Originally published in HISKIND Autumn ’17, out now.
Looking back on the seemingly never-ending catalogue of music videos that exist on the internet and on the television, you notice that there’s a certain level of gloss and sheen that’s spread throughout, signifying hours upon hours of hard work and dedicated research into the tiniest details. But when you examine the litany of videos that permeate the music industry, there is one thing that is both overt and subtle, both in-your-face and not-so-much, all at the one time, and that is, quite simply, the fashion and style that radiates from frame to frame.
Fashion and music have always gone hand in hand – after all, what was Cher without her iconic Bob Mackie looks, not to mention the wigs upon wigs that have littered her entire career? – but it has always been the music video that has acted as a homage to this symbiotic relationship. Through the advent of MTV’s pop culture revolution and popularity as the of all and be all of music to the modern day cinematic experience presented by a variety of artists in the space of a four-minute video, the idea that fashion and music are embedded into one another and that they are given the freedom to reign through carefully constructed moments in music history is one that, quite frankly, tends to go unnoticed. Sure, we all watch videos and declare them ‘iconic’ and ‘legendary’, with smatterings of ‘yaaas’s and ‘werrrrrk’s when our favourite artists produce exceptional work, but it is the fashion that helps tell the story of the video that subconsciously grabs our attention.
Throughout music history, there have been some fairly iconic style ‘moments’. From Elvis Presley’s distinctive rhinestone suits to Michael Jackson’s red leather Thriller ensemble, it’s hard to think about fashion and music being two separate entities. But as time went on, it wasn’t just about the looks – no, it was about the ‘moment’. And what better way to make a ‘moment’ than to include the leggy Amazons of the fashion industry? Indeed, the music video ‘moment’ has long been given a certain je ne sais quoi courtesy of the supermodel.
One such ‘moment’ came in the guise of George Michael’s Freedom! ’90 video, wherein the original supermodels Naomi Campbell, Cindy Crawford, Linda Evangelista, Christy Turlington and Tatjana Patitz went against the grain of supermodels appearing in music videos as the love interest, and therein became the performers of one of Michael’s most iconic songs. Fast forward twenty years, and Duran Duran release Girl Panic!, a veritable orgy of fashion and music merging together, as Naomi Campbell, Cindy Crawford, Eva Herzigova, Helena Christensen and Yasmin Le Bon channel and act as the quintet behind Duran Duran, decked in rock-and-roll-ready couture with cameos from Italian design duo Dolce & Gabbana, proving that time may go on, but the sheer beauty and show-stopping panache that the supermodel brings is the kind of gravitas that lies in the fashion and music power couple.
Indeed, the music video has long been a signifier of the strong, timeless relationship between fashion and music. Thinking of more contemporary history, and a variety of artists have not only used fashion to develop their sense of style, but they have utilised the creativity fashion inspires to cultivate a series of ‘moments’ in their own history as artists. The sheer amount of instances where artists have used music to explore their own style – and vice versa – is almost impossible to count, with a breadth of artists exploring these opportunities to take risks. Of course, for every music video in Madonna’s music career, there is an entire ‘look.’ Well documented by the queens on RuPaul’s Drag Race in previous seasons, albeit poorly the first time around.
Further developing the unique relationship between fashion and music are artists such as Lady Gaga, whose – often controversial – choices have oft been compared to Madonna’s own fashion statements in her videos. Whether it be the moment Bad Romance received its world premiere during McQueen’s last ever fashion show before his death, or indeed the Soul Train-inspired video in which she performed a cover of Chic’s I Want Your Love for Tom Ford’s SS16 collection, Gaga’s love for fashion has long been a pivotal part of her career. The marriage between fashion and music is well documented throughout Gaga’s videography, so much so that a list of the videos where designer influences shine through would be, in itself, worthy of column inches.
Of course, she is not alone. As the world of music develops, it’s important to note the variety of artists that use fashion as a means of telling a story in their videos. From Taylor Swift’s girl-next-door style to Katy Perry’s out-there costumes, and from Beyoncé’s show-stopping style in the cinematic visual album Lemonade to the forward-thinking style of a compendium of K-Pop groups and artists, it’s hard to dispute the idea that fashion and music go hand in hand, simply because what the artists wear is all part of a story.
And sometimes, the clothes tell us more than a song ever will.
Illustration: Alex Owen
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