Already people, namely fashion people, have begun to swoon over Missy Elliott’s new video, “WTF (Where They From),” which returns the 44-year-old rapper to the spotlight with an assist from Pharrell Williams, a collection of dancing marionettes and silver glitter lips that sparkle like double disco balls.
It’s nice to have Elliott back after being out of the spotlight for most of a decade, not simply because of her musical talent, which is tremendous, but because she brings a point of view to the celebrity-fashion-style conversation that doesn’t get nearly enough representation.
In the video, directed by Elliott and Dave Meyers, she looks cool and cocky and confident without wearing anything that is particularly form-fitting, low-cut, sheer, derriere-enhancing or otherwise dependent on a woman’s willingness to show off — or rely on — her body. To be clear, this is not a tsk-tsk of disapproval aimed at those performers who believe that taking control of one’s sexuality by wearing a spangled leotard or a pair of pasties is a form feminism. There are, after all, times when nudity and cleavage are a full and true statement of female strength, protest and independence.
But there is another way, too. Elliott exudes it with ease and nonchalance — and an undeniable sense of now. In her video, it’s impossible to take your eyes off her. Not because she is flaunting a body that hasn’t known carbs since the turn of the last century, but because she is moving with such unwavering control and pleasure. Because she is so dynamic. Because she has used fashion and style to create a persona that is artful, entrancing and complex.
So much is packed into a video that runs just shy of four minutes. There is an homage to old-guard urban gear with her hoodies and sweats, her big gold hoop earrings and an asymmetrical bob blown straight and smooth. But it is also full of high-tech glamour with its upmarket sportswear, mirror-ball hoodie and pop-art sports jerseys. Elliott’s look incorporates 2015’s gender-blurring and the full history of Instagram glamour. Her costumes hint at the animation obsessions of Japan, the return of grunge and crazy Balmain ostentation. It is everything. But it is also utterly Missy Elliott.
People will often note that a great beauty can make a burlap sack look like haute couture. Elliott can make a “trash bag” look trendsetting. In the final scenes of her video, Elliott pops up from inside what resembles a laundry cart or recycling trolley. She looks like she’s wearing clear trash bags. Elliott loves a good faux trash bag. In the 1997 video for “The Rain (Supa Dupa Fly),” she often looks as though she might float away encased in a giant, inflated black bag. Hefty and Glad are her signatures.
The beauty of Elliott is that she uses fashion in a manner that always feels a bit DIY. She reworks and remixes fashion for her own purposes, and no matter who might have designed it or constructed it or otherwise had a hand in it, it always looks singularly, comfortably hers. It ceases being fashion and becomes style — bold and audacious.
But the more important thing that we are reminded of by Elliott’s return is that even in a time when it seems like anyone with an Instagram feed can be considered a style icon and most every performer has an iffy design gig on the side, individuality remains rare.