In junior high school my uncle bought me a subscription to Rolling Stone for my birthday, and I read its bimonthly pages like they were the gospel of popular music. Rolling Stone was the end-all authority on music, the paper of record for music journalism: it didn’t seem to decide so much as know what was good. There’s a reason I felt this way at the time. Rolling Stone has lost most of its cultural significance, but it somehow remains a powerful brand. Even Pitchfork, which is much more influential among millennials, doesn’t hold the kind of brand-cache that Rolling Stone does. Shel Silverstein wrote the song “The Cover of Rolling Stone” for Dr. Hook & the Medicine Show in 1973; can you imagine Travis Scott celebrating a front-page Pitchfork article in song form, or Kurt Vile crooning about getting an 8.4 rating?
Although Rolling Stone seemed to be the definitive authority in the music world, I remember that I began to get irritated when I noticed its coverage trends. Rolling Stone remains a magazine made largely by and for baby boomers, with predictable results: any scrape-the-vaults alternate-take six-disc dump from Bowie or Bruce or Bob Dylan gets five stars, while the cap for contemporary artists is generally four stars (broken, to my memory, only by Kanye during the time I was subscribed). As far as that coveted cover, the magazine alternates between canon figures like those five-star Bs and current celebrities that will sell copies; so instead of Kendrick Lamar or Grimes, you get Ke$ha and Jimmy Fallon. Even Beyoncé hasn’t had a Rolling Stone cover since 2004; the most fertile artistic period of her career has been snubbed on its cover, perhaps because Rolling Stone overwhelmingly tends to give covers to white women wearing very little clothing (Katy Perry, Megan Fox, Miley Cyrus, the Gossip Girl actresses, etc.). Rolling Stone offers, honestly, embarrassingly bad coverage of current music; and this becomes not only an era problem but also a race and gender problem when you look at the contemporary artists that are wholly ignored on the cover and given only cursory notice in the reviews section.
SPIN Magazine saved my music fandom. I eventually stopped getting my music journalism in print, and moved onto (free) online publications; but before this I got SPIN every month, and it offered just what I had been missing with Rolling Stone. It was attentive to what was actually happening in contemporary music, in indie rock, rap, electronic and all kinds of hybrid genres. I found out about weirdos I might never have from Rolling Stone: EMA, Danny Brown, St. Vincent, Fucked Up.
It has also performed, before my eyes, a compellingly unpredictable metamorphosis. It was a monthly publication when I subscribed in 2010, but by 2012 it was publishing only once every two months. SPIN tried to sell this change as a reinvention of its form; it was bigger, made out of thicker paper, with huge pictures and more long-form pieces. I was annoyed at its reduced frequency, but the new editions were kind of cool; more like coffee-table fashion periodicals than simple music reports and reviews. This new approach only lasted four issues. After Sleigh Bells, Waka Flocka Flame, Wavves, Best Coast and finally Azealia Banks had graced the cover, I was told by letter that SPIN had ceased print publication and that my subscription had been transferred to Car and Driver. “I know we can’t replace the insight and passion that SPIN delivered to music lovers,” the letter read. “But we can promise that Car and Driver will provide that same insight and passion for cars.” What stings even more is that I gave away the Azealia Banks one — the last print edition of SPIN ever — to a girl I liked at the time.
SPIN survived as a website, but half the staff was cut when print was axed, and the website seemed for a long time on the verge of extinction; coverage was slim, and reviews were often posted days after an album was released. In the past year or so, though, SPIN has found new footing as a catch-all pop culture site, with a glut of articles on everything from general music coverage to politics (with an understandably partisan approach) and even some TMZ-type gossip. I’ve returned to reading it regularly after a few years away. While it used to provide a refreshingly current alternative to Rolling Stone’s stodgy and outdated coverage, I find that now it provides an alternative to Pitchfork’s own brand of self-seriousness (the featured article on Pitchfork as I write this is, incredibly, “Pitchfork to Review Key Albums From the Notorious B.I.G.”).
SPIN seems to have learned something during its death-spiral. It’s re-emerged from its own ashes as a new kind of bird, one that doesn’t limit itself to the latest Dirty Projectors album, but tackles news stories and offers political and cultural criticism. Today, when even entertainment choices feel weighted with political significance — and to settle for cheap escapism is a cop-out — SPIN makes its entertainment political and its politics entertaining. SPIN, you won me back. Please don’t send me Car and Driver again, though.
Jack Jones is a junior in the College of Arts and Sciences. He can be reached at [email protected]. His column Despite All the Amputations runs alternate Thursdays this semester.