Year in Music 2017

Halsey, Tinashe, Lion Babe and Dej Loaf To Front M·A·C Cosmetics Future Forward Campaign (Exclusive)

M·A·C Cosmetics and boundary-pushing pop ingenues have always gone together like two peas in a collaborative pod. Past campaigns have been fronted by Lady GagaMariah Carey, Lorde, Lil Kim, Rihanna, Miley Cyrus and Rihanna -- to name a few. And for the Estée Lauder Companies-owned conglomerate that is sold in more than 105 countries, the symbiosis of these partnerships has always made sense: both M·A·C and their front women have always had mutually massive reaches. But this spring, the company plans to shine the spotlight on a different sector of the music industry. 

Rihanna Teams with MAC Cosmetics

On March 17, they'll launch Future Forward, the first of an ongoing series of collaborations and campaigns that spotlight newer talent who are making waves within the music industry. “It feels like a great thing to be able to support artists who are breaking through but aren’t necessarily at the top top, to push them forward,” Senior Vice President and Group Creative Director James Gager says of the initiative. “We’ve always done that sort of thing with fashion designers, and to me, it’s most interesting to introduce these artists, as well as our M·A·C fans, to new people."

For the debut capsule, Gager worked with artists Tinashe, Dej Loaf, Lion Babe’s Jillian Hervey and Halsey -- most of whom landed on the Billboard charts for the first time last year. “They run the gamut, but obviously they're hitting different people in terms of who listens to their music,” he notes. “I think it shows a breadth of what M·A·C is about. When [the artists] came into the office, they each had unique personalities: one of them was very shy, another very outspoken." 

The products are a reflection of their differences. 

The rollout will start with Tinashe, who worked on the "Times Nine Palette" of eye shadow ($32; maccosmetics.com), which borrows names for each shade from track names like "All Hands On Deck." "I was really intrigued by the chance to bring my creative vision to this," says the R&B artist who is about to embark on a world tour for her forthcoming sophomore album, Joyride. "I got to design the packaging, pick out the colors and create something that I felt like I would use."

For Detroit rapper Dej Loaf, whose rosy-nude lipglass ($15) will hit stores on April 14, the opportunity is described as an invaluable one -- the first of what she hopes will be many more lucrative collaborations. "Music was just a stepping stone for me, I want to get into other things outside of music . . . creative things. This first step [with M·A·C] is a big first step," she tells Billboard.

Perhaps the edgiest of the capsule, is a gunmetal matte lipstick ($17) by Halsey, whose blue hair, rebellious spirit and 2015 debut full-length Badlands saw her sell out Madison Square Garden (the show will happen on August 13) and collaborate with Justin Bieber. The campaign will wrap on April 28 with a gorgeous metallic gold Liquidlast Liner ($21) by Hervey, who along with music partner Lucas Goodman is set release Lion Babe's debut full-length Begin this year, which reportedly involved work with an all-star team that includes Pharrell Williams, Jeff Bhasker and Andrew Wyatt.

Each of the artists and Gager, who joined MAC in 1999, spoke with Billboard about the launch. Here are excerpts from that chat:

Why the decision to make Future Forward a collective with four artists rather than say, one or two?
Gager: I think it really indicates that there's not always just one person. With groups of people, as I mentioned, we are able to hit different fan bases.

How did you select each of these artists?
Gager: We like people who have something unique about their style. We feel that each one of these young ladies has a unique music sensibility, but also that they are representing their look with a distinct point of view. When each of them came in, we didn't say 'Oh, you're going to do a lipstick, you're going to do an eyeshadow.' We asked them what they felt connected to product-wise. Each person was very involved, right down to naming the product shades and thinking about packaging. We also worked on videos for each of them that will offer a more in-depth understanding of them as an artist.  

Does sound ever inspire color for you?  
Gager: I can be influenced by smell -- a color for me smells a certain way. A smell might represent a color for me and actually, even with our holiday collections out now, it's all about blue tones which were influenced by the world of jazz and what jazz suggests as a color. For me, jazz never represents hot colors; it represents coolness.

Does it feel risky for MAC to be turning to lesser known artists?
Gager: Of course. You don't know what's going to happen to their career. But I think we're also a brand of pop culture and what's going on at the moment, so the risk is lessened when you hit it on the mark at a particular time.

 

So tell us about this gold liner. How did the idea for this specific product come about?
Hervey: It’s really the very first thought that I had. Obviously there are a ton of black liners in the world so I thought it would be really interesting to go with a different color base and I’ve always felt very strongly about the color gold. I love what the color represents and it’s definitely similar to my skin tone. I also loved that you can make a very clean line with this product, but that you can also use it as a body bronzer if you wanted to. For me, I feel like it’s pretty key to have a product—whether it’s a lip stain you can use on your cheeks—to have something that you can use in more than one way. 

Did you work with M·A·C​ directly? Walk us through the process.
Hervey: The good thing about M·A·C is—and a reason I was so excited—was that they were very much about  having the artist really implement their ideas and create a vision. So from day one I was sketching some ideas in my notebook. Lion Babe’s logo is actually my handwriting, which has manifested into a neon sign we use for our shows. So that logo is on the box. 

Is this your first time collaborating with a brand?
Yeah! It’s definitely my first time doing anything like this. I’ve pretty much been focusing primarily on just the art and creating the singing and music. And this is such an exciting opportunity for me, everyone knows M·A·C and this was a really good way to get our name out there.

 

Halsey, What about these products specifically channels or speaks to you?
Halsey: Specifically this lipstick is pretty akin to what it means to be Halsey. It's pretty unique, and I'm known for changing my hair and style all the time. Not being trapped in one predictable look. I'm like a chameleon. I never look the same.

It’s really cool to me because it's a cooler blue tone, which is my creative color. I use blue lights onstage and had blue hair for a long time. Blue stimulates me. I wanted to do something different that I hadn't seen before and I realized I was wearing a lot of cooler toned colors and a lot of pinks and browns. I thought how great would it be to do something that was a bit more dramatic and more risky.

One thing I try to do with my look is not have the look wear me. I try to carry myself like there's nothing too crazy for me to wear as long as I carry myself with the confidence to wear it. I hope people can feel the same way about the lipstick.

Do you remember the first time you ever wore makeup? How has your approach to applying makeup changed over the years?
Halsey: The first time I ever wore makeup was definitely during a time that I was not allowed to. I have distinct memories of going through my mom’s makeup drawer and digging up M·A·C lipsticks. Her favorite one was a lipstick called Shitake, like the mushroom. And it was a dark, dark, dark brown and completely inappropriate for a small child to be wearing, but it's what my mom had. Given the trends of the 90's my mom was super grunge and really cool. She always wore flannel shirts & Doc Martens and a really dark lipstick. I remember being in love with how she looked. She was very boyish, rockstar, and relaxed. I think that has had a huge impact on how I wear makeup and fashion today. I think my approach to makeup has definitely changed over the years. I’ve started wearing less and I’m learning how to use makeup as a tool to enhance features that I have instead of trying to change my face into something that it's not. I've also gotten much lazier!

 

Dej, you have incredible gold eye makeup on right now, do you normally do a full eye makeup every day?
Dej: No not every day. Onstage for me is dramatic, you know, got the glitter. It’s crazy because I used to...I was anti-makeup just recently fell in love with it. I don’t want to perform without it anymore now I’m like, “Yo, let’s get some makeup on.” I like to travel with a makeup artist now.

Being someone, as you said, that was “anti-makeup,” but now enjoys it -- why do you see importance in it for you as an artist?
Dej: It enhances beauty, you know what I’m saying? I wouldn’t say I was “anti,” I just didn’t understand why girls wear makeup all the time. Now I get it, I understand how it enhances beauty -- how it makes me feel myself, a little more than I already was.

 

Tinashe, have you collaborated with other brands in the past?
Tinashe: I have but I’ve never been able to take a real creative kind of position and that was really what drew me to this. I mean, obviously I love makeup too, and I use it all the time for shows -- but  I was really intrigued by the chance to bring my creative vision to this. I got to design the packaging, pick out the colors, and create something that I felt like I would use. It’s shades that range between dark black to an army green, and then some burgundies. I’m definitely more of an eye girl than like a lip girl.

Do you remember the first time that you experimented with makeup?
Tinashe: I remember being around eight years old and doing my cousin’s makeup -- painting it blue and green. I thought that was so much fun [laughs].