A history of GQ covers
Words: Amal Awad
Every once in a while, GQ seeks attention and sales with a controversial cover, and they tend to scream sex. Tacky sex, but with quality photography, which is somehow supposed to elevate it from smut to art. (The other thing it screams is desperation in a downtrodden print mag world, but that’s another story.)
There was the Kate Upton edition, in which she displayed cleavage and a particular attachment to the ice block she was barely sucking.
And you might remember this tasteful shoot, in which adults who play teenagers were photographed in a high school setting. Which kind of made sense given Glee is about a high school choir, until you realise that Diana Agron and Lea Michelle look like sexed-up Barbie dolls, while Cory Monteith is Ken, dressed like he’s going to a football game.
In the cover image, Monteith smirks as the girls do their best to mount him and emote “jump me” vibes. In a further nod to class, the magazine’s interior shots feature Michelle sitting on a locker room bench, legs apart, while in another she sucks on a lollipop as she tries to get rid of a leg cramp. Agron and Michelle’s shots are all raunchy. Monteith plays drums and wears funky clothes.
Like I said, classy. After all, there’s nothing wildly inappropriate or icky about sexualising girls as high school students for older men.
There was the Lana Del Rey cover last year, where she sat naked but for some jewellery, in recognition of her status as woman of the year. The men of the year, meanwhile, were lauded in crisp suits and generous whiffs of sophistication.
Rihanna had her own “steamy” cover, which saw her naked except for a jacket - and a strategic pose so that her bits weren’t really showing. So, really, nothing new. And perhaps it’s just something we’ve come to expect of the GQ lads.
But I was actually surprised by the latest travesty of a cover, where female warrior Beyonce gets seriously saucy. On the cover, she bends forward in a barely-there top and a pair of knickers.
No, just no.
While I think she’s an immensely talented and hardworking woman, I’ve never been a huge proponent of Beyonce’s confused schtick. On the one hand, she’s responsible for songs like Cater 2 U, in which she urges women to “keep it tight” for their men. In another breath she calls for female world domination and - as she’s quoted in the GQ article saying - that women should be independent, not financially reliant on anyone.
Girl power and all that, a message with which I’m not in disagreement. But it would come across a whole lot better if she wasn’t pandering to the randy readers of GQ by stripping down.
The biggest question one should ask is: why? Why does someone so popular, successful and intelligent feel the need to be so sexually provocative, particularly for a “gentlemen’s” mag? Why go from “fierce” to “feminine”?
It’s at odds with her brand, in which Beyonce comes across as a woman of strength - and, yes, power - but with integrity. She’s sexy, smart and on top of things.
Looking at the latest GQ cover, there’s nothing highly original or artful about it. In fact, you’re left wondering what provoked someone as well-conditioned as Beyonce to do something so disappointingly ordinary.
Amal Awad is a writer and author of Courting Samira.