It’s nearly impossible to separate aesthetics from music.
Looks like Britney Spears’ blue flight attendant outfit and bejeweled nude bodysuit in Toxic both assisted in telling the songs’ stories while cementing themselves as iconic pieces in the music video. Beyoncé’s yellow Robert Cavilli dress in Hold Up was magnificent: the perfect symbol of female rage. Every single Lady Gaga costume, especially in her early years, worked hand-in-hand with her videos to elevate the musician’s concepts.
Of course, these legends cannot be simply reduced to what they wore, but there’s no doubt that the identity they’ve cultivated for themselves becomes a large part of how we remember them.
For example, what differentiates Taylor Swift’s Reputation era from her folklore one? Obviously, it’s the kind of music she made. What came with the music, though? Reputation was all about reclamation; Taylor knew how the media was portraying her at the time and she didn’t shy away from it; rather she blew it up herself and turned it into something powerful.
This entailed flashy music videos full of jet-black latex pieces, fishnets with thigh-high boots, and deep-colored lips. At the end of Look What You Made Me Do, previous Taylors can be seen in a single file. The fact that each one is perfectly identifiable and traceable to her releases is a testament to how important outfits can be.
Taylor’s surprise album folklore, on the other hand, was as introspective and pulled-back as it gets. With an ethereal and fleeting atmosphere, the cardigan music video featured a beige dress that was simple yet effective in its storytelling. Eventually, the willow music video from “evermore” focused more on the otherworldly aspect of the sister albums, and showcased Taylor in delicate dresses that reflected the universe she was in.
Fashion doesn’t necessarily have to signify a new release though, and it can be used to creatively transform something over and over again. Doja Cat’s Say So performances are a great example of this. In a video essay by the channel ModernGurlz on YouTube, a cohesive timeline of Say So stages was outlined. Having to perform one of her arguably most popular hits so many times, Doja Cat could have easily resorted to playing it safe for each one. Instead, the artist switched up her wardrobe with every remix and reinvention of the song.
The original music video had Doja in sexy retro dresses, with a small nod to Destiny’s Child with her butterfly outfit. For the BBMAs, she performed a mash-up of several of her songs including Say So, and this time to a style that heavily referenced the musical Chicago. Another notable switch-up was her grunge version performed at the MTV EMAs. She was dressed in a custom wet-illusion, ripped-up gown that was her take on Samara from the horror movie The Ring. Each new genre addition to Doja’s repertoire with just one song proved her versatility as a performer and ensured that her audience would never get bored.
There’s also the branding aspect of fashion. Styling in K-pop can sometimes make or break a group, and every little detail matters. From hair color to contact lenses to accessories, a group’s overall look is meticulously planned. These artists also have to perform almost every day for three weeks to promote their releases, and every stage demands attire that is both individually different yet loyal to the concept they chose. Because of this, some members run the risk of looking far too removed from each other style-wise, with clashing outfits that don’t make them look like they’re part of the same group. On the flipside, leaning too much into similarity makes them appear as if they're wearing uniforms. A successful release can be attributed to an infinite amount of factors, but the most basic recipe for a great comeback is a catchy song, a good dance, and wonderful outfits.
Show a K-pop fan a random picture of their bias and they could probably tell you what era it was taken in. Fashion can be a catalyst for rebirth for these groups, as a change in a group’s aesthetic usually signifies a shift in their music as well. From cutesy uniforms to leather harnesses, the outfits that K-pop groups wear showcase how multifaceted they are, which is what usually attracts fans in the first place.
When you’re a K-pop fan, you’re constantly kept on your toes knowing that the groups you love will never just stick to one thing. See the various outfits The Boyz sport for the sleek The Stealer versus the summer release Thrill Ride. Another versatile group, Red Velvet is another source of fashion envy, with the notable Psycho featuring royal enchantress-like dresses and blouses. These are a stark contrast to the costumey and color-coordinated style their song Dumb Dumb was characterized by back in 2015. These artists make their looks exciting and memorable, and it helps give an additional aspect for people to look forward to and fawn over.
Fandom merchandise is also one way for fans to show their support for their beloved artists. Seeing someone else in public wear the same merchandise as you evokes a sense of belonging to a community. Before, these used to be restricted to slightly cringey band T-shirts and bare-minimum text on things like canvas bags, button pins, and boller bracelets. Now though, fans are starting to emulate how singers dress up, even going as far as to buy the exact pieces that they wear. There are numerous Twitter accounts with huge followings that are dedicated to finding these, thus leading fans to delve into the world of fashion together and explore new styles.
The storytelling effect that clothes have is such an interesting concept that artists continue to use to their advantage, whether it be in their videos or performances. Their fashion becomes a powerful tool to help them adapt to their fans’ interests or as a way to exhibit their musical growth and exploration. So the next time your favorite artist drops something, pay close attention to what they’re wearing, as it’s all part of what they’re trying to say.