how our perception of a celebrity changes after they dye their hair

A deep-dive into Lady Gaga's hair colour.

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Oct 18 2018, 12:48pm

Being boringly immune to feel-good cinema, as well as to the charms of Bradley Cooper, I did not bother to watch the trailer for the 2018 version of A Star Is Born until I saw a few tweets saying how hot Lady Gaga looked as a brunette. I am happy to report: the tweets are true. Where Gaga in her Mother Monster mode has never been especially intriguing to me -- feeling simultaneously too much like hard work, and too little like a real and bona fide eccentric -- the brown-haired and ‘bare-faced’ Gaga in the trailer is an idiosyncratic beauty, angular enough to show a new face in each shot. “[It is a] sharp, quizzical, leonine, mesmeric face,” The Guardian’s Peter Bradshaw wrote in his review. “An uningratiating face.”

Usually an advocate of women making themselves as high-femme and alienating as is possible, it is peculiarly irritating to me to fall prey to such an easy visual switcheroo. Like Bradley Cooper inexplicably and irritatingly bringing a pack of make-up wipes to an audition, it is confirmation of the banal, hipster-male idea that only brunette girls are interesting, and that a woman’s beauty should be natural.

Gaga’s singing voice is no better or worse as Ally than it is in her own music. She is only as intriguing, and as talented, as she has always been, even if she is less blonde here and less flamboyant. Further proof that the shade of a famous person’s hair has psychological significance, however dumb it seems to say so: in A Star Is Born, when Gaga’s Ally makes it big and ends up with the opportunity to be a sell-out, she insists on going luminously red, instead of blonde. Supposedly fiery, highly-sexualised, and with a high pain tolerance, redheads do have a less cute public image than dyed blondes, although as evidenced by the fact that Lindsay Lohan took years to shuck off the nickname “firecrotch”, the shade is not without its baggage.

"Like Bradley Cooper inexplicably and irritatingly bringing a pack of make-up wipes to an audition, it is confirmation of the banal, hipster-male idea that only brunette girls are interesting, and that a woman’s beauty should be natural."

Lana Del Rey, another pseudonymous musician just as unreal and heavily-styled as Gaga, but with far more indie cred, has dyed her hair red, blonde, and brunette since she first started performing. “When I went darker with my hair,” she told a journalist at Maxim in 2014, “I don’t know why, but people took my music more seriously.” When in 2016 she went blonde -- and was accordingly, per People magazine, “almost unrecognisable” -- she did not make any explicit reference to it in any magazine interview that I can find. Little wonder, since no pop star, socialite or actress ever needs to offer up an explanation as to why she might choose to be blonde: the answer, since Jean Harlow begat Marilyn Monroe, and Marilyn Monroe begat not one successor but at least two generations of them, is not necessarily that blondes have more fun, but that blondes, in myth, are fundamentally more loved, or at least more desired.

Daisy Fay Buchanan, The Great Gatsby’s Manic Trophy Dream Girl, says that the best thing for a woman to be is “a fool…a beautiful little fool”. Given that the stereotype is that blondes are as dumb as they are sexy, and as sexy as they are heterosexually, conventionally feminine, the colour’s a no-brainer for an actress or a pop star hoping to seduce. (In Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald describes Daisy Buchanan as having hair that is both “dark [and] shining”, like “blue paint”, and “yellowy”, “the colour of an autumn leaf”. Like Gaga and like Lana, she’s a feminine shape-shifter, though in cinematic adaptations she is always, always blonde.)

As of this year Lana Del Rey has returned to being a brunette, all the better to convince as somebody who hexes Presidents, and tweets things like "I won’t not fuck you the fuck up. Period", and “u know the addy. Pull up anytime. Say it to my face. But if I were you- I wouldn’t”. Like the brown-haired, ‘bare-faced’ Gaga, she is gesturing at realness, and therefore presumably at authenticity.

Blonde and brunette versions of the same girl are a cinematic trope. In Hitchcock’s Vertigo, the brunette Judy is a coarser mirror of the elegant blonde Madeline, and in most Lynch films, there are double-women, light and dark, bewigged. When Paris Hilton stepped out as a brunette last year, she looked less like the sister to her own conventionally-sexy self than like her evil doppelgänger: as if the good Paris were, Twin-Peaks-style, trapped inside the Lodge. The fact that Hilton wears blue contact lenses over her brown eyes, making her look more all-American (or, to be less-than-charitable, but more accurate, more Aryan), makes her adherence to the feminine ideal feel less like something done for the sheer thrill of looking pretty, and more like intense commitment to an acting role that we, the public, are not party to. For years, I have maintained that she may be the best performance artist of her generation; her assertion that her popularity comes from the fact that she is “sexy, but not sexual” is genius. It suggests an understanding of not only her own function in the firmament of female stars, but of the sick science behind that firmament in general.

In the wake of her own brunette period, it occurs to me that Lady Gaga, in her platinum incarnation as a pop star, plays the opposite game with aplomb. Sexual without being traditionally sexy, she is camp in both the queer and the Susan Sontagian senses. (Sontag, just in case you needed a reminder, defines camp as a “love of the unnatural: of artifice and exaggeration… style at the expense of content”). Once she’d filmed her last scene on A Star Is Born, according to the film’s head hair technician, Lori McCoy-Bell, “she cut her hair, bleached it, and came back [to set] three or four hours later and looked like Gaga again.” She arrived at the film festival in Venice by boat, smelling a red rose, and at the official premiere she wore her hair not just bright blonde, but white. She did -- it’s true -- look just like Gaga again: real by virtue of being unreal. Her face was still leonine, uningratiating.