When you have the pressure of Hollywood weighing on your shoulders for more than two decades, you have a few options before you break down from the pressure. Some stars choose to party and deconstruct, while others choose to deconstruct Hollywood itself and raise awareness. Rose McGowan has been choosing the latter for years. After receiving a wave of attention from an innocent tweet that plucked at the misogyny and dickery in Hollywood, McGowan isn’t backing down from empowering her sex. Her first solo music video under her own name, "RM486," is the latest effort in her fight for gender equality and challenging the definition of beauty and art.
In a collaboration with the artist collective WHOYOUARE, the former Charmed and Grindhouse star transforms herself into six different evocative iterations of her persona, both perceived and private. Styled by fashion maven and WHOYOUARE founder B. Åkerlund, who's worked with Madonna, Lady Gaga, Rihanna, and directed by the renowned film and music video director Jonas Åkerlund ("Spun," "Smack My Bitch Up," "Ray of Light"), the video shocks, but not for the sake of shocking. Instead, it sticks with you in a way that explicit art—in every meaning of the word—should.
We caught up with the female portion of the team (rightly so) to better understand the story behind all the feathers, glitter and paint. Rose McGowan and B. Åkerlund have two different messages, but share the same passion for art and doing it on purpose. Enjoy the (mildly NSFW) "RM486" video and the pair's conversation with Fuse below. Once you're through, check out Rose McGowan's personal explanations of her six vibrant, eerie looks in the video.
How did this collaboration come about?
B. Åkerlund: I created my own creative community to be able to express myself through fashion and music collaborations. Rose came to me with her song and my husband Jonas and I were in awe. I saw great potential with everything I am doing to help emerging designers and decided to use this opportunity to collaborate with an artist who wants to tell a story.
Rose McGowan: I’ve known B. socially for a long time, and Jonas, but never got to work with them. We have a mutual friend and I played the song for Jonas and he fell in love with it, which was amazing considering how much music he must get. It’s more than I ever could have imagined, I’m so stoked.
Why did you decide to put your own music out there right now?
McGowan: I think I just wanted to, I’m really kind of right now all about having my own voice in all platforms, like I directed a movie that was definitely my own taste and my own sensibility. Everything I’m doing right now is under that mantle of being an artist and rejecting the L.A. label of commodity that gets put on you.
Do you feel a greater responsibility to speak out yourself, specifically?
McGowan: I do. I was raised with a very strong sense of civic duty. I realized that I already have a platform and it’s more important than just talking about what I’m wearing or something insipid like that. Like who cares? Say something. Everyone is so afraid of saying anything, but they’re made to feel that way because of their publicist. But, “Don’t upset anybody, don’t do anything…" Why? Somebody yells at you or they say something bad about you online? They already do, so who cares?
It’s true, they’ll say something regardless of whether you’re censoring yourself.
McGowan: You might as well be you because they’re going to bash you anyway. It’s Lord of the Flies out there you know? So why not push for some change and I’m kind of just going for broke, because why not.
Speaking of going for broke, what is the title about? I know the abortion pill is RU-486, was that on purpose? No one has mentioned it...
McGowan: Everything I do, like Dawn, is a dual purpose, it's a message about what we’re doing to girls, it’s about our dwindling rights as women. This is way for somebody like you to ask me what it means so I can say there’s a war on us right now and we need to stop it and rise up. They’re defunding Planned Parenthood. It’s insane what’s going on. Men’s bodies don’t get legislated in any way, so hands off mine.
How else does it reflect your views on that message? Men don’t have to make that choice with their bodies.
McGowan: It’s asinine. I feel like it’s so insane that we’re still talking about this. It’s mind boggling to me. I love America, but I don’t come from here. I’m very patriotic in a real sense but there’s a real macho problem in this country and that doesn’t work for me at all. And it shouldn’t work for most people and I don’t think it does. There’s more of us than there is of them and the us needs to rise up.
Which one of these characters spoke the loudest to you and your truth?
Åkerlund: My truth is within the first scenes of the video when Rose is bald. To me, it represents how we all start out, a clean pallet that becomes hardened or transformed throughout life as we experience obstacles that rob us of our purest form.
McGowan: The first and the last. Well, the last is the artist and I’m crying in it. I was thinking of my father, who died, and he was probably the strongest artistic influence in my life. He’s probably one of the most amazing fine artists I’ve ever seen. My whole family is very art-based. My sister runs a gallery, my other sister works for PACE in New York, my other sister is a sculptor. I’d say the ending one is me because that’s the artist and the artist feels a lot.
Where did each character come from?
McGowan: I showed a mock-up of the character that I wanted to Jonas and it was very weird, it was like everything I wanted to say and do that was based on that original character came out through B.’s imagination, and Sammy [Mourabit] and Kim Kimble. It was really Iike five artists getting together and just throwing down.
WHOYOUARE seems so open in that way to allow for that collaboration.
McGowan: It’s really important. Other people, like in the business world get together and network, why not artists?
B., why did you feel the need to create this movement of what WHOYOUARE represents?
Åkerlund: I felt uninspired with the current fashion industry and since I am always looking for new talent I felt it was important to create a system that makes it easier to discover and inspire new talent.
Your message about art through fashion is very clear. I always feel like I’m witnessing an emotion. What about this collaboration pushed that message home for you, creating art through fashion?
Åkerlund: You can say I am a method stylist and that I dress as I feel. By the look of this video you can say I had a lot going on in my life at the time. Every character that I create needs to say something or have a message and make people feel something. If it doesn’t bring about emotion, I haven’t really done my job.
Why do you feel the need to be an advocate for that message; art as fashion/ fashion as art?
Åkerlund: If I don’t do it, who will? It’s a big job to live up to, but I have a calling and I’m on a mission to finish what I started. If that means I inspire one or millions of people out there to do better, be inspired, or to work harder to prove who they really are then we can all do what we love and what drives us to follow our heart. Sometimes all it takes is someone who believes in you to persevere.
You collaborated with your husband for this project. Why Jonas for this piece?
Åkerlund: In my opinion, Jonas is the best filmmaker in the world so why go anywhere else? I am extremely lucky to be married to the most talented person I know that lets me follow my dreams and supports me through thick and thin. This quality is very rare in Hollywood where people are only out for themselves. We love to create, especially together, that is when we are both our best.
Tell me about the lyrics. The lyric that stuck with me the most is “only here to paint color on the sun."
RM: It comes from my message to people. That’s it. It’s okay to be great. It’s okay to be free. We’re here to have a fabulous experience in this life, and be as free as possible. I really believe in that and I really believe that that little kid in Ohio may be seeing this and will feel less alone and feel like less of a freak himself or herself. Know that you might have to survive some crap in the short-term, but it gets pretty great after that.
Rose McGowan collaborated with the Paris electro band Punishment on the music for "RM486" and was given all her otherworldly looks by acclaimed makeup artist Sammy Mourabit, with hair by Kim Kimble.