Saturday, September 19, 2015

What the pop papers say: The free NME

Well, it even made the news on BBC Radio Bristol, so I suppose claims that the latest NME relaunch was "historic" aren't that overblown.

But what are we left with now?

The first nought-pee NME has bagged a pretty strong cover - Rihanna, with a fairly hefty interview with Peter Robinson. It's eveb got coverage in People and other US titles, and having talk lines picked up by other media won't hurt with getting the magazine picked up in shoes shops.

Editor Mike Williams explains the choice of Rihanna for the cover:

[She] totally embodies the spirit of the new NME. She's individual, she's iconic and, as she tell us in our world exclusive interview: "I just have a way of breaking the rules".
They might have been better getting Madonna, to be honest - her best days behind her, jumping awkwardly onto any fad a little too hard and a little too late, and when your Dad spots you're listening to her he asks "is she still going?"

It's also slightly awkward that Rihanna was on (one of the) covers of the 2010 relaunch, and significantly hasn't turned up since. Until yesterday.

The claim that Rihanna is iconic, and thus like the NME, is a bit weird too, as in Mike's welcome letter it comes just one paragraph south of a claim that:
Whether or not you know that NME launched in 1952 as New Musical Express [...] isn't important (though we're very proud of our incredible history).
If knowing the brand is insignificant, then the obvious question is: why have you slapped the brand on the magazine? If the letters "NME" don't have to mean anything to the reader, and the magazine under the letters is all new, why didn't you just come up with a name that would carry some meaning?

While the Rihanna interview is meaty (and obviously next week we'll get an idea if that scale of ambition is keeping up), the rest of the magazine is quite slight. Chrvches are interviewed, although the resulting piece is two pages, heavily padded out with (what don't appear to be specially shot) photos. Space is found for a tiny box about 'other bands which spell name funny ways' that doesn't mention Pvris, and implies that they're expecting readers to be going 'isn't Chrvches a strange word').

The other feature is even more dispiriting - why Big Bang Theory is the new Friends. Now, if we were in season two of Big Bang Theory, this sort of thing might just pass; if it was an unwatched gem tucked away in the schedules, it might have had something to say. But even on E4, it's getting an audience ten times the circulation of the new NME, so an article saying "hey, they're friends but it's like they're family" is bemusing. Next week: "hey, you guys, there's a series called Hollyoaks and it's a bit like Emmerdale but with a different accent."

It's good to see Peter Robinson Versus is back - although this week it's John Lydon. Asked what he'd tell new readers about the NME, he cracks wise with "you've got a good tractor section", although his more familiar put-down of "not new, not musical, and not particularly express" is now more fitting than ever.

The best innovation is a column by Katherine Ryan - I'm going to call her the new Alan Parker as a result. Other new clutter - a page asking people what they're listening to (currently the only indication that 'ordinary' people will be featured in the magazine, something of a strange decision in the social media era); a 'good week/bad week' ladder; a games page - could have come straight from Shortlist or any Saturday magazine bundled with a regional newspaper.

And what of the music? There's only three album reviews - a few shorter pieces do little more than acknowledge they are now available; a handful of tracks. The live pages are ten big pictures of upcoming gigs. There's no reviews of events that have happened, and one of those gigs is One Direction.

The good news, at least for Time Magazines, is that there's a lot of advertising - pages and pages of live ads (why print a full gig guide when people will pay you to promote their events?). So as it's clear there's barely any editorial budget at all, economically the relaunch appears to be working.

The 1980s NME would have seen you through a decent length train trip. The early 21st Century might have lasted a fast journey between Milton Keynes and London. This new version, if your train was five minutes late, you'd have finished before you got on board.

It's not that it's slight, but - presumably to encourage as many people as possible to pick it up - there's no sense of what it is, or what it believes, or even what it likes.

It's not a great new era for such a venerable title, but on the plus side: you do get a little bit more than what you pay for.