A close relationship between pop music and fine art is nothing new as it has been sustained for over half a century.
The so-called “banana album” is one of the early cases that have been well-known. The 1967 album, “The Velvet Underground & Nico,” was produced in collaboration between Andy Warhol and American rock band The Velvet Underground. It is famous for the cover image of a yellow banana against a white background.
The rock band was participating in Warhol’s multimedia art project called “Exploding Plastic Inevitable” before the production of the album. The songs produced for the project were edited and included in the album. Warhol provided financial support for the album’s production and designed its cover as well. Some say that it was Warhol’s way of putting a spotlight on the band with high potential using his position in the art community.
“The experience of having been immersed in the trend of different genres of art interacting with one another in the 1960s – as Paik Nam-june, John Cage, and the Fluxus movement did – had huge impact on making music,” said John Cale, a member of The Velvet Underground, during a last year meeting in Seoul. Whichever came first – the chicken or the egg – pop music and fine art have been directly involved in each other, creating almost chemical reactions.
During the same decade, The Beatles also created a connection with fine art as part of their efforts to move beyond the preconceptions about a rock and roll band. The cover of their 1967 album “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” was designed by pop artists Peter Blake and Jann Haworth.
Recently, the collaboration between pop star Lady Gaga and artist Jeff Koons garnered attention. Gaga asked Koons to design her 2003 album “ARTPOP,” to which the artist responded with a unique image reinterpreting “The Birth of Venus” by Sandro Botticelli, a painter of the Early Renaissance. One of the songs in the album, “Applause,” sings, “Pop culture was in art. Now, art's in pop culture in me.” In the music video, the singer turned into a black swan when singing the lyrics.
In the 21st century, hip-hop is also embracing art pieces and artistic ideas. The music’s distinctive show-off culture – “My music is a masterpiece comparable to these works” – also affected the tendency. American rapper Jay Z had the cover of his 2013 album “Magna Carta Holy Grail” displayed in the Salisbury Cathedral in the U.K. as if it is a piece of classic art, right next to the Magna Charta.
Rapper Logic used the reinterpretation of “The Marriage at Cana” by 16th-century Italian painter Paolo Veronese for his 2017 album “Everybody” while Rapper Freddie Gibbs parodied the return of “Jesus Christ in Renaissance”-like painting style in the cover of his 2017 album “You Only Live 2wice.”
While many collaborations between pop musicians and art drew much attention, they were often criticized as just marketing schemes.