Culture

But Is It Camp? The Best And Worst Of The 2019 Met Gala Red Carpet

Lots of looks were cute, but were they camp?

Met gala, billy porter

This year’s Met Gala is underway right now: the 550+ guests are currently inside New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, and a curiously conspicuous-by-her-absence Rihanna is planning the jewel heist of a lifetime. That means the looks have come and gone — and with this year’s theme being ‘Camp’, we’ve got a lot to discuss.

Based off philosopher Susan Sontag’s pivotal 1964 essay ‘Notes On Camp’, the theme is both easy to misinterpret and very hard to pull off. Yesterday, we expressed our doubts over the guests nailing it, especially given the rich, distinctly queer history of what camp is and isn’t.

Putting aside those who always miss the mark and just dress pretty (or, if they’re a man, in a black suit), we were worried the exclusive guest-list wasn’t necessarily up for the task, given that camp is widely misunderstood as simply ‘garish’, ‘loud’ and ‘tacky’. Instead, in Sontag’s own words, it’s a “love of the unnatural: of artifice and exaggeration”. In this sense, it’s more a way of looking at the world than a distinct visual style. We explain it in more detail here.

As a result, it’s hard to pinpoint camp, but most LGBTIQ+ people know it when they see it. So how did our celebrities do? Well, it was actually a pretty solid showing: unsurprisingly, the queers on the carpet such as Janelle Monáe, Lady Gaga and Pose‘s Billy Porter absolutely nailed the theme. Here’s a run-through of the most talked-about looks, and whether they’re camp or not.


Anna Wintour

An homage to Pink Flamingoes from a living camp legend — one who is more excessive than The Devil Wears Prada could ever be? Pack your rations, because we’re heading to camp.


Lady Gaga

Duh. Talented, brilliant, incredible, amazing, show stopping, spectacular, never the same, totally unique, completely not ever been done before, unafraid to reference or not reference, put it in a blender, shit on it, vomit on it, eat it, give birth to it.


Constance Wu

Stunning ’20s flapper, dripping in jewels? Love, but not camp.


Kim Kardashian-West

Dare we say this is camp? The dripping water suspended off the dress, the hair, the way the dress looks as if it was her skin bursting out of itself — this is performance! This is a sexy shower shoot reduced to ridiculousness, and since Kim K always does this look (and even did so on Vogue‘s Met Gala cover), it’s a deconstruction of her own artifice. She did it!


Harry Styles + Gucci creative director Alessandro Michele

Lace and frills are refractions of camp, and Harry Styles in heels is, of course, wonderful, but there’s something too casual about this look — it gestures towards brunch, and one without bellinis. Alessandro gets it.


Jared Leto

As frustrating as Jared Leto can be as a figure, he nails the brief by recreating Gucci’s infamous ’18 A/W runway, in which models walked with models of their own heads. The head is uncanny, odd and uncomfortable to look at — it’s both peak Leto and peak camp.


Lizzo

With a coat that would make Aretha Franklin jealous, Lizzo looks like she’s stepped straight out of the cotton candy club. The hair — almost Marie Antoinette-esque — tips this over into camp; Lizzo is all about celebrating herself as a queen, and this look takes it to a hyper-real, camp space.


Richard Madden

He’s very handsome, but one safety pin is not camp! Save for the next look, it might be one of the worst of the Gala.


Karlie Kloss

Possibly the least camp thing we’ve ever seen?


Jordan Roth

The theatricality! The intellectual-faux-intellectualism! To drape yourself in a completely different look from yourself and be lost in it, to be lost in time and references which are bigger than yourself (Who is Jordan Roth? It doesn’t matter!)! Camp!!!


Hailey Bieber

This Mod-Austin Powers vixen look is fun, but it ain’t camp. It needs an extra element — something bigger than Bieber.


Janelle Monáe

Yes!


Nicki Minaj

A pointless trademark pastel-pink train, needlessly fluffy in all the wrong spots? It’s as if Nicki cross-combined all her looks (the strap heels, the hair, the chains on the dress) into one. It’s self-referential! Daringly ugly and garish, but not necessarily camp.


Hailee Steinfeld

Viktor + Rolf’s Spring ’19 collection reads more ‘Instagram-caption’ than camp. Colourful and fun, but ultimately devoid of any interesting artifice — it’s the equivalent of an ‘ironic’ hashtag by an influencer whose chasing the clout.


Ezra Miller

Would we expect anything less? Ezra Miller understands camp is about artifice — and that it’s in the eye of the beholder. They just happen to have seven of ’em.


Ryan Murphy

You don’t make a TV series about Joan Crawford without understanding camp. Sea-king meets disco warrior who takes your pearl necklace innuendo and goes full-out. It’s pretty vulgar.


Lena Waithe

After last year’s stunning rainbow cape (at a Catholic-themed Gala, no less), Lena Waithe arrives with a message that might lean a little more punk than camp, though the two do have a lot of cross-over in terms of transforming the everyday into the uncanny. The lyrics printed on the pin-stripes are, I believe, from RuPaul and disco legend Sylvester, as well as Diana Ross’s ‘I’m Coming Out’ and Gloria Gaynor’s ‘I Will Survive’.

The typo on “inventend” is a shame — but this references a rich world still-overlooked and exploited. It may not really be camp, but for this, who cares? As Waithe reminds us, sometimes reading is more fundamental.


Billy Porter

Per-fucking-fection.


Cardi B

Dressed as if a warrior ready for battle, with an army of pillowy red behind her — expanding out in rings, as if for every year she’ll reign. This is opulence! This is camp: and the mauve red is reminiscent of her look at her last big war, the shoe-throwing incident at New York Fashion Week. It’s camp, baby.


Céline Dion

Look at that pose! Céline could wear track-pants and an oversized hoodie and it’d be camp.


Miley Cyrus + Liam Hemsworth

Miley, the pop-star who used to exit concerts by flying away on a floating hot dog, assumedly forgot the theme. Liam is there too. Both look nice; neither are camp.


Katy Perry

Camp is nothing if not form over function, and Katy Perry delivers. Impossible to sit in, but functional as a lit chandelier, which is, in terms of practicality, not only incredibly useless for the night, but actually inhibitory to move through the world. This might be the best thing she’s done in years?

And it seems like she’s changed into a hamburger costume now she’s inside the Met. It’s a little too garish and Teenage Dream-esque to be camp at the Met Gala.


Cara Delevigne

Colourful, not camp.


Rami Malek

Rami Malek not understanding queer culture? A surprise!


Violet Chachki

When RuPaul’s Drag Race S7 winner Violet Chachki came out to coronate the S8 finale, she was in the world’s most decadent-yet-disturbing queen outfit, her crown seemingly growing from her head. It’s a shame she’s dressed as Dita Von Teese tonight: by nature alone, it’s camp, but it’s still disappointing.


Aquaria

Meanwhile, Drag Race S10 winner Aquaria does it right.


RuPaul

RuPaul famously doesn’t do drag unless he’s paid for it. We were hoping the Met would be an exception, but this look’s proportions and oversized bow-tie are giving us ‘Ken-doll-a-little-girl-gave-a-makeover-into-her-favourite-animal-a-zebra-with-her-textas-then-her-brother-stole-it-and-warped-bits-with-a-magnifying-glass.

There’s so much going on here, and it’s incredibly ugly-camp.


Kacey Musgraves

Country-crossover queen Kacey Musgraves’ music is sharply aware of how camp and contrived ‘two chords and the truth’ is, so it’s no surprise that she’s nailed this theme. Dressed as Moschino’s Barbie Doll, Musgraves is in the uncanny valley of camp: her hand is bent around those glasses just like the doll. It’s proof that camp is often about concept, not the actual look.


Frank Ocean

As much as Frank Ocean looks like a Valet worker (wearing Prada), we’re going to call this camp. Why? Context — last year, Ocean threw a Paris Is Burning-themed 30th birthday bash where he wore tight gold leggings, and participated in a ball. For Ocean, the recluse, this is camp in that it undercuts expectations, plays with his own history and might be a sly nod to street photographer Bill Cunningham, a man who documented the camp of New York streets.

By taking photos of the paps, he’s calling the Met Gala, as a spectacle, camp.

Or maybe he just didn’t want to dress up. Honestly, Ocean has given us so much, I don’t care.


Laverne Cox

Widow arrives to her fourth husband’s funeral, ready to cash the cheque after a few crocodile tears? Camp.


Zendaya

Cinderella, complete with magic effects? Camp! She even left a goddamn glass shoe on the steps.


This Pigeon

Queen of camp! The mundane made decadent! To treat the everyday as though it was a piece of art! Ah, I love fashion!


Jared Richards is a staff writer at Junkee, and needs you to stream Vox Lux OST on iTunes. Follow him on Twitter.