Three things have changed since ASAP Rocky last wore a mask on a music festival stage. The first is that he is now dating Rihanna. Partnered with one of the most influential women in fashion, everything the rapper wears is now in the limelight. And, what is more, is highly influential. Secondly, masks have been a more common presence in fashion. Trendsetters such as Kanye West are now wearing facemasks as everyday streetwear. And as dedicated followers of fashion know, streetwear and hip hop continue to dominate the fashion world’s imagination. (Look no further than Travis Scott‘s recent collaboration with DIOR.) Thirdly, the world at large, the sensible ones at least, have been covering half of their faces due to the coronavirus pandemic for more than a year now. The scene is set for the facemask to cast its influence over modern fashion.
Why does ASAP Rocky wear a mask?
ASAP Rocky has been wearing masks on tour for several years. “What I love about facemasks is you get to hide your identity to an extent,” he told Billboard in 2013. “I went my whole ‘Long Live A$AP’ tour wearing facemasks. It was the climax of my performance. A facemask gives you another identity.”
The symbolism of masks
There is a deeper meaning to wearing a mask. They allow freedom. For centuries masks have been used as part of festivals, carnivals, and sacred rituals to liberate people from the burdens of their everyday identities. They offer catharsis. Pulling one on allows suppressed energies to be unleashed. Mask wearing is not as much as assuming another persona, as in a superhero movie, as letting your own run free. More superstitious sense, they allow for the channeling of otherworldly powers. They allow us to control invisible forces and the outside world.
ASAP Rocky, masks and male identity
The current resurgence of mask-wearing has a close association with modern masculinity. Women in pop music have openly expressed the idea that it is not their body that defines them. Look no further than Bella Poarch‘s ‘Build A Bitch’ or statements from Maggie Lindemann that women are more than the appearances people see online. Mask wearing expresses a similar sentiment. Men are not immune from the heavy expectations of online identity. We are more than our looks alone. It has been almost five years since Frank Ocean’s obscured his face with his hand in an extreme act of pathos on the cover of Blonde. More and more, men are beginning to articulate their struggles with identity in an era based on the image.
Do masks have a future in fashion?
Of course, we have seen acts like Daft Punk in the electronic music world and MF Doom in hip hop, wearing head-covering masks many years before. What is different with this current generation of mask-wearing rappers is that the world has changed. Through necessity as much as a choice, we embrace the facemask. It has become an everyday part of life.
This has serious implications for fashion. Yes, leading designers have toyed with the mask as haute couture many times over the past decade. But what we are beginning to see is vanguard trendsetters such as ASAP Rocky and Kanye West wear these items less for theatricality and more for casual dress. Not all good ideas catch on. ASAP Rocky’s choice of the mask does, however, point toward an intriguing possibility for what comes next.