Pop Star Stylings: Creating An Image Through Clothing Lines

On Tuesday night, the world watched as the chronically Canadian rapper/former Degrassi star Drake lint-rolled his trousers on the sidelines of a Raptors playoff game. Like, he literally brought a lint-roller to his courtside seats, took it out in the middle of a play, and just started doin’ his thang. Can’t have linty pants! Now, the good folks at ESPN (End Sportsball? Probably Never) have had a good laugh about this, but anyone who tells me this guy wasn’t mugging for the camera is just plain naive. Go watch the clip: Drake is showboating, it’s clear as day. But more importantly, he’s demonstrating an interesting priority for musicians that I’d like to talk about this week, and that is the hardly-explicable yet inextricable linkage between the music industry and fashion.

When Seth Meyers asked Kanye West in an interview about the difference between how he approaches his music and how he approaches his fashion endeavors, West responded, “Everything in the world is exactly the same.” Granted, no one has any idea what he’s talking about, but I think the point still stands that fashion and music are definitely connected as mediums, particularly for Top 40 artists. West has collaborated with the French brand A.P.C. on a summer capsule collection as well as with Adidas. Pharrell, Madonna, Beyonce, Rihanna, Justin Timberlake, Gwen Stefani, and dozens of other recognizable faces in pop have proudly attached those recognizable faces to clothing lines. Though I’d be hard-pressed to call Adam Levine’s K-Mart collection “art,” there’s undeniably an element of fashion that makes it a creative (and expensive) entertainment form, so it makes sense that creative millionaires would gravitate toward fashion. But why is the crossover from musician to fashion designer so common? I don’t know many fashion designers who turned around and released Billboard No. 1 hits. Why do we have this expectation that our musicians try their (albeit heavily-guided) hands at fashion?

This trend sort of reminds me of the crossover that’s been happening between Disney stars and pop musicians: what about being a child actor/actress qualifies you to also have an album and a top-10 single, Selena Gomez? Speaking of which, Ms. Gomez recently released her own fashion line with Adidas in Berlin, and so the cycle continues. The next step is an autobiography, then a co-written musical screenplay, then a tribal pottery exhibit in the Guggenheim.

It’s pretty easy to dismiss these sorts of connections as banal, industry-insider market manipulations, and that’s frequently precisely what they are. However, I think there’s another side of this that is more consumer-focused, and that’s the side that interests me. In the same way that we want our pop music to be catchy, we want our pop stars to be stylish-that’s a given. My theory is that we want this because it simplifies the process of ascribing to a subculture. Think of all the American subcultures you know: chances are that there’s a music scene that is directly associated with them. Sometimes it’s a case of “chicken or the egg,” but I honestly believe that it’s more frequently the music that pioneers the look. Sid Vicious was to punk what the Cure was to goth what White Snake was to long hair/tight pants what Public Enemy was to gangsta what Kurt Cobain was to flannel shirts and what the current indie scene is to hipsters. We want people to take one look at us and say, “I bet that guy listens to ______.”

Do you know what the sales of mop-hair wigs did when the Beatles landed in New York? And the style before that was crew-cuts!

The pattern of big names in pop-music becoming big names in fashion is relatively recent, but it was the next logical step to make. We’d been letting music define our culture’s appearance since the Jazz Age, so it only stood to profitable reason that the industry icons would start to become one and the same. The reason “trademark looks” exist is because, like Drake, we are incorrigible showboaters: If our favorite musicians were shapeless phantasms that just produced good music, what would we purchase so that everyone would know we listen to them?
It’s just like what Kanye West said to follow up to his original statement in that Meyers interview: “Meaning like, you can do comparable people like-who would you compare Daniel Day-Lewis or Philip Seymour Hoffman to musically, or in fashion, directing, architecturally? Who was your favorite teacher when you were growing up?”

Yeah-it’s just like that.