Hot Topic Rebrands, abandons Path of Darkness

Back in July, the American “underground/alternative” mall chain Hot Topic announced that it was rebranding, abandoning The Dark Path for a brighter, more inclusive ambiance. CNN Money covered a consumer conference where Hot Topic CEO James McGinty had the following to say:

“Based on feedback from our customers and changes in the [apparel] industry, we’re changing the look of our stores… people were telling us that the stores were too dark, gothic and intimidating to the average customer.”

The big question is this: what is this a sign of? Should we mourn the old, dark Hot Topic or piss on its grave?

There have always been two prevalent opinions of Hot Topic in alt culture, and I have held both these opinions at different points in my life with equal conviction:

1. Hot Topic is BAD. It’s the epitome of evil: a corporation that commodifies subculture, selling artificial individuality, carrying knockoffs and taking all the life out of alternative scenes by making them “safe” for consumers and their parents (a little anecdote on this one: when I contributed my photography to Gothic Beauty Magazine a few years ago, they told me they were pressured by Hot Topic, under threat of no longer being carried in stores, to refrain not just from publishing photos with nudity, but from publishing any URLs to sites where any kind of nudity appeared!).

2. Hot Topic is GOOD. Yeah, I wouldn’t shop there because I know better (or maybe I would even get that cute pair of skull socks), but if there’s a Hot Topic somewhere in middle-of-nowhere Idaho and it’s all those kids have, their only lifeline to any sort of “alternative” concept, even if one 13-year old buys a Siouxsie CD in there that turns them on to a completely different world of music and culture, then it’s worth it. Plus, HT occasionally supported artists whose work I enjoy, like Jhonen Vasquez. Not every kid in this country is online, and that Hot Topic in the mall may be the only gateway some of them have.

Ideologically, I support the first view; pragmatically, I support the second. Hot Topic was no doubt lame, but still, I wonder if this rebranding was a victory or a defeat for alt culture in America.

31 Responses to “Hot Topic Rebrands, abandons Path of Darkness”

  1. cruella Says:

    how sad..i liked to old hot topic better. never been there though, but
    “selling artificial individuality”, that really sucks.

  2. Sam Says:

    Speaking as a Brit, in that we don’t have Hot Topic in this country, I can say I’ve only ever visited one physical HT store, and that was in Hollywood. I was sixteen at the time and just beginning to express myself via the goth subculture. There seemed something odd about it right off the bat. Yeah, it was cool to see “alt” things within such easy reach, and I bought one or two… but it didn’t feel right to have this “gothic” place sitting happily in the centre of the mall. Mystery replaced by accessibility.

    I’m not going to lament the disappearance of a more “underground” aesthetic because hundreds have done it before me and will likely do so again. Though even over here, where we don’t have the chain, you can find places selling individuality to youngsters, who invariably all end up dressed in identical uniforms. But in either incarnation Hot Topic isn’t really worth much. I mean, the name’s a contradiction of its original “alternative” image.


  3. Slinka Says:

    Oh hai, now they look like H&M.

  4. Tequila Says:

    I understand the issues many have with Hot Topic…but they served a nice lil niche even in fashion and alt culture saturated markets. I honestly think they’re making a massive mistake…if anything they were much more inviting than other shops catering to the same customer base.

    The look will only make them seem like copies of the many skater, hip hop, and surf culture shops already stealing their thunder. Still one can’t be shocked since they did everything possible to push away from the darker goth look in recent years…that hurt them more than anything. Once they started selling Bloc Party t-shirts one knew they didn’t have a clue about what to do and who to cater to.

  5. lauren Says:

    My views on Hot Topic… I really did enjoy the old one. And there are some things in the new one I like too.

    How could I enjoy Hot Topic? I know, poser… whatever. For me, I’ve always bought what I like. I don’t care where it’s from. Hell, if they had pretty and cheap clothes at Abercrombie & Fitch, I’d get them. For me, it’s not about brands, it’s about how comfortable I am in something. Hot Topic is a great source of pretty dresses. I love pretty dresses. In fact, I got my favorite dress I’ve been wearing a lot from there. ( And my second favorite too. ( As long as I’m happy, I could care less where my dress comes from.

    Now, the new layout… I had no issue with them selling their new brightly colored jewelry (in fact, I enjoyed it…) but that bright cheery layout ain’t gonna fly for me. I’m quite nervous for some of the vampires who shop there.

  6. Kristin Says:

    The only thing I like about the store’s look itself is the unique doorway they currently have. Change the color scheme for all I care – I felt they didn’t do nearly as much with the black and red as they could have – but can we stay away from plain rectangular doorways and other expected architectural bits? Being that it’s a mall style shop it’ll already be rather plain and rectangular on the inside, but that doorway had appeal.

  7. Chesney Says:

    Well, its kinda within their nature to do something like this. I can’t say I’m surprised.

    I will say they were a godsend in finding vegan goods before my days on internet. I can’t say I ever bought music there, but then I lived by some wonderful music shops, so I guess I can’t judge.

    I’m actually interested to see what then happens to their employees. Alot of my body mod friends have gotten jobs there through the years when they couldn’t find work that accepted piercings/tattoos/bright hair. Granted, more jobs are accepting of them nowadays, but not so much in retail. Will they be more strict in their employees appearances as well?

  8. Laura Says:

    I don’t like it, it reminds me of when other stores over here (England) commercialised. Next they will be making the clothes more suitable for the average consumer. Before you know it, the origional vision will be lost.

    I’ve been to 3 Hot Topics, all in Vegas and i loved all of them, we just don’t have that here, we have one off shops, which either die out or commertialise. It’s a shame that could happen to Hot Topic.

  9. Rit Says:

    As a kid who went from HT to better things: Anyone who wants to springboard into real alt-culture will catch up quickly enough to realize where their local thrift shop lives.

  10. EPtrauma Says:

    I feel like there are more alt culture people in the US than ever before. WHY would they decide to rebrand now? I’m seeing “gothic” themes in contemporary art, high fashion, and even among people who are otherwise fairly mainstream. So why now would it be considered too intimidating? Oddly enough, i dont feel like goth is a dying out subculture. (unlike things like Punk or Rave culture). I feel like goth is flexable enough to change with time. I DO feel like maybe Hot Topic needed a makeover. But is the drastic change really nessicary? They could have kept the black but went with a more architectural style for their stores, as opposed to the shiny white minimalism which is a huge 180. I neither love nor hate Hot Topic. I some Tshirts from their sale racks, and i’ve ordered shoes from them online before, that have held up well and been generally good for the price, but i wouldn’t shop there all the time either.

  11. Jennifer dG Says:

    Hot Topic stopped carrying SLG’s comics (and they mostly bought Jhonen’s stuff) in anticipation of their little metamorphosis. They told us they were going for more of an Urban Outfitters-type store.

    I used to go there to buy striped socks. But now that you can get those even at Target, so, meh, I have no real use for Hot Topic. It’s much more fun to put together a look from unexpected places than to get it all ready-assembled.

  12. zoetica Says:

    Ah, memories. After working at one when I was but a tender 18 for 6 months I haven’t been able to enter a Hot Topic for more than a few minutes. But, speaking of Jhonen, if it hadn’t been for that experience, I probably would have never stolen comics from work and read his stuff.

  13. Jerem Morrow Says:

    Ja, I’ve spent time in both camps. I’d wager anyone set against HT owns something they purchased there, which always makes me chuckle. I, myself, can turn all snobby at times when HT comes up, but I bought a Billie Holiday tee there. Nekromantics too. JTHM/Squee comics. Stompy boots. Quality music at low prices. Shite I wasn’t finding elsewhere. Ze place went downhill rapidly, but then, they’re all located in MALLS. Haha. Twas inevitable. It was a failed experiment at infiltration from ze get go. Love it or hate it, it was a beacon of hope for me for a time.

  14. E. Black Says:

    When I was a high schooler I loved HT…now I hate it. It sucks the fun out of alt culture, sells ready-made individualism and …just plain sucks. Sometimes they do have a little gold nugget (Hello Kitty, I can never get enough Hello Kitty), but I feel the change-over was a cop-out.

  15. Gretta Says:

    I remember when it first appeared. How dare they? And yet – here were my favorite music and comic book artists within easy reach.

    I wonder what my preteenager, who liked that store a lot, will think of it’s new look.

  16. Veronica Says:

    I haven’t bought anything from a Hot Topic in 8 yrs or so.
    So I could really give less of a shit.
    I will say though that HT is shooting themselves
    in the foot with the re-design, imho.

  17. nadyalev Says:

    Guys, thanks for all your comments on this one. It’s interesting how many different perspectives there are on this.

    You know, I don’t think I’ve ever purchased a single item there. However, I’m the one who always wants to go into the store. I’ll be walking through the mall with my friends and say “let’s go into Hot Topic!” Friends roll their eyes and resignedly walk in with me, slightly embarrassed, while I peruse the aisles. I’m just obsessed with the concept of the store.

  18. tDIYm Says:

    Well, considering that they appear in malls around the US, I think they will be well-served by adopting this new, more mall-friendly, mall-blending new look. Now they will fit right into their environment and not alienate anyone. They could even fit in right next door to “the Gap” now.

  19. Alice Says:

    Well, they ARE owned by the same company that owns Gap, aren’t they? It’s either that or some similar store….

  20. Nadya Says:

    Alice, the fact that they’re owned by the Gap is actually an urban legend. Hot Topic is a lot of corporate things, but Gap-owned they are not!

  21. Christine Says:

    I think the rebranding is good. The new look more closely reflects what Hot Topic really is — just another stupid brand for the mall culture and those “fringe – Alt/subculture” people buying into it.

  22. tymcode Says:

    I always thought of Hot Topic as a gateway drug. The mall rats could experiment with whatever was handy in there, and eventually bust out of the mall and into the thrift stores to develop their own look. (At least the cool ones.)

    In short, it was a Place to Have Outgrown.

    This would be a good theme for a CH posting: Stuff that is important to go through and just as important to outgrow. I’d love to see people’s lists: Hot Topic, Rocky Horror Picture Show, Renaissance Faire or the SCA, Tower Records, anything involving safety pins, and so on.

    –Mike Jennings

  23. Things to Have Outgrown — My Tentacles Are Showing Says:

    […] I noticed that my favoritest blog in the whole world,, did a piece on the rebranding of Hot Topic, where I commented that this is a Place to Have Outgrown; it’s a good place to get started on […]

  24. sindiva Says:

    who cares?

    it’s a business, they must change to survive. subculture will always be absorbed to an extent by society thus it will always be a developing beast itself. And on it goes.

    Individuality is always a high fist in the air for the fringe. Yet no one exhibits any to a degree that would break any molds. I’ve never met anyone who hasn’t reminded me of some else, in thought or action or belief.

    takk fyirir tima.

  25. Sam Ramirez Says:

    I have to say that I like the older look of hottopic better, but I do agree with Nadya. Kids who have no other resource go there because its convenient. Also, some of them need it to be “parent/consumer friendly” because of their parents not supporting the fact they lie a different style.

  26. Metrujectiktus Says:

    Приветствую всех!
    У меня такой вопрос,кто что интересное подскажет буду признателен.
    Мы с друзьями собираемся поехать в круиз по просторам России и ближнего зарубежья месяца на два на своих машинах,но не как не можем согласовать маршрут,если у кого уже был опыт такого путешествия,может,что посоветуете.Девчонок с собой не берем,думаем,что во все городах России с этим не будет проблем,если у кого будут рекомендации и в вопросе отдыха с девушками тоже буду признателен.

    С уважением Сеньчик

  27. Sepha Says:

    Well yeah, they are a corporation and by default more interested in making a profit than adding anything to culture, alternative or otherwise.
    Then again there’s this one HT location out in the local shopping mall of Loraedo Texas that in addition to supplying the local heathens with ‘sexy’ Tinkerbell t-shirts and black nail polish keeps a huge ass binder of public events. The events can be submitted by anyone, so if you’re sixteen and your garage band is giving a concert in your parents backyard you can slip a flier into the binder and maybe get a few more audience members. Even if they’re just doing it for image or in the hopes that some dork will come in to write the date and time of event “Sam gets a wedgie” and leave with a bag full of overpriced buttons and novelty arm warmers, it’s nice that this one location out of the whole national chain can get away with promoting artists and musicians they don’t sell merchandise for.
    Of course if they’re really dead set on being like the rest of the mall The Binder might have to find another home. Think Abercrombie and Fitch would take up the burden?

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  29. devon Says:

    Oi, just as someone who actually lives in Podunk, Idaho, I’d like to say that even I won’t stoop to the corporate convenience of Not Gothic. And though they may have touted Siouxsie CDs and shirts in the past, it’s been a long time since they’ve begun catering to the Sliprot and Marilyn Hanson side of that coin. Bollocks to them and theirs; if you must have a mall outlet to express yourself for you, you deserve what you get. Twaddle.

  30. Nadya Says:

    Devon: You actually live in Podunk, Idaho? Or is that a metaphor? I’m curious!

  31. Courtney Says:

    I believe old hot topic helped me get to where i am now, it use to be a starting point or a “door way” for a 13 year old. But you have to learn to branch away and find your own way. Now hot topic isn’t even a starting point for an alt culture. they’ve changed so much over the years… i’m guess i straddle the fence. It use to be a good thing but now the place has gone down hill, almost abandoning who they originally targeted