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The Queer Rebirth of the Mullet

The modern mullet is less about pickup-truck masculinity. It’s not a party joke, either. It’s short in the front and long in the back as an intentional statement of gender fluidity

The only coronavirus party Crystal Methyd’s attending is the one on the back of her head. 

The idiosyncratic drag queen is coming off a triumphant turn on Season 12 of RuPaul’s Drag Race. Her buoyant personality, colorful looks and infectious laugh made her a fan favorite. What really took the judges by surprise, though, was her out-of-drag appearance. 

Methyd is the mullet queen of Springfield, Missouri, and quite possibly the first contestant for whom RuPaul was ready to breach ethical boundaries. Throughout the season, RuPaul repeatedly thirsted for Methyd’s long, curly mullet. It reminded him of ’80s singer El Debarge.

“I really had no idea what he was talking about,” Methyd, 29, tells me of Ru’s Debarge comparisons. But you never want to offend the guy who might be giving you $100,000. So Crystal thought to herself, “I just knew that he liked my hair, so I’m just gonna smile and flip my hair.”

Photo courtesy of Crystal Methyd

Methyd’s method was so convincing that she got her way to the Top 3. She also inspired a cadre of fans to grab kitchen scissors and give themselves a quarantine mullet. Still, Methyd is hesitant to take too much credit for revitalizing the mullet. “Not Tiger King?” she asks when I offer her the honor.

It only takes three icons to solidify a trend, and 2020 has given us three charismatic stars with hair that says “business in the front, party in the back”: Joe Exotic of Tiger King, Methyd and Miley Cyrus. 

For the “Slide Away” singer, who identifies as pansexual, it’s a full-circle moment: The celebrity most closely associated with the mullet used to be her father, Billy Ray Cyrus. Mr. “Achy Breaky Heart” helped usher in the area of the hypermasculine “country” mullet, worn by fellow singers Kenny Chesney, Toby Keith and Blake Shelton. 

Photo via IMDb

David Spade, as his character Joe Dirt, helped turn the look into something of a “white trash” punchline — especially when paired with mutton chops and a goatee.

Photo by Jon Farmer ©2001 Columbia Pictures, Inc.

Still, it’d be erroneous and ahistorical to assume the mullet has always signified a lack of sophistication. Some revolutionary cultural figures rocked iterations of the mullet. There’s Benjamin Franklin (although his version was a result of balding), David Bowie as Ziggy Stardust, and even Little Richard. Once Rihanna and Zendaya back a trend — as they did with the mullet in recent years — it’s instantly iconic.

The modern mullet, however, is less about pickup-truck masculinity. It’s not a party joke, either. It’s short in the front and long in the back as an intentional statement of gender fluidity. 

“I’m in Missouri, so the mullet kind of never has gone away,” Methyd says. Still, “people obviously can tell I’m gay based on my hair.”

In fact, mullets have long had a connection to the LGBTQ+ community. The only thing queer icon Joan Jett has rocked harder than a guitar is her spiky black mullet. Musician sisters Tegan and Sara Quin spent the aughts in matching mullets. Billie Eilish, Euphoria’s Barbie Ferreira, and Christine and the Queens lead singer Chris sport very stylized mullets today.  

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Magda Ryczko, founder of the queer-owned barbershop Hairrari in Brooklyn, has been cutting and styling mullets for several years; she even sported one herself in the early ’10s. As New York gradually reopens businesses this summer, clients have come into Ryczko’s shop with newly shaggy styles they don’t want to lose entirely. The solution? Embracing the business-in-the-front vibe. “They’re just cutting their hair to be professional for the meetings on Zoom — but then the back is really long,” she says. 

The Billy Ray Cyrus mullet features hair combed back, swooping naturally into a shoulder-length curl. The Miley Cyrus mullet, however, is less country and more California. “This look was very much Miley’s own and has no connection to any previous look of her dad,’” says Miley Cyrus’ hairstylist Sally Hershberger. “If anything, it is really a true expression of her individuality as a person and as an artist.”

Cyrus, who spent most of 2019 with slicked waves and bangs, originally told Hershberger she wanted a pixie mullet. Over FaceTime in May, Hershberger guided Cyrus’ mom, Trish, as she cut the singer’s hair. But the cut quickly grew out into something a little more textured and long at the ends, so Hershberger drew inspiration from a look she created for model Stella Tenant in a Vogue Italia shoot. 

Today, Cyrus is now sporting a shag mullet — jagged, textured bangs that fall abruptly down behind the ear. “[It] reminds me of David Bowie. It’s sexy, fashion-forward and very glam-rock,” Hershberger says of Cyrus’ cut.

For those trying to revitalize not one but two dated hairstyles, there’s the bowl-cut mullet. Paired with blunt bangs or a severe undercut, this style was popularized by electronic hip-hop duo Die Antwoord. 

Now, in 2020, we’re reaching peak mullet — which means the trendsetters like Ryczko or Methyd are already considering their next looks. “I was actually growing out a mullet right now, but then my girlfriend cut it into a mohawk,” Ryczko says.

Like Ariana Grande and her high ponytail, Methyd knows she can’t go and cut her signature look just yet. “I’m feeling like Samson. I don’t want to cut my hair or I’ll lose all my power,” she tells me. 

So instead, she’s fully leaning into the ostentatious style. She wants to grow it out until it reaches her butt. It could be a metaphor for both her career and the mullet trend itself: “It’s here. It’s happening. I think it’s only gonna get bigger,” she says.