Nu-metal was more than just the music. The genre's explosion during the mid-Nineties led to a drastic overhaul of the way metal music was visually presented, and its commercial domination through the early 2000s had an indelible influence on both mainstream and subcultural fashion trends — an impact that's only become more defined over time, especially during this current era of Y2k nostalgia.
When we think of nu-metal, we don't just think of the scene's most lasting songs, we think of the outfits. The makeup. The hairstyles. The piercings. The big pants. The shit that gave parents nightmares and teenage renegades the inspiration to be aggressively themselves in a way that reflected the mounting anxieties of the time.
The influencers for the cultural movement that was nu-metal were the artists themselves, so we decided to commemorate the 11 most iconic looks sported by some of nu-metal's biggest stars. From certifiably insane face-paint and painful looking facial piercings, to the genre's premiere hats and outlandish outerwear.
It's hard to decipher the creative intentions behind Mudvayne's L.D. 50-era getups, but making it impossible to look away was definitely one of them. Guitarist Greg Tribbett resembled Darth Maul getting electrocuted, Chad Gray's silver-coated head and tattered overalls made him look like a hillbilly who huffed a whole cannister of paint, and the other two, frequently shirtless members — bassist Ryan Martinie and drummer Matthew McDonough — wore makeup that made them look like demonic aliens beamed in from Planet Brbr Deng. They stopped dressing that way once the getups drew too many comparisons to Slipknot's outfits, but the way Mudvayne looked in the unforgettable "Dig" music video is the way many fans still visualize them.
All of the System of a Down guys had unique styles in the early days of the band. They dabbled with makeup around the time of the "Sugar" music video, Serj Tankian sported a shiny rainbow jacket for a brief time in the late Nineties, and all of their photos emphasized their bulging eyes and zany facial expressions. As Tankian, Daron Malakian and John Dolmayan experimented with new hairdos and outfits throughout the 2000s, the one constant was bassist Shavo Odadjian's long braided beard. Oh, the stories that Shavo's braided beard could tell. He wasn't the only guy in nu-metal with unique facial hair — and numerous other artists on this list also rocked the braid — but no one made it look as cool as Shavo did.
Wayne Static lived and breathed the mystical powers that electro currents have on the human body. The late Static-X frontman constantly personified his moniker by vertically spiking every hair on his head up like a Looney Tunes character who just stuck a quarter in a socket. The process allegedly took at least 20 minutes to accomplish, so the "Push It" singer really made his commitment clear by rarely — if ever — showing his face in public without his distinctive coif. Musically, Static-X landed somewhere between industrial and nu-metal, but the influence Static had on spiky-haired teens rocking Slipknot shirts throughout the world is unquantifiably vast.
For as eye-catching as a lot of the outfits, hairstyles and body modifications of the nu-metal era were, most of those aesthetic choices were intended to play up the shocking and/or playful aspects of the genre with a campy wink. Slipknot, on the other hand, were trying to be fucking scary — and they were. The Iowa maniacs came onto the scene in 1999 clad in bright red prison jumpsuits and nightmare-inducing DIY masks, and the gang of nine carried themselves with a menacing, unpredictable energy that was genuinely intimidating compared to what their peers were doing. You could try and steal their look, but no one can truly replicate their singularly threatening aura from the late Nineties.
Disturbed frontman David Draiman is a man of many looks. Throughout his 20-plus-year career, the "Down With the Sickness" singer has rocked various trench coats, robes, vests, mesh shirts and more. However, his most distinguishing feature has been his double labret piercing — the pair of giant spiked crescents that, up until he removed them a few years ago, protruded out of his lower lip and wrapped all the way down to the base of his chin. They looked kind of like a shiny metallic goatee and are as emblematic of early 2000s nu-metal as his infamous "oo-ah-ah-ah-ah" monkey noise.
For most bands, if anyone in the lineup is going to be flaunting a jaw-dropping ensemble then it's the frontperson. Not so, Limp Bizkit. Fred Durst certainly had his hallmark garb (read on), but guitarist Wes Borland has always been the band's — and quite possibly the genre's — most eccentrically dressed performer. Although he started out with just black eye contacts, his outfits have gotten progressively more elaborate over the years — full-face makeup and a chest full of alien goop in the late Nineties; full-body paint with disco ball materials on his eyes during the 2000s; and varying costumes that would take full paragraphs to describe throughout the last decade. We like this one from 2010 where he's wearing ... who the fuck even knows.
Jonathan Davis is the Gianni Versace of nu-metal. The Korn frontman should be widely credited for spearheading many of the genre's most quintessential fashion choices, like adidas track suits, dreadlocks, ostentatious pimp jackets and much more. The "Freak on a Leash" scatter has never been afraid to wear something loud and quirky, and perhaps his most infamous clothing choice of them all are the Irish kilts that he's been donning onstage for decades. The skirts are a nice complement to the bagpipes he brings out for songs like "Shoots and Ladders" and "Dead," but they're also representative of how nu-metal subverted the broader genre's macho norms for male gender presentation.
Korn's Joanthan Davis certainly dabbled in the pompous luxury of Seventies hustler attire, but Kid Rock made it a lifestyle. The controversial nu-metal "bullgod" is arguably better remembered for his absurd outfits than any of his actual songs, and the fur coats he wore at nearly every red carpet event he attended became his trademark. He'd frequently pair them with a range of cartoonish headwear — fedoras, bowler caps, cowboy hats — and douchey sunglasses that added a Bud Light-swiggin' flair to his smirking appropriation of hip-hop style. You may not like the way he looked, but you definitely remember it.
Given that nu-metal is, both musically and aesthetically, a convergence of metal and hip-hop that was largely reacting to the heavy-music tropes of the Seventies, Eighties and early Nineties, there weren't a whole lot of goths in the scene. Bands like Kittie and Dope were borrowing from all-black industrial-club fashion, but it was "spookycore" purveyers Coal Chamber who first brought Halloween-time getups into nu-metal's collective wardrobe. Smeared eye shadow, red hair dye, chain piercings, leather wrist bands, multiple rings on one hand — and all presented with mawkish facial expressions and coy poses rather than brutish, schoolyard bully stances. The music video for their 1997 single "Loco" tells all.
For all of the wacky body modifications, hairstyles and clothing items that defined the style of the nu-metal era, there surprisingly weren't that many artists who were instantly recognizable by their tattoos. The tattoo industry exploded at the tail of the Nineties and most of today's biggest musical renegades — whether in rock, rap or pop — have notable ink, but of all the major stars of the nu-metal movement, Linkin Park's Chester Bennington stood out with his blue flame tattoos that blazed from his wrists up through his forearms. Compared to many of the other artists on this list, the late Bennington was mild-mannered and not begging to draw attention to himself, but the ink that showed every time he did his notorious double-handed mic clasp was a signature look.
Fred Durst practically broke the internet earlier this summer when he waltzed onstage at Lollapalooza with mutton chops, a full head of wavy gray hair and sweet-and-sour-colored aviators. The Limp Bizkit frontman looked completely unrecognizable in his new getup, particularly because most people identify him by his backwards red Yankees cap. The fitted baseball hat was glued to his head during the "Break Stuff" era of the band, and even though he actually wore a black version of the hat during his band's infamous Woodstock '99 set, the red iteration is as synonymous to nu-metal as flannels are to grunge.