The Most Unfortunate Costumes and Ornate Nonsense in Rock History

The Most Unfortunate Costumes and Ornate Nonsense in Rock History

Serious musical talent might be the single trait that, more than any other, allows you to be deeply weird. You might be the most talented accountant in the world, but if you suddenly start wearing a disco ball helmet and calling yourself “Senor Computador,” you’re probably hurting your business. Professional musicians, on the other hand, are allowed to do things like bite the heads off of bats, and it’s considered strong branding. However, just because they can get away with wearing anything doesn’t mean they should.

Here are five of the most unnecessary, regrettable and needlessly complicated rock-and-roll getups…

Peter Gabriel in Genesis

I feel like prog-rock bands always think they’re way weirder than they actually are. They’re the musical equivalent of that meme of the lady with the chip bag on her head that says, “She’s so crazy!!!” Sure, you’re using all sorts of fucked-up time signatures, but I’d have to know way more about music to even really know that. It mostly just sounds like rock with a guy going especially nuts on a keyboard. I’m not knocking the music itself. I’m merely saying, just because something sounds really good high doesn’t mean it’s revolutionary.

In the genre, you might say nobody tried harder — and I do mean that in a slightly derogatory sense — than Peter Gabriel in Genesis’ live performances. Look, the guy’s got pipes. He sings like a beautiful, bald little siren, and I genuinely love “Sledgehammer.” I just question the need for him to have dressed up like Dracula in a Technicolor Dreamcoat or what looks like a ball of Muppet Cancer. They say the costumes helped with his stage fright, but I don’t know, I’ve never seen someone suffering from a lack of confidence who thinks covering themselves in jewels will help.

Elton John’s Less Iconic Looks

Again, let’s be absolutely clear here: I’m not trying to downplay the fact that these groups make incredible music. All I am trying, peacefully, to say is that they could chill out a bit. Sir Elton John being another such artist. I will respect the fact that he swings for the fences, and I’m not going to act like sometimes, he doesn’t genuinely knock it out of the park. Other times, you see him, and you’re just like, “Oh, I guess he’s a bumblebee in this song?”

Look, I understand this is all part of his joyous self-expression, and his identity, and is a celebration of camp by a famous gay icon. At the same time, I don’t think it should be borderline homophobic to say that sometimes he just looks confusing. As far as I know, Donald Duck isn’t a drag icon. Though, I just watched the video of John performing in said Donald Duck costume, and I retract all criticism. This objectively rules. Still weird though!

Twisted Sister’s Whole Thing

I know exactly what you’re thinking: “That was the whole point! Dee Snider and Twisted Sister were shock rockers!” I get that. It’s not like hair metal wasn’t halfway there without any traces of humor. It also, obviously, worked. They earned exactly the desired reputation as freakazoids who were a danger to some part of a kid’s developing mind, even if they didn’t exactly know which part.

The thing is, even if I fully understand that they were intending to be strange, why’d it have to be such a mess? Some strange mix of crossdressing, drag makeup, and inexplicably, football shoulder pads feels like they decided they needed a gimmick while they happened to be walking by a YMCA lost and found. Even the value it may have provided young queer fans at the time has been slightly tempered by Dee Snider’s inability to keep his mouth shut


Everything ABBA ever wore on stage was, objectively, deeply awful. People tend to forget they came from Eurovision, but one look at their fashion choices makes it clear these are some European-ass motherfuckers. If I want to be generous, I can give them the benefit of the doubt and say that they were dressed this way for pure spectacle. Unfortunately, I don’t really believe that. I do think that they were just weirdly lame Swedish people who thought bedazzled dirndls were badass. I’m not going to deny their success, but you shouldn’t deny that they proudly took the stage looking like they were pulled from a storeroom for irregular Small World animatronics.


Truly no band exemplifies the idea of ornate nonsense like GWAR. As a result, GWAR rules. No one has effectively incorporated bodily fluids into a performance since Jesus Christ himself. Talk about shock rock or gimmickry all you want, GWAR created a band that it is medically impossible for a parent to ever understand.

Eli Yudin is a stand-up comedian in Brooklyn. You can follow him on Twitter and Instagram at @eliyudin and listen to his podcast, What A Time to Be Alive, about the five weirdest news stories of the week, on Apple PodcastsSpotify or wherever else you get your podcasts.

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