Boys Boys Boys!

Though a fashion nerd, I’ve never written about men’s fashion, but some topics have always fascinated me: the suit, for example, the accessories or the jewellery. My father worked as a tailor in his teenage years, and he has always had a thing for hand-made suits and tailored jackets. My passion for Gossip Girl has recently brought new life to this interest: Chuck Bass, in particular, is the epitome of the young man who dresses according to the rules of the tradition, but with a twist.

Ordinary people and celebrities alike dress according to their personal style, but celebrities are forced to follow stricter rules, because their image is what represents them best. An image recurring in the last thirty years of men’s star style, for example, is the bare-chested singer on stage. Just close your eyes and think of all the bare-chested frontmen that come to your mind; I’ve tried to and the list is endless. As a result of my thoughts, here is a random list of celebrities who have sported this look on stage, in videos and eventually in fashion photoshoots.
The first singer who has come to my mind is, of course, Iggy Pop. I think he’s the singer who has always performed shirtless since the beginning of his career, and still does (his toned body still looks good in tight pants!). Since the 70s, he has usually performed wearing jeans (sometimes unzipped) or skin-tight leather pants and nothing else; for this reason, he’s become the symbol of the wild rocker, who breaks free from social conventions (according to some theories, clothes are such) and performs with very few clothes on.

Iggy Pop and the Stooges were influential in the development of the heavy metal and punk rock genres. The Stooges became infamous for their live performances, during which Pop could consume narcotics, self-mutilate, verbally abuse the audience, expose himself and leap off the stage (thus being the first to stage dive).

In those years, Pop wasn’t the only one who performed bare-chested: Sid Vicious, the bassist of the Sex Pistols, more famous for his premature death and alleged murder of his girlfriend Nancy Spungen, than for his musical ability, was often seen on stage without shirt. He exposed his self-mutilated chest, being the scars the external signs of his fears and obsessions.

If we still think of the 70s, another frontman who used to perform with his chest bare was Robert Plant, the fascinating Led Zeppelin singer. He truly embodied the bohemian style of those years: he wore flared trousers and belts with jeweled buckles,vests, tight shirts or even silk flowery dusters [1]. His blonde curly hair, his slim and toned body were the ideal background for a relaxed style.

The music scene of the 60s/70s was very complex: lots of different music genres emerged, and lots of different frontmen showed their personal styles. Jim Morrison, the charismatic singer and lyricist of the Doors, was often accused (and arrested) for obscenity and indecent exposure on stage.  The iconic image of a young and bare-chested Morrison, taken by the photographer Joel Brodsky, will always represent the eternal mixture of the Apollinean and the Dionysiac forces, the clash between reason and imagination.

The late 70s and the 80s marked a change in the music industry:  the style and the image of the leading singers were more and more important, the human body became a sort of temple to be exercised and pampered (think of the cult of the body in such movies as Flashdance by Adrian Lyne, Staying Alive by Sylvester Stallone and Perfect by James Bridges). Freddie Mercury, the flamboyant frontman of the Queen, is somehow related to this trend, because he soon became a sex symbol: he liked showing his body on stage, so he always wore tight pants or spandex, often with a crown and an ermine-trimmed cape.

Prince Roger Nelson, the famous funk and soul musician from Minneapolis, became a sex symbol too:  he expressed his wild side performing bare-chested on stage and in music videos (Kiss and When Doves Cry). He even posed naked for the cover of the album Lovesexy, proving to be extremely body-conscious. His style was made of leather pants, buckled and chain belts, ruffled shirts and lace gloves, a mix of feminine (he wore high-heeled shoes) and masculine. In the middle picture he was performing with Wendy Melvoin, who also appeared in the video of Kiss.

A singer like Morrissey apparently has nothing in common with Prince, but the English frontman of the Smiths appeared on the cover of an album, Your Arsenal, with his shirt open on the bare chest and has always had the habit of tossing his shirt to the audience at the end of his live performances, thus staying bare-chested on stage.

The late 80s and the 90s brought to the (re)surfacing of other music genres, such as the unique cross-over of the Red Hot Chili Peppers, the grunge, the harcore punk, the rap and hip-hop. Some of the protagonists of those years liked not to wear shirts on stage. Being shirtless was always considered an act of freedom (as it was in the past), but now it also served to show tattoos. More and more singers covered their arms and chests with writings, portraits, symbols, and they thought it was unfair to cover them up with a shirt. Axl Rose, the controversial frontman of the Guns ‘n Roses, for example, always performed shirtless and he also posed for a famous Rolling Stone cover with no shirt on, showing his old-school tattoos on his arms.

His style on and out of stage was quite peculiar: he wore bermudas, plaid shirts (unbuttoned, of course), spandex and suspenders, lots of jewellery (rosaries and necklaces, in particular) and headbands [2] on his long blonde hair.

Anthony Kiedis, the Red Hot Chili Peppers frontman, is for sure a fan of bare-chested performances. I honestly cannot think of a live performance or a video where he’s actually wearing a shirt. I think this exposure is in part due to his desire to feel free on stage, but also to the desire to show his muscles and his tattoos. He’s got a Haida Thunderbird (a stylization of an eagle) on his back, each upper arm has a portrait of a Native American [3] chief (Chief Joseph and Sitting Bull), each bicep has a tribal-style armband and each forearm has a tribal-style dagger. On stage he wears tight pants, gloves and nothing more. All the members of the band are heavily inked (see the leaflet of Blood Sugar Sex Magik album): John Frusciante, unlike his band mates, has tattoos on his arms only.

The most notable is the beautiful octopus on his right upper arm (a souvenir from the Positive Mental Octopus tour the band did to promote their Mother’s Milk album; Chad Smith has an octopus on his thigh). He also has a Native American eagle on his left upper arm, an asterisk (the symbol of Red Hot Chili Peppers) on his wrist, a face inspired by the cover image on jazz musician Ornette Coleman’s album Dancing In Your Head and small tribal pattern on his left arm. Some of these tattoos have been damaged by his drug abuse; for this same reason, he doesn’t play bare-chested on stage very often (but he did before leaving the band in 1992).

Another singer who likes performing shirtless on stage is Dave Gahan of Depeche Mode. I’ve been a huge Depeche Mode fan since my childhood, I remember he had no tattoos at the beginning of his career and that he performed with his shirt on at the time. His personal issues (drug addiction and attempted suicide) have eventually brought him to get his body tattooed, and this has obviously led to the desire to show his tattoos. Like Kiedis, Gahan has a huge tattoo on his back (a symbol to ward off evil spirits), a dagger and a celtic cross on his arm, an Ohm symbol and a phoenix (meaning rebirth) on his chest, among the others.

The punk rock veteran, stand-up comedian, author, actor, activist and published Henry Rollins loves performing bare-foot and bare-chested, wearing only simple pants or bermudas. He probably loves showing his muscles and tattoos, but I also think he does it as a form of protest against social conventions. In an interview, he explained the reason of his heavily inked body: tattooing was a way not to look like his father.  The most notable  is the tattoo on his back, a huge tribal sun and the writing Search and Destroy [4] on top of it, but his arms and legs also bear tattoos.

Brandon Boyd, the handsome frontman of the alternative band Incubus, usually performs bare-chested, and was portrayed with no shirt by Bruce Weber for L’Uomo Vogue. He represents the modern evolution of the rock singer: he’s good-looking like a model, he’s a multi-talented musician and artist [5], he extends his influence on fashion too (he was a testimonial for GAP). He is also known for his mostly self designed tattoos. On his forearm he carries the Buddhist mantra Om Mani Padme Hum (translated as ‘hail the jewel of the lotus’), and under that is a koi fish in red ink; on the inside of his right arm he has several tattoos, one incorporating the Tibetan mantra and another designed after a crop circle. He’s got an elaborate back tattoo featuring the All Seeing-Eye embedded in a pyramid, a tattoo of an eye on his ankle, his parents’ names on his forearms, an owl on his back, one tear drop on his finger on both hands and a picture inspired on Aubrey Beardsley’s The Peacock Skirt.

Justin Timberlake, the former member of the N-Sync boy band, was able to shed his previous teen sensation persona by posing bare-chested for Steven Klein. The infamous photospread was published on Arena Homme Plus in 2001 and showed a different side of Timberlake’s personality: he was portrayed bare-chested, with braces on his teeth and a bloody face. Always considered a sex symbol, now his career was changing, he needed a change in his image too: Klein showed him like a bad guy, and this eventually made him look even sexier than before.

In the complex rap imagery, the boy from the ghetto who reaches fame and glory shows his social status by flaunting his wealth, according to the saying ‘more is more’. Big customized cars, big mansions, tacky jewellery are some signs of rappers’ ostentation. Rap singers give lots of importance to their bodies: some of them (see 50 Cent) are heavily tattooed, most of them love flaunting their muscled chests by baring them during live performances and in music videos. LL Cool J is a symbol of the old-school rap but he perfectly represents the aesthetic of this music genre: on stage he wears track-suit bottoms and nothing else, but some jewellery cannot be missing. His big gold chain necklace is nothing if compared to the necklaces around 50 Cent’s neck:  in the pic he’s wearing a chain with a big cross pendant and another with a huge round medallion, encrusted with diamonds.  Eminem, on the other hand, doesn’t like wearing big jewellery, but he still plays along the rap imagery by wearing track-bottoms only.

Pharrell Williams is one of the most influential musicians, song-writers and music producers of our times. He has extended his unique touch to the world of fashion by teaming up with Louis Vuitton for jewellery and sunglasses’ lines and with the Japanese designer Nigo (the creator of the clothing line A Bathing Ape) for clothing lines. He’s not a rapper (critics often say he has the inability to rap), but his style resembles the rappers’.  He always wears jeans and sneakers, trucker hats and t-shirts, but he also likes showing his underwear (see the diamond-printed underpants in the pic on the left) and wearing belts with big buckles. He often performs bare-chested, thus showing his slim body and the tattoos on his arms (even if he’s recently decided to remove them) and on his neck (most of them are angel-inspired).  In one of the N.E.R.D.’s best videos, Provider, directed by Diane Martel, Pharrell rides his bike with no shirt on and hangs out with another famous bare-chested musician, Travis Barker.

Barker, drummer for punk rock trio Blink 182, is probably the most heavily inked contemporary musician: he actually looks like Ray Bradbury’s villain, the Illustrated Man, with tattoos all over his body. Most of his tattoos are inspired to Catholic religion, his love for Cadillac cars, music (think of the boom box on his stomach) and luck emblems on his right arm, which he considers his good luck arm. I love the explanation he’s given of his large number of tattoos: he’s said he tattooed his body so he couldn’t fall back on anything, he couldn’t get a normal job and live a normal life, so he had to play music. Barker never wears shirts on stage: he’s a living work of art, it would be a pity to cover his tattoos with a shirt.

I’ve tried to be as precise as possible in this post, but if other rock stars who love performing bare-chested come to your mind, please leave a comment and I’ll add them to the list.

[1] I have a thing for kimonos and dusters, so Robert Plant wearing one on stage reminds me of the magnificent kimonos designed by Tom Ford during his years at Gucci, but also the kimono worn by Hamish Bowles at the Costume Institute Gala in 2007. I think men wearing these are really sexy.

[2] This trend has recently been revived by Nicole Richie and Lindsay Lohan, but also by John Galliano (see Christian Dior fall 2006 collection, with models wearing headbands on the runway).

[3] Kiedis is of Native American descent and this connects him to Jim Morrison, who was particularly attracted to the myths and religions of Native American cultures. This interest appears to be the source of many references to creatures and places such as lizards (his nickname was King Lizard), snakes, deserts and ancient lakes that appear in his songs and poetry.

[4] This sentence is a reference to the military technique used by American soldiers during the Vietnam war.

[5] The band mate Jose Pasillas and Brandon drew all the artwork for the beautiful Drive video. It took them more than 50 hours to do it.

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