Representing a part of your life’s work through a square-shaped visual art piece is an immensely enormous task. Do it right, and your album cover could stand recognizably alongside your music. It could forever be associated with you and your personality, work and career. Do it wrong, however, and it could ruin your entire album.
Let’s pretend you just finished making a music album. Years of work put into an hour of sound that, if done right, will live on for eternity in pop-culture. How would you represent that work through one picture? What colors would you choose for something this meaningful? Representing a part of your life’s work through a square-shaped visual art piece is an immensely enormous task. Do it right, and your album cover could stand recognizably alongside your music. It could forever be associated with you and your personality, work and career. Do it wrong, however, and it could ruin your entire album.
Album covers don’t have to be beautiful to be successful. They are, at the end of the day, meant to be marketing material. For example, Drake couldn’t care less about you hating the cover of his recent album: Certified Lover Boy. Most people would be tempted to think that the album cover was designed in under five minutes using a simple mobile app. It is a grid of emojis presenting nine pregnant women against a simple white background. Most would be surprised to learn that the cover was made by artist Damien Hirst using a simple canvas and paint. Regardless of whether you like it or not, CLB’s album cover is inconceivably smart. It strikes up a conversation with every mention it gets, and it has stirred up a lot of controversy. Big corporations and celebrities usually leverage bad attention to garner free publicity. To put it simply, all publicity is good publicity. Drake’s name is attached to some of the most recognized albums of all time, like “Take Care” and “Views,” which remain relevant due to his incredibly influential album covers.
CLB’s art is also very successful at representing the sound that it’s supposed to visualize. The classic, simple samples used in the background blend in with the relatively complex songwriting; conveyed through the smooth vocal performance of a bitter, resentful, and heartbroken thirty-one-year-old. At the risk of a joke, the simple album cover also represents how basic the production of the entire album is. Both look and sound lazy relative to the context of how many resources they both had access to, and it is simply disappointing.
Another popular album from 2021 was Kanye’s “Donda.” Like fellow stars Drake, Frank Ocean, and Jay-Z, he is also unbelievably influential through album art that continues its influence on mainstream culture.. You could argue that Kanye’s album art influences the deeper, nicher culture of design itself. “Life of Pablo” was a very good album on its own, but the art that presented it has gone on to influence a small part of graphic design. Through its jumble of words and sentences, overlayed by two pictures, The photos showed Kanye’s mental struggle in choosing between his family and the entertainment industry. It still stands as one of the album covers that has ever come out of the music industry.
With that given context, the art that visualizes Donda seems baffling at first. How can West, a man with some of the best album covers of the past decade, give us an album that is represented by a black square. Other artists have given us blank album covers before. Childish Gambino gave us a white square on his most recent album.. In Kanye’s case, there are many interpretations. Some say that the black represents his grievance for his mother, who the album is named after. Others say it represents the numerous black singers and rappers that are featured through the album. I tend to think that it is a mixture of both, and it certainly matches the tone and music that Kanye has put in the album.
CLB and Donda are both very influential and will certainly be recognized through this passing decade. They both show us how visual art can define what you listen to and how you feel. The color, or lack thereof, can set the tone and your mood as you listen to the album. I felt the contrast in emotions that Kanye showed through his album art when I listened to “Life of Pablo.” I feel the complex emotions that both Kanye and Drake bring to the newest of their albums, and while I don’t like the album covers that either of them chose, I am willing to live with them. Inevitably, I am set to look at them through the memes and designs they will inspire throughout the rest of the decade.
Picture Source: Complex.com