Glam rock (also known as glitter rock), is a sub-genre of rock music that developed in the UK in the post-hippie early 1970s which was performed by singers and musicians wearing outrageous clothes, makeup, hairstyles, and platform-soled boots.
The flamboyant lyrics, costumes, and visual styles of glam performers were a campy, theatrical blend of nostalgic references to science fiction and old movies, all over a guitar-driven hard rock sound.
Largely a British phenomenon, glam rock peaked during the mid 1970s. The “most famous exponents” of the movement were Queen, Marc Bolan and T.Rex, Gary Glitter and the bands Sweet and Slade. Other influential performers include Alice Cooper, Kiss, David Bowie, Lou Reed, Roxy Music, Mud, Mott the Hoople, The Glitter Band, Brian Eno and Suzi Quatro.
Musical and visual style
Musically, glam rock was characterised by a combination of languid, ethereal ballads and raunchy, high-energy Rolling Stones–influenced rock.
Lyrically, the genre’s played on standard hedonistic pop/rock themes, but other underlying key subjects including classic literature, mythology, esoteric philosophy, history, science fiction and (apolitical) ‘teenage revolution’.
Glam fans (usually referred to in the contemporary music press as “glitter kids”) and performers distinguished themselves from earth-toned hippie culture with a deliberately “artificial” look.
This is derived in large part from a fusing of transvestism with futurism. Evoking the glamour of ‘Old Hollywood’ whilst consciously wallowing in 1970s drug and sleaze success, the stars of Andy Warhol’s films and his stage play Pork were crucially influential to the nascent glam movement. The Warhol coterie were provocatively camp, flamboyant, and sexually ambiguous.
Mid-1960s Warhol Superstar Edie Sedgwick cultivated an androgynous, ultra-hedonistic image.
With then-recent homosexual reforms in the United Kingdom and the militant Stonewall Riots for gay rights in the US, sexual ambiguity was briefly in vogue as an effective cultural “shock tactic”. David Bowie caused a media uproar in 1972 when he told the UK press he was “gay.” While glam rock denied traditional gender-representation, genuinely gay glam rock musicians were rare. The late Jobriath was amongst rock culture’s first openly gay stars, while Queen’s Freddie Mercury stayed mostly “in the closet”.
Science fiction imagery was a core strand of glam rock’s stylistic weave. Themes of spaceflight and alien encounters were prevalent at the more cerebral end of the glam rock spectrum. Glam style strongly referenced this anticipated era with silver astronaut-like outfits, multicoloured hair and allusions to a new multi-gender social morality.
Glam performers and fans combined nostalgic, “decadent” and “space age” influences alike into a uniquely “glam” synthesis of Victorian, cabaret, and futuristic styles.