How is the cover of one of the most controversial albums represented and interpreted?
They say a picture tells a thousand words and in the instance of an album cover this couldn’t be truer. The fact is that a single glimpse of an album cover is enough to evoke happiness, thought or even nostalgia into the viewer as it is ultimately a preview into what the audio experience within will contain. Album artworks have always played a crucial part and in some cases can either make or break a project due to the way that viewers use them to identify the musical piece optically.
Other times artists use the album cover to tell a visual story to accompany an audio experience and this is evident in Eminem’s 3rd studio album released on May 23rd 2000 titled the Marshall Mathers LP.
To a casual music fan the album cover may appear vaguely familiar or may not even ring a bell at all however to fans of Eminem’s music and rap fans alike this is an image that carries multiple messages and meaning furthering the notion that a persons ideological position result in a different interpretation of an image or ‘sign’.
The cover of the Detroit rapper’s album depicts him sitting on the steps of a dilapidated home with a vintage filter with the title and artists name in the top right corner with the signature backwards ‘E’. However, the meaning of this album cover goes significantly deeper for anyone who understands the context of the imagery. The album cover itself is actually shot out the front of Eminem’s childhood home in which he suffered a lot of trauma and harsh experiences growing up in a single parent household with drugs and alcohol commonplace in his home. The album cover itself is therefore a testament to how far the rapper has come as this album went on to be the fastest selling rap album in history, selling 1.76 million copies in the first week of its release. This point was furthered as Eminem himself spoke about the cover in an interview stating “I had mixed feelings because I had a lot of good and bad memories in that house. But to go back where I grew up and finally say, “I’ve made it”, is the greatest feeling in the world to me.”
The retro and seemingly ominous filter that covers the entirety of the album is a foreshadowing and ultimately a warning of what the album contains as it is widely regarded as one of the most controversial musical projects in history from one of the contentious artists ever. With an album featuring frequent references to homophobia, misogyny, violence and murder the grim filter and portrayal of the artist only seems fitting.
The Marshall Mathers LP garnered a lot of controversy due to the reception it received amongst teenagers and the youth and due to the messages and signs conveyed by the artist himself and his lyrical content. This is a modern-day example of Pierce’s Theory of signs as he writes;
“I define a sign as anything which is so determined by something else, called its Object, and so determines an effect upon a person, which effect I call its interpretant, that the latter is thereby immediately determined by the former. (EP2, 478) I’ve created to diagram of Pierce’s theory below to express the relevance of his concept to the album cover.
So in regards to my example, the conclusion of all this is especially within music, an album cover alone has an instrumental (pun completely intended) role in determining the way that an individual will perceive the content of the album and the artist itself. It is also evident that the amount of knowledge that someone has regarding the album, the artist and the context of the imagery on the album cover is imperative on the way they interpret the image.
And that’s my post for this week, I hope it was a quality read and someone, somewhere learnt something new!
Aaron, C., 2020. Marshall Mathers LP Album Cover. [online] Genius.com. Available at: <https://genius.com/album_cover_arts/145431> [Accessed 22 March 2020].
Larson, J., 2020. Eminem: The Marshall Mathers LP. [online] Pitchfork.com. Available at: <https://pitchfork.com/reviews/albums/eminem-the-marshall-mathers-lp/> [Accessed 21 March 2020].
Short, T., 2009. Peirce’s Theory Of Signs. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.