To the surprise of absolutely no one, Beyoncé slayed at the VMAs on Sunday. Her performance felt more like an epic mini concert than just a quick sampling of her latest album, and the crowd went wild for the Queen (Ariana Grande even shed a few tears over the powerful performance before bowing at Bey’s feet). Once you took in the multiple quick changes (including a silk organza cape from Ralph & Russo and an epic fur coat worthy of Cruella de Vil), your eyes likely traveled to her killer makeup look. And after you got past that, your gaze journeyed beyond Bey to her massive entourage of backup dancers—some sporting tribal-inspired body paint, gold hands, gilded side parts, Nefertiti eye makeup, and sculptural wigs worthy of Cleopatra. The two pros leading the massive backstage team behind the scenes: makeup artist Sir John and hairstylist Kim Kimble. “I’ve never been to the VMAs. I’ve never even been to Madison Square Garden,” said Sir John. “To see all these people, like Rihanna’s crew and Ariana Grande’s team—it was like the Olympics of makeup and hair.”
Sir John definitely knows how to make an entrance at MSG—he acted as the conductor of the beauty orchestra, leading a crew of 25 makeup pros (some of whom were from MAC Cosmetics and artists he worked with at 20-years-old). “It was like a huge reunion to see the MAC team back there,” he said. While it seems like a lot of hands on deck for a 15-minute performance, there were 96 faces to paint (a process that started at 9:30 a.m.), making it more like a full-on Broadway production. For the Queen herself, Sir John used his magic touch to create one look that worked with a series of ensembles. “We went through three different looks in our dress rehearsals, but the day of I knew I didn’t want to be the thing that stuck out,” said the maquillage master. “There was so much going on, I just wanted to be the harmonious thing that tied the hair and the wardrobe together. As makeup artist, hairstylist, or stylist, you have to know when it’s your time and when it’s OK to pull back…It wasn’t about giving her a big smoky eye like I did for Joan [Smalls] at the CFDAs, it was about making her look young, fresh, and alive—and making sure that we hit the mark in all the different lightings. There were about seven different lighting changes in that sequence.”
By pulling back, however, Sir John stayed true to form (there was no treading into Alicia Keys’ bare-face territory), giving Bey his signature feline flick, brown liner along the lower lashes (“It’s less aggressive, but it reads as black in photos,” he said), “tons” of highlighter on face and body, and gold pigment combined with a mixing medium for a molten, “liquid gold” effect on lids. The real secret to pulling off Bey’s beauty look, however, actually involves bleach. To “knock off any darkness in her brow,” Sir John lightened Beyoncé’s arches ever so slightly (leaving the bleach on the hair for only four to five minutes) the day before the VMAs to keep the focus on the lash line. He said it’s easy enough for anyone to try, but urges those who are game to attempt this brow trick well in advance a big event. “You never know if your undertone is really red,” he cautioned. “I don’t want people coming to my house with torches!”
Even with 96 beautiful women and Beyoncé, Sir John made sure to leave a bit of time for his youngest star, Blue Ivy, who attended the VMAs before she was even born (Bey was pregnant with Blue at the 2011 VMAs) and is already a makeup guru in the making at the tender age of four. “I love that little girl—I don’t know any four-year-olds, she’s the only one I know, but four-year-olds are the shit,” he laughed. To complement her tiara, he polished off her pout with a pink lip balm. “[Blue] said to me, ‘Can I do a makeup tutorial?’” said Sir John. “These kids watch YouTube—they start young!” Blue can apparently craft a mean floating eyeliner as well. You heard it here first: Blue Ivy is well on her way to becoming the next beauty sensation. Kylie Jenner better watch her back because this baby is undoubtedly as fierce as her mama.