Once again, we present Rock-Critically Correct, a feature in which the most recent issues of Rolling Stone, Blender, Vibe and Spin are given a once-over by an anonymous writer who’s contributed to several of those titles—or maybe even all of them! After the jump, a look at the new issue of Blender:
Madonna, Mariah Carey, Kid Rock, John Mayer, Keith Richards, and Alicia Keys are all artists that can reasonably expect to be treated with deference in Rolling Stone whenever it is advantageous for them to consent to interviews and photo shoots. Each of these artists can expect to be covered in Blender, too, and each is teased on the cover of the mag’s May 2008 issue.
In Rolling Stone‘s telling, John Mayer is a famous soft-rock singer-songwriter who peels off Stevie Ray Vaughan-style solos whenever he can get away with it. To Blender, he’s a smart and relatively self-aware guy who knows that a lot of people think his songs are sissy shit, fit only for your uncool chick cousin and her book club buddies. Mayer knows this, and even if it’s debatable that he should give much of a fuck since he’s richer and has bagged more famous hawt broads than anyone reading this sentence could dream of, he’s quite happy to play Blender‘s game.
So senior editor Josh Eels climbs aboard the Mayercraft Carrier, in which Mayer is the draw for a cruise traversing the Caribbean. To Eels, the trip mostly comprises packs of cougars and bachelorette partiers similar to the hypothetical woman described above, all enjoying the fellowship of other Mayer fans, going to his shows on the boat, and hoping to catch a candid glimpse of–or even share Patron with — the object of their affection. (Notably, the photo spread accompanying the piece, “Greetings From the Mayercraft Carrier,” does not include the widely disseminated photo from the cruise in which Mayer poses in Borat’s man-thong.) Eels is good at on-the-spot “wtf?”-style reportage; this kind of story is key to Blender‘s interest in the absurdities often found in the periphery of pop music. “What do you think of Buddy Guy?” is not part of Blender‘s purview.
That kind of question is, however, part of the purview of Rolling Stone, for which Joe Levy worked as an executive editor for almost eleven years until this past January, when he was hired as editor-in-chief of Blender by fellow Wenner Media dissident and current Alpha Media Group Chairman Kent Brownridge. This issue is the first in which his name is listed as such on the masthead.
When he was hired, Levy said that he hoped to inculcate more respect for artists, which is an aim of Rolling Stone, in the magazine he’s now running. But for a purely cosmetic design overhaul, this issue indicates that he’s working with the staff and pool of freelancers that was in place for his predecessor Craig Marks’ last year, and thus the mag’s philosophy and accompanying editorial apparatuses have not been monkeyed with.
Your very own Anono-Prick would think that this month’s cover subject, Alicia Keys, might have indicated a shift towards “respect for artists,” since AP thinks Keys’ music and persona are both predicated on profoundly boring “this-is-how-proper-music-used-to-be-made” tropes. Sure enough, in “Alicia Keys Unlocked,” senior editor Jonah Weiner reports that she believes that “there was so much more good music 40, 50 years ago.” But Weiner unearths the fact that, due to various comments Keys made that that ranged from the anti-Bush to–dude–the pro-anarchy, the New York Police Department put Keys under surveillance prior to the Republican Convention in NYC in 2004. Although it may seem that the mere fact of a member of the creative class not much caring for the current POTUS isn’t terribly noteworthy, Weiner did succeed in the unprecedented feat of interesting AP in Keys for a moment. Still, AP thinks that Keys may have been chosen to be the first cover gal of Levy’s tenure because of her abundant “artistic” qualities; As I Am was released six months ago, and the promotion of the album’s third single, “Teenage Love Affair,” isn’t much to hang a cover on.
Levy’s first issue blows through the front-of-book Burner section without much fuss and includes a week-long “Phone Home” feature from a touring Kid Rock and a “Dear Superstar” sit-down with Keith Richards, in which he answers questions that are probably not from flesh and blood readers. After the Keys profile comes a “Spend $848 with…” stunt feature in which rest-of-the-world-conquering German emo-boppers Tokio Hotel spend that sum at a Hamburg Casino. (AP gets nervous when ever he writes the words “world-conquering” and “German.”) AP has absolutely no confidence that these little Krauts will ever interest anyone in America beyond particularly avant-garde 11-13 year old girls, but he thinks it would be pretty cool if Tokio Hotel broke the U.S. Senior editor Victoria De Silverio touches on the issue of be-fright-wigged frontboy Bill Kaulitz’s sexuality, but points out that the kid became famous for his 2003 rendition of “It’s Raining Men” on the German Star Search. AP isn’t sure about German culture, but he’s confident that no minder in the U.S. would ever allow their tween boy charge to sing that particular song.
Then comes the Mayer piece, then “Rock’s Secret Millionaires,” a foldout quasi-list feature that’s most likely sponsored by Mini Cooper; it seems like a bit of an afterthought. By page 73, we’ve reached the reviews section “The Guide,” wherein Madonna’s Hard Candy and Mariah Carey’s E=MC2 are both assessed to the tune of four stars. R.E.M.’s Accelerate, while awarded three and a half stars, is nonetheless dismissed by senior critic Jon Dolan with language far more frank than Rolling Stone would ever allow regarding that band.
And that’s about it. The feature well is nowhere near as crowded as recent issues, and there’s no ingenious, irreverent list of the “top” this or that. It’s quite possible that, given the two or three-month lead time, much of this content was initiated by Marks. If that is the case, then it would be a very foolish editor indeed who would swan in and say “I don’t care how long this has been planned and how much $$$ has been dropped; this is Day 1, and everyone must start over now.”
AP’s supposes that new bosses don’t always bulldoze into a new workplace, changing everything that worked immediately because they need to “leave their mark.” Levy has a staff remaining from Marks’ tenure, and, given that AP does not have access to Audit Bureau of Circulation data, it doesn’t seem like the mag is tanking on the newsstad; Blender isn’t broken by any means. Some exponents of Old Media could do a lot worse than to evoke the irreverence of the computah world, which is what this mag has been up to for some time.
But Levy will have to come up with new editorial gimmicks, and he’ll likely bring in more of “his own people,” like his pal who signed up earlier this week. AP hopes, though, that the respect for artists Levy speaks of never materializes.
[Cover image via Eartodastreetz]