Ambiguity in Pop: Artists Who Hide Their Face
The idea of masked artists and hidden identities have been used both as a way out of the spotlight and as a creative concept. Typically popular in the world of heavy metal, with the likes of Slipknot, Lordi and Buckethead never without terrifying masks, the concept of anonymity has been adopted by mainstream music. Of course, some of these artists aren’t completely anonymous - we all know that the real frontman of Gorillaz is Damon Albarn, lead singer of Blur and that Sia’s full name can be found immediately when you google her, but from an artistic perspective, the idea is still fresh: you can be anyone or anything, form an alter ego, or you can just use it to combat shyness and stage fright.
Here are some faceless artists you may recognise - no pun intended...
French electronic duo Daft Punk have been famous for their house music and robot masks since the 90s, making them perhaps the most notorious masked musicians of the mainstream music scene. Their collaborations include Nile Rodgers, Pharrell Williams and The Strokes frontman Julian Casablancas and a net worth of $140 million make them one of the highest-grossing artists of EDM. The reason for the pair’s anonymity was confirmed in an interview with Rolling Stone in 2013, which showed they believed robots were more interesting to people than just another pair of faces - “We’re not performers, we’re not models – it would not be enjoyable for humanity to see our features”
Daft Punk, One More Time official video
Sia rose to fame through collaborations with big rap and EDM names like Flo Rida, David Guetta and Eminem, but broke through with her 2014 solo hit ‘Chandelier’. Sia’s most well-known attribute - besides a powerful voice - is the way she conceals her identity: starting with excessive face paint and costumes pre-stardom and moving onto large, face-concealing wigs with block fringes and hats or bows, the singer moves any attention from her features to her costume and performance. In interviews Sia has mentioned her anonymity, telling the likes of James Cordon and Billboard that fame would be detrimental to her mental health, commonly vocal on her struggles with mental health and addiction, the ‘Cheap Thrills’ singer had struggled with the little fame she’d received before hiding her identity and decided against being an artist (in the conventional sense).
Sia- Cheap Thrills ft Sean Paul from Sia Youtube Channel
Contemporary R&B artist H.E.R is perhaps best known for her feature on the Daniel Caesar track ‘Best Part’. She’s also had collaborations with YG, Chris Brown, Bryson Tiller and Khalid and has had 6 Grammy nominations in the last three years. From pictures, the 23-year old singer-songwriter may not look very ambiguous, but she is never without a large pair of sunglasses, hiding her face in the most simple way possible. Even her stage name and albums leave her identity hidden, as the artist makes it clear she wants to be anonymous as a way of being invulnerable.
H.E.R- Best Part from H.E.R Youtube Channel
Marshmello has risen to fame quickly, first joining the EDM scene in 2015 and already gaining an estimated net worth of $40 million due to internet fame and Fortnite collaborations. The DJ wears the signature white bucket-shaped helmet to every event, not so much to hide his identity, which the EDM community discovered almost immediately, but as a creative concept, adding some mystery to his music, videos and performances and keeping people entertained - similar to Daft Punk.
Marshmello- Alone from Marshmello Youtube Channel
Gorillaz is the brainchild of Blur frontman Damon Albarn and cartoonist Jamie Hewlett, who began this animated band in 1998. Unlike other artists without identities, this concept is purely creative, originally railing against the vacuous content on music-television networks like MTV. The virtual members of Gorillaz do have well-established personalities: 2D, Murdoc, Noodle and Russel Hobbs can be shown through music videos, short videos and interviews. The band's most recent endeavour is a music series of singles and music video “episodes”, collaborating with well-known artists like Slowthai and Octavian.
Gorillaz- PAC MAN ft ScHoolboy Q from Gorillaz Youtube Channel
The ambiguity of these artists has definitely contributed to their success, some more than others depending on the concept. In a way, the hidden identities of these musicians have become their identities: Sia is known for her wigs, H.E.R for her sunglasses and of course Gorillaz for their virtual band members. Whatever the device, for some this idea allows them to draw a line between the public eye and their private lives and provides us with a little bit of mystery.
Words by Daisy Greetham
Graphics by Georgia Walters