Metal Ballads as Low Pop? An Approach to Sentimentality and Gendered Performances in Popular Hard Rock and Metal Songs
2. State of Research and Situating the Project
“[T]he metal subcultures of the 1980s did, in fact, commonly consider power ballads to be inauthentic crossovers. Music journalists naturally sided with the subcultures on this issue. Popular music scholars may have, too—if we judge their interest by the paucity of scholarship on power ballads and the much larger body of work on the less commercially successful forms of metal.”
3. Ecstasy: The Heteromasculine Articulation of Love
3.1. Aerosmith’s “Don’t Want To Miss A Thing” (1998)
3.2. The Reception of Steven Tyler’s Masculinity and Aerosmith’s Ballads
“‘I have never been afraid to show my androgynous side because I live through music,’ he said. ‘I think music is very feminine. In fact, I think I’ve got a—being a male, you know, like I’ve got 70, 60, 70 percent feminine in me that I live through, you know. I’ve got three daughters and a beautiful son and I live through female through my fashions, my hair, the way I dress. It just makes me—it seems to me that it goes along with the music, the Aerosmith music.’”
“Through with each album, they get better at minimizing their weaknesses—(Tyler’s sometimes colorless voice, weak ballad material)—and capitalizing on their virtues (Perry’s tough, classy guitar playing) it is Tyler’s ability to project crude, leering sexuality that makes Aerosmith attractive. Coming after a brief era when rock’n’roll fans in their adolescence were bombarded with the exaggerated sexual ambiguity of Alice, Bowie and Reed, it must be reassuring to have a band that knows everything we’ve wanted to know about sex all along: that it’s dirty.”
“And so when I wrote the song, what was so cool about when Aerosmith did it, when Steven Tyler sang it, it became a different thing, because if you hear a girl singing that—when I wrote it I thought it would end up being like Celine Dion or somebody like that, you know, back in the day—I mean, who’s a great singer—but it’s so much cooler to hear someone like Steven Tyler—this gruff, macho rock star, this amazing tough guy—for him to say that lyric, it just brought a whole other dimension to it. I don’t think it would have been the same hit, or the same standard, if it wasn’t for someone like Steven Tyler doing that song.”
“That, for example, Steven Tyler & Gang, after the nevertheless rather disappointing ‘Nine Lives’ CD, would once again come along with such a commanding performance as on ‘I Don’t Want To Miss A Thing’ (terrific earworm penned by Diane Warren) […] probably surprises even the most optimistic members of the Aeroforce […].”15
4. Exceptionalism of Intimacy
4.1. Extreme’s “More Than Words” (1991)
4.2. The Reception of Extreme’s Crossing-Over
“The replacement program turns out to be extremely worth listening to upon closer inspection, but it remains to be asked whether EXTREME haven’t dug their commercial grave with this follow-up to their big breakthrough. […] Brian May will understand ‘III Sides To Every Story’, but the little girls will NOT understand. Any bets: this disc will not be a smash.”18
5. Melancholy, Femininity, and Dark Romanticism
5.1. Evanescence’s “My Immortal” (2003)
5.2. Genre and Gender Correspondence in the Reception of “My Immortal”
“On ‘Fallen’ irresistible hits rule, like the opener ‘Going Under,’ the impossible to get out of your head ‘Everybody’s Fool’ […] or the ballads ‘My Immortal’ and ‘Hello’ with typical Enya characteristics (!), where the main focus is on good songwriting and not on hip coolness. Nevertheless, there are voices that already call “Fallen” a safe album, a plastic product for the masses. And that is absolute nonsense, because ultimately the eleven pieces possess an elementary component of good music in excess: namely soul […].”22(Kaiser 2003, Rock Hard)
Conflicts of Interest
Metallica “Nothing Else Matters”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tAGnKpE4NCI, accessed on 15 November 2022; Metallica page on Spotify: https://open.spotify.com/artist/2ye2Wgw4gimLv2eAKyk1NB, accessed on 6 December 2022.
Guns N’ Roses, “November Rain,” 2022 version on Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4_fvXrgAm1A, accessed on 9 December 2022; Guns N’ Roses, “November Rain,” 1992 Billboard chart history: https://billboard.elpee.jp/single/November%20Rain/Guns%20N%27%20Roses/, accessed on 6 December 2022.
Strübing‘s formulation in his German-language text is “Kette aufeinander aufbauender Auswahlentscheidungen”.
For a detailed description of the research program, see: https://sfb1472.uni-siegen.de, accessed on 17 October 2022.
Among Diane Warren’s compositions, over 30 songs, including numerous ballads, have reached the Top 10 on the Billboard Hot 100, including nine number one songs, such as “Look Away” (Chicago 1988), “If I Could Turn Back Time” (Cher 1989), “Because You Loved Me” (Celine Dion 1996), “Un-Break My Heart” (Toni Braxton 1996), and “Have You Ever?” (Brandy 1998).
Artist page of Aerosmith on Spotify: https://open.spotify.com/artist/7Ey4PD4MYsKc5I2dolUwbH; link to the music video “Don’t Want To Miss A Thing,” uploaded to YouTube on 22 August 2017: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bn8QPRYWAdk, both links accessed on 19 October 2022.
“Cryin’” on Kuschelrock 8 (1994), “Hole in My Soul” on Kuschelrock 11 (1997), “Don’t Want to Miss a Thing” on Kuschelrock 13 (1999), “Fly Away From Here” on Kuschelrock 15 (2001), and “Lay It Down” on Kuschelrock 16 (2002).
As an example, here are some excerpts from the lyrics of the duet “Endless Love” by Lionel Richie and Diana Ross: “My love, there’s only you in my life /The only thing that’s right […]/And I, I want to share /All my love with you /No one else will do […] /You will always be /My endless love”.
See also Amanda Howell’s research on music and masculinity in Armageddon and other popular “Militainment” movies (Howell 2015).
Walser refers to Laura Mulvey’s essay “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema,” in which she posits a feminist theory of the pleasure of looking in cinema (Mulvey 1975).
See, for example, the concert recording of the song “Toys in the Attic” from 1975 [date not verifiable]: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U9suQV31jTI, accessed on 19 October 2022.
For a discussion on the diva and other images of female pop stars, see (Lieb 2018).
Rock Hard is a German music magazine with a focus on heavy metal, which has been in existence since 1983 and is published monthly.
The original German text reads: “Daß beispielsweise Steven Tyler & Gang nach der doch ziemlich enttäuschenden ‘Nine Lives’-CD noch einmal eine so souveräne Performance wie bei ‘I Don’t Want To Miss A Thing’ (bärenstarker Ohrwurm aus der Feder von Diane Warren) […] über den Deich kommen würden, überrascht wohl selbst optimistischste Mitglieder der Aeroforce […]” (Rock Hard 1998).
At this point, it should be noted that a spatial situatedness should also be considered in such analyses.
With regard to auditive stagings of intimacy, some recordings of popular songs use breathing and other body sounds made hearable by use of compression effects to emphasize intimization (Dibben 2014). In contrast to these elements, the studio production of “More than Words” does neither use this effect nor does it dispense with the delay effect that auditively enhances the perceived distance from the voices. It would be beyond the scope of this article to assess the extent to which these aberrations from what Dibben frames as stagings of intimacy in her 2014 article are due to historical changes in recording technology and its use since the 1990s.
The original German text reads: “Das Ersatzprogramm entpuppt sich bei genauerer Inspektion zwar als überaus hörenswert, aber es bleibt zu fragen, ob sich EXTREME mit diesem Follow-Up zum großen Durchbruch nicht ihr kommerzielles Grab geschaufelt haben. […] Brian May wird ‘III Sides To Every Story’ verstehen, but the little girls will NOT understand. Jede Wette: Diese Scheibe wird kein Smash” (Rock Hard 1992).
Muggleton’s research draws on early punk research at the Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies at the University of Birmingham.
Older versions of the song exist, the earliest dating back to 1997. One version was released on the demo album Origin (2000) and another on the EP Mystary (2003). Yet another version of the song appears on the band’s fourth album, Synthesis (2017). The version on the album Fallen consists only of piano and strings; this is also the version on Kuschelrock 18. The single, however, is the version in which the full band enters on the bridge.
As an example, here is the description of the song as part of a list of sad songs by author Tom Reynolds at the Guardian, as well as a Reader Review of the album Fallen by Greg Coughlin at the video game website IGN: “A whimpering post-breakup tune in which lead singer Amy Lee pitifully mourns the end of a relationship over a piano accompaniment that sounds like Pachelbel after the Prozac wore off” (Reynolds 2005); “‘My Immortal’ is a song of pain and despair caused by the loss of a family member or very close friend and how it drove her to the edge of insanity” (Coughlin 2003).
The original German text reads: “Auf ‘Fallen’ regieren unwiderstehliche Hits wie der Opener ‘Going Under’, das nicht mehr aus dem Kopp zu kriegende ‘Everybody’s Fool’ […] oder die mit typischen Enya-Merkmalen (!) aufwartenden Balladen ‘My Immortal’ und ‘Hello’, bei denen das Hauptaugenmerk auf gutes Songwriting und nicht auf hippe Coolness gelegt wird. Es gibt trotzdem Stimmen, die ‘Fallen’ schon jetzt als Nummer-Sicher-Album bezeichnen, als Plastikprodukt für die breite Masse. Und das ist absoluter Quatsch, denn schließlich besitzen die elf Stücke einen elementaren Bestandteil guter Musik im Übermaß: nämlich Seele. […]” (Kaiser 2003, Rock Hard).
What is not visible in the music video, however, is that in addition to her role as a singer with Evanescence she is also a composer and pianist.
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Nink, T.; Heesch, F. Metal Ballads as Low Pop? An Approach to Sentimentality and Gendered Performances in Popular Hard Rock and Metal Songs. Arts 2023, 12, 38. https://doi.org/10.3390/arts12010038
Nink T, Heesch F. Metal Ballads as Low Pop? An Approach to Sentimentality and Gendered Performances in Popular Hard Rock and Metal Songs. Arts. 2023; 12(1):38. https://doi.org/10.3390/arts12010038Chicago/Turabian Style
Nink, Theresa, and Florian Heesch. 2023. "Metal Ballads as Low Pop? An Approach to Sentimentality and Gendered Performances in Popular Hard Rock and Metal Songs" Arts 12, no. 1: 38. https://doi.org/10.3390/arts12010038