It’s telling that the decade’s most memorable innovations in cover art have breached the confines of the record sleeve. It’s a stunt Kanye West famously pulled in 2013, when CD copies of Yeezus hit shelves sans insert. The front of its jewel case stripped bare save for the edge of an orange sticker, the disc was exposed like spilled innards — a reflective organ through which one could stare at their mirror image.
It was a novel concept made even more intriguing in historical context. Yeezus dropped in the last year that revenues from physical music sales would outweigh digital proceeds, ditching the opulent presentation of My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy for a leaner, more efficient look fit for the streaming era. Now, at the end of the decade, as “Blood On the Leaves” or “On Sight” takes its turn in your playlist’s queue, you’re faced with a photograph of the physical product cropped into Spotify’s 1500×1500 pixel square. The disc’s immaterial surface reflects nothing.
In the digital marketplace, the square dimensions and promotional utility of cover art remain surprisingly unchanged. Save for a few animated experiments at the turn of the decade, the majority of cover art is still static. Parental advisory labels don’t serve any real purpose when slapped on a .jpg, but a mixtape cover just doesn’t look right without one — even today. Although artists have taken to bundling digital downloads with apparel, distressed ashtrays, and sex toys to rake in extra cash while gaming the Billboard charts, I

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