The Misunderstood Genius of Marilyn Manson

Martin_Canine
[Before someone says this, I know that some of the things I talk about can be credited to his self-titled band, but really, look at his music videos, look at his album covers, and look whose image pops up when you google “Marilyn Manson”. If it wasn’t for Wikipedia, I didn’t even know there is a band called like this backing him, especially since Brian Hugh Warner is also called Marilyn Manson. Also, he is largely responsible for the lyrics of the band, and this is my main focus in the text.]

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So, “Heaven Upside Down” recently dropped, and of course I am super hyped. Both American and German critics agree it is his best album in years, and I’d even go so far as calling it his best album since “Mechanical Animals”. That means something.
Yet, I am absolutely sure I will find this record on worst lists on TheTopTens. I feel that in certain territories Marilyn Manson is drastically underrated. Not the kind of underrated an artist that is barely known yet musically decent is, also not the kind of underrated a famous yet hated, but musically fine artist. I am talking about the kind of underrated a well known yet hated, but stunningly brilliant musician is.

Of course, Marilyn Manson’s music is a matter of taste. His vocals sound absolutely creepy, his beats are often made up of distorted noise, the guitars are layered with shrieking effects and if you look for anything remotely graceful or “beautiful”, then look somewhere else. Depending on the album, you might find more melodious (“Mechanical Animals”) or even catchy (“The Golden Age of Grotesque”) tunes, but this is as far as Manson’s touch with mass media’s comfort zone goes. While I personally think his songs are some of the most intense, atmospherically dark music there is, I can perfectly understand you don’t like it. It’s not so easy to listen to, and I am pretty stunned he was commercially successful.
But I get the feeling several people don’t even realize his artistic vision, and simply see shock value. But there is more to it.

Perhaps in order to truly appreciate Manson’s artistry, you need to be able to take a distanced look at American society, and also consider in what time Manson started his career. So that you don’t think I am in any anti-American (I am not), I am just interpreting his work and restate general opinions needed to acknowledge to fully get through to his work. Some of the issues I’ll talk about also apply to other countries. Germany for example has a similar celebrity worshipping as the US. But Manson specifically aims at the American culture, which can also be seen in the title “Portrait of an American Family”.

While America is without a doubt the country with the biggest influence on the world’s pop culture, there are still some things non-Americans criticize about it. E.g., from a Central European point of view, America takes religion fairly serious, is less open about nudity, language and sex, has an easy access to guns and has a very big cult following of celebrities. Manson put the finger on the wound by sometimes exaggerating existing issues (taking violence to a new extreme, turning the fame of his characters into a strange cult) and sometimes standing for the exact antithesis of what’s considered moral. He often did this to expose bigotry and hypocrisy in American society. Part of this needs to be looked at in the context of the 1990s. Several violent incidents occurred involving teenagers, and many worried parents blamed the media of that time instead of the big presence of violence and guns in America. This raised an infamous debate about whether media can make teens violent, and this is exactly the point Manson tried to trigger this discussion as much as possible. He was like the ultimate nightmare of a society that begged for the media to tone down explicit content instead of re-thinking their own laws and ideals.

Just look at some of his album titles, concepts and recurring themes. “Antichrist Superstar” - a play on words with the musical “Jesus Christ Superstar”, which itself compares the following of Christ to modern stardom, and the antichrist, again fusing the imagery of glamour and evil. The album is a cryptic concept album with a handful of common interpretations. One interpretation I like is that it is about a fan trying to get closer to his idol, ends up being rejected, in a depressed state fuses with the forces of evil and hate, ends up murdering the superstar and destroying the world that made him famous. The album also uses terms of religious origin, and has also been interpreted as being about different religious beliefs. Other interpretations are it metaphorically stands for political ideas, a person following one ideology, being “betrayed” by it, and falls for another, more destructive one. It definitely is a dark take of the shadow sides of stardom (or rather fandom), violence in society and most likely criticizes the extremes of religion.

His stage name, as well as those from the original line up of his self titled band, consists of two famous people, one representing the “good” side (the Hollywood icon Marilyn Monroe), one the “evil” side (the cult leader and murderer Charles Manson). Formed in the same decade that brought us the masterful “Natural Born Killers”, it points out the same: you can become famous for your artistic work (and even though mostly famous for her roles as an attractive blonde, Monroe was a highly intelligent person who was able to deliver great performances in the few serious roles she was offered, such as “The Misfits” or “Don’t Bother to Knock”), but also due to horrible crime. Both became pop cultural icons, though for different reasons.

If you ever watched an interview with Brian Hugh Warner, you’ll notice he is highly intelligent, and always looks beyond what society regards as “good” and “evil”. He is completely unbiased and lives a life unspoiled by any groupthink, whether religious, social or anything else. What he does is successfully triggering discussions that desperately needed to start.

Of course, as time went by, the way people think changed: most people realized media are not to blame, they were searching for real enemies. In the early 2000s, Manson had a phase where he lost a bit of his wit and he tried to get attention out of you. It still worked for what it tries to be. Parents were still bothered by his lyrics, even though it is only music - a fictitious work. Then he completely calmed down and made less sociocritical works, where he only focused on the musical aspect, like successfully creating tension, and wrote lyrics that worked like regular songs do, not in the context of society, but on their own.
Now, “Heaven Upside Down” was released in more complicated times, and the world needs a critical voice again. The imagery is frightening, the sound as energetic as in the 90s, and there is more than a glance of politics in it. But I need more listens to give it a review. I just recently got it, and a work like this needs time to be fully evaluated. What I can say for sure is that he has something to say again, and that he says it in the most uncomfortable and extreme way possible, and with outstanding musical soundscape.

Comments

Great post. I never really hated Manson to be honest. I just didn't think he was for everyone cause of how graphic he can be at times. But I highly respect him for challenging American society and I really do believe that his ideas deserve to be spread and acknowledged to those who need to hear them. - visitor

I first came across Marilyn Manson hate on this site. Professional reviews were always great, and he makes non-mainstream music so people consider him good.
I think the people who are triggered on his records (those who need it most) don't really analyze them, they just look at the sound superficially and dismiss it as shock value music. But in fact, the teachings of Friedrich Nietzsche, a philosopher I admire most of all, have influenced Manson's work notably, which is why it may come across as simply made to be controversial. - Martin_Canine

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