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The following is a list of notable albums with controversial album art, especially where that controversy resulted in the album being banned, censored or sold in packaging other than the original one. They are listed by the type of controversy they were involved in.
Nudity and sexuality
A Kouros. A row of similar statues were featured on the cover of Tin Machine II; their genitalia were airbrushed out on the American release.
The album features a portrait of the original Alice Cooper band, with frontman Alice Cooper posed with his thumb protruding from underneath his cape as if it were his penis. The album was later reissued with Cooper's entire right arm airbrushed out of the photograph.
The album cover is a computer-generated androgynous alter-ego named Xen. With her head tilted back, Xen displays her broad shoulders, breasts, and large hips on the album cover with her skin rippling "as if about to peel and fall off." Even though no genitals appear, Spotify and iTunespixelate the area, as well as the breasts.
The cover shows a woman sitting down with her hand up her dress, presumably masturbating, with a look of pleasure on her face. The controversy of the album cover is accompanied by the erotic artwork of the singles "The Ideal Height", "Questions and Answers" and "Eradicate the Doubt" (all designed by Milo Manara). Despite being considered offensive and sexist by some, ShortList magazine praised the band for their bravery and originality when they mentioned it in their list of "50 Coolest Album Covers Ever".
The cover features a topless pubescent girl, holding in her hands a silver space ship, which some perceived as phallic. Photographer Bob Seidemann used a girl, Mariora Goschen, who was 11 years old. The US record company issued it with an alternative cover which showed a photograph of the band on the front.
The album originally was to feature a busty woman with 34DD breasts in a wet yellow T-shirt with the album name on the front of the shirt. However, the artwork was rejected because record executives feared that the dominant record store chains at the time would not sell the album with a sexist cover, or Jon Bon Jovi's complaint that the record company had put a bright pink border around the photograph that the band had submitted. Instead, the cover was changed before the album's release to an image of a wet garbage bag with the words "Slippery When Wet" written on it.
The cover of the album features a rendition of Édouard Manet's painting Le Déjeuner sur l'herbe featuring the band members. The band's then-14-year old lead singer Annabella Lwin is nude on the cover. The cover caused outrage in the United Kingdom that led to an investigation by Scotland Yard, instigated by Lwin's mother. The cover was replaced, and never appeared on the American issue.
The cover originally depicted a baby's head emerging from a woman's vagina during birth. As some stores would not sell the album due to the cover, the baby image was replaced with an image of several flowers.
In news posted on the official Cradle of Filth website in mid-May 2006, it was revealed that the planned artwork for Thornography had been vetoed by Roadrunner Records. A replacement was soon forthcoming, although numerous CD booklets had already been printed with the original image. The controversy was over the nakedness of the female figure's legs on the original cover.
The album features Bowie as a half-dog half-man hybrid, and the back cover features the creature's genitals. Following controversy, later copies of the album have the genitals airbrushed out of the painting.
A poster inserted in the original record sleeve, H. R. Giger's Landscape #XX, or Penis Landscape, was a painting depicting rows of penises in sexual intercourse. The band and its record label Alternative Tentacles were brought to criminal trial for distributing harmful matter to minors. Although the trial and two years of subsequent litigation in the case did not result in any convictions, Alternative Tentacles and the band's frontman Jello Biafra were nearly driven into bankruptcy as a result of costs related to the trial and litigation. Additionally, the album's actual cover - a 1970s Newsweek photograph of Shriners in a parade - prompted a 1986 lawsuit from the four elderly Shriners included in the photograph.
The cover shows the erect penis of drummer Zach Hill with the album's title written in black marker. The cover caused such controversy, along with its spontaneous release without their label's permission, that the band were forced to put a disclaimer on their website. An alternative cover was subsequently released depicting a man wearing socks with the words "Suck my dick" on them.
The cover for the EP depicted a crowd of people being chased through a city by a massive bulldozer with a penis attached to it. The cover also has the title with a penis in place of the "I". Many stores refused to carry the EP because of the cover. As of 2000, Dildozer is out of print.
The album's original cover art, based on Robert Williams' painting Appetite for Destruction, depicted an open-shirted woman leaning against a wooden fence after clearly being raped by a robotic rapist which is about to be crushed by a dagger-toothed monster. After several music retailers refused to stock the album, the label compromised and moved the offending image to the inside sleeve, replacing it with a new image depicting a cross and skulls of the five band members. The band stated the artwork is "a symbolic social statement, with the robot representing the industrial system that's raping and polluting our environment."
The album cover shows a group of middle-aged nudists posing in the middle of a forest. The group consists of five women and three men. The album cover was completely pixelated for its iTunes release, and many online news outlets overlaid a black box over the explicit areas.
The front cover displayed Lennon and Ono frontally nude, while the rear cover featured them from behind. Distributors were prompted to sell the album in a plain brown wrapper, and copies of the album were impounded as obscenity in several jurisdictions.
The cover designed by George Condo features a woman's body with bare breasts. It was intended to be the cover art of the song when the name was "Theraflu". When Kanye West changed the name of the song to "Cold", a new cover was revealed, which also caused controversies for bare breasts.
The cover originally showed a painting by George Condo depicting West being straddled by a phoenix. After certain retail stores refused to sell the album due to the cover, Condo created a less-offensive artwork, showing a ballerina with a glass of cherry juice. However, many versions of the album still feature the original artwork, but pixelated.
The Hipgnosis cover, based on the novel Childhood's End by Arthur C. Clarke, features a group of naked children ascending the Giant's Causeway. The interior art also depicts a distant figure of a naked Overlord standing on mossy ruins (nearby Dunluce Castle) while holding one of the children aloft in a ceremonial gesture. Although the album was originally released with the nudity intact, Atlantic Records were allowed to add a wrap-around paper title band to US and UK copies of the sleeve that had to be broken or slid off to access the record. This hid the children's buttocks from the general display, but still, the album was either banned or unavailable in some parts of the Southern United States for several years. On subsequent the cover covered one of the naked children's buttocks with the text "Led Zeppelin Houses of the Holy" printed on a white background. The buttocks were later airbrushed out.
The album artwork is a sculpture of Lady Gaga by Jeff Koons with her legs open and a gazing ball placed between them. Although no nudity is visible on the artwork, the album cover was still censored in the Middle East and China. Rather than traditional censorship, the gazing ball between her legs was enlarged to fully cover her breasts, and her legs were colored black so they did not appear to be naked.
The single cover is a close-up of Lady Gaga's buttocks wearing a blue, floral thong. Lady Gaga's blonde wig hangs just above her thong-clad buttocks. The image was taken by photographer Terry Richardson. A censored version of the cover featuring a pale mauve coloured skirt edited over the top of her buttocks was used in selected countries in the Middle East.
The album's cover depicts a naked obese woman seated in front of a blackboard where the words "I will be god" are written numerous times. The album was banned from Kmart due to the offending cover. In the album's insert, the same woman covers her breasts with her hands, and her behind is also exposed on both the insert and back cover. The woman and the words on the blackboard were later airbrushed out.
The album was originally released with the album cover featuring a woman licking her lips and holding a pie with a slice removed showing a subtle depiction of a woman's vulva and some semen leaking from the pie. The cover was later reprinted with the vulva replaced by a miniature brick wall, topped with razor wire and removing the semen.
The artwork for this digital single depicts Minaj with her back towards the camera, emphasizing her thong-clad buttocks. Some stores censored this art by obscuring the buttocks with the Parental Advisory seal, or a black box on the edited version.
The album cover featured a naked, baby Spencer Elden with his penis exposed, swimming after a dollar bill. Chain stores such as Wal-Mart and Kmart initially refused to carry Nevermind. Frontman Kurt Cobain refused to censor the cover, stating the only form of coverage he would accept was a sticker that read "If you're offended by this, you must be a closet pedophile" over the genitals. Elden sued the band and Cobain's estate 30 years later for perceived child sexual exploitation. Nirvana saw continued controversy for their next album, In Utero.
The album features two covers, one for the CD version and one for the LP version; both of them caused controversy. The CD version features a man sitting down on the ground in a petting zoo cuddling a sheep with his hand on the sheep's genitalia area. The LP version sparked even more controversy than the CD version, as it features the same man in a 69 position with the same sheep. The album is known as Eating Lamb on the LP. The LP version was banned from Germany due to the cover's subject matter.
The album featured a model dressed as a demon with a long red tongue. Considered more odd than evil or sexual, the album generated controversy and was later replaced with a censored version that just showed the model's eyes.
The album cover features a black and white photograph of the band sprawled across the arms of a proportionately larger naked woman. A rose conceals one of her nipples while singer Anthony Kiedis' standing body conceals the other. Several national chains refused to sell the record because they believed the female subject displayed too much nudity. A stricter censored version was manufactured for some retailers that featured the band members in far larger proportion than the original.
The cover originally featured Sheri Moon Zombie's buttocks, but after controversy arose, it was replaced by an image of a cat, which was referred to by Rob Zombie as a "pussy shot" to replace the "ass shot".
The cover features a nude back-view image of model and pornographic actressLinzi Drew, her buttocks clearly visible. It was condemned by many feminist groups and was also accused of promoting rape. Columbia Records was forced to place a black box covering the nudity for future releases to avoid more controversy.
The album features scantily clad models Constanze Karoli and Eveline Grunwald - the sister and girlfriend, respectively, of Can guitarist Michael Karoli - posed in front of a bush. Although no nudity is directly shown in the photograph, Grunwald is topless and Karoli's bra is translucent, allowing her nipples and areolae to be visible. Consequently, the album's LP sleeve was packaged in a green outer nylon bag; for a later American release of the album, the front cover was replaced by mirroring the photograph on the album's back cover, which features the foliage and forest, but neither woman.
This cover featured a photo of a naked prepubescent girl, with her pubic area partially obscured by a "cracked glass" effect. Her pose and the title "Virgin Killer" added to the image's notoriety. The Internet Watch Foundation, a British non-profit group who provides content blacklists for major ISPs in the country, also notably blacklisted pages on Wikipedia for featuring the cover on its article about the album. This block was later retracted due to technical problems which occurred as a result of the blocking mechanisms and due to the already "wide availability" of the image.
The gender-ambiguous cover art provoked controversy in the press, prompting Suede frontman Brett Anderson to comment, "I chose it because of the ambiguity of it, but mostly because of the beauty of it." The cover image of the androgynous kissing couple was taken from the 1991 book Stolen Glances: Lesbians Take Photographs edited by Tessa Boffin and Jean Fraser. The photograph was taken by Tee Corinne and in its entirety shows a woman kissing an acquaintance in a wheelchair.
The original cover art featured a photograph of a woman's nude bottom and hip, with a leather-gloved hand suggestively resting on it. Although British retail chains HMV and Woolworths objected to the photograph's controversial nature, they stocked the album without amendment. In the band's native United States, the cover was changed to a photograph of subatomic particle tracks in a bubble chamber. This decision was made by frontman Julian Casablancas because he liked this image more than the original cover, and was independent of any controversy or label demand.
The album cover features Sky Ferriera appearing topless, wearing a cross necklace inside a shower, with a "demented" facial expression. The album cover was cropped for iTunes, and in-store versions had an elongated sticker with the album title and her name covering the explicit content.
Photos in the liner notes of a nude obese woman, a nude man of normal weight, a cow licking its genitals, and the band members with pins in the sides of their heads generated controversy, resulting in the album being removed from stores such as Kmart and Wal-Mart. The cover was later replaced by a giant bar code.
The explicit cover is a black-and-white image of a topless woman sitting in a tiled room surrounded and partially obscured by balloons. When the mixtape was sold separately for retail release on iTunes and in stores in 2015, the cover was censored.
Both albums' covers feature model Joanne Latham in states of undress, being attacked or accosted by men in Medieval and Renaissance period attire. The original concept for Death Penalty was developed by Revolver Music founder Paul Birch. The negative press from the album covers was a large contributing factor in the breakup of the band.
The cover features a stained-glass image of an African-American Jesus wearing a red bandanna across his lower face, a Jesus piece necklace, and a teardrop tattoo. After the Roman Catholic Church called Interscope Records to complain about the image, Game decided to make this cover for the deluxe edition and use a different cover for the standard edition. The standard cover features a black-and-white photo of the rapper's deceased brother Jevon Danell Taylor, who died of gunshot wounds on May 21, 1995, at the age of 20.
Hindu groups in Malaysia expressed anger at both the David King illustrated poster and cover which shows Hendrix and his bandmates as the deity Vishnu. The Malaysian government's Home Ministry instituted a ban on the artwork in June 2014 to protect religious sensitivities.
An alternative cover was reportedly created by Justin Bieber's team for his Purpose album after several Muslim nations across the Middle East, North Africa as well as Indonesia, took issue with Bieber being shirtless in the original artwork and flaunting his cross tattoo, promoting Christianity.
The cover depicts Manson as a crucified Christ with his jawbone torn off; a statement on censorship and America's obsession with martyrs. The album was sold at Circuit City only after it was housed in a cardboard sleeve featuring an alternative cover, while Walmart and Kmart refused to stock the album at all. A pastor in Memphis, Tennessee also threatened to go on a hunger strike unless the album was pulled from shelves.
The cover depicts a mutilated, stoned Christ in a sea of blood with mutilated heads. For stores who refused to sell the album with the original cover, an alternative cover was provided instead. In India, Joseph Dias, general secretary of the Mumbai Christian group Catholic Secular Forum, took "strong exception" to the original album artwork, and issued a memorandum to Mumbai's police commissioner in protest. As a result, all Indian stocks were recalled and destroyed.
The album's cover, influenced by early 20th century French neo-impressionist poster art and painted by Taylor's wife, was controversial with some Christian retailers who instead believed it to be a reference to tarot and New Age philosophy. The album was pulled from several stores as a result. Further controversy was raised by the album track "I Blew Up the Clinic Real Good", which condemned anti-abortion violence. Some Christian bookstores which did not pull the album for its cover pulled it due to the song or its title, either because its critique of the pro-life movement offended store owners and customers, or because these same individuals missed the song's satirical point, and believed Taylor advocated such violence.
The album cover received controversy due to its parody of the Devil tarot card. On the back of the CD were two babies locked to Satan. This caused the album to be pulled from many stores and in later US copies of the CD the babies were airbrushed out. Though for the July 2002 CD release of the album in the UK and also the 2013 re-release on vinyl, the babies were kept in.
The album was originally set to feature a photo of rows of dogs seated in a music hall with a gramophone on the stage. However, retailer HMV made the band withdraw it as it mocked their trademark dog, and the band put out a new cover, depicting four dogs in a boat.
The original inside gatefold featured nine black-and-white photos, including a shot of actress Claudia Cardinale that Dylan selected from Jerry Schatzberg's portfolio. Since it had been used without her authorization, Cardinale's photo was subsequently removed, making the original record sleeve a collector's item.
The cover of the EP features artwork by Trevor Brown of Madonna with a black eye. Brown sued the band, claiming that they had used his work without permission. In 2008, Brown and the band came to a settlement in which he was paid for the rights to the image.
The Celtic knot featured on the original album cover is derivative of a copyrighted design by George Bain and was used without Bain's permission. The band did not know about the copyright problem and elected to commission a new knotwork for later reissues of the record.
The album's cover depicts a man with glasses wearing a shirt on his left shoulder and a pilot hat. Frank Torres, the man featured on the cover image sued the band in May 2005, claiming Matchbox Twenty had no permission from him to use his photo on the album's cover and that the photo had been the cause of mental anguish. Torres justified the delay in suing Matchbox Twenty by claiming he had only seen the album photo within the last two years.
The cover features the album title, "U2", as a very large logo, with the band's name in small text beneath the album. Island Records sued the band for the use of the misleading album cover because "U2" is the trademark of the label. The songs on the album were controversial too, as there were versions of U2's song "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For" which were copied without permission.
The album cover depicts a young boy, David Fox pulling his face downward. In 2012, Fox threatened to sue the band due to using the picture without his permission, and it led to bullying and dropping out of school. He stated that the band "ruined his life".
The debut album of comedian Richard Pryor was recorded live at The Troubadour in West Hollywood, California. The cover was art-directed and designed by Gary Burden. According to Burden, "As a result of the Richard Pryor album cover, which I loved doing, I got two letters: One was a letter from the National Geographic Society's attorneys offering to sue me for defaming their publication. The second letter was a Grammy nomination for the best album cover."
The original pressing of the album featured an inner sleeve containing many black and white photos of both the band members as well as other celebrities, all strategically positioned to show through cut-out holes on the outer sleeve. After protests from some of the persons depicted, the inner sleeve was revised to replace the offending photos with color blocks and text reading Pardon Our Appearance and Cover Under (Re)Construction.
The album's artwork has been edited two separate times to obscure images; the first of which was a Richard Avedon image depicting a 12-year-old girl, due to a lawsuit threat. The other instance was when an image of the DisneyMagic Kingdom was deliberately covered with a barcode, likely due to copyright complaints.[circular reference]
Shortly after the release of the album, reports arose that DC Comics had issued a cease and desist letter to Stevens' label Asthmatic Kitty because of the depiction of Superman on the cover. However, on October 4, 2005, Asthmatic Kitty announced that there had been no cease and desist letter; the record company's own lawyers had warned about the copyright infringement. On June 30, 2005, Asthmatic Kitty's distributor Secretly Canadian asked its retailers not to sell the album; however, it was not recalled. On July 5, the distributor told its retailers to go ahead and sell their copies, as DC Comics agreed to allow Asthmatic Kitty to sell the copies of the album that were already manufactured, but the image was removed from subsequent pressings. Soon after it was made public that the cover would be changed, copies of the album featuring Superman were sold for as high as $75 on eBay. On the vinyl edition released on November 22, 2005, Superman's image is covered by a balloon sticker. The image of the balloon sticker was also used on the cover of the Compact Disc and later printings of the double vinyl release.
The original cover featured a photograph of a man and woman which had been found in a thrift store. The couple on the album sued for unauthorized use of their image and the cover was replaced on later pressings.
The cover image, Boden Sea by Hiroshi Sugimoto, had previously been used by Richard Chartier and Taylor Deupree for their 2006 album Specification.Fifteen. Deupree called U2's cover "nearly an exact rip-off" and stated that for the band to obtain the rights to the image it was "simply a phone call and a check." Sugimoto refuted both of these claims, calling the use of the same photograph a coincidence and stating that no money was involved in the deal with U2.
The cover art, taken in the 1980s, features a blond girl staring into the camera with an unidentifiable expression on her face. In July 2010, the band and their label were sued by the model, Kirsten Kennis. Kennis claimed photographer Tod Scott Brody, who sold the image to the band, did not take the picture and she was not aware her image was being used until she saw the copy her teenage daughter had bought. Vampire Weekend also sued Brody, arguing that he was liable for any damages in the Kennis case due to misrepresentation on his part. Kennis and Vampire Weekend amicably settled their lawsuit in August 2011. However, the model and the band continued to pursue litigation against Brody.
Shortly after its release, the band and their label Verve Records were threatened with a lawsuit by Warhol superstarEric Emerson, whose image is projected upside-down on the back cover of the album. Copies of the album were withdrawn from sale so the image could be censored by a large sticker. The image was restored on the 1996 compact disc release of the album.
The albums of Cannibal Corpse were formerly banned in Germany for their graphic album art and disturbing song content.
In early 1966, photographer Robert Whitaker had the Beatles in the studio for a conceptual art piece titled A Somnambulant Adventure. For the shoot, Whitaker took a series of pictures of the group dressed in butchers' coats and draped with pieces of meat and body parts from plastic baby dolls. The group played along as they were tired of the usual photo shoots--Lennon recalled the band having "boredom and resentment at having to do another photo session and another Beatles thing"--and the concept was compatible with their own black humour. Although not originally intended as an album cover, the Beatles submitted photographs from the session for their promotional materials. Capitol Records president Alan W. Livingston recalled that his principal contact was with Paul McCartney, who pushed strongly for the photo to be used as the album cover and described it as "our comment on the [Vietnam] war". A photograph of the band smiling amid the mock carnage was used as promotional advertisements for the British release of the "Paperback Writer" single. In the United States, Capitol printed approximately 750,000 copies of Yesterday and Today with the same photograph on the front cover. Reaction was immediate, as many dealers refused to stock the LP. The record was immediately recalled, in what Capitol termed "Operation Retrieve"; all copies were ordered shipped back to the record label for a replacement cover image, leading to its rarity and popularity among collectors.
Death metal band Cannibal Corpse's albums were all banned from Germany until 2006 due to their graphic album covers and disturbing lyrics. The band was also forbidden to play any songs from those albums while touring in Germany. This prohibition was not lifted until June 2006. In an interview from 2004, George Fisher attempted to recall what originally provoked the ban: "A woman saw someone wearing one of our shirts, I think she is a schoolteacher, and she just caused this big stink about it. So [now] we can't play anything from the first three records. And it really sucks because kids come up and they want us to play all the old songs -- and we would -- but they know the deal. We can't play 'Born in a Casket' but can play 'Dismembered and Molested."
The cover originally depicted a stylized cartoon depiction of R. Budd Dwyer's live television suicide. After many complaints of offensiveness, the label forced the band to replace the offensive cover with a black and white cut-out of one of the band's live performances. The album was released with the band's original name Camp Kill Yourself, which was switched to CKY.
The original cover art, designed in June 2001, depicted Boots Riley and Pam the Funkstress destroying the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center. After the September 11 attacks, the group postponed the album's release until November of that year, with the record now sporting an alternate cover depicting a hand holding a flaming martini glass.
The cover features a white picture (with some green added in) of a teenage girl wearing a flower shirt holding a smoking gun. The back cover features a boy lying on the ground with a gunshot wound on his back. Retail stores such as Walmart and Kmart initially refused to carry Kerplunk. The band saw continued controversy on their next album Dookie.
The cover art shows an animated picture of dogs throwing bombs and dirt on people and buildings and a huge explosion with the band's name on top of the cloud. A blimp on the left in the sky says "Bad Year" (possibly a parody of the Goodyear Blimp) and on the right is a man with a harp in a cloud. Retailers Walmart and Kmart refused to sell the album because of this. Later printings of the album edited the back cover for copyright reasons, airbrushing out a puppet of Ernie from Sesame Street.
The album's cover depicted a white boy listening to rap music in the midst of a home invasion in which Blacks are attacking Whites (presumably the boy's parents). Sire Records, owned by Time Warner, refused to release the album with the cover, and Ice-T left the label as a result.
The original cover sleeve for Street Survivors had featured a photograph of the band, particularly Steve Gaines, standing in the street of a town engulfed in flames. Three days after the album was released, three of the band members were killed in a plane crash due to fuel exhaustion. Out of respect for the deceased (and at the request of Teresa Gaines, Steve Gaines' widow), MCA Records withdrew the original cover and replaced it with a similar image of the band against a simple black background. Thirty years later, for the deluxe CD version of Street Survivors, the original "flames" cover was restored.
The album art depicts a painting by Jenny Saville. A number of UK supermarkets deemed the red/ochre colours on the portrait to be blood, and therefore used alternative packaging to stock the item. The alternative packaging in question is a longbox, a type of outer packaging used for some CDs in the 1980s and early to mid-1990s.
A bootleg live album released by Warmaster Records which showed a real life photograph of the band's late vocalist Per Yngve Ohlin's corpse after he committed suicide by cutting his wrists and throat before shooting himself in the head with a shotgun. The photograph was taken by the band's guitarist Øystein Aarseth after returning home to find his body. He immediately went to a store for a camera and sent photographs of the body and pieces of Ohlin's skull to people in the Norwegian black metal scene he deemed "worthy". One of these people happened to be Mauricio Montoya Botero, the owner of Warmaster Records, who released a bootleg live album with one of the pictures as the album cover. It was subsequently reissued by various other labels over the years. The concert was later released officially by the band as "Live in Sarpsborg" (2017) without the controversial album cover.
The album was originally set to be titled Metal Up Your Ass, with the cover featuring a toilet bowl with a hand clutching a dagger emerging from it. However, at the request of Megaforce Records (who thought the original album title would be inappropriate), the band changed the album title to Kill 'Em All. They also changed the artwork, this time depicting a shadow of a hand releasing a bloodied hammer.
The album's original artwork depicted an image of a man's body exploding as the xenomorph from the Alien franchise holding a Stratocaster guitar emerges from his chest. The album was reportedly banned for being "too grotesque", and on the 1995 reissue, the artwork was replaced by a blurry black-and-white picture of a man. It was later admitted that the band and their studio never really liked the original artwork.
The artwork depicts two men shaking hands in an alley at Warner Bros. Studios, with one on fire. As some retailers deemed it "too violent" and refused to sell the album, the LP sleeve was packaged in a black nylon outer bag adorned by a "four elements" sticker; this method of censorship was chosen as a deliberate nod to Roxy Music's Country Life, which was similarly given a nylon outer bag due to objections towards its cover art. Some later re-releases replace the original cover art entirely with a black background featuring the four-elements emblem, mimicking the appearance of the nylon bag.
The cover sleeve showing Chris McClure, a friend of the band, smoking a cigarette, was criticised by the head of the NHS in Scotland for "reinforcing the idea that smoking is OK". The image on the CD itself is a shot of an ashtray full of cigarettes. The band's product manager denied the accusation, and in fact suggested the opposite -- "You can see from the image smoking is not doing him the world of good".
The album cover, which features the four members in a bathtub, also featured a toilet in the far right corner. The inclusion of this toilet was controversial for the time and copies with the cover were pulled due to complaints of indecency. The copies were re-issued with a text-box pasted on top of the toilet. Later issues of the album feature both the toilet and the bathtub cropped out entirely.
When In Utero was released, there were many objections to the song "Rape Me", despite the band's claims that the lyrics were "anti-rape." Retailers Wal-Mart and Kmart refused to sell the album because of the back cover artwork (featuring model fetuses), so a "clean" version was released for them which featured an altered version of the back cover and listed the title "Rape Me" as "Waif Me", though the song remained unchanged. The band acquiesced to the demands to change the artwork because members Kurt Cobain and Krist Novoselic were only able to buy music from the two chain stores as children; as a result they wanted to "make their music available to kids who don't have the opportunity to go to mom-and-pop stores".
The cover depicts a picture of deceased singer Whitney Houston's bathroom showing drugs that were used by her. It was bought by Kanye West for $85,000. Houston's family stated they found the artwork "disgusting and disrespectful".
The original album cover featured a toilet wall which had been defaced by Mick Jagger and Keith Richards. This cover was rejected by the band's label (Decca Records), which prevented the album from being released for several months, until a new cover was designed.
The cover in most markets features two nude conjoined twins sitting on a teeter-totter. The cover was altered in some markets, including Japan, to remove one of the twins entirely from the photograph.
The album's original artwork, which American designer Virgil Abloh created, provoked significant criticism from fans, who called it "lazy" and "rushed", and said it was disrespectful. An online petition attracted tens of thousands of signatures. Abloh used a picture of Pop Smoke that was the first result of a Google Images search. A few hours later, the label announced it would replace Abloh's artwork in time for the album's release date.50 Cent also criticized Abloh's artwork and posted over 35 fan-made designs, saying "they ain't going for this bullshit". After Abloh said he based his cover design on a conversation he had with Pop Smoke, American conceptual artist Ryder Ripps accused Abloh of stealing Ripps' "chrome rose" concept and "[ruining] it with a careless design", adding it was "so sad that someone would care this little about art, design and the memory of a human who was so loved to wrap his name up in lies and theft". Ripps created the album's final cover art, depicting a chrome rose against a black background. Hours before the album's commercial release, Pop Smoke's mother chose the final album cover.