J.Lo, Pharrell Williams, Lady Gaga: 13 Iconic GRAMMY Fashion Statements
The GRAMMY Awards has long been considered the rebel of award show red carpets — a place where artists are encouraged to flex their sartorial creativity without abandon. "The GRAMMYs have become the occasion for artists to push the envelope a little more and really go there with their fashion," says celebrity stylist and designer Ty Hunter.
As so, there is no such thing as an occasion-appropriate dress code for Music's Biggest Night. The only rule for the step-and-repeat is there are no rules. After all, it was at the GRAMMYs where Jennifer Lopez broke the internet (before breaking the internet was a thing) in her now-infamous, plunging Versace gown. It's where Nicki Minaj toted a Pope-impersonator instead of a handbag and Lady Gaga — well, see any of her GRAMMY appearances for an example of a memorable, jaw-dropping ensemble.
With fall and fashion in full bloom, it's an appropriate time to look back on 13 of the most ingenious, stunning and bare-it-all moments at the GRAMMYs in years past.
26th GRAMMY Awards, 1984
Less is definitely not more according to '80s pop icon Cyndi Lauper. The free-spirited songstress made her GRAMMY debut in a colorful and clashing getup, complete with her trademark Aqua Net, firetruck red hair and metallic makeup. The look showcased the madcap, vintage-meets-glam style that made her a MTV-era legend along with her larger-than-life persona and numerous karaoke-worthy hits like "Time After Time" and "Girls Just Want To Have Fun."
Michael Jackson and Janet Jackson
35th GRAMMY Awards, 1993
With his penchant for lone white gloves and all-embellished everything, Michael Jackson changed the perception of how a male pop star could look. "Michael was a pioneer in the music industry because he was one of the first artists to use clothing to define their image," says New York-based celebrity stylist Sam Spector. "He understood the power of costume on and off the stage."
Alongside his younger sister Janet, who presented him with the GRAMMY Legend Award at the 35th GRAMMY Awards ceremony, the "Thriller" pop icon showed off his legendary, military-inspired aesthetic in one of his power-shouldered bedazzled jackets, complete with his trademark long curls and oft-present armband. For her part, Ms. Jackson wore a coordinating white pantsuit and her famous Poetic Justice-era box braids. "Current-day artists and fashion fans alike have the Jacksons to thank for showing how to successfully curate their image through style," says Spector.
42nd GRAMMY Awards, 2000
Since the moment she sashayed onto the scene in the early aughts, armed with one of the most enviable bodies of her generation, Jennifer Lopez reigned as a red carpet queen. But before the glittery, flesh-toned bodysuits and provocative double-slit numbers that have become mainstays of the original triple threat's fearless style, there was that envelope-pushing green dress she wore in 2000. You know the one — the sheer, tropical-print gown by Versace with a neckline so plunging it was open to her waist. At the time, that navel-flaunting moment — which propelled Lopez to megastardom — became the single most popular search query, ever, eventually launching what we now know as Google Images.
Beyond the unforgettable dress, J.Lo debuted a beauty trifecta she still relies on today: the high half-ponytail, bronzed skin and soft pink lipstick combo. "That classic hyper-even golden J.Lo glow played second fiddle to the body," says beauty expert Gwen Flamberg. "The subtlety of the makeup let the dress work its magic."
43rd GRAMMY Awards, 2001
There are high hemlines and then there's the barely-there Richard Tyler dress Toni Braxton wore in 2001. The extreme side-cut outs of the drapey silk number — dubbed the "half-gown" by critics — gave the illusion that the R&B singer was going commando to accept her trophy for Best Female R&B Vocal Performance for "He Wasn't Man Enough." (Hint: She wasn't; the dress had a built-in thong.) But whether you're a fan of the risqué look or not, it definitely took an enviable level of bada**ery by Braxton to create one of the most controversial fashion moments in GRAMMY history.
"It's not the garment, but the confidence a client has in the garment, that sells a look," says Hunter, who counts another saucy body-confident performer as a longtime client — Beyoncé. But according to Flamberg, it was Braxton's unfussy, skin-focused beauty "that kept the little-left-to-the-imagination gown from looking like 'too much.'"
44th GRAMMY Awards, 2002
Back when the rap game was a hyper-masculine genre, Lil' Kim — the boundary-pushing, pint-sized female rapper from Brooklyn — became a bona fide superstar of '90s style thanks to her proclivity for breast-baring, blinged-out, fiery fashion statements. Her unabashed sex appeal and tough-but-girlie aesthetic had a lasting impression on the subculture of hip-hop fashion, giving female artists a new visibility to the highly-covetable, high-end fashion houses. An early adopter of the athleisure trend, Kim made one of her many bold entrances in 2002 in a red-hot biker-inspired ensemble with a helmet emblazoned with an iconic designer logo: Chanel.
48th GRAMMY Awards, 2006
Few figures in music are as divisive as Kanye West. The same can be said about the hip-hop superstar's style — you either love the Yeezy way or you don't, but you seldom forget it. Always one to push boundaries and make fashion showmanship an undeniable part of his personal brand, the eclectic rapper wore a lavender three-piece suit with wide, peaked lapels and a plunging, gender-bending shirt to accept his second consecutive GRAMMY for Best Rap Album for Late Registration.
"2006 was a period where celebrities were dressing more casually," says Spector. "So Kanye really stood out that year by dressing formally, and by his bold choice of color." Or maybe it was the "I told you so!" sign he was seen carrying around between puffs of a cigar at the after-parties.
51st GRAMMY Awards, 2009
Before the very-pregnant rapper M.I.A. took to the stage in 2009 to perform her hit "Swagga Like Us" alongside her rap royalty collaborators Kanye West, T.I., Jay Z and Lil Wayne, she rocked the pre-show in a voluminous multilayer dress by Indian designer Manish Arora. She paired the wildly-patterned frock with a pair of matching blue high-top sneakers before later changing in to a sheer, body-hugging mini dress that really flaunted her nine-month-pregnant belly.
Just days later after grabbing headlines for her daring outfit, M.I.A. gave birth to a baby boy, making her appearance all the more dramatic. "Sunday nite I came home from the GRAMMYs till in the mood to party," the "Paper Planes" singer said on her MySpace page. "I coulda easily gone out but I went home instead. Lucky I did! Coz my early stage labour kicked in around 2am."
52nd GRAMMY Awards, 2010
No current artist champions self-expression quite like Lady Gaga. The eccentric pop star, whose style veers towards the outrageous, is a unique spectacle of celebrity — one who utilizes the power of her larger-than-life image to bolster her music and social messages. Her list of captivating fashion moments — at the GRAMMYs alone — are many, but it was the galactic lavender dress she wore in 2010 that put her in a style universe all her own.
The corseted long-sleeve gown, one of three custom looks she wore that night by Armani Prive, was a take-over-the-carpet type creation that, in typical Gaga fashion, left everyone guessing. The spectacular look included rows of suspended rings of glittered wire, an Ombre yellow wig and a star-shaped ornament in lieu of a sparkly clutch. The result: Enough space-age glitz to outshine the biggest stars at Staples Center that night.
53rd GRAMMY Awards, 2011
With her signature, quirky glamour on full display, Katy Perry made an angelic entrance in 2011 in a custom iridescent, asymmetrical-train gown by Giorgio Armani. Complete with a Swarovski crystal-encrusted bustier and feathery angel wings, Perry nearly floated down the red carpet. But it was her pared-down (for Perry) ultra-feminine beauty — including face-framing, dark ringlets and pastel makeup that really made the "California Gurls"' look soar. "The pops of candy-colored makeup really gave the look her trademark, whimsical vibe," says Flamberg.
54th GRAMMY Awards, 2012
Wearing what can only be described as a Little Red Riding Hood-like cape, Nicki Minaj strolled into the 54th GRAMMYs with the ultimate attention-nabbing date: the Pope. (Or at least a man dressed like the Pope.) But Minaj's atypical choice of arm candy was the second-most interesting element to her entrance. The first being the intricately-designed scarlet red Versace cloak itself, complete with a beaded silhouette and matching satin gloves, that was intended to replicate a nun’s religious habit. Leave it to the controversial rapper to try to make Catholicism-chic a trend.
56th GRAMMY Awards, 2014
Never one to go for the expected, multi-hyphenate Pharrell Williams created one of the most meme-friendly moments in GRAMMY history when he took to the red carpet in 2014 in a vintage oversized Mountie hat by British designer Vivienne Westwood. "It wouldn't be the GRAMMYs without a couple of wild-cards," says celebrity hairstylist and Axe spokesperson/stylist Amy Komorowski, whose clients include Justin Timberlake and Joe Jonas. "Pharrell's genius styling and bold accessory choice stole the show that night."
The now-infamous Smokey the Bear-inspired topper became such a pop-culture phenomenon that it spawned its own Twitter handle (@pharrellhat) and led to a social media exchange with the fast-food chain Arby's — which uses a similarly-shaped hat as part of its logo — that turned into a philanthropic opportunity that raised $44,100 for Williams' charity, From One Hand to Another.
56th GRAMMY Awards, 2014
Leave it to Beyoncé to wear one of the most talked-about GRAMMY looks ever without even hitting the red carpet or stage in it. After opening the show in 2014 with a performance of her hit "Drunk In Love" with husband Jay Z, Queen Bey changed into a daringly-sheer, body-hugging gown with a stunning, asymmetrical mermaid silhouette to take her front-row seat. The custom hand-sewn gown was the creation of self-taught L.A.-based designer Michael Costello, who designed the dress especially for the occasion after meeting Beyoncé's stylist Hunter at a party.
"As soon as Ty and I spoke about dressing her, I knew it had to be a one-of-a-kind piece," says Costello, whose signature aesthetic is often described as faux-nakedness. "I wanted something that would create the perfect silhouette, make her feel empowered, and highlight her natural beauty." The superstar's berry-stained lips and messy, angular bob added to the drama of the moment. "She had just cut her hair short and it emphasized the look," says Hunter, who also styled the pop icon for her memorable five-minute medley with Prince at the 46th GRAMMY Awards in 2004. "As soon as she put it on, everyone knew it was the one."
57th GRAMMY Awards, 2015
Music's favorite bad gal shocked fans and critics in 2015 when she opted to show off her sweet side in an ultra-poofy bubblegum pink gown, rather than standout in one of her usual edgy looks. Affectionately dubbed "the cupcake dress," the two-tiered gown by designer Giambattista Valli was actually found by Rihanna on the internet after it debuted on the runway at Paris Couture Fashion Week. RiRi topped off the head-turning number with a simple beauty look: feminine, barely-there makeup and a softy pulled back bun with a few strands framing her picture-perfect face.
(Nic Screws is a New York-based stylist, writer and fashion consultant. Prior to opening her own firm, NS Style + Creative, she was most recently the style director of Bloomberg Media.)
All Photos: WireImage.com/Getty Images