PS Picks: Yaeji's Cutting Commentary on Beauty Routines

PS Picks is a selection of the best things that the magazine's staff and contributors are reading, watching, or otherwise paying attention to in the worlds of art, politics, and culture.
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This PS Pick originally appeared in The Lede, the weekly Pacific Standard email newsletter for premium members. The Lede gives premium members greater access to Pacific Standard stories, staff, and contributors in their inbox every week. While helping to support journalism in the public interest, members also receive early access to feature stories, an ad-free version of PSmag.com, and other benefits.

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Yaeji Pokes Holes in the Facade: In the video for "Last Breath," artist Yaeji repurposes the YouTube make-up tutorial format as a visual foreground for cutting commentary. She lightly pats foundation into her skin while the background vocals harmonize, "All your embarrassing memories / can be applied naturally." She then serenely drags a contour stick along her jawline, parting her lips into a slight smile so she can blend into the shadows of her face more easily—mirroring the beats of the conventional tutorial video. As she smears dark eye-shadow along the rims of her eyes, subtitled lyrics at the bottom of the video read, "This product is called Depression and / it stays on for 24 hours."

Yaeji's "Last Breath" is both an homage to and whimsical mockery of women's beauty routines. Her piercing lyrics, juxtaposed with her groovy, pulsating melodies and shimmery skincare products, remind listeners that the demand for immaculate self-presentation and self-loathing often go hand in hand.

For me, "Last Breath" delivers a refreshing punch of candor to the realm of make-up, which, as of late, is being re-christened as the realm of "beauty and wellness." There has been a recent pivot in the way beauty products are marketed to women: Looking pretty is not about looking pretty as much as it is a means to demonstrate well-being and empowerment. Millennial beauty brand Glossier calls itself a "people-powered beauty ecosystem," one that vows to "democratize beauty" if you invest in its Generation G lipstick. In the Vogue video series "Beauty Secrets," celebrity women cheerfully toss their hair and dance around marble-adorned bathrooms as they share their guides to getting that perfect glowing skin or effortless color correction. The stakes for women to appear pleasant are already high, but the stakes for women to derive empowerment from their appearance are even higher.

The beauty-as-wellness phenomenon seems to leave women with two undesirable options: Either learn to stop worrying and love the performance of femininity or reject the beauty routine altogether—and be robbed of the genuine, unadulterated joy of self-exploration using cosmetics. Yaeji shows us a third option—acknowledging the pressure to mask imperfections and pain while reveling in the theatrics of beauty.

This PS Pick originally appeared in The Lede, the weekly Pacific Standard email newsletter for premium members. The Lede gives premium members greater access to Pacific Standard stories, staff, and contributors in their inbox every week. While helping to support journalism in the public interest, members also receive early access to feature stories, an ad-free version of PSmag.com, and other benefits.

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