Can the little red dot stand shoulder to shoulder with the little black dress? A native islander and friends look at fashion (and such) in Singapore, and, occasionally, among her neighbours, and a little further afield
It was an older-looking Madonna for sure, but viewers of the Grammy telecast were saying she was “unrecognisable”
She looked to us more recognisable than any video or image she has put out on TikTok or Instagram. This is Madonna looking 64 (with some work done, of course), although she did not dress like the average sexagenarian. The still-singing songstress was on stage at the latest Grammys to introduce Sam Smith and Kim Petras for their hellish performance of Unholy (another song with brand name-dropping). “Are you ready for a little controversy,” Madonna asked, whipping up just a hint of excitement. By now, Madonna and controversy are one. We need not be ready. The controversy, however, was not about how she was dressed or how she behaved on stage. Or, what she said. Viewers thought she looked “unrecognisable”, a phantom of someone who was once a high priestess of style. Madonna has aged. We know that. She probably did too, but for a while she did not want to look her physical age, which, to us, is strange for a performer who had always strived to be her very own self. Woe betide those who tried to tell her to appear in a certain way.
Yet, it is hard not to notice that this was not a familiar Madonna. It is true that she looked odd, moulded, unnatural. Her face was swollen; her cheeks tumid, and her lips puffier than what we remember them to be. Even the jaw and chin seemed augmented, not soft, but strong and protruding (on each side of her face, a ring of braids Princess Leia would approve). Every part of her face was pronounced, articulated by skills not her own. We won’t speculate what Madonna did to her face, but she clearly did something. And appearing at the Grammys, she probably didn’t mind that what she did would be seen or that the world, not just the Grammy audience, saw her in the current form, a tweaked facial composition she probably really wanted and probably really liked, including the near-browlessness. If so, let her be, let her bathe in the spotlight. That Madonna had to do so much to her face might also reflect how society view women in their sixties or expects of them. She was merely trying to meet expectations even if it was hard to. Youth is still a premium.
At the time of last year’s Grammy presentation, Madonna, a seven-time winner who did not attend, put out an odd video on social media that had many wondering what she did to herself. She had braids too that time, but they hung down the sides of her face, which, too, was not immediately recognisable. It appeared changed even when she had brows then. But the different face was not what was perturbing. It was her odd behaviour: she rocked towards and away from the camera, and then smooched right before the lens. Speculation was rife as to what could have caused her to conduct herself that unsexy way. But no revelation emerged after that. Was it an attention-seeking exercise? We won’t know. This time, in Los Angeles two nights ago—togged in a Mugler Archive ensemble of black coat, white shirt, and long skirt—she behaved acceptably, as well as defiantly, saying rather calmly, “All you trouble makers out there, you need to know that your fearlessness does not go unnoticed…” Similarly, hers too.
If Madonna is doing it, there is a possibility that women, even not a celebrity, would be adopting the full face mask, too. In a recent outing with her son David Banda in New York City, the pop star showed her much changed face covered with a full-lace headgear that exposed only her eyes and mouth. Although not quite as severe as Kim Kardashian’s take on the look that Demna Gvasalia conceived for Balenciaga, it is face fashion that is expected to take off massively, even if the look is thought to be intimidating. The balaclava’s popularity is of such great potential since Ms Kardashian made a statement with it at the Met Gala last year that even Gap has allowed Kanye West to introduced it for Yeezy Gap under the guise of a further collaboration with Balenciaga—the brand that appears to be ruling the world.
That Madonna, after making sure everyone is familiar with her new young face, is willing to have it nearly completely covered is indication of the power of the extreme end that fashion endears itself to these days. But while Madonna’s whole head is covered, she is not that unrecognisable, just as Ms Kardashian is not indistinguishable when completely suited up. The balaclava may obscure the face, but it does not blank out the personality under it. We know it is Madonna (although, to be certain, her face mask was not that hardcore since it was made of openwork fabric). What surprised us was not the encased head, but the extremely baggy tracksuit that the author of Sex wore—Balenciaga X Adidas, no less. Was it to better co-ordinate with her son David in a Gucci X Adidas T-shirt dress?
The drastically different ends that women stand in terms of fashion are thought to be the opposing reactions against the pandemic that has deprived many the opportunity to dress up, to express, especially publicly. So either go nearly nude or totally covered. Clothes are now mere shreds of fabric or a complete bale. Anything in-between is too old normal, too ancien, too dull. Our avatar is no longer an online proxy. It is here among us, tangible and tantalising. We really do not need the metaverse to reshape fashion. It is already happening in this protoverse.
Madonna strikes again. And no one is sure it is a good look. Once more, how did she go from this… to this?
Madonna during the Grammys, then and now. Left, in February, 2015 and right, this week. Photo: Mega and TikTok respectively
“What happened to her?” was repeatedly asked in the shared posts of Madonna’s latest TikTok video, as well as in the comments that followed the release of the unexpected recording (which seems to be cut 2 of a similar video posted five days earlier). Many have described her uncharacteristic moves—rocking forward and backward to a rendition of Frozen—as “unsettling”. One Madonna fan told SOTD that “if you watch it on your smartphone and hold it close to your face, she looks scary. Worse when you can hear the sound of that kiss.” It is, to be sure, not easy to watch if you are used to the singer looking filter-altered immaculate. This could have been Madonna auditioning for Pontianak!
Interestingly, this odd video was posted on the day of the telecast of the Grammys. It appeared seven years after Madonna showed up at the same award ceremony, looking “spectacular” in Givenchy, as most fans concurred, although when it came to her exposing her derrière, the reaction to that action was “divisive”. Then and now, the difference is startling. Then she was recognisable, now barely. Sure, she did not wear much makeup on the TikTok post (the video seemed to have been shot when she was getting a tattoo on her wrist, as seen on one Instagram post shared two days ago), but surely the change can’t be that drastic? The shape of her chin has certainly altered and the lips have expanded more than bread given a sourdough starter.
Some commentators are, conversely, defending her, saying that attacking her looks—or be shocked by her appearance—is ageism. The thing is, we’re all for Madonna doing what she wants at 63 (and we salute her for that), but it is clear to see that she is negating ageing when her face, specifically, is looking younger—more girlish, in fact—than a woman of her years. She told V magazine last year: “I don’t even think about my age, to tell you the truth.” But, she clearly did. And her social media entries suggest she does too. And many are listening. And watching. And worrying. Excuse them.
Left : Madonna on one of three covers of V Magazine in May 2014 shot by Steven Klein. Right: Madonna on this month’s V Magazine cover, also shot by Steven Klein
On the latest cover of VMagazine, Madonna is framed within the large-as-the-page masthead, slanted, san-serif lines of the twenty-secondth letter of the English alphabet. She is reportedly 63 years old, but she looks half of that, like she shares the age of Lady Gaga. Her pore-less complexion is as fine as a mannequin’s. Or Barbie’s. Collagen and elastin in peak production. She looks at the reader from the corners of her dramatically made-up eyes, the lids lifted like a simmering pot’s, the whites as white as Mentos. Her lips, in particular, stick out. They are not only overdrawn, they look extra thick. They sit above a pronounced chin that is rather pointy, as if shaped so that it can dovetail into the sharp, pointed groove of the V. The letter elongates her face, keeping it compact and narrow, like a condensed font. Gravity has not reached Madonna.
If Madonna is recognisable on the V Magazine cover, it is likely because she is seen quite frequently these past months in the media, social too, looking like this—a version of herself. But for many no longer following her as Queen of Pop, she seems like another person. From images of her celebrating her birthday with her 27-year-old boyfriend in Puglia, Spain in August to her news-making appearance on The Tonight Show early this month, a different-looking, altered Madonna could be discerned. Fake or real, most chose the former. The singer has never admitted to plastic surgery. The sceptical is certain there is at least some toxins involved and definitely photo trickery. Back in 2019, when speculation was rife that she surgically augmented her derriere, the defiant star retorted, “Desperately Seeking No Ones (sic) Approval… And Entitled to Free Agency Over My Body Like Everyone Else!!”
The same woman? Left: Madonna shot by Herb Rittsfor True Blue in 1986. Right: Madonna in this month’s cover story shoot by Steven Klein for V Magazine
The same blonde? Left: in 1987. Photo: Shutterstock. Right: today. Photo: Madonna/Instagram
In 2018, Madonna, then 60, said“I don’t know why ageing is a negative word, it needs to be a positive word.”Sure, but by not ageing negatively, it seems she is negating ageing, at least visually. Or is she ageing in reverse? Is she privy to some magical elixir we know not of? With scientific intervention, ageing needs not manifest itself on the face. And it is likely she works with the best doctors at her calling. And add to that, her own skincare line MDNA Skin, conceived with her aesthetician Michelle Peck and made by the Japanese skincare innovator MTG, and launched in Japan in 2014. But dermatologists reacting online to Madonna’s clearly different face today are sure that there is more than creams and lotions involved, no matter how potent or hi-tech the topical applications may be. Many also put forth confidently that “work has been done” and not just recently. There are reports that even suggested “her curiously taut face” has had “extensive amounts of work that has been done since she hit 40” or at least some fillers or fat transfers as far back as 2009.
That Madonna does not appear to have aged is hardly surprising since she is still an active performer (and, recently, a prolific Instagrammer). At her concert here in 2016, she did look a lot younger than her 58 years even when no one was able to get that close to her to be sure. Or, to see if the mole above the right side of her upper lip is still there or concealed by makeup. Surely, age does not make it disappear! Nevertheless, many in the audience recognised her as Madonna. When MDNA Skin was launched in the US in 2019, she told the media there, “I think it’s ridiculous that we have to hide our age or not be able to embrace it. We have to go the other way and stop cheating and pretending”, as stated in the beauty e-mag Byrdie. Although she does not say how old she is, she seems to be fronting a youthfulness that contradicts what she thinks. It is hard not to construe that photos after photos of her line-less—even pore-less—faces in the media and on her own IG page are not serious attempts to deceive and feign.
Madonna turning the other cheeks. At the Grammy’s (left). Photo: Wireimages, And on The Tonight Show early last month (right). Screen grab: NBC/YouTube
Not only is Madonna’s face defying age, her buttocks are too. In 2015, she exposed her other cheeks on the Grammy Awards red carpet, supposedly because she needed to adjust something under her skirt. Her backside at the time was, of course, no stranger to the public; they had been seen bare before, but no one was asking to see it then. Then it happened again at the MTV Video Awards in September this year, on stage, no less. There was also the harness/support that looked similar to the one she wore at the Grammy’s six years ago. And then The Late Show flaunt, which the visibly embarrassed host Jimmy Fallon could not digest, but Madonna is an artist and—quoting novelist James Baldwin— said, “artists are here to disturb the peace”. Displaying the derrière to upset the tranquility, in her case, is more of a possibilty after the (rumoured) augmentation and, by her admission, the consistent use of MDNA Skin’s Chrome Clay Mask, priced at USD220, on her butt!
This month’s V Magazine cover is shot by Steven Klein, the same photographer who was behind the lens of another V Magazine cover picture of her, seven years ago. It is rather curious that Mr Klein did not see a markedly different Madonna this time round. Did he not wonder how the two photos that he took of the same person could look so vastly unalike? Or was he complicit, merely doing his job, regardless of how his subjects have changed physically, and allowing heavy-handed Photoshopping? The media, too, is rather accepting of the singer’s changed face. We often see the transformation described as “amazing”—likely to mean wonderful than to cause great surprise. Whatever she did to her face, nothing is more astonishing, even bizarre, than what she was alleged to have doctored in March this year. Reports appeared in the media that Madonna posted on IG of a photo that digitally placed her head on the body of a fan! One Amelia Goldie from Australia shared on TikTok, “When Madonna posts a photo of herself to IG to promote her album but its actually your body (I’m not joking)”. No more evidence needed to prove that the posts on Instagram, like magazine covers, is mostly fictional.
Obituary | Popular model of the ’80s and Madonna’s protégé, Nick Kamen was pop culture’s definitive pretty boy of that era
Nick Kamen: The career-making photo that made it to the January 1984 cover of The Face. Photo: Jamie Morgan/The Face
One of the most striking faces associated with UK fashion and pop music of the ’80s Nick Kamen has passed away, according to reports in the British media. Mr Kamen succumbed to bone marrow cancer at home in his flat in Notting Hill, West London. A family friend confirmed to the BBC that he died on Tuesday evening after a long battle with the illness. He was reportedly diagnosed four years ago, and had largely kept quiet about his ailment. Despite the fame of his younger days, Mr Kamen led a relatively low-key live in the past 10 years or so, almost entirely away from the spotlight. He was 59.
Nick Kamen started modelling in the early eighties, appearing on Vivienne Westwood’s runway shows, but he was a relative unknown until he was discovered by the legendary British stylist Ray Petri in late 1983. Born Ivor Neville Kamen in 1962 in the town Harlow of the county of Essex, a “working class” area in Southeast England, his good looks were attributed to his highly mixed ethnicity: Burmese, Irish, Dutch, and English. The Asian connection might have accounted for his “cafe latte skin”, as teen mags of the time liked to describe him. Mr Kamen went to a Roman Catholic secondary school in Harlow, where his formal education ended. In his late teens, he and his brother Barry, who was, later, also a model and (with another brother Chester) a musician, worked in a clothing shop in Covent Garden. It was here that the lads met Mr Petri.
Nick Kamen and Madonna in a recording studio. Photo: Sire Records
According to the lore of the ’80s, Mr Petri had gone to the shop to borrow clothes for a shoot. It was that fateful meeting that led to Mr Kamen’s first magazine cover for The Face, an ’80s British title that went into hiatus in 2004. Although it returned as a quarterly and an online edition two years ago, many of today’s readers of e-mags are unlikely to know of The Face and its influence to readers, such as SOTD contributor Raiment Young. “I bought every issue back then,” he told us. “It was a magazine to read, which was not always what mags of the era, way before the World-Wide Web, offered. They covered music raves (which I could only read about) like political rallies! And the covers, always different from the last, were just unlike anything I had seen.” The Face was one of the few that covered emerging sub-cultures and underground scene of that time, putting out covers that were not considered cover material, typical of the Margaret Tatcher years: a visual identity that is exceedingly cool, but not necessarily swinging along with what was fashionable.
Mr Petri had a thing for using unknowns. The images he created was almost entirely his own making, save pressing the shutter button of the camera. His trend-setting photographic partner-in-crime was Jamie Morgan. Together they created an unmistakable aesthetic that The New York times called a “supermarket of styles”. Nick Kamen on The Face issue of 1984 (top) that kicked off the New Year exemplified that mish-mash. Now, we won’t bat an eyelid on styling that appear to imagine a spiffy manager of a ski shop creating his own #OOTD, with a bandaged gash on the right brow, but back then, when designer mania was emerging and Italian, especially, considered the height of chic, the young model looking the way he did was seen as anti-establishment: beanie, military insignia, aviators, and—untypical of magazine covers (Anna Wintour, then creative director at US Vogue before her editorship of the British edition a year later, would have puked)—Band-Aid (like an open inverted comma) and roughly-applied lip balm! This was not the American Gigolo look, made famous by the 1980 film, with costume designed by Giorgio Armani. This was “Buffalo.”
Publicity still during the launch of Every Time You Break My Heart. Photo: Sire Records
Mr Kamen’s ability to embrace realness and defiance so stylishly and, to many, sexily, was his greatest appeal. As soon as he was launched, he became associated with the totally DIY Buffalo style that Ray Petri dreamed up at the time, and with which the stylist (a self-created title, his friends declared) would go on to define British menswear of the ’80s, first at The Face and later at sibling Arena. Buffalo, a word used in the Caribbean to mean boys that were rude and rebellious, was appropriated to be synonymous with fearless self-expression. It became a personal trademark of Mr Petri, and it involved a British clique of mainly guys: fellow stylist Mitzi Lorenz, the photographers Roger Charity, Jamie Morgan, and Cameron McVey (he dated Neneh Cherry, one of the few Buffalo girls, who sang the 1988 hit Buffalo Stance, which sampled from Malcom McClaren’s 1983 track Buffalo Gals), and the crucial models who could express the Buffalo attitude: Wade Tolera; Tony Felix; the 13-year-old Felix Howard (The Face‘s youngest cover model); and, of course, Nick Kamen and his brother Barry.
With Buffalo’s influence stretching across the world, it was Nick Kamen who came to represent the much-touted Buffalo stance, culminating in a career-defining 1985 Levi’s TV commercial that showed him stripped—in a busy launderette—to his white boxers (a now-not-shocking reveal that may have been copped from a Jamie Morgan-lensed fashion spread that appeared earlier—in the March 1985 issue of The Face—when Mr Kamen wore similar white boxers and a black T-shirt under a trench coat). Ringing success embraced the American jeans brand and the British model. It is understandable why Mr Morgan called him “our muse”. Comedian Matt Lucas told the media recently, “If you didn’t have a crush on Nick Kamen in the ’80s, you probably weren’t there.”
Man in skirt, not a shocker now, but back then, scandal-rousing. Styled by Ray Petri. Photo: Jamie Morgan/The Face
The model was one of the earliest of that time to cross successfully over to pop. Mr Kamen’s big break arrived when Madonna came admiring, and handed him the song, Each Time You Break My Heart, one that was omitted from her third album, 1986’s True Blue. The accompanying video, shot by the French fashion photographer Jean-Baptiste Mondino, featured many of Mr Petri’s coterie of friends/models, including the boy-star Felix Howard (who later appeared in Madonna’s Open Your Heart and Sinitta’s Toy Boy MVs) and Mr Kamen’s girlfriend at that time, American model and 1989 Licenced to Kill’s Bond girl Talisa Soto (later, he also dated another ’80s model, the German Tatjana Patitz). So sure of his singing potential she was that Madonna even did the backing vocals of Each Time You Break My Heart, but Nick Kamen did not have a voice that you’d remember; he wasn’t a Sam Smith. He did, however, have a presence that worked well on stage and, with the emergence of music television (MTV), winsome close-ups. Although some haters of that time referred to his songs as “himbo pop”, he would continue to release another four albums, all with varying degrees of success, but none to equal those by the likes of Rick Astley or Nik Kershaw.
As the telling of most who knew him goes, Mr Kamen was an extremely nice individual, so uncommon a trait in the business of fashion and pop music that stars still remember him by his niceness. Boy George, the first to break the news of his death, posted on Instagram, “RIP to the most beautiful and sweetest man”. Duran Duran’s John Taylor wrote on Twitter, “One of the loveliest and gentlest men I ever met.” Madonna was just as effusive on IG, “You were always such a kind sweet human.” Could Neneh Cherry, three decades earlier, too, have referred to Nick Kamen when she sang in Buffalo Stance, “No money man could win my love. It’s sweetness I’m thinking of”?
Oh Madonna, we so wish you didn’t show your bum at the Grammy’s. Yes, last year was the year of the booty, but that was last year! Leave the rear exposure to your friend Niki Minaj. Or the exhibitionist, Kim Kardashian West. Sure, you’ve done it all before. Still, it was heartbreaking to see that you needed some kind of a harness to hold everything up so as to be as pert as those girls. We know it’s not a wardrobe malfunction—that made it worse! While, admirably, a tease, for you, could be conceived with a mere flick of the back of a skirt rather than a swing on a burlesque pole, we would have preferred that your dress did the all the work. We like your Givenchy toreador-wear-as-body-suit, but we like your Super Bowl 2012 costume, the Givenchy Spartan-gear-as-disco-dress more. The Spanish bull-fighter costume aesthetic: you’ve flirted with that before. We remember the Take a Bow music video even when, in it, you were mostly clad in John Galliano. It was your screen lover, real-life matador Emilio Muñoz, who was dressed dazzlingly. Still, we love the old-world elegance you projected. You were at your sartorial best, pre-Evita. Yes, you should have let your dress do all the work as you had before. You were, after all, on a red carpet. And you are better than so many of them, such as Lady Gaga, who, inexplicably, was channelling Donatella Versace.
It is true that some people wish to age disgracefully, but we hope you are not one of them. As we write this, we’re listening to Nothing Fails. Maybe you’re right: “(you’ve) climbed the tree of life/And that’s why, no longer scared if (you) fall.” Or go bare-bottom.