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International Women's Day 2016

How Being Raised Without Mirrors Helped Rose McGowan Question the Idea of Beauty

We chat with the Hollywood star as she focuses on her abstract and mesmerising new music project.
Emma Garland
London, GB

Rose McGowan is an icon. Most will remember her most vividly from films like The Doom Generation, Jawbreaker, and Scream, where her dark hair, thick lips and general air of "touch me and I will fucking end you" positioned her as the ultimate femme fatale. But, from making her directorial debut with Dawn last year, to maintaining her campaign for gender equality in the film industry, to that time she went to the VMAs with Marilyn Manson wearing about five necklaces covering her butt and naught else - even off-screen Rose McGowan is a rare example of someone who just does whatever the fuck they want, whenever the fuck they want. In continuation of that, McGowan recently delved into the world of music and released her first single under her own name.


Opening with the ending monologue from Blade Runner and acquiring its title from a combination of McGowan’s initials and the medical abortion pill RU486, "RM486” (below) combines a unique artistic vision with the truest incarnation of "gothic pop" you’re likely to get unless Dani Filth decides to release an album of Kylie Minogue covers.

The video was directed by Jonas Åkerlund (also responsible for Lady Gaga’s “Telephone” video) and styled by Swedish fashion maverick B. Åkerlund. Featuring everything from the Die Antwoord-style entirely white face of your nightmares, to nasal jewellery that would turn heads at an extreme body modification convention, "RM486" visually explores the perceived chapters of McGowan’s life - from outsider, to habitué of Hollywood’s red carpets, to the director and artist she is now. “All are pieces that make up my whole,” McGowan has said of the video. “An artist, a public figure, and most importantly, as a person. I’m pushing back at the idea of what I am supposed to be, I want to expose people to art in a real way, and I want to change the idea of what beauty is. There is true power in art and true power in we who believe in it."

We caught up with Rose to talk about her journey into music and stepping out from behind the curtain of acting.

Hi Rose, so how did “RM486” come about?
Rose: I met this French electro band called Punishment when I shot them for their album cover - I do a lot of photography. I started telling them I did music too, blah blah blah, one thing led to another, and I wrote the song in an Uber in Paris on the way to record.


I wanted to ask you about the writing process, because musically it’s not directly comparable to anything. Did you have something specific in mind before you started writing it?
I love you for saying that. I find that it’s something I’ve noticed men do a lot, like “Wow, this is quite good, it’s just like this” - and, you know, sometimes things can occasionally be their own thing. I wanted something really progressive and really astral, really galactic sounding. I drive in my car on Mulholland Drive in LA at night a lot. That’s where I go to think, and I wanted a song specifically for that. It’s literally made for my car.

Driving is the best environment to listen to music. It’s probably the only time I can really zoom in and focus on what I’m hearing, which is probably quite dangerous, actually…
You should download “RM486” from iTunes and then drive to it at night, because the sound is really important and also the song is different to the video. The video is shorter.

I saw that you tweeted at people a few times saying they should listen to the song with their eyes closed - is that partly why?
Yes, very much so. I want people to be able to kind of go on a journey with it. I feel like if I have a chance to say how I feel like it should be - at least initially - ingested, then I should. That would be like a person doing a painting and choosing the frame that goes around it, or a doctor giving you directions on how to take your medicine.


Mulholland Drive is a recurring place in pop culture, whether it’s a song by The Weeknd or an entire film by David Lynch. It seems to have this strangeness about it that lends itself well to art. What about it does it for you?
There’s something about it that when you’re up there - for me, anyway - it’s like you can almost see the earth’s roundness, in a weird way. You kind of feel like, “Am I actually on top of this planet or hanging upside down?” Especially at night with all of your windows down and the sunroof open, it feels very interplanetary.

Continues below

Since the video deals with perception, what would you say is the number one misconception about you?
That’s very perceptive of you, to ask such a question about perception. I think it’s just always been… I guess it’s that I’m weirdly private, even though I’ve been very public. I think I was just probably misunderstood as a commodity. When people put the term “actress” in front of your name it automatically comes with a lot of baggage, do you know what I mean? Stuff that I didn’t have anything to do with, really, because I don’t live my life in any way that’s representative of the cliche of what it’s supposed to be. There’s this complete air of misogyny and sexism towards how actresses are viewed anyway. They’re basically looked at like the equivalent of a judge saying “She wore a short skirt, she was asking for it.” Oh, she wanted to be famous? She’s asking for all this heaping bullshit on her head. Nobody deserves that. Just let people live and have some respect. If someone is there putting their art out for people to consume, why is it people’s general nature to go and rip them apart personally?


You’ve said the song was named after the abortion pill RU486 and the video aims to show women’s bodies in a non-sexual manner. Both audio and visual can provoke different reactions, but what would you like people to take away from “RM486” overall?
Overall, it’s an art experience. My life’s work has been about getting people to feel something, anything. I think the more we have of that through art, or through any medium, we can really help the world and if we start learning how to have empathy and understanding through emotion then that’s a really positive thing. So I think what I’m doing right now is to continue making people feel, but now in a way that’s really honest and comes from me.

I’ve seen you refer to it as a social experiment as well as a musical experience.
The whole thing is a grand experiment, really. I have no idea what I’m doing! But it’s been touching how well received it’s been and how so many people are really open to having a new experience and a new journey, you know? Take a three and a half minute walk on the other side of the world.

This is the first single you’ve released under your own name, but I’ve read that this isn’t the first time you’ve made music. Why now, and why not before?
I think it’s like, actors aren’t supposed to put out music and I hadn’t had enough distance from being an actor. I would always bridle with that label. It’s just how it dovetailed with the time in my life - the time that I’m ready, now, as an adult, to be able to deal with the public in a certain way. Whereas when I was young and it happened to me, so to speak, it just felt like it all got carried away and out of control at one point. This is all about a place in my life where it’s about honestly. I pretty much only want to do what I want to do when I want to do it, and I’ve worked really, really hard to be in a place where I can actually do that.


You’ve been consistent in pushing back against misogyny and sexism and Hollywood beauty standards. I feel like that must be so exhausting.
It is so tiring - and boring, like, “I still have to deal with you dickheads? Are you guys still here? Can’t you just die off already?” They’re like the zombie in the video game that won’t die - and that zombie is a stereotypical, basic mind. I can’t deal with basic minds and I don’t want people to be basic minded. I want people to be that 10% deeper and better and more interesting. Just 10% - and I think things like what we’re talking about can help make that difference and pop open some people’s brains. Today, in the US, there’s a woman who is the head of Planned Parenthood who is just an amazing and accomplished and astounding woman, and these jackasses in the senate, in the congress, were just coming down on her like a full load of stupid backwards male monkeys and embarrassing themselves. They should know that that kind of behaviour is embarrassing. It’s like the guy in the yellow Lamborghini - people are laughing at you. The only person who thinks you’re cool is the other idiot in the yellow Lamborghini.

Didn’t “RM468” actually end up coming out just after the House of Representatives voted to defund Planned Parenthood?
That was partially why I named it that. I named it at the last second. That was my way of forcing the conversation, because I could be talking about music but all of a sudden we’re going to jump into discussing women’s rights. Again, if I have a platform and I’m going to be doing interviews then let’s talk, you know?


If you could scrap the conventional definition of “beauty” and replace it with your own - what would it be?
That’s a very interesting question. I think it’s indefinable - I think that’s what the definition of beauty is. I was largely raised without mirrors for the first ten years of my life, so I was raised in a really gender neutral way, and then imagine my surprise when, three or four years later, you get breasts and all of a sudden here’s what you’re allowed to do because you have breasts. It’s really about, I think, people doing whatever they fuck they want to do whenever they want to do it as long as they’re not hurting other people. Also, just be a little nicer. It’s not that hard. I would ask men to consider the fact that just because it’s not happening to you, doesn’t mean it’s not happening.

Feminism has definitely become more prevalent in pop music recently. Some people see it as exciting because artists like Beyonce are introducing new generations to feminism and helping break down stigma around the word, others see it as troubling because it can oversimplify things. What are your thoughts on all that?
It oversimplifies it but, to be honest, it’s a pretty simple idea. Equal rights are a pretty basic theory. “Human rights for everybody, there is no difference”, as Macklemore said. I can’t believe I just quoted Macklemore. Make note that I started laughing after I said that.

Is music something you’ve always felt a connection to?
I’ve always felt a deep connection to singing more than music, actually. I’ve always felt connected to using my voice as an instrument. In my next song that’s coming out there’s no auto-tune so you’ll be able to actually hear me. But music for me was always more about the lyrics. What I try to do is paint pictures, tell stories, make movies in people’s minds through words. So I’ve always gravitated towards artists that can do that. I like storytellers.

What else is next on your agenda? Do you have plans to start performing live?
Well this is the funniest thing. I accidentally opened for Mary J. Blige like a month and a half ago. I sang live for the first time, and the person that was supposed to record it fell and broke her leg, so there’s no video of it. So it’s kind of like “If a tree falls in the forest…”

There are still a lot of women in the world for whom the idea of making music feels too scary, difficult or unwelcoming, because it is still such a male-dominated industry. What would you say to someone who was feeling that way?
I would say, they should be more like my sister, who is an amazing girl who put herself through university by being a plumber and a model and is now a rocket scientist. She had to scrub frat boy’s toilets during college, but now she’s designing airplanes. So I’d say get interested, and if you want to do something just do it. I think with this generation, now more than ever, it seems like people are throwing down a lot more across the board. Keep at it. The only way things will change is if we push back with art.

You can find Emma on Twitter: @EmmaGGarland