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When Beavis and Butt-Head first emerged in 1993 grunge had dominated the music scene, movies of Generation X slackers filled the cinema screens and MTV was still a driving force in popular culture. And so an animated show about two heavy metal-loving losers obsessing over sex and rock videos soon struck a chord with young audiences around the world.
‘Beavis and Butt-head is MTV’s highest-rated show and some commentators have taken this as final proof of society’s degeneration,’ commented the New York Times. ‘Both in their musical taste and their world view they have clear generic ties to Wayne and Garth, but the protagonists of Wayne’s World look, by comparison, downright literate. As many have remarked Bart Simpson now looks like an overachiever.’
Episodes were typically divided into two halves: a story which followed the duo causing chaos around their small town intercut with their commentary on a selection of music videos, ranging from the excess of Gwar to the pop mediocrity of Paul Abdul. The latter would often influence the opinion of the show’s fans, causing viewers to dismiss artists purely on the reaction given by their cartoon idols.
‘Metal needed a saviour in 1993 and with Beavis and Butt-Head it got two,’ recalled Noisey two decades later. ‘And while it may seem ludicrous to give two animated characters hatched in the imagination of creator Mike Judge credit for resurrecting an entire subgenre of rock, consider the landscape of heavy music at the time. Hair metal had died a fiery, brutal death in the preceding two years, with the pomp and circumstance of glam swiftly replaced by the stripped-down, lackadaisical, ambivalent attitude of grunge.’
The iconic appearance of the two characters was notable for the t-shirts they would wear on each episode, never changing into any other clothing: Butt-Head, the leader of the pair, would sport an AC/DC top while Beavis, whose obsession with fire and pain would make him the more unstable, boasted a Metallica shirt.
While this would make the eponymous pair appear to have good music taste it would be one of the minor characters who would cause minor controversy among music fans. Often a victim of their pranks and disdain, Stewart Stevenson’s nervous and nerd-like mannerisms would be complimented with a T-shirt adorned with the logo of Winger.
Formed in the late 1980s following frontman Kip Winger’s tenure with Alice Cooper, the band’s debut album would soon reach platinum status in the United States, backed by the hits Seventeen and Headed for a Heartbreak, yet when the musical landscape dramatically changed following the arrival of Nirvana in 1991 such soft rock was soon considered tacky and deserving of ridicule.
Like many groups that had emerged during the hair metal boom Winger soon began to struggle with the industry’s newfound obsession with grunge and so when they became a running gag on Beavis and Butt-Head this made their situation all the more difficult. While AC/DC and Metallica were for the cool kids, Winger was what the geeks and losers listened to.
When the show was revived in 2011 after over a decade off the screen Kip Winger was asked how he felt about the unfortunate cult status his band had received. ‘I found Mike and told him I wanted to clear the air,’ admitted the singer. ‘I never tried to sue MTV or Mike, I never had a problem with the cartoon. I mean, it was David and Goliath, really. There was nothing you could do but take it like a man. It certainly didn’t help us, I’ll tell you that. But it was a funny show and Mike’s a funny guy.’
The revival of Beavis and Butt-Head would last only one season but would receive unanimous praise from both fans and critics alike. Replacing their commentary on music videos with a similar critique of reality TV the show seemed just as fresh and relevant as it had when it first began almost twenty years earlier.
Winger, meanwhile, would also call it a day in the mid-1990s, before finally coming back together again several years later to be introduced to a new generation of fans. With their most recent offering, 2014’s Better Days Comin’, receiving a positive response from the music press it would seem that the damage caused by Beavis and Butt-Head is mostly a thing of the past.
In a new interview with Lokaos Rock Show, transcribed via Blabbermouth, Winger discussed how he felt being labelled as hair metal. ‘It’s fine because we grew out of that era. When I was in Alice Cooper and I left to do my band, Def Leppard and Bon Jovi were the big bands. I wanted to do something a little bit more progressive, like Yes meets KISS. We did something not like that but there’s a lot more technical stuff going on in the riffs. I think as time goes on people that actually listen know the difference. It’s fine now and it got us in. We did very well in the beginning.’
As for how Beavis and Butt-Head affected both his own band and the industry he continued, ‘It was hard for all the ’80s bands when that happened, because they were ushering in White Zombie and Nirvana and Pearl Jam and all of those bands. All of the ’80s bands like us were portrayed as uncool and I was really singled out by it. It didn’t help me at the time – we all lost our record deals and all of a sudden we couldn’t get a job – but inadvertently, it created an opening for me to really study classical music, so instead of (getting) drunk every night I studied through that time, and I did a really hardcore ten years of studying classical music.’ For me it turned out to be a very good thing. Now it’s totally fine – people are like, ‘How’d you get your name on the t-shirt?’ We sell that t-shirt,’ so it’s completely fine with me.’