These covers feel like another symptom of Vogue’s identity crisis. The magazine has started to feel like a dinosaur, and its hired photographers, possibly uninspired or at least stuck in a box. I liked last month’s Florence Pugh cover well enough, but it did feel like the standard Vogue approach and that it was Florence who brought the zest. The four January covers were mixed. In fact, looking back at the archive, there’s a lot of grey backgrounds, blank faces, or rich white women lounging. But here, Vogue hired three photographers and one artist to depict Billie in their own ways, and the results are collectively quite interesting. The next time you click that link and scroll back through our Vogue posts, these covers will stand out among them, almost to the point where it feels like Vogue is flirting with whether or how to shake it up and skew younger. We’ll find out.
The story is not terribly dissimilar to what we’ve read before. Did you know Billie makes music in her bedroom with her brother? Yes, if you watched the Grammys or read Elle. Did you know they live in a small crowded house in Highland Park? Yes, if you read Elle. Did you know her parents sleep on a bed by the piano, that tour luggage litters the living room, that she has struggled with depression, that she worries that the assumptions people make about the whys of her personal style leads to slut-shaming women who dress differently, that she finds fame — people’s desire to document her in the wild — unsettling? Yes, if you read Elle. The point being, there isn’t much new about Billie herself, per se, other than her armload of Grammys, but the very presence of Billie on Vogue is where the fresh feeling comes into play. Like it’s reaching for something, and hopefully, what it finds will be more interesting than White A-Lister In a Field Looking Stern.
One aspect that I’m not sure I agree with entirely is Vogue’s notion that Billie has reinvented pop stardom. (Elle had a glimmer of that, too.) It seems to be rooted in her darker lyrics, an unpredictable musical pattern, personal style — Elle makes a point of mentioning her shows’ energy is more punk, that she’s not about a glitzy ride full of vocal runs — and her frank confidence. That she doesn’t look a certain way, or sound a certain way, and therefore she’s the first of her kind. But in fact, looking back, you see people like Lorde and Alessia Cara who were doing similar stuff; not always as synth, nor as grim, but definitely leaning away from the Ariana Grande of it all and into their own aesthetics and vibes. Why is there always a notion that the entire paradigm should shift because one person brings their own approach to it successfully? Copycats for the sake of copycatting don’t usually work; it’s when a person is given the space to be who THEY are that something tends to work. I don’t know. It was a passing thought. Billie is unique, but I don’t know if she’s revolutionizing the pop space so much as she’s succeeding within it by giving people variety. Anyway, I’m sure you’ll have notes on that; let’s get to the covers.