Black to Black: Dve chërnye korolevy: S´yuzi S´yu i Zhanel´ Moné [Two mistresses of black: Siouxsie Sioux and Janelle Monáe]

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articleResearch

Pop musicians performing in black stage costume take advantage of cultural traditions relating to matters black. Stylistically, black is a paradoxical color: although a symbol of melancholy, pessimism, and renunciation, black also expresses minimalist modernity and signifies exclusivity (as is hinted by Rudyard Kipling’s illustration of ‘The [Black] Cat That Walked by Himself’ in his classic children’s tale). It was well understood by uniformed Anarchists, Fascists and the SS that there is an assertive presence connected with the black-clad figure. The paradox of black’s abstract elegance, menace, sensual spur, and associations with death along with an assertive presence is seen with black-clad pop performers. This becomes especially clear when comparing the distinctive stage-styles of Siouxsie Sioux (born 1957, UK) and Janelle Monáe (born 1985, USA). Siouxsie Sioux’s late 1970’s black aesthetic had unmistakable associations with interwar Weimar Berlin, Louise Brooks (‘Die Brooks’), Sally Bowles, Cabaret, and Nazi chic. It was a look that originally went along with the Dadaist spirit of punk in protesting the dystopian ‘no future’-status of youth in Western society. Equally influential, and without a doubt more central, to Sioux’s visual performances in the long run were the aesthetics of Man Ray, Constructivism, and above all, German Expressionist cinema, notably The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari. Leaping forward some 30 years, we see a faultlessly black-tuxedoed and cape-clad Janelle Monáe reproducing the bourgeois-aspiring aesthetic of 1920s and 1930s New York City Harlem renaissance jazz clubs, gangsters, Marlene Dietrich, Fred Astaire, and classics of American film noir: “I bathe in it, I swim in it, and I could be buried in it. A tux is such a standard uniform, it’s so classy and it’s a lifestyle I enjoy.” For Monáe, the tuxedo is both working clothes and a superhero uniform. Together with futuristic references to Fritz Lang’s dystopian Metropolis, her trademark starched shirt and tuxedo also recall Weimar and pre-war Berlin. While outwardly dissimilar, Sioux’s and Monáe’s shared black-styled references to, among other things, the culturally and ideologically effervescent interwar-period have made me curious as to what alternative possibilities – for instance ‘emancipation’ – a comparative analysis might disclose concerning the visual rhetoric of black. Thus, in conclusion, it is briefly suggested that appreciation of the highly personal motives of both Siouxsie Sioux and Janelle Monáe in wearing black may be achieved via analogies with the minimalist sublime of American artists Frank Stella’s and Ad Reinhardt’s black canvasses.
Original languageRussian
JournalTeorija Mody. Odezda, telo, kul´tura. [Fashion Theory Russia. The Journal of Dress, Body & Culture]
Volume24
Issue numberSummer
Pages (from-to)163-175
Number of pages12
Publication statusPublished - 2012

ID: 38088238