Source: Alexander Kellner
More than ever, toxic masculinity is plaguing young people and being pushed heavily from those rejecting progressive ideologies. With men like Andrew Tate spreading dangerous messages of hate to impressionable youth, more than ever we need people loudly standing against this mindset. This is where the British Post-Punk band IDLES comes in. Since their inception in 2009, the band has been focused on fighting bigotry through their music, and a main topic they explore is toxic masculinity.
Toxic masculinity refers to the adherence to traditional male gender roles that consequently stigmatize and limit the emotions boys and men may comfortably express while elevating other emotions such as anger. In an almost ironic way, the band writes songs fueled by this language of anger to speak to this crowd of people, calling them out for their behavior.
The bands most popular song addressing the issue is “Never Fight a Man with a Perm”. Lead singer Joe Talbot describes the song as “a critique on toxic masculinity and a rallying cry for men to address the dangers of toxic masculinity and what it really means to be a man”. It is uniquely structured like it’s a diss track on a certain type of man you likely have met before. Talbot describes a ‘roided out man with lyrics such as “You look like a walking thyroid/You're not a man, you're a gland/You're one big neck with sausage hands”. He disses him for being a “TopShop tyrant” referring to the man being as mass produced and superficial as the British fashion retailer.
Source: Idles on Youtube
Throughout the song he describes this hypermasculine muscular man and critiques him for being a wannabe suave and cool person but just coming off as cheap and fake. Talbot chooses to critique in a matter one would expect this masculine character to, an aggressive attack on the person. Of course, this aggression is all a setup, meant to show the common portrayal of masculinity that is aggression and confrontational. Talbot takes on this persona of the fighting man and then ends the song rejecting it by saying, “I'll shut my mouth/Let's hug it out/I'll shut my mouth/Let's hug it out/I'll shut my mouth/I'll shut my mouth”. This theme of optimism in the face of violence is one the remains constant throughout the entire album aptly named “Joy as an Act of Resistance”.
Source: Partisan Records
In the song “Samaritans”, Talbot yells a similar message, repeating words many men have heard he sings “Man up, sit down, Chin up, pipe down, Socks up, don't cry, Drink up, just lie, ’Grow some balls’, he said, ‘Grow some balls.’” Talbot delivers this mantra about how men are told that they supposed to just suck up their problems, and then later in the song rejects this saying “I’m a real boy, boy, and I cry/I love myself and I want to try/This is why you never see your father cry/This is why you never see your father cry/This is why you never see your father”. It’s rare to hear this type of positive messaging in this music genre. To be telling young men it's okay to be vulnerable and to reject much of the ideologies of older generations where men should just ignore their mental health is an important undertaking.
Beyond their music, the band has fought toxic masculinity in other ways. Guitarist Mark Bowen subverts the expectations of traditionally masculine clothing by joining the likes of musicians before him like Prince and Kurt Cobain to wear dresses out in public. Bowen wore an incredible purple dress to the 2023 Grammy awards where they were nominated for Best Rock Album and Best Rock Performance. The band continues to reject that traditional masculinity with their playful photographs and stage decorations. The way they display themselves in public is almost purposefully juxtaposing the traits of toxic masculinity. In every way they can the band subverts your expectations while making it crystal clear that they do not stand for any type of intolerance.
IDLES is not alone in this fight, we have seen Harry Styles stand up against toxic masculinity by wearing a dress on the cover of Vogue. We have also seen Frank Ocean go against hip-hop norms and move away from any masculinity in his storytelling lyrics. Music is one of the most powerful forms of art to spread messages, and to combat modern issues through song is what we need right now.
The traditional sense of masculinity is a symptom of living in a male-dominated society which has led to a dangerous precedent of men repressing their emotions and spreading dated ideologies. For a punk band to challenge those norms is not all that uncommon, but to do so by spreading positivity is not typical. With the evolution of the band through each new album, they focus more and more on spreading messages of love in the face of aversion. This message, through the lens of an active rock band is allowing more attention to be on standing up against the dangerous precedent. Whether one chooses Harry Styles, Frank Ocean, IDLES, or any other musician, having a proactive figure to look up to is important for impressionable young men.