Written by Lilian Min • Photography by Theo Wargo, Getty Images • December 7, 2016
From Miley Cyrus’s giant tongue slide to Beyoncé’s Formation Tour cube to Kanye West’s floating stage, tour staging is increasingly dazzling and immersive for fans. But equally innovative and interesting are high-tech performance costumes, which now include electronic and textile components to provide that extra layer of visual interest for fans and practical support for artists.
Let’s start with electronics: Daft Punk helmets may be the most famous to use LED lights, but innovative artists like Kanye West, Katy Perry and Ariana Grande have also incorporated LEDs into their performing costumes. These are wearable thanks to LED ribbons — more durable and flexible than full circuitry (such as that used in helmets), strings of individual light bulbs (like Christmas lights), or other kinds of electronic fabric embeds — and add color-changing lighting accents to outlandish artist outfits.
Of course, not every artist needs or wants to add electronics to their costumes. But even “simple” bodysuits, like those favored by many female pop stars these days, require their own innovations. For example, Beyoncé’s 2013 Super Bowl bodysuit was made of stiff leather and python skin, and proved to be, in the words of its designer, “one of the most complicated pieces I had ever engineered at that point.”
As dance choreography plays an important role in many artists’ tour performances (not to mention fandoms), designers have to engineer costumes that are both fashionable and rigorously functional. Four-way stretch fabrics like Spandex and Lycra are most up to this task, and the development of these garments for the stage has led to the popularity of consumer-level performance bodysuits.
In the age of Instagram, tour costumes are a major attraction for many pop artists. As live entertainment continues to evolve, we look forward to seeing what designers dream up next to meet performer needs and fan expectations.