Usually I write about full exhibits, but today, let’s examine just one piece: this C.D. cover.
Hi, Sky Ferreira’s nipple! For some context, Sky’s a lady who’s been trying to jump-start her career for years. She was found on MySpace as a prepubescent kid, picked up by record execs and then bounced around different managers who’ve tried to decide what her sound should be.
Some of the first releases were saccharine, ultra-poppy ditties (O.N.E. something about being 17). Her album efforts have all crashed and burned, never happened, got shelved, the works. But recently, the singer seems to have rebelled against the cookie-cutter image and started taking control.
For one, she gave her proverbial “fuck you” to L.A. and moved to Brooklyn with all the other indie kids. There, she’s teamed up with artists like Blood Orange a.k.a Dev Hynes who produced her first “big” song “Everything is Embarrassing ” filmmaker Grant Singer who put her in his ultra-creepy short-film IRL, and her boyfriend Zachary Cole Smith from DIIV who she did an Elliott Smith tribute show with last week.
She’s had her share of shit. She described sexual abuse in an interview with The Fader. A couple weeks ago, she landed in jail for getting caught with ecstasy with her boyfriend, who had 42 decks of heroin on him. She had to cancel a bunch of tour dates recently because of throat issues, which most people speculated had to do with purported drug use.
Which bring us to her album cover. Amid all the craziness and drug accusations, her long-awaited debut “Night Time, My Time” finally comes out on Oct. 29. The sound isn’t totally different than the pop she was doing before, but it’s definitely grittier, has more emotion, and it’s more exploratory. It ‘s clear she’s probably been going through some shit while putting the whole thing together. The recently released cover image shows her dripping wet in a shower, one of her boobs exposed. She described it to Stereogum as “demented” and “someone in a bathtub looking like they’re about to kill someone.” The photo was shot by filmmaker Gaspard Noe, who also did trip-tastic “Enter the Void,” starring Paz de la Huerta. While I kind of hated that film, you can’t deny he’s got art-house flair and pretty unique vision.
The photograph is naked and raw and pained. Underlying it is some frustration that likely comes from heartbreak, being a young girl judged to death and becoming a music industry tool before you’ve hit 18. It’s full of depth and tumult accrued in the years it took her to make her music. As she said in the same interview with Stereogum, “I don’t really feel like my left nipple is all that important.”
And she’s right. The associations in this image are more about anger and angst and sadness. The nudity just becomes a symbol of vulnerability and an act of expression instead of a marketing ploy. And sure, at the end of the day, it is partial marketing — she’s trying to sell albums, after all — but there’s no reason she can’t do that with honesty.
An important question here, however, is whether or not you could chalk up the same “this is art, this is expression” argument if this was Miley Cyrus or Katy Perry. When women become part of the commercialized machine industry, everything feels like a mass-produced gimmick. It’s hard to know where real artistic expression starts and a strategic marketing plan begins. We judge massive stars harshly for giving into oversexualized personas and not respecting themselves and their bodies. We stop taking women seriously as artists when they start showing too much skin or get overly scandalous — just think about the world losing its mind when Miley twerked in booty shorts and a crop top (In Miley’s case, there were other things in that performance I had a huge problem with — but for these purposes, let’s focus on the scant clothing).
So where’s the divide? Do you need a history of difficulty and clamor for your nudity to seem “real”? When is it empowering and disarming? When is it just a gimmick? It’s a woman’s body, after all. She should be able to qualify it as art when she feels like it.
Julyssa Lopez is a writer who lives in D.C. Her first loves are long books and even longer pieces of writing, but she also can’t resist dreamy ambient music, tiny art galleries, or ice cold lemonade. She comes from a loud Nicaraguan family and constantly has that dream where your teeth fall out.