Transformations in both image and style are a common occurrence in the realm of the woman pop star. While male musicians may change musical direction, or morph styles in the course of their career, the concept of an “image change” in this industry is almost solely the preserve of women.
The reasons for this in essence are fairly obvious – women musicians and singers are still primarily noted for the way the present themselves, with musical style or ability often coming second. While most male musicians, at least in contemporary music culture, dress in everyday clothing (from t-shirts and jeans right through to matching tailored suits), the woman musician, especially in pop is still about image, looks, and if applicable sex appeal first and content second.
Women’s transformations in pop music can therefore often be complex and even negative when there is a demand for women to conform to fit a certain ideal. The need to lose weight, show more boob, have plastic surgery or just generally be more sexual is very problematic, but sadly it would seem, fairly typical. Examples such as Kylie Minogue, who went from wholesome girl next door to gold hot pants and a bum cleavage, or Katy Perry – cheeky pop star to a woman literally squeezing cream from her tits complex the issue further. Where is the power here? Are these women, and by proxy their impressionable fans, being exploited, or are they being empowered through overt displays of sexuality?
Without knowing where the creative force behind these transformations is placed, it is difficult to judge. For true empowerment through transformation, it would seem to be necessary to remove this questionable power struggle (typically in pop between male producers and women stars) and place creative control in the hands of the artists. This top 5 transformations in pop therefore features women artists who are clearly in charge of their image changes, and have boosted their career significantly through their own wry and savvy metamorphosis. They have altered and parodied concepts of conformity and pop’s obsession with the female form, enhancing it, mocking it, parodying it, and using it for their own ends.
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When Amy Winehouse released her excellent first LP Frank in 2003, she was a curvy, bonny lass, seemingly chirpy and devoid of much make-up. Beautiful though she was, the initial focus for Winehouse’s career was based mainly on her competent, soulful tunes. Zip forward to 2006, and with a new album out burst a reinvented Amy Winehouse punctuated by “heroin chic”. Displaying a monstrous beehive, sailor tattoos and those trademark cat eyeliner flicks, Winehouse fostered a memorable, eye-catching look, with bare bones, bruised, scabs and all, that mirrored the harsher turn both her music and her life had taken.
Ultimately this change was too authentic and too close to a tragic reality. But her transformation was undoubtedly successful, and marked the major turning point in her career, turning her into a commercially successful, worldwide star.
4. Lana Del Rey
The transformation from coy and toned down Lizzie Grant to Lana Del Rey, the so-called “gangster Nancy Sinatra” that we know today has been highly contentious and well documented. Whether or not the floundered musical career of Grant was fabricated as a deliberate precursor to Lana Del Rey is inconsequential – the fact is the transformation worked. The severe reworking from Grant as a fairly drab and ordinary artist into Del Rey – the intoxicating dirty hipster has caught our collective imaginations and boosted the artist, 2.0, to fame of dizzying heights in a very short space of time. Is it authentic? Perhaps not. But Lana Del Rey certainly seems to have been a significant creative driving force for this transformation, which has benefitted her career greatly.
3. Nicki Minaj
Nicki Minaj’s transformation in pop is more convoluted than a simple image change, with the singer instead adopting a variety of outlandish alter egos to apply at will. These transformations are what make Minaj such as dynamic and noteworthy pop star. Certainly, she is a quality MC with a quirky, idiosyncratic vocal style. But with a more toned down, atypical R&B image, it unlikely that Minaj would have reached the same height as she has with her multi-coloured hair in ludicrous styles, her bizarre facial expressions, her giant boobs and tiny waist, enrobed in outfits which have in the past included doctor’s masks, pink wellies and stitched on cuddly toys. Minaj as herself, “Roman Zolanski”, “Rrrrosa” or “Harajuku Barbie” work to highlight and compliment this artist’s genuine talent and intriguing style of rap, which may have gone unnoticed alongside a more toned down visual style.
2. Lady Gaga
Lady Gaga’s early career image change has to be the most dramatic of all the artists listed here. Many will have seen the YouTube clips of Gaga performing as Stefani Germanotta, who by comparison is a fairly plain, dark haired lady producing subdued tracks accompanied only by her own piano playing. Although Germanotta clearly had excellent vocal abilities, along with being intelligent and a competent songwriter, the singer had relatively little success, struggling for years to gain professional recognition.
Until of course, Germanotta reinvented herself as Lady Gaga. Once the Gaga character was born, success followed. From ‘Just Dance’ onward, Lady Gaga’s personal style and artistic direction have become ever-increasingly outlandish, and as her looks got more bizarre, so her success grew. Undoubtedly her music is very catchy – but ultimately it is her unique and supremely eye-catching style that have set her apart and boosted her to huge fame. And best of all – she is the driving force behind her transformation – and through her own eccentric imagination and creativity, pop music has far more colour and curiosity once again.
Ah Madonna, the queen of reinvention. It can be of little doubt that Madonna’s enduring popularity, spanning nearly 30 years is in no small part down to her seemingly natural ability to transform herself and her music. From virgin to whore, goth to cowboy, disco queen to 50s’ pin-up, Madonna has done it all, and continues to reinvent herself into areas we have yet even thought of. Cleverly, Madonna matches her music to her look, making the transformations seem effortless and natural. As well as mastering physical transformations, she has mastered sounds from IDM with William Orbit to playing a Les Paul completely competently at live earth.
Madge embodies transformations in pop. Not every revamp has been wholly successful (at least from a critical perspective), but she is always the driving force behind each reversioning on herself. She is in control of each image with all the power and success completely of her own making.