Santigold's '99¢' + Famous Artists You Never Knew Made Album Covers
Music nuts everywhere were understandably freaking out this week with the surprise announcement of a new album from Santigold, her first in nearly four years. But what really caught our eye was the stunning album cover, a visual that saw the artist vacuum-sealed in a goodie-bag full of eclectically colored junk, making good on the title 99¢. But it’s no surprise that the visuals are particularly attention-grabbing; they were taken by Haruhiko Kawaguchi, the acclaimed photographer whose made a name for himself with a line of work depicting a variety of subjects all tightly sealed in plastic.
Using prominent artists to create album artwork is nothing new—looking at you, Andy Warhol for the Velvet Underground—but Santigold’s latest got us thinking about the multitude of artists who do unsung work for albums. Here are a few of our picks for the best artists behind some of the best album covers.
Ryan McGinley—Sigur Rós
The contribution of Ryan McGinley to contemporary American photography cannot be stressed enough; his imagery is among the most haunting to be committed to celluloid in the past decade. So it shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise that the similarly haunting Icelandic outfit Sigur Rós would enlist him for a cover that incorporates classic McGinley elements–nudity, nature, and effortless physicality. The album, the easily pronounced Með suð í eyrum við spilum endalaust, also produced a series of McGinley-helmed clips, ensuring maximum avant-garde craftsmanship.
Robert Rauschenberg—Talking Heads
The Talking Heads are a pretty damn artistic band, unafraid to push the boundaries of musical genre, stage presentations, and visuals throughout their storied rise out of the NYC punk scene. So for their biggest album, 1983’s Speaking in Tongues, they enlisted one of New York’s bona fide art legends, Robert Rauschenberg. An example of his classic use of mixed-media collage, the Rauschenberg artwork was only seen on a limited number of copies upon the record’s first release. It’s a complex array of imagery that’s only completely visible while the physical vinyl LP is spinning on a player, just the kind of complex presentation that defines both artist and band.
At first glance, it seems a bit counterintuitive for Banksy, the street artist infamous for being a renegade, to have his work appear on an alternative rock band’s highly distributed record. But given that Blur is one of the most quintessentially British, and quintessentially angsty, bands out there, the two seem a match made in sad boy heaven. Think Tank was a serious departure from the previous efforts of the band, but given their previous history of evocative visuals, an original Banksy is precisely in line with the band’s MO. Plus we cannot stop grinning at the thought of Banksy hanging out with Damon Albarn in a dingy basement making art.
Robert Mapplethorpe—Patti Smith
Power couples don’t get much cooler than Patti Smith and Robert Mapplethorpe, a musician/artist match made in heaven. Their relationship is well-documented in Smith’s phenomenal memoir Just Kids, but evidence of their creative partnership exists in a multitude of formats, like the album cover for Smith’s album Horses. It’s a simple piece of artwork, but it is an exemplary piece of Mapplethorpe’s piercing style of portraiture, one made all the more intimate given the backstory behind it.
Jeff Koons—Lady Gaga
Lady Gaga is the kind of musician who does things big, brash, and bold. For her to pair up with someone as like-minded as Jeff Koons seemed a partnership only possible in dreams. The end product, the confoundingly strange yet alluring cover to ARTPOP, is everything we could’ve imagined and more. A plasticene sculpture of Gaga interspersed with splices of Sandro Botticelli’s iconic 1486 painting The Birth of Venus is so bizarrely perfect that it easily outshines the album’s actual musical content.