rihanna unapologeticHere’s Rihanna, in the latest promotional picture for her new album, Unapologetic. I haven’t heard the record yet, but I’m mightily impressed by this image.

Magazines are Young! Sexy! Fashionable! And judging by the dangling doobie, dangerous to boot. She’s even kindly shut her eyes, to make sure we’re not distracted from any of the cover logos. We’ll get back to the music in a moment, but for now, let’s look at Rihanna and the three Vogue covers she has appeared on in the last 18 months.

Rihanna Vogue Apr 2011This is her first American Vogue cover from April 2011. Shot by Annie Leibovitz, to me it looks just completely brilliant. Eye contact, hair, styling, composition, everything.

Rihanna vogue nov 2011Here is her first British Vogue cover, from November of the same year, photographed by Alasdair McLellan. It’s just as good, but it also eloquently illustrates the differences between the two versions of the brand.

The British look is much cooler. There are fewer lines, and significantly, the head does not cover the logo. Instead, the middle letter is dropped out, which allows the head to be visible, whilst retaining the brand mark to the fore.

British Vogue never cover their logo. Of the two options this is much the stronger brand position. Conversely, American Vogue almost always put the star over the logo. Despite the strength of their brand, I can only assume they do this because their audience insists on the celebrity being at the very front regardless.

Rihanna Vogue nov 2012Which brings us to this, Rihanna’s latest American Vogue cover, from November 2012. Taken again by Annie Leibovitz, it’s a very different picture compared to the previous year.

People.com have been running a poll as to what their readers think is the best. I can’t tell you which cover won, as I was obliged me to sign up to polldaddy.com to get the results, which frankly, I just couldn’t be arsed with.

But I don’t need a poll to tell me I don’t like this new cover. Aside from the weird wheat field and the unreadable type, I find myself looking for clues as to what’s really going on here. What does the pixie cut saying about her feelings for Chris Brown? Does she look in control? What does the pose mean?

In the Guardian Alex Petredis’s excellent review of her new record suggests that whilst the music might be good, Rihanna’s obsession with her violent ex is still deeply disturbing. It’s a fine piece of writing, and generated lively comments, as you might expect.

For me, I still subscribe to the idea that at heart, pop music is all about haircuts. I think a New Do is in order.