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John Lennon & Yoko Ono, 1980 Rolling Stone
Annie Leibovitz photographed this image of John Lennon and Yoko Ono hours before Lennon was shot and killed on Dec. 8, 1980. Rolling Stone made it the cover of the Jan. 22, 1981.
The Most Controversial Magazine Covers
Janet Jackson, Rolling Stone, September 16 1993
Before her infamous Super Bowl wardrobe malfunction, Janet Jackson was baring it all on the cover of Rolling Stone's Sept. 16, 1993 issue.
‘Boston Bomber’ Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, Rolling Stone August 2013
The August Rolling Stone cover, featuring accused Boston bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, has been met with waves of controversy, causing several stores not to carry the issue and outrage from public officials. While the cover has caused an uproar among those who think it gives Tsarnaev “rock star treatment,” the magazine is the latest to stir up strong opinions with its cover choice.
Twin Tower Silhouette, The New Yorker, Sept. 24 2001
At first glance, the cover appears to be totally black, but upon close examination it reveals the silhouettes of the World Trade Center towers in a slightly darker shade of black. In some situations, the ghost images only become visible when the magazine is tilted toward a light source. In September 2004, Spiegelman reprised the image on the cover of his book In the Shadow of No Towers, in which he relates his experience of the Twin Towers attack and the psychological after-effects.
A very pregnant and very nude Demi Moore on the cover of Vanity Fair August 1991
Shot by famous celebrity photographer Annie Leibovitz, this 1991 Vanity Fair cover featured Demi Moore, who was the first celebrity to appear naked and pregnant on the cover of a magazine. Moore, then 28, and then-husband Bruce Willis were expecting their second child that August. The now famous pose would later be copied by other celebrities such as Cindy Crawford, Britney Spears and Jessica Simpson.
OJ Mug Shot, Time June 1994
Wherever OJ Simpson goes controversy is sure to follow…even if that’s the cover of Time. In June 1994, the magazine faced a barrage of criticism – not for putting the mug shot of the accused murderer on its cover – but because of the way it was done. They made the former footballer look darker, leading to accusations of racism and counter-accusations that, by saying that darkening Simpson’s skin made him look more sinister, is itself racist.
Adolf Hitler: Man of the Year, 1938 Time Magazine
The cover was controversial for obvious reasons. Person of the Year (formerly Man of the Year) is an annual issue of the United States news magazine Time that features and profiles a person, group, idea or object that “for better or for worse, …has done the most to influence the events of the year.
The April 8, 1966, issue of Time magazine asked "Is God Dead?" in reference to a society moving toward secularism.
The headline was highly controversial and offensive to many people. The featured article discussed the ‘death of God’ counter culture movement that had sprung up in the 1960s (including Gabriel Vahanian, whose book “The Death of God” helped spark the radical movement). This was also the first time the magazine had ever used just type on its cover without an associated photo. It is alleged the issue received more letters to the editor than any other in the magazine’s history.
First African-American Woman Featured on Cover of Playboy October, 1971
Darine Stern was the first African-American woman to ever appear on the cover of Playboy magazine. The photograph was taken by Richard Fegley and at the time of publication the choice to feature an African-American on the cover of a major American magazine was rare.
The Obamas, The New Yorker July 2008
What do you do when a popular African-American politician, with the middle name Hussein, is leading the presidential race during an election year? If you're the editor of The New Yorker you put a cartoon of he and his wife on the cover, fist bumping in the Oval Office, while dressed like Islamic terrorists with a portrait of Osama Bin Laden hovering in the background. Barack Obama’s camp said the cover was “tasteless and offensive,” while the editor defended it as being satirical.
Ellen Degeneres Coming Out Issue TIME, April 14 199
When TIME received the exclusive on Ellen Degeneres’ coming out as a lesbian it was controversial at the time (1997). Upon the news many TV outlets had decided to pull her show from the air. At the time she was the only openly gay star on television.
Michael Jackson Death Photo, OK! Weekly, June 2009
OK! Weekly was heavily criticized for publishing what it claimed was the last ever photograph of the late pop superstar Michael Jackson. The controversial image was purchased for approximately $500,000 and appeared on the magazine’s “Official Tribute Issue”. “It’s a photo that captures the surprise and the upset and the moment of this breaking news story. I hope the cover will provoke readers,” OK! editorial director Sarah Ivens said in defense of the magazine’s decision to run the image. “It celebrated the man, but it also does expose that he was an eccentric character who lived a very controversial life.”
Princess Diana and Kate Middleton, Newsweek July 2011
It was supposed to imagine what the late Princess Diana would look like and be doing as she hit her 50s, but instead Newsweek’s July 2011 cover was widely derided. The then-editor Tina Brown defended her decision to put a superimposed image of an aged Diana on the cover next to the daughter-in-law she never met, Kate Middleton. Discussing the relationship the two women might have had, Brown said that Prince William’s mom would “have had to adjust to a broadening of the limelight.”
If you don’t buy this magazine… National Lampoon, January 1973
While not as controversial as many of the other entries, the cover did create a stir with its violent overtones of animal cruelty. Especially since the cover was run decades before desktop publishing and photo manipulation were the norm, such an image was unsettling to many.
The First Gay President Newsweek, May 21 2012
This Newsweek cover of President Obama featuring a glowing, rainbow halo and the words “The first gay president” came in the wake of Obama’s announcement that he supports same-sex marriage. The cover’s headline was perceived by some as an implication that the President himself was gay. It was more cheeky than controversial but it stands out nonetheless.
Britney Spears Rolling Stone, April 1999
Before the pop star became the center of a paparazzi frenzy, Britney Spears was a ‘Teen Queen.’ At least that’s what Rolling Stone dubbed her in their April 1999 issue which featured the then seventeen-year-old Spears in lingerie and holding a Tellytubby. In 1999, the young singer was already developing into a sex symbol, but many believed that this cover was a little too mature for a 17 year-old.
Kanye West wearing a crown of thorns in Rolling Stone
Kanye West, Rolling Stone February 2006 Like Rolling Stone, Kanye West is no stranger to controversial magazine covers. In February 2006, he appeared on the cover wearing a crown of thorns like Jesus Christ, next to the tagline “The Passion of Kanye West.” Photographer David LaChapelle said: “I wanted to make it look exactly like the DVD cover of [the film] The Passion of the Christ, right down to the individual thorns.”
A woman breastfeeding her 3-year-old son appears on the May 21, 2012 cover of Time magazine.
Was this image too taboo? A Time magazine cover showing a woman breastfeeding her nearly 4-year-old son instantly went viral after the issue came out on May 21, 2012, sparking reaction from both parents and non-parents alike. While some wrote off the provocative image as no big deal, critics argued the cover was needlessly sensational.
Pharrell ruffled some feathers with his appearance on the cover of Elle UK's July 2014 issue. The singer traded his signature Mountie hat for a Native American headdress, angering people in the Native community. His appropriation of the sacred item spurred the Twitter hashtag #NotHappy. "You don't want to see Native People in mainstream music and fashion, but you want to dress like them," wrote user Corey Tess. "#NotHappy."
Wired Magazine. Shortly after Steve Jobs rejoined Apple in 1997, Wired ran an image of the company's logo wearing a crown of thorns to go with its cover story, "101 Ways to Save Apple."
Miley Cyrus, Vanity Fair – April 2008 Miley Cyrus didn’t have to stick out her tongue or twerk to ignite a firestorm when posing for Vanity Fair in 2008. Instead the then 15-year-old Hannah Montana star just had to pose half naked, clutching a sheet to cover her chest, while staring seductively into a camera held by Annie Leibovitz.
“Veep’’ star Julia Louis-Dreyfus posed for the April 24, 2014, issue with a tattoo of the U.S. Constitution signed by John Hancock across her bare back. (Historians note that Hancock signed the Declaration of Independence, not the Constitution.) Louis-Dreyfus joked that she “was in a drunken stupor.’’ Mark Seliger for Rolling Stone/via AP
Time magazine's April 8, 2013, double cover drew controversy as the Supreme Court took up two cases centered around same-sex marriage laws. The covers show two men and two women kissing. The men are domestic partners in California; the women are married with two children.
June 9, 2014, Laverne Cox, transgender actress on 'Orange Is the New Black,' lands on Time cover. The actress tells the magazine about some of the bullying she faced as a boy and how times have changed for those struggling with gender identity issues.
April 1968 Muhammad Ali posing as Saint Sebastian pierced with arrows. The magazine cover, designed by George Lois, was one of the iconic images of the decade, tying together the incendiary issues of Vietnam, race and religion. Esquire Magazine, April 1968. George Lois/Museum of Modern Art via AP
From left, "True Blood" stars Alexander Skarsgard, Anna Paquin and Stephen Moyer appear naked on the September 2010 cover of Rolling Stone. Alan Ball, the creator of the hit HBO series, told the magazine: "To me, vampires are sex. I don't get a vampire story about abstinence." Fans were likely not taken aback by the nude threesome, but the cover had some people calling for it to be pulled from shelves.
A nearly-nude Lady Gaga covers 'Rolling Stone' for a second time, now in just a thong and the machine gun bra first seen in her 'Alejandro' video.
Rolling Stone has faced controversy for its cover choices before, prominently promoting an award-winning interview with Charles Manson in June 1970.
An image of a VietCong man being taken prisoner appeared on the cover of Life magazine on Nov. 16, 1965, helping to spark public outrage against the Vietnam War.
Complaints began the minute Time posted the cover of its Jan. 27, 2014, issue.The cover features a pant-suit-clad leg ending with a high heel with a tiny man hanging onto the heel, and asks "Can anyone stop Hillary?"
Life magazine cover in April 16, 1965 featured a photo of Vietnam. Helicopter crew chief James C. Farley with jammed machine gun shouting to crew as wounded pilot Lt. James Magel lies dying beside him .
LeBron James and Gisele Bundchen, Vogue April 2008 “I don’t think there has been this much controversy over an American Vogue cover since 2008 with their April issue featuring LeBron James and Gisele Bundchen!” With these words, Kelly Osbourne drew a line between the Kimye/Vogue cover outrage and the one that erupted after the basketball player became the first black man to appear on the magazine’s cover. Many damned the photo for being racially insensitive likening it to the image of King Kong clutching 1930s actress Fay Wray.
Are they or aren't they? The New Yorker caused quite the stir by featuring Bert and Ernie seated close to each other on a couch in front of a TV screen displaying the Supreme Court justices. The controversial photo, drawn by Arizona-based illustrator Jack Hunter and called "Moment of Joy," comes on the heels of the SCOTUS decision to strike down the Defense of Marriage Act. The pair, who've been together for almost 50 years, were put on the cover in celebration of the Supreme Court's advancement of gay marriage. Speculation has long swirled over the sexual orientation of America's favorite Muppets.
Cover of the September 2014 issue of Wired magazine, featuring former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden. Snowden gave an exclusive interview with Wired, in the issue scheduled to hit newsstands on Aug. 26, 2014.
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