it’s popularity was fading. I was alive and rocking during all of this. It was grunge fans that thought it was cool to hate metal bands because hair metal bands, not nirvana were the mainstream. Grunge was very pesimistic.

Cobain’s image was based on sort of anti-fashion stance, but he ended up being somewhat fashionable and glam in spite of himself. In the 90s, you didn’t hire Anton Corbijn to direct your video without having some concern for putting across an image. I thought Soundgarden sounded like a million other bands, and I just never got the infatuation with Pearl Jam. They actually sounded to me like a bunch of wannabe folkies, or maybe a bunch of folkies who had jumped on the grunge bandwagon.

I can’t even be bothered verifying whether that is historically accurate, except that I know a couple of them came from Green River. There’s an anecdote about Def Leppard doing an unplugged performance at a radio station in the post-grunge era in which they played several unplugged numbers with three-part harmonies. When the DJ commented, “That was incredible,” Joe Elliot replied, “You must be a product of the nineties. There is nothing incredible about three guys singing in tune.”

I remember grunge was identified as a movement and game-changer almost as soon as it hit, whereas hair metal wasn’t even a term used for that music until many years later. Most of the bands in that genre probably saw themselves in the same harmless fun, hard rocking/pop tradition started by Van Halen. When I think of 1992, I remember “Let’s Get Rocked”-era Def Leppard and Slaughter alongside Nirvana on MTV. It’s not like September 1991 hit and Bret Michaels suddenly had to go get a job at IHOP.

What really makes this time special I think is it’s the last time young people were all bonded together by a common music culture. This was pre-internet, and everyone still watched the same videos on MTV, whether it was Dr. Dre, Def Leppard or Metallica. .

Nirvana created depressing music, and they made it cool to be depressed or sad or whatever. The post-grunge landscape (late 90s) was so depressing in terms of rock. The grunge movement really started in 1992, but it wasn’t a “shock” or something, and it actually COEXISTED with the successful hair/heavy metal bands. The hype was huge, but no one took the music seriously.

Nevermind, elevated that scene and gave it pop credibility, but that is all. Grunge was a marketing term that lead to an early death for a bunch of music. This will sound stupid, but I honestly think Weird Al was responsible for getting more kids into Nirvana than Nirvana themselves were. Mostly I remember kids making fun of them for the lyrics being “impossible” to understand when “Teen Spirit” first came out, and those of us who were into music were still too wrapped up in our Poison and Motley Crue or Guns n Roses or whatever albums to care much for a while.

But I’d wager that Weird Al’s record sold way more copies to kids at that time than Nevermind did, and I actually knew kids who didn’t like “Smells Like Teen Spirit” at first but started liking it after “Smells Like Nirvana” broke.

For me I remember just not “getting” SLTP at all when it came out. Why is MTV playing this crap and not the new Slaughter video!? But as for the other kids? I don’t think you really saw the changeover take place until at least late 1992. I’d bet everything I own that more kids in my area bought Def Leppard’s Adrenalize than bought Alice in Chains’ Dirt that year.

Plus, I don’t think I ever really saw any of the huge backlash against metal/hair-metal like you read about – all the kids I knew who loved grunge also still liked Guns ‘N’ Roses and Bon Jovi and Metallica and whatnot. You’d probably get made fun of if you were still a huge Winger fan or something, but it seemed like most kids just went along with the “alternative revolution” because that was what was happening at the time, not because they suddenly woke up and hated metal one day.

I remember many people around me then still loving the same bands they had for a while, but were just getting into these new bands that were coming along as well. No one was dropping bands they had long standing fandom with…. I still viewed Nirvana as a new band when they found Kurt dead! I remember thinking to myself when it was announced, “That’s it??” Because, it had only really been three albums and a compilation up to then. In my mind at the time, they were just getting started.

I didn’t really notice people turning on 80’s bands until closer to ’94/’95. Whenever I read things regarding the way things changed in the early 90’s, it seems like a lot of people either think or convince themselves that it all happened in an instant. The way I remember it was more like a snake shedding its skin. Not a snail’s pace, but like a flash of lightning either. Just gradual. Hair metal was still pretty popular until late 1992, even mid-1993. Warrant’s Dog Eat Dog (1992) went Gold, Leppard’s Adrenalize (1992) went triple platinum, Scorpions Face the Heat (1993) went to #21 and probably close to Gold, Winger’s Pull went to #41 in early 1993. Etc.

I would say, 1994-1999 was really the dead period. Cinderella’s Still Climbing (1994) is good; but went mostly unnoticed. The vast majority of these bands had little real commercial success after late 1993 at the last. Anything that even remotely resembled hair metal didn’t really have a chance to have a hit after 1993.

Bon Jovi was still huge but their sound moved away from pop rock to quadi-adult contemporary. They had to distance themselves from hair metal in order to survive the 90’s. For me the best albums of that period 1992-1996 in the genre were Bon Jovi’s Keep the Faith, Motley Crue s/t, Aerosmith’s Get a Grip and Slang by Def Leppard. I always thought Motley Crue’s s/t was really underrated and failed simply because it had the name Motley Crue attached to it, which wasn’t “cool” in 1994.

I bet had they changed the name for the new lead singer, the album could’ve gone over bigger. Hooligan’s Holiday did get a bit of radio/MTV airplay but at that point in time, the name Motley Crue carried baggage of 1980s excess… a different band name could’ve led to a bigger album. I remember people who mostly listened to grunge and the sort who were actually shocked at how good that album was, but were hesitant to actually buy the album simply because they were teens and owning a “Motley Crue” cd to them would’ve been like owning Vanilla Ice or Tiffany.

Bon Jovi weathered the Grunge takeover quite well. Keep The Faith was still a huge album that spawned some big hits. The Crossroads compilation was also a huge success, and Always was one of their biggest hits ever. They were still one of the biggest bands in the world in the early 90s.

It didn’t change overnight and both genres coexisted for quite awhile. I think the two bands that most successfully weathered grunge, artistically if not commercially, are Warrant and Motley Crue. The grunge/alternative take-over didn’t happen overnight and was gradual. Several bands still had popular singles/albums through ’92/93 (Skid Row, Mr. Big, Extreme, Ugly Kid Joe, Saigon Kick, Damn Yankees, Jackyl) and the more established hard rock / hair bands still had big album sales through ’93 (Kiss, Def Leppard, G n R, Alice Cooper, Coverdale/Page, Scorpions, Aerosmith, AC/DC)..

Poison also put out quality stuff. Although, Native Tongue was a commercial flop it contained some pretty solid tunes. Until You Suffer (Fire and Ice) is one of my favorite Poison songs.

Def Leppard is another one who put out pretty decent stuff at the time as well. Adrenalize had some pretty cool stuff and so did Euphoria. I think the song Promises can stand on its own with anything from Pyromania or Hysteria. Winger’s “Pull” is a Helluva album. The narrative, largely created and driven hard by rock critics, that grunge killed hair metal is a complete myth. Many of those bands were already on their death bed, and bands like Guns N’ Roses, Def Leppard and Bon Jovi still did well after grunge exploded.


I think the wrapping is different, but all in all the overall package is the same underneath… 80’s was the time of excess, and the music showed it. 90’s was a different time, and the grunge was a voice to the people who could no longer relate to the spandex and Aqua net singers. Music was the music, but it was the presentation that was different. I could not relate to the hair net bands at the time; it was a godsend that anything different was arriving. I think that metal would have fizzled out if Grunge never showed up.

I’m not being a wise ass, so I’ll admit this video is mostly confirmation bias for grunge, but there are opinions and statements here are true… Try to sift through the obvious slams against hair metal (even I was pissed at the repeating of Vince Neil repeating a contradiction), but a few things rang out to me.

• That Vince Neil statement showing contradiction shows it was just a “good time”. He was after Axl like no body’s business… To me, that’s a moot point because it was interesting too, but it shows that metal could be as depressing/bad as grunge… Kinda like the devil crap they would introduce (but that was more with heavy metal era, not the hair metal

• Genius recognizes genius, and genius perseveres. i.e. Slash , and Lars. Those 2 survived the metal squash and are considered the best in their fields, and they admit that grunge had its place, Even Bach gave props.

• Grunge didn’t just kill hair rock, it killed EVERYTHING, knocking off Michael Jackson from the #1 spot. So grunge is its own entity. Grunge arrived when hair metal was waning, it just helped it out the door.

• The advertising of grunge helped, so it was the new era more so than the actual music that killed it, which proves your point that it wasn’t the music, but it proves my point that hair metal was on its way out.

If the music reflects the time, the people love it which is why it was there at the time, There were “punk bands” in the 80’s which I think morphed into grunge, but it was not their time, which is why they couldn’t break through the hair metal era… I think it’s like having the same gift with different wrapping paper. I bet if grunge came out in the early 80’s it would have been squashed by hair spray. All in the timing

People get used to things that they relate to, so they get angry when it goes away. My opinion the grunge era was the best time for rock and I wish for the old days when they turned out that type of music. Not like that anymore… Another example is rap. The 90- early 2000’s were the best, and what there is now actually pisses me off to the point I refuse to listen to anything new; so I get your feelings for your music. Again, I’m learning you can like different kinds and drop the tribalistic genre styles, but I’ll always pick grunge since it was with me at the times I needed it most. I’m thankful for it . Too me, grunge is real and hair spray was…cartoonish

As far as the depressed/drug filled style. That’s been going on through the start of music. Jimi Hendrix, Joplin, Morrison, (way before hair spry and grunge). Depression was more prevalent , Like Cornell, Cobain (among others). People like Michael Hutchinson from INXS, and Avicii, Emerson of ELP , and Ted Nugent’s drummer. So grunge cannot be blamed for bring drugs/depression to the forefront, just bringing it to to light.

Smokin in the boys room, and all that crap was reserved for the cool few, if it even happened, since most people bragged and were full of crap anyway, while I think grunge was not really depressing, but more real… Even the depressing songs didn’t make you feel that way when the beat hits. Rap band has a song called Hey-ya,which is super upbeat and happy sounding, but the lyrics are depressing as hell.

Just the first few riffs of Smells Like Teen Spirit charge me up, I don’t care about the lyrics… The lyrics to that song were more lazy than depressing. The title came from Cobain talking about his then girlfriend using the deodorant Teen Spirit, saying she Smells Like Teen Spirit… People of that era were more like whatever, than concerned with being cool and showing off in excess.

The voices were good too.. Not like todays growl rock. Cornell, Eddie Vedder from pearl Jam and especially Aaron Lewis from Stained have beautiful voices who could have made it in any genre. I guess it comes down to personal preferences and past experiences I guess.

Stella 1977 say

@LZA what’s great is that hair metal has aged well as a fun part of rock history, while grunge, by and large, died a quick death, and ended up having no more than a handful of bands that are still looked fondly upon. Nirvana are about as original as the band Green Day. If you didn’t notice Punk existed before Nirvana.

They were so original that the riff to their biggest hit is pretty much “more than a feeling” by Boston and the band admitted to it. Please, Nirvana weren’t original at all. They wrote a few catchy songs, a multitude of mediocre bands spawned in their wake and it quickly died off. There was zero original about Nirvana. I’ve been going over Billboard charts for, identifying musical trends, tracking the evolution of the pop industry, that sort of thing.

here’s one thing that jumped out at me: the record companies and MTV screwed up in 1991 when they switched their focus away from straight ahead melodic rock and towards alternative and grunge. The charts don’t lie: grunge went over with pop audiences like anchovies on ice cream.

Here’s the evidence: From 1986, when Bon Jovi’s “You Give Love a Bad Name” became the first hard rock/metal #1 hit since “Metal Health”, the “hair bands” became a constant presence on the charts. Those of us who lived through that wonderful era know this. But then 1991 and “Smells Like Teen Spirit” came, and that was the end, right? Grunge dominated, game over, end of story.

Well, it didn’t work out that way. Smells Like Teen Spirit peaked at #7. After Smells Like Teen Spirit, there were still hair bands hitting the top 10 all the way until 1993, when Firehouse’s “When I Look Into Your Eyes” became the last top 10 hit in the hair metal genre. Between 1991 and 1993, except for Smells Like Teen Spirit, not a single grunge song cracked the top 10, despite heavy MTV airplay. Only a few, softer alternative hits, like Soul Asylum’s “Runaway Train”, and Spin Doctors “Two Princes”, became genuine hits.

Grunge, while certainly popular among rock audiences, had no crossover appeal. The early 90s were almost totally dominated by rap and R&B. Ah, the glory days of “Baby Got Back” and “Whoomp! There it is!” So what was the music industry thinking? They managed to make it uncool to listen to hair bands, yet the alternative they put forward was never really as popular as it was supposed to be, and pretty much died out by 1995. MTV during that period was pretty much alternative around the clock, and some really weird stuff, too, much of which will probably never be shown again, even on VH1 classic.

If you watch and episode of Beavis and butthead, there’s some pretty weird videos there. It was a really strange era for music, most of it was garbage and quickly forgotten. Again, what were they thinking? An alternative band gets one #7 hit and that’s a reason to dump your whole roster and sign anyone with a pulse from Seattle? Yet Meat Loaf had a #1 hit for five weeks at the end of 1993, and no one saw that as a reason to push more straight ahead melodic rock groups?
@LZA My point is that the music industry made a conscious decision to jettison melodic rock, and that I believe this was a mistake and unnecessary. there’s no reason that Warrant, Slaughter, Winger, etc. couldn’t have existed side-by-side with the Seattle scene. An equivalent , what if when rap got big, the industry had decided to no longer promote R&B? But R&B and rap exist side-by-side, and collaborate with each other, with no tension.

What happened just didn’t have to happen, the industry MADE it happen. As long as the industry kept releasing melodic rock, melodic rock did well. Keep the Faith sold well, Bat Out of Hell II sold well, Firehouse’s Hold Your Fire, and even 3, which came out in 1995, did well. Mr. Big did well. But then the supply just dried up even with that trickle of good releases and everyone just moved on.

The common belief is that melodic rock got tired, then grunge came out, and grunge then dominated. But that’s not what happened. melodic rock was at its peak when grunge came out. 1991 and 1992 were great years for it, sales wise. And during the height of the grunge era, melodic rock releases, what few there were, STILL charted well, on both singles and album charts.

And then the record companies just gave up on it for no particular reason. It never went sour for anyone who enjoyed Nirvana’s melodies. Funny that Nirvana made music with abstract lyrics, but yet you believe that the lyrics should only mean something special to awkward kids. When Guns n Roses were at their peak they were the next Rolling Stones if anyone ever was. Grunge pretty much died when Guns n Roses imploded anyway. Guns and Roses is the last really good American hard rock band.

I’m a massive Aerosmith fan. Even in 1993-1994, at the height of alternative’s popularity, Aerosmith also remained incredibly popular during the “Get A Grip” period. Eventually it became passe to like a lot of the “hair bands”, mostly once Beavis And Butt-Head came on, but it was more of a gradual shift of tastes as opposed to the way history makes it out like one day Poison were the biggest band around then Nirvana hit.


Just a matter of opinion I suppose…I can say that Queensryche, Ratt, Motley Crue and the like are all as original as each other… To me, I can’t tell the difference… So it’s apples and apples, depending on what apples you like. All the same videos, type, sound…

You can definitely tell the difference between Soundgarden from Nirvana from Pearl Jam… As far as the remembrance of it. I would agree with you for now only because that’s a part of history, while grunge isn’t as old and probably still more relevant at the time. Depending on the person. People are still Dead Heads, and I have and will never understand the following grateful dead has…

Michael Jackson was the king of pop, and even he fell when grunge hit the scene.

Well, it didn’t work out that way. Smells Like Teen Spirit peaked at #7.
Really? I guess it depends on what billboard chart you read because I checked and confirmed that Smells Like Teen Spirit hit #1 as well. If Fact, MTV voted it into the hall of fame as one of the songs that changed rock… While They are sitting on the throne, The crue was still in the boys’ room! Tongue

Look at the video, he’s an ugly troll in a dungeon as a part of an eerie sad/depressed video perfect analogy of what hair spray rock has become.

The girl was the metaphor of former glory days. He’s so desperately trying to recapture, but knows he never will.
Some days it don’t come easy…some days it don’t come hard… some days it don’t come at all

Very depressing lyrics!!! And I wonder what “doesn’t come”? The thought of ever being a part of a genre that will ever succeed again? TBH, I think this video is an attempt to be grungy, which is why he gained some success… It’s nice when relics make a comeback. Just like Tiger Woods did.

Some nights are nothing I’ve seen before or will again Sad lyrics admitting defeat. No one stays champ forever… He’s in effect seen paradise by the dashboard light, since the car wheels came off and he died after smashing and going through said dashboard…

I would do anything for love, like desperately change his style to try to fit in?
but I won’t do that, He must be referring to succeeding.

Somedays I pray for silence, somedays I pray for soul, somedays I just pray to the God of Sex and Drums and Rock and Roll. Why would he need to pray unless he’s desperate to be saved from something. This #1 his is a declaration of defeat from one of Hair Spray era’s most noted members…

HAHAHHAHAHAAH I hope you know I’m just having fun with you. Since this is more a thread about opinions and not facts. Since it doesn’t appear we’ll ever feel anything other than the love for what we know. But I’ve admitted to you that some hair spray rock is really good, now… Back when It was happening there was not much I got into.

The only thing I found as what could be a fact (or really a statistic from what I think is an unbiased source), is ranker has a list. Motley Crue sold 25 million albums, and Pearl Jam (who sold more than Nirvana) sold 21.6. So the difference is 3.4 million in your favor… But really, does it matter at that point? As much better as Motley Crue was according to sales, they couldn’t stop the juggernaut of Grunge… Michael Jackson who pretty sure dwarfs both bands as far as sales, couldn’t either…

You you not like any grunge/alternative? Green Day is pretty cooll and not so depressing, as are a lot of others. Do you just not like the music itself?

Stella 1977 Say

@LZA The bands from that era worth listening to, which can be named on a single hand (Alice in Chains, Mother Love Bone, Stone Temple Pilots), are the ones furthest from Nirvana’s divorce rock. When Nirvana came along, they broke everything and the pieces are never going to be put together again. People might still keep killing it on the underground circuit and that might be better, but since Nirvana, rock has slowly exited mainstream consciousness.

It strikes me that if MTV hadn’t suddenly changed course, that the 80s would have evolved into the 90s in much the way that the 70s evolved into the 80s. There wasn’t some massive shift between the rock of the 70s and the rock of the 80s. Rock got big, it declined a little when disco became king, and then it emerged again repackaged. I think the same thing would have happened had the industry stayed the course.

Instead, they did a massive 180, and while alternative kept people interested for a little while, when that mini-boom ended rock as an industry was mangled beyond recognition. There was no longer a “formula”. Which a lot of people would consider to be a good thing from a creative standpoint, but makes the music less viable from a commercial standpoint.

Everyone knows the formula for writing a successful pop, R&B, rap, or country hit, but there really isn’t a way to predict what rock will sell and what won’t, so the industry is cautious about promoting new rock artists. They just try a little big of everything and a few bands manage to stick.

I think it was really the media and the record companies that killed “Hair” metal rather than the music itself, although I think that some of the bands were to blame too as they decided to jump on the bandwagon rather than stay true to their roots (although that blame could go to the record company forcing them to go in that direction). I don’t recall the changeover being so immediate.

Obviously, MTV starting playing more grunge and less hair metal, but I think the process took two years. Nirvana ruined rock & roll. So Nirvana were pretty terrible, at least musically speaking, but so was most of the rest of grunge. For the most part, grunge was a media sensation, driven by hype.

wildcard Say

Okay, wow.

This is a lot to address, but let me come right out of the gate and say that I agree with @LZA’s statements that hair bands were on the way out because their time had run. And, before I start in on my take on things, let me just say that hair bands were silly as fuck. That doesn’t mean that I didn’t love them just like everyone else at the time, but like Yo MTV Raps, Hula Hoops, and Schwarzenegger movies, they were only meant for a time.

First and foremost, your stats are all wrong. When you look at the top 100 songs for the years you’ve mentioned, the story does not add up. Grunge (as you’ve mentioned) didn’t have a big showing in the popular music charts. The alternative artists that sprung from the movement had successes with a few of the more pop-flavored offerings. However, the 10 years that I researched shows, if anything, that popular music throughout that time period is a mixed bag.

Now taking as look at this data, you will no doubt notice that the biggest player in the early nineties was neither grunge nor hair metal. The few artists highlighted in red are overwhelmed by the R&B and soul hits crowding into the top 20.

What is even more interesting to me is the songs that are not highlighted at all. These are called pop songs (every song on the list qualifies) but those generic, middle-of-the road songs are just that: the common denominator.

Okay, now that I’ve laid that down, on to my real point: Grunge did not kill hair bands.

You could look back at the list and choose to blame the rise of Hiphop and Gangsta rap…or even the general urban culture that started dominating popular music from as far back as the eighties.

But that would be disingenious.

The real answer is that hair bands killed hair bands. I was silly, over-the-top, and while I and a lot of others enjoyed the music, it was bound to die. Just like Hootie and the Blowfish, hair metal could not stay in the mainstream forever. It had its run, but now it is over. What you find today dominating the top 100 is completely different than any of the music that was popular twenty years ago. The music that will dominate the airwaves twenty years from now? Different still.

Leave a Comment