How music newcomers are changing the rules for body image

There's a crop of newcomers – young women including Billie Eilish, Snail Mail, and Soccer Mommy – who favor simple, thrift-store clothing 

Amy Harris/Invision/AP
Billie Eilish performs at the Coachella Music & Arts Festival at the Empire Polo Club April 13, 2019, in Indio, California.

Dear Reader,

Clairo (real name Claire Cottrill) isn’t one for the multiple wardrobe changes favored by many pop stars. The songwriter behind the viral hit “Pretty Girl” mostly wears baggy sweatshirts and jeans. She’s among a crop of newcomers – young women including Billie Eilish, Snail Mail, Soccer Mommy, and Marika Hackman – who favor simple, thrift-store clothing thrown on without much fuss (or ironing). 
It’s a striking change from the bedazzled leotards, ringmaster suits, and even metallic robot armor sported by the likes of Taylor Swift, Beyoncé, Iggy Azalea, and Ariana Grande. Or the kitsch garments modeled by Katy Perry or Lady Gaga, who once wore a dress made entirely out of meat. But then heavily stylized clothing has always conveyed an implicit image: Stars, they’re not like us. And that’s as true of male musicians who’ve played up their wardrobe choices – think Lil Nas X, David Bowie, Kanye West, Prince, Elton John, or any member of Mötley Crüe.

By contrast, these new stars seem to be conveying the idea that they’re ordinary, relatable, unpretentious. When Ms. Eilish, whose song “Bad Guy” just dethroned Lil Nas’ X’s “Old Town Road” as the No. 1 single in the United States (Aug. 24), appeared on the cover of Rolling Stone, she eschewed a sexualized, body-focused appearance. 

Is this a turning of the fashion wheel akin to the moment when Nirvana, with their T-shirts and torn jeans, displaced the ’80s generation of pop and rock stars adorned in spandex and shoulder pads? We’ll see. But it’s refreshing to observe how these iGen pop stars are keen to keep the focus on their music.

Stephen Humphries, culture writer 

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