10 empowering album covers that put women’s strength front and center
Mom-and-pop wisdom be damned, we all judge books by their covers, and the same goes for music. For better or for worse, album artwork serves as the aperitif to a musician’s body of work—and now more than ever, belief systems. While the ubiquity of feminism in pop culture is a relatively new phenomenon, album artwork has been an oft-used tool in the feminist toolbox, a venue for empowerment and expression.
These are ten of the most iconic and unforgettable album covers that have taken lady power to glorious new heights.
Wildewoman — Lucius
The musical brainchild of twinning vocalists Jess Wolfe and Holly Laessig, Lucius is known for its sugarcube pop jams, but the band takes its feminist stance seriously. The cover of its debut album, Wildewoman, is an apparently divisive painting by Belgian artist Evelyne Axell, aptly titled Ice Cream. The vibrant artwork matches the unapologetic boldness of Lucius’s point-of-view as both a band and as women.
Adore Life — Savages
Reinforcing their take-no-prisoners approach to love songs, post-punk quartet Savages chose to batch their second LP with the visual equivalent of a battle cry. Frozen in a white-knuckle grip and adorned with chunky silver rings, the fist encapsulates both femininity and grit—a juxtaposition woven throughout the album and existing within every woman.
The Haunted Man — Bat For Lashes
For her third studio album, Natasha Khan (a.k.a. Bat for Lashes) explored the metaphorical weight of heritage and history, a concept personified on the album’s cover. Khan stands naked and steadfast, exuding nothing but vitality despite the man slouched across her shoulders. A metaphor for womankind’s resilience, the album serves as a cross-section of art and life.
Push The Sky Away — Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds
Despite its elemental beauty, the photo gracing the Australian alt-rock band’s fifteenth album was borne of serendipity. While Cave’s model wife, Susie Bick, was transitioning between costumes during a photoshoot at the couple’s home, photographer Dominique Issermann sensed that a stunning image was unfolding.
“She was in between costumes, naked under a cape, when I walked in. She just said, ‘Look, go over and open that window up’. As I went over to do it, she dropped the cape and Dominique took a few photographs,” Cave told The Sun.
What resulted was an ethereal photo of a woman emanating beauty in her most natural state, a bold statement made by a legendary (all-male) band.
Live Through This — Hole
Between Leilani Bishop’s manic, mascara-streaked face, the hyper-femme Barbie logo ripoff, and hook-smothered grunge jams, Hole’s sophomore album was a watershed moment for the group. Hole’s fearless leader, the infamous Courtney Love, aimed to capture the blind hysteria of beauty pageant winners with the album art, in turn crafting a poignant commentary on what it means to be a woman—seen as a product, an object, and a competitor.
Rid of Me — PJ Harvey
Upon submitting the photo for the cover of PJ Harvey’s major label debut, Island Records assured photographer Maria Mochnacz that any supposed imperfections of the now-famous photo could be scrubbed out—a decision that Mochnacz vehemently opposed. From the water droplets spattering the wall, to the stray branch slinking in the background, the photo revels in a warts-and-all reality and helped seal Harvey’s hard-earned place in rock history.
Sound Kapital — Handsome Furs
The opus to the Canadian duo’s partnership in both music and life, Sound Kapital’s cover showcases the stark beauty in the collision between the bare human body and harsh urbanism. Lifted from the band’s music video for “What About Us,” the image captured by filmmaker Scott Coffey evaded any elements of voyeurism by framing the model in a position of dominance, hovering above the viewer in a power stance that would send even the surest knees shaking.
St. Vincent — St. Vincent
Consistent with Annie Clark’s carefully preened stage persona, the cover for her fourth album reflects the futurism that propels her music into distant worlds and dystopian fantasies. Perched atop a throne fit for the rock ’n roll queen she was born to be, Clark, a.k.a St. Vincent, is armed with nothing but a stern stare and her own laurels—an image as bold as the music she creates.
Cut — The Slits
Sometimes, you have to get down and dirty to make a statement; a fact of which Brit rock trio, The Slits, are obviously aware. Beginning as a tame photo shoot for the cover of their debut album, the scene soon devolved into a convivial mud fight between bandmates.
“We knew, since we had no clothes on, that we had to look confrontational and hard,” guitarist Viv Albertine told the Guardian. “We didn’t want to be inviting the male gaze.”
The band’s warrior stance and steely stares on this now-historical album cover invite nothing more than a challenge.
Exile in Guyville — Liz Phair
After the initial cover art for her debut album was sacked (it looked like “an orgy of Barbies floating in a pool,” Phair told Vulture), the burgeoning Chicago rocker took matters into her own hands. Calling up fellow Second City musician Nash Kato of Urge Overkill, Phair popped off her shirt and popped into a photo booth for an impromptu topless cover shoot. The cover exudes Phair’s unapologetic demeanor and unwavering confidence, qualities that all women should strive for.