The Most Startling Musician Fashion Moments In History

Rock and pop stars have been causing controversies for decades. From sexually suggestive dance moves to wild onstage antics to explicit lyrics to scandalous personal lives, there's just something about being a famous musician that provokes one to push the boundaries of acceptability. Or maybe it has to do with the unique nature of musicians' minds; who knows what kinds of crazy ideas swirl in the fertile imaginations of singers and instrumentalists?

For many top musical artists, their garb is just as important to their craft as their songs. But even their fashion can stir up more discussion than their actual music. Sometimes, their outrageous looks can be part of a deeper message the artist wants to put out into the world, or they function as an essential part of their work. Other times, though, these looks are simply an effort to drive album sales. Here, we take a look at the most startling musician fashion moments in history.

KISS puts makeup on

KISS first exploded into the rock music scene in 1973, and remained one of the most famous bands of all time. Their party-hardy lyrics, catchy riffs, and fiery live shows were more than enough to separate them from their contemporaries. However, it was their striking appearance that really grabbed people's attention. With their signature black-and-white makeup designs and glittery costumes, the band members looked like a clown troupe from the future, here to teach us how to rock and roll all night and party every day. While there was no way for anyone to take KISS' look seriously, it nonetheless gave the band members an aura of mystery akin to superheroes.

According to KISS lead singer and bassist Gene Simmons in an interview with Porkchops & Applesauce (via Yahoo), the band's getup was a way for them to stand out from the rest of the crowd. In the early 1970s, glam rock was all the rage, but rather than go the typical gender-bending route that many acts went down, KISS took a more masculine approach to donning makeup. Simmons said, "Getting up onstage was almost a holy place for being onstage looking like a bum wasn't my idea of respect. That's where the makeup and dressing up came in. It would have obviously been a lot easier to get up on stage in jeans and T-shirts ... And that would have been just as valid, but it would not have been honest."

KISS takes the makeup off

While KISS made quite the splash when they introduced themselves to the world in outlandish costumes and far-out makeup designs, they made just as big of a splash when they decided to don more down-to-earth duds and apply makeup remover. The 1970s was a good time for the band, having scored numerous hits and played to sold-out arenas around the world. However, KISS' audience began to dwindle by the early 1980s, with their first few albums of the decade not selling as well as previous efforts. Also, the band had undergone a lineup change, with Eric Carr and Vinnie Vincent replacing Peter Criss and Ace Frehley, respectively. To shake things up, KISS dramatically revamped their stripped-down look on September 18, 1983, on MTV.

While the debut of their new appearance helped revitalize album sales with the release of that year's "Lick It Up," the audience was less than enthusiastic by KISS' drastic fashion update. In an interview with Porkchops & Applesauce (via Yahoo), Gene Simmons put it more bluntly, saying, "Everybody hated it. People didn't want the paint to come off, but you know what? Tough. It had to happen. You want your heroes to stay the same forever, but then the consequence of that is you get bored with them. We had to take it off. It had run its course."

Metallica modernizes

Few bands epitomized the 1980s heavy metal look better than Metallica: denim, leather, long hair, and t-shirts emblazoned with such new wave of British heavy metal bands as Motorhead, Venom, and Diamond Head. Metallica – as well as their thrash contemporaries Anthrax, Megadeth, and Slayer – represented the opposite end of the era's heavy metal fashion, diametrically opposing the big hair and flashy clothing typical of the Sunset Strip scene. Metallica sported the look well into the 1990s, even after the grunge explosion practically made that particular fashion a crime, what with the shorter hairstyles and flannel. For a while, it seemed that Metallica was determined to hold onto their aggressive street style for as long as possible.

However, in 1996, heavy metal fans the world over collectively wept when Metallica debuted their newest look in the music video for "Until It Sleeps," which saw the band with short hair and outfits that appeared to have been purchased from a Hot Topic clearance sale. Gone was their rugged regalia, now replaced by something that would not have been out of place at a Stone Temple Pilots concert. Metallica drummer Lars Ulrich told the Chicago Tribune (via Ultimate Classic Rock), "I was surprised at how much reaction it got ... But I suppose I should have seen it coming. Metallica to a lot of people is metal, and there is a code, a lifestyle, an us-verses-them attitude that you have to observe to keep in everyone's good graces."

David Bowie's Ziggy Stardust looks

In the late-1960s and early-1970s, David Bowie's appearance largely fit in with the rock star look of the era: long hair and flowing, colorful clothing. However, never one to stick with a particular style for too long, Bowie and his band went in a completely different direction in 1972, both in terms of music and fashion. It was at this time that the singer unleashed his alter-ego, Ziggy Stardust, on an unsuspecting world. Typified by a shiny, futuristic ensemble and equally far-out makeup, Ziggy took the glam rock stylings of the time and launched them into strange new dimensions. The makeover may have lasted only for a year or so out of a decades-long career, but it remains one of his signature phases.

Of course, this look was no accident, as Bowie revealed to NPR, his decision to embrace the more sci-fi sexual fashion was a reaction to the hippie trends common among most rock bands at the time, saying, "[he and his bandmates] brought a lot of our aesthetic sensibilities to it in terms of that we wanted to manufacture a new kind of vocabulary, a new kind of currency." Bowie further revealed that his inspirations included Japanese Kabuki theater, German expressionist movies, and poetry by Baudelaire.

Bjork's swan dress

The 73rd Academy Awards saw Bjork's tune "I've Seen It All" from the film "Dancing In The Dark" nominated for best original song. Because the Icelandic singer had never been a stranger to controversy throughout her career up to that point, there was no reason to expect her to arrive at the prestigious event in a classy, modest evening gown. However, she may have exceeded expectations when she arrived in her infamous swan dress, complete with countless feathers and a beak dangling over her shoulder, wearing the swan's neck like a scarf. But that wasn't all — the getup also included "eggs" that she "laid" as she paraded around the festivities.

The dress inspired no shortage of criticism, raising eyebrows from an audience and commentariat more accustomed to the traditionally elegant apparel of ceremonies past; its ostentatious look drew the ire of such fashion critics as Joan Rivers and Steven Cojocaru, and was even parodied by Ellen DeGeneres at the 2001 Emmys. Of course, tradition was Bjork's target for the evening; the dress' designer Marjan Pejoski told Vogue that, "It was fantastic of her. So rebellious, at a traditional occasion like the Oscars. I respect tradition of course, but everybody and everything deserves to be laughed at from time to time." While Bjork had to endure plenty of ire for her fashion statement, she got the last laugh, as her swan dress will be featured in the upcoming exhibition, "REBEL: 30 Years of London Fashion."

Lady Gaga's meat dress

Lady Gaga has generated almost as much attention for her daring apparel as for her music. While the singer has sported numerous outrageous looks that easily qualify for this list (such as her space-metal 2020 VMAs outfit or 2017 Super Bowl Halftime Show glam rock getup), none of them hold a candle to the meat dress she premiered at the 2010 MTV Video Music Awards. That's right, the singer donned a dress made not out of fake meat, but real meat. Flank steak, to be exact. The fleshy ensemble also included a hat, purse, and boots made of meat, which audiences got to see when she went up onstage to accept the Video of the Year for "Bad Romance."

The reason for Gaga's outfit was to protest the U.S. military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy regarding gay soldiers. However, the butchery of her dress overshadowed the political statement she was trying to make, instead sparking outcry from animal rights groups like PETA, who criticized the singer's decision to don dead animal flesh for shock effect. In a conversation with Ellen DeGeneres (a vegan herself), the singer said, "It's certainly no disrespect to anyone that's vegan or vegetarian ... It has many interpretations, but for me this evening it's, 'If we don't stand up for what we believe in, if we don't fight for our rights, pretty soon we're going to have as much rights as the meat on our bones.'"

Joy Villa's Make America Great Again dress

Singer Joy Villa used her appearance at a major awards show to make a conservative political statement, and Villa's dress made no effort to hide its meaning, as it was embellished with then-president Donald Trump's slogan "Make America Great Again." Were it not for the overtly political message, Villa's dress would have been a pretty standard outfit to wear at the 2017 Grammy Awards.

Considering how divisive Trump's presidency was (and still is), Villa's dress caused quite a stir. However, to the gown's designer, Andre Soriano, the slogan "Make America Great Again" had a much more innocent connotation. Soriano, a Filipino immigrant and naturalized U.S. citizen, told The Hollywood Reporter, "There are a lot of people that are in power that really misconstrued what this country stands for. I love this country. I'm from the Philippine islands, I am a proud American. I really love this country. I am a minority, Joy is black. America is about immigrants." The designer had worked with Villa before, having created the almost-as-infamous orange fence dress she wore at the 2015 Grammy Awards.

Janet Jackson's half-time malfunction

Janet Jackson was the perfect half-time performer at the 2004 Super Bowl, and the icing on the cake was a surprise appearance from Justin Timberlake. The two performed a cheekily sexy duet of Timberlake's song, "Rock Your Body," that ended in one of the most shocking fashion moments in pop culture history, in which Timberlake ripped off part of her outfit to reveal her pierced nipple to countless viewers. The incident — now known as "Nipplegate" — sparked nonstop debate about whether or not it was an accident or a publicity stunt. Either way, considering the Super Bowl has always been a family-friendly event, the halftime show was a lightning rod of controversy at the time.

Timberlake claimed in a 2018 Apple Music interview that the incident was unintentional and that he and Jackson had made their peace with the fallout that affected them afterward."I don't know that a lot of people know that," the singer added. "I mean, I don't think it's my job to do that, because you value the relationships that you do have with people." Still, the announcement that Timberlake was to be that year's performer at the Super Bowl led to many fans wondering why he was invited back to sing at the event when Jackson, the real victim of the 2004 mishap, hadn't received her invitation back.

Cher's 1986 Oscars dress

Even if pop star and actress Cher didn't win an award at the 1986 Oscars for her acclaimed performance in "Mask," she should've at least won an award for her dress. Yup, Cher made quite a splash at the festivities in a striking black ensemble that showed off her midriff, and was topped off with a large mohawk. Cher told Vogue in 2019 that she wore the outfit to get back at the Academy, as she believed that they didn't take her seriously enough as an actress. "I thought they hated the way I dressed, and I had young boyfriends, and they just thought I wasn't serious," she stated. "So I came out and said, 'As you can see, I got my handbook on how to dress like a serious actress.'"

The dress' designer and longtime Cher collaborator Bob Mackie confirmed this story in an interview with the New Yorker: "She was pissed off, because she didn't get nominated for 'Mask.' There were a lot of people who said, 'That's not fashion!' And I said, 'Of course it's not fashion. It's a crazy getup for attention.' And it did get attention— people talk about it still."

Jared Leto's head-turning head

The Met Gala frequently features celebrities sporting looks that make the rest of us normal folk wonder what makes such expensive fashion so appealing. However, one of the more confounding looks to grace the event was the one that Thirty Seconds to Mars singer Jared Leto wore in 2019. His outfit for the evening was eye-catching enough on its own — a long red dress adorned with a string of diamonds — but it was the added accessory of a life-size replica of his own head that really, well, turned heads. That event's theme was "Camp: Notes on Fashion," but Leto's design choice left many questioning how a severed head was camp.

Leto's head is certainly a bizarre fashion accessory, but it wasn't without precedent: The previous year's Milan Fashion Week runway show featured a cadre of Gucci models who strutted their stuff while carrying replicas of their own heads, as part of the promotion of their Fall/Winter 2018-2019 collection.

Ozzy Osbourne shaves his head

Following the tragic death of legendary guitarist Randy Rhoads, Ozzy Osbourne was sent into a pit of despair consisting of increasingly erratic behavior. The early 1980s had already pushed the limits of the Prince of Darkness' sanity, as the rigors of life on the road, and the controversies surrounding biting the head off a live bat and urinating on the Alamo had taken their toll. But after his friend's passing, Osbourne impulsively shaved the hair off his head, leaving the rocker completely bald for a time, a stark contrast to the typical long-hair look typical of 1980s rockers.

Osbourne capitalized on this striking new look with a photo shoot for the 13th anniversary of Circus Magazine, which saw him looking like a psycho-goth Mickey Mouse. Mark Weiss, the photographer behind the shoot, told Full in Bloom that he was setting up at the singer's Beverly Hills home, when "[Osbourne's wife] Sharon came down and said, 'Ozzy shaved his head last night.' I'm thinking, 'I gotta pack up, go home...' She's like, 'No, we're gonna do something, we'll figure it out.'" And so, they painted his head black and attached big black balloons to it, simulating ears, and one of the most bizarre rock 'n' roll fashion moments was born. A brief look at the comments on the singer's Facebook post featuring a photo from the Circus photoshoot demonstrates that fans still aren't sure what to make of it today.