Tuesday, May 25, 2004

WHAT THE POP PAPERS SAY EXTRA: Into teen & preteens hell:
It’s a tartrazine fuelled POP frenzy special starting with PopGirl (for girls who love pop!). Complete with a heart over the letter 'i', but there's no face drawn in the 'o'. This issue comes with a "FREE BLING POP PENDANT", which does at least cover up the grumpy face of Avril Lavigne on the front page. Smash Hits, during its glory years, would at least make some effort to link its free gifts to the supposed content of the magazine, but it seems that nowadays it's just enough to say "Oh, yeah, that's a pop thing." It seems to have been made from some lengths of gate chain.

The cover girl for PopGirl is just some grinning child, presumably the target market - there are the words "Look like a star" strapped just under her chin, although to be honest, she doesn't. I'm still trying to get used to this whole segment of preteen pop magazines - when I was their age, I'd have been reading Bunty. No, no need for "if I was a girl" there, since you ask; now, the relentless drive to sustain the record industry market share has seen them drilling down to market directly to younger and younger consumers and you end up with stuff like this - ten year old girls dreaming of looking like one of Girls Aloud instead of having their own pony. No wonder I Love Horses had to fight back with its own tune.

There's a "secret file" on Cheryl Girls Aloud. They mention that she once appeared in adverts for British Gas, and yet oddly she thinks her "oops" moment was when her mum washed her face with a hanky in public. Not being convicted of beating the crap out of a toilet attendant, then, Cheryl?

Have you ever wondered how you can make yourself like Avril Lavigne? (Obviously, assuming you don't have a record company prepared to underwrite the transformation.) One way is to, apparently, "do you own thing" - interesting enough advice to kick off an article on how to make yourself more like someone else; PopGirl is keen to stress that Avril doesn't follow the crowd - "she stopped wearing her famous ties when they became a fashion trend", although it's slightly undermined by the poster illustrating the article featuring Avril wearing, um, one of her famous ties. Avril says that she keeps a journal - "my journals are my poems and where I write all my feelings out." Erm… don't you keep telling us that that's what your songwriting is, Avril? The next page has steps to let you dance "like Avril" to Don't Tell Me: "jump out and push your arms out to the side - don't forget to smile." Isn't it wonderful that young girls are taught to be individual at such an early age?

If dancing like Avril isn't enough, then you can also dress like S Club 8.

Hello… what's this? FanFic? Now we're interested - we've read fanfic online, and it usually involves Alyson Hannigan being gaffer taped between two Christmas Trees while her clothes are ripped off by shaky fingers. In PopGirl world, though, fanfic is a bit more wholesome: Charlie from Busted does end up sleeping in Jodie's bedroom, but only because the boys had moved her into her old house. It's quite sweet, and nicer than the "advertorial" (i.e: it's an advert) from Polly Pocket where Polly, Lea, Lila and Shani give themselves a "pop star makeover." "Let's go glam" they squeal. "I think you're missing this tiara." They end up looking like MiniPops does Courtney Love, an effect they complete by falling over uncontrollably while making a video.

Meet new band VS - as in "flicking the Vs", we suppose - they seem to be an attempt to fuse Big Brovas with the S Club 8. Apparently the soppiest thing Jaime has ever done is to cook for people, which would make Gordon Ramsey something like a Care Bear.

There's all sorts of dirt on Tom from McFly - his favourite snacks are Kit-Kats, and the only thing he hates more than miming is miming. Actually, it's in his own handwriting, and it could be mincing that he hates, although having seen them play live on CD:UK, we don't think so. Meanwhile, Jay from S Club 8 still hasn't got over being forced to dress up like a lobster while the others sprayed him with water - now, that would be a horrible experience for any child, but this took place on live TV. Still, at least he's got a ready answer to explain away the future of addiction, crackwhores and night-time raids on the local B2. Calvin, meanwhile, shares a similar moment of embarrassment: "we were on stage, and the music stopped and we were all left standing on stage wondering what to do." Probably revealing a little more than 19 would have liked, there. There's another full page of star's embarrassing moments further on: PopGirl seems obsessed with the mighty falling - or the half-mighty stumbling slightly: does James Busted having a pony slobber on his hand or Hannah S Club tripping over a fire extinguisher really count as an embarrassing moment? On this scale, where's Darius' cock slipping out on stage going to come? It'll need its own bloody supplement.

In a curious comic strip, the three PopGirls (Izzy - who appears to be Britney, only with a sensible sweater; Amber, the "rockin' rebel", clearly modelled on Avril - except for the small pink bike; and Sasha, who's probably Beyonce) trick Busted by pretending to be an ice cream van. "We've been rumbled" say Busted, which is odd because they've actually been duped - we're not sure if this is lazy writing or a wry comment on how stupid Busted are. Busted swap an interview for a giant ice cream sundae - which is how it usually works in music journalism these days; except for Andrew WK who will give you a three page feature in return for a Rum and Raisin choc-ice. On their return to the PopGirl offices, though, Amber sees something which chills her blood - this would be a cliffhanger ending. We're betting it’s the latest circulation figures.

Reepa from Blazin' Squad (we're assuming he's one of the spare ones they hold back for helping out at busy weekends or when the others are on holiday) gives advice to a girl from Suffolk who's having trouble finding a balance between work and school. "Get a gun" he says "then wave it around. That'll make everything fine."

The letters page consists entirely of drawings of pop stars. We're particularly taken by the one of Britney Spears - her head is three times as long as it's wide, her cheeks are bright red, but unfortunately somewhere level with her nose, and she's wearing a nice tshirt with a butterfly on it, rather than nothing apart from some A1 Steak Sauce. There's also an interactive element where you can vote for the band you want to be featured next month - choose from Christina, Blue, Will Young, Girls Aloud or McFly. Actually, it could be the band you think might still be around next month.

Top of the Pops magazine comes with a free stationery case - "in three colours" it claims, in case you want to collect the set. Ours is a slightly too light shade of purple, and it consists of two pop pencils, a pop rubber, a pop ruler, six rather rubbish paper clips with new, Tim Kash style TOTP logo on it. It's meant to zip up, but it's as stiff as kylie's forehead and you can't actually fold it in half. You also get a postermag for your money - called HIYA! (like HELLO!, do you see?) - and dedicated to detailing the lives of Sam and Mark. They start bickering about who have the worst skid marks on their pants, clean the toilet and do the washing - the idea is that it's meant to be "look, fabulous pop stars have ordinary lives like us", but to be frank, with a couple of fork and spoon operatives like these two, it's not really surprising they do stuff like ordinary blokes do. We were mildly surprised they could afford to buy a washing machine, mind.

There is something extraordinary in the magazine proper, mind - a picture of three Sugababes in the same place at the same time, and sort-of-smiling. TOTP really has an awkward place to occupy these days - it's not really able to be in any way bitchy about the people it writes about, because it, more than any magazine, really needs to keep the stars sweet. So, there's a piece headed "Evil Avril", but it's just a quote from her saying her Mum doesn't like her wearing trouders with skulls on them. It's also interesting how far it's moved away from its early incarnation, where it attempted to cover all the musical bases (precious little chance of Brett Anderson ever appearing on the cover again, then).

They ask Charlie Busted if he's ever worn a bra. He says no. He's lying. The only boys who get to the age of 15 without having tried on a bra at least once are the ones who have grown up in a place where there are no girls around.

Splendidly, there are instructions for how to make Kelis from a potato; Jamelia claims to be psychic - do you see a large dumper in the future, beckoning you?; Blazin' Squad are asked what they think of people like Chris Moyles calling them delinquents - their response is "if he wants to hate on us, that's up to him." Spike-e also reckons he'd never pose in his pants for a magazine. Give it three years, honey, you'll be jiggling your little balls for loose change in a Soho back room.

Nicky from Westlife shows you how to make a cheesy hedgehog - it's very hands-on, is TOTP. Step one, sadly, is "Cut the grapefruit in half" and not "First, catch your hedgehog."

Busted are all in bed together - in a sweet way, like Eric and Ern, or Bert and Ernie, or Orton and Halliwell. TOTP knows what we want to know - do they sleep naked, or what? It tries to be cool, asking them how many pairs of pyjamas they own, but since they fail to rise to the occasion, they have to be pressed. Matt explains that he has a flatmate, so has to sleep with boxers on in case "the flatmate" comes in to "wake me up." "He doesn't want to see me sprawled naked across my bed, does he?" asks Matt. No, Matt - he's actually hoping for a faulty lock on the shower door. Matt then tells a tale about trying to get a girl into his room, only there was "loads of press outside… so the girl I left the club with had to enter the hotel round the back." The number of times we've used that excuse for exactly the same reason…

What are the ten days that "rocked" Britney's world? Apparently the ten steps that took her to "show stopping siren" include, erm, when she started smoking (although the magazine is very keen to stress that smoking is bad, with lots of "stinky" and "yuk"), when Fred Durst said he was dating her (which, erm, wasn't true) and kissing Madonna ("her tobacco breath made Madge want to vom" - okay, leave it now).

Meet new band V - not to be confused with VS, of course. There's some sort of lesson to take away about the modern nature of fame, because when they're asked how they'll know they're famous, Mark answers "You're on Before They Were Famous."

Not that we're watching this with a gimlet eye or anything, but Avril Lavigne tells TOTP that she met Chantal Kreviazuk after her world tour (so, uh, not your mate like you said before, then). It's also kind of interesting that despite having produced twelve songs with her, none of them actually were good enough for the comeback single.

Perhaps the problem with James Fox could be summed up by his choices for best stuff: best album? Sgt Peppers. On his CD now? Travis. Favourite chill-out music? David Gray. It's a miracle anyone noticed him on stage. They ask him for his opinion on Natasha "Daniel has purposely not been involved with the music" Beddingfield. His verdict? "I just don't know about the content."

Smash Hits comes with tonnes of stuff: six mini Jammie Dodgers; a Sexy Boys Special posters and songwords special edition (they say sexy; it's actually the usual Andre/Blazin/Busted types) and a pocket radio. Batteries, of course, not included. All of this, of course, can't disguise the fact that the magazine itself is pretty thin these days - it's actually leading on Avril's return; they give a full page to the shot of the Cheeky Girls in the London dungeon which TOTP sticks away in a tiny corner, and has a much weaker gag than its rival had, too. In fact, there's no end to the rubbish jokes that have been plastered all over the photos through ver Hits - not rubbish like the old 'Jason Donovan's Any Dream Will Do' gag, just really, really tired speech bubbles. Then there's a couple of pages given over to the Ministry of Mayhem - which is frankly rubbish, even by ITV's standards.

So, what does Avril have to tell Smash Hits readers? "I'm totally normal. I don't like people telling me I'm a skater girl ora punk. There's more to me than those things. Yeah, I used to skateboard, but I write songs now." Um… hang on… you can't skateboard AND be a songwriter?

Kate, 13, from Liverpool writes in to ask Kelis if she's ever found a bird's nest in her hair. Even more amusingly, Emma Bunton gives us advice on how to "bag your dream boy." Step seven is making a date, in case you want to take the advice of a woman who's never noticeably been successful in love.

Meet new band Pop - they're more than just a rubbish name. They came together through a "tough audition process which lasted about a year." That must have been one hell of a run through of Somewhere Over The Rainbow.

There's a pull out supplement about pop and destiny which doesn't make any sense at all and just seems to be an excuse to run a picture of an otter in a headscarf.

McFly are called in to help readers with their problems, and betray their stage school roots: a kid in Belfast wants to help his brother replace his stolen bike and asks for money making tips. Tom's advice? "How about acting? I earned cash by starring in Grange Hill and Eastenders." (Erm… starring?)

Oh, hang about... the otter's a recurring theme. It's "evil", apparently. It was always slightly embarrassing when Number One made a lame attempt to try and emulate the character comedy of the Black Type; it's just heartbreaking that Smash Hits itself is lumbering around with clunky-funk-uncle "japes" like this. There's not a trace of what the magazine once was. Does anyone actually enjoy it anymore?


Anonymous said...

From Sarah: This is brilliant! I wish I was twelve again and could legitimately enjoy rubbish pop mags. Thank-you No Rock for indulging my secret love!

Anonymous said...

You should do this more often. I thouroughly enjoyed it. Especially as none of those magazines are available where I live.

Anonymous said...

Hello. I flicked through Smash Hits today in the supermarket and couldn't believe how rubbish it was now. I have a few of the old ones from the 80s and early 90s and thought they were actually a lot wittier and bitchier than i remembered...and credited their teen audience with intelligence (and yes, on one of them the JAMC are on the cover). The one I saw today was, frankly, mince. And it costs £2 now! You should do a compare and contrast, or something, like you did with The Face.

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