2010s: Favorite 50 Cover Art of the Decade

"Shared Spaces" by EnviouSLAY

We are celebrating the end of the decade through lists, essays, and mixes. Join us as we explore the music that helped define the decade for us. More from this series

It’s telling that the decade’s most memorable innovations in cover art have breached the confines of the record sleeve. It’s a stunt Kanye West famously pulled in 2013, when CD copies of Yeezus hit shelves sans insert. The front of its jewel case stripped bare save for the edge of an orange sticker, the disc was exposed like spilled innards — a reflective organ through which one could stare at their mirror image.

It was a novel concept made even more intriguing in historical context. Yeezus dropped in the last year that revenues from physical music sales would outweigh digital proceeds, ditching the opulent presentation of My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy for a leaner, more efficient look fit for the streaming era. Now, at the end of the decade, as “Blood On the Leaves” or “On Sight” takes its turn in your playlist’s queue, you’re faced with a photograph of the physical product cropped into Spotify’s 1500x1500 pixel square. The disc’s immaterial surface reflects nothing.

In the digital marketplace, the square dimensions and promotional utility of cover art remain surprisingly unchanged. Save for a few animated experiments at the turn of the decade, the majority of cover art is still static. Parental advisory labels don’t serve any real purpose when slapped on a .jpg, but a mixtape cover just doesn’t look right without one — even today. Although artists have taken to bundling digital downloads with apparel, distressed ashtrays, and sex toys to rake in extra cash while gaming the Billboard charts, I still picture the square image posted onto streaming services when I think of any particular release.

As we transition into the 2020s, it’s likely that cover art will begin to assume a variety of shapes and forms. We’ve already gotten used to bumping snippets of unreleased Playboi Carti songs via ripped Instagram live clips, and somehow the tracks just don’t hit the same when they’re fully streamable in standard definition. Tierra Whack’s 2018 debut record Whack World was released as a series of 15 one-minute Instagram videos, which is infinitely more immediate and accessible than a boilerplate “link in bio” announcement. Maybe the folks uploading .gifs as mixtape covers back in 2012 were onto something.

For now, here are our favorite variations on a square we’ve seen this decade, conveniently organized into five taxonomic groups: Appendages, Flora/Fauna, Mythos, Personae, and Simulacra. Our 50-part primer on thinking outside of the box while working squarely inside it begins below.

..•´¯`•..•. APPENDAGES .•..•´¯`•..

David Bowie - The Next Day

Artist: Jonathan Barnbrook

[ISO; 2013]

Dean Blunt - The Redeemer

Artist: Dean Blunt

[Hippos in Tanks; 2013]

Dillon Wendel - Pulse

Artist: Anne Tetzlaff

[The Trilogy Tapes; 2017]

Eric Copeland - Logo My Ego

Artist: Eric Copeland

[L.I.E.S.; 2014]

felicita - frenemies

Artist: Dannie Russo

[Gum Artefacts; 2014]

Golden Living Room - Post-Internet

Artist: Michael Green

[Phinery; 2016]

Half-Japanese - Refreshing

Artist: Jad Fair

[Joyful Noise; 2014]

Parquet Courts - Wide Awaaaaake!

Artist: A. Savage

[Rough Trade; 2018]

We are celebrating the end of the decade through lists, essays, and mixes. Join us as we explore the music that helped define the decade for us. More from this series

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