The Bad Boi Renaissance Is Upon Us

A new generation of rebels have arrived, but they’re rebelling against the very archetype that precedes them

October 22, 2021 6:20 am
Machine Gun Kelly, Travis Scott, Travis Barker
C Flanigan, Allen Berezovsky, MediaNews Group/Orange County Register via Getty Images

There’s something in the air this fall. The chilly October breeze reeks of Carolina Herrera Bad Boy Eau de Toilette, cigarettes and exhaust fumes. As it whisks by my face, I get a secondary whiff of freshly dyed leather, post-weight-room stank and just a hint of depravity. The air starts to thicken, growing as heavy as his emotional baggage and the insufferable weight of being perpetually misunderstood. I suddenly have an insatiable appetite for someone bad. Someone who just emerged from the pits of Berghain. Someone who looks like he might flip a table at a restaurant, spend the night in jail and then plant a kiss on my forehead when he gets home, flashing an arm emblazoned with the word “Alabama” in delicate cursive, a spider web, a microphone and a simple letter “K.”

Gentlemen, sound the alarms. The bad boi renaissance has arrived. 

On Sunday, reality TV queen Kourtney Kardashian and Blink-182 drummer Travis Barker announced their engagement. Meanwhile, fellow It couple Megan Fox and Machine Gun Kelly are being their characteristically weird selves, with MGK sporting an orb-like pendant allegedly containing Fox’s blood while she describes their relationship as “the darkest fairytale.” With diamond rings and a splashy British GQ couple’s profile in tow, we’ve officially stepped into a new era, in which the one who gets the girl is a little less Prince Charming and a little more Captain Hook.

Barker and MGK may be the most visible examples of male-baddies-made-hot-again, but let’s not forget the allure of more understated exemplars of the genre like Britney Spears’s fiancé Sam Asghari, Pete Davidson or Kylie Jenner’s baby daddy, Travis Scott. 

Asghari rides around on his motorcycle with the leading pop star of the ‘90s and early aughts: That’s bad. But consider that he’s also loudly, repeatedly and unapologetically put Spears’s family on blast for locking her in the confines of her own home due to an overly restrictive conservatorship. An outspoken activist with a cause (the cause being his iconic fianceé)? That’s really bad!

After his engagement to Ariana Grande fell apart, Davidson called Grande the “queen of shade” while basking in his newfound position as SNL’s resident baddie. That’s bad, too!

As for Scott? He got Jenner pregnant, gave her a $1.4 million Ferrari as a “push present,” got a matching tattoo with her for their daughter Stormi, broke up, got Jenner pregnant again, got back together and then publicly called her “wifey.” So bad!!!

And then there are the stragglers: normie-er celebs desperately trying to masquerade as bad bois despite the fact that, at their core, they do not fit the profile and likely never will. Ben Affleck, for example, has re-hitched his sad wagon to JLo, appearing in the background of every recent paparazzi photo of her dressed cap-a-pie in black or navy. And Leonardo DiCaprio is still creeping around with younger starlets (standard behavior, for him), but now he’s doing it all with a ratty baseball cap on and some rapidly graying stubble protruding beneath his mask. BAD. 

machine gun kelly and megan fox
Machine Gun Kelly revealed a Y2K-era romantic gesture to girlfriend Megan Fox
Getty Images for dcp

Of course, today’s bad bois are not new or novel in a historical sense. To a degree, they’re pastiches of more subversive forebears like James Dean, The Breakfast Club’s John Bender, Dennis Rodman, Brad Pitt in his Fight Club era or Justin Timberlake in his “I’m a total dick to women” era, which is perhaps still ongoing. There’s a certain erotic nostalgia that lingers for Rodman in particular. Skipping Bulls practice in the middle of the NBA Finals to attack Diamond Dallas Page with Hulk Hogan is questionable, sure, but also a vibe. His eccentricity, polarizing opinions, rowdy stints in Vegas and sexual jaunts with Madonna, Vivica Fox and Carmen Electra weren’t some cheap cosplay — they were genuine bad-boy fuckery.

But even down to its gossip-girly spelling (the OG bad boys would sooner self-immolate than identify as bois), the new-age bad boi appears to be more style than substance. The men splashed across today’s weekly glossies stand apart from the old-as-time archetype because they are redefining what it really means to be bad. They’ve got the right image, but underneath lie a brigade of enlightened softies. Feelings are cool now! Emotions are sexy! Pulling up to therapy on a Harley is a turn-on; departing a burning building on one is not.

In the age of a prolonged quandary over whether we should separate “the man from the music” or the asshole from his accomplishments, villains no longer fly. Bad bois, then, are the next best thing: they look like brooding teen-aged rockers, but act like adults. In a welcome rewriting of a tired trope, bad now means talking about your emotional baggage rather than burying it. It means being there for your partner instead of showing up only on your own time, and expressing your true self without worrying so much about the femininity-masculinity spectrum. Unlike the legitimately vile Johnny Depp, nowadays, bad boy does not equal fuck boy.

And so, with cuffing season afoot, here’s a little bit of advice for all the intrepid would-be bad bois who are thinking about adopting the look: 

  • Get a tattoo immediately, but please choose a design that means something to you and DO NOT DO IT DRUNK!
  • If a tattoo is a little permanent for your tastes, get a leather jacket. Leather’s great, and the more embellishments and silver rings the better. It’s giving bondage!
  • Stop shaving your face. Grow it out, all the way out.
  • White tank tops. Under everything. Give us a small preview of your man nips. 
  • Walk around with swagger. Look this up on YouTube, I can’t teach you that.
  • Never smile in photos. Only dazed stares or makeouts with your partner. Tongue must be visible.
  • And do at least one thing a day that makes you cry.

Now you, too, are bad. But remember: being bad is good in that being good is now bad. Got it? Now get out there and make them swoon.

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