“The girl anchors the stage, sucks in the male gaze, and depending who she is, throws her own gaze back into the audience,” writes Kim Gordon in her recent book, Girl in a Band. The legendary Sonic Youth front woman, who celebrates her 62nd birthday today, has done plenty of kohl-rimmed gaze-throwing in her decades commanding an audience. The sooty eye makeup is just one of the ways that Gordon has managed to set herself apart from the men she shared a stage with. “I . . . did everything possible to maintain an identity as an individual within the band,” she explained. Aside from mastering bass and vocals (not to mention a penchant for penning impactful no-wave lyrics), she also employed a grunge, but unquestionably feminine beauty equation—involving a calculated swipe of red lipstick and, in her words, “dumb[ing] down my middle-class look by messing with my hair.”
It’s a hair and makeup tactic that also worked for front woman Debbie Harry, who emphasized her angular bone structure with exaggerated blush and stage-ready eye shadow. No Doubt lead singer Gwen Stefani took the experimental glam approach and ran with it, donning every style from bantu knots to pink, blue, and bleached-blonde hair. But not all female leaders of the band are eager to look so feminine. Patti Smith admittedly borrowed from the boys, famously “machete-ing [her] way out of the folk era” by cutting her jet black hair to resemble Keith Richards’s choppy crop. And psychedelic singer Janis Joplin didn’t mind blending in with the flowing air-dried hair and makeup-free faces of her bandmates, her fearless voice was enough of a standout. In honor of Gordon’s birthday, a look back at the best girl-in-a-band beauty.
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