Cover hits no bum note with me
Steve Braunias , an avid collector of album art, gives his verdict on the racy image on singer’s record
Let us now turn to scholarship and a patient, rigorous study of New Zealand cultural history so that we may correctly know how and where to place Lorde’s bottom.
Countless millions of eyes were transfixed this week by a photograph of Lorde taking a very long stride on a sandy shore. Countless millions of eyes looked at her bottom. The image was released to announce the forthcoming release of Lorde’s next album, and it appears to be the cover.
New Zealand album covers just happen to be my specialist subject.
For the past six years, I have haunted op shops across the land to amass a collection of about 750 New Zealand records, chosen purely for the cover art. Quite a few of them also contain fantastic music, but that’s incidental. I’ve shelled out big bucks – as much as $5 – to put together a collection of sometimes beautiful, often strange, and very often frankly incredible New Zealand art.
Lorde’s bottom has precedents.
Until now, the most celebrated bottom in New Zealand record cover art appeared on the classic 1963 LP The White Rabbit by Peter Posa, in which the Henderson Valley guitar ace was photographed looking louche next to a model wearing a kind of Playboy bunny outfit and sticking out her pert behind. The photograph was taken at the Station Hotel on Anzac Ave in downtown Auckland. I went to Te Kuiti to interview Posa not long before he died; he remembered that cover shoot, and being instructed by photographer Allen Fox, “stand there with a smirk on your face”. He obliged. Merely sexist and appalling now, it was daring and outrageous then. But at least the model was clothed. In 1975, Auckland rock band Headband, fronted by the irrepressible Tommy Adderley, released the album Rockgarden with a nude on the cover with her back to the camera. It was art directed by Roger Bradley, who told me recently how he created the rock garden on the cover by hauling a bunch of very heavy scoria rocks up the stairs to his studio. Mission eventually and sweatily accomplished, he then instructed a woman who worked as a secretary to take off her clothes and lie down holding a tambourine. She obliged.
But these are examples of the male gaze, from a time when the male gaze directed and controlled all available imagery. Do this, wear that; Lorde, and her bottom, take orders from no one. Everything she makes and everyone she works with is her choice. Her Solar Power cover is a bold, striking image, a little bit like the 1970 album Polynesian Music In View, by the great steel guitar player Bill Wolfgramme. Like Lorde, a model is photographed (by Richard Silcock) on a sandy beach on a cloudless summer’s day. Like Lorde, her bottom is fairly prominent. Like Lorde, she’s alone – but in the foreground there’s a line of deep, manly footprints in the sand. Someone skulking around, someone calling the shots. Lorde’s Solar Power is all hers.