Saturday, November 25, 2006

What the pop papers say: The coolest time of the year

Something of a scoop in Thursday's Sun, when Victoria Newton "revealed" the details of the NME cool list 2006. The paper, it seemed, was suffering from mental illness:

MUSIC bible NME has had a brainstorm with the mag’s latest cool list.


And the unrivalled king of cool NOEL GALLAGHER doesn’t even make it into the top 50.

But JARVIS COCKER is rated fourth — ten years after PULP’s prime. For the first time, five women are in the top ten, with BETH DITTO from THE GOSSIP top.

Of course, the NME had already been available in London for two days by the time this "story" appeared.

The choice of Beth for number one was - rather than a brainstorm - a rather surprising departure for a magazine which has spent most of the summer trying to shore up its sales against the resurgent Kerrang by writing about the "War on Emo" as if anyone outside of six branches of Hot Topic in southern California cared about it, while giving covers to the likes of Bono and Noel Gallagher and other more Uncut-style "icons". For the paper to suggest that the coolest person in rock was someone making actual indie music with something to say was a surprising departure, and has helped the growing wave of support for The Gossip in the media. Wednesday's Independent, for example, featured Beth on the front of its second section on the strength of her Cool List victory.

There is something slightly awkward about the move of the Gossip into the more mainstream press, though - a sense that, when you read the articles, you come away with the sense that she's famous for being an overweight lesbian rather than a singer; that the embrace of the weeklies and dailies has an element of patronisation rather than celebration to it.

Because if the NME really does believe that Beth represents the coolest thing in rock right now, you don't see much elsewhere in the magazine that represents that. Flicking through the mag in recent weeks, you don't see many overweight people (although, to be fair, there was an article earlier this month which ridiculed the supposedly portly Craig Vines), or DIY indie kids, or feminists, or - indeed - women, come to that, bar an increasing fascination with Keith Allen's daughter, Lily.

More to the point, when Pete Doherty won the 2004 Cool List, he was rewarded for his efforts with a 3D cover. Normally, the Cool List Special Issue is reflected by the coolest person getting the front page. Oddly, though, the paper took the decision this year to lead the Cool List Issue with... a giant picture of Muse, poking the Cool List into a tiny box in the corner, and even then wedging the slightly more conventionally photogenic Lily Allen and Kate Jackson alongside Beth Ditto. If you believe that Beth is the coolest person on the planet rock, NME, why isn't she cool enough to be given a big cover shot?

Unless, of course, you feel that your readers aren't cool enough to cope with genuine cool?

It's not only us who noticed. Yesterday's Sun saw Victoria Newton report that Lily Allen had spotted it, too. First, though, Newton pretended that her story on Thursday had been about "girl power overtakes the NME" rather the actual "NME goes bonkers and doesn't like Serge Kasabian":

Yesterday I revealed that female singers BETH DITTO of THE GOSSIP, KAREN O of the YEAH YEAH YEAHS and Lily appeared towards the top of the magazine's annual list of the coolest people in music.

However Lily feels it is shocking that all-male act MUSE were pictured on the front cover instead.

Good bloody god, we're agreeing with Lily Allen. Newton's story, of course, wasn't the result of any actual journalism - she'd just read it on Allen's MySpace:

"I was approached by them again with regards to the Cool List Issue 2006, five women had made it into the Top 10 and we were asked to pose for photos to be the main feature for the cover.

“The context was so important - a strong female presence in music - so I thought I might as well do it.

"I went to get a copy yesterday, and this is what we got.

"Another fucking MUSE cover."

"CONOR McNICHOLAS, the editor of NME, said: 'From Beth to Lily to Karen, they've brought new energy to a scene dominated by men. They're also living proof that you can still rock a crowd when you're wearing stilettos.'

"I mean how fucking patronising - 'You can still rock a crowd wearing stilletos'.

"Don't make me sick, we've always been here you arrogant prick, this was your chance to actually show you meant it.

"And instead you put Muse on the cover because you thought that your readers might not buy a magazine with an overweight lesbian and a not particularly attractive looking me, on the front.


MediaGuardian carried a free supplement on Monday reporting the winners of the publishing industry BSME magazines awards. Conor McNicholas picked up one for his work on the NME - although it was for "brand building" rather than the quality of the magazine. His week started being garlanded for the very same thing he was being attacked for at the end of it.

Increasingly, the quirky and left-field is starting to recede from the body of the paper, taking comfort in safe spaces like Christians in Stalin's Russia. So while this week's front page promises - alongside the Cool List and Muse - the none-more-Daily-Telegraph line-up of "Foo Fighters and U2 plus Green Day, The Killers, My Chemical Romance, Jarvis Cocker" (if they had a token Senegalese singer in there, you'd be able to hear Jools Holland playing honky-tonk piano as you looked at the cover), the magazine comes with the first of three, free indie-label CDs.

These are rather good - eschewing the usual trick of burying the actual new names under a handful of headline-hogging recordings from Grohl and Gallagher plundered from BBC sessions or live performances, this week we get a bunch of artists on 1965 (followed by Transgressive and Modular). The previous week, Hamish McBain's Classics Albums had suggested that this series was a kind of twentieth-anniversary nod to C86, although that may only be in his head. (McBain's review of C86 was one of those small secret communions, tucked into an albums reviews page which gave the Oasis Christmas compilation 10 and the Beatles Love album an 8.)

If the paper only reflected what it apparently values (if we take the Cool List as a measure) a little more - if it were a world where the Gossip and Yeah Yeah Yeahs were given most attention while Alex Turner and Serge Pizzorno were given some space, but tucked away down towards the bottom. And Bono never featured.

Still, it was nice to see a picture of Serge Kasabian: are we the only people who think he's increasingly looking like an actor less-than-thrilled to be playing Rembrandt in a BBC Schools TV production of some sort?

And, finally, nice to see some evidence of consistent, clear thinking over at Camp All Saints when Nicole Appleton got to do the Guardian Weekend Magazine Q&A feature:

What is the worst thing anyone's ever said to you?

'I hate you.' I hate that word 'hate' - it should be banned.


Which living person do you most despise and why?

Ken Livingstone - I just hate all these rules.


Mecha Eggzilla said...

the whole nme cool thing reeks of hypocrisy on all sides...

firstly, they give it to a woman whose album only warranted a 7/10 in the same mag... yeah that's right, according to them she's cool but her music is average!?!? Surely this "style" over substance is further proof that even the NME doesn't see themselves as a music magazine any more!

Secondly there was the response from the other press... when doherty won, "drugs" was a term which i frequently remember being thrown around with his name in the same sentences... It was a fair assessment... if he's "cool" and admired by the youth (or NME-drones) then maybe people should be pointing out the "buts" of drugs and offspring-who-might-just-have-a-little-trouble-understanding-what-exactly-is-so-cool-about-junkie-dad...
but when Ditto wins what do we get? "lesbian"... ehm so like a person who looks like she's actually more likely to collapse and have a heart attack on stage than PeteRehabRegular is highlighted as gay... seriously... in that Independent article the other day there was a full page about lesbian musicians??? i couldn't believe it... what the hell has that got to do with anything??? Am I supposed to be shocked that you don't have to be heterosexual to be a good musician??? Why is no-one saying "Yeah maybe she's cool but at a time when obesity is at frighteningly dangerous levels amongst impressionable youths is it not about time we highlighted the evils of The Magic Numbers!!"... Something tells me if it had been an anorexic pop star on the front of NME someone would've complained then...

(gosh i've taken this rather seriously for something so asinine as a "cool" list... why do the NME have to piss me off so... then again maybe it's just that nobody asks me to make up cool lists... probably because it's so uncool... that and Lou Reed is the only cool person alive... )

Mecha Eggzilla said...

oh yeah and it's good to see you back.. hope you're feeling a lot better!!

iain said...

Some of the reporting of this was even worse... e.g. The London Paper saying something like 'Lily Allen is upset about the NME's cool list, but isn't she third in a list topped by a woman? Sour grapes anyone?'

cat said...

Sorry, but doing drugs at a Doherty-esque level is a *lot* more dangerous than being a bit fat.

What I find more intriguing is the reasoning behind the list. They're obviously tryng to make some kind of statement - they could easily have put that twat from Kasabian (or whoever the NMindieguitarwhiteboyboreclone de jour is) at no.1 and no-one would have batted an eyelid - but what are they trying to say and to who?

Did a few people at the paper (out of curiosity, what's the m/f proportion on the staff?), in a fit of conscience, decide to try and make a point to their audience? And get nixed at the front-cover-choosing stage, cos demographic research says it may not sell that well and they're scared?

Are they trying to keep/gain female readers? (I doubt it myself - it's been explicitly targeted at 19-year old boys for a while now. More girls read Kerrang!, and that's hardly a bastion of progressive politics. Anyway, as any pop mag ed could tell you, you'll sell more copies to girls if you put attractive boys on the front! Not women, and defintitely not Bono and Oasis. Eurggh.)

Is it to get attention? Specifically, good coverage in the blogs and broadsheets? Hey everybody, look how edgy and progressive we are! We're the NME, and we're so cool it just hurts. The best thing is, by doing this we can maintain an aura of hipness while keeping the rest of our paper dumb, boring and safe, and if anyone calls us out on it we can just wave the cool list in their face! It's kind of a pop equivalent to greenwashing. If this is their strategy, I'm finding it immensely satisfying to watch it blow up in their faces...

As for the front cover and the "stilettos" comment - does anyone really expect anything more from the NME these days?

It's not good, is it, that my bullshit meter starts sounding because an actual cool person is picked to top the cool list...hell, I still haven't figured out what Justin Timberlake was doing there in 2002...

I'm glad you're back too, btw. You wade through all of this crap so we don't have to! It is hugely appreciated.

CarsmileSteve said...

2 points about Mr McPherson:


ii. fave apocryphal C McP story: various people in NME office discussing their favourite ever alBUM. various things mentioned, C McP asked his. reply "oh, um, that nirvana one, y'know, smells like teen spirit". marvellous, there.

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