Choosing the best album covers from a single year’s worth of releases is a difficult enough task, but it’s nothing compared to creating an album cover that stands out. Artists and the creatives they hire need to find a meaningful balance between art and commerce; not only do they have to create an instantly-recognizable image that can grab the attention of consumers and be repurposed across a whole spectrum of marketing materials, but they also need to represent the artist’s musical point of view on a very high level. The best album art of 2015 includes images both straightforward and abstract, intricate and simple, some with real-life counterparts, like Travi$ Scott’s Rodeo, and some with video components, like Björk’s Vulnicura. Most of the artists whose covers made our top 15 were central to the concepts employed and the creation of the visuals that anchor their music.
Get to know The Best Album Covers of 2015 and their stories below.
15. Jamie xx, In Colour
Release date: May 29, 2015
Art direction: Jamie xx
Designer: Jamie xx
Label: Young Turks
Though Jamie xx's In Colour album cover is minimal and reminiscent of his previous LP and single covers, he explained its poignant meaning in an interview earlier this year. He says, "I design all my stuff, so I ended up designing the album cover for In Colour. I wanted to have a spectrum of colors to represent all the records I put out previously, and because the album has a lot of different shades on it.” He adds that there is a connection to The xx’s artwork, as well: “I also wanted to have black and white in there, so the flip side of the vinyl is gonna be a black logo, and the frontside is white. That represents the two The xx albums. Romy designed the 'x' for The xx, and I just made one leg of the 'x' for my artwork. It's quite simple."
14. Erykah Badu, But You Caint Use My Phone
Release date: November 27, 2015
Art direction: Unknown
Label: Motown / Control Freaq
Though the artist behind Erykah Badu's But You Caint Use My Phone remains unknown, the cover has a very clear relationship to the album's humorous commentary on our phone-dependent culture. The album's press release stated that "each song makes reference to telephones and our own reliance on staying inter-connected," and song titles like "Dial’afreaq," "Whats Yo Phone Number," and "Mr. Telephone Man" drive home the point that phones are not only our means for instant communication and information, but also for consuming music.
13. Lana Del Rey, Honeymoon
Release date: September 17, 2015
Photography: Chuck Grant
Art direction: N/A
Lana Del Rey's Honeymoon album cover was photographed by her sister, Chuck Grant, who has captured many of Del Rey's iconic photographs over the years. In speaking of the process of getting to this final image, Del Rey says via Instagram, "The pictures were perfect, but something was missing. Maybe it was the need for movement and motion or the search for a single frame that felt extra graphic." She adds, "When Neil [Krug], Chuck, Stella and I took an adventure through Bel Air by way of speeding Sunset Boulevard in a topless bus, something just clicked—and then we got those gorgeous frames all three of us were looking for." Neil Krug, who photographed the cover for Ultraviolence, shot the alternate cover that was available exclusively at Urban Outfitters.
12. Brodinski, Brava
Release date: March 2, 2015
Art direction: Le Creative Sweatshop
Designer: Le Creative Sweatshop and Adulte Adulte
Label: Bromance / Parlophone France
For his Brava album artwork, Brodinski commissioned the French artist collective Le Creative Sweatshop, who also collaborated with designers Adulte Adulte on the album's typography. Brodinski's face is in the center, anchoring distorted bottles, bubbles, glass, and smoke. It has a futuristic aesthetic and seems graphically connected to Brodinski's "Us" video, where Brodinski blissfully parties on his own in China.
11. Grimes, Art Angels
Release date: November 6, 2015
Art direction: Grimes
Throughout the lead-up to Grimes' newest album, Art Angels, she's made it clear that she does everything on her own, from her songwriting to her production to her videos. Two months ago, Grimes first shared the cover for Art Angels on Instagram, letting people know that, yes, she also made that herself. In a documentary about the making of the album, Grimes says, "Grimes as one person cannot represent more than a couple ideas. That's why some of the other characters are really abstract from who I am or how I am." The cover and its humorous $100,000,000 price tag foreshadow the many characters Grimes explores musically on the album.
10. Rihanna, Anti
Release date: TBD
Art direction: Rihanna and Roy Nachum
Painter: Roy Nachum
Label: Roc Nation
In early October, Rihanna held an event in Los Angeles where she debuted the cover art for her forthcoming album, Anti. She introduced the artist, Roy Nachum, who later explained to Vanity Fair that the title of the artwork itself is If They Let Us, Part I, and that the image is meant to depict Rihanna as a young girl with a crown covering her eyes. The cover also has braille on it, following the single covers for "FourFiveSeconds" and "BBHMM," and Nachum says that he spent a week blindfolded to achieve the total artistic vision for the Anti cover and his continued "Blind" painting series. Nachum adds, “Sometimes we’re running in the world of today, but we’re running after achievement, after achievement. The crown is oversized and covering what we’re supposed to see. We can’t see the success.”
9. Tyler, the Creator, Cherry Bomb
Release date: August 13, 2015
Photography: Mark Peckmezian
Art direction: Phil Toselli and Tyler, the Creator
Designer: Phil Toselli and Tyler, the Creator
Label: Odd Future / RED
Tyler, the Creator went big for his latest album, Cherry Bomb, which featured Lil Wayne and Kanye West on the same song (“SMUCKERS”) and drew inspiration from N.E.R.D. and Stevie Wonder. The album has five covers total, which were shipped out randomly from online retailers. Tyler explained the illustrations on the multiple covers on Instagram, saying that the aesthetic came from his drawings on people's faces in random magazines. With the help of photographer Mark Peckmezian and designer Phil Toselli, Cherry Bomb's album covers continue the growing legacy of Tyler's graphics that are simultaneously humorous, shocking, and captivating.
8. Fetty Wap, Fetty Wap
Release date: September 25, 2015
Photography: Diwang Valdez
Art direction: Virgilio Tzaj
Designer: Virgilio Tzaj
Label: RGF / 300
Fetty Wap made a bold move to show his left eye socket on his debut album cover. In previous interviews, Fetty revealed that he only has one eye due to congenital glaucoma when he was younger. His openness even inspired a kid to remove his prosthetic eye, to which Fetty responded, “I’m proud of Jayden and I appreciate him more than he may know." He added, "I’ve been talked about my whole entire life. The only difference now is they’re saying good things about the guy with one eye.”
7. Björk, Vulnicura
Release date: January 20, 2015
Photography: Inez & Vinoodh
Art direction: Björk and Andrew Thomas Huang
Designer: M/M (Paris)
Label: One Little Indian / Megaforce / Sony
Björk released both "still" and "moving" album covers for her newest album, Vulnicura. The still version was photographed by longtime collaborators Inez & Vinoodh, and the moving version was filmed by Andrew Thomas Huang, who also co-directed Björk's "Black Lake" music video, commissioned by the Museum of Modern Art. In an interview with the New York Times, one of Björk's friends notes that her use of yellow on the Vulnicura cover art, in videos, and, recently, in her clothing, comes from her association between the color and "healing and transformation.” As fans know, while recording the album, Björk went through vocal chord surgery and separated from her ex-husband, the artist Matthew Barney. In both covers, Björk's chest has burst open; in the moving version, it’s sewn back together and heals so that she can blossom back into the world.
6. Drake, If You're Reading This It's Too Late
Release date: February 13, 2015
Art direction: Jim Joe
Designer: Jim Joe
Label: Cash Money / Young Money / OVO Sound / Republic
Drake commissioned the anonymous graffiti artist Jim Joe to create the viral album cover for his surprise release, If You're Reading This, It's Too Late. Though Jim Joe had done work for OVO clothing in the past, including the illustration of the number "6," this was the first time he had collaborated with Drake on a widely seen project. The unmistakable handwriting that Jim Joe used, recognizable from his tags all over the East Village in New York, was soon turned funny "If You're Reading This" memes online, reminding us of Drake's continued resonance in culture beyond music alone. In October, Jim Joe collaborated on a piece with Drake for W Magazine's annual "Art Issue."
5. FKA twigs, M3LL155X
Release date: August 13, 2015
Photography: Matthew Stone
Art direction: FKA twigs and Matthew Stone
Designer: Matthew Stone
Label: Young Turks
FKA twigs' M3LL155X EP was released by surprise just over a year after her debut album, LP1, came out. While the cover of LP1 depicted twigs' as if she were a bruised doll, M3LL155X shows her hand pushing through her own face. Photographed and designed by the artist Matthew Stone, who put the formerly unknown twigs on the cover of i-D in 2012, it is a jarring fusion of body parts. While speaking about working with twigs on the cover, Stone told ArtNews: "I think what’s amazing about working with twigs is I don’t feel like I’m a visual artist coming in, and I’m just giving the visual bit, and she’s trusting me to do that. It really is a visual collaboration. She’s very much engaged in every part of that." Of the cover concept, and how it relates to work he has done in this style before, Stone adds, "Our bodies are the most solid physical example of what we know to be our own. There is something interesting in making imagery where, at least when you read it, you question if there is a moment where people go beyond the body as we know it. You lose sight of that of individuality that pervades so much of the way that we think about things."
4. A$AP Rocky, At. Long. Last. A$AP
Release date: May 26, 2015
Photography: Dexter Navy
Art direction: Awge
Label: A$AP Worldwide / Polo Grounds / RCA A$AP
Rocky revealed the cover art for At. Long. Last. A$AP in early May, and many immediately recognized it as a tribute to the late A$AP Yams, who died earlier this year. Yams was an instrumental part of Rocky's career and is still credited as executive producer on At. Long. Last. A$AP. By transposing Yams' facial birthmark and cross tattoo onto Rocky's face, the cover is both an ode to Yams by Rocky and for the fans who mourn him, too.
3. Kendrick Lamar, To Pimp A Butterfly
Release date: March 15, 2015
Photography: Denis Rouvre
Art direction: Vlad Sepetov, Kendrick Lamar, and Dave Free
Designer: Vlad Sepetov
Label: Top Dawg / Aftermath / Interscope
In an interview with Mass Appeal, Kendrick Lamar explained that the men in the powerful photograph on the cover of To Pimp A Butterfly, staged outside The White House, are friends from Compton who he grew up with and rapped about on his debut album. The white man on the ground is a judge. Lamar says, "You look at these individuals, and you look at them as bad people or a menace to society, but they’re actually good people, just a product of their environment. Only God can judge these individuals right here—not no one with a gavel handing out numbers of years and not giving these kids a chance at life. Every n**** is a star.” Lamar and Dave Free came up with the concept, which was photographed by Denis Rouvre and designed by Vlad Sepetov.
2. Travi$ Scott, Rodeo
Release date: September 4, 2015
Photography: Kevin Amato
Art direction: Kevin Amato and Dan Chung
Designer: Dan Chung
Label: Grand Hustle / Epic
Travi$ Scott tapped photographer Kevin Amato to shoot his album cover, Rodeo, with an action figure made in the likeness of Travi$ himself (which is for sale on his website). Of the concept, Amato said says, "People were flying this doll, it felt human at one point...[Travi$] wanted it to be able to fit in the trucks and cars, sit next to Barbie in a Corvette." Amato adds, "It's hard to find someone to shoot a doll and not make it corny or cheap or be able to bring this to life. Rodeo is the world you enter once you get the album. But as it evolves, and you see the packaging and the visuals within, it makes sense." The use of a doll, and the sullen, grainy image that captures it, adds another dimension to Travi$’ already mysterious identity and origin story.
1. Ty Dolla $ign, Free TC
Release date: November 13, 2015
Photography: Jory Cordy
Art direction: Virgilio Tzaj
Designer: Virgilio Tzaj
Label: Taylor Gang / Pu$haz Ink / Atlantic
It’s special when an artist can dedicate an entire project to someone or something that embodies the motivation or inspiration behind creating a body of work. For Ty Dolla $ign, Free TC is dedicated to his younger brother who is currently incarcerated (and also featured on the song "Miracle/Wherever"). Though the album has big-name guests and covers a range of topics lyrically—partying, lust, and separation, among them—it’s Ty’s singing and production that make the album such a full, expressive statement that goes beyond his radio hits. The cover shows Ty talking to his brother on the phone with tattooed knuckles that read “Free TC” pressed up against the prison glass. Ty’s face is slightly out of focus; in a way, he represents others who have to speak to family members they’ve lost to the prison system through a barrier. It’s a powerful cover made even more meaningful by the fact that Ty Dolla $ign first shared the tracklisting for the album through a phone conversation he recorded with his brother.