A Close Reading of the New Elton John Album Cover, Which Is Perfect in Every Way
Big Elty J just changed the game.
Let's just open with a fucking cold, iron fact: "Bennie and the Jets" is, with ease, one of the top ten songs of all time. Go and listen to Elton John's greatest hits, right now. There are so many greatest hits. Don't come at me with any chat about "Bennie and the Jets" not being one of the greatest songs ever written; I will not endure any anti-Elton sentiment. I am extremely here for Elton John.
But can we just talk briefly about this, please:
I cannot stop laughing at this. This is the greatest image I have ever seen in my life. I want this printed large on a canvas and stretched above my bed. I want this image to replace the Union Jack as the UK national flag. Dive into this image of Elton John and swim around in it. Cool off with a little breather by the pool. Dry your hair off. Then run and bomb in again. Drown yourself in this album cover. Lifeguards are assembling in a panic. You've been down there so long. But you're not coming up. You're not coming out of this alive.
First fucks: Wonderful Crazy Night. Those words set the tone for this entire party. Wonderful, yes: but also very crazy. Is this image not simultaneously wonderful and crazy? It is. It is both of those things. This is the perfect album title/album cover combination.
A lot of you are in bands, aren't you? You all like music and you all have hopes. You know six chords on the guitar and you know a singer. You reckon you might get a synth player from another local band to defect to you. Your band is called "Shillsmiths." Right? It's cool, man—I had dreams once, too. The point is: Kill your dreams, because your shitty band will never have a more perfect album cover/album title combination than this, not if you make a million albums, not if you take a billion years.
Work your way down. Can we talk about Elton John's sunglasses, please? Because remember when Kanye changed the sunglasses game with the "Stronger" video? White shutter shades, one of the most iconic things about 2007—every knick-knack shop on Oxford Street replete with cheap knock-offs, every single lad at V Festival '07 wearing at least one but sometimes two pairs, sometimes up to three, layered high like sartorial nachos, the concept of functional UV sunglasses thrown out of orbit for a good two summers afterwards.
And now, Elton John just out Kanye'd Kanye with these $10 shades. Red frames. Red lenses. White polka dots that work on down and match his shirt. Elton. Fucking. JOHN.
But the shirt, nor the glasses, aren't even the main thing, here. The main thing is the pose. Here's how magical that pose is: it eclipses the background painting, which is like if someone painted every word in the dictionary, starting inexplicably with the word "mania," and then just as they were driven insane by their own painting—jolting into death with a self-inflicted painting-inspired episodic fit—Elton John leapt in front of it and said: "Voila!"
I am pretty sure Elton John is saying "Voila!" in this photo. He is either saying "Voila!" or he is saying "Huzzah!" He is saying something dads say when they successfully open a bottle of champagne with a napkin over the cork so none of it spills. "Wallop!" There is a chance he is saying "Wonderful Crazy Night!" really quickly: wonderfulcrazynight, breathless, Elton John desperate to tell you he has thought of the perfect album title, Elton John fresh off the back of a wonderful crazy night himself —it is 2 AM in this photo—but his stance is saying "Voilá!"; the little flick of the hand is saying "Voilá!"; his cheeky little Elton John face is saying "Voilá!"
Not that we've zoomed out and basked in the full majesty of the pose. I'd like you to look at the hands, first:
Because here, Elton John is changing the game, again. See, any other pop star would pull this pose—the sort of "Dave Benson Phillips is coming back to CBBC!" pose—and the photo would go back to their label, and their label would say: "Can we do it again, but have your hands doing a symmetrical clench?" And they would do it again, and their hands would be in a symmetrical clench, the pose perfect, considered, aesthetically beautiful in every way, poster-worthy. Elton John absolutely will not be doing that. He's going to keep his hands like he's using a clicker to advance a Powerpoint slide but has lost the clicker (right hand) and an arm transplant patient honking a titty for the very first time (left hand), and he doesn't care if one arm is lower than the other or not, because he's Elton fucking John. The braggadocio of this image. The sheer arrogance. The empty and complete absence of a given shit. The utter lack of shit giving. It's beautiful to behold.
I think what I like about the pose—which is so imperfect it is perfect, flaws as beauty—is it just says, "One take." You can almost see the little impromptu shoulder wiggle he did in the half second before this photograph was taken. It is not beyond the realms of possibility that Elton John took his mate with a Polaroid camera to MoMA and banged this pose out quickly before a security guard came over and chinned him for taking pictures. Elton John just leaping into shot for one perfect second—"A-voila!"—and then out again. Elton John a whisper on the wind. Elton John gone as soon as he came again. Elton John taking a microsecond-long detour on a whirlwind of a wonderful, crazy night. This is the only photograph of Elton John that was taken this shoot.
Which makes it all the more incredible that this photo managed to be the most perfect photograph ever taken. A lot of that is to do with the stars-aligning-and-the-universe-flexing-into-one-diamond-moment combination of elements at play. The visible cheek oil. The flash reflection on those $10 shades. I am not 100 percent sure that Elton John's top button is securely attached to his shirt. The fit of the suit jacket, the pockets still sewn shut.
There is absolutely no way this photo has been in any way airbrushed. It has not been edited in any way. Supermodels get props for going un-airbrushed all the time. Where is Elton John's viral article proclaiming him brave? Dude just jumped in front of decorative vomit and did a failed-magician-doing-one-last-show-on-the-end-of-a-dying-pier pose about it, and then made that his album cover. Elton John looked at this photo and said: "Yeah, cool, that's very me."
"Will the young people like it?" someone asks. "It's very young, isn't it? Vibrant." But Elton John doesn't care. Elton John is alive in this photo. He is vital as fuck. Look at this photo long enough, and Elton John slowly starts to emit a high, gargling, eerie scream, a sort of "ahhhhhhhhhhh" sound, the sound a family makes when they pose for a photo and the flash takes too long to go off.
"I am crazy," the Elton John in this photo whispers. "I am wonderful. I am night." This is the perfect photograph. This is the perfect photograph. I will be buying the album.
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