Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Jesus Christ, Marilyn Manson, and Britney Spears

So I was browsing around a CD store the other day... (let's just pretend for the sake of this story that people still do that) when a particular album cover caught my eye with its suggestive and religiously blasphemous imagery. The album featured its artist up on a cross, wearing a crown of thorns, in what people in the know like to call "the Jesus pose."
Jesus Christ

Shocking, right? But to me, the most shocking thing of all was who the artist was: Britney Spears.

Britney Spears' "Piece of Me" album cover

Now don't get me wrong, I'm not particularly religious or anything... but it seemed to me that this particular motif looked a tad out of place on such a mainstream artists's CD. The tone of the whole design is confusing and garbled... When I was a kid back in high school, Britney Spears was considered the epitome of socially acceptable MTV drivel; not exactly a maker of rebellious statements, which is generally what those who venture down the Jesus-symbolism route are trying to do. Another thing which struck me about this, however, was an unrelenting sense of deja-vu... I was sure I'd seen it somewhere before. Then it hit me:
Marilyn Manson's "Holy Wood" album cover

Britney Spears had ripped off an old Marilyn Manson cover!

...And ripped it off badly.

Manson's cover is much more graphically pronounced; it is artistic while making its statement. Dead Marilyn Manson hangs on the cross, the central focus put slightly to the left of the cover. The artwork is, despite its dead and rotting imagery, much more alive than the Spears counterpart. Manson's arm seems to create a cradle for the title and credits, and the dramatic use of colour creates excellent contrast and hierarchy; pulling the eye immediately into the excellent (if a tad morbid) graphic elements. The text and distortion plays in perfectly with the dark textures and edgy theme, and overall the cover is a good visual representation of what the artist is all about.

At the time, the cover created quite a bit of controversy; but Manson was making a statement. A known satanist, his statement had to do with individuality over conformity; personal spirituality over the blind following of an organized church.

Britney's cover is just Britney, naked on a cross. The cover lacks any visual interest whatsoever, (unless you happen to be a 14 year old boy.) 

The image on Spears' cover is perfectly centered, failing to create any palpable visual energy. The pink hand-written script of the main title clashes horribly with the piece's overall appearance. It makes one wonder... Is this a bold statement, or a Sunday trip to the Mall? It's as if they just threw the title text in afterwards, left over from a completely different concept. 

Another thing I couldn't help but notice was her boob... (not like you're thinking.) Spears' breast has been photoshopped in this image to be smooth and nipple-less; another former Manson staple. In several videos, Marilyn Manson donned a creepy, asexual, pale bodysuit with the sexual organs as anatomically correct as those of Barbie and Ken. Are Spears' designers just dragging up old metal albums to make Britney seem more edgy?
Marilyn Manson's "Mechanical Animals" album cover

I think the extent of the statement being made by Spears in this case has to do with how "martyred" she's become with Tabloids and Entertainment shows picking apart her every zit, bad hair day, and tummy bulge. It's a statement I don't completely disagree with; I think those shows are just ridiculous, not to mention demeaning towards women... but somehow this particular cover still just leaves a bad, confusing taste in my mouth.

On a personal note, I find Manson's rebellious statement much less ideologically offensive than Britney's "sexy Jesus". At least he was trying to say something with his image... What's so sexy about death by crucifixion? In the past, artists far greater than Britney Spears were severely damaged for making so bold a statement. John Lennon got the Beatles into serious trouble after proclaiming themselves to be "Bigger than Jesus." And that was The Beatles!!!

Even Manson, an often-offensive shock rocker from whom controversy was generally expected, took his share of flack for doing his Holy Wood cover. When did such casual profanity move from the realm of dark, shock-rocking metal groups and crazy punks trying to make a statement, to the very mainstreamiest of mainstream? When did something so hypothetically wrong become run-of-the-mill? (I posed this question to a friend of mine, and he informed me that it was around the time Rebecca Black became famous.

Sex Pistols' Johnny Rotten getting nailed

Now I know, I know; I should leave her alone. Britney Spears has been through enough. All I'm saying is there's going to be a lot of confused stoner kids out there when they go to play their Marilyn Manson CDs and wind up hearing the first track off "Piece of Me" instead.

These two little gothic stoner kids completely tweaked out after accidentally
buying the wrong album. They were never heard from again.

Eminem - Relapse

This particular album cover is extremely interesting. It is an Eminem album, so the design is somewhat raw. The name of the album is " Relapse". If you look closely enough, the artwork on the cover is made up completely of prescription pills. This has a lot of meaning to Eminem, as its problem he has dealt with for a very long time. 

To add even more to the theme, the bottom left corner, features the album name, along with medical information in the style of a pill bottle sticker. It enhances the feel and look of album even more. 

Elton John Greatest Hits 1970-2002

When I first came across this album many years ago in my Dad's CD collection, (most of which I've now acquired) I remember how it caught my eye. It was so simple, so empty, so different than all the others. Here was this 2-disc set covering more than 30 years of musical genius and that's the cover? An incomplete, hand drawn portrait of a young Sir Elton John with giant yellow sunglasses and a title?

That's right. There's the cover and it's absolutely brilliant. The negative space surrounding the illustration truly allows us to focus on the musician who has been placed just slightly off centre. The designer of this album has chosen an iconic representation of Elton John's career in the form of yellow sunglasses. Any EJ fan would tell you that he is known for his lavish costumes and accessories and this cover art is no exception. This one element summarizes an entire career while revealing a lot about Elton John himself. Through the glasses however, we can still clearly see the telling eyes of a young Sir Elton John. At the risk of sounding a little bit out there, it's almost as if the sunglasses symbolize the music which in turn allows us (the listeners) to truly see Elton John as a human being.

At the age of 12, no, I did not have a sense for how great this cover really was. Looking at it today however, I can appreciate it much more for its subtleties.

James Blunt - All the Lost Souls

I was browsing iTunes today and I found this album cover from James Blunt's 2007 album All the Lost Souls:

The idea here is really interesting.

First off, the contrast between the red in the title and the background is quite obvious, as it pops off the page.

Secondly, the image of James Blunt in the background is made up of many, many tiny pictures. The quality of this image isn't great, but if you zoom in, the pictures are all portraits of people. I find this very suitable, as the title of this album is "All the Lost Souls", and there are a lot of "souls" represented on the front of this cover.

Thirdly, the typography for the artist's name is just really cool. All of the letters seem to be illuminated as neon lights, which I love. I wouldn't have thought to use neon lights in this application, but I think it really works. It's also kinda neat how the title seems to be lighting up the page - judging by the dark corners.

At first I didn't really notice this cover as anything spectacular, but as I started to look closer, the design decisions are actually pretty clever.