Taylor Swift, Vanity Fair cover April 2012, photographer Peter Lindbergh
Taylor Swift, Vanity Fair cover April 2012, photographer Peter Lindbergh

If faces visualise and capture the spirit of the moment in advertising and magazine covers, what do the stats of Taylor Swift’s cover appearances tell us?

Magazines can make all sorts of promises on coverlines (‘5 Secrets of a Great Relationship”, “The New Eat-More-Chocolate Diet!”) but it’s the face on cover photos that sell magazines. The popularity of the beautifully styled celebrity photograph, no matter how cynical we are, is a ‘zeitgeist’ moment revealing our current obsessions, concerns and our vision of which ‘face’ captures a moment. So when WWD’s (Women’s Wear Daily) Erik Maza analysed the covers of newsstand magazines he discovered some fascinating facts.

1)    Yes, whatever the public think, magazine editors are a little bit obsessed with Taylor Swift. She has appeared on the cover of: Vogue February 2012, Glamour November 2012, Elle February 2013 and now Vanity Fair April 2013 “The Growing of A Superstar. Her Men…Her Moods…Her Music”

Taylor Swift Vogue cover, Photographer Mario Testino
Taylor Swift Vogue cover, Photographer Mario Testino

2)    It is entirely possible that the face of Taylor Swift (just like Star Trek episodes on TV) features on the new cover of at least one magazine around the world at any given moment in time (For those unfamiliar with the uncanny talent of turning “the break-up” into a massive global song-business here’s some data visualization from The Guardian)

3)    But, it turns out that the face of Miss Swift doesn’t have the currency we thought it had. Erik Maza points out the minor leap in Vogue sales (329,371) was blown away by the top seller last year – the Lady Gaga cover (602,000). Maza lists a whole set of figures from the other covers which show Swift’s cover appeal to be less than we imagined.

Is there a life-cycle, a fashion for certain kinds of faces? When stock photographers select models, is their a certain look, beyond styling that feels now? There is certainly a trend over the last few years for using ‘real’ people, real faces.

But maybe at 23, Taylor Swift is a bit too young and polished? Perhaps the trend for older faces runs deeper than the growing market for senior imagery as boomers get older. It echoes some of the deeper visual trends outlined by Ashley Jouhar – Image Source’s Creative Director – at the Photography Workshop in his talk on ‘Truthfulness’. Perhaps the image of a lined face, an unfamiliar kind of face in lifestyle and fashion, is the signifier of something more ‘truthful’.

The Gentlewoman featured Angela Lansbury shot by Terry Richardson on the cover of its A/W 2012 issue. The magazine pitches itself on style and credibility – “a fresh and intelligent perspective on fashion that is focused on personal style – the way women actually look, think and dress.”

Angela Lansbury on The Gentlewoman cover, photo by Terry Richardson
Angela Lansbury on The Gentlewoman cover, photo by Terry Richardson

And the 81-year old model Daphne Selphe has never been more popular.

Wunderkind, Fall/Winter 2012
Wunderkind, Fall/Winter 2010

It’s likely there’s a limit to the classic-pop-heartbreak the public can take, and Taylor’s Swift’s face has maxed out for the moment. But you also wonder whether the gorgeously shot cover imagery of mainstream lifestyle and fashion magazines is in sync with the slightly more raw images the public are familiar with when using their own iPhones. And it’s not that Angela Lansbury and Daphne Selphe aren’t glamourous, but they do add something more – the image and face of the unexpected and surprising, which, ironically we increasingly expect to see.


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