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What to make of Gaga’s makeup-free look

Lady Gaga joins the spate of celebrities going makeup-free for Hollywood film roles and big awards ceremonies

When seminal 00s icon Lady Gaga first exploded onto the scene in the spring of 2008 with her debut single “Just Dance”, the artist’s bold leather lapels and David Bowie lightning bolt makeup was only the tip of the iceberg. The following decade has seen the artist’s look oscillate from haunting raw meat dresses and ethereal prosthetic mermaid tails to meeting the Queen of England in an Edwardian-themed red latex gown accompanied by crystal encrusted eye makeup, sometimes switching between as many crazy looks within the space of a day. In many ways Gaga’s bid for raw creative expression has often felt just as rooted in her appearance as in her music. The baby pink cowgirl hat and heavy black makeup on the cover of her album Jolene channelled its raw feminine country sound, and her geometric glitter makeup, mirror bra-letts and crocodile heels encapsulated the giddy club energy of her earlier album The Fame.

Now 32, the singer songwriter is making her first big screen debut in Bradley Cooper’s highly anticipated A Star Is Born, which has already received rave reviews and is released in the UK this Friday. Aside from her standout performance, one thing that is generating an interest in the film is the fact that, in very un-GaGa fashion, the musician has chosen to go entirely makeup-free.  

The decision wasn’t a straightforward one for Gaga, who – having spoken openly in the past about her struggles with her own physical appearance – sought protection in the barrier that makeup can have between the self and the screen. “I tried to sneak some makeup in, but Bradley wouldn't go for it...” Gaga said during an appearance on The Graham Norton Show. Cooper, who not only stars in the film as musician Jackson Maine, but also directed it as well, had other ideas and was determined to make her look unrecognisable for the role as an undiscovered singer.

"It put me right in the place I needed to be, because when my character talks about how ugly she feels — that was real,” Gaga said in an interview with The Los Angeles Times. “I'm so insecure. I like to preach but I don’t always practice what I preach.” 

The artist appears on the front cover of this month’s American Vogue and can be seen without her usual costume or glitter, sporting Marilyn Monroe hair in a casual black velvet slip dress and pared back makeup. She appears more comfortable than she’s ever been as she speaks of the “galaxy of change” that she has undergone in the last ten years.

However, Gaga’s bold move to go makeup-free is only the latest in a growing trend amongst women in the spotlight. A move which perhaps announced itself back in 2016 when Alicia Keys expressed her concerns in her “Time To Uncover” essay for Lena Dunham’s Lenny Letter:

“Before I started my new album, I wrote a list of all the things that I was sick of. And one was how much women are brainwashed into feeling like we have to be skinny, or sexy, or desirable, or perfect. One of the many things I was tired of was the constant judgment of women. The constant stereotyping through every medium that makes us feel like being a normal size is not normal, and heaven forbid if you're plus-size. Or the constant message that being sexy means being naked.”

Following her public declaration the artist has gone on to take a makeup-free stance and own it, performing to crowds and sporting a fresh faced look at this year’s Grammys with no highlighter or lipstick in sight. And it would seem other artists have followed in her wake. Christina Aguilera, renowned for her early 00s heavy grunge makeup and burlesque red lip went makeup-free earlier this year in her comeback cover shoot with Paper Magazine.  

The move also appears to be spilling over to generations of younger artists too, with the likes of soul queen Jorja Smith frequently posting stripped back makeup-free looks on her Instagram. Similarly, Little Mix have recently started posting stripped back looks on their Instagram, accentuating natural freckles and beauty spots ahead of the launch of their latest makeup range, which looks to embrace diversity.

In the wake of a post-Weinstein Hollywood and in a post-#MeToo era, perhaps makeup, or lack thereof, is the latest weapon in the feminist artillery that women are using to make a statement of change. Not only in asserting their ability to choose how or when to wear it, but using it to redefine the narrative around what constitutes beauty.

With icons such as Lady Gaga and Alicia Keys leading the way, this move marks an exciting new shift in the way women are choosing to present themselves on the stage and on the screen. As Gaga put it in her Vogue US interview, there's a creative potential that lies in more choice: “For me, fashion and art and music have always been a form of armor. I just kept creating more and more fantasies to escape into, new skins to shed. And every time I shed a skin, it was like taking a shower when you’re dirty: getting rid of, washing off, shedding all of the bad, and becoming something new.”