Artist: Michael Jackson
Cover Art Direction: Nancy Donald, David Coleman, and Adam Owet
Cover Design: Steven Hankinson
Photography: Albert Watson
Michael Jackson’s final studio album was a labor of love that started production in 1997 and did not finish until eight weeks before the album’s release in the Fall of 2001. Similar to his previous material, Invincible explores various themes from love and romance to isolation and social issues. The album was recorded in 10 different studios and was easily the most expensive album ever made.
According to Karen Faye, Michael’s make-up artist and hair stylist for several decades, Albert Watson’s 1992 photograph, “The Golden Boy,” was the original inspiration behind the album cover for Invincible. Karen said that she had done Michael’s make-up and hair all in gold, similar to Watson’s photo. However, after heavy alterations by the company executives, the final result took on a different life of its own.
The Invincible cover is an intriguing mix of elements united to create a coherent image of the superstar. Gone are the spectacular ornaments and hidden messages from Dangerous, the epic monument of HIStory, and the dancing feet of Off the Wall, all anticipating the contents of the album. This time, the image leaves the viewer with a simple message of Michael Jackson’s long sought inner peace.
The shadows below the eyebrows, nose, and mouth suggest that the photograph was taken at a higher angle. The right eye and eyebrow have been overlaid with a second digitized layer. The digitization makes it clear that Michael Jackson was constantly watching both the present and future music scene and anticipating the evolution of the music industry. The left eye and eyebrow, however, are in their natural state, providing a sense of comfort for the old-school soul that Michael had come to be known for.
The typography of the album title has always been important across all of Michael’s album covers and for his final hoorah, this rule remained unchanged. This time, however, the title took a backseat to the man himself, “Michael Jackson.” The disparity in font size between his name and the album title elevates his image and persona to center stage. Perhaps the image of Michael’s face represents a work of art, in and of itself.
This interpretation of the Invincible cover representing his face as a work of art is reinforced by the fact that five versions of the cover were released – four with a different background color, as well as the white one – which is reminiscent of the four Andy Warhol portraits of Michael Jackson, each with a different background color. So in a way, the Invincible covers evoke the Warhol portraits, where his face and image unquestionably became a work of art by one of the most influential artists of the last century.
Michael Jackson reached out to photographer Albert Watson in order to capture the same magic he had demonstrated a decade earlier with his "Golden Boy" photograph. Watson was initially going to photograph Michael for the Blood on the Dance Floor album cover, but when he arrived at the studio and prepared the set, Michael was not feeling well and so the session was postponed indefinitely. Eventually, Michael ended up using an illustration for that album. Years later, he reached out to him for the next album cover and spent two weeks preparing for a series of photo sessions.
These sessions involved personal portraits of Michael as well as him dancing around a pole in a suit that he picked out himself. From the initial stages of conceptualization for the project, he had envisioned a portrait with different colors and tones to adorn the album cover.
A sketch by Michael’s friend, Uri Geller, was included in the album booklet. The sketch was drawn on a napkin at 11:11 PM at a hotel in New York. The sketch captures a beautiful collection of words and symbols of love, peace, hope, and enlightenment.
The album peaked at number one in eleven territories worldwide. It spawned three singles, “You Rock My World,” “Cry,” and “Butterflies,” with the first consequently peaking at number ten on the Billboard Hot 100.
Mohammad Osman is an Artist, Writer, & Cultural Historian.