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We Asked Metalheads What They Think of Zayn Malik’s New 'Metal' Merch

Metal is so hot right now that the former One Direction singer has enlisted Iron Maiden's illustrator to design a new T-shirt for his tour. But what do true metal fans make of it?

by Hannah Ewens
Jun 30 2016, 4:35pm

Cool very br00tal Zayn shirt. Photo via Zayn's merch store

Who'd have known that metal would have its moment in the sun? But it really, really has. Fashion has been obsessed with heavy metal aesthetics since Kanye commissioned Metallica-style tees for his 2013 Yeezus tour. Bieber then followed by getting Mark Riddick, a huge creative force in the black and death metal scenes, to design his Purpose tour shirts. Fashion brand Vetements made some ridiculously expensive metal logo hoodies that look like something your grotty teenage ex would wear. Black Sabbath did a collab with Supreme, for fuck's sake.

Metal is hot and Zayn Malik has jumped on the bandwagon last. For his new tour shirt, he's commissioned Mark Wilkinson, the Iron Maiden illustrator, to design him an edgy looking shirt.

If anyone will have strong opinions on this it'll be the metalheads—the people whose lifestyle is being in one way or another "appropriated"—so I asked my good friends, colleagues, and other metal fans what they make of it.

Tommy left, Kerry King from Slayer right

Tommy Bahama, metal fan

VICE: Hey Tommy. Tell me what you think about this whole trend.
Tommy: It's really hard to muster a shit about Zayn Malik doing Maiden-style merch. For some reason Kanye West and Kim Kardashian have been dressing like they're on the way to Download for a while now. Bieber regularly wears Metallica shirts, although at least he's actually a fan from what I can tell.

If I was going to get upset about this kind of thing it would've been when Chris Brown wore Suicidal Tendencies and Exploited patches on his jacket, but is that a surprise? No, he's a bellend. I mean, Metallica just announced they're the face some luxury men's brand called Brioni, so it's not like metal itself isn't doing enough to stamp out any remaining trace of edge. Ultimately, I guess bastardized culture and regurgitated ideas are exactly what you should expect if you look to people like Zayn Malik for innovation.

Nick Ruskell, music journalist

VICE: Hi Nick. Do you give a shit about this Zayn shirt?
Nick: Metal fashion and style has been co-opted by everyone for ages now, so I'm beyond giving that much of a shit. I get disappointed when I see metal fans wearing this stuff to troll or because they think it's funny, but really the idea of Zayn Malick or Bieber using this imagery doesn't fuss me. At least these shirts are pretty killer designs.

What do you think about massive pop acts using metal illustrators to do their merch as a trend?
It means talented artists hopefully get to make a good coin for their work, which is cool. It means nothing, though, really. Everything's just a design or logo these days without any substance behind it. This doesn't affect metal, in the same way Nuclear War Now! fest has no impact on Bieber's ticket sales.

Kim Kelly, editor of heavy shit at Noisey US

VICE: Hey Kim. Tell me what you think about this T-shirt.
Kim: There are two schools of thought that deal with this increasingly common situation. One supports the visceral, kneejerk "FUCK THIS GUY" reaction that's so difficult for even the most tolerant of metal folk to surmount when confronted with such blatant fuckery and poserdom, and the other, that dares to suggest that the commodification of metal culture is a good thing—positing that a Bieber fan who buys a Purpose tour shirt may follow the logo's sharp angles down the left-hand path towards proper music eventually. There are good ways and bad ways to cherry-pick from a certain culture for your own gain, and this, my pals, is the bad way.

The reason why metalheads hate this stupid cotton abomination so much boils down to the simple fact that this rich, hip, famous pop star is profiting off of us; this design lines his own pockets, dilutes the existing aesthetic, and offers exactly zero support to the subculture he's ripping off. Metal is almost universally maligned, laughed at, or ignored by mainstream media, treated as a joke or a token by most music media, and generally given no respect; now, some pop tart wants to swoop in, nick our look, ignore the music itself, and trot merrily to the top of every chart and cover of every music magazine? Fuck off, dude.

It's nice that he pulled a Bieber and enlisted an actual heavy metal artist to create this design, instead of having whatever au courant hypebeast try miserably to replicate the metal "vibe," but that doesn't make it cool. It's the same as when Kim Kardashian rocked that Disclose patch—it doesn't really matter in the grand scheme, since we all die alone and disintegrate into the same muddy nothingness, but it matters enough to bum you out if you've spent your whole life getting laughed at for caring about this music.

Photo by GGM Photography

James Johnson, a metal dude from Twitter

VICE: Alright James. Thoughts?
James: I can't say it pisses me off anymore than Topshop selling Motorhead or Ramones shirts. And Bieber, while I find him to be an obnoxious little shit, does genuinely like metal so I'd imagine he's paying tribute more than ripping off. Maybe a kid might see one of those shirts and investigate similar bands. That's hopelessly naïve, granted, but I like to be optimistic.

What was your gut response when you saw the Zayn shirt?
I laughed. This is the sort of thing that would have outraged me as a teenager. I would have cursed Kanye, Zayn et al. for daring to rip off or parody "my" bands. The Topshop thing offended me more because that was just crass commercialization of bands who never really made the millions they deserve. (Bar Slayer, Maiden, or Metallica—can't imagine they're short of a few bob.)

James Hingle, music journalist

VICE: First thoughts then James...
James: My first instinct is cringe more than anything. He's trying to be cool and edgy when really he is a giant cockwomble. Metal isn't about being fashionable. Maiden, Slayer, Metallica never set out to be fashionistas. Metal is a movement to take people away from their everyday lives and make them switch off from the world. Don't try and make it accessible enough to be just a fashion trend—it's not.

Robert Foster, a guy who also works at VICE and likes metal

VICE: Hello, Rob. Tell me everything you think about the Zayn shirt.
Robert: I'm a 33-year-old man so I couldn't (and shouldn't) care less if one strand of music for teens is ripping off another strand of music for teens. However, I'm a 33-year-old man who turns up to work in metal or hardcore shirt almost every day, so I've still got a dog in this fight, embarrassingly.

Kanye West and Justin Bieber and Zayn all have teams of stylists and designers working on their stuff, and almost without exception, every single person who works in fashion under the age of 35 was a weird little unpopular metal or punk kid at school who got picked on loads—that's why they dedicated their lives to getting out of their boring home towns and doing cool, fun, creative stuff to get over the horrific experience that school was for them. Lady Gaga's occasional stylist and bff Lady Starlight is the most notable example, she was probably the person who put Gaga in a legit crust punk jacket with Doom, GISM, and Discharge patches on it in the Telephone video.

So, of course this kind of thing is going to happen. I reckon for the teams behind these merch projects, it's part nod to their pasts, and part hoping that it'll bum out the normies that the weirdos are in charge of pop music at the moment. Either way, it's pretty fun and silly, like literally all of pop culture, including metal! Cheer up guys!

Charlie Simmonds, music PR

VICE: So Charlie, what do you think about this issue?
Charlie: It's a thing I think about a LOT. The whole Bieber Purpose tour merch being a Pentagram rip is 100 percent one of my fave things to happen this year. Big fan of pop merch being metal as fuck.

What do you think of its implications for the wider scene?
I don't think it should be a problem at all for any metalhead because do metal dudes really care about what's seen as in fashion at all? It is appropriation but not of any kind that has any real ground for offense, tbh. If anything, I'm stoked I can wear a Bieber/Zayn shirt to go see Gorgoroth without some big dude thinking I don't belong there.

Follow Hannah Ewens on Twitter.

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