Nurture vs. nature: How Porter Robinson's new album cover art blossomed
Under the Cover is a column analyzing album artwork.
It's been seven years since Porter Robinson released his genre-bending album Worlds — and over a year of teasing its emotional follow-up Nurture (out April 23). So it's only appropriate that even the cover shoot for his second studio release was "such a process," the electronic wunderkind tells EW. "We obsessed over like 1000 different album covers and we ended up coming back to the simplest thing in the end."
That would be the image, below, of Robinson lying facedown in a flowery meadow. To get there, he collaborated with art director Samuel Burgess-Johnson, who previously worked with artists like The 1975 and Tove Lo. While all of Nurture's previously released singles had cover art that came directly from Robinson's old iPhone photos, the official artwork was a lot more intentional. "We tried so many things," he says. "We did a little photoshoot to try to get the album cover that was sort of a liminal spaces vibe. But what we were ultimately imagining was a white sky and a perfect Windows XP-style hill with me standing there or maybe not me standing there."
The 28-year-old producer also knew that the image would need to be instantly recognizable, no matter the size. "So if somebody wants to put my album up on their wall in Animal Crossing where they only have 16 pixels to do it, I want them to be able to," he adds with a laugh.
Before the COVID shutdown in March 2020, Robinson and his team spent two days driving to farms and hopping over fences to find the right flower field — a "cherished memory" he says has gotten him through much of the past year. They worked hard to find the right photo on that adventure. "We had a bunch of really cool options," he says — until the last shot, when Robinson dropped face-first into the ground on a whim.
"We couldn't get away from that photo, which is just me facedown in what appears to be this infinite field of grass," he says. "And there was nothing we could do to improve it with our usual design tricks. This is it, no context needed. It's a fantasy of a version of myself that lives so earnestly. I struggle to be bold and it's a bold album cover. It's un-ignorable. And I know there's going to be memes made of this image."
Robinson describes the hyper-personal tone of Nurture as "very melancholic; there's a lot of pain, there's a lot of sadness, but there's also a lot of hope" — and he sees it all in this image. "It's like this hug to the entire earth or this embrace of reality and that's a motif of the album," says Robinson, but he quickly notes he's planning to "crank up the fun" on the new songs when he eventually performs them live. "It makes me feel like the music does — a little bit of self-consciousness, a little bit of a sense of beauty. Laying facedown on the ground like that is the most vulnerable you can be."
Robinson's been very outspoken about his struggle with depression and how that prevented him from making music after the success of Worlds, an album that focused on escapism, fantasy "and all the incredible things that can be derived from fiction like video games and movies," he says. "Nurture came after a period of real creative struggle and just a very difficult time emotionally where an escape wasn't cutting it anymore. I found it deeply comforting to find beauty in the everyday and in the small things and in nature and in what's real."
He now wants to share that epiphany with others. "I want to make people feel the grass on their skin," he says. Robinson got his wish — but paid the price. "The irony of it is that I'm allergic to grass," he admits with a laugh. "But it was worth it."