Nu metal’s resurgence has been percolating since the late 2010s, thanks to a generation of Soundcloud rappers and hyperpop artists allured by its lasting taboo. 100 Gecs, Poppy, Pink Pantheress, and Rico Nasty have all acknowledged nu metal as a musical influence, and the genre’s aesthetic legacy lives on in the horrorcore-inspired visuals of Playboi Carti, Doja Cat, and Trippie Redd. Longtime nu metal ambassador Lil Uzi Vert even released a cover of System of a Down’s “Chop Suey!” on their recent album The Pink Tape. Sped-up remixes of tracks by bands like Deftones have helped transform nu metal into somewhat of a social media phenomenon on TikTok, particularly among young women. The brand Heaven by Marc Jacobs capitalized on this in March by releasing an extensive collaboration with the band. The genre also had a memorable presence on the soundtrack of Beef—one of 2023’s most popular Netflix shows—while Sick New World, a nu metal festival in Las Vegas, completely sold out in its inaugural year.
While rock subgenres like punk, goth, and grunge bring immediate signifiers to mind, what constitutes nu metal fashion is slightly murkier. It does, however, have its distinguishing attributes––namely the fusion of traditional rock styles with sportswear, alongside influences from skateboarding, hip hop and rave culture. Think outrageous hair (frosted tips, colored dreads), impractical piercings, chains, mesh, and fur, blended with Adidas tracksuits, oversized sweats, chunky skate shoes, white tanks, gas station sunglasses, and massive pants by JNCO or Tripp NYC. Nu metal style isn’t a monolith, but it often leaned toward dirty, chaotic graphics and a more relaxed, slack-chic take on alternative style. Many of these bands were known for signature looks, like Mudvayne’s cyberpunk face makeup, Coal Chamber’s outrageous braids, Slipknot’s boiler suits and masks, Korn’s customized Adidas and skirts, and Limp Bizkit’s backwards hats and khakis.
There are countless examples of early adopters of this look, like Billie Eilish, Justin Bieber (who made headlines for wearing JNCOs this summer), Machine Gun Kelly and NBA star Jordan Clarkson. Nu metal has also carved its way into the luxury sphere. My guess is that the filmmakers who made the competing documentaries about Woodstock 99 didn’t expect to end up on high-fashion mood boards, but Balenciaga’s infamous Spring 2023 show bore a curious resemblance to scenes from the catastrophic nu metal festival—mud pits, wallet chains, and all. The nu metal agenda is equally alive and well in recent collections by buzzy labels like Vetements, 017 Alyx 9SM, Willy Chavarria, Diesel, Y-Project, and No Faith. “We’re seeing a hardening of fashion aesthetics and a lot of darker tones and ugly color combinations,” said Gwyneth Holland, a trend analyst at BDA London. “There is a move toward anti-cool and post-perfection, which is about embracing things that are gross or weird. I personally love that people are challenging old ideas of good taste. Nu metal is like a counter-trend to quiet luxury.”
In July, Travis Scott sported Limp Bizkit merch on Instagram and in his music video for “K-POP” with The Weeknd and Bad Bunny. His Utopia tour merch, which broke sales records, also looks remarkably Korn-y. Nu metal-inspired looks also lend themselves well to meme-able moments: Consider Sam Smith in a full Vetements look at the Barbie premiere, or even Robert Pattison’s GQ cover last year. Brands like Praying and Barragán—famous for their provocative shirts adorned with phrases like “Feral” or “J’Adore Ur Hole”—bring to mind the boldness and crassness of nu metal bands and their merch (like Slipknot’s infamous “people = shit” shirt). After all, “trashion” and controversy––two things nu metal bands have always understood and mastered––are pillars of the sartorial zeitgeist in the age of algorithms. Holiday Kirk, a music journalist and the admin of the popular X account @numetal_moment, offered his take: “I’ve been perturbed lately that the music is getting a bit lost, suddenly it feels like more of a fashion thing. But of course, that’s part of the reason why these bands were so successful. They were like content farms before that concept even existed.”
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