Rock-Critically Correct: Vibing On “Vibe”

May 22nd, 2007 // 4 Comments

cover.jpgLast month, we introduced Rock-Critically Correct, a new 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 click-through, he/she examines the most recent issue of Vibe:

And now, after assessing Rolling Stone, Spin and Blender, we take a trawl through the June edition of Vibe, a publication whose editorial staffers are probably not waking up bolt-upright at night, sweating over how Pitchfork is challenging its hegemony.

For the past five years, Vibe has seemed like the avuncular, above-it-all alternative to the brawling, shit-talking likes of XXL and The Source. Nothing much seems to affect its sleepily friendly coverage of hip-hop and R&B, so the mucho diplomatic editor’s letter from Danyel Smith (who was reinstated in that position last year after a putsch/house-cleaning) is rather refreshing.

Typically, editor’s letters are exercises in braggadocio, wherein the issue’s contents are trumpeted (the “show, don’t tell rule” tends to be ignored) and the reader is congratulated for his/her good judgment in spending valuable time with the mag, etc etc. Smith flirts with this conceit only briefly–she indulges in the current iteration of reader flattery by directing their comments to
Vibe.com, where said comments will help shape the mag, la dee dah, blah blah blah. Then, to her considerable credit, Smith admits that Vibe‘s cover girl, Beyoncé Knowles, is a lousy interview.

“She’s got…her message together as tight as Condeleeza Rice,” writes Smith, adding that she was “happy and sincere in her commitment not to say one more or less thing than she wanted to…I had to respect it. Respect doesn’t equal like, but game recognizes game.”

Indeed, Knowles says virtually nothing of interest in the interview: She’s like “any and every woman”; she doesn’t like it when untruths concerning her personal life are spread around the Internet (which she says she never frequents); she works very hard and thanks God for her strength; and she claims that any rivalry with Jennifer Hudson is the invention of a society that likes to manufacture competition between two black women.

It’s as opaque as any and every interview with Knowles ever. Like Jennifer Lopez and any number of precisely calibrated actress-singers, she looks mighty good photographed as if emerging from a sauna on a magazine cover–which, as far as the newsstand’s concerned, is the point. But there has never been–nor likely will there ever be–a truly compelling interview with Knowles: it’s not in her interest to be a quote machine, and it may be that she has nothing to, y’know, say. It’s a problem that’s plagued the music magazines–and the industry as a whole–for years now: Interviewees look fuckable on the cover, but refuse to say anything of note. Since most interviewers and editors in Smith’s position labor mightily but transparently to make such encounters seem revealing, your correspondent tips his hat to Smith for tacitly pulling the curtain away.

Incidentally, the premise for the accompanying interview with Kelly Rowland, Knowles’ bandmate, cousin, and fellow traveler in non- specificity, is that lots of people are curious about her personal life. According to writer Shanel Odum, “fans and critics alike were fiending for a moment of vulnerability, or…something tangible to relate to,” after her first solo album. Huh! Your correspondent was completely unaware that a more-than-miniscule amount of people thought of Rowland at all, but we learn here that her much-delayed second album, Ms. Kelly, contains a tune called “I’m Still In Love with My Ex.” The “ex” is Dallas Cowboy Roy Williams, with whom she was engaged until 2005. So, now that we know something about Rowland, we’re fascinated. Right?

Otherwise, the issue feels awfully lite: a piece on Ne-Yo finds the R&B smoothie defending himself against rumors that, presumably because he’s an R&B smoothie, he’s gay; the reviews section strains to avoid strong sentiments (although, in the lead review, Chris Ryan labels Fabolous a “conceited bastard”); and the FOB section VHeat rounds up summertime events in New York City, Atlanta, Miami, Chicago, San Francisco, Houston and Los Angeles–or at least they round up scheduled events as best they could, given a likely March or April deadline.

Maybe Vibe is saving the good shit for the July issue, which your correspondent predicts will feature as a cover subject 50 Cent, a guy who never lacks for interesting quotage. And what does your correspondent mean by “good shit”? To wit: Hey Vibe! Where’s the interview with Atlanta’s Shop Boyz, the men behind your correspondent’s favorite single of 2007, “Party Like a Rock
Star”?

idolator

  1. Amphiuma

    This is a cool feature, but I hope you’ll cover other music magazines like Harp or Paste in the future. The out-of-towners might prove of interest, you never know…

  2. Chris Molanphy

    It’s a problem that’s plagued the music magazines–and the industry as a whole–for years now: Interviewees look fuckable on the cover, but refuse to say anything of note.

    Counterpoint: I dunno how “fuckable” she looks — I for one still think she’s pretty cute — but Kelly Clarkson proves the exception to this rule in the current Entertainment Weekly (the same issue you guys rightfully ripped for that lame Stephen King column).

    Clarkson’s willingness to discuss the Clive Davis imbroglio is virtually unheard of in the current, locked-down feature-magazine climate, and I admired her generally no-BS attitude.

    That’s not to say you’re incorrect about these cover profiles in general. Zzzzzzz.

  3. dollywould

    There is absolutely NOTHING to Beyoncé. Every interview I’ve ever read or seen has been a snoozefest. She’s been at this so long she’s forgotten how to talk like a real person. Also, I call BS on her claim of no rivalry between her and JHud. You know the Oscars were a huge blow to her oversized ego.

  4. MJ

    Oh, Beyoncé. You’ve got star power, a lock down on your personal life that people have no choice but respect, a whole lot of money to make a video for each one of your new album’s songs, and you still go for the easiest cover: in a wet t-shirt, backed up against a wall.

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