Downtime

What Is Going On With Elon Musk’s New Haircut?

The most promising theory: It’s a scattershot attempt to hide a years-old secret.

A seated Elon Musk holds a microphone in his hand and a child in his lap.
Hmm. Theo Wargo/Getty Images for TIME

In absolute terms, Elon Musk’s new haircut isn’t that dramatic: maybe a centimeter off the sides, little extra growth on top. Barely a blip in the grand scheme of male hair design.

But when the richest person on Earth changes his look in any way, it makes waves. Specifically, the neatly coiffed waves now visible atop Musk’s forehead. Musk debuted his new look for paparazzi at the airport when he traveled to Art Basel Miami Beach last week. It’s super short on the sides—almost down to his skin—with a blunt-cut mop on top. The longer section extends down the back of his head, tapering off an inch or two above his hairline, leading the Daily Mail to call the ’do a “quirky Mohawk.”

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That’s not quite what it is, but I don’t blame the Daily Mail’s writers for falling short here. (And I certainly don’t blame the site for its impressive compendium of photographs, which provide views of every conceivable angle of Musk’s head.) Musk has opted for a nontraditional amalgam of styles that evades pithy descriptors. Is it because he’s in a class of human beings so elite that the classic catalogue of hairstyle options no longer applies? Or is it because, as Musk claimed in a tweet, he cut his hair himself and didn’t have the wherewithal to attempt a proper fade?

Either way, the result has got onlookers comparing Musk’s new look to those of various dictators and fascists (Kim Jong-un, Adolf Hitler, Richard Spencer) and other unsavory analogues (Macklemore). Wrong again, people! Those cuts share a tidy military vibe, with an even shave all the way around the head and lengthier hairs gelled in place. Musk’s is different: He sidesteps the fasch-y connotation with a more tousled top and that mysterious elongated backpiece. It’s a subtle discrepancy, but an important one. It must be a consequence of the defunding of arts in our schools that the masses can no longer decipher between high-contrast male haircuts.

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Back to the back of Musk’s head—what is the deal with that extra panel of hair? Allow me to speculate. For the better part of a decade, hair-loss experts have been discussing the likelihood that Musk has had a hair transplant. At this point, it’s a near certainty: If you’ve seen photos of Musk from the turn of the millennium, in his PayPal days, you’ve seen the top of his head in its natural state, dusted with a thin coating of wispy hair. A hair-transplant specialist told Page Six that this could be classified as “a class three to a class four (out of seven) hair loss pattern,” which sounds pretty serious. Nowadays, though, Musk has a fully populated front hairline with only a bit of recession at the temples. Either there’s some kind of Faustian bargain going on here or Musk has had a hair transplant, and, you know, Occam’s razor and all.

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If Musk had wanted a hair transplant, he would have been a perfect candidate, since he still had thick hair on the sides and back of his head—a sizable crop to be reaped and replanted up front. And now that Musk’s given his sides and back a close shave, a hair-loss blog that’s been following the billionaire’s hair journey since 2015 claims to have found a possible scar from the suspected procedure on his newly exposed scalp. You can see what they’re talking about in some of the Daily Mail photos.

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It’s clear that Musk wants a cool haircut to stand out from his billionaire peers. Not something that evokes villainy, in the style of Jeff Bezos; not something uncanny and hideous, like Mark Zuckerberg; and not something boring or dweeby, like Larry Ellison and Bill Gates. So, over the past several years, in line with general trends, Musk has let the top of his hairdo grow longer and cut the sides progressively shorter. But his aspirations for a close-shaven back of head have finally run up against the scar, the price he paid for those robust waves that now frame his forehead. Perhaps Musk wasn’t shooting for a “quirky Mohawk” after all, but was merely trying to camouflage the evidence of his vanity.

There’s another possible explanation. Musk’s new ’do bears a remarkable resemblance to that of his 8-month-old son, X Æ A-Xii, who recently received a “Viking” cut from his mother, Grimes. Is Musk just another aging parent attempting to keep up with the times by mimicking the aesthetic whims of his child (and much-younger former girlfriend)? I can’t say for sure. Maybe he just couldn’t see the back of his head while he was fumbling around with the clippers.

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