When British rock band Queen dominated the world in the 1970s with “Killer Queen”, “Bohemian Rhapsody” and “We Will Rock You”, they not only did so with their music, but with their aesthetic: fluffy hair, deep-V shirts, flamboyant prints, and lots of leather. The 1980s brought us Michael Jackson and Madonna, known for their record-breaking, chart-topping tunes and also their iconic fashion. Who can forget the King of Pop’s red leather jacket from “Thriller”, or Madonna’s Jean Paul Gaultier-designed cone bra?
As the ‘90s rolled in, Kurt Cobain made a statement with his grunge look – band T-shirts worn underneath old plaid shirts and cardigans that had seen better days – which resulted fans and anti-conformist individuals alike copying his fashion choices. A decade later, Avril Lavigne debuted at the age of 17 with baggy pants, ties worn over tank tops, battered Vans sneakers, and her signature arm sock (on one arm only, of course). For teens around the world, she became an icon not just for her music, but also for her style.
There’s no denying the unbreakable bond between music and fashion. This unique marriage of audio (lyrics and melodies) and visual (aesthetics and outfits) have long been an outlet of self-expression for musicians and performers. When presented together, people tend to recall this combination of sound and images more accurately, and for far longer. According to Dr. Haig Kouyoumdjian from Psychology Today, this is partly because the human brain is primarily an image processor. Because visuals are more concrete to the brain than words, they’re easier to remember.
More and more, artists are channeling their creative juices into creating bigger, more powerful music videos. By working together with fashion designers, they are now able to construct more impactful narratives that tie in with the song’s message, while leaving behind a lasting impression on the viewer.
FULFILLING A CREATIVE VISION
Lady Gaga sums it up perfectly: “I think that fashion and music go hand-in-hand, and they always should. It’s the artist’s job to create imagery that matches the music. I think they’re intertwined.” She and Alexander McQueen go way back, to even before “Bad Romance”; after Gaga sent the late designer an early version of the song to play at his final Spring/Summer 2010 show, McQueen reciprocated by loaning his “Plato’s Atlantis” collection for the music video. The alien-like, haute couture pieces worn by Gaga, which included the infamous 10-inch hooflike Armadillo boots, matched her unique creative vision and cemented her position as a fashion icon.
In an interview with Harper’s Bazaar, Gaga once said that her fashion is her most prized possession. “It is a visualization of all the hard work I’ve put in to get to where I am today, and it is a legend to the encyclopedia of my life. It is exactly what I’ve aimed to seep into the artistic consciousness of people all over the world – that life is an art form.” During the pandemic, when live performances and concerts were put on hold, she released “911”, a surreal short film/music video that sparked a heated discussion, not just because of its underlying message, but also because of the outfits. To bring this visual feast to life, Gaga worked with different designers to create custom pieces: an asymmetrical patchwork with a cloak by Johanne Swarnke, a red latex dress with matching headgear by It Spain, and a BDSM-esque floral bodysuit by Karina Akopyan, just to name a few.
Speaking of making a fashion statement, nobody does it better than Beyoncé. Having been in the music industry for over two decades, she has been dubbed one of the most influential trendsetters of our time. With the release of her 2016 studio album Lemonade, a total of 12 music videos were made, resulting in a movie-like concept that chronicled her emotional journey after a relationship crisis. One of the most representative looks is the one from “Hold Up”, directed by Jonas Åkerlund and styled by his wife, B. Åkerlund. As Beyoncé comes to terms with her inner demons and finds her true self, the opening scene a minute and a half into the music video opens with a flourish as the (literal) floodgates open, revealing Queen Bey in a bright yellow, flowy, off-shoulder Roberto Cavalli number that belies the lyrics:
Can't you see there's no other man above you? / What a wicked way to treat the girl that loves you / Hold up, they don't love you like I love you
In an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, B. revealed that they’d initially selected another outfit for Beyonce, but decided on the spur of the moment to switch to the Roberto Cavalli dress, which had arrived late, right off the runway. “With the context of the video being a little bit violent, we were really looking for something of the opposite to make it flirty and positive and sexy, to sort of enhance a woman’s strengths,” she explained.
Beyoncé is also known to use her music videos as a platform to advocate for and celebrate Black identities. Shot across the US, Belgium, England, Nigeria, Ghana and South Africa, the visual album Black Is King is accompanied by a musical film of the same name, and features a vast designer wardrobe from the likes of Balmain, Valentino, Burberry, Mary Katrantzou, and more. In “Already”, Beyoncé is seen sporting a Marine Serre catsuit with its signature crescent print, as well as an exquisite turquoise hand-beaded Nigerian lace and silk trench by 5:31 Jérôme, matched with a Sarah Sokol Millinery hat.
IGNITING OLD AND NEW TRENDS
Bringing vintage appreciation from the Roaring ‘20s back to the 2020s is Dua Lipa with her “We’re Good” music video. Playing a performer on the Titanic, Lipa is seen in Prada outfits from The Great Gatsby film – dripping in sequins and crystals as she serenades the dinner crowd. The same dress seen on Carey Mulligan’s character is worn backwards on Lipa, seemingly an ode to the underlying theme of “future nostalgia” for her latest album. Lipa’s two other looks, a drop-waist gown with billowy sleeves (paired with Fabergé jewelry) and a sequinned Miu Miu vintage gown, carry a subtly modern edge with sky-high Marc Jacobs Lili 170 Pumps (yes, the ones from his Fall 2016 show).
As the Korean Hallyu wave continues to dominate Western shores, K-pop bands like BTS and Blackpink have also played a part in influencing the fashion preferences of their fans. According to internet fashion retailer Lyst, the demand for bucket hats went up by 128 percent following BTS’ “Dynamite” music video, and the members have been lauded countless times for their clean, coordinated looks. Blackpink, on the other hand, showcased a whole selection of designers in their “How You Like That” music video, ranging from Chanel, Dior and Celine to Area, Off-White and M.Y.O.B.
GOING AGAINST THE GRAIN
Boy band member-turned-serious singer-songwriter Harry Styles is not one to conform to gender stereotypes, showing off a gorgeous lilac gown by frequent collaborator Gucci in the music video for “Falling” (the Italian fashion house also dressed Styles for the 2019 Met Gala). Seeing him in the semi-sheer dress as he is engulfed by water further accentuates the delicate vulnerability of the song, where he questions himself and the decisions he’s made. No stranger to setting trends, searches for the Bode floral shirt he wore in his “Watermelon Sugar” music video also increased by 31 percent after it was released.
Both daring and evocative of his openness in talking about his sexuality, Australian singer-songwriter Troye Sivan’s music video for “Bloom” brings forth an explosion of colours. Donning a plumed Valentino hat designed by Irish milliner Philip Treacy with a statement red lip, “Bloom” was released in June 2018 to coincide with Pride Month, much to the delight of his fans. Directed by Vogue alumni Bardia Zeinali, this music video also brought together makeup artist James Kaliardos and hairstylist Jawara to pull off Sivan’s close-up looks.
Kanye West might be wrought with controversy, but his creative genius as a musician and a fashion designer has earned him bragging rights. True enough, nobody else has done, or even dared to attempt the same: West’s music video for 2016 hit “Wolves”, performed with Vic Mensa and Sia, doubled as an ad campaign for Balmain, starring the rapper himself and ex-wife Kim Kardashian, along with Balmain creative director Olivier Rousteing’s favourite models like Alessandra Ambrosio, Jourdan Dunn, and Joan Smalls.
After hearing West’s The Life of Pablo album, Rousteing fell in love with the record, and “Wolves” resonated particularly strongly. He then proposed the idea to West of creating a campaign around the song. “I think that’s what is interesting: it’s a campaign based on music. That was really important for me,” said Rousteing.
Press play and strike a pose.
Cover Credit: Kristina Kokhanova / Alamy Stock Photo
Writer | Michelle Tan
Lover of all things bizarre, Michelle has a soft spot for dinosaurs, animal videos and a strong G&T. Her lifelong dream is to become an urban hermit.