Archive for March, 2011

Sex, Cars and Rock n Roll: What scores on the New York Times Best Seller List

Wow, it’s certainly quite a male-oriented week on the NY Times Best Seller List , judging by the overs of the #1 fiction and non-fiction anyway. I almost admire the confidence of these covers; they certainly know who their target market is!

Non fiction:

Again we’re seeing this scatchy pattern on the sans serif typography. Poor ol’ Joel Selvin, he is almost camouflaged into the hip, angular red text in the background. And since rockstars aren’t always known for their articulation, I suspect he had his work cut out for him.


“The one with the most toys … dies” Huh? Seriously, you’re using the “….” thing? It tagline sounds like an old Goosebumps book .


Dissecting the Magazine Cover: Rihanna on Vogue, March 2011

On this month’s cover of Vogue, posing in an embellished lace floral Chanel dress, Rihanna looks like a confident symbol of rebirth. The decision to dye her hair a poppy-red is surely no accident, representing a post-war period in her life, where the battleground has cleared and flowers have been allowed to flourish. Rihanna’s journey after a traumatic domestic abuse attack has played out through her fashion choices at a series of public stages including music videos, award show appearances, and magazine covers.

Floral motifs were present at the beginning of Rihanna’s career, where her fashion choices echoed her Barbadian heritage, giving her a genuine distinction from pop and R’n’B singers already on the market. In her first music video ‘Pon De Replay’ she sports a gold bikini top, a floral patterned dress, large gold hoop earrings and numerous chunky bangles. These Caribbean accents were Americanized by pairing them with casual baggy jeans and Converse sneakers to give her a more relatable look for her target audience. This early public image was certainly wholesome, but had less of the exaggerated girl-next-door quality thrust upon other pop stars like Britney Spears, or what I like to call the “Like a virgin (like we’re all stupid!)” persona.

As her career progressed, Rihanna’s style choices became more unpredictable, modeling an ever-changing parade of fashion choices and shorter haircuts. This new, daring fashion style was a considered, intelligent decision to distinguish herself. Rihanna worked closely with producer Jay Z, and therefore suffered from numerous accusations of simply being a clone of Jay Z’s wife Beyoncé.

In the ‘Disturbia’ music video , she had more gothic fashion style, wearing dark colors, chocker necklaces and mesh top barbed wire motifs. This “edgier” phase in a pop star’s lifecycle usually occurs two years or two albums, whichever happens to come first, into a pop singer’s career. This new fashion persona is usually signaled by the release of an edgy or artistic music video. Britney Spears, exhibited a more gothic look in the ‘Stronger’ video where she sang the infamous line “My loneliness ain’t killing me no more”, a reference to her first single. Christina Aguilera’s ‘Fighter’ was a kind of experimental art video with a convoluted butterfly theme. Whether true of not, these videos gives the impression of a pop star’s increased creative freedom or adult status, and a familiar cry from every entertainment magazine heralds, “[insert pop starlet here] is all grown-up!”

Next along the pop star lifecycle trajectory is an extremely provocative phase which is often the result of a slump in sales or a massive rebellion against their constructed virginal image. Throughout her career Rihanna wore her sexuality on her sleeve – or rather on her hips – using provocative, tight-fitted clothes to accentuate her curves. Animal prints were a reoccurring motif alluding to an animal and instinctive sexual nature. While many mothers of teenage fans may not approve of this highly sexual demeanor, it is certainly a more honest, if not healthier, attitude towards sex. There was never any doubt that Rihanna and her then-boyfriend Chris Brown were having a sexual relationship, refusing to do the usual “oh we’re just good friends” routine followed by a disingenuous giggle.

The next dramatic change in Rihanna’s fashion sense was brought on by tragic event, when she was viciously attacked by Chris Brown. The night of the attack she was wearing a flowing, pastel watercolor Gucci gown; a feminine style that almost completely disappeared in the years following the attack.

Although Rihanna refused to speak publicly about the incident, she spoke through her fashion choices, shifting to an androgynous but still highly sexualized look, alternating between re-appropriated masculine suits and army styles. Rihanna used fashion to cope, building a protective wall of harsher materials including leather, spikes and structural material. Large shoulder pads were her assertion of power during a difficult time, much like how women in the workforce chose them during the 1990s and Reagan-era.

Hairstyles and tattoos also played a huge part in her new look. She shaved the side of her hair, a poignant symbol of entering the army and now possesses no less than thirteen tattoos, including one on her chest “Never a failure, always a lesson” backwards so that she can read it in the mirror.

But Rihanna’s cries through her fashion choices and lyrics, “I, I, I, I’m so hard. Yeah, Yeah, Yeah, I’m so hard. So hard, So hard, So hard, So hard.” are reminiscent of “the lady doth protest too much. ”, an over compensation indicating that perhaps she was struggling more than she would allow herself to admit in public. Her music videos for ‘Russian Roulette’ and ‘Hard’ were flooded with war imagery and she wore aggressive artifacts revealing top made of bullets, shields and army jackets. There is also a knowingness to her fashion choices; her army helmet is shaped with Mickey Mouse ears possibly making statements about pop star’s constructed identity.

It’s important to note that a pop star can often have little power over what they wear, so there is always the concern that these public personas could be forced upon Rihanna. But I’ll finish with her own words about her personality, and hope for her sake that it isn’t purely constructed by other people: “Brilliant, resilient, fan mail from 27 million”.

My Favourite Movie Poster of all time (Seriously.)

I realise that this is quite a big statement to make, since there are probably millions of movie posters in the world and there’s no way I could have seen them all, but I’m in a big statement kind of mood. And seriously, this is just stunning. The first time I came across it, I think I stared at it for 10 minutes – which in internet time is about 18 hours – am I still love looking at it. The typography placement is very unusual so it really changes the way you look at the image.

There is a great interview with the designer Akiko Stehrenberger, where she discusses the poster in detail so I think I’ll let the poster do the talking, or if you’d prefer you can hear it straight from designer..

But here’s a few images the poster reminds me of..

Sharbat Gula’s piercing green eyes in Steve McCurry’s famous photograph for National Geographic.

The extreme contrasts of blacks and creams in William Turner’s ‘The Shipwreck’

And Lucien Freud’s portraits, especially the shadows on the person’s face.

Christina Perri: Avril Lavigne for the Twilight Generation

Rating: * /5

I have managed not to hear any of Christina Perri’s music, but I have heard Avril Lavigne and Paramore so I figure if imagine playing both of them simultaneously, I could get quite close.

She is pictured here holding with jar of blood, or rather cool-aid, lending a new meaning to drinking their own cool aid since teens and pre-teens seem to be lapping it up as her album is now #18 in the Billboard chart. There’s not much to analysis here, except for the singer’s appearance and clothing choice, but I’m sure that’s intentional.. And sure why wouldn’t just focus on her image? Look at her pretty convincing punk hairstyle with its casual blonde streak. She clearly knows how to rock.

The typeface choice is a slightly distorted version of courier. Courier has become common among designer attempting to have a “punk” or “alternative” aesthetic, since it looks the most like a typewriter, an now relatively unknown archaic object used by early zine writers. The font itself has also been worn to create the illusion of D.I.Y. album, one that these were all individually handcrafted by friends and fans. (They most certainly were not.)

If the music is half as recycled as the album’s aesthetic, and I’m guessing it is, then this really isn’t worth a listen.

Seeing Double

I’ve noticed that so many magazines are now doing double covers. It makes sense: with many magazines struggling to stay afloat, publishers and designers are experimenting with new ways to keep their magazine successful, from iPad apps, to charging for their online content, to these double covers. A double cover, er, doubles the chances grabbing a potential buyer’s interest.

The current issue of LOVE has both Kate Moss and Justin Bieber on the cover – haven’t caught Bieber fever yet? Well, surely you must still love Moss. It also offers the opportunity to post twice as many cover stories, without cluttering the front paper. More into London’s electronic music scene than Pittsburg hip-hop? Well, still pick up a copy of Fader’s Spring Style issue because they’re featuring both!

Generally in stores, more than one copy is exposed at a time. But this may be less effective in the many small bodegas dotted along NYC’s busy streets, where usually only one copy of each magazine faces forward. I wonder are publishers losing a lot of revenue by not having an advertisement on the back of the magazine anymore.. Hopefully the increased sales will pay off. I love a good magazine so I hope all these new initiatives work!

The Plague, destroyed

Most of the time I don’t like when book covers get ruined or destroyed, but there is something eerily beautiful about this cover of ‘The Plague’ by Albert Camus. There’s such a huge amount of fake “worn” book covers, usually created with photoshop filters to make it look more smudged, worn or scratched, but this is the real deal and it’d be hard to fake. This worn quality of the book makes it look even more interesting, textural and exciting: “a perfect achievement” indeed.

This book has been used over and over again to the point of near-destruction, but at least it’s been loved, hated and used. I like it more than a pristine design coffee table book that nobody ever opens for fear or ruining it.

Worst Poster of the Year (decade?): X-Men First Class

Rating: absolutely nothing/ 5

So judging my the posters, the new X-Men movie – X-Men First class – is going to be the worst movie ever made…

Just a pure silhouette would have been much more successful, albeit a bit boring. Why is there a odd floating head that was clearly photoshopped by an 10 year old? I have great respect for James Mc Avoy as an actor, but I suspect I may imagine his floating head from now on when I see him in a movie.

I really can’t quite get my head around these posters. I’m really hoping, for the sake of all graphic designers, that these are actually some kind of bizarre promotional prank to get online attention.. Alas, no dice.. I googled..

The floating head reminds me of this a bit..