Saturday, October 1, 2022

2022 and Bad Cover Art

 I'm not impressed.

Recently Taylor Swift announced her tenth new album, titled Midnights. This concept album features thirteen tracks, each one telling of a sleepless night that Taylor has been through. As one would expect, this announcement build up a lot of excitement in the general public; we are now in the longest gap between Taylor releases since July 2019, after all. And I would be lying if I didn't consider myself excited too. Reputation was more than 5 years ago. Lover was a markable improvement. Folklore and Evermore were two of the best albums of 2020. I want to see how she builds upon her musical growth in a new way.

2020 was a great year for album covers. There were simple beauties- Jay Electronica's A Written Testimony. Charli XCX's How I'm Feeling Now. Lil Wayne's Funeral. Cover art that's mostly white with one big idea that gets across the concept of the album well and looking nice enough to put on your wall. There were covers that took this concept too far, like Childish Gambino's 3.15.20 project, but these simple covers worked well.

Then there were the covers that involved a bit more detail. Lil Uzi Vert's Eternal Atake struck me as beautiful when I first saw it. I love the colors and detail. The same can be said for Denzel Curry's Unlocked, Andrew Jackson Jihad's Good Luck Everybody, HAIM's Women in Music pt. III, Ty Dolla $ign's Featuring Ty Dolla $ign, and plenty more. These covers do a great job of painting a scene that you can look at for a while and still find value in, but they don't neglect to show you the main idea at a glance. 

Above all those, the best album covers of all time came out in 2020. All designed by the legendary Sam Spratt, we have 070 Shake's Modus Vivendi, Logic's No Pressure, and Kid Cudi's Man on the Moon III: The Chosen.

Sam Spratt really knows how to put a piece together to make it pop. Every one of these covers does exactly what it needs to do. Each one perfectly conveys exactly the emotion the album portrays. Each one has beautiful coloring and detail, giving you something to stare at. Each one is lovely enough to mount on your wall. An absolutely stellar set of works by Mr. Sam Spratt. It can't hurt that all these albums are good too.

Nothing in 2022 is hitting anywhere near that. It seems like album art has completely fallen off a cliff in terms of creativity, expression, and general appeal. So let's look at where we left off, on 11 December 2020, right after Man on the Moon III was released.

At the beginning, things were going well. Within a month, Playboi Carti's Whole Lotta Red and especially Weezer's Ok Human both had fantastic cover art. With both of these records, I couldn't imagine a different cover than the one we got. 

We got some terrible rap cover art following that. Donda is literally just a black rectangle. Donda 2 is as well, although it doesn't matter because it only exists on Stem Player. (Imagine paying 200 dollars for the worst album you've ever heard. Couldn't be me!) Certified Lover Boy features a bunch of pregnant women emojis in different colors, designed by Damien Hirst. Drake paid a pretty penny getting Damien to make the most embarrassing cover art I've ever seen. Lil Wayne and Rich The Kid's collaborative Trust Fund Babies album steps up above the Dondas and CLB, but still lacks visual appeal. The colors are lame and the drawing looks like it was made in a few minutes as a rough concept. The stock image of money in the background does not help its case. Quickly done cover art can be nice, but it has to look spontaneous and relevant. Trust Fund Babies is neither.

(Ashnikko's Demidevil gets an honorable mention here for its terrible cover; however the album itself is even worse than the cover.)

Pop music has kinda sorta been better. Not really. Perhaps the most important and celebrated pop album in 2021 was Olivia Rodrigo's SOUR. I really wish it had better packaging because I think this album is very unique. The design we got seems to be imitating Kero Kero Bonito's style from the Intro Bonito - Bonito Generation era. The mood given off is quite the opposite. Bright pastels turn to a faded purple, and a happy Sarah Bonito is replaced with Olivia Rodrigo looking like she doesn't want to be there. The stickers on her face always made me uneasy. Is this album supposed to make you uneasy? It sure doesn't sound like it. The back of the packaging is cool. I like the balloon.

Panic! At The Disco's Viva Las Vengeance looks terrible. It makes me feel as if this album is supposed to remind you of how you will die some day. I would argue this cover implies that day is very near. This is medical equipment packaging with Brendan Urie pictures stapled to it. For some reason.

Even artists that generally have great cover art are suffering. Trust in the Lifeforce of the Deep Mystery was a masterpiece of music and visuals together. The album was great and the front cover was so pretty. A Comet is Coming just put out a new album. Here's the cover art.

So that brings us to the recent announcement of Taylor Swift's Midnights album.

Why does it look like it was made in Office Excel? Which Excel version did she use? 2013? 2016? 365? If she were wise, she'd use Office 2007. I grew up with Office 2007. What a banger of a document processing software bundle.

I hate the gradients. They look like the white part was left in the dirty back window of an old car for a few days. I hate the font- one of the Microsoft Office defaults. Comes free with your copy of Windows 10. And Windows 7. And Windows Vista. And I hate how the photo is just sort of there. Damien Hirst type beat cover art with how lame and embarrassing this looks.

Taylor looks pretty here at least.

Some album covers this year have been good. 070 Shake's You Can't Kill Me looks fantastic. Not as good as Modus Vivendi, but that's a hard bar to reach. Denzel Curry's Melt My Eyez See Your Future gets my #1 pick for the best cover of the year. It looks pretty. I love it.

We are going through a drought. Good cover art isn't as good, and bad cover art is worse. Some day I hope we get more album art that goes hard. We need more Kids See Ghosts. We need more Knife Man. We need more Lexie, Hit Me With Your Prius. Until that day comes, I guess I'll leave with this:

AJR is trash.