Flashback to 2006. “Hannah Montana” debuted on Disney Channel, Britney Spears divorced Kevin Federline and a little known 16-year-old with one hell of a curly hairdo released her first, self-titled album, “Taylor Swift.”
The young country singer was featured on the album cover in a white dress with her face extremely photoshopped and butterflies edited around her curly mane.
Flash forward to a few weeks ago, and T. Swizzle has risen up the charts again, this time with a shorter, wavy hair style and her new signature shade of red lipstick. Her clothes are all high-waisted, all designer and she’s cementing as a modern style star.
Swift is a prime example of how, with age, success and independence, a pop star’s style can evolve past the bubblegum beginnings into true, enviable fashion sense.
Pop star’s beginnings tend to share a common thread. They all write or sing a catchy, repetitive song that gains them excessive radio play and a devoted, curious fan base. Along with this fame usually comes a perfected, sculpted image by their PR teams that tries to depict them as innocent, bubblegum celebrities, with cookie cutter costuming and bright smiles on their faces.
But, as their albums’ sounds evolve and they start to take control of their decision-making, fans can see their clothes slowly start to reflect the change.
Take One Direction as another example. Their new album, “Four” will be released on Nov. 17. The boys have been through a slew of press functions to promote their fourth album. In each interview and in each promotional photo for the album, the boys are respectively rocking a distinct, hip style. Whether it’s Harry Styles in denim shirts and black pants with Chelsea boots, Zayn Malik brooding in black pants and a gray sweater or Liam Payne in an athletic jersey-style jumper and Timberlands, they have all struck out on their own to wear a style of clothing that defines them as individuals.
This is a huge leap from their first album after winning “The X-Factor,” when they could be seen rocking matching suits in every shade of the rainbow and with perfectly coiffed hair. It’s meant to show more unison and uniformity in the emerging group, but it’s hard to believe any of the guys would wear this if the choice was theirs.
As with Swift, their increased success and age makes it harder for their management to dictate as many of their decisions, including ones surrounding their clothes. They now have the credibility to be more free with their music and their style.
It’s an evolutionary process that has changed drastically from the great boy bands and pop stars of the ’90s. Looking back at albums from the Backstreet Boys, even ones released in their later years, the group can be seen matching almost entirely. Their musical image was crafted around uniform looks. If one Backstreet Boy was wearing leather, then they all had to.
Pop stars define style in ground breaking ways. Whether it was Madonna and her cone bra or the Spice Girls and their crop tops, fans flock to dress like their favorite stars and emulate them in every way possible. A star’s style can determine whether a whole generation of fans dress well. At least until the star in question grows up and starts dressing for themselves and not their manager.
It’s almost a commentary as to how much the music industry has changed when it comes to the freedom they allow their biggest, most-played stars. It seems as though the industry is slowly ready for pop stars, at least later in their careers, to define themselves.
Only time will tell how much more freedom the industry will allow their pop stars, and how pop stars will fight against the industry to allow their true selves to shine through.
This story originally appeared in the Nov. 13 edition of the College Heights Herald