H.E.R and Other Mysteries: The Enigma of the Faceless Artist

By: Cree Armstead & Darriell Butler

In an industry where appearances are everything, more and more artists seem to be opting out of the spotlight, taking on alternate personas or embracing anonymity altogether. Breakout artist H.E.R has been the latest to emerge as a mystery musician. Her first two EP's were released under the acronym for “Having Everything Revealed” (the irony isn't lost on us) and feature her silhouette against a colorful background, her face completely hidden. Though her identity has since been revealed (her real name is Gabi Wilson), choosing to go dark was a genius move for the blossoming songstress. Her raw talent coupled with the “who is she“ factor contributed to major successes in 2017 and multiple tours this year. Joining the ranks of other anonymous artists such as the Gorillaz, Daft Punk and Sia, H.E.R has carved out a unique space for herself. So, in an age where people are posting bathroom selfies for likes on the daily, why would someone purposely keep their face off of our timelines? Let’s explore a couple of reasons behind the mystery.

1. Focus on the Music: Before social networks were a thing, it was all about the music video. Prior to that, our music experiences were restricted to radio and the occasional live performance if we were lucky enough to catch it on TV or had a blank video cassette on hand. Seeing our favorite celeb was a treat, not a way of life, and it seems that with the constant demand and access of social media, we have been spoiled. Some artists believe starving the social media monster forces the attention back to the music. First and foremost, musicians have something to say and want us to listen. Shifting our focus from what they look like to what they’re saying ensures that we don’t miss the message while picking apart their appearance. Although H.E.R says she didn’t make a blatant attempt to hide her identity, she did tell Power 105.1 that the reason she wanted to drop her album anonymously was to keep the focus on the art. “We lost the focus on what’s important” she said. “It should always be about the music".

2. Preserving Your Privacy: In 2018 when someone knows your face, privacy goes out the door (looking at you, BBQ Becky). Pair that with being a popular artist and you can kiss any notion of a subdued personal life goodbye. Many of these faceless musicians have cited protecting their privacy as the reason they obscure their identities. Without a face to put to a name, it’s impossible to run tabloids-the paparazzi have nothing to work with. Living in the shroud of secrecy seems to pave the way for a more peaceful life, conferring upon the artist the freedom to create while leaving their privacy intact. Personally, after seeing the havoc the press has wreaked on certain artists, (RIP MJ), we ain’t mad at it.

3. Complete Creative Liberty: When the Gorillaz made their debut back in 2001, the live band played behind a giant projector screen, upon which the animated members appeared and “performed”. The actual members were never shown, and an affinity for these odd, intangible characters was born. The CGI frontman 2-D and his bandmates Murdoc, Noodle and Russel all exist and create real music within a fictional universe. They have histories, relationships and progressive stories that continue even as the physical bandmates constantly change. It is this anomaly coupled with their eclectic sound that keeps fans locked in and waiting for the next creation. By veiling the true artists and conjuring up alternate identities in their places, the creators of the band have opened themselves up to endless creative possibilities. The Gorillaz universe isn’t subject to the passing of time, trends or other limits of reality. Their music and “lives” are chronicled in books, videos, IG feeds and documentaries. Noodle, a fictional animated character is the global ambassador for Jaguar Racing, a very real Formula E team. And let’s be honest, keeping up with the characters’ unpredictable, colorful adventures is a lot more fascinating than actual creators Damon Albarn and Jamie Hewlett’s Wiki pages. Give us more Noodle!

4. The Element of Intrigue: You remember that phrase “less is more“? Contrary to what Instagram tells us, this sentiment still rings true. When people are given less, they are interested most in what they’re not getting. The intrigue factor is what drives many artists to go underground. It’s been 20 years and we’d still never recognize Daft Punk without their helmets (and would we want to? There's just something hella cool about robots in suits). Sia is rarely spotted without her famous face-covering wigs, but on the radio her voice is immediately distinguishable. The mystery surrounding H.E.R is part of what drew listeners deeper into her story. Everyone who heard her on Insecure and that famous Rihanna IG post wanted to know: Who is this girl and what is she about? The only way to find out was by listening to her music. And isn’t that what it’s all about?

Who are your favorite faceless artists? Drop ‘em in the comments below, and don’t forget to book your session at The Sound Machine ATL.

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