A Rihanna logo inspired by death metal bands featured prominently at the VMAs this year. David Farrier followed some rabbit holes to locate the designer behind the whole thing.
One of the best things that happened at this year’s VMAs was this:
Rihanna has always been pretty amazing, but seeing her name in the style of a death metal logo made my heart soar.
I mean, this is the world of Rihanna…
“Work, work, work, work, work, work / He say me have to / Work, work, work, work, work, work! / He see me do me / Dirt, dirt, dirt, dirt, dirt, dirt!”
…meeting the world of, say, Cannibal Corpse:
“Upheaval of human entrails / Deterioration of grated genitals / Dangling from the hooks / Obscene feelings deep inside me”
Pop and death metal – musically, spiritually, emotionally and politically – they couldn’t be further apart. And yet here they were, two worlds colliding.
What was Rihanna up to?
Well, I suppose it’s important to note that it’s not like she’s shied away from other genres of “louder” music, whether it’s the industrial rock of Nine Inch Nails, or the heavy metal of Judas Priest.
But this giant logo on stage was a huge statement. A massive statement. And it had twitter in a freaked-out spin:
A few days later, the Internet did what the Internet does… and there were t-shirts.
I was intrigued. How did this happen? How did a giant black-metal inspired RIHANNA logo end up being broadcast to hundreds of thousand of brain-dead MTV-watching idiots?
I started by putting an email into Rihanna’s label, Universal Music. I got this reply:
I’ll send a note up to the label, but to be honest, this was most likely an artist/stylist thing without any label involvement. I’ll ask though.
Nothing came of that, so I got in touch with the office of Willo Perron, a director who always seems to be making things with cool, fashionable types like Drake, Kanye and Kendrick.
After some emails back and forth, I discovered the truth: Willo is a big fan of Belgian graphic designer Christophe Szpajdel, who specialises in… black metal logos.
“Willo has a copy of Christophe’s Lord of Logos book and has actually given copies to friends,” says Cindy Lin, who works alongside Perron.
“When this performance came up we wanted to do something special for the video and wardrobe… so we reached out to him.”
At some point over this week of discovery I had quite a big revelation: I had bloody met Christophe Szpajdel while he was visiting New Zealand a few years ago. He was an utterly captivating character, shy but excited – and he couldn’t stop sketching designs wherever he went. He even did me.
I jumped on Facebook and tried to friend him. He had 5000 friends. He’d maxed out. Lucky for me he checks his “other” folder where DMs usually go to die.
Your Rihanna logo is amazing. Just amazing. How did this come about? Did her people get in touch with your people?
Rihanna was a very peculiar commission, a lady called Clare Gillen contacted me on Facebook, probably after I passed her one of my sturdy black and gold “Lord of the Logos” when I was in London in the end of June. Probably on the tube, as I always happen to meet interesting people and miss the stop I have to get out and connect to another train.
I always get flustered when on the London tube.
She just said, “I will look you up when I get a chance” and then a few weeks later, bang, it happened!
I first felt it was a fun commission and she wanted me to play around with the name RIHANNA.
It is only when she transferred the communication with Cindy Lin that I realized something more serious and exciting was about to happen – working on the RIHANNA logo for her tour, the “ANTI WORLD TOUR”.
Tell me about your design process. Was this a hard one to design? You knew it would be GIANT on screen – did that make it easier or harder?
It was a quite time sensitive project, where I have been asked to send many drafts.
I tried different directions, and I got quickly narrowed down towards something more precise. I had to bounce back and forth the ideas and receiving feedback and submitting new drafts based on the feedback.
Out of a dozen drafts, three have been chosen and two have definitely been used officially.
I had to summon the help of my friend Luca Devinu who works with revolutionary tools not many graphic designers have used so far.
What has the reaction been like from the metal community?
A lot of people congratulated me for having made this giant step forward, supporting the quest I should charge more for my art since I worked with such a big celebrity in the music and performing arts scene.
That is due to open doors to many new perspectives. Some have expressed their concerns that I went mainstream.
But think a bit of Metallica, who lost some fans to get a worldwide recognition in all musical genres.
Sometimes you have to lose one to gain ten new ones. From old to new, you can’t create without destroying, even for art.
You cannot create a logo without wearing out your pencils, erasers, pens.
Can I tell you a little anecdote? Sometimes when my pens go funny or stop writing, I destroy them b’ROO’tally in a temper tantrum (I dashed the fun word “Brootally” instead of “Brutally”, thinking of Wayne Rooney who always gets brutal when losing his temper).
It’s like that Norwegian customer I served in the shop I work at the other day, and I asked him, “Why are you wearing an England T-shirt? Do you support the England football team? ” and he answered in a cold, adamant tone, “I am not fan of England, I am fan of Wayne Rooney”.
Do you know why Rihanna went down the metal line? It’s certainly created a stir. I mean… I have seen her in a Nine Inch Nails tee – is she maybe into louder music than her own?
I had a sort of gut feeling Rihanna had a certain taste for metal. She allegedly has been seen wearing a Judas Priest T-shirt and maybe something even heavier.
Think of Jim Carrey working with Cannibal Corpse… why Rihanna wanted a death metal logo so bad? Why Jim Carrey wanted Cannibal Corpse to work on Ace Ventura: Pet Detective?
[Ed’s note: Farrier returns]
Indeed, why did Jim Carrey want Cannibal Corpse to work on Ace Ventura: Pet Detective?
All I know is there is no limit to who Christophe wants to work with. That crazy Belgian motherfucker just emailed me these. Madness.