It’s not a surprise that Zendaya is on Vogue this month, given that the May cover typically goes to one of the Met Gala cohosts (she’s doing it along with Bad Bunny, Jennifer Lopez, and Chris Hemsworth). It’s also perfect timing for her, because both her movies that were supposed to come out last fall have instead rolled out in a way that dovetails with this. It’s never NOT timely to put Zendaya on your cover, but Vogue — which announced the cohosts in February — probably had a fairly laser-sharp eye on this once the movies got pushed. They of course paired her with Annie Leibovitz:


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I’ve seen a lot of love for this cover, and it’s not that I think it’s BAD per se, but… my reaction was, “Is that it?” Zendaya has to be one of the most slam-dunk subjects out there, in terms of the physicality she can bring to a shoot — the girl can pose — and the fact that she can pull off pretty much any outfit at all. Like, my desktop background right now is the time she wore a massive skirt made out of hay for Garage magazine. So for the cover they… stick her in a shrubbery and make her wear a giant rose? Some of the inside shots are so much more interesting, like this one of her in a yellow Dior, or even the one before it where she is in Fendi and looks like she just tripped over something, but BEAUTIFULLY (to be uttered in the manner of Peter Gallagher in Center Stage). The inside is often more editorial than the cover, but at the same time, here I think it exposes that maybe they don’t need to make the gulf quite so big. You have the capability for some real art! Don’t lean so far away from it! I mean, this shot is incredible, and I would stop and STARE at that on a newsstand before I would the rose photo — although it is also the tip of yet another iceberg of questionable, muddy lighting. For me, Zendaya disappears too much in this photo, and I am not at all sure the lighting serves this one either. It’s strange to do so much work to extinguish someone’s natural vivacity. At least the flower photo handles that part better.

British Vogue went in a completely different direction:


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The shoots, side by side, REALLY encapsulate the divergent personalities of the publications. This is very youthful and poppy and experimental. The lighting is purposefully weird, like she’s skipping into a rave, where she then I guess dances with herself. The hair, as noted in the profile, is a partial ode to Twiggy. And this feels like an homage to the 1990s Seventeen, or its ilk, and in this version she is clearly imagining shooting hoops with Brandon Walsh in the driveway. Admittedly I don’t know what’s happening here, and you can barely see her face, but the shape is still interesting and it’s bright. There are others on BV’s Instagram, too. Do they all work? No, probably not, but I find the two clashing approaches fascinating. Zendaya and Law also clearly understood what each publication might want from her — a more balletic editorial for Anna, and something that skews younger for British Vogue. One is Lincoln Center, the other is the underground club. I’d love to see metrics someday on how each of them did. Personally, I think I’d rather pick up BV, but that may be abetted by the cover lines about hotpants and injectables.

Definitely read the interview, which REALLY gets across that Zendaya is a thoughtful, anxious, introspective person, and one who is trying really hard to reconcile the side of her that is entirely her own with the person who can light up a million flashbulbs on command — or, just to compartmentalize those two Zs. The writer joins her on a Zoom with Serena Williams at one point, and Zendaya talks about how she’s only now realizing the effect of acting throughout her teen years instead of having other experiences, and sort of shyly asks if Serena would meet up another time off-the-books because she “needs more mentors and community,” which I thought was a very vulnerable thing to admit in front of a reporter. There’s a whole chunk where she wrestles with whether fame is something she wants to inflict on her kids, or even herself, forever, and talks about how she’s learned it’s okay to politely draw a boundary when it comes to fan photos — even as she also frets that “if I’m not delivering something all the time, or not giving all the time, that everything’s going to go away. I think that’s always been a massive anxiety of mine: this idea that people will just be like, ‘Actually, I know I’ve been with you since you were 14, but I’m over you now because you’re boring.’” I really felt for her, but not in a way where I felt like she was ASKING me to; it just felt like she was sharing the speed bumps she’s hitting here and there, and it’s humanizing to be reminded that no pedestal in the world can keep a person from experiencing self-doubt, or fear, or confusion. I hope she DOES find more community and rock-solid mentors, and that those people can help her keep having the necessary big conversations with herself in the healthiest way possible. Protect Zendaya! Oh, and also, she mentions an eventual shift into directing, which I can TOTALLY see if she’s someone who wants to shift the way the spotlight hits her.

[Photos by Carlijn Jacobs for British Vogue, and Annie Leibovitz for U.S. Vogue, both styled by Law Roach; story by Marley Marius]