This week Rob Alderson examines Paper Magazine’s attempts to “break the internet” with their nude Kim Kardashian photoshoot. He asks if it’s actually a good cover, and what (if anything) it tells us about the magazine industry. As ever you can add your thoughts below…
I was going to write an Opinion piece this week about the sea of ceramic poppies at the Tower of London, and the 8,000 balloons installed along the route of the Berlin Wall and think about the ways in which public art has become a way we remember. Then Kim Kardashian got her bum out.
New York’s Paper Magazine broke the news yesterday that not only was the reality-star turned uber-celebrity on the cover of its winter issue, but that she’d been shot by Jean Paul-Goude who’d recreated his famous champagne picture previously starring the model Carolina Beaumont. But they released two covers, and the other one showed Kim’s famous bum in all its glory. This morning they followed up with the full interview and a few more shots, including a full-frontal nude portrait.
The editors were refreshingly honest about their intentions. “For our winter issue, we gave ourselves one assignment: Break The Internet. There is no other person that we can think of who is up to the task than one Kim Kardashian West. A pop culture fascination able to generate headlines just by leaving her house, Kim is what makes the web tick.”
The internet may still be standing but it’s fair to say Paper has caused a stir. Buzzfeed ran an incredibly rare to-the-point article – there was no listicle presumably because there wasn’t much more to say. The usual suspects were frothing with indignation, while running the pictures of course, though censored in the most minimal way. And there were hundreds of memes and chin-stroking think pieces looking to capitalise on the insane levels of attention (ahem).
Yahoo Style ran an article which considered: “What Kim Kardashian Going Full Frontal Means for the Magazine Industry” and opened with cliched abandon: “The print magazine industry is dying. Over the past decade, publications around the world have been forced to literally stop the presses.” Lauren Tuck’s argument is that this cover is the almost inevitable consequence of print media’s struggles. “The periodicals left — and they are few and far between — now duke it out month after month to stay relevant and sell copies,” she wrote. “So that’s why Paper magazine’s latest stunt featuring Kim Kardashian’s bare butt isn’t all that surprising.”
"The periodicals left — and they are few and far between — now duke it out month after month to stay relevant and sell copies. So that’s why Paper magazine’s latest stunt featuring Kim Kardashian’s bare butt isn’t all that surprising."Lauren Tuck, Yahoo Style
In this context clearly Paper has surpassed itself, but I think it’s actually a cover that makes a lot of sense. As Amanda Fortini writes in the piece that accompanies the photoshoot: “Social media has created a new kind of fame, and Kardashian is its paragon. It is a fame whose hallmark is agreeable omnipresence, which resembles a kind of evenly spread absence, soothing, tranquil and unobjectionable.”
This “agreeable omnipresence” is why this cover is very clever. Another picture of Kim Kardashian on a magazine – meh. It needed to be outrageous, it needed to be camp and crazy, it needed to send social media into meltdown and it needed to shake the foundations of the cultural construct that is Kim Kardashian. That’s why, I’d argue, Kim Kardashian’s bare butt is a cover that makes perfect sense.
Steve Watson from Stack agrees. “I think it’s a brilliant cover. It’s smart and self-aware and laser focused on its twin aims of generating media buzz and selling more copies. I can understand why some people find it offensive, but really it’s just taking the stock-in-trade of lots of other magazines and websites (celebrity, nudity, ridiculous Photoshopping) and putting it right in the reader’s face.”
But Tom Edwards, host of magazine show The Stack on Monocle 24 isn’t so sure. “Whether it’s good or not depends on your criteria. Graphic design used to be called ‘commercial art’ and on that basis this is a great cover. It’s everywhere and they’re going to shift a lot of units. Is it ‘good’ from a design viewpoint? Well, I wouldn’t buy it – I think it’s gratuitous. I don’t want to know about Kim Kardashian’s shiny arse far less see it hanging out all over my newsstand! It follows you around the room like the Mona Lisa’s eyes; it’s haunting. But I think the publishers will be delighted.”
About the Author
Rob joined It’s Nice That as Online Editor in July 2011 before becoming Editor-in-Chief and working across all editorial projects including itsnicethat.com, Printed Pages, Here and Nicer Tuesdays. Rob left It’s Nice That in June 2015.