Analyzing Pop Stars’ Obsessions with Childhood Icons


Over the years, we’ve noticed that some of our favorite pop artists have tastes that skew towards the bright, bubbly, and intended-for-children. Cartoon couture is everywhere, from Lil Wayne’s leopard print Mickey Mouse T-shirt to Katy Perry’s Betty Boop-inspired dresses. But what exactly does that say about the pop star in question? Sure, Britney Spears’ mouse ears reference her time spent in the Mickey Mouse Club, but for others the meaning is not so clear. We take a crack at some pop (music) psychology about pop stars and their childhood idols, after the jump.

Kanye West and The Jetsons

Kanye West has been all about the Jetsons for years, as evidenced by the many posters of the first cartoon family of the future in his “Heartless” video and his recent tweet-spouting about possibly being a part of an upcoming Jetsons live-action movie. Kanye’s fandom ties in with his art school dropout-meets-Hot 97 aesthetic, a combination of the eye-catching but slightly gaudy (glow-in-the-dark everything, sunglasses with holes in them) and the sleek, well-tailored, and upper-crust. The Jetson family displays elements of both styles, a futuristic world full of orbital skirts, big hair, and whimsical robots. Kanye is a bit of an idealist, and the Jetsons utopia likely appeals to him as a kind of old-school envisioning of the future, in which what we hope for aren’t things like the reversal of global warming, but flying cars and anti-gravity hairdos. We hope, by the way, that he makes that movie — Nicki Minaj is a shoe-in for Judy Jetson.

Kreayshawn, Azealia Banks, and Mickey Mouse

We know, putting Azealia Banks and Kreayshawn together isn’t a novel move. Both are young female rappers that had massively catchy songs in the last year, and both are controversial in their own right. But another thing we noticed is that both of them rock distinctive Mickey Mouse-wear. Banks has the sweater she wore in the video, and Kreayshawn shot all of “Gucci Gucci” while wearing pink, plush, sequined Minnie Mouse ears. Part of this look is what you might call the “thrift store” aesthetic — the just-picked-from-the-bins fashion statement of unknown origin that mixes gas station T-shirts and chunky sweaters with whatever else you can find from the Goodwill. But it’s not just a statement of ironic cool for either woman: It’s a dare. Donning cutesy cartoon images on your shirt while spitting graphic rhymes is a kind of challenge. You think Banks is adorable? You might change your mind when you listen to the lyrics of “212.”

There’s also the fact that the Mouse’s club was the breeding ground for a whole panoply of 1990s pop stars — Britney, Justin, Christina — and these are women who came up through dramatically different systems, outside the slick production of the Magic Kingdom. Wearing Mickey Mouse is a signal that there’s a new game in town, one not owned wholesale by the Disney corporation.

Nicki Minaj and Barbie

Ridiculously proportioned, enormous-eyed, and made up of pure, accessories-driven fantasy, Barbie is womanhood kicked up to 11. Nicki Minaj’s whole-hearted embrace of the doll as fashion icon is one that grates on many fans’ nerves, but her over-the-top, ultra-feminine Barbie makeovers are more campy than literal. Sure, the rapper has a tiny waist and likes to wear pink, poofy things and rainbow hair, but she’s far from fragile and girly. For Minaj, Barbie is a power symbol. In the male-dominated world of hip-hop, her look is a caricature of femininity, all pink Bentleys and three-inch eyelashes that belie her not-so-quiet engagement in rap battles with the best of them.

Katy Perry and Betty Boop

Katy Perry loves her some childhood nostalgia, so it’s difficult to choose just one of her obsessions — there’s also Jessica Rabbit and Candyland, Smurfs and Simpsons. But Betty Boop rings truest to Perry’s particular mix of retro sex kitten and frilly, pint-sized couture. Perry’s cartoon obsession, we suspect, has less to do with irony and more with really, really liking candy. Like Boop, her sense of style is provocative masquerading as sweet, a sort of loopy, manufactured Americana. Perry and Boop both occupy the place of a lifelong teenager running from the clutches of fusty old parents, no matter what their actual age. Both could be symbolized by a pouty face and some bright-red lipstick.

Lisa Loeb and Hello Kitty

The 1990s treated Lisa Loeb well. It was almost impossible to go anywhere without hearing “Stay (I Missed You)” for roughly three years. But since then, the bookworm image Loeb cultivated transformed into something a little less edgy and a little more… Sanrio? Her 2002 album Cake and Pie also came out under the name Hello Lisa and featured all manner of Hello Kitty references. Why Hello Kitty? In Loeb’s case, we suspect a couple of things. First is that she’s started skewing towards a younger audience, recently releasing a CD of sing-along songs. Hello Kitty is a sure way to catch the eyes of that coveted six- to-ten-year-old demographic. But she’s also one of the weirder cartoons out there. Yes, she’s a big-eyed cat with all kinds of pink, sparkly things, but there’s a serious cult following out there that means the face of Hello Kitty gets pasted on almost everything you could think of — including rice ball molds and a Darth Vader suit. Simply put, Hello Kitty is maybe the nerdiest of the cartoon icons to be obsessed with, and that totally fits with Loeb’s brainy-chick image.