Certain genres of music have always had an aesthetic. Think punk music and mohawks. Country music and cowboy boots. Metal music and leather jackets. However, most recently artists have developed their own aesthetic.
This is not necessarily a new phenomenon. Indeed, this can be traced back to the 70s with the emergence of goths, metal heads and punk rockers. Particular artists such as David Bowie and Freddie Mercury are just two icons who were associated with their eccentric and outlandish aesthetic, continuing to influence others until the present day. Some artists have even begun to entwine their aesthetic and their sound, like Lana Del Ray and old Hollywood glamour. But how has this affected the fandom, and what does this mean for the artist?
On one hand, the emulating of outfits is a bonding experience for fans.
An artist’s influence can be as simple as Gracie Abrams and bows. Seeing a person not sporting a bow was a rarity during Gracie Abrams’ most recent Good Riddance tour. Dressing like the artist has become an unspoken rule for concert attendees. However, when does an artist’s aesthetic become a problem for fans? Just because you’re not sporting a bow as Gracie Abrams sings ‘I know it won’t work’, does it mean you’re not a true fan? Or rather, does it create a close-knit community?
On one hand, the emulating of outfits is a bonding experience for fans. Harry Styles, who has been heavily influenced by the aesthetic of Bowie and Mercury, has notoriously crafted his own multi-coloured image. His award-winning style has been emulated by so-called “Harries” across the globe. You did not need Google Maps to find the Love On Tour stadium; you could simply follow the trail of brightly coloured feathers. Indeed, an article in The Guardian described Cardiff city centre as “a feather-boa massacre” after Styles’ show at the Principality Stadium in June. During the Love On Tour period, “BYOB (bring your own boa)” became a trend on TikTok, with excitable fans showing off their sparkly boas to fellow ticket holders.
Arguably, conforming to a certain aesthetic traps artists in a box
Similarly, the crowd during one of The 1975’s gigs is a sea of monochrome, with white shirts and black ties becoming a staple. Earlier this year, while in Liverpool city centre, I made eye contact with a girl also wearing a black leather jacket, and we both knew we were heading towards the same arena to witness The 1975’s phenomenal At Their Very Best Tour. Most artists perhaps don’t realise the mammoth impact that wearing a singular article of clothing can have. They fail to recognise the power of the fandom.
Arguably, conforming to a certain aesthetic traps artists in a box, with little room to manoeuvre and try something new. It may also add pressure on a singer to construct an explicit sound and look for themselves, leaving little room for experimentation, particularly for new performers. Despite this, an artist who has managed to reinvent herself with great success for each album is Taylor Swift, hence the aptly titled Eras Tour. However, it’s questionable whether all artists would receive the same welcome if they were to relinquish their trademark aesthetic.
One of the words that springs to mind when Olivia Rodrigo is mentioned is ‘purple’. Would there be consequences if Rodrigo decided to step out in a red dress rather than a purple one on her much-anticipated GUTS tour? Rodrigo is only twenty years old, she is bound to evolve as an artist, but will she always have to have a reference to purple somewhere? Nevertheless, when her sophomore album GUTS was announced, many criticised her repetitive use of purple.
Even if some artists try to carve a certain aesthetic for themselves, they cannot escape disapproval as seemingly this repeated use of their unique style means that they lack creativity.
All in all, developing a certain aesthetic may cause problems down the line, but it allows the fandom to bond, as well as build a strong connection to the artist on stage. Although you may be standing in a stadium amongst 80,000 other people, the fact that you and Harry Styles are both wearing white feather boas brings you closer to him. Developing an aesthetic can also be seen as a good thing for the artist as it gives them a trademark look and sound, something which they will always be known for.