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How to: interpret Kanye West's new album cover

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JUNE 04, 2013

It’s postmodern, post-minimalist and unavailable for pre-order. But that’s the point.

The album artwork for Kanye West’s sixth studio album, Yeezus, is at once extremely accessible and hopelessly unattainable. Although it puts the ridiculously anticipated album on full display, it also leaves more than a few of Mr. West’s fans underwhelmed (take a look at the artwork on kanyewest.com). But the rapper/producer/director/designer is no stranger to mass marketing, killer albums or artistic movements, so it’s extremely likely that there is something deeper going on here. In case you get to discussing the finer points of ‘Ye this weekend (but are worried that you can’t hold your ground), here are three ways to interpret Mr. West’s latest creation:

1. It doesn’t mean anything. Look at it: It’s nothing more than a clear plastic CD case with bright red tape on the side (alternate versions of the cover have YEEZUS spelled on the tape in scrawled, all-caps handwriting). It could be a third-grader’s failed attempt at a summer CD playlist, but in fact, it is just another unsophisticated publicity stunt that we’ve come to expect from the brash, uncouth Mr. West, right? Right?

2. It means everything. Wrong. Dead wrong. Kanye West is known for pushing the thematic, artistic and aesthetic envelopes of contemporary music, and this album art is no exception. Although simple, it advances cover art as a medium — it is painfully noncommercial and feels like a reaction against the overproduced, user-friendly and inviting artwork of most musical artists today. The transparent plastic case is revealing but austere — perhaps a parallel for celebrity — while the red tape could be Mr. West’s marginalized but bold voice in a manufactured and sterile landscape. Alternately, the lack of album art is a testament to what’s inside — a kind of reverse “Emperor’s New Clothes” concept. Perhaps Yeezus even incorporates elements of Jasper Johns’ “Flag.” After all, what is album art?

3. It doesn’t matter. You couldn’t care less about Kanye West and his avant-garde ambitions. Fair enough. Now, where’s some real artwork?

But whatever opinion you hold, the true meaning of this album cover might be that it doesn’t matter. That’s right — this album is going to go platinum whether you like the clear CD case or not, and Mr. West knows it. He’s doing this because he can; in a lot of ways, Yeezus is the most Kanye West album artwork ever made.

What do you think about the cover art? Let us know in the comments.

Image source: NRK P3 under Creative Commons

Contact Griffin Mori-Tornheim at [email protected].

JUNE 05, 2013

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