Smart rockers long ago realized the promotional value of hiding their faces, and whether they choose Ray-Bans, masks or simply long hair, nothing says "I'm special" like a little hide-and-go-seek onstage. But face paint is a different animal altogether. The sheer act of an artist painting his or her face evokes Halloween, the circus, the theater, getting ready for a night out and Charlize Theron's turn in ‘Monster,’ all rolled up into one. It’s a high-art form of expression, an act of intrigue, an immediate conversation starter.
As great lovers of the tradition, we’ve put together this handy list of 10 Artists With Awesome Face Paint. Some use the stuff on a regular basis, while others have painted up to achieve maximum effect at single shows -- or to simply scare the hell out of people. Regardless of the reason, we're into it. (Note: Diffuser refuses to include KISS or the Insane Clown Posse on this list. You're welcome.)
We’ve never seen Beck traipse around onstage wearing face paint, but he dons the stuff for his ‘Sea Change' album cover, one of the more iconic rock images of the last 10 years. Beck has never been one to let the fear of looking odd stand in the way of artistic expression -- years ago, we saw him sit down at a table and eat a meal midway through a show -- and one day, he may show up for a gig dressed like he is on this cover. We hope we're there to see it.
In November 2012, Vampire Weekend went on Jimmy Kimmel Live to perform a tune (‘Unbelievers’) from their then-forthcoming album ‘Modern Vampires of the City.' They came out in full-on skeleton face paint -- a la the Misfits’ Doyle -- and simply killed it. The performance was proof that, face paint or no, this band is one of the best out there right now. No hiding from that.
Speaking of the Misfits, the grandfathers of “horror punk” were indie before it was even a thing, founding their own record label and producing lo-fi, hook-heavy punk rock. Back in the day, lead guitarist Doyle and his older brother and bassist Jerry Only made use of dark under-eye shadow, pairing it with their signature ‘devilock’ haircuts, and in the more recent versions of the band, Doyle has donned skeletal face paint. (Cue the video below to the 8:53 mark to check out Doyle in full skeleton paint rocking out with former Misfits lead singer Glenn Danzig at the 2013 Revolver Golden Gods Awards.)
Siouxsie and the Banshees
This legendary U.K. New Wave outfit brought face paint to a new level of awesitude (we invented that word for this blurb). Lead singer Siouxsie Sioux sported a look that had shades of the Broadway show ‘Cats,’ Vampira and Robert Smith of the Cure. (We can only imagine how tough it must’ve been to remove all of that night in and night out.)
We don’t think anyone -- including the AP -- has a fogging clue how to spell this band’s name properly. Nevertheless, leader Merrill Garbus is a veteran user of onstage face paint. Sometimes, she extends her eye shadow to side-eye wings; others, she makes up her face to look like the cover of the Police’s ‘Synchronicity.’ And her look fits her music -- frenetic, multi-layered, artistic. It’s a hipster’s wet dream.
Nothing like naming your band after a prepositional phrase! Of Montreal’s leader Kevin Barnes has been known to wear just about everything (and nothing) onstage, and he often uses makeup and odd face-paint designs to draw attention to, well, himself on stage. The music’s also great, if you were wondering.
Gotye’s not the type to paint himself up for the audience (as far as we know), but in 'Somebody That I Used to Know,' one of the most iconic and ubiquitous music videos (395 million YouTube views) of the last decade, the singer and his duet partner, Kimbra, certainly make the most of a face and body paint. The video starts off with Gotye standing stark naked, and coming into the first chorus, his entire body and face become enveloped in paint. Kimbra shows up for her verse with her back to the camera, covered in paint. It’s like the last house party we went to in Brooklyn.
The Cure's Robert Smith face-painted his way to pop stardom in the ‘80s and ‘90s with a string of great hits like ‘Just Like Heaven’ and ‘Love Song.’ His look, you might say, was "suburban housewife meets the Albino from ‘The Princess Bride.’" In a sense, he’s the Founding Father of Goth, so if your kid someday emerges from his or her room looking like a pasty, pissed-off vampire, you know who to blame. Smith's style has also made an impression on Ben Folds, who gives him a shout-out in the song ‘Battle of Who Could Care Less': "See I’ve got your old ID / and you’re all dressed up like the Cure." Dressed for success, we say.
The Flaming Lips score an 11 out of 10 on the Weird-o-Meter, and the band’s leader, Wayne Coyne, has been known to walk over crowds in a giant plastic ball. He also wears some really cool face paint. And by face paint, we mean fake blood. Apparently, Coyne’s been doing it for years, and he even fashioned a poster out of his own plasma.
David Bowie has seemingly been painting his face since the dawn of time, and just about any rocker out there who smears the stuff on owes a debt to the "Homo Superior." Back in the '70s, Bowie’s face painting was part performance art, part audacious androgyny, and while he's long since gone au natural, we like to believe he’ll one day go back onstage looking like Aladdin Sane or Ziggy Stardust.