In 2000, I graduated from college and moved to NYC (alright, fine, it was Brooklyn), where my first Real Adult Job was working as an associate editor for Teen Beat magazine. You know, sister mag to Tiger Beat? The one with the cheesy pullout posters and fact-sheets of meaningless trivia about "hunks" like River Phoenix and Christian Slater?I don't fully understand how I ended up there, either. I'd known, since I was 12 or so, that I wanted to write for magazines (that's entirely courtesy of Sassy mag -- thanks, Jane!). But I never planned to work at the fluffiest publication known to humankind; the opportunity came along, it seemed like good experience, and I grabbed it. Of course, I was into The Smiths and Bratmobile, not Pink, LFO or O-Town, so I felt like a fish out of water -- uh, just a bit.
Still, that weird world had its bright spots! Here's what I learned during my fateful year working in the teenybop trenches.THEY SAY "TEEN," BUT THEY TOTALLY MEAN "TWEEN."
Teen Beat was lying -- that mag was not for teens. It was totally targeted at that Awkwardest of the Awkward age range: you know, 12-13-ish, when most of us are squarely at the height of our pre-pubescent heinousness. (I'm kidding, dear reader; I'd never call you heinous, but I kinda was, in a totally cute and charming "awww, all the glasses and zits!" way.) Anyway, those 12- and 13-year-old girls were the kids reading my ridic articles about Christina Aguilera's celebrity crushes and Mandy Moore's favorite ice cream. This meant we had to skew really young and really earnest with our writing, and to never ever write naughty or snarky. NO MENTION OF THE SEX! EVER! No weird innuendos! No sly remarks about Justin's trouser-snake! We got really good at making things "flirty" instead of "sexy." ALSO! Along those lines, when I got hired there, I had to sign a contract promising I wouldn't sleep or fraternize with the talent we were meeting/interviewing/writing about. Everyone had to sign it, not just me, though one of my two office friends DID manage to make out with one of the guys from BBMak -- SCANDALOUS.BRITNEY SPEARS IS A GODDESS, AND 'OOPS I DID IT AGAIN' IS ONE OF THE BEST POP ALBUMS EVER RECORDED. I MEAN IT. LISTEN TO IT NOW.
Before Teen Beat, I didn't give a rat's butt about what was on the radio. I mean, I listened to Z-100 while I was getting dressed in the morning, but I didn't particularly like or care about any of those performers. I thought they were beneath me and my precious indie-rock sensibilities. (Argh -- I was insufferable.) Anyway -- Teen Beat taught me that I was SO, SO WRONG. There was a huge world out there of overproduced, painfully catchy, Splenda-sweet mainstream pop that I never would have caught on to otherwise -- and I grew to absolutely, 100 percent f*cking LOVE IT. I became insta-obsessed with Britney Spears -- this was when "Oops! I Did It Again" first dropped and, omfg, you guys, IT WAS LOVE. Mad, passionate love. I listened to that CD every day for months. I still remember every single lyric to every single song. And I still listen to that CD in my car all the time. I mean, "Lucky"!? Come on. Oh and thanks to Teen Beat, I got to see her perform (for free!) on that tour, too, which pretty much made my entire life.CHEESY POP MUSIC CAN CURE DEPRESSION.
OK, maybe not CURE it. But it can certainly help lift the spirits and lighten you up a bit. I think one of the reasons I glommed on to "Oops I Did It Again" so hard was because that record actually helped me feel better. Airier, but also somehow stronger (just like the song). As I've written here before, I've had issues with depression since high school, and lamely, nothing has really seemed to help in a long-haul way. So in my twenties, I was young, and sad, and drinking a lot, and pining for inappropriate people, and feeling sorry for myself for no good reason. Cheese-pop helped me through some of my darker moments that year. Not just Britney -- I also loved Mandy Moore (who I got to interview once! remember that song "Candy"?), and Christina Aguilera ("Genie in a Bottle" is genius, man). I even liked 98 Degrees for a second. And 'N Sync "Bye Bye Bye"? GET OUT. IT'S JUST TOO GOOD. Now I want to listen to all that stuff, like, right this second. Must make a Spotify playlist.TO BE A SUCCESSFUL AND HAPPY LONG-TERM EMPLOYEE AT ONE OF THOSE MAGAZINES, YOU HAVE TO BE GENUINELY OBSESSED WITH THE TEENYBOP TALENT YOU'RE WRITING ABOUT.
The weirdest thing about my Teen Beat experience was, well, some of my coworkers. At the time, Teen Beat was one of many similar sister mags (BOP, Tiger Beat, a long-dead offering called EntertainmenTeen) owned under one umbrella by a big media company, and the staffers at all the teen pubs shared one office. We even interviewed the celebrities together! The bulk of the editors at those magazines were in their forties and fifties, and pretty normal and straight-laced. They were decent human beings, and nice enough -- but the strange thing was that they knew pretty much nothing about music or pop culture that didn't have to do with tweens and Top 40 and genies in bottles. Sure, I grew to adore some of the stuff I was writing about (see above), but it wasn't MY WHOLE ENTIRE LIFE, you know? I didn't eat breathe sleep Joey Fatone. So I was taken aback, just a bit, by the intensity and the fervor of some of my fellow editors' passion for the acts we were covering. Hey, it's not a bad thing -- everyone should love what they do, right? In any case, we all got laid off in 2001 after a big restructuring. Sigh. My TB days live on in my memory.
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