ANNIE LENNOX IN NOVEMBER 1983. ORIGINAL PHOTOGRAPHY: BRADFORD BRANSON. MAGAZINE PHOTOGRAPHY: IAN CRANE.
There are many musicians who possess a chameleon-like mutability, slipping in and out of carefully constructed identities with each single or album. One of the most iconoclastic is Annie Lennox, the striking Grammy- and Academy Award-winning Scottish-born singer-songwriter whose gender-bending beauty and flame-colored cropped hair (not to mention her powerhouse vocals) first made an impression in the early ’80s, when she was the frontwoman of Eurythmics. In 1992, she struck out on her own with her first solo release, Diva. Over the years Lennox has been solely responsible for the famed Lennox “look”—styling herself and creating the concepts for her videos, performances, and record covers from the ground up. A committed humanitarian activist and feminist, Lennox, now 59, is gearing up to release her sixth studio album, Nostalgia, this fall on Blue Note. While she was in L.A. putting the finishing touches on the record, Lennox spoke with Interview‘s resident beauty correspondent Harry Brant about fashion versus style, androgyny, and the power of the pixie cut.
HARRY BRANT: What is your first memory of beauty?
ANNIE LENNOX: I have so many memories, but one of them is the gift of some Lakeland crayons, like rainbow waves of color. I was very taken by them. There was a lot of gray around where I come from—the buildings are made of granite, the pavements are gray. I think beauty is a special thing, but people try to turn it into something that is quantifiable and sellable. There’s this old adage: beauty lies within. It’s true. You become really ugly when you become very superficial and self-obsessed. But I find beauty in a very independent state. It lives quietly. It’s there to be discovered.
BRANT: For me, beauty is an art form. How do you think fashion and beauty have allowed you to create an iconic persona onstage and in your music videos?
LENNOX: I’ve always tried to keep myself very independent, you know. Now, we’re not talking style here, we’re talking fashion. Fashion is temporary; fashion is a race. What it’s doing is giving you something that you say, “This is the outer wrapping of me.” Style is something else. It’s not quantifiable. Fashion is about selling. Fashion is about what’s in. Style is independent of that; style is individual. What’s really interesting is when you get a brand-new wave that has no connection to anything else. It always reflects society. The flappers would cut the dresses and make them looser, they smoked, their hair was short. It was a rebellion against the corset and the Edwardian era.
BRANT: When did you decide to cut your hair short?
LENNOX: I wanted to create something that was quite edgy and belonged to me. It wasn’t about my sexual orientation, because I’m heterosexual. It was saying that appearance is just temporary, and I want to be as strong as a man. In my relationship with Dave Stewart of Eurythmics, we were looking at each other as equals. That is why the suit was worn. That is part of the language that was being expressed. It was like, “Hey, you know what? I’m as good as a man, I’m as strong as a man.”
BRANT: That androgyny is incredibly sexy.
LENNOX: It was how I felt and wanted to portray myself. I played with the image, because I think image is temporary. It’s a projection. It’s illusory.
BRANT: What was the music scene like in London in the ’70s when you were first starting out?
LENNOX: It wasn’t easy. The music scene in the ’70s was like the United Kingdom in the ’70s—we had a lot of unemployment, we had inflation, we had a lot of strikes going on, on a national scale, and a lot of discontent. That was reflected in the music.
BRANT: Were there any musicians you looked up to?
LENNOX: I loved so many people. One was the Motown sound. The other was the pop music of the ’60s, which was sublime.
BRANT: I wonder what the theme of this decade is going to be.
LENNOX: It will be what it’s going to be. It will be interesting in a decade to look back on it. Who will stand out?
BRANT: Where did you get the inspiration for the video for “Walking on Broken Glass?” I’m obsessed with the 18th century, so that video is my bread and butter.
LENNOX: Well, we have to give Sophie Muller a great deal of credit for that, because she was the director of the video. But music is always the reference. I would say that string part at the very beginning, the introduction, the thum, thum, thum, thum, it falls into that classicism. It’s kind of a parody on Les Liaisons dangereuses, you know, the high drama, the jealous, scorned woman who is bored with her boring husband.
BRANT: It’s so fabulous. What about the video for “Why”? It’s you putting on your makeup, and eventually you’re in this amazing, glamorous outfit. What inspired you to capture that whole transformation?
LENNOX: For me, it’s about becoming. My album was called Diva, and it was tongue-in-cheek. There’s a lot of humor in it. I’m not a diva, but as a solo artist, that’s the kind of title that a female artist is given.
BRANT: I see it more as a strong woman who gets what she wants.
LENNOX: It’s about emergence. I always play a character; it’s an aspect of myself but it’s not fully me. It’s a projection. As far as the artist, she’s facing herself in the mirror, and she starts to apply, in a rather languid, almost bored way, this makeup. She puts on the mask. There’s this whole regalia, this theater. It’s beautiful but it’s also dark. This is back in 1990—decades ago. It’s another lifetime for me.
BRANT: What do you think is the difference between performers now and then?
LENNOX: I think they’re living in a very different time. The music industry has always been a beast, which would eat you up and spit you out. The music industry was that way then. When I was that age, there was the scrutiny of being famous and successful, but it had nothing on celebrity culture now—reality TV, game shows, etcetera. It’s a very tough game out there. There are ones who choose to live their lives in the spotlight 24/7. I have never been that person. What I’ve done as a performer is, “This is me as a performer.” I’m not living my life under the spotlight for anybody.
BRANT: What do you do now as far as your beauty and your makeup is concerned?
LENNOX: Baby, I don’t. Listen, what do you do when you’re 60? You let go. You stay healthy, and you know what really counts.