SOUND & VISION: THE 2018 GRAMMY DESIGN AWARDS

The 60th Annual Grammy Awards air live this Sunday, January 28th – and for the first time in fifteen years, the National Academy of Recording is foregoing sunny Los Angeles and holding the event on the freezing East Coast at New York City’s Madison Square Garden.

Nominees this year brought their A game – and we’re excited about “Best Album” category – though not for the reasons you might think.

While the sounds of “Best Album” nominees Childish Gambino, Lorde, Kendrick Lamar, Jay-Z, and Bruno Mars all deserve praise for sonic artistry and emotional reach, as poster people, we can’t help but focus on the creativity evident in these artists’ respective album covers – and how the compelling designs generated publicity for these albums long before they hit the shelves.

If we were judging album covers like a red carpet, we’d say there are three big trends this year: the use of light, the color blue, and typeface (or lack thereof). Here are – in our opinion – the top “looks”.

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Childish Gambino’s Awaken, My Love!

Childish Gambino’s Awaken, My Love! first entered the public consciousness via a tweet that linked to what would later be revealed to be the record’s cover. The linked image – featuring the face of a black woman, cast in a cobalt blue light, her eyes rolled back and mouth open as if in ecstasy – instantly evoked curiosity amongst fans, who were particularly fascinated by the intricate headdress adorning the disembodied head.

A small internet conspiracy grew from this initial frisson of mystery – intrepid fans of Gambino (aka the writer-actor-producer and “Friend of PMD” Donald Glover) noted the image appeared again as a prop in Glover’s television show Atlanta. By the time sleuths had traced the headdress back to Brooklyn artist Laura Wass, Gambino covertly announced a series of secret concerts to promote Awaken’s release – effectively harnessing the buzz generated by his mysterious artwork drop into a three night experiential bonanza.

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Lorde’s Melodrama

In a stark departure from the minimalist, text-only cover of her debut album Pure Heroine, Lorde (aka 20 year-old Ella Yelich-O’Connor, another “Friend of PMD”) embraced the delicacy of portraiture for her sophomore record Melodrama.

The cover of Melodrama features a painterly representation of the artist (an oil composition by Brooklyn-based Sam McKinnis), her head cradled in a mess of pillows, the light illuminating the exposed half of her face.

Intended to capture “the last two wild, fluorescent years” of Lorde’s adolescence, the record’s synth-heavy beats and new wave sound back heady vocals. Lorde’s lyric abilities shine just as brightly as they did on her much heralded debut – perhaps even more so. To crib Pitchfork’s assessment of the album: it’s nothing less than luminous.

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Kendrick Lamar’s DAMN.

Compared to the relatively contemplative hues employed in Awaken! and Melodrama‘s artwork, Kendrick Lamar’s DAMN. is loud and abrasive – and that’s just how designer Vlad Sepetov, a long time Lamar collaborator, envisioned it.

After the initial album preview, Twitter lit up as fans questioned the album’s minimalist look… or what some perceived as “bad design”. Sepetov fired back, noting, “Just given the bare bones, we fleshed something out that has a lot of people talking.”

Indeed: DAMN. managed to make perhaps the greatest cultural impact of the year. While Jay-Z’s 4:44 succeeded as a marketing effort before the album’s release, inciting curiosity among the general public by plastering transit stations and billboards with the cryptic numbers (or is it a time?), Sepetov’s bright red lettering incidentally aided a sustained marketing campaign – the instantly “memeable” typeface continues to appear across the internet, months after Lamar’s album dropped.

What were your favorites this year? Want to chat about good design? Drop us a line! In the meantime, and enjoy the Grammys!

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