Tinashe, Halsey, Lion Babe and Dej Loaf Front MAC Cosmetics' Future Forward Campaign (Exclusive)

9:00 AM 2/5/2016

by Brooke Mazurek

MAC Future Forward Campaign - H 2016
Courtesy of MAC

MAC Cosmetics and boundary-pushing pop ingenues have always gone together like two peas in a collaborative pod. There was Lady Gaga’s 2011 Viva Glam campaign, Mariah Carey’s champagne-hued lipstick this past December, Nicki Minaj’s hot pink lip glass, Lorde’s Pure Heroine gothic plum lipstick, Rihanna’s topless campaign and Miley Cyrus’ tongue-flashing Viva Glam campaign video, to name a few. But the makeup brand, which launched in 1984 at a Toronto department store and was acquired by Estee Lauder in 1994, is about to shine the spotlight on a different sector of the music industry.

On March 17, MAC will launch Future Forward, the first of an ongoing series of collaborations and campaigns that spotlight newer talent. "It feels like a great thing to be able to support artists who are breaking through but aren’t necessarily at the top top, to push them forward," MAC senior vp and group creative director James Gager says of the initiative. "We’ve always done that sort of thing with fashion designers, and to me, it’s most interesting to introduce these artists, as well as our MAC fans to new people."

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For the debut capsule, Gager worked with artists Tinashe, Dej Loaf, Lion Babe's Jillian Hervey and Halsey — most of whom landed on the Billboard charts for the first time last year. "They were each very distinctive personalities. They run the gamut, but obviously they're hitting different people in terms of who listens to their music," he notes. "Plus you've got someone that has blue hair."

The product rollout will occur first with Tinashe’s "Times Nine Palette" of eyeshadow, followed by Halsey’s matte gunmetal lipstick, Dej Loaf’s rosy-nude lip glass, and Lion Babe’s shimmery gold Liquidlast Liner with prices ranging from $15 to $32. The first-time opportunity to collaborate with a major brand, Dej Loaf notes, was "a big first step" and entryway into a new creative medium.

Gager, who joined MAC in 1999 and has been instrumental in helping the brand raise more than $400 million for AIDS research through the MAC AIDS Fund, speaks with Billboard about the launch.

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In speaking with each of the artists you worked with for Future Forward, it was really refreshing to hear how important this partnership was for them — that it was the first time they had ever been approached to collaborate.

I think it shows a breadth of what MAC is about and what we're bringing out as ideas. It was interesting for me, actually, having worked with each of them because when they came into the office they each had unique personalities: one of them was very shy, another very outspoken.

And why the decision to make Future Forward a collective with four faces rather than say, one or two?

I think it really indicates that there's not always just one person. With groups of people, as I mentioned, we are able to hit different fan bases.

How did you select each of these artists?

We like people who have something unique about their style. We feel that each one of these young ladies has a unique music sensibility, but also that they are representing their look with a distinct point of view. When each of them came in, we didn't say "Oh, you're going to do a lipstick, you're going to do an eyeshadow." We asked them what they felt connected to, product-wise. Each person was very involved, right down to naming the product shades and thinking about packaging. We also worked on videos for each of them that will offer a more in-depth understanding of them as an artist.

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Why does the music industry make sense for MAC?

We love music. MAC is steeped in many different areas from music to fashion to film to interior design to illustration. And we want to keep tapping into different forms of creativity and bringing those forms out to speak. If you think of some of our first-ever Viva Glam spokespeople, there was Mary J. Blige, Lil Kim. We've done stuff with Iggy Azalea, Nicki Minaj; we now have Ariana [Grande].

Does sound ever inspire color for you? 

I can be influenced by smell — a color for me smells a certain way. A smell might represent a color for me and actually, even with our holiday collections out now, it's all about blue tones, which were influenced by the world of jazz and what jazz suggests as a color. For me, jazz never represents hot colors; it represents coolness.

And you have plans to continue Future Forward annually?

Oh absolutely, this is not a stand-alone idea. We are going to keep it going in a way where it might not always be four artists — it could be two or even one — but I think each year it is going to be really interesting to say, "OK, these are the ones to watch."

Does that feel risky for MAC, to be turning to lesser-known artists?

Of course. You don't know what's going to happen to their career. But I think we're also a brand of pop culture and what's going on at the moment, so the risk is lessened when you hit it on the mark at a particular time.

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Halsey is an example of someone who has really blown up over the last year — she sold out Madison Square Garden.

Oh yeah, she’s already going bigtime. When we had Iggy Azalea perform at the opening of our store in Paris in 2012, she was also someone that was big but not huge, so it was interesting to see that transition then. It was also kind of like that when we signed Lady Gaga on as a Viva Glam spokesperson. She wasn't big big big at that moment. She was kind of just beginning to break and then suddenly: wow! We got her exactly at the most fortuitous moment. 

Seems like you guys have an algorithm. 

Well, let's not jinx it. (Laughs.) A lot of it is luck for sure, but a lot of it is kind of paying attention to what's going on.

Are there any artists you’ve been listening to in particular?

I love Justin Bieber's new album. I'm so happy that maybe he's turning a page, that he's learned a bit of a lesson, and I think it's influenced his music in a really great way. I like that he's growing up, approaching things with respect makes you pay attention to him in a different way.

You’re the senior vice president and group creative director for MAC, La Mer and Jo Malone. And MAC in particular, has an immense amount of campaigns and campaign videos that are released each year. How do you have time to make it all work?

I'm a bit of a control freak. (Laughs.) I care about the brand deeply and so I feel responsible for each project that I work on and I want it to be the best that it can be. I love working with my team here, we are really driven to make things the absolute best so that we feel proud. In some way it's work, but it's work that I love and it's work that I feel privileged to be able to do.

  • Tinashe

    "I like to be able to create something out of nothing, to experiment and not just be stuck in one box," alt-R&B artist Tinashe says. To date, the 22-year-old has experimented with dancing (studying ballet, tap and jazz at age 4), acting (appearing in Two and a Half Men), modeling and music ("2 On" from her 2014 debut studio album Aquarius hit No. 5 on the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart). But on March 17, her role in MAC’s Future Forward campaign — a partnership in which the brand spotlights and collaborates with four younger artists who are making waves in the music industry — represents "an opportunity to spread my wings even more," she says.

    In an old warehouse at the Brooklyn Navy Yard, as the sun set and the MAC team prepped for her campaign video shoot, the singer-songwriter, who will embark on a world tour this month, spoke with Billboard about her eyeshadow palette ($32; maccosmetics.com), her plans for the coming year and what it was like touring with Katy Perry.

    Have you collaborated with other brands in the past?

    I have but I’ve never been able to take a real creative kind of position, and that was really what drew me to this. I mean obviously I love makeup too, and I use it all the time for shows, but I was really intrigued by the chance to bring my creative vision to this. I got to design the packaging, pick out the colors and create something that I felt like I would use. It’s shades that range between dark black to an army green, and then some burgundies. I’m definitely more of an eye girl than a lip girl.

    Do you remember the first time that you experimented with makeup?

    I remember being around 8 years old and doing my cousin’s makeup — painting it blue and green. I thought that was so much fun (Laughs.)

    2015 was such a major year for you. What was it like opening for Katy Perry?  

    That was incredible. I mean, I’ve never been to South America, so I got to go to seven different countries in South America with Katy. The crowds were insane!

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    Do you ever get nervous?

    I don’t really get nervous, no. It’s really exciting and the fans are really accepting, and they’re pumped up, so I get excited more than nervous. But yeah I think that was a huge highlight. I think touring with Nicki Minaj was also a really big highlight. I think releasing my "All Hands on Deck" music video was a dope part of this year.

    Is it hard for you to create music when you’re on the road?

    Yeah. I think your energy — especially with such a high-energy stage show, which is what I try to bring to the table — it’s hard to be able to put energy into both because being creative takes a lot of energy as well. I kind of have been doing one or the other. I’m still kind of working on trying to be able to do both, but there’s no time or energy.

    Is there any shade of makeup or type of makeup you’d never put on?

    I don’t think so; I’m pretty open-minded. So I’d pretty much try, especially at this age I feel like I would try anything, I’m not old yet, I can do whatever I want. You can just go for it, that’s the fun part.

    What are your goals for the coming year? Who are people you’d like to work with this next year?

    Well I want to put out my second album, called Joyride, and go on another U.S. tour. My own tour, which is exciting. Other than that? I’m just excited to continue to grow and dominate the world piece by piece.

    You performed at Alexander Wang's show in September. Are there designers you’d like to work with?

    Yeah, I mean, I obviously have started cultivating relationships with some of my favorites, such as Alex Wang and Jeremy Scott. I would love to work with them more in the future. I really want to work with Andre 3000. I think that would be amazing.

  • Halsey

    With her blue hair, rebellious spirit and self-described "angry female" full-length album Badlands, which debuted at No. 2 on the Billboard 200 in September — Halsey (born Ashley Frangipane) quickly became one of 2015’s most polarizing new artists. She went on to support Imagine Dragons on the North American leg of their Smoke and Mirrors Tour, collaborate with Justin Bieber on “The Feeling," and 2016 doesn’t see her slowing down at all. In addition to selling out Madison Square Garden, Halsey debuts her first-ever product collaboration with MAC Cosmetics on March 31 as part of the brand’s new Future Forward initiative.

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    The New Jersey-born, L.A.-based chanteuse is one of four artists selected for the first of what will be an ongoing series with the cosmetic company. "I was excited to create something that was unique to me," she says of working with creative director James Gager on a matte gray lipstick with blue undertones ($17; maccosmetics.com). "Something the fans would see as a representation of me if I were a makeup product."

    Below, Halsey speaks about her work with MAC and her ever-shifting relationship with makeup.

    What about these products specifically channels or speaks to you?

    Specifically, this lipstick is pretty akin to what it means to be Halsey. It's pretty unique, and I'm known for changing my hair and style all the time. Not being trapped in one predictable look. I'm like a chameleon. I never look the same.

    It’s really cool to me because it's a cooler blue tone, which is my creative color. I use blue lights onstage and had blue hair for a long time. Blue stimulates me. I wanted to do something different that I hadn't seen before, and I realized I was wearing a lot of cooler-toned colors and a lot of pinks and browns. I thought, "How great would it be to do something that was a bit more dramatic and more risky?"

    One thing I try to do with my look is not have the look wear me. I try to carry myself like there's nothing too crazy for me to wear as long as I carry myself with the confidence to wear it. I hope people can feel the same way about the lipstick.

    What's your typical offstage makeup regimen like? What's your onstage regimen?

    Offstage I don't really wear a lot of makeup. I like a strong eyebrow and I like a bold lip. I don't wear a lot of eye makeup and I have a lot of freckles, so those are always all over my face. I like to look fresh-faced and energetic. I’m often on tour so I'm really tired. The makeup helps make me look as though I'm getting more sleep than I really am. As far as onstage, I tend to do a bold lip, something a little bit more dramatic and kind of carve out my face. I have very defined facial qualities and I like to play them up to look like a very strong character.

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    What role does makeup play, if any, in your idea of what artistry is?

    It definitely plays a role, it can let me play around with different characters and different people. I can look perhaps a bit more vulnerable and approachable depending on how I style my face. I have really androgynous features so makeup is fun for me because I get to play around with that gender barrier between having a look that's a bit more masculine and a look that's a bit more feminine.

    Do you remember the first time you ever wore makeup? How has your approach to applying makeup changed over the years?

    The first time I ever wore makeup was definitely during a time that I was not allowed to. I have distinct memories of going through my mom’s makeup drawer and digging up MAC lipsticks. Her favorite one was a lipstick called Shitake, like the mushroom. And it was a dark, dark, dark brown and completely inappropriate for a small child to be wearing, but it's what my mom had. Given the trends of the '90s my mom was super grunge and really cool. She always wore flannel shirts and Doc Martens and a really dark lipstick. I remember being in love with how she looked. She was very boyish, rockstar and relaxed. I think that has had a huge impact on how I wear makeup and fashion today. I think my approach to makeup has definitely changed over the years. I’ve started wearing less, and I’m learning how to use makeup as a tool to enhance features that I have instead of trying to change my face into something that it's not. I've also gotten much lazier!

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    Why, as an artist, are collaborations like these important for you?

    Collaborations like this one show that artistry spans a variety of mediums. Music and makeup, fashion and writing and anything from a creative perspective is all interconnected in some way. For someone like me who writes about the human condition and considers herself a writer about people, working with a company like MAC lets me take my creative mentality and give people the opportunity to wear it. I hope that it inspires people to be more confident and take more risks — wear something that's a little less day-to-day and a little more adventurous.

  • Dej Loaf

    2015 was a year of firsts for Dej Loaf. The Detroit rapper (nee Deja Trimble), who first gained notoriety in 2014 when the lyrics to her track, "Try Me," were quoted on one of Drake’s Instagrams, released her first major label album ...And See That’s The Thing (Columbia), toured for the first time (in support of Nicki Minaj, no less) and was tapped by a brand to collaborate on a product — a nude and peachy lip glass for MAC Cosmetics ($15; maccosmetics.com) — that will hit stores on April 14.

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    After 7 a.m. wakeup call for a supporting campaign video that was shot on a windy fall day near New York’s Hudson River, a varsity jacket and converse-clad Dej spoke with Billboard about the launch and how music has changed her approach to makeup.

    You have incredible gold eye makeup on right now, do you normally do a full eye makeup every day? 

    No not every day. Onstage for me is dramatic, you know, got the glitter. It’s crazy because I used to — I was anti-makeup just recently fell in love with it. I don’t want to perform without it anymore now I’m like, "Yo, let’s get some makeup on." I like to travel with a makeup artist now.

    Being someone, as you said, that was "anti-makeup," but now enjoys it — why do you see importance in it for you as an artist?

    It enhances beauty, you know what I’m saying? I wouldn’t say I was “anti,” I just didn’t understand why girls wear makeup all the time. Now I get it, I understand how it enhances beauty — how it makes me feel myself, a little more than I already was.

    So what drew you to the gold eye makeup you’re wearing now that they did for the video shoot?

    The makeup artist had done a dark eye and I was like, "Nah let’s try some yellow." She hooked it up the way I wanted it. I’ve been trying to get yellow for the longest time, my makeup artist doesn’t have yellow glitter yet.

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    Is this your first time collaborating with the brand?

    Definitely, this is my first time.

    That’s exciting.

    Very. I was just thinking about that I was excited to come here and do all this stuff this week.

    It’s exciting because music was just a stepping stone for me, I want to get into other things outside of music, creative things. MAC, makeup, movies — for me, this first step is a big first step.

    And you got to spend time on the road with Nicki touring. What was that like?

    It was an experience every day. It was my first tour — that was another first step, you know what I’m saying? I’m blessed. It was my first time going out on tour, the whole experience with the bus and the people and the bad stuff happening and the good stuff happening it’s like oh this is tour life you know, we got to really experience the bus breaking down. Stuff like that, so it was dope though I got to meet a lot of different people.

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    When did you really start wearing makeup?

    Definitely in the last year. I had just been doing stuff, you know, shoots, and you know, you get makeup artists, and I’d just always kind of be like, I just want a little, don’t do too much! And that’s how it started, with just a little bit. And I had friends that did makeup and they tried some stuff and it was like "Oh OK," and you just slowly but surely start to fall in love with it. Like don’t knock it till you try it type of vibe. Yeah that’s pretty much this last year I fell in love with it, and I have my own makeup artist.

    Is there some makeup that you would like never wear? Like, blue lipstick, or something that you see and you’re like, that’s just not me?

    You know what, I don’t look good in red lipstick. So not red — red is not for me. But I’m still open, I’m still learning a lot of stuff about it, so I’m open to different things. Right now, we’re just here with the glitter.

  • Lion Babe's Jillian Hervey

    Jillian Hervey is one-half of experimental soul duo Lion Babe, which takes its name from — you guessed it! — her incredible mane. But for her MAC Future Forward campaign, the focus was on Hervey’s eyes — for which she collaborated on a golden Liquidlast Liner ($21) that will hit stores on April 28. 

    "I think as I’ve grown, the one thing that’s always been consistent is my love of eyeliner," says Hervey, who also happens to be actress-singer Vanessa Williams’ daughter. "I love to accentuate the eyes, and if you’re on the go or want to do something dramatic, it's such a simple fix."

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    2016 will see Hervey and music partner Lucas Goodman release their debut full-length album, Begin, a project that reportedly involved work with an all-star team that includes Pharrell Williams, Jeff Bhasker and Andrew Wyatt. After shooting her MAC campaign video on Coney Island, Hervey hopped on the phone to dish on everything that’s in the works.

    So tell us about this gold liner. How did the idea for this specific product come about?

    It’s really the very first thought that I had. Obviously there are a ton of black liners in the world, so I thought it would be really interesting to go with a different color base, and I’ve always felt very strongly about the color gold. I love what the color represents, and it’s definitely similar to my skin tone. I also loved that you can make a very clean line with this product, but that you can also use it as a body bronzer if you wanted to. For me, I feel like it’s pretty key to have a product — whether it’s a lip stain you can use on your cheeks — to have something that you can use in more than one way. 

    Did you work with MAC directly? Walk me through the process.

    The good thing about MAC is — and a reason I was so excited — was that they were very much about having the artist really implement their ideas and create a vision. So from day one I was sketching some ideas in my notebook. Lion Babe’s logo is actually my handwriting, which has manifested into a neon sign we use for our shows, so that logo is on the box. They were super supportive, took my ideas and combined them with the brand.

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    Is this your first time collaborating with a brand?

    Yeah! It’s definitely my first time doing anything like this really. I’ve pretty much been focusing primarily on just the art and creating the singing, music, all that stuff. And this is such an exciting opportunity for me; everyone knows MAC and this was a really good way to get our name out there.

    What was the video shoot at Coney Island like?

    Even though I live in New York, I'd never been to Coney Island! When I heard that it’s what they were thinking about for the location, I was just like, "Oh my gosh, this is so much fun." A lot of the shoot involved me just getting to take in the sights, see the roller coasters and graffiti art — a lot of candid moments on a beautiful day.