On Band T-Shirts

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Vintage band T-shirts have been popular for several years, which is as apparent at M-A as anywhere else anywhere else. Popular retailers such as Urban Outfitters produce merchandise for a wide variety of vintage bands, ranging from Pink Floyd to Nirvana. Whether those participating in the trend care about the bands’ character is another question. While band T-shirts were perhaps once an item meant to express something about their wearers, members of Gen Z wear them primarily for aesthetic purposes: not to convey that they listen to the band’s music or subscribe to the band’s ideas but that they give the vibe that they would. Many students wearing these T-shirts don’t know very much about the actual music of the band they’re representing, or if the band is even any good to begin with, so here’s a list of five of the most popular bands featured in this trend, and whether or not their music is any good.

Junior Sonia Freedman wears Sublime sweatshirt

Sublime is often featured on graphic T-shirts, in part thanks to Urban Outfitters’ popular T-shirt depicting the cover of their 1992 album 40oz to Freedom. The ska punk group is most well known for their 1992 album 40oz to Freedom and their 1996 eponymous album. Originating in Long Beach, much of the band’s music seems to evoke the image of a group of drunken dudes on a beach who were given instruments and told to sing. The vulgar lyrics of much of their discography, with song titles such as “Smoke Two Joints” and “Date Rape,” makes one wonder approximately how many students sporting the band’s T-shirts know exactly what they’re representing. The band’s questionable and at times vaguely offensive lyrical content could perhaps be overlooked, but the sheer, earsplitting awfulness of their music feels more offensive than any problematic lyrics, adding insult to injury and makes their music utterly irredeemable. They’re hardly a band I would recommend unless you happen to own a Sublime T-shirt—in which case I would suggest knowing exactly what you’re signing on to before wearing it in public.

Student wears Nirvana sweatshirt

Nirvana is one of the most common bands depicted on graphic T-shirts, along with other clothing such as the pink Nirvana sweatshirt that’s become trendy among students. The band is well known for popularizing the grunge genre that emerged from Seattle in the late 1980s. They gained mainstream success for their 1991 album, Nevermind, with well-known songs such as “Smells Like Teen Spirit” and “Come as You Are.” The popularity of Nirvana merchandise among students could be due in part to the lyrics of frontman Kurt Cobain, which give expression to a sense of near-ubiquitous teenage angst. In addition to that, their merchandise is probably so common because the band’s music is genuinely good.

AC/DC is a band that is also prominently featured in the vintage band T-shirt trend, again thanks to Urban Outfitters. The ‘80s hard rock band is known for songs such as “Highway to Hell” and “Back in Black,” as well as their ability to inflict physical pain on anyone forced to sit through the ear-splitting guitar riffs, incoherent vocals, and repetitive lyrics devoid of any real meaning or purpose. While I’m sure there are individuals somewhere out there who enjoy AC/DC, it seems doubtful to me that this applies to more than a slim minority of the teenagers who own an AC/DC T-shirt—like many bands, most high schoolers who own T-shirts of this band seem to do so for purely aesthetic reasons. Not only would I suggest steering clear of their music if possible, I think AC/DC merchandise should be avoided altogether. If you’re going to wear a vintage band T-shirt, do so for a band with half-decent music.

While technically not a band, the widespread popularity of T-shirts depicting 1984’s Purple Rain seems to warrant Prince a spot on this list. Purple Rain, shown on a popular T-shirt sold by retailers such as Brandy Melville, is the name of both a 1984 film starring Prince and the Prince album that soundtracked the film. This was the artist’s 6th studio album, and likely his most well known. Prince was known for incorporating a range of styles into his music, blending pop, R&B, rock, and soul music. Overall, this is one of the popular T-shirts that represents actually good music. 

Pink Floyd, a band that can be summed up fairly well as quintessential ‘70s stoner music, is also often featured on graphic T-shirts. Pioneers of the psychedelic rock movement, the band came to be known for their sonic experimentation and lyrics presenting social and political commentary. Their most famous album, 1972’s Dark Side of the Moon, was one of the most critically acclaimed albums in history. The experimental nature of the band’s music does in some ways make them whatever one would call the opposite of easy-listening music, but enjoyers of psychedelic-esque music such as Tame Impala definitely might enjoy the band.

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