Fall Out Boy Rewrites the Gender Roles of Rock As the frontman for pop-punk band Fall Out Boy, Pete Wentz glories in remaking the rules. He playfully subverts gender roles to undercut homophobia by wearing eyeliner, kissing his male bandmates on stage and wearing girls' jeans, yet somehow makes it all mainstream.
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Fall Out Boy Rewrites the Gender Roles of Rock

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Fall Out Boy Rewrites the Gender Roles of Rock

Fall Out Boy Rewrites the Gender Roles of Rock

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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.


And I'm Robert Siegel.

Even if you're not a fan of the band Fall Out Boy, you may have heard a song or two from the band's last two big-selling albums.

(Sound bite of song "Sugar We're Going Down")

Mr. PATRICK STUMP (Vocalist, Fall Out Boy): (Singing) Sugar we're going down swinging. I'll be your number one with a bullet, a loaded gun complex, cock it and pull it.

SIEGEL: Pete Wentz is the bassist and front man for Fall Out Boy. NPR's Neda Ulaby reports that Wentz wants to embody a new kind of rock star masculinity.

NEDA ULABY: Pete Wentz is alley-cat skinny. He's got inky-black hair, a goofy grin and a predilection for wearing eyeliner and girls jeans and kissing his male band mates on stage. Somehow, Wentz makes all of this mainstream.

Mr. PETE WENTZ (Bassist, Fall Out Boy): It's all about the eyeliner, which is called guyliner. And I started wearing it because I felt like it tested some boundaries.

ULABY: The bassist showed off his guyliner application techniques on People Magazine's Web sites after being named one of the year's most beautiful people.

Mr. WENTZ: Smear it. Because if you're a guy, you don't really want your makeup to look perfect on.

ULABY: In an amphitheater greenroom before a recent crowded concert, Pete Wentz acknowledges his debts to David Bowie, Marilyn Manson and Kurt Cobain, his heroes in playful gender subversion.

Mr. WENTZ: My whole point is, like, I think that there's something in art where you should be making people feel uncomfortable.

ULABY: For Wentz, part of that means calling out homophobia, still pernicious in rock and in high schools where Fall Out Boy is something of a cult to millions of fans.

Mr. WENTZ: I would never come out and say I was gay, because I'm not gay. And there's part of me that kind of wishes I was gay, and I think that that comes from anybody who is constantly wishing they were in the minority, you know, and constantly wants to be kind of fighting everybody off, you know?

ULABY: Something about that attitude appeals to teenagers, like 15-year-old Montana Worth(ph).

Ms. MONTANA WORTH: He's adorable. And he's my husband.

ULABY: Worth and her friends stood in line for hours before a Fall Out Boy concert in Fairfax, Virginia.

Ms. WORTH: And he's just the best.

ULABY: Worth's ardor for Pete Wentz is undiminished by inevitable online rumors that he is secretly gay or by his metro-publicized romance with entertainer Ashley Simpson. Montana Worth thinks Fall Out Boy is cool because Wentz sometimes swaps he or she in his lyrics.

(Sound bite of song "Thnks Fr Th Mmrs")

Mr. STUMP: (Singing) He tastes like you only sweeter.

Mr. WENTZ: There's people who are out in the crowd who are screaming along with the words who, 10 years ago, have been corny faggot in high school.

Ms. SHANA KROCHMAL (Online Editor, Out Magazine): Being a guy who's not hung up on homophobia is a good way to get girls.

ULABY: Shana Krochmal says it's also a way to make a statement. She's an online editor for Out magazine.

Ms. KROCHMAL: Fall Out Boy isn't alone in figuring out that appealing to gay fans or appealing to friends of gay fans or simply just appealing to people who don't want to consider themselves homophobic is a great marketing strategy.

ULABY: And it's become part of Pete Wentz's brand or, maybe, empire. Wentz owns a bar in New York, a clothing line and a boutique record label that allows Wentz to find and groom bands that share his aesthetics and ethos. Vanity labels are standard for rock stars, but Wentz has an uncommon knack for sniffing out groups like Panic At The Disco. Their very first record went platinum.

Mr. WENTZ: These dudes went from the most clean band you've ever seen on the planet to beyond (unintelligible). Just freaking suits that look like they're on - sailing on the Titanic and they're, like, you know, playing this bizarre circus music and making this cold, different impression of pop culture that I think is cohesive with the one that we're kind of making.

(Soundbite of song "I Write Sins Not Tragedies")

Mr. BRANDON URIE (Vocalist, Panic At The Disco): (Singing) Oh, well imagine, as I'm pacing the pews in a church corridor, and I can't help but to hear, no I can't help but to hear an exchanging of words.

ULABY: Panic At The Disco was started by a high-school student who posted messages relentlessly on Wentz's blog. Shana Krochmal says that Wentz helped Panic At The Disco conquer the airwaves and MTV while encouraging them to wear flamboyant makeup and kiss each other on stage.

Ms. KROCHMAL: This isn't clearly something that bands on any label would get away with or certainly be encouraged to do. And I think you see the Pete Wentz effect on masculinity being extended through these other bands who he's supporting both financially and as their mentor.

ULABY: For his part, Wentz says he looks to Andy Warhol as a model when it comes to the art of business.

Mr. WENTZ: You can impact and shift pop culture, and you're able to do that by (unintelligible) in visuals and art and music and how you look. And they all, like, kind of work as one cohesive push to kind of, like, actually, hopefully change the course of, like, pop history a little bit.

ULABY: Maybe he can, says Out magazine's Shana Krochmal. She says Pete Wentz's confessional bravado reflects the way young consumers think.

Ms. KROCHMAL: And I think we know anything about how the music industry works particularly right now, it's so geared towards 14 or 15-year-olds. And what 14 and 15-year-olds like when it comes to how a rock band expresses its masculinity is Fall Out Boy.

ULABY: Of course, for every Pete Wentz, there is an old school macho like Kid Rock. But Wentz is part of a wave of male musicians, including other mega bands like My Chemical Romance, surfing the sexual politics of rock.

Neda Ulaby, NPR News.

SIEGEL: And you can download an extended interview with Pete Wentz at our website, npr.org/music.

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