The history of body modifications is deeply intertwined with the music industry. Musicians of all kinds wear their ink as an expression of their artistry. From unknown rockers to internet savvy rappers to superstars like Lady Gaga and Ariana Grande, musicians use tattoos to memorialize loved ones, signal new artistic eras, or to simply decorate their bodies. For pop culture figures, their public persona is as important as their repertoire of skills and their industry experience. On one hand, for actors and models, the versatility of their image is integral to their careers, as they must be able to take on different personas for each job they take. Alternatively, musicians set themselves apart through the uniqueness of their public persona. Musicians sometimes cultivate such a specific image that they inspire cosplay among fans, who recreate looks from throughout their favorite artists’ careers.
Just as fashion and hair are a major component of a musician’s image, so too are tattoos. In fact, tattoos are such an immense part of a musician’s image that tattoo norms differ across genres of music. Female pop artists often usher in new phases in their career with a new tattoo. Alternative and punk artists frequently count themselves as devotees to the traditional style. Finally, hip hop artists, much like their music, track their personal stories on their bodies. Of course, exceptions to these loose rules exist. Some female pop stars decorate themselves with ink that signifies personal milestones and important relationships, like Miley Cyrus’s tiny pet portraits. Punk artists sometimes stray from the traditional style and embrace avant-garde ink, and rappers, particularly artists whose rise is primarily thanks to social media buzz, sometimes decorate their skin with minimalist DIY-style tattoos rather than inking their life story on their bodies. Nonetheless, tattoos have an irrefutable relationship with how musical artists market both their music and their image.
Musicians’ art is always viewed as a diary of sorts. Fans often follow their favorite artists outside of their music alone, and while all musicians’ discographies are treated as public journals, hip hop artists are especially known for chronicling their lives musically. Similarly, they inscribe their experiences on their bodies. Rapper Rick Ross is a recent example. Following the recent death of fellow artist, Nipsey Hussle, Ross paid homage to his friend and collaborator with a portrait. The portrait memorializes Hussle’s image, even detailing the tattoos that adorned his skin.
Tattoos immortalize personal and professional milestones for musicians and regular people alike, but some artists have made tattoos a ritualistic part of their careers. With each new artistic era, Lady Gaga has gotten tattooed. She’s decorated herself with homages to both family members that inspire her art and her beloved fans, who she calls her ‘little monsters’. Beyond her discography, Lady Gaga has even chosen to usher in the newest phase of her career with a tattoo dedicated to her role in the film A Star is Born.
For musical artists, image is not just important, it is entirely integral to their career. Whether they’re attending red carpet events alongside other celebrities or wearing elaborate costumes on stage, a musicians’ wardrobe, grooming, and body art are nearly as important as the music itself. Tattoos supplement the artwork that musicians produce, helping to solidify their persona and acting as an additional canvas upon which they can display their artwork.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the official position of PainfulPleasures.