What, exactly, is at the root of hipness? Art? Commerce? Culture?
The November-December issue of the Utne Reader takes on the mystery of hip. And while it doesn't give a definitive answer (if you have to ask, perhaps the price of hipness is too high), it does give insight to the increasing commodification of hip.
"Let Them Eat Lifestyle," by Tom Frank, documents the corporate science that goes into manufacturing and marketing hipness--from the Gap's raid on historic hip (Jack Kerouac in khakis) to Nike's use of "spirituality" as hip. In another piece, we get to meet Haysun Hahn, a New York trend forecaster who tells the suits what the kids are up to. Malcolm Cowley brings us back to the original, pre-World War II hip of Greenwich Village, and L.A. Weekly's Donnell Alexander asks, "Are black people cooler than white people?" (Answer: If you have to ask, you're probably not black.)
Swing magazine is an example of the anti-hip, a contrived glossy with some style but little substance. The magazine is the brainchild of David Lauren and features fashion advertising from his father, Ralph. Celebrating its third anniversary with an issue on "the most powerful people in their twenties," this is "the magazine about life in your twenties"--as the cover reminds readers each issue. The latest Swing also features advice columns ranging from "dealing with a nasty supervisor" to "if something happened to your parents, would you know how to handle their financial, legal, and medical affairs?"
Hip is Grand Royal, a fat, thoughtful magazine published by the Spike Jonze and the Beastie Boys (Mike Diamond, Adam Horovitz and Adam Yauch). Only Grand Royal would have the nerve to dedicate an entire issue to "Miami bass," the unheralded stepchild of rap music genres. And only Grand Royal could do it with love and devotion, giving readers a serious history behind the sound called "booty music" (think 2 Live Crew) and the subculture that surrounds it (think loud, booming car stereos and lascivious dancing). But wait, there's more: Every issue comes with a pop-up Jeep for the kiddies, complete with scaled-down woofers.
Dance music is hip (again), and Spin has been on it longer and harder than Rolling Stone. Although the underground dance music 'zines quip that Spin is helping to mainstream the dance scene in a bad way, the December issue goes far to erase that notion. Bjork is on the cover, Roni Size (a critical electronic sensation who has won the U.K.'s Mercury Music Prize) is profiled and several of America's best dance acts are featured in thumbnail sketches. Spin is in, but is rock out?
For an even healthier heaping of dance music, turn to the U.K., where Muzik magazine dominates the country's sizable dance music press with thick monthly issues chock-full of industry news, artist profiles and tons of record reviews from both sides of the Atlantic. This month, Muzik features an article on a designer drug (called PMA, or paramethoxyamphetamine) that is sweeping Australia's night scene and, in some cases, causing death.
Los Angeles' own Buzz magazine officially gives birth to its weekly edition at L.A. newsstands this month. Buzz Weekly gives readers a guide to arts and entertainment in L.A. and adds to a listings-publication market that is heating up. (Rumors have been flowing that TimeOut, a weekly arts and entertainment guide with editions in London and New York, is planning a Los Angeles version. A representative at TimeOut New York said "no comment.")
Remember BMX--bicycle moto-cross? It was the sport of racing small bicycles on off-road tracks--a sport that gave birth to mountain bikes. Now the original 20-inch bikes are back in a big way. Following the popularity of street skateboarding, much BMX-riding is done on urban streets. Stand-up tricks are done using wheel pegs, frame and handlebars--handling the bike almost like a skateboard. For an update on BMX's comeback, check out Ride BMX magazine. The December-January issue features contest coverage and photographs of freestyle riding.
Finally, we ask, is Redbook magazine hip? The editors debated over December's cover, which was to feature Pierce Brosnan with Keely Shaye Smith nursing their son, Dylan Thomas. Redbook decided that the nursing cover would head to the newsstand--to the tune of about 700,000 copies--while a non-nursing family portrait of Brosnan et al. would go to subscriber homes--to the tune of more than 2 million copies. A Redbook representative said the editors didn't want to force Smith's cleavage into subscribers' homes.
D. James Romero will survey magazines every four weeks. Next week: book reviews by Times readers.