Is it music or just merch?

“Hey, that was my music back when I was your age,” Mr. Jenkins told his daughter. “Do you even know that music?” In jest, he asked her to name a couple of Rolling Stones songs.

“Obviously, I couldn’t tell him any as I’ve never listened to the band before,” said Ms. Jenkins. She still wears it regularly, along with a more recently acquired Metallica T-shirt, which is “even more of my generation,” said her father. Ms. Jenkins can’t name a song from Metallica, either.

What is now a running joke in the Jenkins family has become a broader trend in the cyclical world of fashion, with boys and girls of younger generations wearing old rock band T-shirts despite having never listened to the music.

Jacob Gillick, a 28-year-old teacher in St. Louis, Mo., who described himself as a “teenage metal-head growing up,” said that during the last school year, he would see five to six middle-school students a day wearing a T-shirt of a rock band he recognized from his own adolescence.

“It’s a huge letdown when you realize they don’t actually listen to it,” he said.

Major fashion retailers like PacSun and Urban Outfitters offer products like Nirvana tees and The Who pullovers. In a survey last year by online retail company RushOrderTees, the top nine music T-shirts owned by respondents were all artists from the 1990s or earlier, with AC/DC taking the top spot. (Ariana Grande came in at No. 10.)

Some attribute the surging demand to social media, which can expedite aesthetic trends without bringing the music fandom along.

Rockabilia, an online seller of rock music merchandise, had a supply of 300 T-shirts for Static-X, a heavy metal band that formed in the ’90s, sitting around for years. Suddenly, all the shirts sold out in less than 24 hours. Messages filled Rockabilia’s email inbox and phone lines, seemingly from young teenagers, asking when it would restock the Static-X shirts.

“We were kind of curious so we asked, ‘Are you a fan of the band?’ And they had no idea what it even was,” said Frankie Blydenburgh, a co-owner of Rockabilia. He and his team later discovered that a TikTok in which someone who happened to be wearing a Static-X shirt had gone viral.

Tony Campos, the bassist for Static-X, doesn’t mind if people wear the band’s shirts without listening to the music. “I used to be more of a purist,” said Mr. Campos. “But to me, that’s just closed-mindedness.…A big part of bands’ income these days is merchandise sales. So the more you can get out there, the more you’re going to be able to make a living.”

Brian Ebejer, who goes by the stage name Edsel Dope and is the lead singer of the heavy metal band Dope, formed in 1997, echoed the sentiment. “Honestly, I’d rather a kid buy my merchandise than listen to my music, because I make more money from a shirt than him listening to my music for free on Spotify,” he said.

Some rock-band-shirt-wearing teenagers are actually fans of the music. Ben England, 18, and Luka Owen, 19, became best friends over a mutual love of rock music. They are also friends with Ms. Jenkins, and they noticed all the merchandise worn by their fellow students.

“Whether it is Rolling Stones, Nirvana, Led Zeppelin, or Sublime, it seems like you can’t go a day at school without seeing one of these shirts,” they wrote for their student newspaper last March.

With band shirts now a purely aesthetic choice, they have found themselves misidentified as nonfans. Mr. Owen recalled wearing one of his Led Zeppelin shirts while out shopping. At the counter, the cashier asked if he could name five Led Zeppelin songs.

He certainly could. “I own every album that they’ve ever produced,” Mr. Owen said. The cashier gave him his items for free after finding out he was actually a fan.

Merchandise for Cannibal Corpse, a death metal band from the ’90s, found new popularity after Kourtney Kardashian Barker was pictured last year wearing the band’s shirt, borrowed from her husband, Blink-182 drummer Travis Barker.

After her fashion choice received backlash from Cannibal Corpse fans, Mr. Barker publicly jumped to her defense. Even though she isn’t a hard-core fan, he said, why not allow her to celebrate the music? The couple didn’t respond to a request for comment.

“Since then, it’s become a fashion statement. Now Cannibal Corpse merch is more popular than ever before,” said Rockabilia’s Mr. Blydenburgh.


A topic I could pontificate on endlessly, but thankfully for the community won’t. The distinction between a fashion statement and some true interest in whatever the statement, symbol, what have you actually represents is a sore point with me. Keeping myself contained, I have a similar question/concern about the NASA t-shirts and similar merch I see have caught on with our youth. The underlying question I have is whether that represents a true interest in America’s space program, with a commitment to becoming the next generation of scientists and engineers we need? Can anyone name a current or past mission, with even passing familiarity with what it was? Or … is NASA symbology just considered a cool thing to sport on a t-shirt? To wit, this same phenomenon can and does commonly occur, manifesting itself in many different forms. I shouldn’t let it get under my skin, but it often does. Off my soapbox again. For now.

“Honestly, I’d rather a kid buy my merchandise than listen to my music, because I make more money from a shirt than him listening to my music for free on Spotify” That says it all right there.

I’m straddling the fence on this one. I understand that the lack of knowledge of or exposure to the band, team, group, discipline, etc. could be seen as disrespectful, ignorant or aloof, but there is a part of me that thinks that someone may notice that T and engage that person with a very enlightening and compelling exchange that could lead them to genuine appreciation.

And I get the sentiment from the musicians, I really do. But I’m of the generation where the band T-shirts identified you and your tribe.

I cut out a cursive word-mark of Fleetwood Mac in 7th grade shop class to silk screen myself a shirt because that was the only way I could get one short of going to a show (which wasn’t happening in 1982 at age 13!). Unfortunately my tribe for Fleetwood Mac turned out to be my mom’s friends, but it was still a cool shirt.

“It’s too easy” says old man yelling at clouds when confronted with streaming audio services.


I generally find that ignoring teens until they are thirty is a good plan.


It’s not just concert or band t shirts. I’m from northern CA but live in NC. A couple of months ago my wife and I were talking dogs with a young couple while waiting for a table (dogs at restaurants, another younger generation thing). In genuine interest I asked the young lady about the Yosemite t shirt she was wearing and asked her when she visited. Old Navy she responded.

Oh, that’s sad. That’s just wrong.

I would have to add my experiences seeing the college kids wearing CBGB’s, Led Zeppelin, Bowie or Blondie shirts; to name but a few.
Though, I am amazed to hear Santana, Zeppelin, Bowie and many other tunes from three or more decades ago blasting from the music players on the streets or in the various parks. It reminds me of the 70’s when tunes from the 40’s and 50’s were remade by the likes of Bette Midler, Linda Ronstadt and others.
Good music will always remain popular to some degree or another.

I’m still wearing my Tribe. Even though Concert T’s have gone up in price. I do get stuff like Santana, Nick Mason’s A Saucerful of Secrets more recently. I have a worn out Genesis and Santana T’s that go back to Concerts I saw in '07 & '05. And a McCartney T when his voice was still in decent shape from '13.

Yeah. We saw Nick Mason in Columbus in 2019. Great show. They still did the oil lamp between the glass plates. I didn’t get a shirt though. I think I still have all my Genesis shirts; Invisible Touch tour and We Can’t Dance. I THINK I still have a Bowie shirt from the Glass Spider Tour. I’d have to go dig in boxes now because I didn’t want to wear them out. I seem to recall buying a U2 shirt when we saw them in 86. I took the military oath in my Peter Gabriel So tour tee. I think I’ve worn out all my Wilco shirts.

I’ve toyed with new Floyd shirts but can’t bring myself to do it because it’s just merch now.


Hi Mike, due to lack of space of living in our country we host a foreign student that can not find a room to rent. Wearing an AC/DC shirt the music of the student was streamed via Apple AirPlay to the stereo. Rather relaxing music. Off course that is possible as I also listen to everything from classic to rock. So I asked about AC/DC and the answer was: I heard it must have been a cool band.

Then I read your thread and now it all makes sense to me. I thought I had a connection with the younger generation, but it’s too bad, a commercial marketing campaign has taken it over.

Well I put my original Aussie pressing (not the international remaster) of High Voltage on my 40 years old Thorens TD105 and came to realization that I had become an old guy. But hey I can still hear and enjoy that music.


Hello my friend! Long time, no chat!

That’s very kind of you hosting a foreign student - we did the same with a young French lady back when we lived in the Washington DC area. She got to see all the sights but left a little disappointed we didn’t take her to see New York City. Heck, I’ve only been to NYC once in my life; frankly, that was enough for me. But then, I’m happy in Ohio to the point that I sewed our state flag on my motorcycle suit! God help me if I ever get a tattoo!!

Yeah, I suppose it’s fine. I just feel so terribly disconnected with young folks anymore. My wife and I were discussing this today - anyone born after 1980 was born into crazy-town.

I suppose it’s good because merch funds the artists better than streaming music these days, but the merch I see is all the old bands that probably don’t need the dough because they are the superstars. I will note this - I’ve had other men roughly my age stop me in public when I’m wearing my Genesis “A Trick of the Tail” t-shirt to say “MAN, I LOVE that record!” So there’s still a tribe I guess - just a smaller one. I’ve pretty much accepted that anyone under 30 wearing a Dark Side of the Moon T-shirt probably has no idea what the record sounds like (unless they know it from the Wizard of Oz like my 26-year old daughter). I need to find a Boston tee…

For what it’s worth, my 21 year old daughter and 24 year old son both have turntables (thanks, Baldy!) and like records. Daughter asked me to get her “American Beauty” and some Bowie records, and my son has the complete Simon & Garfunkel collection. My 15 year old daughter talked me into getting her a cassette deck and she makes recordings and listens to them on my old Sony Sports walkman. And the final laugh is my 25 year old daughter that insisted on putting her name on my minidisc collection and the decks for them.

As long as they like music - that’s all that matters.

Take care, friend.

Mike D


Indeed, long time no chat. Time flies. Back in the days we made our own merch.
Carefully reconstructing the the band name in the correct font in water resistant paint on a piece of cloth that our moms sewed to a warm out jeans vest that we wore over a preferably black jacket. No motor cycles, but a Loewe Opta Stereo Tube Amplifier that blasted its 2 x 7 Watts of Music through the DIY 60 L speakers with Philips drivers into our room.
As long as it was loud, we did hardly grasp sound quality, the louder the better. And now I wonder where that tinnitus in my head could mes from :wink::guitar::loud_sound: