‘Smash Hits’ sells itself as a ‘popular music magazine’; it fits well into this self-proclaimed genre and creates its image through the codes, conventions, and generic signifiers of that genre. For example, bright, bold lettering-the red and white titles, almost like a stamp. Generic signifiers and genre in general are vital to both the magazine and its audience, the audience use genre as a means of segmenting and recognition in the crowded magazine market. Genres, signifiers, codes and conventions are all used to make a product recognisable to its audience and as a guide to a magazine’s style and content.
The institution of magazines use genre as a basis for creating a magazine’s formula, taking genres that in the past have proved successful and adapting this formula to suit the needs of the magazine, a variation of the established theme. This way, the magazine is pleased, (a successful formula usually makes a popular magazine), and the audience is pleased as their consumer ‘needs’ will be met if they buy into a genre they know they have previously enjoyed. The front cover of a magazine is its primary signifier and main advertisement and therefore that single page has to be representative of the magazine as a whole.
All of the ‘Smash Hits’ covers feature a pop band or star as their main image. The females (or more precisely, girls) tend to be blonde and giggling. Whereas the boys either smile cheekily or adopt a ‘sexual gaze’. All of the stars gaze ‘out’ of the picture and at the reader. There is also a list of main features down the left hand side of the page. All three covers examined are very similar in both style and content, each with an almost identical layout. Whatever changes that do appear are few and subtle. Audiences not only influence, but also have the ability to control the magazine and its style.
This layout and formula obviously works, and so it must continue in order to meet audience expectations and, in turn, maintain sales -‘profit is king’. In relation to representation, the magazine knows exactly who its target audience is, and gives clues to this by the submission or omission of people, races, cultures and lifestyles. The magazine includes, white, young and childish pop stars with ‘perfect’ bodies and immature behaviour. These ‘impossible templates of beauty’ appeal to the young, teenage, white, middle-class, heterosexual audience as they seem to admire and relate to those featured in the pages of ‘Smash Hits’.
‘Smash Hits’ is a mid-price magazine, at i?? 1. 25. It is affordable without being too cheap. The language of the magazine is obviously targeted at a younger, possibly less intelligent audience. It adopts a highly colloquial register and avoids both complicated lexis and syntax, it tries to be inclusive of the reader’s thoughts and opinions, addressing them directly, and speaking in the first person. It uses subject specific words and jargon to create an exclusive ‘Smash Hits’ language, which makes the reader feel part of the magazine, like it were a friend.
The contents page is brief (one page) and consists mostly of a list of regulars and ‘every issue’ section, illustrating that there is little change or variation between the issues, but rather adopts a ‘theme and variation’ style, running the same articles using a different pop star each week. Throughout the magazine, there are more pictures than text, and what text does appear is concise, divided into chunks and usually acts as anchorage for pictures. ‘Smash Hits’ usually appeals to younger teenagers. It acts as a sort of ‘bible of what’s cool’, teenagers tend to look to it for this weeks cool item, fashion, and celebrity gossip.
The audience either buy it regularly (every two weeks), when their favourite band appear, or when the magazines run an article of particular interest to them. The free gifts (CD’s, song words, toys) act to encourage ‘one-off buys’ and also help it to stand out from its competitors-of whom there are many, but non that deal specifically with popular music. Most teenage magazines have fashion spreads, problem pages, film and television stars and make-up columns. ‘Smash Hits’ has none of these, and maybe this is why its content is so restricted and repetitive.
As with most teenage magazines, the bulk of the space is devoted to advertisements and pictures, after all, it’s the advertisers (along with the audience) that fund the magazine, therefore their main obligation is to them. AUDIENCE. The ‘Smash Hits’ audience probably uses the magazine to fulfil a number of ‘needs’. The primary seeming to be, to gratify their requirement for gossip about the latest bands. Other ‘needs’ include, what to wear, the latest posters, make-up hints, what the stars are up to, or as I discovered in my research, simply finding the patronising tone and articles entertaining in their stupidity.
This is an example of the ‘uses and gratification’s’ theory; that is to say, the audience are active and not passive consumers of the magazine. Whatever messages that ‘Smash Hits’ offer can be taken on, disregarded or adapted by the audience depending on their individual beliefs. The audience, of course, are not one solid entity or crowd, but rather are fragmented and separated by both location and time. From my own personal investigation I have discovered many different approaches to the reading of ‘Smash Hits’. Some tend to read in groups of as much as ten people.
Flicking through the main articles and pictures until something catches someone’s eye. This could possibly lead to peer pressure if one member of the crowd has opposing views to the rest of the group, or if that group member falls into any of the magazines s invisible categories, such as, black, fat, or gay people. These members of the audience probably carry the most scepticism about the magazine but perhaps feel they have to ‘check it out’, and at least become familiar about this source of teenage conversation, creating some cognitive dissonance relating to the magazine.
Nearly all the teenagers that I spoke to read ‘Smash Hits’ more than once. Usually, with the above ‘flick-through’ first and then taking the magazine home for further reading. Some people in my study even admitted to reading the magazine three or four times to acclimatise, and fully assimilate them to the new material. They also use the magazine to ‘reality check’, that is, compare their ideas about the world with the magazine to see if they are ‘right’. Considering the message that ‘Smash Hits’ carries, this is worrying, ‘right’ ideas run the risk of being altered and changed due to lack of reinforcement.
The main articles are advertised on the front cover and are usually the first pages turned to. The magazine is almost never read in page order but flicked, skimmed and browsed through. A large percentage of the magazine’s audience use it as a guide to ‘what’s cool’ and to become knowledgeable of the fortnights current trends. Whether they take on these trends as ‘cool’ depends upon the reader’s personal tastes, which they carry with them as they read the magazine.
‘Smash Hits’ provides articles on ‘how to mimic your favourite star’, dress codes, phrases and sayings, templates to aspire to, which are almost impossible to mimic in their entirety, but if they are fragmented (which they often are) certain favourable aspects can be taken up by the reader. “I want sporty spice shoes”. Whether this ‘trying on of roles’ is a good thing remains to be seen, it is certainly a phase which great deals of teenagers seem to go through. It does promote and condition gender roles and this, I believe is bad.
However it gives the impression of reflecting its white, middle/lower class audiences interests, and its sales suggest it is being successful. The audience themselves are a market for the ‘Smash Hits’ product, and whilst the audience as a mass influence the magazine’s content through sales figures, they remain individuals, each reading at different times, in different orders, and each bringing their own set of beliefs to the magazine, choosing to either accept or disregard the different messages contained within the pages of ‘Smash Hits’ (a lot of teenagers I spoke to read the magazine with irony, and a hefty ‘pinch of salt’).
Whist the ‘Smash Hits’ message is decidedly sinister it is rarely taken as gospel but rather mocked by its readers. Throughout the magazine ‘Smash Hits’ adopts a number of discourses, depending upon the nature of the article, but as the bulk of the content is light hearted and shallow, as is the language. My survey suggests that the audience approach the magazine with a similar light, ‘tongue-in-cheek’ attitude, after all, the magazine is used by the audience to gratify a small (and superficial) number of every day ‘needs’.
The ‘Smash Hits’ message is negotiated by its readers, it is accepted, rejected or even adapted and all readings of the magazine are ‘active’ readings, each response to the text is an individual one. ‘Smash Hits’, along with the whole pop music magazine genre has very few competitors within the teenage market, they dominate if not control this market, which offers the teenage audience a very limited selection of magazines which are supposed to reflect their hobbies and interests. REPRESENTATION AND IDEOLOGY.
‘Smash Hits’ represents and reflects the world of popular music as ultra-clean, sugar-coated and filled with constructions of ‘ideal’, white, ‘fit’, young, attractive women and men, dressed and looking like ‘boys’ and ‘girls’. The magazine presumes the audience to be mindless (though this is not the case), young teenage girls with an agenda of fun, popular music, current trends, fuzzy lollipops, and child-like, sexually non-threatening ‘lads’. The bands, along with the pop industry, are sexually driven, offering attractive, yet musically vacuous bands of boys that neither write the songs, nor sing them live.
The audience is encouraged, if not expected to have a purely sexual interest in the band (they are of course, heterosexual). Girl members of bands are a feminist’s worst nightmare, passive, short-skirted, and with a constant computer-generated smile. These girls act as ‘big sister’ to the readers, someone to imitate and admire. All the boys are reduced and deliberately brought to the lowest common denominator, constructed as cloned sexual objects. ‘Smash Hits’ presumes its audience to be of limited intelligence and offers simple templates and constructions, encouraging stereotypes and segmentation.
These overly-idealised templates of beauty try to ingrain impossible notions of what it is to be beautiful, and offer solution orientated consumerism as the answer. It’s anti-feminist ideological constructions of what women should be, do nothing but try to limit the audiences ideas about female capacity, an encourage the need for male validation to be happy. The ‘Smash Hits’ and pop formula is so rigid that there is little margin for change. It offers no moral ideologies as such, but is happy with setting young girls forth on the long road to ‘housewife’.
It is superficial in the extreme, operating on the most basic of levels. Safe boys with no sexual urges fill the near identical weekly issues; this safe, placid style encouraging (if not the first stages of conditioning) ‘socially acceptable’ behaviour such as, nice boyfriends, sensible, fashionable, ‘feminine’ clothes, make-up and cooking. The total omission of any elements of diverse society is inexcusable, ‘Smash Hits’ in it’s construction of the world as totally white, able-bodied, young, healthy, attractive and slim, offers its audience a vast misrepresentation of the world, basically, a lie.
The magazine has a totally restricted idea about its audience’s interests, with no mention of education, academic or otherwise, it totally excludes the wider world, it is completely ethnocentric and westernised, talking only of physical rather than mental needs and consumerism. Unlike a lot of its competitors ‘Smash Hits’ does not include any problem pages or relationship advice, this helps to keep the magazine firmly superficial, yet many pseudo-sexual references are made, calling boys ‘totty’ and ‘snogable’.
‘Smash Hits” is sort of the step before other magazines such as, ‘Just 17’, ‘sugar’, and ‘bliss’, ‘Smash Hits’ talks about sex but expects the audience not to be having it. The advertising within the magazine consists mostly of half page adverts for new songs or bands, the rest deal with other ‘teen’ issues such as, feminine hygiene, soap operas, film and television, clothes and snack food. In terms of representation, most of the people featured in the adverts are young, white and have some involvement in pop bands.
This reflects the audience interests, the rest of the adverts are ‘ring-and-win’ phone lines, offering mobile phones, gadgets and videos as prizes. Most products advertised are inexpensive costing i?? 2/3, fitting well within the confines of weekly pocket money. Yet these adverts are the beginnings of training the ‘shopping habit’, and introduce ‘false needs’ to a very young audience. There are also some adverts for more expensive items like’ watches, jackets and shoes, these can be saved up for, or something to hassle mum for-‘pester power’ in training.
The people in charge of ‘Smash Hits’- those who decide what interests teenage girls, are definitely not teenagers themselves, but rather white males (as in most teenage magazines). There are a few female reporters and a female editor, but the people at the very top are still male (see content analysis). It is this team of mostly males that decide on the contents of ‘Smash Hits’. They have to write about, reflect, and influence the readers, and generally try to address an audience they probably have little experience of. In my eyes, not only is this non-representational but a misleading if not bizarre practice.
Whereas teenagers can sometimes be forgiven for their adolescent, gender-stereotyped behaviour, middle-aged men should know better! Overall ‘Smash Hits’ believes itself to have a very limited audience with limited interests. In fact the magazine makes up a very small part of their lives. Its lack of any moral stance may be due to its young readership, protecting their innocence, but in the same breath they offer up sexual stereotypes, make templates, teach passive, cute girls, covered in glitter, how to get the harmless boys.
This in itself is an ideology. The first stages of feminine conditioning: housewife training in print. ‘Smash Hits’ is everything wrong about modern teenage girls. Teaching ‘white is normal’, ‘thin is good’, and ‘attracting boys is your primary objective’. There is no mention of education, career aspirations or encouragement for mental of spiritual development. DURATIONAL CHANGE. Throughout the three issues of ‘Smash Hits’ that I have looked at, there seems to be little change in its generic formula.
The magazine has developed over time, a consistent and rigid set of codes and conventions resulting in an overall formula. This loyalty to convention pleases both advertisers and audience alike, as they have both made some sort of investment in the magazine, and they want to know that their expectations of the magazine will be gratified. Any change of formula could risk a loss of audience or advertisers, which means reduced profit. Any changes that do occur are subtle and come in the form of gradual alterations to less popular items.
Across the three issues, the general style and content of the magazine remains familiar, running items and features, all with the same style or theme, but with slight variation, e. g. asking identical questions to different pop stars and bands. This seems to be a popular feature as it has been running for many years. Perhaps the audience find comfort in the magazine’s predictability? Any large-scale change to this consistency could disrupt the safe, superficial and symbiotic relationship between the magazine and its readers.
The idea of ‘theme and variation’ (that this, and a lot of other magazines seem to adopt) is a safe and predictable method of gaining new material from a seemingly expired resource, and also ensure that the articles remain within the strict confines of the genre, and meet well with audience expectations. Little change in turn means little risk, the ‘if it ain’t broke don’t fix it’ mentality in action. The advertising contained within ‘Smash Hits’ reflects a similar predictability; low budget adverts, almost entirely from record companies promoting bands or songs.
After all, without the pop industry there is no ‘Smash hits’. The magazine and the charts go hand-in-hand, both helping each other. To the pop industry ‘Smash Hits’ is a promotion vehicle for their products, using it to launch and promote new bands. In return, the industry gives the magazine stars to both interview and print posters of, thus filling the magazine. Therefore, any change in the music industry is reflected in the pages of ‘Smash Hits’. Change comes from record sales, which are also controlled by the audience (or so we are led to believe).
In this respect, the magazine has to change at a fairly quick pace; pop bands aren’t renowned for their long shelf-life after all. Sometimes sudden changes in chart music such as, the introduction if ‘indie’ music into mainstream charts in 1995 (where bands that actually play instruments became momentarily popular), cause a sudden and vast change in magazines like ‘Smash Hits’ One of the issues came with a ‘free’ CD. To the readers this is simply a gift, an incentive to buy the magazine. However, this again is just another promotion device from the record companies, a hi-tech advert.
‘Smash Hits’ doesn’t really need to change it’s generic formula, over the years it has built up and perfected a body of ‘teen’ orientated codes and conventions that successfully appeal to the uses and gratification’s of the younger audience. When this audience eventually gets older, and outgrow the magazine, they may ‘migrate’ or ‘evolve’ towards another magazine. Yet, there will always be a next generation of pre-teen, pop addicts waiting for ‘Smash Hits’ to reach them. As long as ‘Smash Hits’ adapts its content along with the current musical trends it will remain a successful magazine.
SUMMARY AND EVALUATION. Overall, it seems to me that ‘Smash Hits’ has a lot to answer for, and for a number of reasons. Firstly ‘Smash Hits’ presents itself as ‘light-hearted’ and ‘fun’, offering its readers ‘100% pure pop! ‘ (in its own words). However, the message carried within the magazine constructs a very different agenda. ; one of ‘pure triviality’, one of commercially constructed images and words that amount to a worrying mix of ideologies, impossible templates of youth that construct the teenager as, slim, white, attractive, heterosexual and superficial.
This of course is not the social reality, the magazine has rendered whole groups of people ‘invisible’, and so the magazine is severely lacking in representational terms. Omitting all forms of cultural, sexual and physical diversity. This blatant misrepresentation of our diverse society, put bluntly, is a lie. It is Elitist and acts as literary segregation of those outside the white ‘norm’. Teenagers stepping out into the world may be fooled into the belief that this ‘Arian reality’ is a correct representation; this could cause some definite social damage.
Thirdly, ‘Smash Hits’ serves no educational purpose, but rather constructs and presents everything in its most basic form. It offers no moral of ethical guidelines, but in their place presents a set of mindless distractions, encouraging time-consuming obsessions with industry-produced bands that are little more than carefully constructed sales pitches, and the need for self-validation by a male (boyfriend). Unfortunately, ‘Smash Hits’ sales suggest that it is very popular, and an audience wouldn’t buy it if they didn’t enjoy its content.
This may be due to the painfully limited ‘teen’ market of magazines. If you don’t buy ‘Smash Hits’ then your money goes on a clone of it. All ‘teen’ magazines tend to follow the same superficial, trivial generic formula of limited constructions. ‘Smash Hits’ acts as a spring board into the world of fashion, boys, makeup, and passive ‘feminine’ behaviour, a world constructed by male patriarchy. If ‘Smash Hits’ represented black people the way it represents teenage girls it would surely be banned.
However, I’m not calling for censorship, but for a breakthrough and definite change in this dated formula that seems to pre-date any sort of equal rights movement. Finally ‘Smash Hits’ presents a very two-dimensional view of the world, offering no new, exiting or challenging ideas to a young, fresh, and keen audience. Nothing is questioned or debated, instead the utmost is done to maintain a ‘socially acceptable’ equilibrium, it fully participates in helping to construct an illusion of a perfect, organised, mono-cultural world, and seems to have no moral or ethical problem in doing so.