Sarah Tanno knew this gig was going to be different.

For over seven years, the Los Angeles-based artist has worked with Lady Gaga, creating make-ups for concerts, music videos, red carpet events and television appearances. But they don’t call it the Super Bowl for nothing. Lady Gaga would be the halftime attraction at Super Bowl LI. Over 71,000 in the stands at NRG Stadium in Houston and 113 million-plus on TV would be watching.

Tanno applies make-up on Lady Gaga
Tanno applies make-up on Lady Gaga

“Of course, there is tons of pressure to create a look for the Super Bowl. It’s something that lives on forever,” says Tanno via phone from Houston two days after the big event. “People still reference Michael Jackson. You look back at it and everything looks so timeless. That was really important for me. I didn’t want it to just look great today. I wanted it to be iconic and beautiful when you see it 10 years from now.”

Sarah TannoTanno’s creative process began back in California when she dropped in towards the end of a month-long rehearsal period. By that time, the song list was set and it gave Tanno an idea of what to do with the make-up. Usually, she references beauty favorites and fashion editorials. This time, she did it a little differently.

“This is a tribute to every element of her career. It didn’t make sense to reference anything but her,” Tanno explains. “I watched every music video and tour from every era. I’ve been with her since 2009 and I remember them all. My plan was to take elements from each and make it my own and special for this event. But I still wanted her to look like the iconic Gaga that everybody knows.”

With a strategy in place, Tanno began experimenting during rehearsals. “And she caught me,” she continues. “She said, ‘Are you doing the make-up test?’ I was like, ‘Uh, yeah … I figured, why not?’ And that’s how I started my process.”

Lady Gaga Marc Jacobs Beauty

Tanno worked exclusively with Marc Jacobs Beauty products. To draw attention to the singer’s piercing eyes, Tanno used Twinkle Pop Eyeshadow Stick in Au Revoir 406 as a base and Highliner Gel Eye Crayon in Violet Femme 82 to line the eyes. The purple shade of the company’s About Last Night Style Eye-Con No. 20 eye shadow palette added depth to the crease. Style Eye-Con No. 7 Plush Eyeshadow in The Tease 202 brightened the purple tones. The lightest pink shade from the Style Eye-Con No. 7 Plush Eyeshadow in The Lover 220 added definition and outline. Tanno used Highliner Gel Eye Crayon in Blacquer to give the eye a dramatic wing.

To set off Gaga’s lips from the crystal eye mask she wore when she took the stage, Tanno began with Lip Lock Moisture Balm. She then applied Le Marc Lip Crème in Dashing 206 to create a striking red lip. The pièce de résistance was Enamored Hi-Shine Lip Lacquer in Hot Hot Hot 332, a bright fuchsia shade.

Lady Gaga Marc Jacobs Beauty

To tie the eyes and lips together, Tanno applied Air Blush Soft Glow Duo in Lush & Libido 500 to Gaga’s cheeks. As the performance would also include 40 dancers and four backup singers, Tanno couldn’t do it alone. Her longtime assistant Phuong Tran worked with Tanno on Gaga. Marissa Willinsky, who has been assisting with the singer’s make-up since 2010, was tapped to oversee the rest of the troupe. Marc Jacobs Beauty offered five of its global artists to assist Willinsky.

“Every look was created based on a part of an era,” says Tanno. “The Born This Way dancers had their own look; the Telephone dancers had theirs. The Just Dance dancers had their own. Gaga was heavily involved in choosing each look.”

Wanting to be ready if the need arose for effects or prosthetics, Tanno brought in an ace in the hole. “I knew I would feel more comfortable with whatever was thrown my way if I had Mike Mekash there,” she explains. “We call on him whenever we need something really special.”

Lady Gaga
Lady Gaga

Though ultimately the decision was made to stick with straight beauty make-up, Mekash proved to be an invaluable addition. “Hiring Mike is kind of like hiring three make-up artists,” adds Tanno.

The team arrived in Houston on Jan. 29 for the Feb. 5 show. As excited as everyone was, Tanno was surprised at how calm it was backstage. It helped that Gaga had brought along her friends and family. Tanno made an extra effort to keep things as relaxed as possible. She does confess, when it was time for hairstylist Frederic Aspiras to do his thing, Tanno left him alone with Gaga and went to walk off some extra energy.

When the time neared, Tanno accompanied the singer to where she was going to make her entrance. After one final check of the make-up, Gaga was sent into the spotlight. “She had a midperformance quick-change make-up,” says Tanno. “I worked really hard during rehearsals to make something that she could do herself.”

Lady Gaga Super Bowl LI
IG: @sarahtannomakeup

All that was left was to enjoy the show. “Frederic and I ran around onto the field to watch the performance,” says Tanno, adding how honored she is that Gaga chose her to do the make-up for what might be the biggest show of the singer’s career.

Ironically, between packing up all the gear and doing one more post-performance touch-up session, Tanno never got to see any of the game. But that’s not to say that the night didn’t end on a fun note, thanks to Gaga. “We all headed back to her house and had an ice cream party,” says Tanno.