Kesha’s excellent new album, Rainbow, is a cry for liberty. Liberty, evidently, from her alleged abusive past with Dr. Luke. Liberty from the constraints of her clubbed-out aesthetic—the album dabbles in country, rock bangers, and piano-driven ballads. Liberty from the constraints of a misogynistic music industry. And how did she choose to package her newest collection? With an album cover that liberates her butt.
Not that it’s a glib decision. Rather, nudity’s long been used a symbol of both power and vulnerability—and getting naked on an album cover, something that’s centrally used to market a record, often gets blowback from record companies, retailers and the conservative-minded. Here are 16 musicians who placed their bodies, in varying degrees of nudity, on their album covers.
WARNING: THE FOLLOWING IMAGES ARE NOT SAFE FOR WORK. YOU WILL SEE BOOBS AND BUTTS AND WIENERS.
Bat For Lashes, The Haunted Man
As nudity goes, Bat For Lashes’ The Haunted Man is about as artful as it gets, landing somewhere in between the Black Crowes’ Amorica and Belle and Sebastian’s Tigermilk. Yet Natasha Khan’s understated nudity — she carries a man on her shoulders like a wounded soldier, only showing a hint of bush — proved a point: She deliberately chose, in her words, an “unsexy” pose because she was bored of how the media represented women. “I got into the idea of not shaving my legs and being a bit raw and wild about it,” she told NME upon the album’s release. “And celebrating that side of women, and all the complex things you can be except for just being sexy.”
Christina Aguilera, Lotus
On Rainbow, Kesha’s nudity signified a rebirth. And five years earlier, Christina Aguilera used the same tactic on 2012’s Lotus. The album was The Voice star’s reentry into the pop game, bolstered by singles like the Blake Shelton-featuring “Just A Fool,” and Lotus‘ cover not-so-subtly reminded us that Christina’s back, baby. The album represented “an unbreakable flower that survives under the hardest conditions and still thrives,” she told Yahoo! Critics, however, immediately pointed out that Alanis pulled the whole hair-over-boob-saviour thing first.
David Bowie, Diamond Dogs
Bowie’s 1974 LP features the late icon depicted a dog-human hybrid. But you’d never be able to tell from the above cover — it just looks like an airbrushed take on ol’ Ziggy. Yet early versions of the record featured gatefold artwork depicting the singer’s junk on a canine lower body — and the “uncensored genitals” copies of the record are highly, highly collectable. Still, if you’re not willing to shell out hundreds of dollars to see Bowie’s dog dick, you can grab a magnet of the artwork for $3.90.
Ice-T, Gangsta Rap
Next year, 59-year-old rapper-nü metal visionary Ice-T will become a sexagenarian. But in 2006, he was busy being a sex icon, when his Gangsta Rap album — depicting the cop-bashing star post-coitus with his now-wife, Coco — stirred up controversy, prompting record stores to conceal the album’s racy cover. “It’s not pornography, it’s sexy,” he told the Sydney Morning Herald at the time. We don’t disagree.
The ongoing narrative surrounding Rainbow is that it’s a statement — namely, that she doesn’t need Dr. Luke to succeed. But listen carefully, and you’ll realize that she’s saying something else entirely: Namely, she doesn’t need anyone else but herself to succeed (see for example, the triumphant “Woman,” where she declares, “Don’t buy me a drink, I make my money / Don’t touch my weed, don’t call me honey”). Indeed, this is the new kick-ass Kesha, she’ll wade naked into any damn infinity pool she wants.
Lady Gaga, “Do What U Want, Ft. R. Kelly”
At this point, nudity and Lady Gaga are synonymous — she’s gone nude in everything from magazine spreads to Marina Abramovic-inspired videos. But the single art for “Do What U Want,” which both features and was co-written by R. Kelly, comes off as a little creepy now — not due to Gaga herself, but because of allegations that Kelly runs a sex cult. In that context, “Do what you want with my body” has an entirely different meaning.
Mac Miller, Watching Movies With the Sound Off
The message of Mac Miller’s Watching Movies With the Sound Off is clear from its cover — namely, expect some revealing shit ahead. And it did, indeed, strip layers off Miller’s frat-rap past, confronting his drugged-out penchant for self-medication. And it goes deeper, still. “On the first listen you might think that it’s really personal. But if you listen a few more times you might find a few more ideas in there that you might not have found the first time,” Miller told Noisey. “It’s all about layers, but layers within ones self. I love the cover.”
Lil Kim, The Notorious K.I.M.
This David LaChappelle cover was, at the time of its release in 2000, considered racy — it did, after all, depict the “How Many Licks” rapper topless, tattooed and with her pants undone, Al Bundy-style. Still, the planned version of the cover was meant to be racier still: The Notorious K.I.M. was originally slated to have the star fully naked, covered in Louis Vuitton logos. The latter photo eventually resurfaced in Interview magazine.
Master P, The Ghettos Tryin to Kill Me
Much like Ice-T’s Gangsta Rap, Master P’s The Ghettos Tryin to Kill Me‘s nude-dude album art was a boast of P’s sexual prowess. (Though it’s admittedly a little creepy, with King George peeking in the window toting a gun.) The album would become a rap classic and eventually push No Limit into stardom — though P unfortunately wasn’t able to convert his rap-game success into a long-lasting NBA career. Nonetheless, you can still find copies of Percy Miller’s Raptors jersey floating around.
Marilyn Manson, Mechanical Animals
In the late ’90s and early aughts, Marilyn Manson was about as controversial as it got. And why not? He wrote the foreword to an Anton LaVey book, told an interviewer he smoked ground up human bones, and was the subject of countless schoolyard legends (did he remove a rib so he could fellate himself?). On Mechanical Animals, a glammy concept album that had Manson moving in Bowie-esque directions, he appeared naked, covered in paint and latex, with breasts and a distinct lack of genitals. It was, like so many Manson albums, banned from numerous retailers.
It’s strange to say such things about the dead, but is there anything sexier than Prince’s lithe, tiny body? (We suspect that Prince, looking down from his divine Purple Throne, would surely take no offense.) He was, in fact, far too sexy for 1988, when copies of Lovesexy were removed from store shelves due to, we can only assume, their aphrodisiac qualities. (That, and there’s a plant stamen pointing his chest that looks like a — well, you know what.) Retailers eventually took to covering the album with black paper, which only led to more confusion — it made the LP resemble the all-black, funktastic Black Album.
Nicki Minaj, “Anaconda”
Some artists show their bodies to evoke a sense of intimacy. Others do it to be damn sexy, and Nicki Minaj is in the latter camp. The art released with her “I Like Big Butts”-sampling “Anaconda” single displays her assets — her butt-ly assets, if we weren’t being clear — and to hammer it home, she released a video for the track in which she drives Drake absolutely bonkers. With her ba-donkers (translation: her butt). “Anaconda” is about bars, bars, butts and more butts. Never change, Nicki.
“Weird Al” Yankovic, Off the Deep End
On Off the Deep End, Weird Al parodied some of the biggest tracks of the early ’90s: It included NKOTB spoof “The White Stuff,” MC Hammer knockoff “I Can’t Watch This,” and a “Rico Suave” chuckler called “Taco Grande.” But the album’s flagship track was “Smells Like Nirvana,” and accordingly, the curly-haired funnyman stripped down and jumped in a pool, a la the Nevermind baby. Our takeaway? Weird Al must really, really like donuts.
Sky Ferreira, Night Time, My Time
Think nudity’s gotten less controversial over time? Think again. Sky Ferreira’s debut featured album art shot by Gaspar Noé of the singer in the shower — and it’s a photo that looks indisputably vulnerable and distraught. Still, a firestorm emerged around the album because, you know, nipple. “There are way bigger issues than my body or whoever’s body it’s just weird… it’s like people have a problem with sexuality unless they get to use it and enjoy it for themselves,’ she told the Daily Mail. “I don’t think those photos were necessarily sexy and if I was trying to sell my body… I could have made it look way nicer.” In other words, Ferreira wasn’t trying to sell her sex appeal — but that didn’t stop the image from being cropped in promotional shots.