Why pop stars are having prosthetic makeovers

From Taylor Swift to The Weeknd: More and more musicians are radically changing their looks. It’s all part of a new age of human transformation, writes Emma Madden.

In 2017, fans saw the face of DJ, producer and general pop innovator Sophie right for the first time. For years, the trailblazing musician, who tragically died last month at the age of 34, remained relatively hidden behind DJ decks; plastic sheets in the form of coiled DNA covered album artwork where a face and a body could have been.

Then, on October 19, 2017, Sophie uploaded the music video for a song called It’s Okay To Cry, in which the artist stared directly into the camera in a moment of revelation. But what immediately stood out was the prosthetic makeup that plumped up the artist’s cheeks like an angel, as Sophie assured us, “I think your inside is your best side.”

It’s Okay To Cry was an introduction to Sophie’s face, as well as the artist’s 2018 LP Oil of Every Pearl’s Un-Insides. It was an album that combined transgenderism with transhumanism – the philosophy that we can reach our greatest potential by technologically enhancing ourselves. Songs like Faceshopping and Immaterial suggested that technology (including prosthetic makeup) can enhance our own self-expression in ways that transcend the gendered, physical self. Through music, Sophie expressed the idea that by creating new skins, we can better externalize our inner selves and our best selves.

It was not only an impressive effect, but a groundbreaking one. Less than two years later, fashion label Balenciaga sent its models down the runway for its Spring/Summer 2020 collection at Paris Fashion Week with similarly shaped faces. The show notes that accompanied the presentation explained that the models’ prosthetic makeup was a “play on the beauty standards of today, the past and the future.”

Catwalks have always been at the forefront of embodying speculative futures, and at least since Balenciaga’s Sophie-like show, prosthetic makeup has begun to cross back into pop and mainstream visual culture. Such extreme makeup is no longer reserved for horror movies and mask-wearing metal bands. Rather, prosthetic makeup is now rendering some of the world’s most recognizable stars unrecognizable – more recently, the likes of Lady Gaga, Taylor Swift, and Lil Nas X have incorporated it into their work to expand their artistic mythologies and challenge the static nature of their own bodies.

A headline moment

Perhaps the most sensational use of prosthetic makeup in recent times, however, came from R&B star The Weeknd, who put it front and center in his latest album campaign. Last January, he appeared in the music video for his hit Blinding Lights with what appeared to be a broken, bloody face. Then in March, the singer was decapitated in the music video for In Your Eyes, before a few months later his head was reattached to another man’s body in the video for Too Late, reminiscent of Gucci’s prosthetic head catwalk. In November, he appeared at the 2020 American Music Awards with a face full of bandages; and finally, in January of this year, for the video for Save Your Tears, those bandages were removed to reveal a grotesquely swollen and distorted face, as if the singer’s nose, lips and cheeks had been stretched like taffy.

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