What The Gorillaz Really Look Like In Real Life

When Gorillaz first burst onto the music scene with 2001's self-titled album — featuring the mega-hit "Clint Eastwood" — they were definitely something of a novelty. A bit of rap, a bit of lo-fi, a bit of dance, Gorillaz caught on not just because of their music, but because of their entire image. Their videos featured cartoon characters who were supposed to be the band members: the green-skinned founder and bassist Murdoc Alphonce "Faust" Niccals, multi-instrumentalist Noodle, the big, hulking drummer Russel Hobbs, and the empty-eyed singer, 2-D. At this point there's page upon webpage about these characters, their fictional lives, their evolution over time, and so forth. But for those not quite in the loop yet: No, these animated characters aren't the real band members. And also no, the characters aren't supposed to resemble any real people.

Ultimately, Gorillaz is two people: Damon Albarn and Jamie Hewlett, who just made up Gorillaz' four animated characters. Within Gorillaz' actual, human band, Albarn does all of the music and Hewlett — who drew the ultra-cool "Tank Girl" comic series in the 1980s and '90s — does the art. Folks who were around in the mid-ish '90s might recognize the London-born Albarn from his other band, Blur, who you may know as "those guys who did 'Song 2.'" Blur is still around, though, as is Gorillaz. Albarn and Hewlett are well-known public figures, especially Albarn, as he performs on-stage during Gorillaz shows. But if you passed either of them on the street, you might not recognize them because of how ordinary they look.

An on-stage Britpop player

There's something nice, even reassuring, about Damon Albarn being such a circumspect, unglamorous, art-focused guy. But despite staying in the background behind he and Jamie Hewlett's animated Gorillaz characters (except when on stage), Albarn has been a heavy-hitting, moving force in the background of Britpop and global music for decades. Besides being the soul of Gorillaz and Blur (the latter of which are way bigger in the U.K. than the U.S., by the way), Albarn is a collaborator with other projects like the supergroup The Good, the Bad, and the Queen, musicians like the Red Hot Chili Pepper's Flea, the musically cross-cultural non-profit organization Africa Express, the music-sourcing collective Electric Wave Bureau, and more. 

And yet, some still wonder what Albarn looks like — and maybe not for no reason. His voice is very distinctive, and no doubt a big chunk of why his music has caught on. But Albarn himself? Toss glasses on him and a baseball hat — as he often prefers — and there's no real particular reason he'd stand out in a crowd of people.

But that's likely just fine to Albarn, who runs against the current in every way. In a 2022 interview with the Los Angeles Times, Albarn describes his distaste for basically everything that defines modern pop music: relying on "sound and attitude" rather than composition, co-writing songs rather than writing them oneself, wanting nothing to do with reissues and redoes of old material, and wanting only to do "weird things" in the future. 

A behind-the-scenes artistic force

Like Damon Albarn, Gorillaz co-founder Jamie Hewlett has managed to remain relatively unrecognizable while making an impact with his art. Hewitt has been involved in loads of projects over the years, starting with the "Tank Girl" comic book in the late 1980s all the way to a 2015 giant tarot card collection dubbed "The Suggestionists." Like Albarn, Hewett is a genre of one that can't really be compared to anyone else, with artwork recognizable as solely his own. 

And like Albarn, Hewlett wouldn't stand out in a crowd unless you knew who you were looking for — even more so, because he's not a musician and doesn't appear on stage at Gorillaz shows. But that's also part of the purpose of the Gorillaz project to begin with, as Illustration Chronicles describes. The Gorillaz cartoon characters are real in a way "no less so than the caricatures that are Marilyn Manson and Eminem." In other words, Hewlett fabricated Murdoc Niccals, Noodle, Russel Hobbs, and 2-D the same way that other, human musicians fabricate their own public personas.

If not for a very serendipitous meeting of the minds, neither Gorillaz nor these characters would exist. As The Gutter Review explains, Hewlett got involved with Albarn in a very unusual way when both men broke up with their respective partners and they wound up moving in together in the late '90s. A few years later Gorillaz' first album came out. In fact, Hewlett calls the 1997 Blur track "On Your Own" "one of the first ever Gorillaz tunes."