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How The Craft Turned Pop Icons Into Mega-Witches

Chokers, dark lipsticks, and Taylor Swift’s new bleached haircut are just a sprinkling of the lasting legacy of The Craft, a movie that celebrates its 20th anniversary today and has since become the aesthetic touchstone for any pop star’s rebellion. And that makes sense.

Upon the film’s release in 1996, some of us weren’t allowed to see The Craft. A film rooted in the ins, outs, and myths of witchcraft, the story centred around four girls—two with a gift—who used their power for everything from hair-colour manipulation to killing Skeet Ulrich to trying to kill each other. (Quick primer: Nancy (Fairuza Balk) is into black magic, Sarah (Robin Tunney) is into light, and neither can live while the other survives.)

Its theme is steeped in otherdom. Sarah, Nancy, Bonnie, and Rochelle revel in being the outsiders. They’re feared by their classmates, assert dominance over blonde Queen Bees (Laura Lizzie, played by Christine Taylor), and walk in slow motion down high school hallways, clad in edgier interpretations of their Catholic school uniforms. They exude rebellion. They embrace and parlay the rejection from their peers to the rejection of them. And then they call themselves weirdos in one of the most iconic movie moments of the 1990s. And despite Nancy being absolutely terrifying (she would probably hate all of us), we still wanted to seem like her.

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Of course, the fastest way to do that—if you’re not already a teen witch—is to interpret the aesthetic of your pop culture heroes to suit your own. Which was easy in the mid to late 1990s: Marilyn Manson, Korn, and even Limp Bizkit dictated middle and high school rebellion norms by inspiring a generation of young women to wear oversize t-shirts paired with dog collars and black lipstick (at least per my middle school comrades). Or, if you had access to more than just a local Hot Topic, you looked to artists like Garbage’s Shirley Manson or Courtney Love, whose penchant for dark eyes, smudged red lips, and grunge runoff alluded to your interest in alternative culture and disinterest in the bright, shiny mainstream.

Which—duh—the bright, shiny mainstream clued into. While the Spice Girls bounced onto the charts clad in bright colors in “Wannabe,” their makeup and hair got increasingly dark as they asserted themselves as unfuckwithable, grown-ass women. (On the flip side, All Saints just showed up looking that way.)

Obviously, there’s a far cry between channelling Fairuza Balk and slapping on a bit of brown lipstick. (As I learned when I paired mine with black polyester pants with butterflies embroidered on the flares in eighth grade—and then declared that I was, officially, goth.) But while the immediate impact of The Craft wore off at the turn of the century, the pop stars who emerged circa Y2K used the movie’s dark makeup as a means of announcing their rebellion and/or impending adulthood. (Dun-dun-dunnnn.)

When we met Britney Spears in 1999, she wore lip gloss (which many of us ran out and bought immediately) and scrunchies in an attempt to avoid truly alienating anybody. But when she began her descent into controversy around 2003, she began it with gusto, courting smoky eyes and wet-looking hair—just like Christina Aguilera, who started out as a fresh-faced ingenue in 1999 before getting “Dirrty” both in terms of song title and eyeliner application in 2002.

So by the time 2005 rolled around and Lindsay Lohan was trying to establish herself as a complex, rebellious artist (see: “Daughter to Father”), OTT eye makeup became the foremost indicator of “fuck this.” Ashlee Simpson used it to establish herself as a pop punk star, Avril Lavigne used it to distance herself from “other” girls, and even Miley Cyrus upped the ante a smidge in “Party in the U.S.A.,” arguably indicating her eventual entry into full-blown WTF fashion. Ultimately, to grow up and rebel was to be the weirdos, mister. But mainly with makeup.

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But where mainstream pop stars stuck to using dark, smoky eyes to help set themselves apart from the past, indie artists began embracing The Craft’s look in a more literal way—particularly as festival wear became seemingly vintage-dependent and 2011’s fashion landscape reopened the case for ‘90s style. Which, of course, perpetuated another “us versus them” state of mind. Except unlike in the 1996 cinematic masterpiece, dark eyes, dark lips, combat boots, and bondage accessories in the 2010s were correlated to pop culture consumption rather than one’s ability to beach whales on a whim (probably). Now, it’s a means of declaring one’s self anything from a thrift-store aficionado to a grunge revivalist to a Marc Jacobs superfan. It also means being on the in, since that’s what Craft-inspired makeup and fashion has become. Now, it’s the weirder, the better.

Which is why I think we’re seeing the effects of The Craft celebrated so rigorously now—particularly in music, bless us all. In a landscape that’s making room for all genres, all types of pop stars, and all means of expression, it makes sense to perpetually celebrate and draw from a movie about not fitting in. But where Nancy, Sarah, Bonnie, and Rochelle were seen as freaks in 1996, their style evolved to fit into an era that applauds their aesthetic currency. First, because imposing style rules on a young person is creatively stifling, outdated, and embarrassing (and their style was dope as hell). Second, because we’re transitioning out of an “us versus them” approach to fashion and makeup, giving anyone who may not have been brave enough to experiment with lipstick or eye shadow a chance to do so now. We’re not tweens in the suburbs circa 1996. Now, we’re all a bunch of weirdos.

Mister.

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