2015 the year of... the comebacks
A week before Alber Elbaz parted ways with Lanvin in November, he gave a speech at the Fashion Group International's Night of the Stars lamenting the expectations put on designers today. "We have become image-makers," he said. "Loudness is the new thing... I prefer whispering." Following Raf Simons' departure from Dior, largely interpreted by industry critics as a reaction against an overworked fashion system, Elbaz' words were the epilogue to a year in popular culture defined by the ruling generation of designers and entertainers claiming back control of their lives and careers, and refusing to conform to the ridiculous pressures and expectations of their industries and their followers.
But before 2015 was a year of departures, it was a year of comebacks. The same week Marilyn Manson released his most acclaimed record in years, The Pale Emperor, John Galliano made his triumphant return to fashion with his debut show for Maison Margiela Artisanal in London. "He got a raw deal. They just overacted a lot," Manson told i-D in the Pre-Spring issue this year, referring to his friend Galliano and what the designer went through after exiting Dior in 2012. As superstars who had both fallen from grace - Manson with a string of flopped records; Galliano with his scandal - their comebacks were similar in nature, not least because they approached them in the same way.
For both Manson and Galliano, their returns to the spotlight were done on their terms and their terms only. On his record, Manson worked through the loss of his mother to Alzheimer's, stripping down his sound to a rootsy honesty that wasn't trying to force a hit song, but in turn created one with The Mephistopheles of Los Angeles. The critics swooned. At Margiela, Galliano mastered a near-impossible balancing act, fusing his theatrical ways with the trademark deconstruction of his new house, creating a collection that didn't seem try-hard nor underplayed. Another three successful shows followed, casually but firmly carving out Galliano's agenda at Margiela. The shows got smaller, the clothes got louder, and the designer stayed out of the limelight, far away from the stress that nearly ruined his career in the past.
What Galliano and Manson's comebacks had in common would become a trend for their peers in their respective industries throughout 2015: icons still wanting to share their talent with the world, but at their own pace and dictation. In March, Madonna released her album Rebel Heart, also to critical acclaim. Her scantily dressed promotional appearances and sexy videos spawned outrage amongst ageist tabloid media calling for the 57-year-old Queen of Pop to "act her age". For the first time in her career, Madonna addressed the attacks. "I am acting my age," she said in an interview. "This is me. This is how I want to be. I can do what I want. There's no rules. People should just leave me alone. I shouldn't be limited by my age or a number."
For Madonna, staging a comeback on her own terms meant having the right to do it in the same way as her 20-something contemporaries, and acting and dressing the way she damn well pleased. Madonna's comeback, of course, wasn't really a comeback—her last album came out in 2012. For her old rival Janet Jackson, it was a different scenario altogether. 2015 marked the first new material from Jackson in eight years, and her first sign of life since a compilation album that followed Michael Jackson's death in 2009. She dropped her old-school-Janet single No Sleeep in June, and her return to the spotlight couldn't have been more different from Madonna's: bar a brief acceptance speech for an honor at the BET Awards that same month, Jackson's comeback came with zero interviews, appearances or photo shoots.
A very low-key (but very great) video for the lead single was released in late July, before Jackson kicked off her world tour in August. All covered up on stage in harem trousers and a high neck top, she sang all her hits—and left us guessing. Did she convert to Islam when she married Wissam Al Mana in 2012? And why the silence? On her website, she released statements for the "music lovers" of the world, promising intimate and personal experiences for her fans on her tour. For Jackson, it seemed, coming back was never about claiming her throne or showing the kids how it's done. It was about connecting with her fans and getting as little attention from the outside world as possible. Those were her terms. But of course, she didn't totally escape the spotlight. In October her deeply personal album Unbreakable was released to rave reviews.
Perhaps Jackson's attitude was a result of the way she'd been treated in the past, vilified by her country for a silly nipple stunt in 2004 that forever changed her career. Justin Bieber never experienced anything like it, but since his debut in 2008 it's been a stormy ride. After spending 2015 making amends for bad behavior, he made the comeback of the decade with his third album, Purpose, which even had the cynics converting to Belieber-dom. But while Bieber apologized with song titles like Sorry, his comeback was in no way an admission of defeat but very much on his own terms, as the album's third single Love Yourself illustrated so brilliantly. "For all the times that you made me feel small, I fell in love now I fear nothin' at all," he sang. "I never felt so low when I was vulnerable. Was I a fool to let you break down my walls?"
While Bieber released videos for every song on his album in the course of a day, Janet Jackson never followed up No Sleeep. Madonna filmed her usual three videos before going on tour, while Marilyn Manson did three. And then, out of the blue on a late November day, David Bowie casually dropped a ten-minute short film for his surprise single Blackstar, giving an entire new meaning to the idea of the comeback and how to do it on your own terms. Following a year of superstars - young and middle-aged - taking charge of their careers and the pressures society puts on people in the spotlight, Bowie's tenacity was thrilling and promising, and a reminder of how 2015 taught us that great talent and creativity are best left to their own pace.
Text Anders Christian Madsen