Music

A Brief History of Mullets, From Benjamin Franklin to Morgan Wallen

AP Photo and Evan Agostini/Invision/AP

The widespread appeal of Morgan Wallen's "Whiskey Glasses," "Chasin' You" and other songs earned the country music singer such enviable gigs as opening slots for Florida Georgia Line and Luke Combs and nationally televised appearances on the CMA Awards and Saturday Night Live. When potential new fans see Wallen on stage or on television, he's as memorable aesthetically as he is artistically because of a hairstyle that points back to his country radio forefathers.

We're talking about that majestic mullet: a tribute to '90s Nashville's "Music Row in the front, tailgate party in the back" mindset that's as retro as any song borrowing cues from Travis Tritt or George Strait.

Before further discussing Wallen's 'do, let's consider the surprisingly lengthy (on the back end, at least) history of a style that's become a punchline in the 21st century.

In Homer's The Iliad, he describes soldiers wearing "their forelocks cropped, hair grown long at the backs." In centuries to come, troops and warriors in different cultures adopted practical hairstyles to keep the backs of their necks warm and their bangs out of their eyes.

When the mullet reached the States, it became a preferred look for more than frontline soldiers. Ever notice that Benjamin Franklin's depicted with a Hulk Hogan-caliber "skullet" (mullets for those who've been leg-dropped by a receding hairline)? Franklin's hairstyle convinced the French that he was less of a highfalutin noble than his powdered wig-wearing peers in the New World. The wigs of George Washington and other Founding Fathers gave way to Franklin's look when James K. Polk became the nation's 11th president in 1945.

Fast-forward to the '70s, and David Bowie's bright orange version of what's now called the mullet made the look a-okay for not just Ziggy Stardust-crazed glam rockers but also punks and metalheads to come. By the '80s, popular music acts, star athletes and pro wrestlers alike made their own takes on Wallen's current look as prominent as spandex and neon.

The style took Nashville by storm in the '90s as country music went uptown. Billy Ray Cyrus' "Kentucky waterfall" look made him he undisputed mullet king, and he was far from alone. Other '90s country luminaries with mullets include Alan Jackson, Tim McGraw, Toby Keith and Alabama's Jeff Cook. Before those stars changed the accepted look of long-haired men in country music, the most daring 'dos in country-adjacent music were limited to Ricky Skaggs' big hair and that stretch when New Grass Revival's John Cowan looked like a Stranger Things character.

The trend, given a name by the Beastie Boys' 1994 song "Mullet Head," didn't suddenly taper off right before the new millennium. When Blake Shelton's debut album arrived in 2001, his curly locks raised few eyebrows.

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Somewhere along the way, what once passed for fashion morphed into an easy target for anyone wanting to label the long-haired heavy metal fan in their neighborhood a hesher. There's probably nothing deep to pick apart about the changing look of long-haired men. Times change, and formerly acceptable haircuts give way to Joe Dirt jokes.

Wallen, a songwriter for Kane Brown and Jason Aldean before becoming a solo star for Big Loud Records, isn't just going all in on irony. Like many of his peers, the Sneedville, Tennessee native simply appreciates the looks and sounds he associates with a small town childhood.

"Whenever my parents got married, my dad had a mullet," Wallen told the Associated Press. "Me and my dad are very similar-type people with the way we look and the way we act, and I figured if he could get away with it when he was around 25, then I could try to do the same thing."

As Wallen has proven to be more than a flash in the pan, family and fans have shown more love for his look.

"I think my mom is coming around with the mullet," Wallen told People in 2019. "There were a lot of people not crazy about the mullet, but I mean, I like it. I'm not getting a haircut anytime soon. It was never intended to be a part of my brand or anything, but now it is. And when I look in the crowd and see these young guys with mullets and shorts on, that's cool. I can relate to them and they can relate to me."

Time will tell how many scraggly, COVID-19 pandemic haircuts will give way to well-groomed homages to Wallen.

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A Brief History of Mullets, From Benjamin Franklin to Morgan Wallen