Hillary Clinton and Beyonce during a Get Out The Vote concert at Wolstein Center on November 4, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
Hellooo, end-of-the-year internet perusers! How many best-of-2016 lists have you read today? How’s your panicked last-minute online shopping going? On a scale of 1 to 10, how would you rate your creeping existential dread, especially in tandem with the knowledge that the Gregorian calendar is an arbitrary, meaningless way to mark the passage of time, and there’s zero logic in thinking the year we call 2017 will be less traumatizing for any of us in any way than the year we called 2016?
Yes, this is how I get into the holiday spirit: Lots of ranting, with brief intermissions for eating baked goods and wishing I had some of whatever Nobel Prize winner Bob Dylan is on in the “Must Be Santa” video.
But I digress. The fact is, many things happened in 2016 that simply cry out for a good rant. Several of these fall under the category of “proof that sexism and misogyny are alive and well in America.” Some of the events in that category are both vast and well-trodden territory, and touch on issues that will, over the next four years, affect half of Americans’ access to health care, right to equal pay, right to not have their body parts grabbed by an elected official, etc. Sigh. I got tired just writing that sentence.
I know, I know. Rolling Stone hasn't been relevant for (depending on whom you ask) five to 30 years. The print magazine has been shrinking seemingly exponentially over the past decade; in September, Jann Wenner chose to turn over a top editorial position to his kid -- as opposed to, you know, someone with experience. And then there was that whole incredibly unfortunate possibly fabricated cover story. And the retraction. And the lawsuit.
But beyond that, I'm almost impressed by the degree to which Rolling Stone's music coverage these past few years has sounded like -- forgive me -- a broken record. Did you guys know that the Rolling Stones were still a Very Important and Edgy Rock Band? How about Springsteen? The Beatles? I realize some of these artists are kind of esoteric, off-the-radar, if you will. It's my job to know them, I'm a music journalist! You can look 'em up later.
Perhaps I shouldn't have been caught off-guard, then, by the overwhelming wave of obliviousness that showed itself when it came to my attention that not a single cover of the biweekly music, politics and pop culture magazine has been devoted to a woman since Nov. 19, 2015, when the cover story was about Adele. The one almost-exception to this glaring offense is the March 24, 2016 cover, which Hillary Clinton shared with Bernie Sanders for a cover story with the headline "Hillary vs. Bernie: American Politics at Its Best." (Also: really?)
Setting aside for now the implications of an entire editorial staff at a major national entertainment outlet wherein not a single person thought to check if maybe they'd bothered putting a female entertainer on the cover in the past year, I have some suggestions for how things might have gone in a better world. A fairer world. A world where something like bragging about sexual assault on video might be considered a substantial enough setback to --
Sorry. That's been happening to me a lot lately. Here are five women who should've appeared on the cover of Rolling Stone in 2016 (as opposed to none).
1. Beyoncé. I know, you're sick of her -- there was Black Power imagery at the Super Bowl, then Lemonade dropped and immediately broke approximately 17 sales records; then she spent the rest of the year touring non-stop, punctuated by blowing everyone else out of the water at the VMAs. Then there was that whole Country Music Awards-Dixie Chicks controversy, which began, mind you, when the Country Music Awards invited Beyoncé to perform the legitimate country song that appears on her record-breaking album.
You know what happens when a pop culture figure seems to be so on top of the world that you can barely stand the sight of them anymore? They get a Rolling Stone cover. That's how it should be. Ask Kim Kardashian, the second-to-last woman to be featured on an RS cover, in July 2015.
2. Any woman in comedy. Hey, have you heard? It's a great time for women in comedy. This is a sentence that all entertainment news outlets seemed contractually obligated to publish in the year 2016, regardless of context. From Broad City to Amy Schumer to Ali Wong to the four stars of the much-heralded, incredibly unnecessarily controversial Ghostbusters reboot to founding mothers Tina Fey and Amy Poehler, if there's one thing I've learned about women in comedy, it's that now is a really great time for them. Leslie Jones, in particular, has been having a really, really great time.
Apparently not good enough for a Rolling Stone cover, though. Pass me that one about James Corden, Aug. 24, 2016.
3. Kesha. One of the most compelling pop music stories of the year is also the saddest: Since 2014, the pop star has been entrenched in a highly public battle to get out of her contract with producer Dr. Luke, whom she alleges in a lawsuit "sexually, physically, verbally, and emotionally abused [her] to the point where [she] nearly lost her life." Taylor Swift, Lady Gaga, and other celebrities have all donated money to help with her legal fees. In February 2016, a New York judge denied an injunction that would have allowed Kesha to record music outside of Dr. Luke's Kemosabe Records (which lies under the umbrella of Sony Music). Come summer, unable to record new music -- she's supposedly sitting on 30 new songs -- she did the next best thing: she hit the road for the aptly named "F*ck the World" tour.
While it's true that Kesha likely isn't doing interviews for legal reasons, that doesn't mean the editors of Rolling Stone couldn't have made the decision to put her on the cover anyway -- thereby shining an unambiguous light on the very real issue of sexual assault in the music industry, not to mention the myriad problems the case lays bare about the outdated contract standards under which so many artists suffer. Rolling Stone puts people on the cover who weren't interviewed for the main story all the time: just ask Kurt Cobain. (Yes, Maura Johnston, for whom I have great respect, has been covering the Kesha story for the magazine. But the cover star they chose for the Feb. 25, 2016 issue, immediately following the injunction, was Coldplay's Chris Martin.)
Come to think of it, it'd be kind of anachronistic, but we could all really use a Simone Biles cover right about now, Rolling Stone. Just a suggestion. It'd be hell of a lot more fun to see in the grocery checkout aisle than this Olympian.
5. Hillary Goddamn Clinton. As previously mentioned, Clinton may have lost her bid for the presidency, but she did win one honor in 2016: the only woman to appear on even one half of one cover of Rolling Stone. For contrast, the past 16 months have seen Sanders also get the full-cover-profile treatment (Dec. 3, 2015), while Donald Trump got two (Sept. 24, 2015, and in cartoon form, March 10, 2016).
Of course, I will acknowledge the possibility that Clinton did not want to sit for an interview with Rolling Stone. I will also point to: that doesn't matter, this was the most dynamic and unbelievable presidential election cycle in modern history, and also, see Kurt Cobain, above.
Here are a few more examples of covers that do not reflect major feature interviews with the subjects of said cover photos:
So. What have we learned this year, aside from the fact that women are still seen as less than human by many, many people, and that the work they do is consistently deemed less significant than comparable work by their male counterparts, and that that vantage point is reflected back to us day in, day out thanks to our institutions, from the workplace to the entertainment industry on up to our highest levels of office?
Good question -- especially considering at least half of us already knew that. Maybe next year someone will publish a big magazine story about it! And hey, Rolling Stone: If you wanna stick with the Baby Boomer theme for the cover, I recommend Madonna.
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