Arts

Perplexed by the Certified Lover Boy cover art? The experts explain

Two artists and an academic on the significance of 12 "pregnant woman" emojis.

Two artists and an academic on the significance of 12 'pregnant woman' emojis

Drake's sixth studio album, Certified Lover Boy, came out on Sept. 3, 2021, with cover art by British artist Damien Hirst. There was a lot to unpack here. (Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press)

Twelve iOS "pregnant woman emojis," each with a different skin tone and hair colour, on a white background. That's the cover art for Certified Lover Boy, the sixth studio album — whatever that means in 2021 — by Degrassi alumni/second-most-beloved Raptors superfan/failed restaurateur/rapper Drake. 

If you're confused, you're not alone

What's going on here?

The art works on two levels. On the most basic level, it implies that Drake is such a prolific lover, such a certified lover boy, that he is capable of impregnating multiple women of multiple ethnicities at more or less the same time.

On the other hand, explains Toronto-based artist and UX designer Trevor Twells, it's also a comment on how long the album — originally scheduled for January of this year — took to finally get released. 

"As a meme, I think this is genius on Drake's part: nine months delayed, released on Labour Day weekend, the pregnant pause," he says.

Is it any good?

Yimin Chen is a PhD candidate at the University of Western Ontario. He studies online communities and cultures, with a particular focus on trolling and memes. He's a big fan of the cover.

"Honestly, I think this is kind of genius," he says. "At once simple, and yet complex, this whole thing has been thought-provoking."

"Ultimately definitions of what's 'good' or 'bad' don't inherently matter and tend to shift over time," says Toronto-based artist Tessar Lo. "The fact that anybody has access to these emojis also wittingly encourages the appropriation of the appropriation, which then becomes viral. It's a brilliant troll."

Why Damian Hirst? 

The cover was done by Damien Hirst, Britain's richest living artist and a member of the increasingly inaccurately named Young British Artists movement. (They're all very much middle-aged now.) According to Lo, the Drake/Hirst collaboration makes sense for both parties. For Drake, it's a chance to "signal his proximity to culture and taste." For Hirst, it's a chance to work in a medium that is increasingly hot in the art world: memes.

"The Hirst reference is a nod for those in the know, a kind of signalling," he says. "People who recognize it immediately feel like they're in on something and are then invested. The art world has been leaning hard into memes as it embraces the self-effacing and temporal quality of the medium. Whether Drake has done it deliberately or not, he's very much tapped into this moment in the culture."

There may also be another motivation for Hirst, as Twells points out. After all, you don't become Britain's richest living artist by turning down fast money.

"This is probably the easiest bag Damien Hirst has ever made," he says. "They're literally default emojis with little-to-no modifications."

Chen and Twells both say that the fact we're even talking this much about the cover is proof that, regardless of whether or not the album cover is "art," or if Certified Lover Boy is actually any good, Drake and his team remain near the top of the game when it comes to the art of self-promotion.

"He is an artist who clearly appreciates the power of the internet," says Chen. "The video for 'Hotline Bling,' for example, seemed like it was consciously designed to be a viral sensation. Memes based on the video, like the disapproval/approval meme, remain popular even today.... So, while I can't say to what extent the internet has influenced Drake's work, it is clear that he has had a significant influence on the internet."

"The most successful artists are the ones who not only know exactly who they are, but also make peace with how their audiences interpret them," adds Twells. "I feel like Drake is tapping straight into that with this cover." 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Chris Dart

Associate Producer

Chris Dart is a writer, editor, jiu-jitsu enthusiast, transit nerd, comic book lover, and some other stuff from Scarborough, Ont. In addition to CBC, he's had bylines in The Globe and Mail, Vice, The AV Club, the National Post, Atlas Obscura, Toronto Life, Canadian Grocer, and more.

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