The world of celebrity beauty brands is a crowded one. (How many blush and highlighter palettes touted by a pop ingenue could one possibly need?) So it can be hard to get genuinely excited about the launch of the moment. But when we got word that Colson Baker, a.k.a. Machine Gun Kelly, was starting a nail polish line, we were all over it. The musician known for his ability to defy genre as much as his red carpet antics with girlfriend Megan Fox is a master in the art of self-expression. He, of all people, knows how to embellish and decorate his body in ways that delight (his extra-long talons at the iHeart Music Awards this year), shock (his black tongue at the Billboards) and fascinate (anything he’s ever worn on stage). The debut collection, known as Un/Dn Laqr and available today on UNDNLAQR.com, is made up of ten shades and five top coats, all of them 9-free, cruelty free, and vegan. They will be available individually as well as combined in very giftable boxed sets, which come with specialized nail art brushes for extra precise application. In anticipation of the launch, Baker sat down with W for a candid conversation about the therapeutic role nail art plays in his life, how spending time with Fox has influenced his approach to self care, and his long-lost relationship with sweatpants.
When did you first start experimenting with nail polish?
Middle school was the classic emo phase for me, which was just using a Sharpie to paint my nails black. Actual gels and cool designs on my nails came within the past three years, as I was searching for a way to incorporate a more Zen 20 minutes into my day—or I should say two hours, really, with some of the nails that I do. But I have to make an excuse to block time out, and it’s very hard for me to commit to a meditation or just sitting in silence in my own thoughts. That’s why I used to love shaving with a single-blade razor, because you have to take your time. If you rush, you cut yourself. That was my process for a while, and then I discovered that when I would do my nails, I just had to sit still and do the same thing as what meditating is. But I also got to be a little bit creative, and I would leave with a tangible satisfaction.
Do you often paint your nails yourself or do you have a nail art person you go to?
I have a nail person, but even when me and my girl are bored in a hotel room in a different country or something, and we’re just sitting there watching a movie, that’s always a fun way to connect.
What’s the craziest nail design you’ve ever tried out on yourself?
At the iHeart awards, I had on six-inch acrylics with chains hanging from them—it was like an homage to Edward Scissorhands meets Alexander McQueen. I have such a masculine energy, so I knew having nails like that would throw a glitch in the system for people who were looking. It’s almost like performance art: I enjoy doing performance art and I know that it makes people think, and it draws attention to things. I started to do things that drew people’s attention to my hands, so when the name Machine Gun Kelly and nail polish were in the same sentence, it made perfect sense to people because they had already been paying attention to what was going on.
How differently do you think about the way you present yourself when you’re, say, going about your day-to-day life versus doing a red carpet?
I’ve forced myself into this program of like, “This is all just going to be performance art.” My girl has a running joke: If I’m in a show outfit and people are like, “Oh man, this is a great show outfit,” she’ll be like, “He goes to the grocery store like this.” Me and sweatpants don’t know each other. It's a long lost relationship that I yearn to have one day.
What would you say inspired you to launch this collection?
What I love about Un/Dn is that it encourages us to pay attention to small details in getting ready, which is something that men learn from women. For sure women are the biggest inspiration for the nail line, and not just because painting your nails is generally considered to be a feminine activity. Women pay attention. I’ll ask my daughter: “Why are you putting on makeup today? We’re not going anywhere.” And she’ll say, “This is just how I want to look. This is for me.” And there’s a really stunning lesson in that because men almost never do things to be seen. And we don’t do things that put us in a position to be comfortable with ourselves. This line is like, “Hey, take this 30 minutes for yourself to just add to your vibe, whatever that is today.”
Routines of self-care weren’t common the way I grew up and for the men I saw. Self care puts you in a position to go about your day, being confident and having your head high. You have an idea of who you want to be that day. And that might be the day that you go out and make a life-changing decision or get a job that changes your life forever. Or put on a show that people don’t forget. And if you’re not doing that self care, then you’re an open source for anyone else’s energy. You can become whatever they want you to be.
Who first taught you that taking care of yourself is part of something bigger than just the way you look that day?
That is a good question. I was super late to the game on that. I wish I had been taught that when I was 16 or something, I’m sure I would’ve been closer to my presidential campaign run.
Are there any products or routines that you’ve now adapted that help make you feel good on a daily basis?
My girl lays out left to right the whole routine, and that’s something that I take pride in. I used to be on a cigarette and coffee diet. And now I’m being reminded, you’re going to be 50 one day and you can look 50, or you can look a different way. My artistry was so immersed in music, and I grew to appreciate the artistry of, like, being a face that people want to look at for many years. As opposed to being something that has a time stamp on it. The biggest thing I’m scared of ever being is a trend. And that includes physically. I look at George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Denzel Washington, Will Smith—people who have clearly taken care of themselves. That’s a choice. It’s not God given, you got to work at that.
What does it mean to you to be a man and a founder of a beauty line? How do you reflect on being one of the few guys in this space?
I mean, I’m in good company, right? Because women are the inspiration for beauty in general. All the way back to Greek mythology, those stories that traveled down through the centuries. Beauty was a woman. Maybe you would have a Cupid who was a beautiful man, but for the most part, it was just a bunch of barbarians. You know what? I’m reminded of music fans who are girls. They don’t care about an outside opinion. If they like an artist, they’re going to like that artist. And because they like an artist, guys will follow and be like, “Okay.” But guys are so... we’re insecure. So we’re not the first people to go out on a limb and say, “Hey man, we love Prince.” It took a million girls being like, “Oh, we love Prince,” for guys to be like, “Yeah, I like Prince now.” I’m trying to be the seesaw between male insecurity and beauty.