Is Satan Still Cool? The Teens Speak
The history of Satan's influence in music can be traced from Black Sabbath to Lil Uzi Vert so we asked teens if any of that matters.
Image via Devin Pacholik
Satan is the original influencer. Virtually all of the major religions have some version of the devil, the archetypal master of human temptation and sin. He has been a staple of popular culture since the beginning of time, dazzling audiences with starring roles in early religious texts and songs like "The Devil Went Down to Georgia" by Charlie Daniels Band and DMX’s “Damien.” While The Dark Lord remains active in his work of sin, some might point out he has fallen off in the way of clout in the digital age. While he boasts an impressive 1.4 million followers on Instagram, the Satan account mostly posts recycled memes. This could be seen as a clumsy tactic to attract a younger audience to the culture.
The book Satanic Panic: Pop-Culture Panic in the 1980’s recounts the way the devil permeated youth culture 40 years ago, hitting fever pitch with co-productions with bands like Iron Maiden, Def Leppard, and Judas Priest. During this time, increasingly risque pop stars like Madonna, Cyndi Lauper, and Prince added to the idea of sinful youths ruining modern society. To underscore how bonkers Satan panic was, in 1990 Judas Priest’s lead singer Rob Halford was called to testify in a Nevada courtroom about subliminal messages in the song “Better by You, Better than Me” from their Stained Class album. The case revolved around the 1985 suicides of two young men, 20-year-old James Vance and 19-year-old Ray Belknap, whose families said were under the influence of Judas Priest’s Satanic messaging when they took their own lives. The case was dismissed.
Satan’s relationship with music goes way back. Perhaps one of the biggest historical ironies is that the organ—an instrument commonly found in churches—was once considered Satan’s instrument. This idea is a bit abstract, but according to some interpretations of the bible, the devil “had the makings of percussion instruments and wind instruments [such as the organ] built into his very being.” Beelzebub even has his own musical note, or rather interval, the difference between two pitches. Starting in the 11th century, European music nerds feared and outright banned the so-called Devil's Interval, which you can achieve by playing a tritone. This evil dissonance has been featured in the likes of Rush’s “YYZ” and Black Sabbath’s “Black Sabbath.”
The roots of modern music being related to evil have sad and disturbing roots. As jazz and blues music spread through black communities in New Orleans in the early twentieth century, some white groups deemed it “devil’s music.” The idea stuck. As the documentary, The Devil’s Music: 1920s Jazz puts it, “jazz became associated with brothels and other less reputable venues.” Such xenophobic ideas even resulted in the US Navy, “fearing for the health and safety of sailors who frequented the jazz clubs,” shutting jazz establishments down.
Jazz and blues never died though, and those styles were of course co-opted by contemporary rock artists. The youth followed and continued sinning. In an interview with Noisey’s Kim Kelly, the editor of Satanic Panic, Kier-La Janisse, summarized how the Devil saturated the social conscience: "The 1970s popularized the idea that occultism was prevalent even in suburban neighbourhoods, so that made it easier for people to buy into the hysteria when it happened … Even though the era bore his name, Satan himself seemed like a pawn in this whole hysteria—any kind of occultism, paganism, or harmless fantasy lore got muddled up into supposed ‘Satanism’ in the 80s." Metalheads embraced the taboo, spawning entire subgenres dedicated to serving the Lord of Pain. Bands like Gorgoroth, Behemoth, Deströyer 666 and many other Black Metal acts continue to push the pro-Satanism agenda.
These days, rappers like Lil Uzi Vert pay their respects to Satanic icons like Marilyn Manson and GG Allin. Uzi, in fact, has a song called “444+222,” which after consulting several sources, adds up to 666—Satan’s favourite number and has taken on the title of Lucifer, himself. Likewise, hip-hop singer SahBabii uses Satanic symbols within his brand. He somehow built a convoluted non-Satan conspiracy around the imagery. It has something to do with protons and neutrons? I don’t know.
After such a storied musical career, is Lucifer really still a thing? Why isn’t he doing stadium shows? Does Satan have a streetwear line? I wanted to find out, so I turned to the people who know about cool stuff: The Youth. Over the course of a month, I went to a bunch of live shows around my home province of Saskatchewan (coincidentally a Hellmouth) and asked young people if Satan is still cool or for washed 30-year-olds and up. Here are the results of my studies below.
Tanner Bolianatz, Drew Osborne, and Bryson Bolianatz, members of Unfazed
“I think he has his place for some people. Personally, I don’t think he’s that cool. I think his time has passed. We’re bringing in something new.”
“I think Satan is still out there. People are less sensitive with that maybe, so it’s maybe become a joke. He’s still kickin around. I think he’s still cool though.”
“I don’t know. I think Satan is always going to be an element of rock. But it depends it depends how you view Satan. If it’s a religious thing, I guess that’s up to you. As for rock and roll, I think he’s still in there.”
Verdict: Cool but with nuance.
Anna Dickson, Satan Stan, and Aliyaa Lerat, part-time Satan Stan
“Definitely still cool—within music especially for rock and roll. He’s obviously still awesome.”
“I personally don’t mess with Satan. But for music, he’s a part of that. So sure, why not?”
Callen, metalhead/Soulfly fan
“Normally I would say no, Satan isn’t cool. But at a metal show, yeah. Satan is pretty cool. Normally I wouldn’t because I might get mobbed by a Christian group. Satan is important to music. He gives it character and shock value. Hail Satan.”
Verdict: Cool but Undecided.
Mitchell, Emo kid at a Dashboard Confessional concert
“Not cool at all. I think Satan is just an idol for edge lords. They think they’re edgy but they don’t understand Satan at all. I feel like [past generations] were misguided. They wanted to feel punk, but Satan isn’t punk at all. Satan is pretty whack.”
Verdict: Washed (which is wild coming from a Dashboard fan).
Mackenzie McPherson and Jessi Lovelace, fashionable Satan worshipers
“Satan is always cool. Especially in music. Music and clothing are the best ways to express Satan. Hoodies and ripped jeans.”
“Yes, of course. He is my fashion inspiration. I’m in love with Satan.”
Verdict: Cool and a fashion inspiration.
Bonfice, rapper (photo courtesy of artist)
“No, he’s not. Never will be. He’s karma to everything. I know Satan likes dangerous things or people, but he doesn’t really play a part in a person's life. Unless the person allows him to.”
Daina Salway, Justin Bieber fan
“Yeah, he’s still cool. I like to think Justin Bieber is Satan himself.”
Verdict: Biebervelli in the flesh so, cool.
Magus Peter H. Gilmore, High Priest, Church of Satan (photo via Dread Central )
“Satan is a potent symbol for the rare few who champion individualism, regardless of their age. If you can embrace the power that pride in personal achievement brings, and can be tolerant of differing points of view, yet pursue your own self-determined course—despite pressure to conform exerted by collectivists and authoritarians across the political and religious spectrum—then Satan always serves as a formidable and inspirational archetype of strength, liberty and iconoclasm. That seems pretty cool to me.”
Verdict: Cool as fuck.
Conclusion: Based on the above answers, we can calculate Satan’s cool rating by comparing the evil haters versus to the people who are definitely going hell. Ultimately, Satan maintains a 67 percent cool rating. We’re going to round down though to make it 66.6 percent because 666 (YEAAAAAAGHHH SATAN!). Either way, this means Satan is definitely still cool. He might be a fallen angel, but his influence can still be heard in Billboard charting songs and Taylor Swift’s entire body of work. The signs are everywhere. Artists like Drake might claim to live according to God’s plan, but the Devil is in the details.
Follow Devil Pacholik on Twitter.
This article originally appeared on Noisey CA.