“Pop” Art: When Music Superstars Steal Visual Art

“Good artists copy, great artists steal.” —Pablo Picasso

If you’ve seen the newest Britney Spears album cover for Britney Jean you might be wondering about a collaboration between the popstar and Tracey Emin. A long history of artist-designed album covers reveals a number of highlights, including KAWS and Kanye West, Gerhard Richter and Sonic Youth, and Robert Rauschenberg and Talking Heads. There is an unmistakable affinity between Britney’s cover art and Emin’s iconic works, including Love is what you want and The Kiss Was Beautiful, yet there’s no official collaboration to speak of. Appropriation, a heated and historic trend in the art world—just ask Richard Prince—has infiltrated the music world, as Britney joins an illustrious cast of musical artists who turn over artworks for their own purposes. We name a few of our favorite offenders below:

Madonna x Horst: As seen on Artsy a few months ago, in the David Fincher-directed music video for her 1990 hit “Vogue,” Madonna recreated several of Horst P. Horst’s iconic photographs, including his famous Mainbocher Corset, Paris. More a homage than a rip-off, even Horst’s official website called the video a “celebrated hymn to classic fashion photography.”

Rihanna and Azealia Banks x seapunk: In November 2012, the web-based art genre seapunk—3D animations and digital imagery featuring garish colors, ’90s motifs, and sea creatures—appeared as the backdrop for Rihanna’s SNL performance and in Azealia Banks’ music video for “Atlantis.” Seapunk-ers were enraged, and launched a twitter-based lashback.

Lady Gaga: While Gaga’s latest stints—her Koonsian album cover for “Artpop” and a naked promotional shoot on a Benjamin Rollins Caldwell Binary chair—have been sanctioned, the queen of pop’s videos are rich with appropriations: French artist Orlan brought a lawsuit over the “Born This Way” video; the “Yoü and I” video has been compared to Marina Abramovic’s The Great Wall Walk; and the all-white scenes in her “Bad Romance” video have been linked to Matthew Barney’s seminal Cremaster series. Her recent “Applause” video is no different, making references, among others to Warhol, Cindy Sherman, and Botticelli’s Birth of Venus, which she carried into the album cover and numerous public appearances.

Beyoncé x Magritte: In the midst of the frenzy following the release of her surprise album, Beyoncé slipped in a reference to René Magritte in her video for “Mine.” The scene in question recreates Magritte’s Les amants, where a couple is kissing with white fabric covering their heads.

Rihanna x David LaChapelle: Rihanna crossed the line with her video for “S&M,” which recreated eight photographs published in Italian Vogue by David LaChapelle. LaChapelle filed a lawsuit, the case went to trial, and ended in a settlement that pleased the photographer. LaChapelle commented on the incident, “Musicians commonly pay to sample music or use someone’s beats and there should be no difference when sampling an artist’s visuals.”