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A pop culture romance

Maria Foka, 7 May 2018


  Roland Barthes said that ”Garment is, at any time in history, a balance between regulatory forms, the total of which constantly evolves.” Since fashion is inextricably linked to social structures, societal habits and the sociocultural context of each period of time, fashion’s connotation constantly evolves. As ”fashion disposes just of a finite number of archetypical forms, which implies a history that is partially cyclical” (R. Barthes), ”…is a temporary cyclical phenomenon…” (G. B. Sproles), and serves as a means of communication, a language of belonging between people, one can only conclude that fashion is, in fact, an expression of contemporary taste and has a reciprocal relationship with the pop(-ular) world. Another construct that is omnipresent in the daily life besides fashion is music, either as a main activity or an auxiliary one. Music and musicians have a strong social impact – they are too a way of regulating and reflecting cultural roles and expectations, as performers often had a fashion awareness that directly altered conceptions of traditional beauty and gestures. The power of pop culture, a culture within both fashion and music act as languages, the era of music mega-stars and loyal fans as influencers and influencees respectively changed the course of lifestyle and identity evolution. The exchange happening between fashion and music provokes new perspectives, methods of subcultural expression, and a continuous reproduction and innovation. As fashion always tries to challenge society with extravagance and novelty, musicians used its totemic influence not as an advertisement trick, but merely as an image maker that would visualize what music –  an invisible construct – couldn’t. Therefore, the combination of sensorial organs such as vision and sound was an excellent way of conveying all these new ideas these artists had to share with the world.

  BJORK, the ‘high priestess of art-pop’ is considered to be a ‘restlessly experimental creative force’ who first introduced electronic music into mainstream pop. Her music spans from electronic, pop, experimental, to classical, trip-hop, but most of all she is an avant-garde persona. She has a unique talent and a capacity for the bizarre, shifting away from the notion of celebrity, making ‘faux-pas’ choices and denying to be categorized and heed to trends. She praises the sheer joy of dress – the visualization of one’s idiosyncrasy into clothing. Her music, visual art, and film projects often derive from her motherland. Nature and the otherworldly landscape of Iceland are recreated in all the ethereal sounds, the minuscule unexpected elements and the little-hidden surprises in her work, that, as she once said, ‘you almost need a microscope to listen to’.

Bjork in Balmain Couture SS19 for Cornucopia tour

Bjork by Stefan Malzkorn, 1994

Bjork for her ‘Violently Happy’ album, 1994

  CHER, an Armenian singer often referred to as the ‘goddess of pop’, with a deep and bold singing voice, always had the role of a storyteller. In her music, varying from folk rock, pop rock, to power ballads, disco, etc., she carries both female and male ranges and sings in androgynous and gender-neutral songs, and maybe that was the stepping stone of the context of her work. She sang of heartbreak, independence, and self-empowerment and embodied female autonomy in a male-dominated industry. In her artworks, either music or films she always portrayed rebellious, sexually autonomous and self-made women. She has been a fashion visionary, capturing an advanced feminine rebellion in the rock world and a prototype of the female rock star. Her looks were pioneering and people still draw inspiration from her.

Cher in Bob Mackie, MET Gala New York, 1974

Cher in Bob Mackie, 1978

Cher and Sonny, 1960

  PRINCE was known for his flamboyant and audacious persona, extravagant fashion sense, and wide vocal range. He was referred to as a ‘pop polymath, fitting between funkadelia, acid rock, deep soul, often within the same song’. His musical genius and style versatility constantly evolved, experimenting and pushing the boundaries of gender, sexual, and visual identity norms. He dallied with the notions of the ‘other’: the feminine, the alien, the raceless. The sexually open content of his music and his defiance of racial stereotypes was reverberated by his androgynous, gender fluid, amorphous sexuality, uplifted by divine stylistic details. Prince ignited the conversation about gender fashion and gender conformity, shifting the perception of how women and men ‘should’ dress, and hoped for a world where women and men looked and acted without distinction.

Prince, ‘Ultimate Live Experience’ tour, London, 1995

Prince, Wembley Arena, 1986

Prince, 1993

  GRACE JONES has been a musician, model, and actress who birthed a new wave of reggae, funk, pop, and rock. Her atmospheric dub persona, her deep, rich and cool vocals and her fearlessness, androgyny and raw sexuality made her a worthy representative of disco music and style era of Studio 54. She described herself as a role switcher, has the tendency to skew gender norms and embodied the word ‘queer’ before its mainstream use. Jones’s coexistence with Jean-Paul Goude, both as artist and partners defined the visual landscape of the ’70s and ’80s. A cross-dressing ‘neo-cubist’ with a beautiful and grotesque at the same time appearence depicted issues of race, ethnicity and global culture, often emphasizing her Jamaican heritage and exotic persona. An artist with awareness came to the realization that the music industry stripped disco off of its ”blackness, gayness, rawness, volatility, and contagious, transgressive abandon”.

Grace Jones, 1972

Grace Jones, New York, 1971

Grace Jones by Kate Simon, New York

  DAVID BOWIE, Ziggy Stardust – a sexually ambiguous rock star, Aladdin Sane – A lad insane, The Thin White Duke – ‘ice masquerading as fire’; a fashion innovator as a musical vanguard known for his reinvention and provocative visual stimuli. His music was characterized by him as a ‘plastic soul’ and he tried for his work to ‘look how it sounds’. He lived his life as if he was an art installation and opened a road to another dimension both musically and fashion-wise, as a vocalist with extraordinary technical abilities and the ‘crooner-like richness’ of his voice, and a flamboyant, androgynous, sexually ambiguous to both males and females performer. Bowie was a pioneer of glam rock, with a great depth in his work, subverting the notion of what was known to be a rock star. His transformations brought seismic cultural shifts, overlaying with glitter, color, leopard prints, this other-worldly, curious, sparkling persona.

David Bowie in Kansai Yamamoto for Aladdin Sane tour, 1973

David Bowie by Terry ONeil, 1974

David Bowie in his home, 1967