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Why pop stars are having prosthetic makeovers

It’s Okay To Cry was an introduction to Sophie’s face, as well as to the artist’s 2018 LP Oil of Every Pearl’s Un-Insides. That was an album that linked transgenderism (Sophie was transgender) with transhumanism – the philosophy that we can reach our greatest potential by improving ourselves technologically. Songs like Faceshopping and Immaterial proposed that technology (including prosthetic makeup) could enhance our own self-presentation in ways that transcended the gendered, corporeal self. Through music, Sophie expressed the idea that, by creating new skins of our own, we could better express our insides, and our best sides, to the world.

It wasn’t just a striking effect, but a seminal one. Less than two years later, the fashion label Balenciaga sent their models down the catwalk with similarly sculpted faces for their spring/summer 2020 collection at Paris Fashion Week. The show notes that accompanied the presentation explained that the models’ prosthetic makeup was a “play on beauty standards of today, the past, and the future”.

Catwalks have always been at the forefront of embodying speculative futures, and sure enough, ever since Balenciaga’s Sophie-resembling show, prosthetic makeup has begun to cross over back to pop music, and into mainstream visual culture. No longer are such extreme makeovers the chief preserve of B movie horrors and mask-wearing metal bands. Rather today, prosthetic makeup is turning some of the world’s most recognisable stars unrecognisable – in recent times, the likes of Lady Gaga, Taylor Swift and Lil Nas X have all incorporated it into their work to expand their artistic mythologies and to challenge the static nature of their own bodies. 

A headline moment 

However perhaps the most high-profile use of prosthetic makeup of late has been from R&B star The Weeknd, who has placed it at the forefront of his latest album campaign. In January of last year, he appeared in the music video for standout hit Blinding Lights with a seemingly busted, bloodied face. Then in March, the singer was decapitated in the music video for In Your Eyes, before several months later his head was reattached onto another man’s body in the video for Too Late, which evoked Gucci’s prosthetic head runway. In November, he appeared at the 2020 American Music Awards with a face full of bandages; and finally in January this year, those bandages were removed for the video for Save Your Tears, to reveal a grotesquely swollen and contorted face, as though the singer’s nose, lips and cheeks had been stretched like toffee.

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