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BBC - Culture - The surprising tale of Kylie’s hotpants

Despite their rather noble aim to preserve popular music’s history, music museums are often seen as less interesting and less legitimate than the art museum. Since music is intangible, its history is embodied in objects that are used to tell the story of an art form. ‘Star objects’, a term coined by the authors of Curating Pop: Exhibiting Popular Music in the Museum, are artefacts imbued both with the aura of their famous owners and the emotions visitors project onto them. From tour costumes to handwritten lyrics, in the music museum these objects can represent everything from the birth of rock’n’roll to the commercialisation of hip-hop. Here are the stories of 11 star objects on display around the world, offering a glimpse into how both museums and visitors mythologise music history.

Kylie Minogue’s gold hotpants

The teeny pair of gold lamé hotpants worn in the video for Spinning Around (2000) caused such a stir that some attributed Minogue’s successful comeback to them. Originally bought for 50p at a flea market by British photographer Katerna Jebb and selected for Minogue by stylist William Baker, the hotpants were donated in 2014 to the Arts Centre Melbourne, which described them as “one of the most identifiable items of contemporary popular culture”. No doubt the rumours – that they’re worth $10m (£8m); that they’re exhibited behind bulletproof glass – have added to their infamy. 

Prince’s Purple Rain motorcycle

Replicas in music museums suggest just looking like something a famous musician owned or used is enough to generate authentic excitement. The Museum of Popular Culture in Seattle took the trouble to buy a bike and customise it to look like the Honda used in Prince’s 1984 film. The original, from which Prince smoulders at us on the cover of the Purple Rain album, was built and customised by Lowriders by Summer in Minnesota and had a low seat for the musician’s diminutive frame. It’s no longer purple after being painted black and gold for 1990’s Graffiti Bridge, the lesser-known sequel to Purple Rain; and went on to be displayed at Prince’s Paisley Park estate.

Run-DMC Adidas superstars

Think of iconic music and brand collaborations, and no doubt Run-DMC and Adidas come to mind. After the trio released My Adidas, their ode to the shelltoes and to the kids who got called ‘thugs’ for wearing them without laces, thousands of fans at a Madison Square Garden show took off their trainers and held them in the air – the company then offered them a million-dollar sponsorship, the first of its kind. With that gesture a pair of white trainers became forever associated with both hip-hop’s street style and its commercialisation.

Jimmy Page’s dragon suit

Page wore a slinky embroidered black silk crepe jacket and velvet trousers known as the ‘dragon suit’ – made by a woman from Los Angeles named Coco – during Led Zeppelin’s live performances from 1975 to 1977. The guitarist, who is famously interested in astrology and the occult, asked Coco to personalise the flared trousers with star signs that had special meaning for him. An embodiment of both the creativity and excess of those days, the suit appeared in New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Play It Loud exhibition.

John Lennon’s Steinway

Although a white Steinway baby grand – that Lennon gave to Yoko Ono for her birthday in 1971 – featured in the video for their song Imagine, it was another piano that deserves recognition. Lennon composed most of the song Imagine in a single session on an upright Steinway piano. Built in Hamburg, the Steinway was marked by Lennon with two burns from a cigarette, and George Michael paid £1.67m ($2m) for it in 2000 as he felt the piano should be displayed in Liverpool. He lent it to the Beatles Story Museum, but the piano has also travelled to Dealey Plaza in Dallas, Texas to mark the 43rd anniversary of US President Kennedy’s assassination.

CGBG awning

The club that stood in New York’s East Village and boasted habitués including the New York Dolls, Blondie, and the Runaways had three awnings over three decades. Rumour has it the original was stolen in 1988 by the band Jodie Foster’s Army. Derek Bushong, CBGB’s former manager, told Gothamist he found the second awning, which hung until 2003, near the dustbins. It was supposed to go to the Hall of Fame in Cleveland but was never sent so he kept it. It eventually sold for $30k (£23k).The third CBGB awning hung until 2006 when the club closed. This one was installed at the Hall of Fame in 2010.

Chuck Berry’s Gibson ES – 350T

Chuck Berry used this semi-acoustic guitar to record Johnny B Goode (1958), which features what has been credited as one of the greatest intros in rock’n’roll history. The guitar was also used to record many of Berry’s early hits including Maybellene and Roll Over Beethoven. The Gibson appeared in early promotional photographs and was Berry’s main guitar from 1957 to 1963. It was on show at the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Play It Loud exhibition – in the book accompanying the show, authors Brad Tolinski and Alan Di Perna suggest the ES 350-T was “particularly well suited to Berry’s gyrations”.


Angus Young’s school uniform

What is now one of the most iconic images in rock history actually started out as a joke. For a 1973 gig, AC/DC’s lead guitarist borrowed a blazer from his nephew Sam, who attended the same school he had dropped out of aged 15: Ashfield Boys High School in Sydney. His brother Malcolm wanted to overhaul the band’s image ahead of an important gig and so all the band were dressed up. But only Angus got the seal of approval, with his sister Margaret persuading him to perform in a full uniform – and he has ever since.

Rolling Stone issue 1

The magazine celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2017 with an exhibition at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, but one exhibit that had already been there was its first issue, published in November 1967. It cost 25 cents and featured a publicity image of John Lennon playing a British soldier in Richard Lester’s black comedy How I Won the War. The cover image was picked just two days before the issue went to print and was called a “fortuitous accident” by founder Jann Wenner, who thought the image encompassed “music, movies and politics” which is what the magazine wanted to discuss.

Janis Joplin’s Porsche 356

Joplin paid $3560 for the used ‘dolphin grey’ car in 1964 and gave her roadie a princely budget of $500 to create a psychedelic mural of star signs, mushrooms, butterflies called The History of the Universe. The car was so recognisable that fans would see it and leave notes for the singer under the wipers. In fact, its distinctive design was how Joplin’s road manager John Cooke spotted it in a motel parking lot and went on to find Joplin dead from an overdose in her motel room. After Joplin’s death, the car slowly found its way to her siblings, who at first restored the original grey paint job, but in the 90s had Joplin’s artwork replicated. The Porsche spent 20 years at the Rock Hall in Cleveland, and was sold at auction for $1.76m (£1.2m) in 2015.

Janet Jackson’s Rhythm Nation outfit

Who can forget the super-cinched waist and the hoop earring with the dangling key? Bill Whitten is to thank for the iconic military ensemble which she wore to promote her classic 1989 album Rhythm Nation 1814. Whitten is also the man behind Janet’s brother Michael’s single white rhinestone glove. He dressed Neil Diamond (who discovered him working in a custom shirt business called Workroom 27) and the Commodores; he made Elton John a denim suit and put Stevie Wonder in dashikis. The Rhythm Nation outfit, especially the earrings and baseball cap, sparked fashion trends and was exhibited at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

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