“Blender”: A Look Back

Mar 27th, 2009 // 20 Comments

Well, the big story this week was probably the shuttering of Blender, the pop magazine who suffered the one-two punch of being a printed entity about music in 2009. Blender‘s overarching popism was a big influence on Idolator from the time of its launch in 2006, and even as the death spiral of ad pages resulted in its once-mighty reviews section being whittled down to a handful of 130-word blurbs, I admired its spunk and willingness to reach across the musical comfort zones that divide people more often than not these days, if not always its choices of “hot,” vaguely music-related cover subjects. After the jump, thoughts on the Blender closure from a smattering of people around the Internet, many of whom saw their bylines appear in the magazine’s pages at one time or another.



• “Marks and Tannebaum always liked to say that their favorite rockmag was the legendary Creem, and for sure Blender—with all commercial compromises and vulgarisms acknowledged (for its time, Creem had plenty of those as well)—came much closer to that ideal than any other current mag. It was intelligent yet written for ordinary fans, very funny, and the Sheffield column that Levy instituted was some of the best work he’d ever done. I was happy there, and I’ll miss it as a writer, a reader, and a rock critic elder. After a long downturn, Spin (which Marks also once edited) has gotten better over the past few years, but I wouldn’t bet it’ll have the humility to morph over toward the Blender model as it continues to do battle with the also-shrinking Stone. In this economy not to mention tomorrow’s, who’s hiring?” [Robert Christgau]

• “The shocking part is that I had figured Blender was the most commercially savvy one in the music-magazine market—they built their business on photos (especially of scantily clad pop starlets), best-ever/worst-ever/most-outrageous sorts of lists, titillation and trivia, backed up for credibility with a review section full of some of the best working music writers struggling (for a good paycheque) to squeeze wit and insight into tiny little capsule reviews. I hated its glibnesss, but it wasn’t snobby—it was pro-pop, pro-hip-hop and pro-indie all at once—and it certainly seemed saleable; if even they can’t survive, I’m not sure there really is a music magazine market. Curiously, a lot of the more niche-oriented publications—rap magazines and metal magazines in particular—seem to be doing well still, when I thought they’d probably be the most easily displaced by fan sites and blogs. Perhaps cliqueishness (and even snobbishness) is actually a safer marketing bet?” [Carl Wilson]

• “While Blender may have been an easy target for some, with its often gratuitously skin-baring covers and plethora of jokey lists, it also offered a valuable mainstream forum for discussing music, and contained plenty of good writing. (Yes, of course, I’m biased.) Even if you didn’t like Blender‘s editorial style, it featured robust, challenging opinions, and the magazine rarely kowtowed to the tyranny of critics’ darlings. No more Blender magazine means some kid isn’t going to pick up a copy at the 7-11 because he thinks Katy Perry looks hot on the cover, end up reading about Mastodon, and have his mind blown. And that sucks.” [Amy Phillips]

• “Guess what? More colleagues looking for work.” [Alfred Soto]

• “It gave reviews of good Indie rock and movies and had people like Jack Black on the cover. Then it seemed to change demographics and went the hip hop and R&B route. Every cover had either P Diddy, Janet Jackson or Little Wayne on it. This was not the magazine that gave me insight to new music and movies.” ["Ki"] (Sigh. Well, it’s time for a drink, no?)

  1. DocStrange

    I remember that 500 Best Songs Since You Were Born Feature. I had (as I mentioned) a 6 month free trial subscription I got from somewhere and noticed that Bassment Jaxx’s “Where’s Your Head At” was listed twice (once pretty high and again rather low) and apparently was the only person to spot this because its still on their website.

    They were an OK magazine. It sucks that alot of good magazines are dying. I remember a magazine called Giant that’s entire jist was that it was like Maxim but written by pop-culture obsessed eggheads. Then it was bought out and some guy who used to edit “Source” became the editor, fired the staff and turned it into a hip-hop magazine. That was only the first of my heartbreaks with magazines. And now more and more of the magazines I love are dying.

  2. Anonymous

    IDK, they’re kinda known for out of context quotes, and complaints from artists. I think Fall Out Boy was the last to get spun by them? My point is, as great as it was, you guys are really selling it in the comments. Why did no one emerge with all this glory-rain before?

  3. Chris Molanphy

    I never got to write for Blender, but I really will miss the niche it filled. It was one of the few physical magazines that, when it showed up in the mail (I still subscribe to all the big ones), I’d actually read it rather than allowing it to pile up.

    I guess I’d sum up Blender this way: In the post-sellout era of the ’00s, it did sellout right.

    Not just the skin-baring covers (about a third of the time, the interview with said starlet would actually be worth reading). I mean, they did lists in an era where every music magazine has lists — but theirs were actually interesting. About three years ago, they did this great list of “Top 40 New Wave songs,” and it was so clever and all-encompassing (it started with Billy Joel…seriously…and ended with Gary Numan, with everyone from Jonathan Richman to Franz Ferdinand in-between) that I duplicated it on my iPod and have been playing it regularly ever since.

    It was like a bunch of smart people had decided to hold hands and jump into the commercial end of the pool together, and what they created was surprisingly worthwhile. R.I.P.

  4. doublewhiskycokenoice

    i don’t know what depresses me more: rolling stone switching to an architectural digest-size style, fader becoming pseudo-mainstream, or blender dying.

    i need some feel good music.

  5. Poubelle

    @Chris Molanphy: I don’t need a torrent, but neither Blender’s site search nor Google is turning up this magical list for me–where can I find it?

    I wasn’t the hugest fan of Blender (and based on most of their covers, not exactly their target audience, which hey, could’ve been part of their problem), but they’d usually have an interesting article or two, and some decent reviews. I suppose I should feel guiltier for all the times I flipped through a copy and put it back on the rack, but honestly, I didn’t like it that much. (I did think that time when both they and Rolling Stone had Britney cover stories at the exact same time, theirs was miles better.)

    I’m more sad to see Blender go in a general “sucks for the print industry/music writing” way than for any particular attachment to it. (Not that I helped, outside of maybe giving their website a few more hits now and then.)

    If Spin goes, though, I’ll be one unhappy camper.

  6. Dan Gibson

    @Poubelle:

    40 – It’s Still Rock And Roll To Me – Billy Joel
    39 – Our Lips Are Sealed – The Go-Go’s
    38 – Making Plans For Nigel – XTC
    37 – I Ran – A Flock Of Seagulls
    36 – White Lines – Grandmaster Flash
    35 – Radio Free Europe – REM
    34 – Rebel Yell – Billy Idol
    33 – I Will Follow – U2
    32 – Take On Me – A-HA
    31 – Tainted Love – Soft Cell
    30 – Never Say Never – Romeo Void
    29 – Mirror In The Bathroom – The English Beat
    28 – Blister In The Sun – Violent Femmes
    27 – Bizarre Love Triangle – New Order
    26 – Let’s Go To Bed – The Cure
    25 – Burning Up – Madonna
    24 – Satisfaction – Devo
    23 – Take Me Out – Franz Ferdinand
    22 – Debaser – The Pixies
    21 – Warm Leatherette – The Normal
    20 – Pop Musik – M
    19 – I Found That Essence Rare – Gang Of Four
    18 – Pump It Up – Elvis Costello
    17 – Enola Gay – OMD
    16 – House Of Jealous Lovers – The Rapture
    15 – One Way Or Another – Blondie
    14 – The Look Of Love – ABC
    13 – Roadrunner – The Modern Lovers
    12 – This Charming Man – The Smiths
    11 – Life During Wartime – The Talking Heads
    10 – Just Can’t Get Enough – Depeche Mode
    9 – Good Times Roll – The Cars
    8 – Opportunities – Pet Shop Boys
    7 – Pretty In Pink – Psychedelic Furs
    6 – Hungry Like The Wolf – Duran Duran
    5 – Love Will Tear Us Apart – Joy Division
    4 – Don’t You Want Me – Human League
    3 – When You Were Mine – Prince
    2 – 52 Girls – B-52′s
    1 – Cars – Gary Numan

  7. Anonymous

    When the magazine came out it was billed as a sister magazine to “Maxim”. It came across(at first anyway) as the U.S. version of “Mojo” or “Uncut”. I remember in the beginning some of their album reviews were very amateurish compared to those publications(in particular a scathing review of one of my favorite albums in the last 10 years, “Rival Schools”). Clark Collis makes a good point. Over time the magazine really started to decline and try to pander more to the TRL crowd than real music fans who still read “Mojo” and “Uncut” religiously.

  8. Anonymous

    You say 130 words like that’s a bad thing! At EW, we were jealous of that hefty a word count for capsules.

  9. Poubelle

    @Dan Gibson: Thank you! Damn, that is one incredible list.

  10. NotPop

    @Chris Molanphy:

    “Blender – Top 40 New Wave songs.torrent” please

  11. Chris Molanphy

    @Dan Gibson: Thank you for covering me on that! I’ve been mostly offline since posting my comment and missed the requests for the list.

    @Poubelle: It’s a blast to play start-to-finish, and it’s actually a carefully curated list — you can quibble with lots of the individual choices but not the totality of it. (There are songs I like better by the Cars and the Cure, among others.)

    What really makes it work is its small-C catholic definition of what “new wave” is. The Blender guys understand how that term morphed to absorb all manner of post-punk mini-genres, from “stylistically wandering punk” to “economical guitar rock” to “minimalist synth-pop.” And it manages to throw in post-2000 songs that don’t feel like pandering at all. Seriously, I play this thing every other month or so.

  12. saturn

    @Dan Gibson: This reminds me of something else I liked about Blender. most of the time, they published their top X lists in descending order, to that you’d have to read the whole article to get to number 1. So many magazines start with 1, which takes all the fun out of it.

  13. Cam/ron

    Don’t forget the online cartoon of Henry Rollins bragging about his money and sexual experience while trashing Blender for listing him as one of rock’s worst songwriters.

    [www.blender.com]

  14. Anonymous

    I was pretty ambivalent about Blender – seemed like a watered-down version of Q, in some respects – but it wasn’t awful, by any means. Sure, a lot of their lists were of a questionable quality (as such things tend to be), but every once in a while they’d really nail it. And I also appreciated their efforts to cover the lesser known acts, even with Kanye or Ashley Simpson on the cover. The ‘Download This’ section was pretty solid in the early days, too.

    One thing I’ll always remember and respect them for – they gave Tom Vek 4 stars.

  15. Weezy F Baby

    still the only major magazine that’s given me any work. they sent checks out quickly, they paid well, and everyone i encountered there was super nice. RIP.

  16. Rock You Like An Iracane

    @saturn: The exception was that “500 Songs” list, which I thoroughly enjoyed. I never subscribed to Blender (well, until just this year, when I got a free subscription) but I bought a few issues (like that one) on newsstands, and read the blog.

    Despite tipping towards typically overblown reviews in its later years (Coldplay’s X&Y earned five stars, for example), Blender did pop culture and music with a sort of earnest hipster vibe; sure, Arcade Fire are cool and all, Blender said, but so is Lil Wayne. So are Clipse. So are these indie bands that we enjoy.

    I once told some friends that if I were ever a writer for a music magazine, I wanted it to be Blender. Now I won’t get that opportunity, and, though my feelings aren’t as strong as they were when I first thought that, it makes me a little dusty.

  17. Chris N.

    @ Chris Willman: At CW I make do with 105. Although to be honest sometimes it’s difficult to think of even that much to say about some records.

  18. natepatrin

    @Cam/ron: Wow, somewhere along the line Rollins turned into Gene Simmons.

  19. Juancho

    I’m going to miss this magazine quite a bit.

    I remember the first time I saw it back in ’02, not only was it a cousin of Maxim that seemed to be of quality, at the time they had a pretty decent new book reviews section!

    I have to agree with Chris, I had a comp subscription and it was one of the few magazines that was always worth reading. In fact, I may have paid for it if I needed to.(The same could not be said of Spin, on both counts.)

    And even if you weren’t a fan of scantily clad pop or movie stars, at least the photography was top-notch.

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