A deep dive into the “Goths Love Monster Energy” meme
Left: Jamie Lee Curtis Taete; Right: Anna, courtesy of the interviewee.
On May 14, 2016, Tesco’s official Twitter account offered a sincere apology. “I’m so sorry one of my colleagues called you goth,” read the first of three tweets to a young man named Reece. “I can take your complaint to the store and log it internally on our system. “
Reece’s complaint was simple: earlier today he had bought a can of Monster Energy at his local Tesco in Glasgow. In response, he said, the cashier called him “gothic.”
Tesco’s apology might have been real, but Reece’s story was sadly false. Yet with over 7,000 retweets and 12,000 likes, Reece’s tweet tapped into a widely accepted truth: Goths drink Monster. The stereotype has been the subject of numerous viral tweets (“Yer dar painted pictures of monster energy drink cans, is called vincent van goth”) and even a painful Quora article – tagged “drinks” – “Why do goths love energy drinks?“
Is there any truth in the stereotype and – if so – why exactly do goths love Monster? Is this a deliberate assignment, or do the Night Children just need the extra energy? How much did the Monster Beverage Corporation intend to cultivate this fandom? And what makes goth babies try the drink first?
First of all, it’s worth noting that (due to an unforgivable oversight by YouGov) there’s no way of knowing if goths appreciate Monster more than non-goths. It’s also worth noting that some goths argue that Monster is more favored by those in the emo and stage subcultures (however, tweets and jokes about Monster drinking emos are nowhere near as common as those about goths).
When I contact an older gothic who ‘has been in the subculture for over 30 years’ they say they ‘never heard of’ the Monster stereotype, so it is possible that there is too an age difference at play. They also point out that the drink may be more common among “nude goths” and “mall goths” – there are subcultures within subcultures, after all. It is clear that “all goths drink Monster” is – like most stereotypes – incredibly reductive. But a lot of goths drink a lot of Monster, so the question remains: why?
Niki, a 30-year-old goth from the United States, tried her first Monster Energy drink on her 16th birthday. “When I was in high school there was a great bunch of goths and alternative kids, and they were all huge Monster fans,” she recalls. “At this point, I had never tried it, so a friend of mine got me one for my birthday.”
Later, when Niki started working in haunted houses, she said Monster remained “THE” drink among her goth colleagues. “I guess somehow I only tried it because my peers were drinking it, but there was never any pressure that I remember feeling,” she says. “Seeing him everywhere piqued my interest, however. “
Niki isn’t the only gothic who admits to trying Monster for the first time because of her peers – Anna, a 16-year-old Brazilian, says she first tried Monster when she was 14 because that “I always saw my friends drinking, taking pictures, picking up cans and wanted to know why they did it. As with all trends, Monster fashion has clearly spread on a peer-to-peer basis. But who started it?
Monster Beverage Corporation and the company behind its brand, McLean Design, unfortunately did not respond to multiple voicemail messages and emails. However, McLean’s website hosts an incredibly informative two-page PDF titled “Create a monster”.
The Monster Beverage Corporation began life as Hansen in 1935. Although the brand originally produced juices, it began selling energy drinks in 1997. According to the McLean paper, Hansen Energy initially started selling energy drinks. captured 50% of the energy drink market before declining 8% by the year 2000. McLean began to profile the “emerging energy drink consumer” in order to rename Hansen’s. Their findings are best documented in their entirety:
“This consumer, we learned, was a leather freak, party animal all night, rude, obscene and tattooed, earth freak. He didn’t care about the “natural” and refused to bow to “the man” … essentially, a rule violation, a risk-taking, a renegade outlaw. They go on to refer to the “beserker demographic” who “was looking for a lot of crazy people for a little money”.
This paragraph could refer to Gothics, of course, but it could also refer to a number of other subcultures. Over the years, Monster has sponsored a number of extreme sports competitions, and the brand continues to use lightweight clothing.Monster girlsIn its marketing. Despite the name, the black can, the torn monster claw logo, and the tagline “Unleash the Beast,” it’s clear that the Monster rebrand was not purposely meant for goths only. In a hugely revealing line in McLean’s document, the company writes that it planned to “intentionally create a brand meaningless enough to be filled with meaning by its early adopters.”
It’s a remarkably premonitory feeling. In 2014, a Christian named Christine Weick went viral after claiming there were satanic symbols hidden on Monster cans. Weick claimed that the “M” logo was made up of three Hebrew symbols for the number six – so, according to his logic, the box actually reads “666”.
“This is how smart Satan is and how he enters the Christian house and the life of a Christian, and it breaks the heart of God,” Weick said in a video that has now been viewed almost 14 million times.
Monster’s branding isn’t satanic, but McLean’s document shows it was designed to be bold, with the company admitting it wanted to “create an aggressive new brand for an aggressive untapped consumer.” Since 2011, the Monster Beverage Corporation has also organized the Monster Energy Outbreak Tour, which “features the biggest new names in music.” Over the years, the tours have featured everyone from Macklemore & Ryan Lewis to Iggy Azalea, alongside more alternative acts like Bullet For My Valentine and Carnage. Niki, the 30-year-old American, points out the power of music in the Monster-goth alliance, saying some of her favorite singers have referred to Monster in the past.
Niki calls herself an “occasional monster drinker”. Although she once had a “hardcore” phase with the drink, she now limits herself to one or two cans per week. “I really like the flavors, and the brand’s grungy / goth aesthetic ‘just goes with the outfit’,” she says, arguing that the name, colors and ‘spooky M’ definitely appeal to goths. Teenager Anna drinks one can a week and collects empty cans. “I love that it covers a whole scene and brings together a whole alternate medium,” they say of the drink.
Professor Nick Groom is an English professor at the University of Macau who has been nicknamed the “professor of goth” because of his books, essays and articles on the subculture. Groom is 54 and, like the other older goth I contacted, says he doesn’t know any goth that drinks Monster. He says that in the 1980s, snakebite was a popular drink among Goths, along with snake & black (lager, cider, and cassis) and Pernod & black. He thinks these drinks have potentially attracted goths because of the “down and out” associations and, of course, the word “black” in the names of the latter two drinks. Yet Groom also notes that these drinks may have become popular for simpler reasons – they’re sweet, they’re cheap, and they get you drunk.
I ask Groom how a drink can even be part of a subculture in the first place. “I think subcultures develop in the same way that the mainstream culture gives meaning to food, commodities, the arts, etc., in order to create identity and community,” he says. He notes that although Goths have an individualistic mentality, there is still “a shared, almost tribal, aspect of the subculture. […] Like any minority, they define themselves by what they do.
Since McLean Design tackled the Monster problem, the Monster Beverage Corporation has grown from an 8 percent share of the energy drink market to 35 percent of the US market in 2012. People can’t live on their own. goths, and it’s clear a lot of people enjoy the drink – Anna points out that a lot of their emo, punk, and cosplayer friends buy Monster, while other goth friends don’t.
Jessica is a 23 year old gothic from Newcastle who illustrates the problem with simple stereotypes. Although she became part of the goth community at age 14, she first tried Monster at age 11 or 12. “I tried it because I saw [the cans] and I wanted – I had no outside influence, really, ”she says. At the time, she says she was unaware of a “connection” between goths and Monster and that she simply drank the energy drink to stay awake. She now drinks about two cans a week.
“I think it’s a stereotype,” she concludes. “In my personal experience, I am one of a small handful of Gothic friends who drink Monster – most prefer coffee.
“For me, being goth isn’t about the brands you wear, what you like as a hobby or anything like that,” Jessica says. “It’s just a matter of community. I travel to Whitby twice a year to attend the gothic festival there, and you couldn’t meet a more diverse group of people.