Chappell Roan and the Art of Tackiness

Chappell Roan and the Art of Tackiness

Chappell Roan and the Art of Tackiness

What constitutes “good” taste, anyway? The concept of “good” vs. “bad” taste has been around for ages, enforcing power structures and social hierarchies by categorizing some things as acceptable and others as not. It’s pervasive in pop culture, particularly when it comes to women in the public eye. So what does it mean to eschew these arbitrary fashion codes altogether? Look no further than Chappell Roan.

A pop icon in the making, Roan has recently catapulted into mainstream music fame for her vivid lyrics and distinctly camp aesthetic. Detailing her experiences with dating, self-discovery and heartbreak as a queer woman, her belt-worthy songs are vulgar, intensely fun and purposely provocative. And so are her outfits.

Working with stylist Genesis Webb, Chappell’s maximalist ensembles evoke characters ranging from ethereal forest fairies to ominous couture-clad villains. Horror, burlesque and theatre are among the references she and Webb pull from, resulting in a final look that is always perfectly unpalatable for mainstream standards of desirability.

“I love looking pretty and scary. Or pretty and tacky…Or just not pretty; I love that too,” Roan recently said on The Tonight Show, wearing a dark feather-festooned Swan Lake-inspired look. (She later changed into a white version to perform.)

With drag as the cornerstone of her craft, her more-is-more style is a love letter to queerness. Recognizable codes of her costumes include clashing prints, exaggerated proportions and crude cut-outs. The delightful kookiness of her clothes is emphasized by her makeup, often comprising white face paint, skinny eyebrows and teased red hair. Similarly to Charli xcx, Chappell Roan’s taste for confrontational self-expression doesn’t pander to anyone else — it revels in originality.

 

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Take her stint at Coachella 2024. Throughout the festival, her costumes ranged from a fetishwear-inspired set that said “EAT ME” to a life-size butterfly costume dripping in sequins. Instead of aspiring for so-called prettiness, each of her looks delves further into a realm of ultra-weird world-building. “We start with a theme and then go, ‘Okay, how can we make it campier, bigger?’” Genesis Webb told Vulture. Her get-ups are elaborate and thoroughly constructed, but they’re also deeply unserious.

Case in point: At the Governor’s Ball Music Festival in June, Chappell Roan offered a lewd take on Americana imagery through fashion. Sporting green body paint and a wig to match, she donned risqué Statue of Liberty garb before transforming into a sexy taxi cab.

Perhaps her most beloved ode to unhinged visuals was her NPR Tiny Desk Concert in March, where she embodied a dishevelled ‘80s prom queen. Her sky-high knotted beehive was adorned with butterfly clips and cigarette butts. Her cartoonish glam featured lipstick smudged on her teeth. To top it off, her frilly pink princess dress felt reminiscent of something in a kid’s costume bin. And that’s the point.

Through this sartorial smorgasbord, Chappell Roan is presenting a whimsical exploration of girlhood and unabashed queerness. Coming from a religious conservative background in Missouri, Roan has said she grew up learning that being gay was a “sin”. The extreme stage character she’s crafted today, she explains, is a result of her honouring her inner child. “[I] was a little girl that wanted to play dress up all the time, who wanted to wear makeup and dance and just be obnoxious,” she said in an interview with Capital Buzz. “Once I allowed myself to do that, that’s when my art got better.”

It’s impossible to deny the impact of Chappell Roan showing up as her authentic self right now. Hate against queer communities is on the rise in Canada, while a record number of anti-LGBTQ2S+ bills were introduced in the U.S. in 2023. During a time when the very act of performing drag is under threat, Chappell Roan’s unapologetic artistry is rooted in taking up space. She’s not paring back or concealing her identity. She’s a creating a universe of effervescent theatrics, and welcoming others to join.

On the tour for her album The Rise and Fall of a Midwest Princess, for instance, Chappell Roan has given each concert a specific interactive theme. Before the shows, she encourages fans in different cities to dress for designated songs — ranging from alien-coded sets to Barbie-core Westernwear. She happily refers to herself as a “tacky pop star,” and continues to build community around this brand of wonderful whackiness.

If “good” taste is a judgment that reinforces fashion rules, perhaps the opposite is true artistry. For Chappell Roan, that means donning a prosthetic pig nose, flaunting feather eyelashes and performing covered in body paint. In doing so, she pushes back on arbitrary pillars of style and beauty. Chappell Roan is helping to pave the way for a new kind of self-expression in pop, one tacky costume at a time. It’s a Femininomenon.

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