Back in 1989, the prospect of Mötley Crüe bassist Nikki Sixx critiquing our culture’s obsession with physical beauty would have seemed beyond ludicrous. The posse Sixx rode with was far more interested in feeling good, shout-outs to the devil and rhyming the names of strip clubs around the world.
Times change … and they don’t. And that, in an ambiguous nutshell, is the story of “Lies of the Beautiful People,” the latest song and video from Nikki’s band, Sixx:A.M.
Sixx doesn’t mince words when it comes to skewering our society’s emphasis on outward appearance. “Well, if you think real beauty’s on the outside,” he tells us, “Well, that’s a far cry from the truth.” And the song’s chorus sounds like a battle cry for all the misfits who have ever felt less that beautiful or victimized by the privileged class. “Save yourself from all the lies of the beautiful people,” Sixx counsels, “It’s time to run from the lies of the beautiful people.”
“Well, this ain’t no sideshow,” he continues. “Outside the velvet rope/Standing there all alone/Are the grotesque and the ashamed.” And, later, we hear about the wounds these folks carry within them: “We’ve got these ugly scars/On our infected hearts/Maybe it’s time for a change.” (That change involves inoculating ourselves against the superficial values that did the damage in the first place.)
After three decades of living as one of those beautiful people, Sixx obviously understands the power of images. He knows they have the strength to uplift and to destroy, to titillate and to provoke. Which brings us to the song’s video, a provocative exercise that strives to illustrate his point … and one that simultaneously undermines it.
Before the song begins, Sixx tells viewers, “I find beauty in things you don’t necessarily find beautiful.” And what follows is a montage of photographs (intercut with video of the band) that have recently been published in his new book This Is Gonna Hurt: Music, Photography and Life Through the Distorted Lens of Nikki Sixx. Many, if not most, of Sixx’s photos have a late 19th-century freak show feel to them. And in an entry in his online journal, the musician writes, “One thing that keeps tugging at my curiosity is that if I find beauty in all these places that most deem ‘freakish’ and ‘macabre,’ then why do I also, at times, seek out beauty in what society calls beautiful? Am I contradicting myself or am I able to actually look beneath the surface when others sometimes can’t?”
With that question in mind, what does Sixx choose to spend his time looking at and photographing? Gothic images of skulls. Men wearing Nazi uniforms. Scores of regular folks of different nationalities and ethnicities. But quite frequently it’s naked women Sixx chooses as subjects … and they’re not the kind of ladies who would ever have wound up in the “Girls, Girls, Girls” video back in the day. One topless woman, for example (who drapes an arm across her chest), looks like a typical supermodel … except that half of her face is horribly scarred. Another image depicts a morbidly obese woman whose rolls of flesh is her only covering. Not obscured are the bare breasts of a pregnant woman who has what seems to be a man’s head. One topless woman bares deep, crisscrossing scars on her back. Another wears a bandage that completely covers her head. Two overweight women in lingerie are missing limbs.
Clearly, Sixx is trying to show us that these women have value. He basically says as much in his online journal: “I do not and will not attack the exterior of anybody, but my intention is to pull back the veil on your internal truth. We need not worry if we are black, white, amputated, burned, maimed, a fashion model, or even have the face of Hollywood’s latest leading man. … We are who we are.”
But if Nikki Sixx is sincerely trying to make a statement about not objectifying people who are different, I’m forced to question the effectiveness of his strategy. Because the naked and deformed figures he focuses on ultimately seem every bit as objectified as the dancers in his old videos … just in a more carnival tent sort of way.
After serving as an associate editor at NavPress’ Discipleship Journal and consulting editor for Current Thoughts and Trends, Adam now oversees the editing and publishing of Plugged In’s reviews.