Billy Idol is one of the most criminally underrated rockers of the 80s. While I am certainly prepared to fight to the death on behalf of his artistic viability, I want to instead focus on the whole “Billy Idol Personae” as a valid local of feminist discussion.

We talk often about the subversive potential of women who parody the troupes femininity to expose its construction, but almost never about the potential for men to expose the same of masculinity. This is largely because masculinity is rather hard to parody. It hasn’t the extravogant costuming, nor the flourishing gestures which make femininity so easy and fun to mock. The men who have participated most notably in exposing the nothingness of gender do so through feminine performance as we see in the Glam movement of the 70s and New Wave dandyism of the 80s. Many of these men play with queer identity (either in earnest or in gesture), but leave the locus of heterosexual masculinity unscathed by accusations of falsity. White heterosexual men remain extremely naturalized, and even invisible in the popular culture gender carnival.

Hair metal is perhaps the best hope we have as a genre with the potential to venture into this uncharted territory, but their perplexing humorlessness when it comes to gender reveals itself in the trumpeting cock-rock misogyny that so saturates their iconography. Their self-parody is completely unintentional, and even with the most generous reading can be seen as little more than pistache.

Billy Idol exists on the periphery of 80s pop, acquiescing neither with the New Wavers, nor with the Metal Heads, he is stridently a genre unto himself. Beyond his wonderfully self-conscious dressing up of “sugar pop” tracks in drag as “hard rock”, Idol is an important figure as perhaps the only Male-to-Male pop drag king we’ve got.

Complete with peroxide hair, head-to-toe leather, clenched fists and the baroque finish of a snarl, Idol commits so unambiguously to masculine iconography it’s impossible to take him seriously. His masculinity is literally incredible.

More important, Idol doesn’t counter the performance of his suspect hetero-masculinity with overt misogyny in his music videos or lyrics. Though women appear as sex-objects in his music videos they are fashioned as such no more than he himself, which is more likely a play at heterosexual absurdism than anything potentially hateful or dehumanizing. In fact, Idol’s sympathy for women and belief in their rebel-potential is one of the most omnipresent themes of his music.

Consider first, obviously, “White Wedding”, where Idol critiques the heteronormative salvation myth of marriage.

“Rebel Yell” as validation of feminine sexual desire, and rebellion:

“Dancing With Myself” is the theme song of Pop Feminist Dance Party after all…

Well, no feminist read for this one, “Eyes Without a Face” is just my favorite Idol track:

Um. Love him.

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