Masking in Pop Music: A Brief History in Video

Siouxsie: punk-rock-meets-Betty Boop
Siouxsie: punk-rock-meets-Betty Boop

As a follow up to our post about Lady Gaga, Nicki Minaj, and the power of masks, we present a brief history of women (and one man) who should be recognized as the originators of masking in popular music. These artists challenge our notions of beauty, gender, and race and make connections through their masks and costumes to iconography both ancient and futuristic. Enjoy. And please feel free to add to this list.

(Click ahead.)

Josephine Baker La Revue Des Revues (circa 1926)

Dancer, singer, and civil rights activist Josephine Baker in her notorious 1925 Paris debut in La Revue Nègre simultaneously embraced and scrambled the most idiotic stereotypes of black identity. In the book Paris Was Yesterday, New Yorker writer Janet Flanner describes Baker's body as "...a new model that to the French proved for the first time that black is beautiful..." In addition to being a great dancer (often in wild costumes including a mini skirt made of rubber bananas), Baker was a skilled comedic actress, which only served to further charm audiences mesmerized by her sensuality. This is a film of Baker dancing the Charleston and hamming it up for a Parisian audience. The sound is not the original sound.

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Labelle Lady Marmalade (1975)

Lady Gaga's silver outfits are nothing new, but you knew that right? Here is Labelle (Patti LaBelle, Nona Hendryx, and Sarah Dash) tearing up the Allen Toussaint gem Lady Marmalade, calling the mothership to land in New Orleans.


David Bowie Boys Keep Swinging

Dame Bowie singing one of his most raucous tracks while showing off some of his best dance moves as well his favorite dresses, earrings, and wigs. Bonus points if you can name the drag artist who originated the back-of-the-hand lipstick smear Bowie cops near the end of the video.

Grace Jones I'm Not Perfect, But I'm Perfect For You (1986)

Jamaican born model and singer Grace Jones is still recording and touring. Her work on video - including the ground breaking long-form performance video collaboration with Jean-Paul Goude A One Man Show - featured her body (and several doubles) undergoing a variety of bizarre transformations cross referencing artists as diverse as the aforementioned Josephine Baker and Carman Miranda. This video for her track I'm Not Perfect, But I'm Perfect For You is a who's who of downtown NY culture with startling imagery appropriated by not only Miss Gaga and Minaj but television shows like CSI and Nip/Tuck.


Siouxsie Sioux Peekaboo (1988)

Makeup, vintage wear, and portraiture with shadows and light are combined with Siouxsie's punk-rock-meets-Betty-Boop vocals to create this bizarre video. The Banshees are wearing some great masks throughout.

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