Left: Jamie Lee Curtis Taete; Right: Anna, courtesy of the interviewee.
On the 14th of May, 2016, the official Tesco Twitter account issued a sincere apology. “I’m really sorry one of my colleagues called you a goth,” read the first of three tweets to a young man named Reece. “I can pass your complaint to the store and get this logged internally on our system.”Reece’s complaint was simple: earlier that day he had purchased a can of Monster Energy from his local Tesco in Glasgow. In response, he said, the cashier had called him a “goth”.
Tesco’s apology may have been real, but Reece’s story was regrettably fake. Still, with over 7,000 retweets and 12,000 likes, Reece’s tweet tapped into a widely accepted truth: goths drink Monster. The stereotype has been the subject of numerous viral tweets (“yer dar paints pictures of monster energy drink cans, calls himself vincent van goth”) and even one pained Quora post – tagged “Beverages” – “Why do goths love energy drinks?”Is there any truth to the stereotype and – if so – why exactly do goths love Monster? Is it a deliberate affectation, or do children of the night simply require the extra energy? How much did the Monster Beverage Corporation intend to cultivate this fandom? And what compels baby goths to first try the drink?First, it should be noted that (due to an unforgivable oversight from YouGov) there’s no way of knowing if goths enjoy Monster more than non-goths. It’s also worth noting that some goths argue that Monster is more favoured by those in emo and scene subcultures (however, tweets and jokes about emos drinking Monster are nowhere near as common as those about goths).When I reach out to an older goth who has “been in the subculture for over 30 years”, they say they’ve “never heard of” the Monster stereotype, so it’s possible there’s also an age divide at play. They also point out the drink may be more common among “nu goths” and “mall goths” – there are subcultures within subcultures, after all. It’s clear that “all goths drink Monster” is – like most stereotypes – incredibly reductive. But plenty of goths do drink plenty of Monster, so the question remains: why?
Niki, a 30-year-old goth from the United States, tried her first Monster Energy drink on her 16th birthday. “When I was in high school there was a big group of goths and alternative kids, and they were all super into Monster,” she recalls. “At this point, I’d never tried it, so a friend of mine got me one for my birthday.”Later, when Niki began working in haunted houses, she says Monster remained “THE” drink among her goth colleagues. “I suppose in a way I only tried it because my peers were drinking it, but there was never any pressure that I remember feeling,” she says. “Seeing it everywhere did pique my interest, though.”Niki isn’t the only goth who admits to first trying Monster because of their peers – 16-year-old Anna from Brazil says they first tried Monster aged 14 because, “I always saw my friends drinking, taking pictures, collecting cans, and I wanted to know why they did it.” As with all trends, the Monster fad clearly spread from peer to peer. But who started it?Monster Beverage Corporation and the company behind its branding, McLean Design, regrettably did not respond to multiple voicemails and emails. However, McLean’s website hosts an incredibly enlightening two-page PDF entitled “Creating A Monster”.The Monster Beverage Corporation began life as Hansen’s in 1935. Though the brand originally produced juices, it began selling energy drinks in 1997. According to the McLean document, Hansen Energy initially captured 50 percent of the energy drink market before an unfortunate and rapid decline to 8 percent by the year 2000. McLean began to profile “the emerging energy drink consumer” in order to rebrand Hansen’s. Their findings are best documented in full:
“This consumer, we learned, was a hell-bent-for-leather, party all night, rude, lewd and tattooed, land-lunging maniac. He was not concerned with ‘natural’ and refused to bow to ‘the man’… essentially, a rule breaking, risk taking, renegade outlaw.” They go on to refer to the “beserker demographic” who were “seeking lots of crazy for a little money”.This paragraph could refer to goths, sure, but it could also refer to a number of other subcultures. Over the years, Monster has sponsored a number of extreme sports competitions, and the brand continues to use scantily-clad “Monster Girls” in its marketing. Despite the name, the dark can, the ripped monster claw logo and the “Unleash the Beast” tagline, it’s clear the Monster rebrand wasn’t deliberately aimed at goths alone. In one extremely telling line in McLean’s document, the company writes that it planned to “intentionally create a brand that is sufficiently devoid of meaning, in order to be filled with significance by its early adopters”.It’s a remarkably prescient sentiment. In 2014, a Christian woman named Christine Weick went viral after claiming there were hidden Satanic symbols on Monster cans. Weick claimed the “M” logo was made up of three Hebrew symbols for the number six – so, by her logic, the can actually reads “666”.“This is how clever Satan is and how he gets into the Christian home and a Christian’s life, and it breaks God’s heart,” Weick said in a video that has now been viewed nearly 14 million times.
Monster’s branding isn’t Satanic, but McLean’s document shows it was designed to be edgy, with the company admitting it wanted to “create a new aggressive brand for an untapped aggressive consumer”. Since 2011, the Monster Beverage Corporation has also run the Monster Energy Outbreak Tour, which “showcases the biggest new names in music”. Over the years, the tours have featured everyone from Macklemore & Ryan Lewis to Iggy Azalea, alongside more alternative acts like Bullet For My Valentine and Carnage. Niki, the 30-year-old from America, points to the power of music in the Monster-goth alliance, saying that some of her favourite singers have referenced Monster in the past.Niki calls herself a “casual Monster drinker”. Though she’s previously had a “hardcore” phase with the drink, she now limits herself to one or two cans a week. “I like the flavours a lot, and the grungy/goth aesthetic of the brand just ‘goes with the outfit’,” she says, arguing that the name, colours and “spooky M” definitely appeal to goths. Teen Anna drinks a can a week and collects empty cans. “I like that it covers an entire scene and unites an entire alternative medium,” they say of the drink.Professor Nick Groom is an English lecturer at the University of Macau who has been nicknamed the “Prof of Goth” because of his books, essays and articles on the subculture. Groom is 54 and, like the other older goth I reached out to, says he doesn’t know any goths who drink Monster. He says that, in the 1980s, snakebite was a popular drink among goths, as well as snake & black (lager, cider and blackcurrant), and Pernod & black. He believes these drinks potentially appealed to goths because of “down and out” associations, and – of course – the word “black” in the latter two drinks’ names. Yet Groom also notes that these drinks may have become popular for simpler reasons – they’re sweet, they’re cheap, and they get you drunk.
I ask Groom how a drink can even become part of a subculture in the first place. “I think that subcultures develop in the same way that mainstream culture gives meaning to food, commodities, the arts and so forth, in order to create identity and community,” he says. He notes that although goths have an individualistic mentality, there is still “a shared, almost tribal, aspect to the subculture […] Like any minority, they define themselves through what they do.”Since McLean Design tackled the Monster problem, the Monster Beverage Corporation jumped from an 8 percent share of the energy drink market to a 35 percent share of the US market in 2012. Man cannot live on goths alone, and it’s clear plenty of people enjoy the drink – Anna stresses that many of their emo, punk and cosplayer friends buy Monster, while other goth friends dislike it.
Jessica is a 23-year-old goth from Newcastle who illustrates the problem with simple stereotypes. Although she became part of the goth community aged 14, she first tried Monster aged 11 or 12. “I tried it because I saw [the cans] and I wanted to – I had no outside influence, really,” she says. At the time, she says she was unaware of a “link” between goths and Monster, and simply drank the energy drink to stay awake. She now drinks around two cans a week.“I think it’s a stereotype,” she concludes. “In my personal experience, I’m one of a small handful of my goth friends that actually drink Monster – most prefer coffee.“To me, being goth isn’t about what brands you wear, what you like as hobbies or anything like that,” Jessica says. “It’s just about community. I travel to Whitby twice a year to go to the goth festival there, and you couldn’t meet a more diverse group of people.”@ameliargh