Echoes Of Glam Rock: An Examination Of The Surviving Semiotics Of Glam Rock Within Contemporary Popular Music


Glam Rock has been a prevalent and iconic genre since its birth, not only representing a category of sound, but also, one might argue a way of life. The 1970’s were a time for revolt and rebellion, rejecting societal norms and breaking free from the conservative restraints which firmly grasped the mentalities and appearance of the youths at the time. As time moves forward, ideologies and fashion change, and as a result, they adapt to the surrounding culture. This study focuses on the artists which channel Glam Rock’s energy. These artists represent the classic to the contemporary, all of which have been inspired by the glamorous genre. A man dressed head-to-toe in a brightly coloured jumpsuit, coupled with woman’s platform boots and hair that only could be compared to that of a peacock’s, may not be considered outrageous today, but this study aims to analyse this fact, through the study of visual appearance and what exactly these rebellious appearances might mean through semiotic study. 




“Its expression remains insanely recognisable, yet even in general terms the definition of ‘glam’ remains unstable. Glam evades a fixed sense of chronology and timeframe with different meanings and connotations across national boundaries.” (Pih, 2013. pg 11)


Throughout history, many different theorists have tried to discover methods in which make it possible to define a genre. However, in accordance with Martin Mull’s famous quote where “writing about music is like dancing about architecture”, the method of accurately defining a genre could be argued to exist as something which is not factually concrete. Instead, genre analysis is something which might be contemplated to lean closer to the realms of subjectivity rather than something of a strict science.  In relevance to this study for example,

 “glam in one context may in all likelihood differ markedly from glam in another context while nevertheless remaining vital and pertinent to those who encounter, consumer or perform it”. (Chapman, I. and Johnson, H. n.d. pg 2)

 Within basic understanding, one would link a particular musical genre to a registered sound or vision. It is the visual aspect of the genre in which this study will be based upon, as the symbolism of visuals within music is something which could be argued to be more easily investigable than the music itself; a visual is an concrete commodity where the discography of a glam musician is something in which holds a larger fluidity, with too many factors to consider, in regards to reaching an accurate analysis. It could be considered that the visual side of music aids the music itself with added meaning and helps conclude an overall narrative of the genre at hand. Furthermore, various non-Glam artists during the 1970’s (commonly regarded as the time of Glam rock’s birth), were associated with Glam not through their sound but instead through their appearance. For example, progressive Rock bands such as Yes and Emerson and Lake & Palmer often incorporated glam style within their performances. Within this context, and while definitions of Glam have continually altered in meaning, each artist defined as such has always used glamorous style as a central and significant notion, regardless of their sound. Therefore, this study will mostly focus on the fashion and style elements behind Glam Rock, and will aim to examine the semiology of the genre and what evidence remains of it within contemporary popular music. Analysis will commence through evaluation of Glam Rock within its original form to an exploration of contemporary examples of the genre, hence producing means for comparison. 


The study of how a genre is defined is an imperative first step to understanding its semiology. Although there are multiple theories regarding genre study, this dissertation will use the work of Frith (1996) as the foundation of its genre analysis. It is important to note that although the theories of Frabbi (1980) already exists as a principally credible basis for this project, Frith makes the critical point (within his book Performing Rites: On the Value of Popular Music) that Fabbri’s genre rules do not interlink, which is crucial in regards to fully understanding musical categorisation; “it is the integration of sound and behaviour in performance that gives meaning” (Frith,1996). Whilst Fabbri argues that there are strictly five rules in which music can be analysed through (formal and technical, semiotic, behavioural, social and ideological, and economic and juridical), Frith focuses on the perception of the consumer, suggesting that:


“genre is not determined by the form or style of text itself but by the audience’s perception of its style and meaning, defined most importantly at the moment of performance (Frith, 1996)”.


Philip Auslander (2006) extends this point on the importance of the consumer (within his book Performing Glam Rock: Gender and Theatricality in Popular Music) and too highlights the significance of performance and the spectator’s point of view. Auslander furthers this notion by introducing the relevance of performance analysis, stating that although the analysis is of a:


“semiotic enterprise at heart, theatre scholars flirtation with the technical vocabulary of semiotics, has largely dissipated in favour of a less “scientific” set of approaches drawn from reception theory, phenomenology, cultural anthropology, sociology, feminist theory, cultural and literary theory and other theoretical orientations” (Auslander, 2006. pg 3-4). 


In simpler terms, this quote signifies that more “scientific” or “stricter” genre rules cannot be used to analyse performance, as it is the abundance and the integration of many other theories which gives the artist their specific classification. Due to these notions of genre study relating largely to the act of performance, this again affirms the dissertations aim to focus amply on the visual concepts within Glam Rock. As such it will draw upon resources such as album cover artwork, photoshoots and video stills, using aesthetic as a prime focal point, i.e fashion and colour.  The research aims to examine the following key questions, with each being addressed within the following chapters in turn:


  • What are the ideologies which support the fundamentals of Glam?

  • What semiotics can be found from analysing Glam style, and have these semiotics survived throughout time?

  • Is Glam still prevalent today, and if so, how?


This dissertation will attempt to answer these questions through analysing the work of three artists: David Bowie, Marilyn Manson and Lady Gaga. Ultimately, it is anticipated that the study will highlight a number of means by which the Glam Rock genre survives in the present day, and point towards the methods and processes by which music genres survive over time.  


Chapter 1 - Semiotics and The Birth of Glam


This chapter will lay the foreground of theoretical research in which will be needed to produce an accurate analysis of the images which will be displayed further within the study. It will firstly cover the fundamental studies of semiotic theory, focusing broadly on the works of Roland Barthes (1977). The chapter will also discuss semiology in fashion, which will incorporate the theories of Jean Baudrillard. Secondly, the chapter will begin to investigate into the history of Glam Rock, through studying its influences, visionaries and ideologies behind it. This will relate to the birth of Glam Rock style and the role of gender within it. 


Semiotic Theory 


Semiology is the basis in which symbols and signs can be understood. These signs represent concepts or ideologies and help convey hidden codes. A theory proposed by Barthes (1977) states that there are two major components within examining signs; the denotation and the connotation.  A denotation of a sign is usually depicted with definitional 

or ‘obvious’ meaning, where as a connotation has ideological or personal implications (emotional, socio-cultural). Significance is relayed with the term ‘personal’ as it suggests that the sign’s meaning is deduced by its viewer, similar to how Frith establishes that the importance of understanding genre lies within the perception of its audience. Steward Hall presents another more complex theory, which states that there are three stages to fully extrapolate the meaning behind a sign. Firstly Stage 1, the poetic stage, where the producer of the sign ‘encodes’ its meaning.  Stage 2, the text or ‘coded message’ in its being, and the final stage, where the audience receives the text and decodes its meaning; the esthetic stage. In regards to Barthes’s notion of sign deduction being a personal experience, it is worth noting that each individual decoding the message might not receive its implied meaning, however they can instead offer an alternative viewpoint. Hall’s theory suggests that these readings are regarded as: dominant, negotiated or oppositional. The dominant (or ‘hegemonic’) reading is where the viewer fully understands the sign’s code and reproduces its ‘preferred reading’. This may appear as to be the more ‘natural’, ‘transparent’  or ‘common sense’ reading. The negotiated is where the viewer partly understands the code and broadly accepts its meaning, however modifies it in a way which reflects their own experiences or knowledge. Lastly, the oppositional (‘counter-hegemonic’) reading is where the viewer rejects the preferred reading, due to the viewer’s social positioning placing them in a directly oppositional relation to the dominant code. They might understand the preferred reading or dominant reading, however completely reject its meaning, (Hall, 1973). An example of this could be the use of cross-dressing within the Glam Rock genre; one viewer might see this as an act of self-expression, a rejection of societal norms or a dismissal of gender roles. Another viewer might depict this code of dress as inappropriate or unusual. 


Semiology in Fashion


Like many visual objects, they not only hold a physical function, but signify a meaning. In relation to this dissertation, fashion also can be used by an artist to relay different ideologies, and too, function in a similar way to language. Within Barthes book ‘The Language of Fashion’ he discusses the relevance of how dress is used to establish a person’s identity, either through individuality (style), or group (uniform). He suggests that the way a person dresses is to be expected; it is an extension of society and thus aids the distinguishing of character.


“Dress is, in the fullest sense, a ‘social model’, a more or less standardised picture of expected collective behaviour; and it is essentially at this level that it has meaning.” (Barthes, 2006. pg 13). 


It could be argued that within the genre of glam rock, various artists choose to dress themselves in ways that are not of expectation, and are adamantly not representative of their socialised being, i.e males might choose to wear woman’s clothing or makeup. However, it could be worth noting that this aptitude for dressing in a way which evokes social non-conformity, especially in regards to men’s attire, is something that is expected from male Glam Rock artists. In other words, it could be argued that Glam Rock artists dress in the way which is to be expected; a collective behaviour. 


Within semiotic theory, clothing acts as a ‘signifier’. Despite their physical main role being to cover up the body, (the denotation of the object), they also signify a variety of messages 

and codes (connotation). Western consumer cultures correlate various combinations of clothing with certain concepts i.e. elegance, formality, casual-ness. These connotations are known as the ‘signifieds’. (Hall, 1997). The signifieds then convert the clothing into signs, which conveys the message, and thus reads in a similar way to language. In regards to fashion, these signs can be combined with other signs, or featured within a sequence. It is a sign’s relation to the next in which further establishes its message. In standard dress sense, one might relate a pair of high heeled shoes with an evening gown. In regard to Glam Rock fashion, a pair of platforms could easily be imagined with a tightly-fitted jumpsuit, connoting notions of socio-stereotypical femininity (platforms), and promiscuity (tightly fitted). It is also worth noting that signs in fashion can also be concocted by capitalising on difference, i.e the lack of material on one garment, the contrasting materials between a pair of large boots and a long flowing, delicate skirt. 


Theorist Jean Baudrillard also cornerstones the importance of differentiation within fashion, and states that it is the difference between garments in which give them logic. When a Glam musician dresses in a way which is of spectacle, the statement is that it is of spectacle because of its difference to common dress. Baudrillard argues that this is the moment where the individual is recaptured by the formal logic of fashion, otherwise known as the ‘logic of differentiation’. “The formal logic of fashion needs to be detangled from other ‘logics which habitually get entangled with it”. (Baudrillard cited in Hawkins, 2009) This theory is defined by various terms, where the first logic is of ‘use value’, where the garment is interpreted as something of practicality with an obvious use. The second logic is the economic logic of ‘exchange value’, and the third relates to ‘symbolic exchange’, where the garment is defined through its semiotic value and cultural relationship. Baudrillard’s theory was that a sign is always determined by its differences, meaning a result of a coded difference. Similarly, theorist Malcom Barnard states that an item of fashion ‘exists only within a network of differences’ (Barnard cited in Hawkins, 2009). For example, the invention of the platform boot exists through differentiation to a standard flat-heeled boot, that of which might perhaps equate to something of use value rather than an item of symbolic exchange. The raised platform more so equates to the logic of symbolic exchange through its aptitude for opposition against the norm; more so within the genre of glam, as the platform boot was commonly seen an object of female use. The fact that the platform boot was adopted by many male musicians exists largely through symbolic exchange; the need to be different and oppose standard conventional ideals. 

The Birth of Glam Rock Style


Although various consumers might firstly believe a genre is a cultural commodity derived without meaning or thought, each creative decision that an artist has made has been produced through years of historical influence. For instance, one might believe a Glam musician to be dressing in a certain way through simple individual choice, and to an extent, that musician has dressed themselves in the pieces that they have individually chosen, and in some regard there might be little thought behind their choice in garment. However, the elements behind Glam fashion for many individuals have not just appeared through mindless imitation. Instead, this way of dressing has been constructed by the conscious decision to produce a particular theme;

“Individuals often select items of dress because of the personal or public meaning that it conveys” (Scapp, 2015. pg 28).

 Although this message might differ between artist, the overall concept behind Glam is 

“characterised by its use of stylistic overstatement, revelling in revivalism, irony, theatricality, and androgyny, privileging surface effect and artifice over meaning.”  (Chapman , n.d pg 182). 

These elements were inspired through the result of the rise of the number of art schools at the time, and the student’s aptitude for a

 “promiscuous intermingling of ideas and ideals across the disciplines of fashion, design and applied arts, fine art and pop music”. (Pih, 2013. pg14) 

 During the late 1960’s and early 1970’s Britain was home to more art schools per capita than any other country in the world. Alongside the movement’s various visionaries, this factor could be argued to be an integral component within the emergence of Glam Rock in 1971.


One of Glam’s first visionaries was argued to be Andy Warhol. During the sixties, Warhol provided the notion that “anybody could be elevated to superstar status through strategies of self-staging” (Pih, D. 2013 pg 31). In other words, if an individual courted the right image and attitude, and projected the correct visual style, then they could become famous. 

“Andy Warhol inspired artists such as David Bowie and Bryan Ferry. Glams learned from Warhol that they could become anything and the characters they played were the types of strange personas that Warhol himself had manufactured”  (Lenig, 2010. pg 4).

Another visionary behind the birth of Glam was said to be Bertolt Brecht (1989 - 1956). Brecht was a socialist playwright whose techniques had spread across Europe and America during the sixties. His techniques were described as a deeply committed social theatre. He appealed to the sixties youth movement, who saw the theatre as a means to protest the conventional and the conservative. 

“The glams of the seventies saw Brecht as a way to protest social conditions and to present the psychology of the characters they played through visual displays: costume, makeup, effects and sets. Glams learned from him that they could use spectacle to make visual messages to arouse an audience”. (Lenig, 2010. pg 5)

Within Brecht’s plays, he focused heavily upon visual aspects in order to create a concept for the audience. Some of these visual techniques consisted of using fragmented sets, music theatre and an hyperbolic, unrealistic acting style; the function of this was so that the audience focused more upon the political messages within his work. 


The Role of Gender in Glam


“It blurred the divide between the straights and the queers, inviting boys and girls to experiment with images and roles in a genderless utopia of eyeliner and seven-inch platform boots”. (Hoskyns, 2011) 


Each visionary or factor in which could be argued to be partly responsible for the creation of Glam style was catalysed by the post-war, hyper-masculine air in which remained in society. In America, the hippie movement was a key constituent in which ushered Glam into the forefront of culture, as youths of the time were imperative on fleeing the world in which currently existed; 

“the anti-veitnam war movement of the late 1960s and early 1970s was characterised by over demonstrations of felinity and male homosexuality as an expression of resistance and a means to escape the draft” (Pih, 2013. pg 32). 

This resulted in glam’s association with gender play; the obliteration of gender stereotyping and hyper-masculinity.

“If America’s problem was that it was militaristic, patriarchal, and male, then the antidote would be the embrace of the prototypically feminine”. (Pih, 2013 pg 54) 

This analysis could be argued to be the root of the next ten years of the popular homosexual attitude that finds its peak in Glam Rock. Despite the legalisation of homosexuality in 1967 (The Sexual Offences Act), the rise of outed homosexuals received prominent backlash from those which opposed the gay orientation. 

“The glam years were a period when young men sometimes willingly risked homophobic assault by dressing in the manner of their pop idol, even if themselves weren’t homosexual." (Gill, 1995. pg 112).

In 1972 David Bowie announced in an interview with Melody Maker writer Michael Watts that he was gay, which at the time, was seen as an incredibly outlandish statement. 

“For an artist even to contemplate talking to the ‘gay press’ in 1970 was itself a radical act, and could only have started pushing buttons with a gay audience starved of contemporary queer culture” (Gill, 1995. pg 106).

Although homosexuality is arguably mostly accepted by the majority of society, there are still always various groups of people who radically oppose and discriminate against those who identify with it. In 1970, these individuals were all the more prominent. To out one’s self as a homosexual could have been considered (as it still is) a courages act, but also, an act which would aptly permeate into the air of a time which was seeking to embrace the rebellious. To be homosexual was a notion which to many was not at all a conservative concept, but was instead seen as alien, taboo and incredibly ‘Other’ 

“The idea of ‘otherness’ is central to sociological analyses of how majority and minority identities are constructed.”  (The Other Sociologist, 2018). 

Within a patriarchal society, the man is considered the ‘norm’ or ‘default’ gender; the man dominates culture and society, through politics, business and music. Therefore, the woman, and traits belonging to that of a woman is considered Other. With this reason, homosexuality is considered more so ‘Other’, due to society's pre-assumptions of its supposed “unnaturalness”. The ‘Other’ is the opposite of the expected or stereotypical, and therefore can never be clarified, as there are many different forms in which Otherness can take. In other words, this gives the genre of Glam Rock another undefinable characteristic. 

“Numerous pop dandies depend on their icon status to deploy strategies of Otherness that move from the gay to the androgynous, the self-parodic to the glam-rock, the drag to the surly neo-Mod…” (Hawkins, 2009)


Chapter 2 - The Classic Artist


This chapter will firstly introduce the three artists in which will undergo semiotic investigation, and also, the reasoning behind each choice of artist. The three musicians were chosen to represent different time periods of which relate to Glam’s defining era of the 1970’s , the in-between stage of the 1990’s, and lastly the contemporary. It will analyse a selection of styles from a range of mediums; photoshoots, video stills and album covers. The analysis of the clothing and styles presented will focus on the use of colour, cut, shape, and cultural relationship; all supported by the appropriate theory as mentioned previously in Chapter 1.

David Bowie - The Alien Pirate


“Bowie - as Ziggy - emerged during the summer of 1972 amid a rash of contradictions. Rock or pop? Gay or straight? Freak or Fraud? Saviour or Destroyer? No one knew for sure, but they couldn’t stop talking about him”. (Pafford, 2000, pg 75)


For this study I have chosen to firstly focus on the work and style of David Bowie. Many music critiques and fans would suggest that Bowie was an artist at the forefront of the Glam movement, leaving an inevitable stamp on the look, style, sound and attitudes of its time. His style lies thoroughly within the realms of self expression and individualism, crafting garments and styles together in a way which would create a variety of hidden codes, undoubtedly enhancing and deepening the meaning behind his music.

 “Bowie’s musical and visual talents, which he considers a part of a continuum, have allowed him to not only embrace visual media as an organic product of his own unique visual approach to songwriting, but also to become a forerunner of production and dissemination - a sort of appropriating prophet”. (Pafford, 2000 pg 141)

Not only has Bowie left a footprint deeply embedded within the music industry, but his work has been frequently noted by fashion designers, models and stylists.  Evidence of his influence can be seen from endless examples, with just a few being Jean Paul Gaultier’s Spring 2013 ‘Ready to Wear’ Show, where models were dressed in brightly coloured jumpsuits of similar design to those of the Ziggy Stardust era, alongside red mullet-styled hair and heavily contrasting makeup. In 2011 Kate Moss was featured on the cover of Vogue dressed in a similarly styled, iconic Ziggy Stardust assemble. 


As previously discussed, the styles in which Bowie originally invented within the defining era of Glam Rock were radical of their time; they supplied not only an aesthetic of glamour, but embodied rife symbolic value in which can be decoded into a variety of readings. 

“His creativity and idiosyncratic authenticity have helped shape everything from contemporary art, music and fashion to popular culture and social conventions” (Frida Giannini of Gucci cited in Pafford, 2000 pg 20).

Regarding Bowie’s prevalent footprint within the fashion world, it is worth noting that these will not be considered elements of existing Glam style; this study aims to investigate on the existing life of Glam style since its defining era to the contemporary, strictly within the music industry and its artists. 

Figure 1 Analysis

“Music was not the only or even the primary mode through which Bowie first conveyed his vision to the world: he was an iconoclast who was also an image maker” (Camille Pagila cited in Devereux, 2016)


This outfit was worn in David Bowie’s music video for his 1974 track ‘Rebel Rebel’ during his brief play with the ‘Halloween Jack’ persona.  A song famously known for its lyrics depicting individuals exhibiting androgynous style; “You’ve got your mother in a whirl / She’s not sure if you’re a boy or a girl”, this clothing arrangement is something which not only is an accurate extension of the lyrical content, but is possibly one of the most well known outfits associated with Bowie, and the genre itself. Using accurate genre and semiotic theory I will decode the image and develop a reading which will subjectively assign meaning to the style at hand. 


The most distinguishable feature of this outfit is most certainly Bowie’s inclusion of the eye patch. The denotative aspect of the eye patch, or in Baudrillard’s theory, its “use value”, is that it is a practical fabric used to hide injury to the eye and is a dress feature most commonly associated with Pirates. In modern culture, Pirates are mostly regarded as beings which live apart from society and are assertively seen as outcasts. Pirates also are groups which are known to be criminal; stealing ships, cargo, and other valuable properties. Although Bowie’s real reasoning behind the use of the eye patch was due to an eye infection (its ‘use value’), there are many connotative qualities which the accessory can hold. Firstly, with its pirate and outcasted theme thoroughly intact, notions of Bowie’s “Otherness” and “queerness” can be heavily linked. Although “queerness” is a term of oddity, it has also been known to be used to describe homosexuals. This performance of fashion is a clear statement in which intends to be bold and entirely individual. Bowie is using his feelings of isolation and Otherness to create a persona which is accepting of his role within society; he does not intend to “fit in” or be part of mainstream society. The pirate theme can also be linked to Bowie’s sci-fi, alien-themed assembles, commonly known as a style associated with his previous “Ziggy Stardust” stage persona; an alien is also something foreign and separate from society. 


The relevance of the inclusion of the dungaree in this outfit is comparable to the previously mentioned quote by Malcom Barnard. Stating that logic behind garments only exists within their fundamental difference to other items is an apt theory for this particular piece. The dungaree was initially known as an “overall”, and was used by workmen and slaves due to its durability, i.e a garment of high ‘use value’.  Although it’s period of invention remains unclear, dungarees were a popular garment within the feminist movement of the 1970’s. Due to the fact that dungarees were considered to be clothing only worn by males, due to the working implications, feminists wore them to express their message of having equal working rights, and authority to men. Furthermore, dungarees were typically loosely-fitted, and would hide much of the wearer’s figure, hence producing the notion that a woman’s body exists in fact not for the male sexual gaze. At this stage, the dungaree was worn due to its high symbolic value, rather than its use value. Similarly, the connotations of the dungaree within this image is too of symbolic value; the garment is not in fact loosely fitted, but is tight, especially within the groin area, i.e its logic/symbolic value exists within its difference to the standard dungaree.  This could be seen as a statement of sexuality, which too, could be supported by the choice of its colour.

 “Red is the colour that most represents sensuality in many cultures as it is often used symbolically to broadcast availability and mating rites” (Eiseman, 2006 . p47)


As previously mentioned, androgyny is a common theme within the style and nature of many Glam Rock artists. To connote notions of non-conformity and Otherness, in this image Bowie is wearing high-heeled platform boots, a blouse which has been tied up in the front to reveal his torso, and a polka-dotted neck-tie. The significance of the polka-dotted fabric could be decoded in reference to the pattern’s history;

 “Polka dots were symbols of supernatural potency and moral uncleanliness”. (Co.Design, 2015) 

The polka-dot pattern is also a design which is deemed as feminine, due to its origins; the design came from the popularity of “Polka” music between the 1840s to the 1860s, which was mostly appreciated by women. (Co.Design, 2015) These are all garments which are stereotypically regarded as women’s clothing. In a similar way to the feminists of the 1970’s wearing pieces which were deemed as male items, Bowie is using a similar concept to reject social norms and patriarchal expectations of the male appearance. 


The hairstyle presented in this image is noted frequently in terms of Bowie’s iconic styles; the orange mullet. There are multiple readings in which can decoded from the fashion, history and colour of this hairstyle. Keeping Frith’s theory of focusing on the perception of the consumer in mind, each component within this assemble appears to be elements in which function is to rebel against standard dress conventions. To rebel is to reject social constructions; the act will inevitably cause a reaction from individuals of the norm and thus, it’s existence could be argued to be something in which relates only in regards to its viewer. Therefore, social relationship is an important commodity within decoding the elements of these concepts. Like most of the styles previously mentioned, this style can offer many alternative readings. In reference to the use of the mullet hair style;

“Mullet sightings can often elicit strong responses. It’s a hair style remarkable for its ability to offend, intrigue, entertain, startle and even excite. It can be seen as crude, low brow or rebellious”  (Henderson, 2013. pg 12)

The controversial appearance of the mullet has also lead to the invention of the insult “mullet-head”, which stated in the Oxford English Dictionary can be defined as “fool” or “foolish person”. To be a fool could be considered as a way of making a spectacle of one’s self, similar to how Glam Rock is viewed as something of a performance. 

“Glam rock was all about putting on a spectacle. The records, too, were constructed to be seen, whereas in the sixties they were constructed to be heard”. (Hoskyns, 2011. pg 6)

Perhaps the mullet’s outlandish reading could be due to its androgynous connotations, which could also be linked to Bowie’s affiliation with bisexuality (a sexual orientation which can/has been deemed by various individuals as one of oddity - neither one thing or the other). 

“The history of western fashion is marked by a profound symbolic tension arising from the desire, sometimes overt through more often repressed, of one sex to emulate the clothing and associated gender paraphernalia of the other” (Davis, 2008 pg. 33) 

With the front half of the hair style short in length and the back half long, these two lengths can both represent hair styles which are stereotypical of the male and female sexes, thus resulting in a combination of codes to produce the overall reading. 


Figure 2 Analysis


The album in which features the track ‘Rebel Rebel’ is Bowie’s record ‘Diamond Dogs’. The album sleeve displays Bowie as himself, although artistically manipulated to look as if part-man and part-dog. The sleeve was painted by Guy Peelaert, who is heavily inspired by fragmentation and surrealism within his work. Surrealist artists

 “find magic and strange beauty in the unexpected and the uncanny, the disregarded and the unconventional” (Tate, 2018),

and their work aims to reject rational visions of life. Peelaert also introduces a ‘circus’ or “side-show” element to the piece by involving the tagline “Strangest Living Curiosities”. 

“Thematically, the album’s cover art also refers back to the fictional words of Borough’s novels, populated by ‘desensitised mental and physical cripples…drug addicts, criminals and sexual deviants’” (Pafford, 2000. pg 124). 

The significance of the “strangest living curiosities” tag line could translate to Bowie showcasing his own character in a way which signifies a message of oddity, and one which is entirely of performance and Otherness; an individual who knows that his being is one which attracts attention. Similarly to Bowie’s pirate ensemble previously discussed, in this image he is again segregating himself from conventional society, but this time, is doing so by revealing himself as not even entirely human. There are also traces of this ensemble featured within the image, such as his “pirate treasure”, i.e his jewellery - hoop earring and bracelet, and also his red mullet hair style. The link between the two images are explicit; both denote two beings that are not from generic society, one, an outcast or criminal, and second, one that is entirely alien - both connoting codes of obscurity, outlandishness and Otherness.  The absence of clothing can also link to Barnard’s “network of differences” within fashion. Although Bowie is not dressed in clothing within this image, the absence in itself translates to a code. In juxtaposition to this, full dress can connote conservatism or perhaps prudishness, therefore the bareness of his form implies the contrast; sex, promiscuity, animal instinct and masculinity.

Chapter 3 - The Secondary Artist


Marilyn Manson - The Post-Human


Chapter 3 will introduce the second artist within this study; Marilyn Manson. Manson was chosen for this study through appropriate research in which defines aspects of Manson’s career as being in response to the genre of Glam Rock. Although his music is not defined as such, his inclusion within this study is a vital step into analysing how the genre has evolved, and still survives through visual commodity. The two visuals that are included within this study are a video still of a live performance, and an album. The album, Mechanical Animals, released in 1998 was said to have surprised critics and fans due to its heavy Glam Rock feel. Manson’s performing persona in which he incorporated aside this album was “that of an impossibly decadent rock star and an androgynous extraterrestrial”. (Baddeley, 2008)


In regards to Frith’s statement of genre being defined most indefinitely at the point of performance, the outfit in Figure 3 in which Marilyn Manson is wearing is an affirmation that genre can certainly not be defined based entirely on its text or sound. In other words, as previously mentioned, the selection of garments presented in this video-still would stereotypically not be categorised in regards to Manson’s perceived genre of Industrial Metal / Shock Rock. The outfit instead has many Glam Rock connotations, and can easily be compared to outfits worn by artists within the forefront of the Glam genre, such as David Bowie. 

“Many goth groups (the Cure/Siouxsie and Banshees) possessed glam elements (narrative songs, character portrayals, costumes, makeup, elaborate sets and videos), but they are usually classifies as goths. So to simplify the definition, we will view artists that participate 

in the theatrical impulse and share tendencies towards pop culture, media and fantasy themes as participant in the glam sensibility.” (Lenig, 2010. pg 4)


This photograph was taken in 1998 at the MTV Music Awards in Los Angeles during Manson’s performance of his song “The Dope Show”. In a similar way to how Bowie has drawn attention to the groin area, in this image Manson has cut out pieces of his jumpsuit and highlighted them with areas of plastic red tube. Similarly to Bowie’s use of red in Outfit 1, this could relate to notions of sexuality or promiscuity. Much of Glam style can be linked to the punk subculture; in a similar way to how Glam individuals express notions of rebellion and non-conformity, punks have been known to revolt similar ideals, which can be represented through their clothing. 

"Punk style fitted together homologically precisely through its lack of fit (hole t-shirts) - by its refusal to cohere around a readily identifiable set of central values. It cohered instead, elliptically through a chain of conspicuous absences” (Hebdige,1979. pg120)

 Within this ensemble, Manson is similarly using the use of absence to form code. Another interesting note is that he is also playing with absence by eradicating it; he has added form onto his garment in the shape of breasts to connote femininity and androgyny.  Furthermore, in Western culture, breasts have been noted to be highly sexualised, which is perhaps why Manson has highlighted these areas with the colour red. The significance of this entire ensemble relates thoroughly to notions of Otherness, similar to the outfits of Ziggy Stardust. In co-operating a sci-fi theme, the jumpsuit in which Manson is wearing is made of latex, and is light blue in colour. Within colour theory, blue can have a variety of different readings. However universally, it is mostly known for connoting “knowledge, coolness, peace, masculinity and loyalty” (Stone, 2008. pg 26). The coolness and calm of the blue could be used to draw attention to the areas of red, and in essence, emphasise its connotations of lust and sexuality. This is further supported by the relevance of the red tube surrounding areas which are perceived as sexual; the breasts and the groin. Additionally, whilst the red tube surrounding the breasts symbolises femininity, the significance of the blue can imply masculinity, resulting in an ensemble made to contrast the male and female sex, but also to represent them as a whole. On the other hand, although the connotative inclusion of both sexes implies androgyny, this could also completely eradicate any notion of gender. If there is no perceived singular gender stereotype, then it is absent.

 “True androgyny would involve a melding, or muting of gender-specific items of apparel and appearance so thorough as to obliterate anything beyond a biological ‘reading’ of a persons sex.” (Davis, 2008. pg 36). 

The absence is rejecting the conventionality of gender, similar to how punks, as previously discussed, reject conservatism and pretence by removing elements of their clothing. 


The inclusion of the latex material of the jumpsuit can be decoded using various signifiers. The dominant reading in which is conveyed through the material’s use, is the connotations of erotica due to its associations with fetishism. 

“In recent years, rubber and plastic fetish clothing has fallen into two basic categories (1) stereotypically female and infantile attire, and (2) second-skin garments.”  (Steele, 1997 pg. 153). 

The relevance of “second-skin” conjures the notion of nudity; with only “skin” “covering” the individuals form, rather than clothes. i.e nude. This in itself can connote notions of promiscuity, similarly to the bareness of David Bowie within the Diamond Dogs album; recognition of sexuality is an integral part within the expression of Glam culture. Nakedness can also be linked to the concept of anti-fashion. Where fashion 

“establishes social criteria for status of both wrath and taste, anti fashion calls for neither wealth nor taste”. (Scapp, 2015. pg 145).

 In other words, anti-fashion is the act of rebellion, its act lies outside the realms of fashion discourse; it does not change or alter as most fashions do. Much of Marilyn Manson’s attire can be linked to the concept of anti-fashion through his gothic appearance. The term 

“‘Gothic evokes images of death, destruction, and decay. Ironically, its negative connotations have made it, in some respects, ideal as a symbol of rebellion”. (Steele, 2008. pg 3).  

These signifieds are also commonly associated with the colour black, which is universally known as the flagship colour within the gothic subculture. 

“Black clothing is the dominant anti fashion today. it is the uniform of bohemians and other outsiders, for whom it symbolises their status outside systems of social status. Black clothing prints itself as liberation and token of “individual free will”” (Scapp, 2015. pg 144). 


A second signifier in which can be read from this outfit is that of futurism. 

 “For fashion, futurism meant fabrics, designs, colours and cuts that reflected audacity, movement and speed.” (Scott, 2018).  

The implications of “audacity” is largely amplified through this entire ensemble, as it completely rejects standard conventional dress. Although the outfit’s use value is for that of performance, the futuristic material could be in fact be in aid for easier motion, however the high-heeled shoes reject any notions of practicality. Instead, elements of “movement” and “speed” could translate to that of wildness or alienation; the need to escape from conventionality. 


Another similarity between this ensemble and that of Figure 1 is the style of footwear; high heeled platform boots. Again, similarly to Bowie’s androgynous hair style, the mullet, being half-masculine and half-feminine in regards to stereotypes of hair length, the platform boot could be decoded in the same way. Where boots have been historically regarded as an “emblematic of strength and resistance” and being “decidedly masculine” (Steele, 1997. pg105), the platform itself has mostly been coupled with feminine connotations rather than male. In the 17th century, high-heeled shoes were a unisex fashion, however “as mens fashions become more subdued, high heeled shoes became associated with women. The erotic appeal of high heels cannot therefore, be separated from their association with “femininity”” (Steele, 1997. pg 98). 

Figure 4 Analysis 


On this album cover, Marilyn Manson presents himself as a post-human entity, completely rejecting any implication of sexual or racial identity. Within simplistic analysis, one might say that Manson’s skin is merely white. However, one could also say that it is colourless; the skin lacks any sort of pigment in which might suggest it is of a natural skin colour.  Within colour theory, 

“white is associated with light, goodness, innocence, purity, and virginity. It is considered to be the colour of perfection” (, 2018). 

The significance of these connotations are in juxtaposition to the dominant reading of this image; for example, the redness of Manson’s eyes appear demonic and intense, not pure or angelic. Therefore, it is only conceivable that the skin is in fact uncoloured. At another angle, the relevance of “perfection” could be one signified which could either be accepted or denied; his flawless, smooth, alien-like body is confusing and peculiar, it does not belong nor does it completely reject standard, human convention. 


Although this style does not automatically project connotations of glamour,  it could be read in a way which produces connotations of the ideologies in which support the underlying values of the Glam genre. For example, the androgynous appearance of Manson is in complete rejection to patriarchal expectation of men; slender and almost alien-like, his figure explicitly reflects that of Bowie’s form on the Diamond Dogs album cover of Figure 2. The significance of the record’s title ‘Mechanical Animals’ also relates to beings of non-humanity. ‘Mechanical’ also refers to ‘technological’ or ‘futuristic’; Manson is projecting a genderless fantasy of the future human form. Although Manson does have what appears to be shape within his genital area, it does not define a clear biological sex. Although the added breasts might suggest femininity, perhaps their shapeless form is to neither acknowledge or deny the female appearance of his body; if the breasts were not there, the viewer might automatically assume the body to be that of a male, which as a result, would remove any androgynous implications;

 “as neither male nor female, organism nor machine, human nor animal, Manson confuses the role of the image as either reflecting the self or representing an Other (Toffoletti, 2007. pg 83). 

In this way, Manson is projecting himself as somewhat of a “monster”. Not a monster in the fairytale-esque regard of gothic horror, but through its philosophical definition;

 ‘"Monster' derives from the Latin, monstrare, meaning 'to demonstrate', and monere, 'to warn'. Monsters, in essence, are demonstrative. They reveal, portend, show and make evident, often uncomfortably so.”  (University of Cambridge, 2015). 

Within this form, Manson is demonstrating complete rejection of societal norms and gender roles; to many homophobic or transphobic individuals they might read this as a disregard for natural order; 

“monsters are disturbing hybrids whose externally incoherent bodies resist attempts to include them in any systematic structure.” (Cohen, 1996. pg 6) 

The monster is also demonstrative of a concoction of different entities, in this case, it is man, woman, animal and machine. 

“The monster occupies potentially contradictory discourses and signifies ‘potentially contradictory meanings’” (Braidotti cited in Baddeley, 2008. pg 84).


At this current stage within the study, It seems as though the genre of Glam refers not to that of “glamour” but more so of unconventional appeal; defying the norm. Although “glamour” universally has positive connotations, it could be worth noting that the genre of Glam is instead something of neutral description; similar to Manson and Bowie’s androgynous, or perhaps even genderless appearances. In the way that conventional glamour is appealing, Glam could be appealing in the sense that it attracts attention through its Otherness and non-native appeal. 


Chapter 4 - The Contemporary Artist


Lady Gaga - The Mother Monster


The chapter will evaluate the semiotics within imagery of Lady Gaga. Within this study Gaga’s inclusion was a primitive decision due to the concept in which presents Glam as something of spectacle, rather than a distinct sound. Similarly to Manson’s unmatched style to that of classic Glam Rock, Gaga too does not fit inside the stereotypical expectations of its sound. Instead, Gaga is universally known as a pop artist, not one of Glam, although in Glam’s regard, is certainly an artist of spectacle. 

“The wild and exaggerated dress and music of Lady Gaga stands as an expressionistic departure from techno, discuss, and glam. Gaga utilises shocking visuals, narrative performance, and dense technology in her complex matrix of sound and vision” (Lenig, 2010 . pg160) 

As previously mentioned within this study’s introduction, the classification of Glam’s sound is a lot more complex to pinpoint, where as the study of its visual semiology can draw upon a variety of similarities, and thus, produce a result in which demonstrates Glam’s existing, or non-existing characteristics. 

Following Lady Gaga’s musical tribute to David Bowie in 2016, she stated in an interview with National Public Radio that she felt like her  “whole career is a tribute to David Bowie”.  (, 2016). The significance in Gaga taking inspiration from Bowie also supports the decision of her involvement, as it should hopefully guarantee distinct semiotic similarities.


Figure 5 Analysis 


This image of Lady Gaga was chosen due to its similarity to many of Marilyn Manson’s looks, but also through the similarity of the jumpsuit style to that of David Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust era. Again, although the colour black might not automatically register with the Glam Rock stereotype, it does project notions of Otherness and anti-fashion. 

“By dressing in costumes that mark Gaga as Other, whether because of their grotesqueness or their appropriation of a subaltern or stigmatised identity, she uses her body as part of a display of alternatives”. (Gray, 2012. pg 37)

The nature of Glam style could also be compared to the concept of anti-fashion, due to its aptitude for straying away from fashion trends and discourses. Lady Gaga’s style is a prime example in which uses many of the ideologies behind this concept.


In significance to the use of the colour black, which can connote feelings of “death” and “decay” as previously discussed within Manson’s imagery, it can also connote “elegance” and “power”. Similarly to how Bowie and Manson rejected standard expectations for that of their gender within their appearance, Lady Gaga is following suit in her decision to wear something that is sheer (see-through). In regards to this, selecting an artist of the opposite gender to study can construct interesting parallels, but also can demonstrate how each gender rejects their expected role within society. For example, within many cultures it is expected, or has been expected, for women to cover up their bodies to prevent any implications of sexuality and to practice modesty. Where as Bowie and Manson would use bareness to suggest promiscuity in itself, it is not regarded by society an outrageous statement for them as individuals who identify as men. The presumed outrageousness within this image instead, lies within the fact Lady Gaga identities as a woman, but yet is rejecting societal expectations in which suggests that a woman must dress modestly. “Representations of femininity were associated with modesty, neatness and domestic respectability” (Dyhouse, 2013. pg 11) In this sense, Glam again is cultivating the idea in which exists as something of rebellion. The implications of “power” through the use of black further supports Gaga’s rebellious style; she is powerful and unforgiving in her choice of garment. This conjures many feminist implications; the need to own and control your own sexuality as a woman. Connotations of femininity can also be found within the inclusion of flowers. Lady Gaga’s mask and headdress appears in the form of a flower, symbolically flowers are known to connote “femininity” and “fertility”. The significance in these flowers being black, i.e representing “death” or “destruction”, eradicates any notion of Gaga symbolically appearing fertile, but instead, is unattainable and unavailable to men, despite her implications of sexuality through the sheerness of the jumpsuit.


In this regard, Gaga could be issuing a caution of disinterest, which can be emphasised through the yellow colour of her hair. The vibrance of the yellow against the black can conjoin to connote warning. For example, yellow and black are the two colours used for crime scene tape, which is what Lady Gaga can be seen wrapped in in her 2010 video for Telephone featuring Beyonce. (See Figure 7). Although the pairing of these two colours are dominantly read as something of caution, they can also be used in nature to signify danger and to keep predators away. Warning colours, otherwise known as aposematism are usually two contrasting ones, such as yellow and black (, 2018). The sharply pointed shoulder pads and unconventionally large headdress can further this notion of warning. The large stature of its shape can even appear threatening or dominant, similarly to the natural processes in the wild where animals ward off threats by growing in size. 


Themes of fetishism can also been linked from this outfit through its involvement of the mask; “masks are designed to represent the obfuscation of identity, but not just of individual identity” (Lunning, 2013. pg 117).  Masks which are more complex in form such as the one in which Gaga is using are used to “obliterate human identity” (Lunning, 2013. pg 117). The obliteration of human identity within this image can be linked to Manson’s use of monstrosity within Figure 4. In apt addition, Lady Gaga is also known as “Mother Monster” by her fans, of which are known as her “Little Monsters”. Gaga frequently plays with that of the monstrous and grotesque in her work and style; its function is to reject standard custom of the expected female appearance i.e to be attractive and appealing. Moreover, “Lady gaga’s refusal to be sexy also suggests a statement on her part with regard to what we should consider beautiful and, more broadly, what we should consider accurate in terms of aesthetics.” (Gray, 2012. pg 24).


Figure 6 Analysis


Lady Gaga’s 2009 album The Fame Monster displays herself face forward, concealed within what appears to be a leather black jacket or overall, in an angular white wig. The word “Monster” has also religious implications through the involvement of the cross in replacement of the letter “T”. The sign of the cross in the broad sense signifies Christianity, in the context of the cover art it could be used to connote the association of sin; i.e terrible acts in which might be performed by the “monster”

 “If we define the monster as a bodily entity that is anomalous vis-a-vis the norm, then we can argue that the female body shares with the monster the driveler of bringing out a unique blend of fascination and horror”. (Gray, 2012. pg 43)

In this image, Gaga’s clothing and hair shape produces a very rigid and angular form; a juxtaposition to the conventional curvature of the stereotypical female form. She also has one arm extended to her collar, either as if she is covering herself up, or about to reveal what is under it. The act of covering one’s self could have connotations of “prudish”, or “conservative”, which is also supported by the associations with Christianity, where as the opposite of this, revealing one’s self, could connote elements of sexuality, promiscuity and sin, i.e “evil”, or “devilish”. This theme can be further supported by the colour scheme of the contrasting black and white. As previously mentioned, white can symbolise “purity” and “goodness” (, 2018), where as black can connote “power, elegance, formality, death, evil, and mystery” (, 2018). The fact Gaga is either on the cusp of exposing or covering herself, adds to the notion of mystery. Mystery is further established through the fact her mouth is covered; it is a common fact in that the act of covering one’s mouth could be the result of trying to cover deceit, or, that the individual does not wish to reveal something that they are not comfortable with, i.e a “sin”.

Similarities between the other images within the study can be drawn through Gaga’s monstrous theme; the appearance of the “Other”, not wishing to conform to conventional ideals. In this case, Gaga is neither rejecting or accepting these conventions, but instead, is creating a boundless reading in which offers a variety of codes.




From this analysis it seems as though elements of Glam have echoed through numerous forms; firstly through shape; Manson, Bowie and Gaga have all not appeared in conventional form; usually shapeless, slender or alien-like, i.e rejecting any signification of bodily shape or sexual implication.  Furthermore, each artist has drawn upon mythical or religious themes, within his career Marilyn Manson has commonly associated himself with “the Anti-Christ”. In an interview with the Rolling Stone he states:

“I have assumed the role of Antichrist; I am the Nineties voice of individuality, and people tend to associate anyone who looks and behaves differently with illegal or immoral activity.”  (Manson cited in Rolling Stone, 1999).

Within Figure 2 David Bowie appears as a half-human, half-dog entity on the Diamond Dogs album cover and also repeatedly appears as non-human within his role of Ziggy Stardust, Marilyn Manson again, appears in Figure 4 as a being of questionable species; a post-human form in which rids any notion of gender, and lastly Figure 6, where Lady Gaga appears as a futuristic, angular being, sharing no inclination of gender. 

Sexuality however, is connoted repeatedly within each image, through use of dress and fetishised fabrics, such as Manson’s use of latex in Figure 2, the repeated inclusion of leather and the exposure of skin. Each artist’s sexual connotations also usually relate to that of androgyny; the rejection of gender roles and societal expectations. Both Manson and Bowie sport items which are usually associated with women, such as Bowie’s jumpsuit in Figure 1, and the use of the platform boot. 


Conclusively, the artists within this study represent Glam through the need to cause that of visual commotion, i.e a spectacle or performance. Every ensemble in each Figure relates more closely to costume, rather than standard dress. For example,

”It is precisely by wearing such costumes in seemingly inappropriate contexts that Lady Gaga draws attention to the way in which clothing choice plays constitutes part of a performance of a persona or even a self. Clothing always serves as a costume, but we only notice this function when an outfit seems impractical or out of place.” (Gray, 2012. pg 36)

Supposedly, it is Glam’s purpose in that it exists always in a time or environment that is “out of place”. In this regard, the most vital concept in which has been derived from this study is that Glam Rock’s purpose belongs strictly within the realms of rebellion. It is the complete rejection to societies constraints on all matters that effect systematic or conventional identity. For example, within Lady Gaga’s performances during The Monster Ball tour,  she was “seen biting the head off of barbie dolls thrown on stage in order to protest what she holds to be unrealistic standards of beauty” (Gray, 2012. pg 24). Similar to this, Marilyn Manson during his 1997 performance at the MTV Music Video Awards he declared:

“My fellow Americans, We will no longer be oppressed by the fascism of Christianity. And we will no longer be oppressed by the fascism of beauty. I see you all out there trying your hardest not to be ugly, Trying your hardest not to fit in, Trying your hardest to earn your way into heaven…” (YouTube, 2014)

To state that the semiotics of Glam Rock has survived from classic into contemporary music is clearly apparent within this study, however, the survival of Glam rock as a genre and style in itself is still up to question. On one hand, one could state that wherever there is a need for rebellion, in which results in a visual performance, there is the fundamentals for Glam style. Although, one could also state that the genre only exists within its time. As previously discussed within the foundations of this study, Glam Rock was a response to the post-Vietnam war and hyper masculine air of the 1970’s. The male identity was pressured into the societal norms of the militant and over-serious. Moreover, homosexuality was heavily scrutinised by the conservative despite its recent delegalisation. The act of these Glam men such as David Bowie, wearing certain items of clothing with obvious feminine or homosexual implications, and even at times, fully cross-dressing, was incredibly outrageous for its time. Today however, especially in Westernised society, the feminisation of dress, alongside homosexuality as a whole is more widely accepted. So in other words, can Glam still really exist if the surrounding society in which caused its fundamental reason for existing, no longer poses its original cause for reaction? 


Another side to this argument could simply be stated as this: although Glam is the stylistic performance of rebellion, it is not just a reaction to society, but, a reaction to itself. For example, David Bowie’s “Thin White Duke” persona, (See Figure 8), which was used not so long after Ziggy Stardust, had distinctly none of the characteristics of Glam that have been discussed in this essay. Instead, one could say that David Bowie was rebelling against himself and his current image of outlandishness and Otherness. This style can also be linked to Lady Gaga’s most recent persona of her “Joanne” album, released in 2016 (See Figure 9). Both Bowie and Gaga are seen in conventional dress within these personas, and do not challenge that of societies expectations, especially relating to sexuality or beauty convention.  In other words, perhaps Glam Rock is echoed through the fact that there will always be a need for rebellion; the rebellion against society, and the rebellion against expectation.