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Beauty…But Has It Lost It’s Edge? Urban Decay’s Wired Palette

Posted By on March 16, 2020 in LifeStyle | 0 comments

Beauty…But Has It Lost It’s Edge? Urban Decay’s Wired Palette

Urban Decay – what happened?  You used to be that cool girl with the gorgeous, ride-or-die colorful shadows that everyone was dying for.  When I was first getting into makeup during my undergrad, Urban Decay was sold next to Manic Panic hair dye in head shops, in lipstick tubes that looked like shell casings.  I had a deep maroon shimmer lipstick called Gash.  They were the go to for colorful shadows long before Sugar Pill showed up with their Barbie Dreamhouse aesthetic.

When I first discovered luxury makeup and started exploring the world of Sephora (what an expensive discover that turned out to be!), I was surprised to see Urban Decay as one of their anchor brands.  The packaging had changed, they looked somewhat more refined, but they still had great eyesahdows and wild colors, and I was glad to be back playing in their very colorful world.

Before we can talk about the new Wired palette, we have to back up a few years and talk about the electric palette.  This palette was a shake up in the beauty community of the moment for a couple of reasons.  First, this was an explosion of color in the middle of Urban Decay’s full on Naked phase.  Naked 3 was holding the world hostage with pinky-toned neutrals, and all of a sudden they dropped this neon bombshell like, “Oh, did you forget that we did color?  That’s cute.”  It’s also the first palette that I remember seeing a note on the packaging about certain colors not being safe for the immediate eye area.  At this point, it’s pretty common knowledge that the FDA is way behind Europe in it’s testing and regulation of cosmetic ingredients; certain dyes and pigments, especially reds that are used in creating red, pink, and purple shadows that are vegan, are not considered eye safe in the US but have been deemed safe in the EU with more recent testing efforts.  There may be issues with staining, and some people who are sensitive to the specific dyes may have reactions, but they are generally just as safe as the other shadows in the palette.  But because of where the FDA is at, you can’t call the palette an eyeshadow palette with these shades; Urban Decay called the Electric Palette a “pressed pigment” palette, and it’s why you see so many “eye and face” palettes, “artistry” palettes, etc.  That’s old news now, but it was the first one I had ever seen, and honestly it sort of freaked me out a little.  But with this color story, there was no way I was going to be deterred:

Well, we’re in another moment where Urban Decay has been playing a lot in the naked world (there have been 4 new Naked palettes in the last couple of years, as well as new Naked complexion products) so it was time for them to drop some more color on us.  Enter the Wired palette.

Although this palette is not marked with any specific branding for the palette itself, there is a similar note in the back that 4 shades (Gravity, Savage, Switch, and Slowburn) are not intended for the eye area, and are instead noted for “face and body.”  As you can see in the photo above, this is also included into the design of the palette itself, with the 4 pigment shades appearing on the right side of the palette, with a white line around then, asterisks by the names, and above the shades it says “for face and body.”  I’m not entirely sure why they included so many reminders that these are pigment shades that aren’t FDA approved, especially since that issue is much more mainstream and talked about than when the original Electric palette came out, but here we are.  Anything to stay out of the whole Cancel Culture shenanigans I guess…

Urban Decay hasn’t referenced the Electric palette in any of the promo that I’ve seen for the Wired palette, but it’s pretty clear that this palette is sort of an unofficial sequel to that palette.  In fact, three sahdes from the original (Chaos, Savage, and Slowburn) appear in this palette as well.  This palette got rid of the double-ended brush (which is a shame, I actually really like the brushes they include with their palettes most of the time!) and made the package a little smaller and included a raised, colorful design.  I loved the neon paint abstract look of the Electric, but this one definitely feels more sleek and attractive, and definitely part of the trends of the moment (including smaller, more travel-friendly design).

The swatches were done over the ABH base with a finger swatch on the left and a brush swatch on the right.  The top pic is my studio lighting without a flash; the bottom pic is the same lighting with a flash.

L to R: Glitch, Chaos, Shock, Gravity, Savage

Glitch is a matte white.  When I first opened the palette, I was sorta hoping that it would be like a dayglo color or something, but it really is just a plain white.  And it’s chalky at that.  This was a definite dud.  Chaos is a bright blue matte, a little chalky with a finger but it worked fine with the brush (which is how I work with mattes anyway, so I’m not worried about it).  Shock is a pale pink-toned purple, like a lighter orchid shade.  It’s a matte shade but has some sheerness and almost reads a little satin in texture.  Definitely the weakest shade in the palette to me.  Gravity is a bright purple shimmer shade.  Savage is a bright, medium pink matte.  It’s a nice shade, but nothing super unique.

L to R: Fluorescent, Current, Jolt, Switch, Slowburn

Fluorescent is a pale turquoise matte.  It’s about the same quality as Shock – not terrible, but not great.  It could have been a shade or two darker to make it stand out more.  Current is a nice enough light green shimmer, but it’s not as good as the classic UD shade Graffiti (see my last Face Friday post on Franken Makeup if you want to see some unique treats I put together using this shade!) and is a little bit sheer, so I wish they would have included that shade instead.  Jolt is a swampy bright yellow; it’s a nice enough shade, but I would have liked a more neon yellow option.  Switch is a bright orange neon matte, very bright and pretty well pigmented.  Slowburn is a gorgeous neon popsicle red.  It almost leans a little bit toward orange, but not entirely.  Maybe blood orange?

Overall, this palette is good, but it’s not great.  It’s definitely not the scene stealer that the Electric palette was.  That was a neon explosion in a sea of neutrals and nudes; while we still have a strong neutral presence in recent releases, there has been a trend toward rainbow and brights palettes for the last couple of years, so this just does feel as fresh as the original did compared to what else is and has been coming out on the market.  She’s cute, but there is nothing that sets her apart from the other rainbow palettes out there.

Let’s compare the two palettes:

They are similar, in that they are both brights palettes, but they definitely aren’t the same.  I don’t just mean that they have different shades, but I think there are differences between the two that elevate the original beyond being “just another rainbow palette.”

The Electric palette isn’t exactly a rainbow palette, and it’s not trying to be.  Rather, it’s an eclectic collection of brights that complement and contrast each other in unique and sometimes jarring ways.  Instead of the ho-hum white shade Glitch from the new palette, Electric had a metallic silver that seemed to come out of nowhere.  Some people loved it and some people hated it, but everyone took notice.  Electric concentrated very specifically on the cooler end of the spectrum: blues and greens with a royal purple, but they used “border colors” to bridge the gap with warmer tones, and then threw in that reddish orange and bright pink to give a definite contrast.  What do I mean by border colors?  Well, green and purple, in their pure, balanced combination are generally considered cool-toned.  But since they are made up of a warm-toned primary color (either red or yellow) combined with the cool-toned primary (blue), you can up the concentration of the warmer tone to make the final color skew a bit warmer.  Freak is still cool-toned, but it’s got a very strong yellow tone to it that helps it bridge the gap between cool and warm tones.  Thrash has so much yellow that it’s hard to tell if it is a strongly yellow-leaning green, or a greenish yellow.  I would still call it a cool-tone shade, but it’s much harder to distinguish it from the warm-toned yellows than one of the blues or purples.  The border colors are in that middle zone, and help you create more cohesive looks that still work together.

Wired, on the other hand, has shifted its color story to be a more typical kind of rainbow palette.  Jolt takes the place of the swampy Thrash, but it’s more acid yellow and ensures that there is some sort of yellow shade to make the whole ROY G BIV spectrum happen, even if the shades are not true primaries and secondaries.  It’s a rainbow palette with a bit of a twist, but still just a rainbow palette.  A pretty rainbow palette, and one that has pretty good performance and pigmentation, but still a rainbow palette.

I decided to compare shades from the two palettes to see how they compared.  I skipped the finger swatches and just did brush swatches on the ABH primer.  The shade on the left the Electric palette and the shade on the right is the Wired shade.  I tried to pair things up as best I could, but there are a couple of specific changes that I’ll address on the particular images.  Lighting is the same as noted above.  Shades from Electric are marked with (E) and shades from Wired are marked with (W).

First, let’s look at the repeated shades:

L to R: Chaos (E) and (W), Savage (E) and (W), Slowburn (E) and (W), Switch

I included Switch in this grouping simply because there isn’t an analogous shade in the Electric palette, and it’s most logical place is as a complement to the red-orange shade Slowburn. It’s weird, because I feel like Slowburn looks more orange in the palette in Electric than it does in Wired, but when I look at the swatches, in pictures and in person, they look identical to me.  Unfortunately, that’s not the case with Chaos and Savage.  Both of the shades from Electric are more pigmented and consistent than the shades in the Wired palette.  And remember – my Electric palette is easily 5 or 6 years old at this point.  I don’t follow the expiration dates on powder products at all (I have eyeshadows that are almost a decade old that still work as good as the day I bought them!) but it would be odd for the aging of the shadows to make them more pigmented and consistent rather than less.  You can see in the swatch of Chaos, especially, that the Wired version is much more sheer and patchy.  There was a spot along the bottom of the swatch that just wouldn’t take color – I went over that swatch 3 times with the brush to get it to where it is.  Savage is also a little more sheer from the Wired palette.

L to R: Urban (E), Gravity (W), Thrash (E), Jolt (W)

For these two sets of shades, I picked shades that had different names, but looked very, very similar.  For Urban and Gravity, I’m honestly not sure what the difference is – maybe they just did the same shadow and renamed it?  That doesn’t seem likely (why rename that one in particular but keep the original name for the other three?)  but I can’t tell the difference between these two.  The same is not true for Thrash and Jolt.  Jolt definitely is much more yellow and paler, and looks a little faded next to Thrash.  Jolt looks like what happens when you leave Thrash out in the sun too long.  It’s not a bad shade on its own, and like I said earlier it does help it meet more of that yellow role in the rainbow color story, but it looks a little sad up against Thrash.

L to R: Gonzo (E), Fluorescent (W), Fringe (E), Current (W)
Bottom: Freak (E)

For this grouping, no one would mistake any of these shades as trying to be dupes, or even all that similar, to each other.  But the shade serves a similar function: both Gonzo and Fluorescent are lighter, brighter blues that can be paired with Chaos, and the green shimmers can be used with the lighter swampy green shades Jolt and Thrash, or can be used to brighten up the deep purples of Urban and Gravity.  Fluorescent is a paler, weaker shade that doesn’t have the same impact as Gonzo, though you do have to note that it’s a bigger difference in tone than that between Chaos and Gonzo and provides a bit more contrast.  Current, the green shade from Wired, is almost like a combo of the two green shades from Electric: Fringe is a blue-toned teal shimmer and Freak is a much more yellow-toned green shimmer.  Current is much more blanaced between blue and yellow, but maintains the role of a green shimmer to pair with the swampy matte green shade.

L to R: Revolt (E), Glitch (W), Jilted (E), Shock (W)

Even in their prime, it has to be noted that Urban Decay’s shimmers have always been better than their mattes, and these two pairings are a great illustration of this in action.  Revolt was a bright chrome silver shimmer, an oddball shade to be sure but one that made an impression in the color story.  It was a curveball, and I think it worked because the shadow performed pretty really well.  This shade was replaced by Glitch, a chalky matte white, the type of shade that is pretty common in rainbow palettes (perfect for laying down over a primer to help the shadows pop) that is more utilitarian than anything else and certainly doesn’t get you inspired to use the palette.  This is the shade that you need for bright, neon looks if you don’t have some sort of white base or some other matte white – but at this point, what makeup enthusiast doesn’t already have multiples of one of the other?  It’s a wasted opportunity, and lowers the impact of the color story.

Jilted is the sort of warm violet shimmer shade with a flash of cool blue that UD is famous for, and it’s gorgeous.  To see it replaced with this pale, pastel matte that looks like glorified chalk dust is truly sad.

Urban Decay used to have a tag line: Beauty With An Edge.  When I went to their website to look at this collection, I didn’t see that branding anywhere, and maybe that’s for the best.  The Electric palette was dynamic and interesting, surprising and even a little scary.  It wasn’t particularly beginner friendly, but judging by dozens of YouTube videos I’ve seen from different creators who have or have had this palette in their collection, it inspired a lot of people to experiment with color.  To see a palette like that replaced by a basic AF rainbow palette with less pigmentation and a tired color story that’s one year minimum behind the trends?  That ain’t it, sis…

There was a small collection of additional products that launched with the palette, and they are equally rocky:

The Wired Vice Lip Chemistry Lasting Glossy Tint (seriously, that’s the name…available in 5 shades) is hitting the gloss trend hard, but it’s a lot all at once: it’s a gloss, and a lip tint, and it’s supposed to change color with your body temperature or pH level or whatever, and it has neon shades.  It’s like a trend blender that makes my head spin, and all I end up thinking is that I don’t need to pay $22 for color-changing lip gloss.

When I first saw that gorgeous swipe of glittery color behind the product image of the Wired Transforming Liner, I was like, “Ok, bitch!  This is maybe something I could fuck with!” until I realized that it was a black liquid liner on one end and loose shimmer powder on the other end.  I mean, I guess some people might not realize that you could stamp loose (or even pressed) shadows and powder onto black eyeliner to get a different effect, but did we really need five different shades?  Even if you were interested in this product, each one is a full black liner.  So if you want to buy all five shades, you get the 5 shimmer powders, but you also now have 5 black liquid liners that are exactly the same.  Why not create a separate liner (or even a series of different shades of liners to mix and match!) and sell the shimmer powders separately?  That way you could buy the liner, and then get the individual shimmer colors you wanted.  It just seems like a poorly thought out product.

The only product in the collection that I’m sort of on board with are the 24/7 Liner pencils in 4 new neon shades.  I will never speak ill of these pencils – they are some of the best pencils I have ever used.  And for $22 each, they should be!  I have trouble getting color to stick in my waterline, but when I use these UD pencils, I have pretty good luck.  I may pick up one or two of these to add to my collection, but they don’t get me super excited.

I really wanted this collection to be amazing, but it turned out to be Tiffany from America’s Top Model – we were rooting for you, we were all rooting for you!  But you just failed to deliver.  Is it a bad palette?  No, you can get some great looks out of this, and the $39 price tag isn’t terrible for a Sephora-league 10-pan palette (thought with the quality and the color story, $30 would feel a little more comfortable).  But we live in a different world than we did when Electric came out.  The rise of a lot more prominent indie brands means that colorful and rainbow palettes are much easier to find at any given time, regardless of trends.  Everything has been done 6 times over, so color story is going to be even more important with releases going forward; ironically, Electric palette did this much more successfully than Wired, and did it years before color story was such an important factor in evaluating releases.

That’s the Urban Decay that I want to see come back.  That’s the kind of release I want to see from this brand that used to feel so rebellious and intriguing to a your queer creative lurking near the bongs to buy hair dye and a clandestine lipstick to hide in his dorm, long before he ever thought about becoming an internationally ignored drag persona.  I want the Urban Decay that did things differently, created trends instead of following them, and just fucked up the makeup game from time to time, because they could.

That’s beauty with an edge.

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