By Zulfiqar Mannan
Promotion is a ubiquitous concept when it comes to the world of media. Films are promoted, theatre is publicized and music is mass-produced to the public. Our intrigue lies in the uniqueness of music production: what makes it not only difficult but also necessary. Artists brand themselves through paparazzi run-ins and SNL appearances,almost always being depicted in regards to the form or direction their music is heading. Just last week, the YFH did a piece on Lady Gaga’s growing fashion for the release of her October blockbuster, JOANNE, contrasting it to her fashion in previous years. It seems that her pink cowboy hat, ripped shorts and minimalist crop tops reflect the attitude of her newfound “rockstar” and “musician” image over her previous obsession with the concepts of fame, darkness, art and self-love. This shift brings to memory that of Taylor Swift, who strutted around the streets of New York City with a spectacularly city haircut, metro skirts and color blocking tops just months before her ‘unexpected’ shift to pop music in her now-classic fifth studio album, 1989.
Before the release of pop-album, 1989:
Before the release of country-pop album, RED:
Fashion seems so central to an artist’s image that it is almost needed to give an illusion of authenticity. Who would believe that country superstar Taylor Swift sung to stadium-pumping synths instead of to ukuleles if they didn’t see her move to NYC and transform into the city girl that she is today??
Photoshoot for 1989:
Photoshoot for RED:
The same goes for artists like Nicki Minaj, Beyoncé or even Adele, whose entire personas rest on the idea of music over gimmicks. Minaj switches from the crazy to the simple, the elegant and the classy to detach her music from easy-to-consume pop-rap. Beyoncé changed from a simple girl in jeans to a black latex power-woman to an aged queen in a succession of albums – her wavy hair even evolving into dreads for the black rights anthem, Formation. Adele has matured even though her music has seemed somewhat consistent. , The intended transformation took shape as the singer evolved into a more and more confident woman, no longer the girl with untidy bangs in 2007. It remains, however, that a lot of this image-related promotion takes center-stage only when it comes to the music made by women. Sure, there have been exhibitonists like David Bowie, Freddie Mercury or Michael Jackson. But their images seemed to span their whole careers, not evolving over time. Maroon 5 does not have to change their style to go along with a new sound. Bruno Mars can don the same cowboy hat. The Chainsmokers do not need a style guide (a blatant blasphemy in itself: boys, dress better!). If male pop stars like Justin Bieber, Sam Smith or Ed Sheeran don’t sync their music with fashion, what does that mean for the role of fashion when it comes to music?
This conflict suggests the obvious use of fashion -- to curate an image -- but also emphasizes that an image is only necessary when the product is branded like a good. I’m not arguing that icons like Lady Gaga or Rihanna or Madonna are micro-managed by the social structures around them. But they are at least affected by them, even if they are still in charge of themselves. It is also understood that the branding of the “pop star” (with audiobooks, documentaries, HBO specials and fan-pleasing Grammy performances) often only pertains to women. This realization is exactly the motivation behind stars like P!nk and Sia who advocate for emphasis on raw talent and artists like Rihanna and Gaga who actively break barriers and expectations.
But who’s to say that fashion for the use of promotion is categorically bad? If it weren’t for fashion and music and women, we wouldn’t have Lana Del Rey’s genius Jessica-Rabbit-meets-Amy-Winehouse aesthetic, or the meat dress, or Madonna’s iconic Jean Paul Gaultier gold corset, or Cher’s hair, or Miley Cyrus’s Dadaist leotard. And imagine a world, so dull, without all of that.