“Rolling Stone” And “Blender” Face Off Over Britney Spears
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 an anonymous writer who’s contributed to several of those titles–or maybe even all of them! After the click-through, he contrasts the Britney Spears cover stories in the new issues of Rolling Stone and Blender:
Your Boy’s best guess is that the issue of Blender under consideration this week was about to be sent to the printer when it was announced that Joe Levy was going to leave his post as Rolling Stone‘s executive editor for Blender‘s editor-in-chief job.
YB’s analysis of the dual legacies of Levy and departing Blender EIC Craig Marks was written the next day, so he did not see this interview with Levy in Adweek until it was too late. Therein, he says that you can expect Blender to be more respectful of artists than it has been previously.
This is not, frankly, good news. It’s not unreasonable to suggest that Blender would often rather musical acts prance and caper monkey-style in their pages for the amusement of their readers than be treated as humans with, y’know, dignity. But it was the readers to which Blender answered, whereas “respect for artists” is really code for Rolling Stone‘s frequently cozy relationship with major labels and owner Jann Wenner’s pals. You’d think that Levy might want to be freed of such considerations, but the above does not augur well how Blender is to be distinguished from RS going forward. We’ll see…
The March 2008 edition of Blender stands as the final issue helmed by Marks. The former Spin editor and former muckety-muck of the before-its-time Inside.com launched the mag in 2001 as the savvy consigliere to Andy Pemberton, an Englishman who was not particularly attuned to American culture. After Pemberton was fired in 2004, Marks took the EIC seat. (A commenter in the above-linked Levy/Marks analysis speculated that Marks would make a move towards TV or new media projects, which would make sense, given his involvement with Inside.)
He goes out with a bang with his final issue, despite the fact that it’s possible that RS put together a competing cover piece very quickly for its Feb. 21 issue in order to specifically fuck with Blender‘s newsstand sales. YB may be hunting for poltergeists here, seeing as Britney Spears-related content has recently been estimated to generate $120 million for the American economy every year. But Mr. Wenner is known to play hardball when his aides-de-camp dare defect to a competitor.
Both magazines bear the image of Ms. Spears, a woman who is pretty much the embodiment of Blender‘s raison d’etre and known to have a mutually advantageous relationship with RS when her career was functional. On Blender‘s cover, her face is Photoshopped onto a model’s body, a crushed Red Bull can and a Mouseketeer cap full of cig butts visible below. RS‘s cover features a heartbreaking close-up of her face, cropped from an old file photo.
YB should disclose his agenda: He does not visit TMZ.com and perezhilton.com and is otherwise not compelled to cogitate on the daily-unfolding events of Ms. Spears’ life. He does pretty much like every song he’s ever heard released under her name–and he loves more than a few–and is reasonably confident that, if said life had taken another path, she could have easily been one of many southern girls who drops her flimsy garment on a nearby chair then proceeds to gyrate and bend over in front of YB’s face for $20 a dance. YB will leave the psychological spelunking to the authors of the articles discussed below, and wish Ms. Spears well.
Blender‘s cover story on Ms. Spears, “The Road to Ruin,” is very very good. Apparently, the mag had tried to do a conventional Spears piece late last fall, but given the events of the past two months, that wasn’t to be. Instead, contributing writer Michael Joseph Gross pens an engrossing, deeply reported story that attempts to determine why Ms. Spears’s life has immolated, compared to innumerable reports that settle for the “what” of said immolation.
Gross diligently recounts the events that have transfixed people other than YB, but he goes into great detail regarding the paparazzi that hound Spears. These “paps” (call ’em “mopes” or “thugs” if you like) are also something like her friends and confidants, often paying for her gas and fast food when she’s indisposed. While Adnan Ghalib is now well known as the “pap” who has bedded Spears, Gross also goes into the shady history of Ghalib’s rival, Sam Lutfi, the latest in a series of Hollywood hustlers/quasi-suitcase pimps who has appeared to be running her life and who has two restraining orders against him.
One of the “experts” swanning in to expound on the meaning of it all is Michael Hirschorn, the ex-VH1 exec behind the network’s “Celebreality” programming and Marks’ former boss at Inside (which probably should have been disclosed). “She got chewed up and spat out by this new celebrity culture,” he says, “so it’s hard not to feel some sympathy for her. She really was turned into a lab rat.” Given his recent doings, Hirschorn might have mentioned something regarding his own culpability in the “new celebrity culture.”
RS‘s piece, “The Tragedy of Britney Spears,” is written by Vanessa Grigoriadis, who last fall penned a chin-stroker as to the greater meaning of the enterprise of which Idolator.com is a part. Her story is thus lighter on reportorial rigor and heavier on pop psychology than Gross’. “[Spears] is not book smart,” Grigoriadis writes. “But she is intelligent enough to understand what the world wanted of her: that she was created as a virgin to be deflowered before us for our amusement and titillation. She is not ashamed of her new persona–she wants us to know what we did to her… she is enjoying the chaos she’s creating.”
An editor’s note states that Grigoriadis spent six weeks running after Ms. Spears around L.A., so it could be that her article was conceived independent of Levy’s egress. She also is granted a brief interview with Ghalib and interacts with many of the shifty hustlers who buzzard about Spears. Due to RS‘s later deadline, Grigoriadis covers Spears’ two hospitalizations, the power struggle between Lufti and Adnan’s over access to her, and her family’s attempt to wrest control from the above two. Said deadline did not permit Spears’ recently concluded two-week stint in UCLA Medical Center’s psych ward and probably some other shit that happened while YB was writing this goddamn sentence.
Here are three factoids intended as exclusive info but present in both articles:
1. Spears had breast augmentation when she was seventeen.
2. Kevin Federline is known amongst his bros as “Meat Pole” (Gross reports that Federline called his brother after his first night with his bride-to-be, remarking “you’re not going to believe whose back I broke”).
3. Paris Hilton refers to Spears as “The Animal.”
Ultimately, YB has to call the Battle of the Competing Definitive Britney Narratives a draw. He also wonders how many sources talked to both writers after promising “exclusivity” to each.
Otherwise, YB’ll make some quick comments on the March Blender, since he thought he’d be assessing only that mag before the Feb. 21 RS showed up on the newsstand.
• Robert Smith, photographed for an “In the Studio” front-of-book piece regarding The Cure’s in-progress album, looks like a portly beggar sans makeup.
• YB, no huge fan of R.E.M., is astounded that Senior Critic Jon Dolan reckons in the “Every Album Reviewed and Rated” back-catalogue feature that the band’s naked ploy for grunge bucks, 1995’s Monster, deserves five stars and is thus better than 1984’s Reckoning and 1991’s Out of Time.
• In an otherwise half-baked “the edit staff like these things” package titled “The Best List 2008,” contributor Aaron Burgess crafts a March Madness-styled tournament chart to determine “the best heavy metal drummer.” Beginning with post-NWoBHM beatsmen and extending to the current extreme metal movement (no Ian Paice and Tommy Lee, sadly), Meshuggah’s Tomas Haake prevails over Slayer’s Dave Lombardo. Burgess is allowed to use musicianly jargon therein, nominally a Blender no-no.
• Finally, Robert Christgau, the author of a recent RS review that YB noted seemed edited into tortured blandness, now appears in Blender‘s masthead as Dolan’s co-Senior Critic. It seems that the Dean has already followed his onetime apprentice Levy over to Blender, possibly leaving RS‘s hypothetical copyeditor with no editorial mandate along the lines of “we know this guy indignantly refuses to turn in clear, readable copy, but he’s the dean of rock criticism, so you, me and the rest of the staff have to grant him deference available to no one else.”