VerhOeverthinking It week may be over, but a lot of the analysis we did on the work of filmmaker Paul Verhoeven carries over into other areas of the popular culture, such as music. Ladies and gentlemen, meet Steel Panther, the Starship Troopers of Heavy Metal.
I’ll get back to Starship Troopers in a moment. First, let’s get to know this band. Steel Panther has been gestating on the LA club scene for much of this past decade, but only recently has come to prominence. They have pretty much everything you’d want in an 80’s metal parody band (assuming that you would actually “want” such a thing; I know I do): big hair, soaring guitar solos, and anthemic choruses.
But things get a little uncomfortable in the lyrics department. Unlike The Darkness, the other notable metal parody act from this decade, or Spinal Tap, the founders of the genre, Steel Panther’s lyrics are less double-entendre and more…single entendre. In fact, they go to levels of crudeness and vulgarity way beyond the likes of The Darkness or Spinal Tap. Witness their poetry in their lead single, “Death to All But Metal” (warning: NSFW, if your workplace is anything at all like mine):
In case you’re not able to watch the video, here’s a sample of some of the lyrics (also probably NSFW, so if you’re boss is standing behind you, scroll fast):
Eminem can suck it, so can Dr. Dre
They can suck each other just because they’re gay
They can suck a d***, they can lick a sack
Everybody shout, “Heavy metal’s back!”
And how about these pearls of wisdom?
Death to Britney Spears, kill the little slut
Kill Madonna too and then f*** her in the butt
F*** Mariah Carey, death to Sheryl Crowe
They can kiss each other on the camel toe
50 Cent’s a fag, so is Kanye West
Shooting hot sperm on each others’ chest
So what do Verhoeven and Starship Troopers have to do with what appears to be an exceptionally crude version of The Darkness? To paraphrase the collective thoughts of the Overthinking It community, Verhoeven is certainly a skilled and talented filmmaker, but he uses his talents to assault and taunt his audience with things like tawdry nudity and a violent rape scene in Showgirls, over-the-top violence in Robocop, and fascist imagery in Starship Troopers. And because his audience is often part of his satire, his work is often misunderstood.
Let’s hone in on Starship Troopers for a moment (be sure to read Perich’s excellent article on the subject from last week if you’d “like to know more”). The movie’s satire operates on several different levels: first, there’s the overt satire of fascism in its war-baiting commercials and newsreels. Second, there’s the more subtle, but still pretty obvious, satirical elements of the overly jingoistic characters, uniforms, dialogue, etc. The third part of the satire is the trickiest to dissect and explain properly: the audience and how its reaction to the film are also part of the satire.
We are repulsed by the bad acting, the gratuitous violence, and the glorification of fascism, but at the same time we can’t help but share the characters’ anger over the destruction of Buenos Aires and root for them in their quest to kill as many bugs as possible. Oh, and we actually like the gratuitous violence on some level. And more importantly, we come out in droves to see movies that are a lot like Starship Troopers in their glorification of fascism and militarism, except that they lack, you know, the satire:
Steel Panther’s satire works similarly: first, there’s the overt satire in the bawdy, over-the-top lyrics. Second, there’s the more subtle, but still pretty obvious, satirical elements of the music that both mock and celebrate the gratuitous guitar solos and power-synth choruses. And then there’s us, the audience. We are repulsed by the lyrics–both by their vulgarity and their banality–but at the same time we can’t help but sing along. We like the references to killing female pop stars on some level. And more importantly, countless mainstream musicians unironically employ this level of vulgarity (and sometimes banality) in their lyrics, and yet we’ve grown so accustomed to this that their music has become fixated in the soundtracks of our lives.
Lastly, when you put all of this in front of a live audience…well, seeing is believing:
The crowd sings along, even with the utterly profane lyrics, and make the metal sign with their hands. They’re rocking out. They’re part of the joke that is cock rock. The genius of Steel Panther is that they lift the thin veil of acceptability of heavy metal and reveal its true underlying nature to an audience that simultaneously gets the joke and doesn’t care that they’re part of the joke.
But perhaps I’m giving Steel Panther too much credit. The far less Overthought but far more likely interpretation of their act is that they’re using their status as a joke metal band as an excuse to lazily write the most juvenile, offensive lyrics possible, knowing that they’ll gain attention and appeal to the meat-head segment that either doesn’t know or doesn’t care that they’re part of the cock rock joke.
Either way, before I turn it over to the readers to debate in the comments, I want to acknowledge a couple of things. First, I would probably be in the middle of the crowd, pumping my fists and singing along to “Death to All But Metal” if I were at one of their live shows. I may be an Overthinker, but I’m not so blase that I can’t lose myself in a music act, even if it’s silly and profane. And that leads me to the second thing I’d like to acknowledge about Steel Panther: they’re excellent musicians, and their songs are exceptionally well crafted parodies/tributes to the best of the 80’s.
One such example is “Party All Day (F*** All Night),” Steel Panther’s spot-on tribute to “Livin’ on a Prayer.” Listen to this while you contemplate how awesome/awful Steel Panther is (warning: you guessed it, NSFW):
haha, that is so weird that you guys are bringing up steel panther. i’d never heard of them a month ago, but one of my buddies submitted a guitar solo to their ultimate shred away guitar challenge ultimate contest extreme (or some ridiculous name like that) and just found out that he won and is getting to fly to vegas to play his solo at their concert. BITCHIN’! anyway, here is his entry.
oh and cool article, i new something felt familiar about this band.
apparently you can’t embed things. here’s the link if anyone cares.
Is that Justin Hawkins I can hear in “Party All Day”? And Sarah Silverman in the clip?
It’s like Tenacious D and the Darkness travelled back to the 80s and raped Motley Crue.
I just listened to the acoustic version of “Fat Girl” and I’m still giggling.
It takes a lot of skill to do what these guys are doing. I love it.
Thanks for posting Lee, you’ve made my week.
This band loses two eighties points for not being called “Steel Panthyr”
@Valatan: come to think of it, is that really an 80’s thing? There are a couple other notable examples of band names where the i’s are all substituted with y’s:
Wyld Stallyns: so clearly 80’s,
Lynyrd Skynyrd: not so 80’s
I scanned this chart of metal band names (most from the 80’s, but some not) and couldn’t find any y-for-i substitution band names:
@lee: don’t overthink it man.
The point I’m sure Valatan was making was not that the substitution of ‘I’ with ‘Y’ makes the band name an 80’s one. Just that the Glam/metal rock bands of that era liked to play with their names. Especially the font of the band’s name, which are still so recognisable today, (STYX, KISS, wizZard T.REX all prominent through the 70’s/80’s).
I bet the ‘Y’ in Panthyr would have a long tail running the length of the word…… now that’s overthinking it.
Or, you know, my personal favorite: Enuff Z’nuff. Though i guess a counterargument would be that Poison and Firehouse (sadly) spelled their names correctly. But, certainly, the horrible band name misspelling is a music trope, and a heavy/hair metal trope on top of that
@Paul @Valatan, good points; I was taking too narrow of a reading of the y-i substitution in band names.
Intentional misspellings in band names are pretty silly, but look how much cooler they are compared to the correct spellings:
Led Zeppelin = > Lead Zeppelin
Def Leppard = > Deaf Leopard
Megadeth = > Megadeath
Limp Bizkit = > Limp Biscuit
Styx = > Sticks (which probably doesn’t count, since “Styx” is the correct spelling for the river, but it’s still funny to imagine a band called “Sticks.”)
oh, and of course:
Beatles = > Beetles
Back to Steel Panther: it’s interesting to note that one of their previous names before becoming SP was “Metal Skool.” Which makes it all the more surprising why they missed the opportunity to mangle the spelling of their current name. Perhaps for Google-ability?
@Lee: why can’t I stop listening to “Party All Day (F*** All Night)”? Twice in one day isn’t enough anymore. It’s IN my HEAD.
Years ago, I went with a friend to see SP at a free outdoor concert in Tempe Az. I had no idea who they were or what they were about. I am no prude but I was so embarrassed and CONFUSED….so of course, I downloaded their debut album and loved it. ….but I swear, I think they are retarded..anyway I read all about them and I get it. But, I still think they are retarded. …..maybe I’m still confused but hey….Gold Diggin’Whore rox!!!!!