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c 07 Introduction 11 YouthSubcultures 34 ContemporarySubcultures

con tents 40 BodyModification 50 ModifiedYouthsStatistics 52 PushingBoundaries


Look at that greenhaired freak!

” “

Seriously who wears that nowadays?

“ That’s

No one would hire you with all that tattoos.



8 We all know it is unfair to “judge a book by its cover.” However, it is definitely human nature to observe others and make assumptions of them by their appearance. We hate to do it, and we hate it when others do it, but it is inevitable that we make observations of people subconciously in our minds when we meet them for the first time. So how are us youths viewed by the society nowadays? Teenagers and young adults usually express themselves by the way they dress. We all have our own preferences and styles, some of us may be more conservative, while others are not afraid to go wild and experiment with looks and styles that are not of the society’s standards of norm. Youths who tend to go with a more unique style will get more curious looks from the public naturally. You feel people’s stares behind your back. They whisper to each other, or even state their comments out loud. Sometimes they can be compliments, but there are also times when they do not approve of your appearance and they are not afraid of letting you know. Youths who take on a more ‘different’ sense of style, like having unnaturally hair colour or body modifications might trigger negative response from the public. Little children might find blue hair “scary”, whereas people of the older generations might frown in disapproval when they see body modifications like tattoos and piercings.



Sometimes, youngsters also dress in a certain way to fit into groups and cliques. Many teenagers go through this phase of wanting to belong as they fear of being discriminated. Other than external appearances, they would even go to the measures of behaving the same way, and claiming to like and enjoy things that people in the clique have in common, even though they do not. Subcultures are formed when a group of people genuinely share the same interest and habits. Urban youth culture today actually consist of elements of these subcultures that started earlier in the century. We will be exploring the different youth subcultures like punks, hipsters etc., which have distinct cultural habits.

yout hsub cult ures 11

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The topic on hipsters can be rather complicated and it seems like many people have their own views about this youth subculture, whether positive or negative. The term hipsters can have two meanings: one is the subculture that started way back in the 1960s, which are also alternatively known as hippies; another is the widely known group of youths in the modern days who are well-known for dressing and behaving differently from what is “mainstream�.


Hippies in the


The hippie movement began in the United States as a youth movement and spreaded throughout the world. It is said to arise during the revolutionary decade (the 1960s), during the era of change and post-war citizen awareness. People, especially the youths, dressed in a way to express rebellion at fixed and commonly accepted notions and social norms. They designed a whole new lifestyle on their own.



The hippies indulge themselves in rock music, folk, blues, and most importantly psychedelic rock, which is said to enhance the mind-altering experiences of drugs. One of the most influential psycedelic rock band was Pink Floyd


Both male and female hippies wore jeans and maintained long hair to challenge gender differences of their time, and they like to wear sandals or go barefoot. Men often wore beards, while women wore minimal makeup, with many going braless. Hippies often chose brightly colored clothing and wore unusual styles, such as bell-bottom pants, vests, tie-dyed garments, dashikis, peasant blouses, and long, full skirts; non-Western inspired clothing with Native American, Asian, Indian, African and Latin American motifs were also popular. They also shop at secondhand stores or make their own clothings to show their non-conformity.



Hippies sought to free themselves from social restrictions to find new meaning in life. Their distinct standard of dress and grooming served as a visual symbol of their respect for individual rights. Values that hippies associate themselves with are happiness, joy and non-violence. They were also very much into love and sex, which was influenced by the Beat Generation. As a result, the hippies were very open when it came to sex, and they tend to experiment without the feeling of guilt or jealousy. Other taboos like drug usage was made acceptable within the subculture and the youths indulge in drugs like LSD and magic mushrooms to explore altered states of consciousness. Travelling in brightly coloured vans with minimal necessities was also a distinct characteristic of them.


Hipsters in the modern context started during the late 1990s through the 2000s. They are described by majority as people with a unique fashion sense, shaggy and unkempt hair and a nonchalant attitude that can come off as arrogant. Like I have previously mentioned, the general public has mixed views about the hipsters. People who appreciates this culture describes these youths as creative and original, who possess their independent beliefs. However there are also a large number of people who see hipsters as a bunch of self-absorbed youths. It is difficult to disagree to either point of views because I have came across hipsters who are generally nice and also self-centred and shallow hipsters who does not care about anyone but themselves.

urban hipsters



Most hipsters listen to a large genre of music, from punk rock to techno. However the catch is that the music are preferred to be not “mainstream”. This refers to independent artistes and bands that are not signed to the five major recording companies.


Unlike the fashion styles of punk, the hipster way of dressing is more diverse. This could be because they like shopping at thrift stores which provide a range of vintage clothings. Some common pieces of clothings are skinny jeans, vintage print tees and colourful, assorted accessories.


The funny thing about hipsters is that they do not always like to called a hipster, and they would often deny about being one. There is a popular saying that goes, “If you call yourself a hipster, then you’re not one.” Perhaps this explains why. As a result, this brought in criticisms saying that hipsters are contradictory.


Well, not really Bright red mohawks, weathered leather jackets and multiple piercings - these are the obvious traits of the punk subculture. In many’s perception, especially the older generations, these are a just bunch of boisterous delinquents who are out to create trouble. Punk actually had its own history and culture. It originated in the United Kingdom, United States and Australia in the mid 1970s. It is highly influenced by philosopical, political and artistic movements





Since the 1970s, punks seemed to enjoy outraging the public with their theatrical clothing, hairstyles, cosmetics, tattoos, jewelry and body modification. The subculture believe in originality and the DIY ethnic, thus they adapted everyday objects for aesthetic effect, such as ripped clothing held together by safety pins or wrapped with tape; ordinary clothing customized by embellishing it with marker or adorning it with paint; a black bin liner became a dress, shirt or skirt; safety pins and razor blades were used as jewelry. A lot of leather and faux leather were used in this style of fashion. You can also spot punks dressed in tight jeans, wearing Converse sneakers, brothel creepers and Dr Martens boots. They also usually rock a bizarre hairdo like mohawks and multi-coloured hair.


Punks are frequently known for their left-wing views. They are mostly concerned with individual freedom. They also stress a lot on authenticity, and members of the punk subculture are evaluated in terms of the authenticity of their commitment to the values or philosophies of the scene, which may range from political beliefs to lifestyle practices. The term “poser� is used to describe people who adopts the dressing style, mannerisms of a the subculture to gain acceptability within the group, yet who is deemed to not share or understand the values or philosophy of being punk. Other common viewpoints include non-conformity, anti-militarism, anti-capitalism, anti-racism, anti-sexism, anti-nationalism, anti-homophobia, environmentalism, vegetarianism, veganism and animal rights.


music Punk is inspired by different areas of modern art, particularly music. Punk music is defined as loud and aggressive with overdriven electric guitars and ear splitting drummings. The punk rock genre has various musical influences. It mostly consist of rock and roll and garage rock, but it also goes beyond. Most punk rock songs are short and had basic arrangements of a few chords, but its lyrics reflects the idealogies and values of the subculture. One example is “Straight edge” by Minor Threat. This band is rather short-lived, but they had a strong influence on the hardcore punk culture. The song has an anti-drug message, which is ironic, because people have a tendency to associate the subculture with smoking and drug abuse.

Straight Edge by Minor Threat I’m a person just like you But I’ve got better things to do Than sit around and fuck my head Hang out with the living dead Snort white shit up my nose Pass out at the shows I don’t even think about speed That’s something I just don’t need I’ve got the straight edge I’m a person just like you But I’ve got better things to do Than sit around and smoke dope ‘Cause I know I can cope Laugh at the thought of eating ludes Laugh at the thought of sniffing glue Always gonna keep in touch Never want to use a crutch I’ve got the straight edge


riot grrrl Initially, the punk scene was rather maledominated. The subculture riot grrrl was started by feminists. This group of females hated being seen as sex symbols that cannot play music. Thus,they wanted to create a music scene on their own. Riot grrrl bands often address issues such as rape, domestic abuse, sexuality, racism, patriarchy, and female empowerment. In addition to this these young women still stuck to the common punk values like not conforming to the norm.

music The riot grrrl movement allowed women to be able to make their own place in a male-dominated punk scene. Bands associated with the movement include Bikini Kill, Jack Off Jill, Bratmobile, Adickdid, Bangs, The Butchies, Calamity Jane, Emily’s Sassy Lime, Excuse 17, Fifth Column, The Frumpies, Heavens to Betsy, Huggy Bear, Sleater-Kinney, and also queercore like Team Dresch.

Fashion Unlike punks or hippies, riot grrrls co-opted many elements from other subcultures to create their own unique look. There was no uniform, elements of punk, no wave, heavy metal, grunge, kinderwhore and butch lesbian fashion went into their wardrobe. The main point is to show female aggression.

iconic 22


What it is: A strip of hair, usually along the median plane of the head, left to grow while the sides are shaved off. Adopted into punk culture during the 1980s. The name “mohawk� comes from a Native American tribe of the same name, who wore the same hairstyle. Since then, the mohawk has became the iconic look for punks.



The buzz cut predates the punk movement, and has unfortunately come to be associated with neoNazis. This look became a punk hairstyle in reaction to hippie culture, with its emphasis on unkempt long hair.

The Chelsea haircut is particularly popular among young women in the punk scene; it’s flattering without being overly feminine or frilly.

What it is: Very short hair, usually shaved with an electric razor to a uniform length.

What it is: A shaved or closelycropped haircut, with long bangs and sometimes side fringes of hair.

icuts pompadour shortspikes



What it is: Short hair combed back from the forehead, without a part.

What it is: Short hair that is easily spiked using hair products like gel and wax.

What it is: A hairstyle where hair is cut short in the front and sides, and left long in the back.

Also known as Elvis Presley’s signature hair, the pompadour involves combing the hair on the sides of the head back, while curling the hair on top of the head over itself. The height of the hair on top of the head is up to the discretion of the wearer, as well as how it looks on their head.

A good example is Sid Vicious’ haircut. This cut is rather popular because it is low maintenence and it can never really go wrong with the typical punk dress code.

This is the signature cut of Joan Jett. This haircut is considered by many to be unflattering to one’s appearance and seemed to have faded out of fashion.



Goth is a distinctly recognisable youth subculture that can be found in many different countries. It started in England during the 1980s during the post-punk era,but to be exact, the date of origin is usually placed in 1979 when Bauhaus released the song “Bela Lugosi’s Dead.” Young fans found inspiration in its mysterious and eerie sound, and this sparked off the gothic movement. The imagery and subculture practices of the goths reveals influences from the 19th century Gothic literature and horror films . Goths are usually describe as dark and morbid because of their style of dressing and their usually gloomy countenance.

morbid but not




Being in the gothic subculture, the way of dressing is important as it is the most obvious traits of goths. Gothic fashion is rather elaborate, and the use of dark colours, especially black, is essential for the look. Typical gothic fashion includes dyed black hair, dark eyeliner, black fingernails and black period-styled clothing. Body modifications like tattoos and piercings were quite common, though not as emphasized as the punk movement. Although styles are often borrowed from the medieval period, the goth fashion is not described as conservative. Female goths often wears lingerie that shows, like garter belts, and they embrace corsets, which shows off their cleavage. Goths were also very much influenced by the vampire archetype; Dracula capes and lots of velvet clothing can be found in their wardrobe. They also share several resemblances with the punk culture, like ripped tights, studs and metal chains.


Mood and aesthetics are significant in defining the idealogy of the goths. These are partly inspired by inspired by romanticism and neoromanticism, which embraced dark, mysterious, and morbid imagery and mood, as seen in their literature. During the late 18th and 19th century, feelings of horror and supernatural dread were widespread motifs in popular literature and films. This influenced the theatricality and self-dramatization among goths. Goths are infact not big fans of violence, in contrary to popular beliefs. Perhaps they were mistaken for their passion or interest in death and darkness. they also grief over societal and personal evils that the mainstream culture wishes to ignore or forget. Like the hipster and punk subculture, goths also want to liberate from social norm.


Goth music usually consist of an eerie and surreal mood, and its lyrics are usually grotesque, mysterious and desolate. The bands that embraced the Gothic rock genre included Bauhaus, The Damned, The Cure,Adam and the Ants, The Birthday Party,Southern Death Cult, Specimen, Sex Gang Children, UK Decay, Virgin Prunes, Christian Death, and Killing Joke. By the mid-1990s, styles of music heard in goth venues ranged from gothic rock, deathrock, industrial music, EBM, ambient, experimental, new wave, synthpop and punk rock.






sex pistols



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The various youth subcultures years ago lead to the modern subcultures that we have today. Some of these cultures are influenced by the past subcultures and consist of similar elements. However, as compared to the older subcultures, the contemporary ones do not have as much idealogies and some are rather short-lived. We will be exploring three contemporary youth cultures that are more distinct.



The emo subculture is one of the most prominent youth culture across the globe today. Its origin is hard to define, but it is strongly influenced by the the emotional hardcore, or ‘emocore’ music genre of the 1980s. Emo music was considered underground in the 1990s and eventually had its independent success in the 2000s. Youths began to take on the ‘emo style’ based on this genre of music and the emo subculture began. It represents sadness, guilt, despair, and self-hatred, as seen in the lyrics of emo songs. Emos, in many parts of the world, are often hated for being ‘posers’ and sometimes abused.



The subculture represents very negative feelings. Emos are often sad and depressed with strong cynical views of the society. They have a habit of self-harming or even to an extent of suicide. Many question their sexuality because of their androgenic dressing sense. There were numerous emo communities formed, and they appealed to many youths who are trying to escape emotional pain or hardships, because it seems to them that it is the place they could fit in and belong.


Music is important to this group of youths as it represents their internal struggles. The emos listen to mostly punk and indie rock which have lyrics that are depressing and emotional, and/ or show hatred towards the society.


Youths of the emo subculture wear extreme and heavy make-up and sporty clothing. The hair is the most important element for the emo subculture. Usually colored in black, the haircuts are usually short and unisex and covers half of the face. Very popular clothing and accessories include bracelets, stockings, badges, and tight pants and shirts. The emo subculture also has a variety of piercings to match their very unique image.


With so many youth subcultures that aim to stray away from social norm, the emergence of the geek chic would have definitely surprised the society. These youths threw aside outrageous clothes and actually put on conservative collared shirts and thick-framed glasses. No, they are not conforming, infact, they are rebelling with an irony. They embraced the stereotypical geek characteristics of being “prim and proper�, but not without an edge. This subculture does not have an exact time frame as it has a resurgence every few years. Although it is more common among youths, it is also embraced by some people of the older generations.


The geek chic look is easy to achieve. Just keep in mind that you have to be geeky yet at the same time stylish. Simply team up thick black-rimmed glasses with a tucked in shirt along with a pair of preppy trousers. T-shirts with witty geek humour are also a good choice.


scene Scene kids emerged in the 2000s and is a rather short-lived youth subculture that seem to be already dying out today. They are known to the public as ‘colourful emos’, because of the typical assymetrical hair styles that they share. Infact, that is the only thing that they have in common. The scene kids take on different characteristics and traits as compared to the emo kids. They are generally considered to be happier and perkier, and their prefered genres of music can range from heavy metal to techno.


Scene kids embrace colours, unlike the emos who have a preference of dark colours. Their dressing sense is considered by many to be very trashy. They are usually seen with multicoloured choppy haircuts with wild highlights and numerous clip-in extensions. Thick make-up is also common. Other popular clothing includes tights with bright colours and patterns, cartoon printed tees and variouls colourful and chunky accessories.





tattoos Tattooing has been practiced for centuries in many cultures spread throughout the world. It was used for various purposes, like identification, medical and body art. It is deemed unacceptable to many probably because of the bad associations tattoos that have emerged. In Japan, tattoos are strongly associated with organized crime organizations known as the yakuza, particularly full body tattoos done the traditional Japanese way (Tebori). Many public Japanese bathhouses and gymnasiums often openly ban those bearing large or graphic tattoos in an attempt to prevent Yakuza from entering. The Government of Meiji Japan had outlawed tattoos in the 19th century, a prohibition that stood for 70 years before being repealed in 1948. In the United States, many prisoners and criminals use distinctive tattoos to indicate facts about their criminal behavior, prison sentences, and organizational affiliations.

43 Today, tattoos are still seen as a sign of youth rebellion. One reason could be because most parents usually do not consent to their kids getting tattoos. The young people being rebellious, got themselves inked to show their independent thinking and liberation from their parents. However, the thing is that some youths got tattoos just for the sake of having them, or to allow themselves to fit in with their peers. Would they still want those ink on their skin twenty years down the road? Get tattoos because it is meaningful to you and show your individuality, get tattoos because they are a beautiful form of art. Don’t get tattoos just to anger your parents and be part of a clique who do not accept you for who you are.

Tattooing is starting to become a social norm, although some still narrow their eyes at people with tattoos without getting to know the meaning and reason behind them. Skin inking is a form of art and it should be more accepted, or at the very least the public should not judge a person negatively just based on his/ her tattoos. It is permanent, which means that the person who choose to get tattoos would have at least given the matter a thorough consideration. After all, we should understand that there is a story behind each tattoo, so it is unfair to derive a person’s character just based on it.





piercings Piercings is a popular form of body modification which is getting more and more common in the society. The different reasons of people getting tattoos are: for religious or spiritual reasons, for self-expression, for aesthetic value, for sexual pleasure, to conform to their culture or to rebel against it. Specifically among youths, some forms of piercings remain controversial because of restrictions in school and unacceptance within their family and religion. The society’s acceptance for body piercings might vary according to the types and amount of piercings you have on your body. Here is the different types of piercings and the history behind them.





Ear piercing is one of the oldest known forms of body modification that has been practised all over the world since ancient times. People in tribes pierced their ears for cultural or religious purposes. Sailors pierced their earlobes when they have sailed around the world. In the late 1960s, ear piercings were popular among the hippies and gay communities. However at that period of time, a large commercial market for them did not exist, so the hippies made their own earrings at home. Teenage girls were known to hold ear piercing parties, where they performed the procedure on one another. During the late 1970s when the punk rock subculture emerged, amateur piercings, sometimes with safety pins and/or multiple piercings, became popular in the punk rock community. At about the same time frame, multiple piercings in one or both ears also emerged in mainstream America. Initially, the trend was for women to wear a second set of earrings in the earlobes, or for men to double-pierce a single earlobe. Asymmetric styles with more and more piercings became popular, eventually leading to the cartilage piercing trend. A variety of specialized cartilage piercings have since become popular. These include the tragus piercing, antitragus piercing, rook piercing, industrial piercing, helix piercing, orbital piercing, daith piercing, and conch piercing. In addition, earlobe stretching, while common in indigenous cultures for thousands of years, began to appear in Western society in the 1990s, and is now a fairly common sight. However, these forms of ear piercing are still infrequent compared to standard ear piercing.



Eyebrow piercings was introduced by the punk subculture in the 1970s as a fashion statement, unlike other body piercings that has a rich cultural history. Anti-eyebrow piercings are piercings that are below the eyebrows or above the cheekbone. They are also known as are also known as upper cheek piercings, tears, and teardrops or butterfly kiss. Cheek or dimple piercing just emerged in the recent years. Like eyebrow piercing, it does not have cultural references and is considered to be of contemporary origin




Navel piercings were frequently practised because of its fast healing time whereas nipple and genital piercings were rather uncommon. However, people are starting to accept them as well. The piercing of nipples was previously practised by men to show their masculinity, but in the recent years, it became rather popular among women, as it is said to enhance sexual stimulation, not so much for the aesthetics. For the same reason, some people started to get their genitals pierced too, although til today it is still considered a taboo among the majority.



Nostril piercing is one of the most common varieties of piercing after earlobe piercing. It is originally practised by the Indian woman, who believed that a piercing on the left nostril is supposed to make childbirth easier. In India, piercings were also regarded as a mark of beauty and social standing. Afterwards punks and subsequent youth cultures in the ‘80s and ‘90s adopted this sort of piercing. Today, nostril piercing is popular around the globe with piercings being performed on either the left or right nostril. Nasal septum piercings are less common than nostril piercings. They were aslso adopted from various tribal practises. Nasal piercings are usually more painful than the more common nostril piercings.

Bridge piercings are inserted through the small flap of skin at the top of the nose, between the eyes, though never through the bone. Curved barbells and straight barbells are the most commonly used in this piercing, while seamless rings are less common. However, bridge piercings generally have a high rate of rejection and thus are less common than any other nose piercings.




Tongue piercing, lip piercing and lip stretching were historically found in African and American tribal cultures. Tongue piercings is the most popular piercing site in the western world after the ear and nostril. The ready availability of high quality, surgical steel barbell style jewellery is associated with the emergence of this piercing in the 1980s. Lip piercings are increasingly popular among youths nowadays, though lip stretchings are still rare because it is not as aesthetically pleasing. Having lip piercings adds an edge to one’s facial features, and there are various types and combinations which gives off different styles.


ipiercings labret












modified 50

youths ten years later in the

in mid


2000s, the rate has increased to

4.5% 14% of teens with an average age of

16.8 years

have tattoos

indicating that tattooing has moved into

mainstream culture.


concluded that approximately


statistics show that in

a survey published in



16% 13 – 25 of youths aged

18 – 24

have both piercings and tattoos

of youths between the ages of

have at least one tattoo

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After reading through the various subcultures, you would have noticed that almost every subculture seeks “non-conformity”, meaning being different and breaking away from social norm. But the truth is, many youths within their subcultures are actually dressing and behaving like each other, which kind of defeats the purpose. Don’t get me wrong, I am not against these youth subcultures, infact I find them rather intriguing and meaningful; it is really amazing how youths come together to form their own culture. However the thing is that one should learn to find his/ her true self and not behave a certain way to belong to a group. The hippies, punks and goths each have their own history and origin. The subculture did not happen overnight — it is slowly evolved to become distinct. Therefore, one should not just wake up one morning and decide “I wanna start being a punk today”. From what I see from the youngsters today, it seemed like youth subcultures are ceasing to a standstill. This can be seen through the contemporary subcultures like the emos, scene kids and geek chics, which are rather short-lived. Rather than being subcultures, they are actually more like fads, that’s why there are not much idealogies behind them. Most youths nowadays do not claim to belong to any subcultures. They may adopt certain fashion styles from various subcultures; they may enjoy each of their music genres. You don’t need to be a goth to appreciate surrealism. Having a mohawk does not make you a punk. We are all young individuals, perhaps still struggling to find out who we really are. Being a youth myself, I am too, on my way to becoming the person I am meant to become. Do what what you truly like, because being young is like trial and error. We are all individuals who have our own views and thinking. We are all special in the first place, so why try so hard to be different?


If you can, like, choose your identity, ‘cause I tried today and now I feel kind of... less like me and I mean I’m not exactly over the moon about being me in the first place, but now I think I kind of like it less when I’m trying not to be me, ‘cause I just wanna like... just be. —

Franky Fitzgerald, Skins season 5

Left Wing  

Youth Subculture