Sunday, February 19, 2006

WHAT THE POP PAPERS SAY: Smash Hits comes as the end

The news that Smash Hits was to be finally hit on the head with one final, fatal falling picnic table was met with a degree of sadness amongst those who grew up on, with, or by the magazine, but not, we imagine by those few left who choose between it, I Love Stars (nee I Love Pop) and Top of the Pops magazine these days. After all, the magazine had long-since ceased to make its readers feel like they were part of a club, and they themselves probably didn't realise it was once sich a significant part of the magazine make-up of the UK.

The reasons for its decline? Part of the story was contained in the reports of the closure - "the Smash Hits brand will live on" in various digital TV and radio and mobile phone formats - when EMAP is in need of the goodwill of artists to leverage cash off their likenesses in the new, always-on world, it couldn't really afford to have that brand built around a magazine which was taking the piss out of them. As such, what few teeth the title had have long since been drawn - for some time now, SH has been careful to only laugh with, not at, the popstars - the club boundary was redrawn, and the readers were no longer in league with the magazine.

Demographics have also played their part - as teenagers try to mature more quickly, they've started to drop Smash Hits from their hands at an ever earlier age. Faced with the loss of the top end of the demographics, the team have pursued younger readers with more vigour; that, of course, has accelerated the drop-off of older readers as they come to view the magazine as more and more childish. The crazy cycle has continued to a point where, apparently, the average SH reader was just eight - if they'd carried on churning like this for another 18 months, the likely outcome would have been a repositioning alongside the CBeebies comic. Many magazines suffer from seeing their readers picked off by the grim reaper; Smash Hits was starting to be caught in a panic that a large part of their target market hadn't been born yet.

So, this is where it ends up - a sad flash proclaiming "New Look!", a nasty little personal organiser competing with Pony's "free bendy zebra pen". Oddly, the strange journey of indiepop has thrown up a farewell cover mainly taken up by Preston from the Ordinary Boys and with some space for a photo of Alex from the Arctic Monkeys talking to Alex Kapranos.

The modern version of Bitz - called News, Gossip, Whatever - has some hilarious blind items which, erm, print the answers upside down; and some not-so-hilarious photos of, for example, Lee Otway from Hollyoaks showing his bottom and Liam Gallagher gurning. It's also where the cover story (all 200-ish words of it) sits. Prepare to go inside "the mental mind of Preston": "I'd love to have a cameo in Eastenders."
Blimey, he is mental, isn't he?

Some band called Love Bites are called upon to rate boys - they give Pete Burns zero out of five because "make-up on blokes is a real no-no." Have these girls not seen Velvet Goldmine? (Okay... that question might answer itself.)

With the closure of Smash Hits, the world of journalism will be facing up to the loss of The Official McFly column, written by a different one of McFly each fortnight. Or, more likely, written by the same press guy pretending to be a different one of McFly. Significantly, Tom reveals that he's moving out of the house he's been sharing (in a Monkees, not Brokeback way) with the other members of the band. "I notice that Danny has developed a bizarre obession with his nipples" he offers, although it's not clear if this is by way of explanation.

Shayne Ward is in even worse straits - he only got to do one official column before the magazine was pulled. We wonder if he'll take that as some sort of warning about the fickle hand of dame showbiz.

The rump of the mighty Black Type is now called Inbox and if it's a little brutish, at least it's short. Kirsty Hammond from Newport emails to say that she's liking the new series of the OC but "that new girl Taylor better stop being nasty to Summer 'cos nobody likes a bully." Blame it on email - twenty years ago nobody would have wasted the price of a stamp on this sort of thing. Having said which, there seems to be no shortage of people splashing 25p on pointless texts: "Ash simpson nu toon rox!!"

And, a few pages on, here is Ashlee Simpson herself, revealing that - gasp - she's in a relationship. "Braxton Olita plays guitar in my band" she trills. Oh, great, so the time you funked off the stage leaving your band to cover for you in front of millions, it wasn't just your colleagues you let down, it was your boyfriend as well.

The regular feature of modern celeb magazines, the 'what's your most embarrassing moment' column turns up Dave from Son of Dork talking about the time he got drunk, went up to his mum, told her he loved her and took off all his clothes. Which seems less like a thing you'd tell a magazine read by eight year-olds, more like a fertile subject to be covered in a full issue of the British Psychiatry Review.

Pink, meanwhile, pops up to tell you how to follow your dreams: "never let people tell you you can't do something." Pink - who has had several hits, writes songs, and generally has something interesting to say - only gets a tiny corner, though, as room has to be made for a full page of the thoughts of Paris Hilton. And, obviously, filling. "God blessed me with everything I have" - well, actually, petal, your rich family gave you most of it. "Whatever I do - clothes, make-up, hotels, clubs - people love it and it's great."

The interesting moment, and it's surprising to report there is one, comes when they ask her what her ideal man is like - "I can't say, because I have a boyfriend, Stavros." Presumably Stavros had someone explain to him the implication that, well, whatever her ideal is, he isn't, as since the interview was published, they've split.

The saddest moment? After the issue just stutters to a halt with a bunch of songwords and some pictures of Britney Spears looking awful, there's a promise of what should have come in the next issue. Bands? Big interviews? The return of Barry? Nope, the only reason people are given to come back in a fortnight is the promise of free Pineapple pencilcase. Oh, and a free pencil to put in it. When even the free gifts are as appealing as another column by Shayne Ward, maybe the time is right to pull the plug.

Is the end of Smash Hits a sign of a deeper problem in music? There are other signs that something - at least in the corporate end of the world - has gone very wrong indeed. The Guardian's City Diary reported on the Brits - and not because it felt out of place there: "We're not sure what musical link the likes of Lloyds TSB, HBOS, Scottish Widows, Skandia, Goldman Sachs or UBS can claim to justify hosting a table or two at the bash. At least Mastercard ca explain bagging a whopping 26 tables as one of the perks of being the main sponsor." And they wonder why the atmosphere feels like it's a bankers conference these days. It's because the audience is like a banker's conference.

Observer Music Monthly week comes round again, bringing Jim McCabe's take with it. He's especially delighted by Paul Morley's unwanted piece on ten years of the Spice Girls. Jim says "Looks like his bouts of supplication at the feet of St Bono & 15 minutes of chav acclaim via Celebrity Big Brother have accelerated Paul Morley's journey towards mid-life crisis. It's a sorry spectacle when someone from the punk years morphs into the next Benny Hill, but there you go. BTW, someone should have a quiet word in his ear if he really thinks that the Arctic Monkeys are the new Spice Girls." Yes, the once spot-on Morley does indeed suggest that the rise of the Arctic Monkeys and the manufacture of the Spice Girls are of a piece.

The OMM also chats with John Lydon, and having made himself look a twit attacking Green Day for, uh, not being what he means by punk, this time he manages to side with one of the biggest bigot's friends in recent British political history: "I'm not awkward for the sake of it. I stick to what I believe in, which is do the best you can, mean what you say, and think about it. People don't mind profiting off me and, let's face it, I'm far from talentless.'

And then he adds the name of another politician who was condemned for his beliefs: Enoch Powell.


'Don't get me wrong. I'm from a multicultural family, I lived through Thatcher, but Powell stood up for what he believed in.'"

(Lived through Thatcher? When, exactly, did you relocate to the US, Lydon? And isn't your main line of work, buying and selling propety, the ultimate career choice of the Thatcherite anyway?)

Is it really such a great thing that Powell "stood up for what he believed in" when what he believed in was that "the black would have the whip hand over the white man", when what he believed in even Ted Heath saw as "racialist in tone", when what he believed was described by the chair of the West Midlands Race Relations board as "an act of brutality" against one million British citizens? And in what way is your family background meant to give you a pass on supporting the poster boy for the NF and the BNP, John? After all, Powell quit the Tories in a strop over Europe (when he wasn't proposing stopping immigration, he was the Kilroy-Silk of his age) and joined the Ulster Unionists.

Perhaps the greatest irony, of course, is that Powell's most vitriolic speech, the Rivers of Blood tirade, was made in a bid to derail the 1968 Race Relations Act, one of the key provisions of which was to make illegal the sort of signs - "No Irish, No Blacks, No Dogs" - which Lydon uses to give a title to his autobiography. The reason why Powell was vilified, you twit, was not because what he said what he thought, but because what he thought was spiteful.

"The NME shows are a homecoming for us" pledges Richard Archer in this week's issue of still-the-world's-biggest-selling-rock-weekly, which is just as well as they didn't pick up a Brit (although with the level of support they're getting from the Sun these days, they might be in with a shout next time round.)

While Preston got a full interview last week, Maggot has to make do with a Peter Robinson versus. Not that we think that's a step down, actually. He still maintains he was in CBB to make up the numbers, although he allowed that "January is always a quiet month" so he wouldn't have been doing much otherwise.

Radar peers in an odd way at The Young Knives; they don't like "the IKEA generation", although we've never quite understood what the problem with Ikea is, actually. Yes, it would be nice if we were all William Morris and had time to whittle and carve oak chests when we need a new place to store CDs, but who has the time? Who has the skills? Nobody would, given unlimited options, use Ikea; but nor would anyone use Tesco. Ikea frees times that would otherwise be wasted worrying about furniture to be used having sex, drawing diagrams, or plotting political troubles.

Back to Eastenders for the Belle & Sebastian piece - the NME has decided that its readers won't know who they are and so has gathered together a bunch of facts about the band, including the time they got arrested for trespassing on the Enders set (back when TOTP was shot next door up in Elstree).

reverend and the makers - leicester princess charlotte - "before long you'll be one of the congregation"
be your own pet - london bush hall - "like a cat clawing your ankles to buggery"
the darkness - alexandra palace - "the gig crumbles to an end and the band walk off"

stellastarr* - harmonies for the haunted - "only four points for quality", 4
beth orton - comfort of strangers - "gracefully aging doesn't make for great records", 6
some girls - heaven's pregnant teens - "each a more glorious violation of the senses than the last", 7

totw - delays - valentine - "the best thing they've ever done"
the pistolas - listen listen - "sticky fingered genius"

and finally, here's the Guardian Weekend magazine with... oh, another interview with Preston. I'm not sure I can work up the interest...


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