This article was originally published in JUICE Singapore October 2016, Issue #217, and has been updated for accuracy and comprehensiveness.
Where theatricality on stage is often equated to a way to enthrall one’s screaming hoards of fans, some musicians have used their costumes to make a statement that surpasses the bells and the whistles. Wearing their hearts on their sleeves, these eight musos have made it clear that what they don is more than just a costume.
It’s no secret that Beyoncé feels passionately for the increasing racial tensions in the U.S. While her self0titled album in 2013 firmly announced her as a feminist, her 2016 drop, Lemonade, put forth the idea that not only is she a feminist, but she’s an unapologetic African-American, too. Throughout her televised visual album film, Bey wore a series of Antebellum-inspired looks while swanning around the grounds of a Southern plantation, alluding to the history of African-American slaves. Further driving the point home, she chose to wear a military-inspired look at 2016’s Superbowl (which, in part, referenced Michael Jackson’s 1993 performance), while paying controversial homage to the Black Panthers. Talk about being politically dressed.
In the hyper-masculine world of rap that celebrates tiresome tropes of what it means to be ‘manly’, Young Thug is shaking up the scene with his commitment to break away from those antiquated stereotypes. The father of six is breaking ground as a straight man on a mission to agitate the way the hip-hop scene and rappers view black masculinity with his penchant for wearing women’s clothing. For the cover of his 2016 mixtape Jeffrey, the rapper wore a ruffled floor-length skirt in powdery lilac by designer Alessandro Tricone that launched Twitter into reactionary overdrive and media outlets into a flurry, with lengthy columns that tried to dissect his gender-driven statements. Where rap often looks to challenge the patriarchy in terms of race, Young Thug takes it a step further by questioning what makes a man.
Fashion is often a very personal thing, where clothing becomes a mirror to your personality and a barrier that gives you the confidence to meet the world. This has been the case for Gaga, whose outrageous costumes and over-the-top makeup have been very much a part of her look since her early days in the scene. Whether on or off stage, she has been seen in everything from plastic bubbles to stacked, rave-inspired boots. In an interview with Glamour, Gaga explained that her outlandish looks were often a reaction to her insecurities and depression. While adamant that she is still the same person in or out of costume, her recent turn to a more pared-down look has been about her finally accepting herself.
Mostly characterised by the off-kilter sense of fashion that permeated his everyday wear, Leigh Bowery was a visual artist and club promoter during the ’80s in London who always made a statement with his clothing. Bowery often cited his outfits as a commentary on the mundane, and his outrageous and sometimes revolting dress codes were conceptualised as a joke that provoked the stuffy constraints of the high fashion industry. Coupled with a body shape that defiled what it meant to be ‘in’, Bowery found that his way of approaching aesthetics meant he could love fashion while simultaneously mocking the snobs within the industry.
Grace Jones is one of the few powerhouses that command a stage like no one else can, as evidenced in her concerts that still sell out today. With an inclination for tribal threads and severe makeup, Jones sets forth in her mission to challenge the tired clichés of how black women should dress, behave or express themselves. Rather than playing the usual contrite and submissive ladylike character, Jones revels in the proud knowledge of being a performer of colour, and she exudes this brash confidence through her costumes. Recently, she’s even taken young starlets to task for not challenging the status quo as she once did.
As one-half of rap duo Outkast, André 3000 is known for pumping out some of their catchiest tunes. But on his 2014 reunion tour with Big Boi, it was André’s slogan jumpsuits that really got people talking. Committed to wearing a plain black jumpsuit with a slogan printed across its front in bold, white typography, the sayings that fronted his suits ranged from the silly (“I just wanna sleep”) to the more politically charged (“Teachers deserve more”). If there was ever a literal embodiment of statement-making clothing, this would have been it. But more than just making up catchy slogans for fun, his jumpsuits tackled everything from war to self-improvement to censorship.
When she’s not challenging gender norms in the form of brazen songwriting and rap, Brooke Candy is tearing down the walls of taboo relating to sex and gender roles with her hyper-sexualised manner of dressing. Taking on a warrior-meets-stripper-like approach to her image, the Californian rapper is known for edging against an industry that expects female pop stars to follow a cookie-cutter formula of sexuality to appeal to a male audience. Instead, she’s turned this on its head with her outfits – one that shows plenty of skin and yet still falls far away from the typical idea of ‘sexy’. Where rap has appropriated women as objects of sexual desire, Candy seeks to reclaim sexuality for women.
The late and great Prince will forever be known for his psychedelic music that defined an era, and his bold fashion choices at a time when singers played it safe. In his movie Purple Rain, the singer wore a medley of costumes that included a fitted trench coat, ruffled shirts, and even a scarlet lace jumpsuit. However, it was his love for the colour purple that shone through. In an interview with Billboard, Purple Rain costume designers Louis Wells and Marie France revealed that the singer adamantly wanted the colour incorporated because of its most common association with majesty, to signify that he saw himself as music royalty. While he may not be around to enthrall with his costumes anymore, his lasting legacy in music and fashion more than cements his claim to that throne.