This is something I have been seeing quite a lot of recently. I know it has happened for years even if people don't use the exact argument and simply make assumptions. It is one of those things that gets me a bit salty. This will be yet another genre discussion of sorts. I know, I know - I have done plenty of these already. But it seems people either don't bother reading or need to be told until the message sinks in.
Genres are not defined by how a band looks
Music genres are about music. The style, sound and potential fans of said music. Nowhere are genres defined by how a band looks on album covers, promotion photos or how they dress on stage.
Yes, bands often do dress a particular way to attract certain fans or to match the style of music they play. But appearance is secondary to the music itself.
I will give you a recent example of a band someone was trying to say was goth because of how they look. That band being Motionless In White. Here is a picture of them.
They look pretty goth, right? Then again, nowadays anyone can look pretty goth. The mainstream media calls anyone wearing black lipstick goth. So lets listen to one of their songs, I'll pick the first thing that pops up on youtube if I search for them.
I gave it a proper go. I made through the first verse and chorus - about a minute and a half, near halfway through the song. This does not sound goth at all! If anything they sound like a Linkin Park or My Chemical Romance clone (to be honest I'm not that familiar with this style of music so I can't be completely certain) and they are definitely not goth. I am not saying it is bad music or not (that is up to the individual listener), just that it is not goth music. Some goths might even like it.
It is worth saying that just because goths might like something or even dress similar to something, it does not become goth by that association. There is no rule that goths must only like goth things 100% of the time.
Here is another example. Go on, watch the video. It is loaded with "goth" aesthetics.
Isn't that the most gawffick thing you have ever seen? Surely they must be a goth band using aesthetics like that. Alas, no. Sorry 90s boy band fans, Backstreet Boys are not goth.
I know! I am shocked too!
So I have established that the way a band looks does not always correlate with how they are expected to sound. Yet people still make that argument. Why?
I think it has a lot to do with mainstream media's misinformation. They try to dictate what they think goth is to people who don't know any better.So these people enter the goth subculture with fictitious ideas and don't take kindly to being corrected. Thing is, we were all new once and none of us got it right from day one. Learning, being corrected, learning some more is all part of the process. When you are really into something, learning and exploring isn't a chore - it is enjoyment.
What is "looking goth" anyway?
When someone says a band is "looking goth" what exactly does that mean? They wear a style that is popular in goth? They wear lots of black? Black lipstick? Fetish and bondage gear?
This argument might hold water if goth could be reduced to a single style. But it can't. Goth has many styles that change over time and is defined more by the music because it doesn't really change. Goth music will still be goth music in twenty years time but styles will shift. The style is secondary. Yeah, it is there but goths and the goth subculture are defined by the music first.
Besides, goth borrows from so many outside influences on the styling side of things. But that doesn't make a goth these other things because goth style borrows from them either. A goth with a penchant for the shiny stuff and a leather harness is not automatically a BDSM practitioner. A goth who dresses "witchy" is not automatically a witch. A goth wearing fangs and a cape isn't automatically a vampire.
Lots of non-goth people wear black too.
The Marilyn Manson Issue
Yep, another band people often think looks goth. Non-goth music that does actually get played in "goth" clubs. I have also talked about this before but it seems yet again no one is listening. One of the main culprits is Marilyn Manson so I will focus on that.
Yes, I did discuss Marilyn Manson being an influence on modern goth subculture before (over here) and I talk about how his music is not goth as part of that.
A common argument people make is "Hurr hurr I listen to Manson, he is played in goth clubs and I'm a goth so screw you!" and they completely miss the point goths make about Marilyn Manson musically.
One - "goth" clubs don't just play goth music, they play a mix of dark alternative genres, maybe even a little mainstream stuff. Depends on the crowd and the DJs. Marilyn Manson is non-goth music, lots of alternative people like him so it could be played. Hell at one point for a couple of years WWE's Smackdown show played The Beautiful People in its opening credits so they have some mainstream appeal too.
Two - Goths can like Marilyn Manson. I know - it sounds too good to be true! But it is. You can like whatever you like and if people hang shit on you for it then they are the jerks. But...
Three - if your basis for being goth is because you are a Marilyn Manson fan, you are not goth.Goths are fans of goth music and he does not make goth music. I believe the collective term for Manson fans is "Spooky Kids". Possibly "Mansonites" too but I have only heard Mansonite used in a derogatory way. A Mansonite could be a goth who defines themselves being goth by being a Marilyn Manson fan?
So you've been told you are not goth
It is not the end of the world, your self identity is not destroyed. No one is saying you will never be goth, just that you may not be goth right now. I have good news for you - all hope is not lost if you really must have the dreaded G word as a label.
Get in there and explore some goth music. There is forty years worth with a variety of sounds and styles depending on exact genre and style. No one likes every single goth band but even if you don't like certain important ones it is good to know their place in goth's history.
Another way is to attend goth events and see what rubs off on you, if you get along with the people and so on. Subcultures are meant to be social after all. Maybe get talking with goths online and pick their brains. Based on what you like they may be able to suggest goth bands you will like.
If after all that it is not for you then you can't force it. Goth doesn't hold a patent on dark things. You may find yourself more at home in another darkly-inclined subculture, you aren't going to know if you don't try. Aiming at being goth because you think its cool and edgy won't last anyway. I know when I was young I tried out a few things until I finally found what worked for me.
Appearances can be deceiving. Even my own. Remember to listen to a band before calling them goth because they might just not be. As well as that there are goth bands who don't look goth too. After all, Andrew Eldritch of Sisters of Mercy used to look like Michael Jackson!