A few weeks ago, an app made blog headlines. It was a Russian app, these blog posts read. It could perfectly graft Stalin’s face onto your own. And the Russians loved it.
MSQRD (pronounced “masquerade”) looks a lot like a Ukrainian app called Looksery, which Snapchat purchased last year after figuring out how to put things on peoples’ faces—specifically, to animate on top of not only still images, but streaming video. Looksery could make you look fat, or scary, or see-thru (like an x-ray). It could also, as Snapchat realized, fetch premium pricing for custom, branded skinning. So they bought the Ukrainian company for $150 million and that was that.
Now, Snapchat lets you activate various “lenses” by opening your mouth as you take a video selfie to get Gatorade dumped on your head (thank you, Gatorade), shoot candy corn into your mouth on Halloween (thank you, Peanuts movie) or wear Beats By Dre headphones as music pours from your open mouth (thank you, Apple Music). They’ve quickly become a routine part of life on Snapchat, if only because they’re irresistible (no matter the branding). I can’t help but want to see my forehead covered in old-person wrinkles, my mouth agape with a rainbow flying out of it, my eyes gigantic like an anime character.
MSQRD fills a similar niche, only compared to Snapchat’s branded lenses, there’s something exciting about MSQRD’s relative lack of polish. Is it because the app doesn’t come to us straight from the bros in Silicon Valley that it’s abandoned pretty much all the rules? Sure, it let’s you put boring things on your face (e.g., pink bunny ears or black-and-white KISS makeup), but it’s deeply creepy, too, letting you imagine yourself as Eurovision winner, Conchita Wurst — or President Barack Obama (which, like its fellow Snoop Dogg filter, feels uncomfortably close to something along the lines of black face).
Here I am as Stalin:
And here I am as an unidentifiable Russian old guy:
Once you’ve traveled into the uncanny valley of MSQRD, it’s hard to even imagine coming back to Snapchat’s tamer lenses. These facial transformations seem to be the bread-and-butter of the app as they expand to reach a global audience by quickly turning around new memes. In fact, they’re already getting topical: This weekend, I opened MSQRD to find that they added a new filter — now my all-time favorite.
Meet me as Leonardo DiCaprio holding his (future?) Oscars:
I pray that no big company ever buys (and ruins) this perfect app.
Lindsey Weber is an editor at MEL. She last wrote about the app, Peach.