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IS 2021 THE YEAR OF THE MASK IN MUSIC?

IS 2021 THE YEAR OF THE MASK IN MUSIC?

by Sam Le Roy
8 min
kanye west donda masks gunner stahl
Gunner Stahl ©

The mask has always been a part of music and fashion, from the early days of Slipknot to mid-2010’s Kanye. In 2021, the mask has become a staple across society due to the ongoing pandemic, and a number of big names have been rocking the face covering in performance. We took a look at some of the mask’s most iconic appearances in the music scene – take a scroll and a trip down memory lane. 

KANYE WEST’S DONDA ANTICS

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kanye west donda masks gunner stahl
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Kanye’s DONDA album release antics have been the hottest topic of the year, with multiple delays, stadium filling listening parties, and livestreams seeing Kanye firmly grasp the culture in his hand once again. For his first listening party, he donned a full red fit – complete with a GAP x Yeezy bubble jacket – with a mask constructed of a sheer fabric almost akin to those used in robberies by novice criminals. His face was barely visible beneath, but one could see the mask constricting his skin and reducing his head to a shape devoid of any texture or personality. The week after, Ye donned a darker mask of the same variety, alongside a Demna Gvasalia designed apparel collection. The headline here, however, was Kim Kardashian, who turned up in a Balenciaga gimp mask.

ICONIC MARGIELA ON THE YEEZUS TOUR

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Kanye’s performance history is frequented by intricate masks from Maison Margiela, from a homemade-looking balaclava worn at PFW 2013 to a selection of iconic masks from the Yeezus tour era. The first example was the aforementioned red ski mask, while looking forward we see a number of masks Ye wore to much confusion: speaking in an interview on why he conceals his face, he said:

“If you’re a creator…and you just want to create more, this is exactly what I’ve been fighting for. So if you hear me talk about Louis Vuitton or the Gucci group or anything like that, I’m not dissin’ Louis Vuitton, I’m not dissin’ the Gucci group and sh*t, I’m just sayin’ don’t discriminate against me. Because I’m a black man or because I’m a celebrity you tell me I can’t create in that field. Because you know damn well ain’t no black guys or celebrities makin’ no Louis Vuitton nothing!

They let Pharrell make those glasses, and we liked ’em, right? They let me make those shoes and we liked ’em, right? And they say, “No, no, no n*gga, not no more. That’s too much…Stay in your place. Sit in front of that show and wear this jacket I made you. Stay in your place! Do what you get paid to do! Stay in your place! Don’t embarrass yourself trying to chase your dreams. Save face. Save face.”

That’s why I got this f**king mask on, because I ain’t worried about saving face. F**k my face! That sounded wrong. [laughs] Pause. But they finally got a headline. But f**k whatever my face is supposed to mean and f**k whatever the name Kanye is supposed to mean, it’s about my dreams! And it’s about anybody’s dreams. It’s about creating. It’s not about the idea about being a f**king celebrity, it’s not about the idea of being a black man trying to do fashion and sh*t.”

KANYE & TRAVIS IN FULL-FACE COVERS BY PIERRE-LOUIS AUVRAY 

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Kanye’s more recent entries into the mask game don’t come by way of Balenciaga or Margiela, but as reconstructed T-shirts or full-face covers by French creative Pierre-Louis Auvray, who became known years ago for a run-in with the Gucci design team that allegedly stole his ideas. Both Kanye and Travis Scott have been spotted in the unique creations, which feature graphics depicting everything from angelic figures to vintage Harley Davidson designs. 

ASAP ROCKY’S TEST DUMMY MASKS

Rocky’s TESTING phase was experimental, while so important for the artist we see today. The album’s visuals were laden with crash test dummies, and as such, it was only fitting we saw Rocky in a cash test dummy-themed mask. We witnessed him in two iterations: one being a fabric ski mask he used in performance, while the other was a Shin Murayama-designed hockey mask arriving in a far more heavy-duty form. The Japanese artist has a massive history of creating masks, with this one being constructed of a heavy-set leather and featuring a Mercedes-Benz badge on the strapping.

 

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A post shared by Shin Murayama (@synmurayama)

TYLER’S PROSTHETIC CHERRY BOMB MASK

Tyler’s Cherry Bomb days were turbulent, with the album self-described as disastrous, but the live performances from the era being nothing short of legendary and a pillar of Tyler’s new musical status. Tyler commissioned a mask from Thingergy, with the aim of performing in a cartoonish head along with matching arms. Check out the video below – the process of creating the mask was extensive and uncomfortable for Tyler to go through since he not only had to wear and be comfortable in the mask, but he also had to rap in it. 

SLIPKNOT – THE FOREFATHERS OF THE MASK

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While not a hip-hop artist, or a group with heavy ties to the fashion industry (aside from being emblazoned across many a fast-fashion consumer’s T-shirt back in 2016) Slipknot’s influence on pop culture as a whole was immeasurable in the 2000’s and stands true even today. The heavy metal band wore masks prominently through their history, with each member’s mask evolving from album to album depending on their mood, personality and mental states. The masks started back in ‘99 when the group were performing on Halloween, and front man Clown donned a clown mask, to huge ridicule from his bandmates. Eventually, he persuaded the others to join him, and the rest was history. The masks became so prevalent that the band’s photographer, Paul Harries, was asked “Do they have real faces underneath?” outside of an arena.

We’re not saying that without Slipknot, the current mask epidemic wouldn’t be a thing (that’d be a stretch considering the events of the past 18 months) but the group definitely walked so Kanye could run. Never before have masks been used this famously in musical performances, so now Kanye is making the mask a constant in his gigs, it’s important to acknowledge this history. The masks, matching up with the unnerving metal music, featured gory, demonic, and often disturbing designs, albeit in a less “fashion” setting to the likes of Kanye and Travis, but are definitely just as iconic.

YE’S DELICATE BALENCIAGA FEATHER MASK

Kanye’s 2012 saw him birth My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy as well as Watch the Throne – has anyone, in the history of music, ever had such a big year? In performance that year, Ye donned a massive, white feather mask by Balenciaga while rapping to some of his greatest hits ever – check the video below if you need proof. 

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