Taylor Swift, Blackletter and typography-fuelled gossip
By Sarah Hyndman
The announcement of Taylor Swift’s new album, Reputation, is a great example of typography used as a visual code. It has resulted in a furore of debate on social media that Swift is reprising her well-known feud with Kanye West, yet if you look behind her you see her name repeated over and over in the styles of the media mastheads and logos—from high brow to gossip tabloids. This is a clever double meaning, and one that is inherently meta, because it is fuelling the media machine to obsess over a reference that ultimately appears to be about itself.
The heavy, spiky Blackletter or gothic typeface from the Reputation album title has been around for over 500 years, and this is a style that has been popular in fashion and music; especially heavy metal and hip hop music. Kanye West’s Life of Pablo merchandising features a variation of Blackletter created for him by Cali Thornhill Dewitt. Max Berlinger writes in The New York Times that the fashion and music industry have an infatuation with this ornate style of lettering.
These ancient letterforms are also still found in the mastheads of newspapers around the world. When the printing press first came to Europe in the 1400s this was the style of the day, replicating the meticulous calligraphic handwriting of monks and scribes and the first major printed book was the Gutenberg Bible. The angles, thick/thin contrast and spikes are created by the flat nib of the calligraphy pen as it is held at an angle. As technology and our tastes have evolved, type has become simpler and more minimalist, but these links to the past can still be found in instances where they represent prestige, trust and history—such as newspaper mastheads and bank notes.
Swift’s album comes out in November, only then will we know what the cover is referencing, if this is in fact the real cover.
Life of Pablo image by , link from Vogue.