These are the odds-and-ends that deserved their own categories.
BEST / Fashion
Lovely photo, but the outfit and hairstyle are what elevate this. This guy’s slightly oversized, rumpled dinner jacket over matching pants with bright red shirt and tangled gold accents are sublime. If I saw this dude in person, I’d walk right up to him and tell him how fresh his style is. I feel like you could pull this off in several decades of the past 100 years.
BEST / Attempt to Get All of the Members of a K-Pop Group on Cover
There were almost as many K-Pop albums released this year as heavy metal, which is a lot. K-Pop albums tend to go one of two different directions:
- Incredible graphic design
- Fit all the inevitably large number of band members on the cover
A surprising number of K-Pop bands choose #2 and their attempts can often be hilarious. What Red Velvet did here on their album “Queendom” is pretty darn next level, involving baloons, birds, wind, and earth moving equipment. It’s safe to say they “really nailed the shot”.
In the runner-up, they managed to get everyone’s heads even, and some pretty incredibly typography to boot. Once you see that R kicked in the stomach and doubled over you can’t unsee it, though.
WORST / Attempt to Get All of the Members of a K-Pop Group on the Cover
Boymen are pretty much the worst offender in this category. There’s a lot of gradations of bad before you get here, however. In full size for your eyeball bleeding pleasure:
BEST / Funniest
This album cover of a confused knife wielding clown demanding to know what, exactly, is so fucking funny, had me in stitches all day the day I posted it, and I still haven’t found a funnier album cover this year.
First runner up for funniest, these two guys holding an info card over themselves with important info like name and “type of voice” (super high tone!) plus drawn on bowties and hairstyles definitely tickled me.
Funniest runner up to the runner up. This guys cover for drugs depicts him both “together” and fully drugged out. I love that in the “fully together” version his tie is still loosened and he’s still smoking a cigarette. In the drug photo he looks properly deranged. Hope you’re having fun, Tyler Posey, recovery is not far behind.
WORST / Ringo Starr Release in 2021
Ringo. You are a goddamn former member of The Beatles and can presumably afford some real heavy-duty PR muscle, but the reality is, your version of cool ended in 1990, which is why when you saw this bargain-bin album cover, you said “YES! CHANGE THE WORLD! THIS IS MY ALBUM COVER!”
The truly hilarious thing here is, that there’s a runner-up in this category…
…yes, another scrubby photo of Ringo Starr, another laughably outdated sentiment and album cover that would have looked dated in 1990. And those… extra jacket zippers? My god.
BEST / Graphic Novel Style
I saw a lot of comic book cover-type art this year, but nothing nearly as striking as this comic look inside a lonely memory. Incredibly impactful graphic image. Crisp, clean, balanced, perfect depiction.
WORST, er, BEST? / ATBGE (Atrocious Taste But Great Execution)
These covers are very well executed, but still incredibly gross and/or cheesy.
WORST / Grossest Mouth
I can’t believe I have to report this had to be a category of its own, and that I actually REJECTED several other gross mouth photos. Stop trying to pass off gross photos of your mouth as an album cover, people.
The busted lip and broken tooth somehow make this, every so slightly grosser than…
…the also horrifying runner-up. There are many, many other examples this year I won’t pain you with.
Best Minimal Use of Type
WORST / Minimal Type Design
Everything about the Yung Head$hit title and cover make me feel dumber. Creativiting Us: From Darkness To All… the holy what? I assure you this dude’s raps are just as poorly written and executed. It’s legitimately embarrassing. But to top it off, the weird mix of alignment, type-sizes, and just horrible balance are really a headscratcher.
BEST / Most Mixtape-ey Mixtape Cover
Checking all the mixtape boxes is important in a Hip Hop mixtape cover, but this one checked all the boxes and then some. Sure other mixtape covers have a cup of lean, but does even their pitbull have a Rollie and a scale? Probably not. Lil’ Migo has corrected that.
BEST / Album Cover I’d Definitely Play if it was a Mobile Game
Well, you know exactly what kind of glossy math rock this is going to be as an album, but I couldn’t help wishing this was a mobile game! I want to play the old dude with the flamethrower and sword mowing down approaching biplanes with fire! Missed opportunity!
BEST Themed Series of Covers – Cue Dot Records
Some time last year, the experimental and electronic music label Cue Dot Records came up with a simple idea for their album covers: a 5X5 grid of colored circles creating an incredibly low resolution icon. Then, for well over a year, they’ve used this framework to express the concept of the individual artist and album releases they put out.
I couldn’t really pick the best, so I’m just posting most of their release covers for 2021. To see all the rest, just go to the Cue Dot Records bandcamp page.
I particularly love Manfred Hamil’s “Everything Fades” for the clearest illustration of an idea in so very few bits.
STAY TUNED for the best album covers of 2021