Cheat Sheet: Stripper Grunge
by Justin Farrar | March 27, 2012
"Stripper grunge" is the phrase that popped into my head when I first heard My Darkest Days' 2010 single "Porn Star Dancing." After that, it didn't take long to start connecting the dots: Hinder's "Striptease," Saving Abel's "The Sex Is Good," Nickelback's "Midnight Queen," Cavo's "Champagne," Atom Smash's "Rocker Girl" and so on. If you're a fan of modern hard rock, you know exactly where I'm going with this: over the last decade (or so), a generation of bands has emerged that marry the brooding histrionics of post-grunge grunginess, hair metal decadence and hick-hop's working-class braggadocio. In other words: white dude/bro bands who pen riff-raging, big-beat, overly earnest anthems about strippers, cocaine, sex, whiskey, sweet cars, strippers, partying, cocaine, orgies, strippers and all the bummer vibes and toxic hangovers that inevitably accompany such sinfully decadent behavior.
There's a part of me that totally sees the historical inevitability of such a fusion, but there's another part of me that can't shake the contradiction buried at its roots. I'm old enough to remember the "hair metal vs. grunge" culture war of 1992 and '93. It sounds trite now, but teens were choosing sides and sticking to them. Even the musicians themselves were hurling insults at one another, most of which revolved around (1) hair metal dudes questioning grungers' sexuality ("homos") and (2) grungers questioning hair metal dudes' moral fiber ("sleazeballs"). The battle reached a tipping point at the 1992 MTV Video Music Awards, where apparently some kind of backstage skirmish broke out between Guns N' Roses (who weren't true hair metal, but close enough in terms of said moral fiber) and the gratuitously self-righteous and punk-sarcastic Nirvana.
Despite its intensity, the war didn't last long (pop fads never do). As fellow Rhapsody scribe Chuck Eddy so eloquently puts it, "rock and roll always forgets." By the mid- to late 1990s, those teens growing up in suburban and rural America were unaware of the seemingly oil 'n' water relationship between grunge and hair metal; it was hard rock to them, and they loved it all.
I consider the first true stripper-grunge anthem to be Stone Temple Pilots' "Sex Type Thing," which, granted, is early (fall 1992). Yet it contains several key elements: a dark and brooding sound not unlike Alice in Chains or Soundgarden coupled with sexual bravado and hyper-masculinity. "I am a man, a man. I'll give you something that you won't forget," growls Scott Weiland. Moreover, its groove is truly pole-worthy: heavy, with a grinding beat that's not too muddy or plodding. The fact that S.T.P. helped invent stripper grunge makes sense, considering grunge's older, underground fans dismissed them as "cock rockers" trying to cash in on the success of the subculture's authentic bands up in Seattle.
Another vital precursor was the John Corabi-led incarnation of Mötley Crüe, whose 1994 self-titled album, obviously influenced by Soundgarden and Alice in Chains, represented hair metal's grudging acceptance of America's ever-growing flannel army. Though the album didn't sell well compared to previous efforts, it still went gold, a solid sign that the two genres were slowly coming together. (By the way, the Crüe's video for 1987 single "Girls, Girls, Girls" is highly influential, packed as it is with strippers, poles, skin, motorcycles and black leather.)
In terms of laying the groundwork for stripper grunge, both Buckcherry and Kid Rock are huge. Obviously, neither one has much at all to do with grunge proper (though the former are certainly brooding at times). What both did is re-inject mainstream hard rock with a sleaze that would make the original hair metal bands proud. This was really kind of needed by the late 1990s, when such sourpusses as Staind and Creed (oh, the irony of "It's good to be the king") were all the rage. By comparison, Buckcherry's "Lit Up" ("I love the cocaine/ I love the cocaine/ Mama can't you wait, yeah!") and Kid Rock's pimp-tastic "Cowboy" ("Start an escort service for all the right reasons/ And set up shop at the top of Four Seasons") felt like breaths of fresh air -- or, rather, air pungent with the aromas of beer, cocaine, cigs and sweaty babes. These two tunes surely inspired a lot of bros-to-be picking up guitars for the very first time in 2000 and '01.
Since the scare of Y2K, stripper grunge has come into its own, with many of its best adherents based in either Florida or Canada. Not only that, it's surprisingly diverse (kind of/possibly/not really). Bands like Nickelback, Cavo, Cold and Theory of a Deadman remain fairly dedicated to the second-gear wallop of Pearl Jam, Soundgarden and Alice in Chains. Hinder, in contrast, picks up on Buckcherry's shameless love of AC/DC and Guns N' Roses. Then there's the utterly tasteless Hollywood Undead, who come out of the whole Kid Rock/rapcore/nü metal nexus.
How much more mileage this genre has left is anybody's guess. Personally, I think My Darkest Days' brand new album, Sick and Twisted Affair -- a truly unlikely blend of post-grunge guitar jammers and synth-laced emo dance pop à la The White Tie Affair -- is a peek into its future. But we shall see.
Now on to the stripper grunge canon ...