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Todrick Hall
Courtesy of Morphe

Todrick Hall on make-up as armour and fronting Morphe’s Pride collection

‘When you are authentic and genuine with yourself there is a weight that will be lifted off of your shoulders that is inexplicable’

Pride collections can be a hit or extremely miss affair. Limited-edition rainbow-branded products with vague ‘love is love’ slogans from corporation-owned brands often capitalise on queer identities for profit and then offer little – or, without naming names, literally nothing – to the community in return. 

Of all the industries that will be putting out Pride-themed items this June, it is beauty that feels the most relevant and organic in its engagement with the community thanks to the role make-up has and does play, now and historically, in so many people’s expressions of gender and sexuality. Beauty brands also have a track-record of showing up for the LGBTQ+ community before it was trendy to do so. MAC Cosmetics, for example, set up the MAC AIDS Fund in 1994 and have since raised over $500 million for HIV and AIDS related causes. 

Another brand putting its money where its make-up is is Morphe. For its Pride campaign this year, Morphe will be donating 100 per cent of net proceeds from the collection to The Trevor Project, a suicide prevention and crisis intervention organisation for LGBTQ+ youth. The brand has also tapped singer, actor, and choreographer Todrick Hall as the face of the collection which comprises a 25-pan eyeshadow palette, 7-piece eye brush set, and hand-mirror.

Growing up a “gay Black boy in Texas”, Hall says he was always drawn to wearing make-up but would worry about appearing too feminine and therefore “undesirable”. As he got older, however, he embraced his love for it and now feels the truest version of himself in make-up. “When I wear make-up, I feel like I can do absolutely anything,” he says. “That I’m indestructible and that I have reached a new level of fabulosity that can’t be reached by mere mortals.” Here, we chat to Hall about working with Morphe, how to do a Pride campaign the right way, and embracing your authentic self. 

Do you remember the first time you put on make-up?

Todrick Hall: The first time that I ever put on make-up was for a performance when I was in the Nutcracker ballet where I played one of the Party Boys. I always wanted to wear more make-up than the basic cat eye they would put on us and would ask the make-up artists to make it bigger. The other boys would say, ‘Why is your make-up so over the top?’ and I would always be thinking, ‘Don’t worry, honey. I’m just more fabulous than the other party boys in this production.’

How has your relationship with make-up evolved throughout your life? 

Todrick Hall: Growing up as a gay Black boy in Texas, and even when I was out of the closet, putting on make-up always made me feel like I had reached a level of femininity that would be undesirable to a lot of people. But then, fortunately, I dated someone who loved me in make-up and thought it was really cool, he even put on make-up with me. So it started to feel more like a warrior’s armour for me. 

Sometimes when I’m just Todrick without make-up, I do have insecurities. But when I wear make-up, I feel like I can do absolutely anything, that I’m indestructible, and that I have reached a new level of fabulosity that can’t be reached by mere mortals. I feel like I perform so much better and with so much more confidence. When I wear make-up it’s as if I become the truest version of myself. Which is very strange because I am covering up my skin: but it’s not about the beauty, it’s about the fact that I can wear a bunch of colours. Oftentimes the colour of our skin is something that has separated us collectively as people, but when we wear make-up and have different colours on our face, it’s almost as if we are otherworldly.

Why was Morphe a brand you wanted to work with? 

Todrick Hall: I have been a fan of Morphe for a long time. I’ve always loved how innovative their collaborations have been. I love that they put small YouTubers and small beauty gurus on the stage and treat them like traditional celebrities. I have also worked with Nicole Faulkner, AKA Lipstick Nick, who is the director of global artistry at Morphe. When I found out that I was going to have my make-up done by her, I knew it was an opportunity that I couldn’t pass up. I was extremely flattered to be asked to be a part of this.

When it comes to brands, is there a right way to do a pride collection and a wrong way? 

Todrick Hall: Yes, I do think that there is a wrong way to do a Pride collection. Sometimes companies that have never been known to be an ally of the LGBTQ+ community jump on the bandwagon and money-grab with their Pride ‘support.’ It’s important for businesses to be more inclusive and have members of the LGBTQ+ community guide them in the right direction. 

Before, it wasn’t ‘popular’ to support the LGBTQ+ community but things have evolved over the years. It’s so amazing to see businesses come around and change their policies, diversify their teams, and support the LGBTQ+ community by celebrating Pride month. I love that there are collections that are geared toward the LGBTQ+ community and Pride month. I would also love to see businesses put together a Pride collection in November or December: gays want to feel proud all year round, not just during Pride. Despite the heartache and battle behind the movement, Pride is a time to celebrate, which I think should be revered and acknowledged throughout the year.

Do you think Pride has become over-commercialised? Has the spirit of Pride as a protest been lost?  

Todrick Hall: Although I think that Pride has become commercialised to an extent, I feel like the way progress is made is through small baby steps. As a gay man, I will never be upset at people who are doing the best to support the LGBTQ+ community. Part of the reason that I love this Morphe collection is because they are donating proceeds to LGBTQ+ causes. If businesses are celebrating Pride to make an extra profit, that to me is troublesome. But there are so many genuine and authentic businesses that come out with Pride collections and donate proceeds to LGBTQ+ causes. Broadway Cares/Equity Fights Aids is an amazing organisation for this.

“It feels like there is a realistic chance that my children will grow up in a world full of acceptance” – Todrick Hall

Drag and ball culture have been one of the biggest influences on beauty and make-up trends in the last few years. Why do you think it’s having such a moment? 

Todrick Hall: I think that we owe a lot of that to the current representation that we see in the media, like Pose which really put ballroom on the scene. I also think the success of RuPaul’s Drag Race – its Emmy wins, it being a global franchise – has given people so much confidence and permission to live in their truest form and to be authentic to who they are. These shows teach acceptance. Recently, I attended a party hosted by a well-known hip hop and R&B artist who identifies as straight, and there was a mix of straight and gay people at the party. Not once was any shade thrown, no eyes were rolled, and no jokes were cracked at the expense of anyone there. Everyone coexisted harmoniously in a way that I feel the world is supposed to be.

I’m so excited for people like Dwyane Wade and Gabrielle Union for the way they support their child, Zaya, and the way they are speaking out against transphobia, especially in the Black community. I think that Morphe’s collaboration, and so many of the other Pride collaborations, are bringing awareness to people who didn’t particularly acknowledge gay people before, not because they didn’t care, but because Pride events were not as prominent as they are today. Each year I feel as though there is more positive change and hope, and it feels like there is a realistic chance that my children will grow up in a world full of acceptance.

You released “It Gets Better” over a decade ago. How has your life changed since then?

Todrick Hall: That song was one of the first times I acknowledged being gay out loud on my YouTube channel, which was still a very scary thing to do 10 years ago. When I look back at my experience in the entertainment industry, I do feel as though there have been a lot of hurdles placed in front of me due to the fact that I am a gay man of colour, hurdles that wouldn’t be there were I a straight white artist. 

I have grown so much and have gained a confidence I never thought possible. I no longer apologize for being gay or black, I feel like I deserve to be in rooms. Sometimes I feel as though I have a serious case of imposter syndrome, but I’m working on that every single day, and working on believing in the things that I want to do, and the dreams that I want to make come true, even if I’ve never seen someone who looks like me do them. Truly believing in oneself is one of the most difficult things in the world. 

Do you have a message for anyone who is struggling right now because of their sexuality or the circumstances they are in? 

Todrick Hall: I would say not to feel pressured to fit inside any box. Don’t feel like you need to be labelled as any one such thing, whether that be the L, the G, the B, the T, the Q, or even the +! Take your time and come out when you feel safe. When you admit to yourself who you truly are, when you are authentic and genuine with yourself and your loved ones, there is a weight that will be lifted off of your shoulders that is inexplicable. 

If you feel safe and that your life is not in danger to do so, I would encourage you to come out. Life is too short to be unhappy. I don’t feel you should ever spend a day wondering how different life would be if you had just been true to yourself. Anybody who does not accept you for who you are is not worth keeping around. My grandma used to say to me, ‘You’ve got to get the mud off your wings so you can fly.’ So get the mud off your wings so you can soar.