Music has long been closely associated with fashion. Some artists blend the two so well that it’s difficult to tell where one ends and the other begins. Today’s appearance driven world has brought music and fashion even closer together, so much so that the world’s most successful musicians are typically the most stylish as well. Caring about what you wear, being aware of how you present yourself, and toying with an artist’s aesthetic, today, are major aspects of music marketing, content release strategies, and the drive and determination to remain at the top of the charts.
Katy Perry’s Witness
One of 2017’s biggest albums has been Witness, based around a campaign that saw Katy Perry cut and dye her hair, among other changes she’s made in her appearance to appear new and contemporary after nearly a decade of being one of the world’s top pop stars.
Though it may appear ‘woke’, the fashion of the album borrows from early 1990s-era Madonna (who herself was deeply embedded into fashion) and plays on themes that are trendy currently in media, such as the sexual empowerment of women, social consciousness, and strength in being a woman. The fashion of the album is significant because it represents what’s going on in the world today which is what a hit needs to do. The subsequent marketing for Witness detailed Katy Perry’s “re-education”, “changed perspective”, and “consciousness”, despite this not necessarily being apparent in the album.
Kurt Cobain’s “Corporate Magazines Still Suck”
When Nirvana appeared on the cover of Rolling Stone magazine in 1992, Kurt Cobain proudly displayed a t-shirt that read, “Corporate Magazines Still Suck.” To Nirvana fans, this was an opportunity to stick their middle fingers up at corporate interests. To marketing experts, this choice of fashion and the subsequent fashion choices made by Nirvana communicated their mission statement, which was to connect with people like them and to build an audience of people like them. Make no mistake, the wearing of Cobain’s t-shirt was a strategic choice. This kind of highlights why the definition of fashion is important. ‘Fashion’ is not just clothing – fashion is what’s happening in the world, how people are living, and the ideas that are being shared at that point in time. As a cultural representation, fashion, in a sense, is more important than music.
Lady Gaga’s 2008-Present and the Impact of Fashion on Relevancy
No one in music has used fashion more prominently than Lady Gaga in the last decade. Simply examine the last few years of her career to see how she has been able to mold herself to different identities. For her joint album with Tony Bennett, Cheek to Cheek (2014), she took on a classic 1950s-era Hollywood starlet look. For her Super Bowl performance in February, 2017, she took on an ‘all-American football girl’ look. Just a week later, Gaga was on stage with Metallica at the Grammy Awards in a metal/hard rock look. Throughout the Joanne (2016) tour, Gaga embodied a more Americana/rock look. Do any of these fashions embody authenticity and truth to Gaga – it doesn’t matter. By changing her appearance, Lady Gaga has successfully been able to transform herself in her fans’ eyes, more of an exercise in public relations than anything else.
Why Fashion should Matter to Independent Artists
Remember, any time that you walk outside, whatever you are wearing is sending a message to the rest of the world. The world does not get to hear your inner dialogue.
Every few years, so many independent artists and musicians change and re-invent their look to keep them fresh. It works. As trends change, the fashion needs to as well, or risk getting left behind. Shifts in culture need to be represented in the music.
Remember, any time that you walk outside, whatever you are wearing is sending a message to the rest of the world. The world does not get to hear your inner dialogue. All they have to go on is your appearance and the way you carry yourself. To the world, that’s who you are, even if you feel yourself to be a different person. So have fun with it and represent to the world what or who you believe yourself to be.