There’s a scene in Almost Famous where Russell finds himself on a roof, deep into an acid trip. He stands towering over his fellow attendees, seconds from jumping into the pool below.
“I am a golden god!” he exclaims, to the delight of his followers. He points to the young journalist who’d accompanied him and reconciles his last words. (“I’m on drugs!”) Russell pauses briefly before plunging into the pool, where he somehow survives. God, thy name is Musician.
But of course, as our Lord and Saviour Beyoncé has shown us, a real golden god would never declare themselves as much. They may suggest it - or lean on religious imagery - but pop’s higher powers stand back and let us ordain them with our own titles and attributes. Which we then emulate as a means of getting closer to them, at least aesthetically.
But the idea of musicians-as-gods is one that’s learned and in constant evolution. While preteen me wanted to be Emma Bunton, Y2K pop ushered in Britney Spears (who I was too old to emulate), boy bands (who I was in love with), and pop-punk (which soundtracked drunken autumn nights). Embarrassingly, it wasn’t until seeing Silverchair, one of grunge’s defining bands, in 2003 where their hurricane of feelings and guitar riffs delivered my own a-ha moment: frontman Daniel Johns was a golden god.
The thing is, a large part of my since-expired realisation stemmed from the fact that I’d just watched a famous guy I had a crush on play guitar shirtless and with his teeth. But that hierarchy – that notion of musicians being godlike, ingrained itself almost permanently. From that point on, certain musicians weren’t just people who had very cool jobs, they were literally and metaphorically above us all.
If cleanliness is next to godliness, then beauty tricks must put us on equal footing.
Which is a mindset we’re finally ready to celebrate, not condemn. As pop stars revel in their godlike statuses, our unapologetic and public desire to emulate them has come under fire less than it once did. Being “fangirl” used to be an insult hurled by music snobs (and boring adults), but the word’s reclamation at the hands of young fans on social media has paved the way for a wider acknowledgement that pop stars boast traits we respect and admire and hope to one day boast ourselves. After all, pop stars take risks, they speak their minds, and they act out in ways we mere mortals don’t. So we celebrate by channeling: if we can’t be like them, we’ll look like them. If cleanliness is next to godliness, then beauty tricks must put us on equal footing.
Earlier this year at Grammys, Beyoncé appeared as a bona fide goddess, shimmering in gold as she celebrated the miracle of life (her twins). Her sister, Solange, appeared saint-like on the red carpet, draped in metallics with a portrait-like finish. At the Super Bowl a week before, Lady Gaga performed from the heavens, suspended several stories above her audience before deigning to our depths to sing and dance; sparkling, shimmery, and dramatically bejewelled.
But unlike the way male artists have used their rock and/or pop star personas to declare themselves god-like for the sake of drawing fans (or sleeping with them), godliness at the hands of female pop stars serves to encourage female empowerment. I mean, yes, I would follow Beyoncé Knowles to the ends of the earth (and wouldn’t we all), but her ethos has never been to assimilate or to control. Through her music and live performances, she’s only ever encouraged independence, self-strength, and social and political awareness among those willing to listen. Her power doesn’t exist to lure us in and ensnare us in a long-winded tribute to herself -- it exists to show us that we can do and live better should we choose to. She’s the head of her own church, not the leader of a cult.
But alternately, the gods we see (and want to look like) are only temporary. For the pop stars we worship, makeup is a mask and a shield -- a way to differentiate between who they are to the world and who they are unto themselves. Which means that when we dip into makeup tutorials based on red carpet looks or on whatever Rihanna is wearing (while carrying wine out of a restaurant), we’re working to recreate a performance. We end up treating cosmetics like fairy dust, convincing ourselves it will transform us from our normal selves to godlike beings. It’s power through highlights and contouring. And where’s the power in that? Especially since, as makeup wearers already, we know better?
The thing is, our relationship with pop artists today is built on more than just emulating their penchant for bronzer. We’re not 12 years old, convinced that a hair straightener will morph us into Emma Bunton. We look to makeup as a transformation tool. As a means of celebrating the power we tap into by creating shields and masks and deciding who we want to be for a night or for a week or for an album cycle. When we look at Beyonce-as-god or Gaga-as-flying-nun or as any pop star who brings us closer to our own brand of spiritual enlightenment, we don’t work to recreate their looks as a means of copying them, we do it so we can become godlike too.
We end up treating cosmetics like fairy dust, convincing ourselves it will transform us from our normal selves to godlike beings.
Because that’s the difference between the pop stars of yore and the pop gods of today. Where pop and rock artists (and mainly men) once made it their mission to remind us of who held the power in our relationship, the women who’ve gone on to transform the industry have worked to create a type of church: a safe space in which we’re encouraged to be our best selves. And, unlike the way we once dressed up to impress our former musical gods, we dress up now to evoke the versions of ourselves that effectively drive us. We wear lipstick we wouldn’t have felt brave enough to wear to work, cover ourselves with glitter and sparkles the way we wanted to as teens, spritz on fragrances that make us feel Grammy worthy, and treat our faces like canvases; like works of art on par with anything you’d find on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. Like, well, golden gods.
Where I once worshipped at the altar of an Australian frontman I assumed was better than me because he could hold a guitar (and on that note, countless guys-in-bands I categorised the same), I now understand that the most effective pop stars aren’t gods, but living reminders that we can all be gods in our own right. And you don’t even need to jump from a stadium roof during halftime at a football game -- you can just choose a lipstick, a perfume, an eyeshadow you feel most unfuckwithable in.