Kay-Lani Martinez, Orlando-based beauty influencer, recreates iconic celebrity-inspired looks for her weekly Facebook series, Hollywood Muse. Collectively, the videos — which spotlight powerful women in music including Celia Cruz, Selena Quintanilla, Aaliyah, Amy Winehouse, Rita Moreno, Jennifer Lopez and Demi Lovato — have attracted over a million views in just three months.
The 26-year-old video-blogger is a YouTube beauty star, and recently, Hollywood Muse was born from her desire to offer diverse content on each of her various social media accounts. “I wanted to bring a different flavor to my [Facebook] series, and this is not really something you see often unless it’s Halloween when everyone is dressing-up in inspired looks,” she tells Billboard Style. “My looks can range from a Latina artist to a European artist to an African American artist. It’s so open, because I just wanted to create something where I feel like everyone can come watch and they can relate to the artists.”
The New York-native and mom of one, whose nearly half a million YouTube subscribers make up only a fraction of her 1.3 million Instagram followers, started as a makeup artist and grew her social media platforms over the course of five years to get where she is today. Though she produces mostly beauty content, her agenda in pushing self-love and propensity to share personal life stories provide inspiration for a diverse audience worldwide. “You don’t have to be a J. Lo to be recognized for your talent. I’m not a singer or dancer,” she encourages. “I’m not all of that but I know I have a gift and that’s what I’m trying to showcase.”
We caught up with Martinez to get all the details on Hollywood Muse, her inspiration to start and where her deep connection with music originated.
What was your inspiration to start Hollywood Muse?
I basically didn’t want to have the same content you would find on my Instagram or on my YouTube page on Facebook. I wanted to bring something different because I felt like if I was going to share the same content all the way around it would get kind of boring and repetitive after a while. So I started Hollywood Muse originally for Hispanic Heritage Month. I knew off the bat – this was before Hollywood Muse was even a “thing” — that for that specific month I wanted to honor empowering Latinas, whether from our current time period or the past, so that either way, any age group would be able to relate to Hollywood Muse for that month. It wasn’t called Hollywood Muse then because I didn’t even know it would grow to be what it is now, but when it became a thing I felt like it was just a perfect way to start the show that I have currently. And I’ve never seen anyone do it before.
Of course everyone has honored Selena, that’s a very popular thing. And if you go on YouTube or Instagram, you definitely see people recreate looks that you’ve seen on the red carpet and stuff, but it’s not something that they have a social media outlet completely dedicated to. I wanted to continue that and showcase more iconic Latinas that are out there that maybe not a lot of people know about, or might know but they just don’t know that they are Latina. Every month, there’s a different theme to keep people interested and to keep my audience very wide. So like I said, my first season was Hispanic Heritage Month. Then the season after that was Halloween looks because it was October. And this month I’m doing four iconic female artists who are no longer with us.
Is there anything specific that triggers your decision to spotlight a certain artist at any given time?
Every artist that I’ve done a look inspired by are all artists who have inspired me. I know that sounds so cheesy to some people, but in reality I’m really big on music and specifically, older music, and I connect a lot more because my grandparents raised me. People always tell me I have an old soul because I can literally listen to Motown and young people look at me like ‘How do you know the words?’ It’s because I grew up on it. Also I’m a ‘90s baby, so that era of music is one of my top favorites. I’ll be doing a season inspired completely by artists of the ‘90s that I connect with.
What would you say has been your biggest influence in terms of music?
My grandfather will listen to any kind of music out there. I have to credit him for the reason why you will see such a wide range of things on my show and artists and celebrities that I know about that aren’t even of my time at all. It’s not like I just randomly found artists that I never heard of on Google and did looks on them. If you look at my intros sometimes you’ll see me act or lip sync, because these are real things that I would really do in the comfort of my own space even if I wasn’t recording. I jam out like that in my car and that’s kind of the vibe I want people to feel so that it doesn’t feel staged.
What’s your creative process behind getting ready to pay homage to these musicians?
I always have these looks planned out like at least a month in advance — I will know who I’m doing when. Every week I film a different look, so that whole week I live on YouTube, basically watching everything of that artist for that week. It’s kind of like when an actor does a movie based off of someone in real life and they live like that person did to get into character. That’s exactly what I do. Then while I’m actually filming the tutorial, I play that artist’s music the entire video while I’m filming, because it just keeps me in my zone. I watch either music videos or interviews that they’ve done because I try to pick up their mannerisms. Like when I did my Amy Winehouse look, I studied how she would hold the microphone when she would sing and how she would move her hands and her eyes while she sings. I feel like if I don’t do those things, then the look isn’t really going to come to life and people won’t feel as connected because it just looks like someone playing dress up. And that’s not what I want it to be.
To some people it’s just a makeup tutorial, but to me it’s not. I really do put a lot into these videos, and I feel like it shows and people can tell by the reactions that I get. I put way more effort into this I would say than I do my YouTube because my YouTube is just regular makeup tutorials. This is different because I’m stepping out of my comfort zone and every week I’m literally pretending to be someone else. I’m constantly having to do my homework because every artist is 100 percent different from the next. I constantly have to be changing it up, and I don’t feel like everybody could do that.
On average, how long does it take you to film each video?
Sometimes I might film the same thing a bajillion times until I feel like I finally got it right. It takes a lot of time and hard work. I won’t just post something just to post it.
How has your culture influenced how you approach the Hollywood Muse series, if at all?
My grandfather is black. If you look at him, you would think he’s straight up African-American, but he’s actually Puerto Rican. So growing up in New York, he was always very connected with black people and Puerto Ricans, and he always made sure I knew about the African side of being Puerto Rican. So because of this I also make sure to spotlight Afro-Latino artists. In the beginning, I wasn’t sure how people were going to react to them because I had never seen a tutorial on those artists. But people were just literally loving it and it made me realize that clearly this is something that hasn’t been done before and that there is a place for it. They made me feel more confident about that decision.
I thought people would think it was just a cheesy dress-up thing, but it’s more than that. People really feel connected to it because when they watch my videos, they feel like they’re looking at the actual artist. And even when I posted my preview Amy Winehouse picture before the video came out, I received over 2,000 comments on that one picture alone. It made me feel like I’m doing it right because people are truly connecting with me the way I’m connecting with these artists.
What is your main mission in doing this project? Is there a specific message that you hope to get across or something you want people to get out of it?
Well I try to make the everyday person feel like you don’t have to be super famous and super rich to be able to create some of these iconic Hollywood looks. I’m a mother, so I try to always connect with everyday people. And I’m obviously very big on my Latin culture, so I try to open doors so that minorities can benefit in a way from what I’m doing.
Also, I want people to be able to connect with each other all over the world. And when I read the comments of people connecting with strangers — granted, of course you have your negative ones, but that comes with the territory — that’s my goal. Some people might not even like makeup, but they connect to it because of the music. That shows me that my videos are working; that my videos are actually doing good things. Connecting people with each other, connecting people with these artists, connecting people with myself.
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