WHEN I began my journalism career, did I picture myself typing the words “the weeknd rattail the idol” into Google? Not exactly. But here I am, scrolling through images of Abel ‘The Weeknd’ Tesfaye in a greasy-looking wig that has been expertly shaped into a stiff rattail for the equally greasy HBO series, The Idol.
Now, I must admit that I haven’t been able to bring myself to watch a single episode of the series — unless you count the clips that have been posted to social media, which highlight the cringiest moments of the show, and only serve to further erode my already low interest. But through those clips I have been well acquainted with Tesfaye’s character Tedros’ rattail, as have many of us worldwide. At the time of writing, “the weeknd rattail the idol” has amassed 83.3 million views on TikTok (and counting — when I checked this stat yesterday, it sat at 82.5 mil). So why has it garnered such intrigue?
If you scroll through those TikToks, you’ll determine that it’s definitely not because it’s garnering envy. “The idol isn’t realistic bc if a sly man with a rattail approached me at a club, I’d cry, scream & throw up,” one reads. “Who tf decided this hairstyle was fitting?” commented another, adding in the caption, “they turned The Weeknd into a Weekday”.
Now, in Tesfaye’s and The Idol‘s defence, the intention wasn’t to make his character appealing. “The reality is, there’s nothing really mysterious or hypnotising about him. And we did that on purpose with his look, his outfits, his hair—the guy’s a douchebag. You can tell he cares so much about what he looks like, and he thinks he looks good,” Tesfaye said in an interview, where he also teased that we’d discover more about Tedros’ rattail as the series progressed.
But despite its intentional ick-inducing appearance, when the series premiered, an article in The Wall Street Journal asked “Are We Entering a Rattail Renaissance?” Love it or hate it, you can’t deny the rattail is making waves. And it’s not the first time it has done so.
The origins of the rattail are murky, but their predecessors date back earlier than the trend’s ’80s heyday. In the mid-1500s, a “lovelock” was a popular style for apparently fashionable men in Europe (which may have been appropriated from traditional Native American hairstyles, though info on that is murky too).
The look consisted of a longer lock of hair that was braided to sit over the left shoulder — the heart side — to show one’s devotion to their beloved. It’s kind of cute, actually, so I highly doubt this history had any influence on Tedros.
Full-blown rattails as we know them today, however, didn’t pop up until the 1980s, and they didn’t come with the cutesy romantic association. It makes sense that they became a trend in the same age as the “business in the front, party in the back” mullet: In the case of a rattail, the ‘business’ consisted of a relatively standard short men’s hairstyle; and the ‘party’ was a longer trail of hair at the nape of the neck, either worn loose or, as in the case of Tedros, woven into a braid. Rattails came to be popular across a range of cultures and subcultures — animated manga characters and real-life martial arts stars like Jet Li sported them, nodding to traditional Asian hairstyles throughout history. In the 1988 comedy blockbuster Coming To America, Eddie Murphy’s Prince Akeem wore a rattail that denoted his social status, which popularised the look among young Black men. Punk kids turned to them too — anything to push back on the mainstream, right?
In 1999, the ill-fated Star Wars prequel series would offer the rattail a brief resurgence in popularity among the sci-fi stan clan, when George Lucas gave us the gift that was a young Ewan McGregor as a young Obi-Wan Kenobi. In Episode I: The Phantom Menace, Obi-Wan is still a Padawan (a Jedi-in-training, in Star-Wars-speak), so he wears a long rattail braid to signify that. The film was panned by critics and fans alike, but that didn’t stop someone from purchasing that very same clip-on rattail for over AUD$3,100 at auction in 2019 (“I’m mortified,” McGregor said of the sale).
While the rest of the world gave up on rattails after the ’80s and ’90s, they scampered into the Australian psyche. To this day, travel out of the cities to the more true-blue ocker rural communities and you’ll find them on many a sun-scorched head (or you can head to Newtown’s King Street, where the indie softboys have reclaimed the look for themselves). They’ve become a popular mainstay among the Polynesian community, and among our sporting stars too — Penrith winger Brian To’o has partaken in the trend, as has North Queensland’s second-row forward Jeremiah Nanai. Long before Tedros, Australia championed the bad-boy with a rattail when Australian actor Toby Wallace sported one in Shannon Murphy’s 2019 film, Babyteeth. Could it be that for once, Australia is ahead of the cultural curve?
Look at the mullet: The once-scorned and forgotten ‘do never lost steam down under, with golfer Cameron Smith and sprinter Rohan ‘The Flying Mullet’ Browning capturing he world with theirs. And now plenty of A-listers have taken it on, from BIG BANG’s ‘King of K-Pop,’ the South Korean rapper G-Dragon, to Normal People and Aftersun Irish heartthrob Paul Mescal.
So it could well be that the rattail is next: It’s already popped up on the fashion runway this year, with American model and actor Evan Mock strutting down the Head of State runway with an extra-long one in February. And now Tesfaye is garnering plenty of attention for his in The Idol, and while it’s mostly negative attention, we all know that the internet is a fickle place that loves a bit of irony. Any day now, some TikToker could declare that actually, the Tedros rattail is subversively very cool, and just like that it will be normalised, and Brad Pitt or (god forbid) Pedro Pascal will be hitting their next red carpet with one.
Let’s just hope it doesn’t come with the normalisation of Tedros’ creepy-guy vibes.