“Blender” Makes Itself Nice And Hot

Aug 27th, 2007 // 7 Comments

subs_cover.jpgOnce again, we present Rock-Critically Correct, a 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, a look at the new issue of Blender:

Before Your Correspondent does his “embittered hack sneers, huffs and puffs over a music magazine” song and dance, he would like to quickly note the pageview counts of his last two columns.

The first pertained to an issue of Vibe boasting an individual with a fighting chance of being the leader of the free world (YC also wrongly thought asking readers to guess what the signature issues for the 2008 election for music magazines, Web sites, and blogs might be would be surefire comment chum). The pageview count has hardly budged over 700 since it went up two weeks ago. The following column went over an issue of Rolling Stone, featuring the star of the biggest tween-oriented franchise since Harry Potter, and the pageview count went crazy-go-nuts (it’s now pushing 4000) almost from the git-go, seeing as it went up on the eve of High School Musical 2‘s Disney Channel debut.

So what can we infer from this? That kids went bananas with the Google alerting last weekend? That music-blog visitors live in a rabbit hole (some Pitchfork writers certainly seem to) and would only care about Sen. Obama if he evinced an interest in Takka Takka? That those same visitors don’t care about Vibe? That a Spin rundown will do well because those visitors will click on anything bearing an image of Interpol?

Well, let’s try a little experiment…

The Arcade Fire would be a lot less dull if they used certain tools–such as bridges, modulations and middle eights–that songwriters have availed themselves of for generations, instead of hammering the old “let’s build up into a huge crescendo” trick into the ground.

Now, once more into the Blender breach!

One thing that accounted for Blender‘s big splash in 2001-2002 was the way the editorial staff knew how people luv lists. Granted, Rolling Stone, Spin, and many other entertainment mags had been presenting lists for a long time, but they tended to be premised on the “best” this, or the “greatest” that. But Blender comes along with Top 50 Worst Songs Ever,” or “The 50 Worst Things to Ever Happen to Music.” For the most part ingeniously counterintuitive and idiosyncratic, Blender‘s lists are the best “read it while you squeeze a coil” accoutrements imaginable.

For the September issue, Blender presents its “Hot Report 2007.” Why the mag continues to tether its annual marquee “we think these things are great” compendium to the shopworn concept of “hot” is curious. After all, arch-rival Rolling Stone has presented its Hot List each spring for 21 years now; maybe Blender wanted to go with something else, until focus groups and market research rendered the ironclad verdict that “hot” works well on the newsstand. Thus the “Hot Report,” while written in the mag’s breezily amused but still authoritative manner, is of the “Fall Preview” variety common to every magazine in the history of everything.

Anyway, this issue’s cover subject and “No. 1 in hotness” is Andy Samberg, the SNL dude who inadvertently provided YouTube with its ground zero moment and who has a new movie out: senior editor Jonah Weiner says that Hot Rod “feels like a dorm room classic.” YC hasn’t seen the film, but humbly notes that one of the commandments of magazine journalism is “thou shalt not speak ill of the big project for which the cover subject must promote and thus has consented to be interviewed.” Samberg’s also Blender‘s non-music-figure-that-music-fans-all-like cover boy for this year: in 2004, it was Dave Chappelle, who sat for an interview; in 2006 it was Chappelle again, who didn’t participate, resulting in a “write-around” (mag speak for “we’re gonna do an article even if a star refuses to cooperate”).

As for the rest of the list, it’s a mixture of picks that generally fall into the following categories: a.) bands slinging new or new-ish albums that everybody else is covering (hello, Rilo Kiley and your “sexy” new album that is already discomfiting the indie twerps who’d probably faint were they ever confronted with a pair of spread-open legs or a tumescent organ); b.) artists typically ignored by the big music mags (music editor Rob Tannenbaum contributes interviews with two musicians YC digs, Brian McKnight and Brad Paisley); and c.) a metric ton of streaming/downloading Web sites.

Quibbling over these kinds of lists is one of the least fruitful exercises ever devised by humans, so YC’ll just mention his disappointment that T-Pain, the avatar of Autotune who’s ruling hip-hop and r&b this year, only rates a passing mention (he’s also queried in the “Do You Rock” feature in the FOB). For chrissake, the guy is like ketchup: everything sounds better with T-Pain! Same goes for Shop Boyz!

Incidentally, in quick Q&As with the likes of Eve, Bret Michaels, Tracy Morgan and Gym Class Hero Travis McCoy, the artists are asked, among other things, if troop surges are “hot” (each respondent says they are not). For most of its history, Blender was as scrupulous in avoiding mention of anything remotely political as Rolling Stone has been in including Bush-bashing in its pages. Perhaps now that the POTUS’ approval numbers are at record lows, it has been determined that backwards-baseball-cap wearers don’t mind tiny portions of political content interspersed with references to things like, say, the Black Lips singer pissing in his own mouth (from this issue’s FOB feature “Almost Famous”).

A couple of words regarding the reviews section, “The Guide.” This issue’s is devoid of the British stringers (almost all of whom are associated with the British magazine Q) who often rep for English guitar bands that no one in America cares about. Except for one: in an otherwise lyrical assessment of a 3-CD rerelease of Piper at the Gates of Dawn, Tony Power makes the bizarre assertion that “It’s taken Pink Floyd 40 years to do anything as crowd-pleasing as replenish their first album with the other songs that they released that same astonishing year.” Given that the band has done little else from 1973 other than “pleasing crowds” (crowds defined as “millions and millions of people”), Power is incorrect. Unless, by “crowds,” he means “me and other aging English rock writers who don’t much care for post-Barrett Floyd.” Then there’s senior critic Jon Dolan’s four-star review of Imperial Teen’s The Hair The TV The Baby The Band: YC hasn’t heard the record, but would like to point out that he’s never heard of anyone who’s fond of the band beyond the rock critic establishment.

Essentially, whether or not YC agrees with or is pleased by what Blender does in a given issue, the mag exudes confidence. YC doesn’t know whether that translates into newsstand infallibility, but he does think that new Blender boss Kent Brownridge, the former Cheney to Jann Wenner’s Bush, must know that it’s well positioned to prosper–or at least as well as any magazine can possibly these days. YC is not so sure about Alpha Media’s other property, Maxim, given the bear market for “lad mags” that has seen the closing of FHM and Stuff.

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  1. Recury

    I totally don’t like lists either. Wanna hang out?

  2. Lucas Jensen

    Hot Rod’s box office gross so far? 13 million. Not exactly lighting it up out there.

  3. Chris Molanphy

    @Lucas Jensen: Thanks, I was gonna mention that.

    Because I’m old-fashioned enough to believe nominal music magazines should have musicians (even of the autotuned pop-star variety) on their covers, I love it when they get burned by lining up a “hot” movie star and drop the issue the week before the star’s movie tanks. When Rolling Stone put the two nearly-naked Grindhouse hotties on its cover last spring just minutes before that movie underperformed, I - to paraphrase Eddie Murphy’s drunk father – giggled my muthafuckin’ ass off.

    Nothing against Samberg, whom I like and wouldn’t have minded a feature about, but putting him on the cover over other Blender Hot faves like, say, Rihanna seemed like a classic bad-karma move. And nothing against Blender, which I still enjoy more than virtually any magazine right now, but I hope this teaches them a lesson.

  4. Lax Danja House

    I refuse to go see Hot Rod for the sole reason that it reminds me of Napoleon Dynamite. Bad hair and even worse lighting indeed. Also it’s not been released in Ireland and probably never will. So yay.

    I think I like these colums better than the actual magazines they critique.

  5. Al Shipley

    Yeah, I think you could make a case for “Lazy Sunday” or “Dick In A Box” being ‘hit songs’, but Samberg probably would’ve been a better candidate for a Blender cover shortly after one of those skits hit big (maybe a ‘comedy issue’ cover w/ him and Timberlake in costume?) than a few weeks after the ice-cold box office of his debut film vehicle.

  6. Chris N.

    Just for the record, I have actually been backstage at the CMAs and have never seen anyone there with his dick in a box.

  7. gilligan

    the music magazine seems like a dying art form. (i was a huge fan of spin up till alan light left.)i’ve flipped through blender before. kind of boring. rolling stone, which has been revitalized to some degree–still with trademark stodginess in some parts–realizes stories on culture and politics go down easier with artist profiles and listicles. and they also know that not all their readers are music junkies. blender has the same bland blurbed humor as maxim. i think they miss the point of reflecting culture through music and don’t really know who reads their magazine. anyone who wants to indulge their music geekery goes online now.

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