“Blender” Gets Behind Katy Perry

Once 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 a writer who’s contributed to many of those magazines, as well as a few others! In this installment, he looks at the new issue of Blender:

Devoted readers of this site will surely recognize the young woman who appears on the cover of the November 2008 edition of Blender: It is none other than Katy Perry, the bane of our esteemed Idolatrix’s workaday existence.

Anono-Prick reckoned that Blender would have put “pop’s bi-curious babe,” as the display type on the cover puts it, front and center last month, since he remembered reading that the mag’s EIC Joe Levy hosted a party in Perry’s honor nearabout the MTV Music Video Awards. Clearly, the reporting and photo shoot for this cover story took place around that time.

It doesn’t much matter that Perry’s fashion aesthetic is premised on vintage Hollywood glamour tropes, and not upon those associated with Rick’s Cabaret, which Blender and its sister publication Maxim obviously prefer. When a young lady records a big summer hit song regarding inter-chick tongue dueling, it might as well be chum to sharks. It’s also clear which part of Perry’s physique Blender’s brain trust believes has the most appeal to their intended, perpetually erect readership.

So that’s settled! But! Wither whether Ms. Perry is good company? Levy charges longtime aide-de-quip Rob Sheffield, a man best known for excreting his airless, self-amused observations regarding popular music and television shows for whichever magazine Levy is running and for various VH1 talking head programs, with the task. This is notable, as it is seldom that Blender contributing editor Sheffield emerges from his one-liner-generating cocoon to interact with other humans in a journalistic endeavor. (AP only knows of one Sheffield-penned profile: an Aerosmith story for Rolling Stone).

And you know what? “Girl on Girl,” while headlined with startling lack of ingenuity, shows that Sheffield should go out and interview people a lot more. The piece ain’t gonna wow the American Society of Magazine Editors nominating committee —no article in Blender likely ever will. But Sheffield’s prose seems much less caffeinated and clotted when he’s telling someone else’s story, and not rifling through reference after reference to little lasting effect, like Henny Youngman with a semiotics degree from Brown.

Sheffield follows Perry around for a few Warped Tour dates: the two discuss her childhood in her parents’ evangelical ministry (her folks found the Lawd after both were immersed in the counterculture) and how she left the fold, her fondness for dressing up, her emo-hip-hop band-fronting boyfriend, and how That Song is imaginative more than autobiographical. Blender being fond of particular types of reportorial color, Sheffield also reports Perry’s fondness for making genitalia-oriented origami.

Perry seems like a fairly good egg, notwithstanding her perpetration of music that might drive a blog editor to jump out a 20th-floor window. Surely, her public profile and much of her music is calculated, but does she not project more individuality and spunk than the android strippers who adorned Blender‘s last cover? Heaven knows she didn’t appear to avoid topics many pop starlets dislike, and she certainly seemed to get along with Sheffield.

Sadly, the piece that directly precedes “Girl on Girl” finds Sheffield reverting to type. This month’s installment of his Station to Station column, “The Only Band That Matters,” finds him waxing euphoric over the act that apparently every individual to have graduated from an institute of higher learning since 1986 agrees is very, very good. AP daresays that “why Radiohead are so wonderful live” is a topic so commonplace that the marquee writer at a major music magazine should use the space dedicated to his musings to tackle a more novel topic. Self-identified music fans between the ages of 19 and 49 are more or less conditioned to like Radiohead, and it’ll be a long time before the band will be anything other than an exhausted topic. In any case, Sheffield doesn’t succeed in making a point beyond “Radiohead is boss.”

Incidentally, Sheffield never says that he attended a Radiohead concert this summer, only that his iPod contains two hours of live versions of “Idioteque” and other performances from the band’s tour. Perhaps attending a show would have inspired Sheffield to offer an original thought or two in his essay. If AP, for instance, had the use of a column in a music magazine to laud the music on his iPod, he’d talk about the greatness of Too $hort, Emerson, Lake and Palmer, Blowfly, Robert Wyatt, or T-Pain. (The latter is given his due in “Pain’s World,” a fine piece this issue by senior editor Jonah Weiner.)

So Levy (who himself pens a four star review of Telltale Signs, the eighth archival series devoted to Bob Dylan; it’s the first piece he’s written for Blender) gives his pal free hand to do as he pleases, a mandate any critic would envy. Yet AP thinks it would benefit everyone—readers, interview subjects and most importantly Sheffield himself— if he got out of the house more. He has spent a decade processing staggering amounts of music and television so that he could proffer one-liners. This we know. But is he beginning to realize that getting out and encountering different people and ideas other than one’s own is healthy? You can listen to records and watch TV shows all you like, but records and TV shows can’t talk back to you. Proceeding down that path lies insularity of a most Christgauian variety.