Elvis, Little Richard, Alice Cooper, Boy George, Green Day, Duran Duran, Twisted Sister, Adam Ant, Dee Snider, Jared Leto…the list goes on and on. Ranging from punk “guy-liner” to borderline drag, men have used makeup through music history to develop their on-stage persona.
Men who wear makeup in day-to-day life are often ridiculed for embracing a “feminine” look. Through the ‘60s, ‘70s and ‘80s – when homophobic slurs were used without a second-thought and violence towards any “other” groups were systematically practiced – male musicians in makeup were somehow easily embraced. The stage is a safe place to practice non-conformity.
The godfather of the glam rock era of the ‘70s was of course, David Bowie. His gender-bending image extended passed his blouses and kitten heels. His most iconic looks can be credited to the makeup artistry that became definitive of each Bowie era.
Ziggy Stardust – a name that has become synonymous with David Bowie – was created with the help of makeup artist Pierre Laroche. The look was inspired by Kabuki-style makeup. The first step was to apply a thick, white base. Then, the whole eye was painted in waves of red, working passed the brow bone all the way up into the temples. To finish off the look, a space-like, golden circle was carefully painted in the centre of his forehead. In a 1973 interview with Rolling Stone, Bowie explained that he experienced homophobic abuse before fans warmed up to his image. He described his costumes and makeup as being rebellious for the time, and that although it was hard for people to accept, he liked to play up his femininity anyway.
Years later, the vibrant red thunderbolt from Aladdin Sane – Bowie’s sixth studio album – resulted in flocks of young girls trying to recreate the look. In 2012, Kate Moss was pictured on the cover of Paris Vogue paying tribute to the iconic look. Bowie also rimmed his eyes with brown kohl liner on a daily basis, but he believed that you should always let your skin breathe.
During the time of Bowie’s success, his close friend Mick Jagger was also adopting elements of the glam rock aesthetic. A more subtle smokey eye or rim of black liner was worn by Jagger in the late ‘60s and into the ‘70s. His natural features – sharp cheekbones, pillow-like lips and big eyes complimented the way that he did his makeup. He became a sex symbol, for both men and women.
As a teenager, Mike Jagger invited girls over to his house to test out samples of his mother’s Avon collection. He would happily let the girls apply lipstick and mascara on him, and used it as a way to get dates.
In the early stages of the Stones, when they performed in small clubs, audiences were less than accepting. People would scream abusive language at Jagger, like “Queer!” and “Homo!” as he moved his hips furiously across the stage. As glam rock moved its way into the mainstream, The Rolling Stones were embraced by teenagers all over the world. Other band members, like Keith Richards also began to wear makeup. Androgyny was at the heart of rock and roll. In a music form based around rebellion and sex, makeup became a unique way for performers and fans to explore things beyond heteronormativity.
Many of the men in music history who wore makeup were white, but in the ‘80s Prince rose to fame. A huge factor of Prince’s success was credited to his development of an image that was extremely different from other artists and bands. Although he took stylistic influence from androgynous men of the ‘70s – including both Bowie and Jagger – he wanted to do something that had never been done before. Prince’s wardrobe consisted of highly embellished details and garments – to leave his face bare would seem unfitting. He often wore a cat eye that framed his piercing, dark eyes. If Prince had a mission statement, it would be to ooze sexuality through his appearance and his music. He was virile. He was feminine.
In the 1984 song “I Would Die 4 U” he sang, “I’m not a woman/I’m not a man/I am something you’ll never understand.” Like Mick Jagger, Prince was a sex icon for every gender. His makeup and feminine grooming worked in a counteractive way where it enhanced his masculinity.
These men were beauty icons. While their music itself was undoubtedly spectacular, they truly embodied what it means to be a visual performer. Their androgynous clothing and makeup captured the attention of fans all over the world. The theatrical nature was relatable to everyone, it was sexually appealing to everyone and it was praised by everyone. Their makeup styles trickled down into the mainstream, influencing the fashion world and everyday people to replicate their looks.
Bowie, Jagger, Prince, and many other male musicians have adopted makeup in their acts as a form of expression, and more importantly – rebellion. *Cue Rebel Rebel*