Gender Pop: Androgyny in Contemporary Pop Artists
Updated: Jan 9
Written by Stephanie Ornithari Roberts
In recent 2020 Vogue, the OneDirection icon Harry Styles gives us ‘Playtime With Harry Styles”. Photography by Tyler Mitchell and stylings by Camilla Nickerson. Styles’
lively display of gender fluidity increases online discussion regarding other influential
fashion statements from other mainstream pop idols. His ten page feature promotes the experimentality of style but rises contention as he receives praise for a practice which has been a point of oppression for artists that identify with minority groups. Questioning the inclusivity of gender fluid fashion in the entertainment industry. Other icons such as Taylor Swift, Dua Lipa and Billie Eilish take historic strides with their fashion choices. There is fruitful comparison to be made between these artists in light of the impact their characteristics has on how the public reads the visual statements their garments make. Harry Styles’ image titled “Pretty, Much?”, scoured social media after its release, giving viewers height and elegance. The sweeping tule and lace of his dress gathers at the waist, introducing a feminine figure that is complimented by Styles’ recognisable black pointed lapel blazer and oversized rings. Styles stands in the bare green landscape in a supple position, his own swallow tattoos peering out of his flat chest, this image is a strong nod to fluid gender dress: a masculine top half and dramatically feminine bottom. The criticism from this image arose not from the lack of artistry and attention to detail but the praise that accompanied the Vogue publication. It is undeniable to say this is the first time the public have witness gender fluid fashion in popular music. Titles such as David Bowie, Freddie Mercury and Christine and the Queens have both brought their unidentifiable gender fashion to their on-stage personas. The question of concern is when garments such as Styles’ are worn and used against an aspiring artist. Androgynous dress historically has been a form of expressionism and identity despite the discrimination that can come with it. Olly Alexander from Years &Years uses his platform as a pedestal for his activism to speak out against prejudice such as this. Olly Alexander, a young gay man discussing the importance of inclusion, presents a narrative that sparks cultural familiarity. Harry Styles’ Vogue appearance is unfamiliar, yet it successfully propels his career forward, whilst this form of expressionism still holds backs members of smaller minorities. Shaun J. Wright, an openly queer and black artist speaks on this topic, “Sometimes I feel like I’m up against certain barriers, because when I look at who is given space to express themselves, it is people who don’t look like me. I feel like I come up against challenges that other people don’t, and that’s just the life of a black person. Queer on top of it.”. Wright’s fashion explores feminine African garments, presenting his own heritage and exploration of gender, fashion and the self. His music is inspired byhouse and the freedom of the dance floor.
This is not a criticism on any of the aforementioned famous artists exploring
androgynous clothing. The significant point to take on bored is that this fluidity is exclusionary. For Wright his expression of queerness holds him back, whilst Styles’ propels him forward. An argument could suggest that Styles’ fashion stands “all in the name of progress”, when that progress in reality is actually a sophisticated table of categories that determines whether an artist’s style is allowed to be beneficial or reductive to their career. Social media would like a face to pin the blame on contentions such as these, but the problem is clearly systemic and cyclical, and like many issues regarding diversity, it takes the leaders to make significant change.
The increasing growth of streaming platforms means that listeners have access to so much music. Listeners can take this opportunity into their own hands, the producers will go where there is popularity, therefore listeners can steer the wheel in whichever direction. Androgyny is a singular example of exclusivity in the music industry, it could be replaced with many other terms but what remains true is that not everyone has the liberty of expression. The power is in the listener’s fingers, by choosing the artists who do not have the freedom to explore all expressive avenues, need to be listened to.