How make-up has transformed and how pop culture influenced it

By Sacha van Niekerk Time of article published Aug 14, 2021

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Pop culture and a pandemic have played a significant role in how bold eyes, glossy lips and natural products are replacing the copy-and-paste make-up trend that dominated the scene in the recent past.

The 2015 era of beauty gave rise to normalising a full face of glam consisting of luscious matte lips, cheeks glazed with highlighter and eyebrows that were perfectly on fleek. The last five years or so consisted of seeing the same looks duplicated from face to face over and over again. From the contoured noses right down to the overlined lips, it was almost as though everyone was following the exact same beauty routine.

Euphoria themes makeup has garnered a lot of attention online with the hashtag reaching over 300 000 uses. Picture: Instagram.
Zendaya trying out the ’Euphoria’ beauty look. The actress won a Best Actress Emmy for the drama. PICTURE: Instagram

Since then make-up has boomed into a billion dollar industry that’s less about structure and routine and more about being expressive with vibrant, experimental and totally funky looks dominating runway shows, magazines, film and television. In the last few years, it has completely transformed alongside pop culture and social media, giving rise to the rebirth of make-up as a creative outlet.

The hit television series Euphoria which aired in 2019 has put some of the most inspiring make-up looks out into the world. The gritty subject matter paired with the awe-inspiring cinematography and a cast of talented young adults, has highlighted the aesthetic make-up looks each character wears, helping to portray a story of its own.

Dazzling, rhinestone-studded and brushed with unusual colour combinations, the make-up artist behind these looks, Doniella Davy, commented on the obvious dissimilarity between the vibrant make-up and the sorrow plaguing the characters’ lives.

"All the rhinestones and glitter on Euphoria literally rip my heart in half. I think they symbolise something so innocent and fantastical and hopeful, and seeing what these girls are going through while wearing them both as younger versions of themselves, like Maddie and Cassie, and then seeing them as teenagers wearing them, it makes me think about how magical, painful, disappointing, and joyful growing up can be," said Davy in an interview with Nylon Magazine.

From carving out a flattering face shape with contour make-up to exaggerated brow arches to allow for more dramatic eyeshadow, the techniques used by the art form have become intertwined with mainstream beauty.

However, once the Emmy award-winning series RuPaul’s Drag Race aired, the impact it had on the make-up industry was undeniable. With social media followings that rival even some of Hollywood’s greatest stars, it’s no surprise that big-name brands like NYX, Anastasia Beverly Hills and Huda Beauty queued up for collaborations with contestants of the reality competition. Drag Queens like Willam Belli, Kim Chi, Trixie Mattel, and Miss Fame also started successful beauty brands of their own.

With sparkling glitter in every shade, rainbow eye palettes and heavy-duty lashes not for the faint of heart, Miss Fame put it best when she said, “Drag has forever transformed the relationship to make-up as we know it. People from all walks of life are finding a self-celebration through dramatic make-up looks and potentially liberating their human experience beyond all restrictions that they’d ever known. Drag is a celebration of identity and beyond.”

Emma Chamberlain is an American Youtuber who has become the voice of Gen Z, her influence has led to the rise of a multitude of fashion and beauty trends. Picture: Instagram

On a more societal level, what is deemed trend-worthy is no longer decided by celebrities and the puppeteers behind big-name beauty brands, instead, the public is having a greater say.

Social media platforms are serving as an absolute powerhouse for the dissemination of emerging trends meaning that consumers and influencers have a voice to create trends and dictate what is cool and relevant.

Unlike the traditional forms of mass media where models and celebrities rule the roost, on social media, the behind-the-scenes creatives have the spotlight. Former stylists, students, self-taught make-up artists, budding bloggers and everyone in between have cultivated sub-cultures within these spaces where sharing ideas online for anybody to consume is encouraged.

Sites like YouTube, TikTok and Pinterest offer people access to long kept industry secrets. Beauty tutorials demonstrating step-by-step instructions for fresh, experimental looks, red carpet recreations and tips and tricks for perfecting anything from eye-liner to concealer application are also now at our fingertips.

While the pandemic rages on and social distancing and mask wearing continue to be a part of our new normal, make-up wearing has taken a back seat. The painted on an Instagram make-up look that everyone and the Kardashians donned since 2013 is no longer what’s turning heads on the streets. “Skinimalism” is the new beauty trend that’s pushing the focus from harsh products, airbrushed complexions and caked-on make-up to embracing skin that is glowing, natural and perfectly imperfect. Rosy cheeks, glossy lips, dewy skin and natural brows offer the wearer a youthfulness that everyone seems to be after.

However, everything that goes on above the mask has free rein. Colourful eyeshadow, mascara and eye-liner in a multitude of shades, facial stickers and jewel encrusted false lashes have become the new way to express ourselves. Runway models donned bold, yet whimsical looks on the Spring/Summer catwalks at Fashion Weeks across the globe. With the last year and a bit being one of great sorrow, being able to embrace bright colours gives people a boost, provides a sense of liveliness, ideal for when you’re in the search of a fresh start.

This article was first published in Sunday Insider.

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