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JonBenét Ramsey is the one who brought them together.
Well, it wasn't so much JonBenét as it was Jeffree Star's desire for a tattoo of her. And it actually wasn't even the tattoo itself. It was the pop star and his soon-to-be tattooist Kat Von D's shared fascination with beauty queens that solidified the bond.
"I really wanted to start getting my beauty queens, like my Marilyn Monroe and Sharon Tate," Star explains of the indelible homage. "After I sent the e-mail, Kat was like, 'Let's get this guy in here right now.' We really just bonded and have been best friends ever since."
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Star is not shy about his obsession with vanity (the word is written in a permanent, fluid script on the right side of his face), and pinpoints his intense interest in Hollywood stars and celebrity culture as the connection between him and the equally famous tattoo artist.
The story of Star and Von D's inked connection brings to light the only other tattoo on the pop singer's body that could out-shock the image of the deceased baby-faced beauty queen on his left biceps: his portrait of Kurt Cobain.
It's not just that it's Cobain. The image, another distinctly Von D piece, this one in the center of Star's chest, depicts the influential musician Jesus-posed with a crown of thorns on his head, positioned over a banner that reads "Rape Me." Flanked by Audrey Hepburn and Elvis Presley, it is just one of dozens more portraits of celebrities and family members, both dead and alive, that grace Star's pale skin in a testament to his unabashed pop-culture obsession.
"I have over seventy tattoos," Star says nonchalantly. "Music is really important to me; Kurt Cobain is important to me. Hearing Nirvana was pretty life-changing." But so were *NSYNC, Britney Spears and the Spice Girls — the last of whom Star also has emblazoned on his body.
"When I was growing up, I was just as influenced by them," Star confides of the British platform-sneakered quintet. "Just because I wear makeup, everyone assumes it's like David Bowie — but growing up, I knew who he was but never listened to his music."
Star goes on to say that his fan base doesn't even come from that frame of musical reference. "Kids now have no idea who David Bowie or Marilyn Manson even are," he says. "Some don't even know who Madonna is — it's scary. I feel so young, but at the same time, I feel dated."
He's far from dated, but Star is right: If there is anything he knows about, it's his fan base. At 23, the Orange County native is from an age group that came up through the didactic graces of the Internet but still had a touch of early life without the information overload that has blown much of popular culture's pre-web past right over younger heads.
"I used the Internet," Star says of his early days as a social-networking personality, "as a vehicle to get places not many people did before."
If you knew of Jeffree Star prior to 2008, it was almost solely because of MySpace. The popularity and idea of a MySpace-specific online persona was built on self-portraiture, something Star easily perfected. Anyone could take pictures of himself in front of a bathroom mirror in an inappropriate position — but Star did it better, and with purpose.
Branding himself through press-ready photos by actual photographers, Star mixed his fantasy world of impossibly arched pink eyebrows with the recklessness of glamour's underbelly, posing as a Froot Loops-vomiting, razor-blade-stuffed, cupcake-eating beauty queen.
"I just met photographers through the Internet," Star reveals. "We would just meet up and shoot, and they would give me the images for free. I would put them up and give them a photo credit, and that was enough for them."
This self-made, self-promoted and beauty-obsessed persona that began to gain momentum through the voyeuristic and human-interest aspect that social networking provided eventually brought Jeffree Star to the current incarnation he's been honing: total pop-star prince. He took full advantage of what MySpace was also known for at the time — being a hub for new music. What began as a handful of tracks posted in jest on the site in the mid-'00s has evolved, in 2010, into a full-fledged deal with Akon's distribution label, Kon Live.
"We met through Nicki Minaj's old manager," Star says of the unlikely connection. "She gave Akon my album, Beauty Killer, and he was like, 'Oh, my God, who is this chick?'" Akon was soon corrected and flew Star out to Atlanta so he could meet him. "We met and talked, and I think we really saw eye to eye," says Star. "I felt like, finally, he got the vision that so many people had fucked up in the past."
Star sighs with the slightest breath of relief when sharing this, going on to explain that before, he had been pigeonholed by his sexuality and gender-bent exterior qualities.
"They think I'm just a 'gay artist' because I like guys," Star insists, mildly annoyed. "But I'm a worldwide artist," he says, acknowledging what Akon saw and heard in his work. "If you go to my shows, 90 percent of my fans are females between the ages of eleven and eighteen. People look at me like a living mannequin; all of these girls want pink hair. They want the cool makeup and contact lenses and cool clothes. So, to me, it's not a 'gay thing' — a lot of gays love me, of course — but my fans are mainly female.
"Like Hannah Montana fans," he adds with a laugh, "but edgier."
Pulling back and peering at the bigger picture of Jeffree Star, these doll-like comparisons just circle around to the pop performer's obsession with being beautiful — or being dead.
Star's vision of tonal variations of pink perfection and a fascination with celebrity culture are encapsulated in his video for "Beauty Killer," which came out this summer. Though he is rarely — if ever — photographed without a full face of makeup, the video is a frame-by-frame worship session devoted to many a Star persona, complete with close-ups of his beauty-queen tattoos flashed between the image of his flawlessly made-up self.
Though he claims no allegiance to David Bowie's gender-ambiguity influence, there are points in the video at which Star is a near ringer for a modern-day Aladdin Sane. Or maybe he's just channeling a little cartoonish Jem and the Holograms true outrageousness from the late '80s. Either way, Jeffree Star fans won't know or care. Things that happened before the Internet aren't real, anyway. But Star is here to stay, Internet fame or not.
Besides, he concludes, "MySpace is dead, just like Anna Nicole Smith."