When asked about why he came out with his own line of nail polish, Machine Gun Kelly cited his ambition to challenge some of the quandaries that ostensibly hinder our cultural understanding of masculinity.
“Many of the men in Greek mythology were warriors or soldiers or gods who had used their strength, and then there was Cupid, who was poetic and beautiful,” Kelly told Allure. “I wonder what a world of Cupids [would] look like instead of just people falling into what they think we have to be as ‘men.’ Strength comes in how you honor your word, not what you literally can do with your hands. That’s an art.”
Not to be outdone, Harry Styles also recently released his line of nail polish under the umbrella of his Goop-adjacent wellness and beauty brand, Pleasing. Well known for wearing dresses and skirts on magazine covers and red carpets, Styles told Dazed that his plant-based nail polish is really in the best interest of his fans. “I am blessed to have fans who are so supportive of me, who believe in freedom and who have created this safe space for each other,” he said. “Pleasing is really for them.”
But when I spoke with guys who already paint their nails on a regular basis, the general consensus was that they simply don’t care if their nail polish is marketed toward dudes or not. In fact, most of the people on the subreddit r/MalePolish, a community for cis men and male-identifying and trans masc individuals, weren’t aware these nail polish lines even existed.
“Personally, I didn’t know Harry Styles or MGK came out with their own lines,” one r/MalePolish subscriber tells me. “Do I think it’s unnecessary? Completely. Looking at the colors available and at their price point, I can find all their colors for half the price from other established nail polish brands.” Case in point: A single unit of Essie or OPI nail polish costs roughly $8 to $10; alternatively, a single unit of Kelly’s “25 to Life” nail polish costs $18, while Styles’ costs $65 for four units.
In other words, the subscriber continues, “it seems like you’re paying a premium for their brand and the ‘manly name’ of the color. I’d rather buy and wear an orange polish by Essie or OPI instead of spending double the amount of money just to say I’m wearing MGK’s ‘25 to Life.’ After all, you don’t see the brands or names, just the color.”
Historically, brands have long been accused of doing the opposite with “feminine” product lines. The “pink tax” refers to the extra amount of money women pay for specific products or services — e.g., pink razors — all because they’re branded specially for them. But as men continue to become a greater demographic focus for wellness and beauty brands, the pink tax is being kinda turned upside down (let’s call it a very masculine blue tax).
Nonetheless, the r/MalePolish subscriber admits that a younger version of himself would have thought it was awesome that a male celebrity was painting his nails and attempting to establish a new norm of masculinity. “I’m personally at the point in my life where I stopped caring what other people think and became comfortable with doing whatever I want aesthetically because, at the end of the day, I’m not hurting anyone or doing anything illegal,” he explains.
Another r/MalePolish subscriber was slightly less critical, admitting that while male celebrity nail polish lines does nothing for his personal comfort level, “if it makes other men feel better or freer about expressing themselves that way, great.” He does, however, consider these endeavors as little more than a capitalistic enterprise under the auspices of doing something good for the world.
More to his point, as someone who first reported on the #MalePolish trend four years ago, I also have a hard time believing that male-branded nail polish is going to mark a grand evolution in the way the vast majority of people view painted nails on men, let alone the way they view non-traditional forms of masculine expression. Rather, MGK, Styles and Lil Yachty seem to be doing just what everyone else is doing during this conspicuously hollow time in shifting cultural narratives: riding an “empowering” product line all the way to the bank.