Toronto soul-pop singer, songwriter, producer, and director Domanique Grant has released Airbrush, a video challenging beauty norms and standards on social media through a light-hearted, satirical approach. The video was directed by Domanique Grant and Alim Z Sabir, with choreography by Leon Blackwood (Arianna Grande, Britney Spears), featuring an all BIPOC cast and set of creatives.
Domanique expands on the song, stating ““Airbrush is a song that takes Instagram, TikTok and YouTube culture, and turns it into satire. I’m not saying that you shouldn’t wear wigs or makeup, what I’m saying is that if you’re trying to go viral and your idea of fame is not being yourself — airbrushing, blackfishing or filtering yourself — that’s when you really need to stop and be free and appreciate yourself. I want the song to remind people to be authentic.”
We caught up with Domanique to discuss what led her to create Airbrush and how artists can find the confidence to be their authentic selves on social media.
Your new track, Airbrush tackles beauty norms and digital media in a very fun, catchy way. What pushed you to write a song about this particular topic? What was the moment where you thought, “I just need to talk about this?”
I think it was the moment that I realized in over six years, I haven’t gone online with my natural hair. That was, I think, the breaking point for me. I had just finished a campaign with L’Oreal Paris, it was the first big influencer campaign that I’d gotten to be part of. And after that, a lot of really cool things started happening. And I was just constantly in conflict with myself, because I really want to, you know, wear wigs and wear extensions and be my most glamorous self. But I also am writing songs about beauty and about happiness. And I was like, “why are you so conflicted to literally go on stage with your natural hair?” And I think that was actually the beginning of a new artist journey for me.
A lot of the time, we deal with a lot of conflict externally, but it actually becomes internal, and we don’t realize it. That day as well, I was in the middle of being trolled online, and that was my first really bad experience with trolls. There were people popping up who were talking about my photos being photoshopped, because I have a really curvy body. They were talking about how I’m a dark skinned woman with blue hair, and the fact that like, that’s not acceptable. And it was just all of these things happening at once.
I was, honestly, just so frustrated, because it’s enough to have to deal with figuring out where we fit in online and having to find the confidence to post stuff. And then to have other people pop up and tell us that we’re not good enough for just literally being ourselves is another thing. I was so tired, I stopped posting for a while and I thought to myself, “this can’t be what you’re going to do for the rest of your life. You need to have fun. And you need to figure out a way to love yourself.”
I think that was the catalyst to writing Airbrush and deciding to flip it on its head, to not make it a song that’s really sad. It’s actually saying that we all coexist in this viral culture in this internet space together. And everyone’s goal is virality. Everyone’s trying to get followers and to build online. How can we just be authentic and find a way to be comfortable with ourselves?
With the rise of all these platforms, it feels like we’ve been living in this digital media world forever, but these technologies are actually so new. With traditional media, you would see something and you know it’s a professional model, there’s a whole set behind it. You know, it’s a little bit make-believe. But now with social media, there’s a sense of “these people are regular people, yet they look this way. Why don’t I look that way?”
I feel like digital media should democratize what the beauty ideals are, but you still see the same ideals over and over again. And you mentioned not feeling comfortable showing your natural hair online and then being bullied for that as well. As an artist, have you felt pressure to conform for the purpose of your music career?
Yeah, I think the short answer is yes. We all want to know that we fit into the music industry, we all want to know that we are going to grow and we’re going to attain a certain level of success. I think there are a lot of said and unsaid things that we are expected to do and be in order to fit in.
You mentioned something really amazing about seeing normal people online and being like, why doesn’t my normal look like this normal? And actually, normal isn’t normal anymore. Even “natural” is just a makeup style. Dimples are a makeup style. So, there’s no normal.
But yeah, I think I’ve definitely felt that pressure, especially as an emerging artist. As someone who got a bit more media attention a few years ago, I had to start asking myself, “Who’s the artist that you want to be in order to put out this next project?” And I won’t lie, I thought, “do I be this influencer, who is just doing high fashion stuff, and is creating this luxury lifestyle image that makes people want to be a part of it? Or do I be a version of myself that’s real and authentic?”
We can talk about the fact that almost every other day, I have conflicts with whether or not I’m comfortable with the way that I look on camera, even though I’m a really confident person. And I, for the first time in my life, chose the honest route. Because I just wanted to be able to live with myself, be happy, and put out things that I know my friends would be able to resonate with.
I think if you do that, you find your community a bit more naturally, people can start to tell when you’re being authentic online and they want to see that authenticity. What advice would you have for other emerging artists to give them the confidence to have that authenticity?
I would say that, at every point in your life, you’re going to be faced with a really important question: “Who do you want to be?” I think the second question is, “will you be happy if you’re not yourself?”
I’ve personally experienced not being myself and attaining the goals that I wanted to and feeling like I wasn’t happy in the end because I realized that I had to be someone else in order to achieve those goals. So, I would just say, you have to take away the feedback that other people are giving you. You have to take away the responses, you have to take away all the lights, you have to take away all those particular things. Have a strategy, but make sure that strategy is around who you are authentically.
I don’t think it means not wearing lashes or not wearing makeup, I think that’s beautiful. No makeup trends are so wonderful to remind us to get comfortable with ourselves, but I also think that we should have a choice. And it shouldn’t be anyone else’s, whether or not we want to wear our hair natural, whether or not we want to wear wigs, or whether we want to alternate between different days. The best way to make that choice is to become comfortable and to be okay with yourself to make those decisions.
Makeup can sometimes be used as a tool for empowerment, as long as you’re still being yourself. Do you think that social media filters can also be used as a form of empowerment in that same way?
I think there’s usually two messages. One message is that it’s terrible to use filters. And it’s terrible to have makeup apps that allow us to alter our look. And then on the other side it’s, like, just do it and be who you want to be.
I think that there’s a medium in between. I think there are a lot of people using filters and things like that as a creative tool to show who they are. I also think that there are days where people don’t necessarily want to do their makeup and they have to post something or they have to go on TV and filters support us in ensuring that we can create a buffer in between days where we are not able to show up the way that we want to.
I think on the other side, there are a lot of challenges with filters. Right now, the next generation is growing up and the norm is to just have these crazy blue filters change your eye color for all of your videos, and then they get used to that. And when they don’t see it, it feels like something’s missing. So I think that there are two sides to it. I’m still constantly having to work toward the other side, because I’m not gonna say that I don’t ever use filters.
I think they help with creativity. I just think that one of the challenges with them is that we get so accustomed to seeing ourselves with them, that normal doesn’t really feel normal anymore.
I want to talk a little bit about the video for Airbrush as well. It’s really fun. I like that you took a bit of a lighter approach to the idea of social media and your social media presence. You co-directed the video, what was the inspiration behind the whole concept?
It’s definitely the biggest music video that I’ve done with a team of over 40 people. And we were really, really fortunate to have support from others who were able to give us permission to do it in a safe way. The inspiration for the music video was: how can we take an empty canvas and create characters and animate the space to find the story and the fun in digital culture?
So we really looked at what we wanted to create and how we can introduce people to the world of the normalized glam, soft glam, dancing and choreography of Instagram and TikTok, and then break that toward the end of the video to have a special fun outcome. I was looking at having women of different shades and having them be a part of this narrative. We really played up the colours and looked at the juxtaposition in feminine, versus soft feminine. There are a lot of different terms that I really tried to explore for the creative direction.
One of the things that I learned as a director and also performing is you really have to understand how to turn on and turn off. Because it becomes really easy when you’re in the director’s hat, to not be able to fully get yourself into committing to the choreography and different things like that. So I think a part of the whole journey for me was looking at how we can tell the story of women and explore the characters that they could be in the world of internet culture, but also have fun with it and tell the story in a slightly different way.
Want more Airbrush? Check out an intimate, in-studio version of the track below.