Before the wonders of the internet meant we could all look at pictures of Britney Spears’ labia whenever we wanted, pop magazines like Smash Hits provided a valuable outlet for obsessive pop fans, hungry for morsels of information about their favourite stars.
In the newly released book Pop Life: Inside Smash Hits Australia 1984-2007, former Smash Hits employees David Nichols, Marc Andrews and Claire Isaac take a behind-the-scenes look at the rise and fall of Australia’s biggest pop magazine, and its impact its devoted readership.
“It’s funny to think, in this age of Facebook and Twitter, that a magazine could have such an impact, but it was your one source of information,” Andrews, who read Smash Hits in the ’80s before serving as the magazine’s editor from 1992-95, said.
“Every fortnight you’d rush to your newsagent to read about your favourite pop stars
“Especially for gay teenagers growing up, there was a lot in Smash Hits. For me, growing up in Queensland, gay magazines were banned by the Literary Classification Board.
“The only positive messages that reached me were from people like the Communards, Boy George or Pete Burns in Smash Hits — these fabulous creatures who’d show you that there is another world out there where you can be free and be who you want to be.”
Isaac, features editor from 1992-95, also parlayed her intense fandom into a job at the magazine. As she tells it in Pop Life, the girl who’d stalked Duran Duran as a teenager suddenly found herself being paid to interview her idols.
“All of the people working on Smash Hits were very into it, and we were all fans. We knew our place in the musical landscape. Smash Hits was about putting the readers right there with the pop stars, and taking them along for the ride,” she said.
“We weren’t trying to be cool and find out how they got that bass sound on track three of the album — we were more like [breathlessly], ‘How do you make your hair stand up like that?’
But for Isaac in particular, the job came with a downside — namely, a barrage of hate mail from the magazine’s readership of hormonal teenage girls, seething with jealousy that she was hanging out with Robbie Williams, Peter Andre et al.
“I can totally understand it: I must’ve absolutely shitted them off. At the time I thought I was acting as their little view into that world, but I was also rubbing their poor little noses in it without really meaning to!” she laughed.
Reading Pop Life, you get a real sense that the trio were around for the final days of pop’s Roman Empire, before falling circulations and illegal downloading bled so much money out of the music industry.
One telling and hilarious passage in the book shows how far record label-supported reader competitions had slid by the magazine’s end: in the early ’90s, a Smash Hits competition winner could expect to be flown to Paris to spend a weekend hanging out with their favourite band on tour. By the early 2000s, it was pizzas in the local record company boardroom with Australian Idol’s Rob ‘Millsy’ Mills.
“First to go were music magazines, and then the next domino to tumble were record companies. In the ’80s and early ’90s we were given trips all over the world,” Andrews said.
“I was flown to London for a week and Claire went to Miami for a fortnight. It was all standard practice for pop magazines. Then just 10 years later it was nowhere near as glamorous or exciting — the writing was on the wall.”
While the magazine itself is long gone, Andrews admitted that he and his former co-workers haven’t lost their Smash Hits spirit.
“If you have a passion for something, you’ll never shake it. What was nice for David, Claire and me was that we were able to turn that passion into a career,” he said.
“The three of us come from very different areas, but together I think we’re the archetypal pop fans — there’s Claire, the deranged Duran Duran fan, there’s me, the gayboy trainspotter, then there was David, the indie fanzine kid who liked all these obscure English bands that no one had ever heard of.
“In a way, the three of us perfectly represented the readership of Smash Hits.”
INFO: Pop Life: Inside Smash Hits Australia 1984-2007 is out now through Affirm Press. www.facebook.com/SmashHitsAustralia