I was recently talking to a friend about the music videos of the 1990s, and one thing we noticed was how often shirtless old men appeared in alternative rock videos. Think about it. You can probably remember a couple immediately from Nirvana or Metallica videos. The question is why?

One explanation is that it was a way to differentiate alternative rock from mainstream rock. Alternative music was becoming popular, but the term “alternative” was hard to define, so how can you define yourself as alternative beyond simply shooting a video in a pit or at a circus? If mainstream videos had scantily clad young women, alternative videos should go the opposite direction and have scantily clad old dudes. Taking it a step further, since older white men have most of the power in our society, using them as a prop is a takedown of the entire system. Or maybe it was just an obvious attempt to be edgy.

Eventually, bands like Garbage, Alice in Chains, Porno for Pyros and Radish realized you could get pretty much the same effect with fully clothed old people.

We’ve collected some of the most memorable shirtless old men of the ‘90s in the gallery above, and we tried to explain what their presence adds to the videos.

posted by Dave Shumka on Jan 14, 2014