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Amber Clifford-Napoleone, Queerness in heavy metal music: metal bent

Rosemary Lucy Hill
p. 191-194
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Amber Clifford-Napoleone, Queerness in heavy metal music: metal bent, Abingdon, Routledge, 2015

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1Metal Bent is an important book that sheds new light on the topic of gender and sexuality in metal music. Its aims are to queer metal and reconfigure discussion of the genre around gender and sexuality, and to move on from thinking about metal as just for “the straight boys” (3). These aims are achieved through a discussion of the style and media coverage of various musicians, and the results of a survey and interviews with queer metal fans. Central are the assertions that metal is queer and that the genre provides a safe space for queer identified people—a queerscape. Identifying this is essential to understanding the genre, Clifford-Napoleone argues. I have some criticisms of the book, which I address below, but it is nevertheless a timely and vital contribution to scholarship on heavy metal.

2In the first chapter Clifford-Napoleone uses Butlerian theory to argue that metal’s masculinity is not an essential quality of the genre: “queerness in heavy metal is not the mirage but the reality. It is masculinity that is the mirage” (12). This critique of metal’s supposed masculinity will be useful for scholars of queer theory (metal as case study) and gender and metal. Yet, the author characterises current metal scholarship as heterosexist and monolithic, thus omitting discussion of recent work by Rosemary Overell, Gabrielle Riches, myself and others on gender and metal.

3Chapter 2 gives an overview of the relationship between queer, BDSM and leather and heavy metal through discussion of Rob Halford, Susie Quatro and others. Clifford-Napoleone argues that leather works as a queer symbol within metal. The chapter is predominantly historical. It is a shame that it does not include discussion of the survey responses, which would have helped understanding of how leather is read by queer and non-queer fans. Equating queerness with leather is somewhat problematic as there are other queer identities. Equating it with the performance of masculinity is also problematic; Angela Gossow’s mixing of feminine and masculine signifiers might easily be read as queer, but not in this book.

4In Chapter 3 the author does draw on the surveys and interviews with fans to argue that metal is not the homophobic space that it is thought to be, because queer fans report little homophobic discrimination or violence. However, she provides evidence that harassment does occur and that fans downplay it. This raises the question, why do some fans explain away incidents? Is this enough to assert that metal is not homophobic? These are important questions that are not addressed. More exciting is the section on audiotopia, which argues that metal provides a space for justified anger. Clifford-Napoleone draws a correlation with gender dysphoria and associated difficulties with heterosexist society.

5Chapter 4 considers the gender performance of some queer metal musicians. She argues that metal performers’ queer signals are evident for anyone who wants to read them, and that they disrupt conventional understandings of gender. She reads black metal musician Gaahl as a trickster, arguing that he plays with the boundaries of what counts as inside and outside the genre and of what counts as homophobia and queer sexuality. His denial of any homophobic narrative in the two famous black metal murders “reveals the interplay of black metal and sexuality in the queerscape” (90). I argue that it is problematic to understand Gaahl’s response as merely playful, as Clifford-Napoleone does, and it would have been valuable to see some discussion of Keith Kahn-Harris’s (2004) notion of reflexive-anti-reflexivity at this point. In the interpretations of Joan Jett and Otep’s gender performance as female masculinity, more context regarding women’s music making would have been pertinent: women who want to make rock’n’roll must utilise the (masculine) gender signifiers of rock to be taken seriously. Understanding the context of—and barriers to—music making for women and the different strategies employed to overcome them, is therefore a crucial part of analysing Jett and Otep’s performances, but it is neglected here.

6In chapter 5 the author discusses the particular subgenres that different identity groups (bisexual, FTM, gay, etc.) prefer, and includes some quotation from her survey. She argues that metal is a queerscape, allowing queer fans a space to explore and articulate their gender and sexuality; furthermore it is not homophobic, rather it is effeminophobic. It would be useful to compare this with Weinstein’s (2000) assertion that metal is not sexist, but has a problem with femininity and Overell’s (2012) discussion of grindcore fans’ eschewment of “feminine” emotions. Problematically the author surmises why some subgenres might be preferred, e.g. claiming that queer fans love homophobic black and death metal because “what could be more extreme than listening to music that objectifies and threatens you?” (117), rather than offering evidence from her participants. Instead she assumes that her participants’ reasons explicitly have to do with their gender and sexual identities. But musical preference cannot be boiled down to simplistic understandings of gendered appreciation (Fast, 1999; Hill, 2016); it is much more complex than that. Clifford-Napoleone’s final point, however, is absolutely right. Michelle Phillipov (2012) asserts that taking gender as a problem in metal limits the questions that can be asked. Clifford-Napoleone refutes this, arguing that gender is at the heart of metal and therefore essential to understanding the genre: without considering gender we cannot fully consider metal. This is spot-on.

7In spite of the problematic elements of the book, I recommend it to anyone interested in metal music studies or queerness and music. Its initial critique of masculinity as nothing more than performance in metal is superb and utterly needed. Furthermore, the exploration of sexuality changes the discussion in current metal scholarship, moving forward from assertions of the genre as either essentially heterosexual or (supposedly) asexual. In terms of metal scholarship, Metal Bent sheds valuable light on a number of contradictory elements in the genre and provides a good foundation for exploring further.

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Fast Susan (1999), “Rethinking Issues of Gender and Sexuality in Led Zeppelin: a Woman’s View of Pleasure and Power in Hard Rock”, American Music, vol. 17, no 3, p. 245-299.

Hill Rosemary Lucy (2016), “Masculine Pleasure? Women’s Encounters with Hard Rock and Metal Music”, in Andy R. Brown, Karl Spracklen, Keith Kahn-Harris, & Niall W. R. Scott (eds.), Global Metal Music and Culture: Current Directions in Metal Studies, New York: Routledge.

Kahn-Harris Keith (2004), “The ‘Failure’ of Youth Culture Reflexivity, Music and Politics in the Black Metal Scene”, European Journal of Cultural Studies, vol. 7, no 1, p. 95-111.

Overell Rosemary (2012), “‘[I] Hate Girls and Emo[tion]s: Negotiating Masculinity in Grindcore Music”, Popular Music History, vol. 6, no 1, p. 198-223.

Phillipov Michelle (2012), Death Metal and Music Criticism: Analysis at the Limits, Plymouth: Lexington Books.

Weinstein Deena (2000), Heavy Metal: the Music and its Culture, Boulder, Colo.: Da Capo Press.

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Référence papier

Rosemary Lucy Hill, « Amber Clifford-Napoleone, Queerness in heavy metal music: metal bent », Volume !, 13 : 1 | 2016, 191-194.

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Rosemary Lucy Hill, « Amber Clifford-Napoleone, Queerness in heavy metal music: metal bent », Volume ! [En ligne], 13 : 1 | 2016, mis en ligne le 25 novembre 2016, consulté le 16 janvier 2019. URL :

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Rosemary Lucy Hill

Rosemary Lucy Hill est Lecturer en sociologie à l’université de Leeds. Sa thèse de doctorat au Centre for Women’s Studies de l’université de York portait sur les représentations et expériences des fans féminines de hard rock et de metal. Elle a publié des articles sur la panique morale autour du phénomène « emo », la théorie subculturelle et les mythes au sein des médias dédiés au metal. Elle s’est également exprimée dans l’émission de la BBC Radio 4 « Thinking Allowed » au sujet des fans féminines de metal et les subcultures.

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