Unconventional Beauties

Adele is has the country's best-selling album for the second week in a row and Lady Gaga is topping Billboard's singles chart. As Britney Spears and Rihanna trail them, is the pretty girls' reign over the pop music realm finally over?




After Adele's first big U.S. television appearance on Saturday Night Live in 2008, Americans took notice of this young British artist with a massive voice. Her debut album 19 shot up the Billboard charts and in 2009, she earned two Grammy Awards for Best New Artist and Best Female Pop Vocal Performance, as well as two other nominations. Two years later, Adele reemerged with her sophomore album 21, which debuted at No. 1 on the U.S. Billboard 200 just weeks ago. The now-22-year-old redheaded songstress, who isn't the typically svelte pop tart, typically wears black and told The Mirror, "I don't want people to notice how I look." She added, "I'm bigger than most people doing this job, but I want people to just listen to me… I'm not going to lose weight because someone tells me to. I make music to be a musician not to be on the cover of Playboy."

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Lady Gaga

Wherever she goes, Lady Gaga creates a spectacle. Since stepping onto the music scene in 2008, the 24-year-old singer has made the most of her unconventional look—deeming herself Mother Monster, admitting she's a "freak bitch" in "Bad Romance," and affixing prosthetic horns to her face in recent appearances. She told Rolling Stone in 2009 that she'd rather look interesting than pretty. "I don't feel that I look like the other perfect little pop singers," she explained. "I think I look new. I think I'm changing what people think is sexy." That's something Gaga has continued to do throughout her reign as pop music queen—her latest single, the controversial "Born This Way," preaches self-love regardless of sexual orientation, race, and the like with its chorus: "I'm beautiful in my way… Cause God makes no mistakes."

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She's maintained a steady level of success for nearly 15 years, yet Swedish recording artist Robyn is not the average blonde princess crooning songs that rhyme "love" and "above" and "heart" and "apart." She arrived on the scene with "Do You Know (What It Takes)" in 1997 and just had another hit with "Dancing on My Own" off her most recent album trilogy Body Talk. Though her platinum locks have stuck with her throughout her career, it's her confidence in being who she is—not her appearance—that has helped her become a constant in an unstable industry. "I dressed like a boy for half of my life because it was a way to protect myself and feel secure about myself," the 31-year-old artist told one fashion blog. "It was almost like armor, you know?" And people always told me, 'You've got to show your body more!'"

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Beth Ditto (Gossip)

With her fearless attitude and 5-foot-tall, size 28 figure, Beth Ditto is a unique addition to the pop music scene. As the lead singer of indie rock band, Gossip, the Arkansas-born artist has broken boundaries because of her sound, her sexual orientation (Ditto is openly gay), and her outer shell. "I'm the only one there who looks like me," the 30-year-old told The Times of London in 2009. "Everyone else just looks the same, so think about the joy of that." That individuality has helped Ditto become a New Age icon—modeling for Jean-Paul Gaultier in Paris and posing nude on the cover of Love magazine. As far as her personal definition of beauty, Ditto told BlackBook, "Context is everything. Kate Moss is beautiful. Whoopi Goldberg is beautiful. It's just like art—different things are beautiful for different reasons, in different situations, and in different times… That's what makes beauty for me—it all depends on context."

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Florence Welch

It was difficult to escape "Dog Days Are Over" last summer—the second single from Florence and the Machine's debut album. Headed by Londoner Florence Welch, a fiery songstress with a uniquely powerful sound, the band racked up awards throughout 2010 and earned two Grammy nominations this year. With her elongated nose, ivory skin, and signature scarlet, scraggly bangs, 24-year-old Welch is not a typical beauty queen, but she's become a fashion icon. "We play between two looks, the ethereal white witch and the sexy dark vamp," her stylist told T magazine.

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Janelle Monae

The constantly tuxedo-clad singer is a throwback to a different era of music and her puffed pompadour and traditionally male attire offer something completely new on the pop music scene. "It started off as a uniform. My mother was a janitor and my father… works at the post office. That's really what it was to pay homage to, the working man and woman," the 25-year-old Monae told Access Hollywood of her look. "[It works] if you have a date in the future or the past. It's to redefine the woman and how she can dress." Monae's debut studio album The ArchAndroid, produced by Diddy's Bad Boy Records, earned her a Grammy nomination for Best Contemporary R&B Album and her single "Tightrope" has become a hit. Though Monae's baby-doll countenance does exude a certain traditional beauty, her androgynous wardrobe is another story. "I'm trying to open doors for girls who look like myself and have been told they can't sing about this or that," Monae explained to Rolling Stone.

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Elly Jackson (La Roux)

English electropop duo La Roux bombarded the music scene in 2009 with singer Elly Jackson's dramatically windswept Flock of Seagulls hair and the hit single "Bulletproof." The 22-year-old artist admits to being androgynous. "I have very strong views of gender and androgyny. I kind of never really felt or wanted to belong to either gender… and don't really want to," Jackson told the A.V. Club. "I can be attracted to anyone, it doesn't make any difference. I can be in love with anyone. There's a massive majority of people that feel the same way. Some people don't feel gay or straight. I don't feel like I belong to a group and I never will." Outsider Jackson explained to Elle that her tough exterior and flame-colored coiffure is all intentional. "I've always believed in presenting the whole package," the Tilda Swinton lookalike said. "The way you look is such a massive part of who you are as an artist."

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Karen O.

The Yeah Yeah Yeahs' lead vocalist Karen O. is a New Jersey native with a Korean mother and Polish father—a far cry from the guidos and guidettes and the conventional American beauty ideal in general. The indie-rock singer has nonetheless become an icon—not only in her music genre, but also on the runway, thanks to her designer, Christian Joy. "I want to feel cool but I think part of nurturing the cool is by just tearing yourself to pieces," the 32-year-old singer told the BBC of her image. "As soon as you buy into the fact that you are cool you're not cool anymore." O. added, "We always thought of the stage as this platform for getting away with as much as possible that you wouldn't be able to get away with in daily life. We take advantage of that and really kind of push the limits."

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Openly bisexual singer/songwriter Sia first earned accolades with critics when she released her debut album with a Sony sub-label in 2000. But it wasn't until the 2003 release of her EP Don't Bring Me Down that her blond bob and face-painted look made their way onto the general audience's radar. The 34-year-old singer's childlike appearance is certainly no Britney Spears "Baby One More Time" schoolgirl, but she's connected with fans thanks to her honest, sultry sound and uniqueness. "I had to do an article for Rolling Stone about what my style was, and as a joke I wrote 'sexy clown,'" she told AfterEllen.com. "Then I realized that it's true —maybe I am a clown!"

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Nicki Minaj

This 26-year-old rapper's theatrical style has garnered attention—from her head-to-toe leopard at the Grammys to her rump-hugging spandex bodysuits to her neon-striped hair. But the artist from Queens—by way of Trinidad and Tobago—has collaborated with almost every hip-hot artist topping the charts at the moment, but she never expected such success. "When I started doing all that weird stuff, I never thought in a million years that it would mean more people would start listening to my music," Minaj told BlackBook. "It was basically a 'fuck you' to everyone who told me what to do and who to be." That attitude has seemingly worked in Minaj's favor and it's something she says connects her with Lady Gaga. "We both do the awkward, non-pretty thing," she explained. "What we're saying—what I'm saying, anyway—is that it's OK to be weird."