Look, it hasn’t been a great couple of years for democracy or corporations making decisions for the rest of us plebs, so of course People Magazine’s 2017 choice for their annual Sexiest Man Alive issue would be beyond bollocks. Blake Shelton is the human embodiment of the song Settle For Me from Crazy Ex-Girlfriend. He is that one deputy manager at your local gas station who seems way too interested in the placement of the condoms. He’s that jerk who brings an acoustic guitar to every social occasion. In a year where Taika Waititi is wearing fruit patterned clothing of every brand, Mahershala Ali won a super-fine Oscar and the three Chrises who matter are at the top of their game, picking Shelton is a disheartening reminder that we’re all going to die soon.
This is hardly the worst decision People have made on this front, but it is indicative of how they do business, because there are clear and reasonably sensible reasons they picked Shelton for this prize.
People are the biggest magazine in the celebrity gossip world, and they got there by having impeccably maintained relationships with stars and their publicists. If a story is confirmed by People, the chances are it’s true because they’d never seek to jeopardise that partnership by printing lies. They thrive on strong covers and whatever they can market as ‘exclusive access’, be it an interview or photoshoot or peek around a star’s home. This stuff is immensely appealing to their demographic, which is pretty much exclusively women but also mostly white and over the age of 35. The women who buy the magazine during their weekly shop and don’t consume much else in terms of gossip or industry chat really won’t care about a star on the cover who isn’t someone they would instantly recognise, although it is notable that in lieu of major A List access, magazines like People are turning more towards small-scale reality stars like the HGTV personalities - once again, warm, personable, very white, and also very straight.
People pick their Sexiest Man Alive based on some key decisions: Who is popular with their target audience and the current pop culture landscape, who is available to commit to the interview and photo-shoot, and whose publicist hustled the hardest for this gig. The vast majority of men who have won this prestigious honour have been actors, but not exclusively as shown by figures like David Beckham and Shelton’s co-judge on The Voice, Adam Levine. They are often stars of the moment but they prefer that classic mould of sex symbol, the kind that never goes out of style and only gets better with age, as seen by two-time winners George Clooney and Brad Pitt.
It’s less about sex appeal than it is the platonic ideal of a handsome man to that target demo, hence why they’re white, pretty benign presences who are ready for the big movie poster, but the majority are also married or in long-term relationships with a female partner. They can’t just be handsome: They have to be ‘safe’.
Blake Shelton is a judge on a very popular TV show, he’s sold millions of records and has dedicated fans in the country world, he’s non-threatening, and crucially, he’s in a relationship with someone as famous as himself. His partnership with Gwen Stefani has raised some eyebrows, including those of our own Courtney, but with good reason: It’s the opposites-attract tale, but with complete commitment to letting everyone know they’re in love. These are celebrities who know the rewarding social capital of having a ready-to-print relationship for the front page. Look at the cover: The pull-quote is him talking about Gwen.
The chances are his publicist hustled hard for this (well-timed to come out as his latest album drops). It’s good business to be seen as the ladies’ choice, as limiting as their scope of womanhood tends to be. The interview emphasises his life as a step-dad to Stefani’s kids, which can’t hurt in terms of public image. What’s better than a doting boyfriend? Try one who likes your sons!
Look, I keep telling you all that understanding celebrity gossip is a crucial part of media studies and navigating the treacherous world outside, and there’s no better use than to provide context for this distressing fake news.
Like, seriously People, Idris Elba was right there!