When Art and Music Collide: 10 of the best album covers designed by famous artists
I recently met one of my favourite contemporary artists, the American painter Walton Ford, who was in London for the opening of the new Rolling Stones exhibition at the Saatchi Gallery. Despite being a huge fan of Ford’s work, I had no idea that he’d designed the cover of the band’s greatest hits album GRRR!. Putting together a post dedicated to album art has always been on my ArtMastered to-do list, and this discovery felt like the final push I needed. So here is a selection of ten iconic pieces of music artwork, dating from 1967 to 2013, that have been designed by major visual artists. Read on to find out more about these inspiring collaborative projects, and please do message me details of your own personal favourites.
First of all, if you haven’t seen the whole video before please just stop what you’re doing and watch the whole thing.
Okay, so the main reason that I wanted to cover G.U.Y. (An ARTPOP Film) today is because this is some of the most intensely Gaga nonsense that Gaga has ever put out, and I love every second of it. This video was put out in March of 2014, when she had already charted two major singles for the album (plus weirdly a few other promotional singles, thanks Little Monsters) and already seemed to be on the back end of the promotion cycle for ARTPOP. There had been quite a bit of speculation about what the follow up single to Do What You Want was going to be, and while G.U.Y. wasn’t my number one choice (I <3 Sexxx Dreams), I was immediately excited to find out that we were going to get another epic Gaga video in the vein of Marry the Night.
This entire video is filled with wild symbolism, dance breaks, vague narrative structure, massive set pieces, iconic costumes, and a huge cast. Few can rival the production value of a Lady Gaga music video, especially one of her extended length films. Everything is bright, vibrant, a fantastical yet feels in line with the songs themselves and the rest of ARTPOP. What this shows off best of all to me is Gaga’s ambition. While we all know that she never does anything small or half hearted, who would’ve thought she’d pull out this kind of high concept, high commitment, and most importantly high budget project for a third single for an album that did well, but not nearly as well as her previous ones? This film in my mind is the masterpiece of the ARTPOP era. It balances the Warholian ethos of the entire project with the joy and weirdness that is classic Gaga, and it does so in a way that doesn’t ask for permission. The video for Applause leaned into shock factor and struggled to find a cohesive aesthetic other than weird art student, while Do What You Want never got an official video. G.U.Y. on the other hand fits snuggly in the vein of Paparazzi, Telephone, and Marry the Night - all incredibly specific, ambitious, and crucially fun.
For me, I think that is part of what made the ARTPOP era fall the tiniest bit flat compared to her previous work. Especially considering the ARTRAVE that Vevo hosted before the album premier, it suddenly seemed like Gaga was taking herself a little bit too seriously, or if not that, that she was not quite as in on the joke as she had previously been. G.U.Y. was a total course correction in that regard, but perhaps a bit too late. Listening to the album, it’s easy to hear the joyfulness, the play, and the fun, to hear the pop that is needed to make the art breathe. For me, Gaga is at her best when she is extremely weird and extremely out there with a clear and specific sense of what that is going to look like. When her weirdness feels a little bit more like a persona, like something she’s trying on for size rather than a stab at authenticity, I think she tends to be more successful. I feel like Joanne has definitely suffered from some of the same problems, but more on that later in the week. For now, let’s bask in the glory of G.U.Y.
I have been confronted with a question that I have no answer to, and I’m sure there is no answer to. There is a single, white star in the upper right corner of the ARTPOP album cover, to the right of Lady Gaga’s head. Does anybody know the meaning behind this star, or if it has any significance to the album cover? Thank you very much.