Artists have long sought to make a fashion statement on the red carpet at award shows, but they’re increasingly using fashion to make a social or political statement.
At the American Music Awards on Sunday night (Nov. 24), Billie Eilish rocked a black t-shirt that bore the message “No Music on a Dead Planet” in red jewels. The quote acts as the slogan for Music Declares Emergency, a group of artists, organizations and music professionals “concerned at the lack of a cohesive, industry-wide response to the climate emergency.”
At the CMA Awards on Nov. 13, Jennifer Nettles wore a hot-pink train which read: “Play Our F—-n Records Please & Thank You.” The top of Nettles’ train read “EQUAL PLAY,” a comment on the gender imbalance at country radio, which is so bad that it makes news when a woman tops the Country Airplay charts.
At the Latin Grammys on Nov. 1, Mon Laferte was even bolder. Wearing a long black coat, black dress pants, and a green bandana around her neck, the Chilean singer exposed her breasts to photographers. “In Chile, they torture, rape, and kill,” read the message across her chest area.
Artists are hoping to use the minute or so they spend chatting with correspondents on the red carpet to put a spotlight on an issue they care about rather than just plug their designer. And some artists, no doubt, realize that an attention-getting outfit will get them extra press attention. Nettles put a spotlight on an important issue, but she also put a spotlight on herself.
There were numerous such fashion political statements at the 60th annual Grammy Awards in January 2018. Katy Perry wore a “PERSIST” armband and a white pantsuit that was said to be inspired by Hillary Clinton. Johnny Stevens, front-man for Highly Suspect, wore an “IMPEACH” jacket, an attack on President Trump. Schoolboy Q wore a pink “GIRL POWER” hoodie in support of the Women’s March. Joy Villa wore a dress which featured a painting of a fetus and carried a handbag that read: “Choose Life.”
Villa made a bigger impact the year before when she wore a dress that read “Make America Great Again,” a nod to President Trump’s 2016 campaign slogan.
Sometimes it’s not clear what an artist’s message is. Lady Gaga‘s infamous “meat dress,” which she wore to the MTV Video Music Awards in 2010, could be interpreted as putting a spotlight on meat consumption — or, perhaps, as mocking veganism.
Appearing on Ellen DeGeneres‘ talk show, Gaga said, “…It has many interpretations. For me this evening, if we don’t stand up for what we believe in and if we don’t fight for our rights pretty soon, we’re going to have as much rights as the meat on our own bones. And, I am not a piece of meat.”
She explained further that she was also using the dress to highlight her opposition to the U.S. military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy.
As the 2019-2020 awards season continues, at this rate, instead of asking, “Who are you wearing?” red carpet correspondents will be asking, “What’s the story with your cause?”