Again, The Real People Are Questioning Who Gets To Choose The #SexiestManAlive
In the mid-1980s, popular magazine, People, was still at its infancy, greasing its Hollywood-human interest machine with support from supermarket shoppers focus groups. The cool kids of that time were apprising the burgeoning fanzine of their current obsessions and editors would then beam that intel to the magazine’s international bureaus, and dispatch far-flung stringers into the field.
Ultimately, a file would appear back in People’s offices containing semi-digested reporting on that week’s hot topics. A young writer at the time who went by the name of Michelle Green oversaw the dreary routine of rummaging the files for the good bits and creating beautiful stories out of them; stories aimed at sweetening up the checkout line.
A story is told of how one day in 1985 a news clerk dropped a file where People reporter David Wallace interviewed a disgruntled Aussie action star Mel Gibson at the set of Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome. With notes on Gibson’s regressive rants (“Don’t print that!) and backstories that included getting beaten regularly by Catholic schoolmasters, Green pirouetted Wallace’s reporting into a rare deconstruction of a young man “struggling to strike the pose of an international sex symbol while actually being a classic drunk”.
As if the story itself wasn’t unusual enough, she ironically ended the piece with,
And then the sexiest man alive slouches away, alone.
Ever since that article ran, People has assumed the god of sexiness status that has seen the publication undertake the annual task of naming the Sexiest Man Alive. One of the most successful franchises in the magazine’s history, the celebrity outlet has been trying to decode what women want or more aptly, who they want.
The task, though quite billing for the magazine, does not come backlash-free, because naming one singular person the Sexiest Man Alive has its challenges. I mean you can’t please everyone all the time and it can’t be denied that everyone’s idea and criteria for what makes a man “sexy” varies.
Past winners include Hugh Jackman (2008), Channing Tatum (2012), Chris Hemsworth (2014), David Beckham (2015), Dwayne Johnson (2016), Blake Shelton (2017) and Idris Elba for 2018.
Upon his crowning, Elba humbly told People,
“I was like, ‘Come on, no way. Really?’ Looked in the mirror, I checked myself out. I was like, ‘Yeah, you are kind of sexy today.’ But to be honest, it was just a nice feeling. It was a nice surprise — an ego boost for sure.”
This week the tabloid unveiled its 2019 SMA and guess who they think got it… John Roger Stephens, known professionally as John Legend.
Unsurprisingly, the “Save Room” crooner was as shocked as anyone that he could snatch the most coveted title and he reacted to the announcement on Twitter by sharing a side-by-side photo of a spectacle-clad younger version of himself alongside last year’s pick, the muscular English action star Idris Elba, to illustrate his surprise,
“1995 John would be very perplexed to be following 2018 @IdrisElba as #SexiestManAlive. Hell, 2019 John is about as equally perplexed but thank you @People for finding me sexy. I’ll take it.”
For crying out loud, his model wife Chrissy Teigen wasted no time taking advantage of the occasion to churn out comedic content of her own.
“My secret is out. I have fulfilled my dream of having boned @people’s sexiest man alive!! an honor,”
she wrote alongside a photo of the annual issue’s 2019 cover, which depicts her 40-year-old hubby with one eyebrow raised as he buttons a dapper suit jacket.
In spite of the fact that People finds the King of Ballad the “sexiest man alive” at least for this year, TV presenter Wendy Williams was among many who disagreed.
“When I think about a sexy man I’m not thinking ‘John Legend”. The first thing I think of is that I weigh so much more than him and if we were walking down the street and somebody wanted to spray me with a water gun I need a man who’s gonna punch someone in the face,”
she said, adding that if the onus was on her she could have crowned Aquaman star Jason Momoa.
Twitter also couldn’t watch in mute while the #SexiestManAlive conversation was going. From being compared to Arthur the aardvark to being contrasted with Elba, a lot was said about John that pointed to his unfitting to assume the SMA status. Some, just like Wendy, even offered their own alternative options, from Will Smith to Keanu Reeves.
Others were quick to point out People’s past controversial choices, such as country singer Blake Shelton and Maroon 5 frontman Adam Levine, who nabbed the honour in 2013.
“All I’m saying is People magazine once crowned Blake Shelton sexiest man alive and they cannot be trusted,” one user wrote.
And some sensed a suspicious trend, noting that Legend, Shelton and Levine have all served as musical coaches on the singing competition television series “The Voice”.
“Does The Voice buy Sexiest Man Alive?” someone mused. “Three of the judges graced the cover. Adam Levine, Blake Shelton and now John Legend.”
Still, there were vocal fans who rooted for Legend by happily celebrating the announcement. Idris Elba built his successor back up after his self-deprecating acceptance tweet while giving a sarcastic shout-out to another widely accepted former Sexiest Man, Dwayne Johnson.
“My G. Congratulations brother!!! You deserve it. DO NOT TELL @TheRock. He still thinks he’s got the title, I didn’t have the heart to tell him when I took it.”
Johnson took the dig in stride, also penning a congratulatory message to the newest member of the sexy club, followed by a sassy comeback toward his “Hobbs & Shaw” costar, alleging that Elba paid his way to the crown.
Although a lot more attention has been given to making fun of John as the 34th Sexiest Man Alive, much of the controversy seems to come from the question of the criterion in determining the man of the moment. A batch of shockingly handsome and almost universally loved men — like Leonardo DiCaprio, Justin Timberlake, Tom Hiddleston, Keanu Reeves and Will Smith — have never been named Sexiest Man Alive. Why not?
Appearing on NBC News in 2010, People Managing Editor Larry Hackett, punctured the myths surrounding the annual decision.
“We know it has to be a mix of someone who’s hot but well-known. Not too young, not too old and somebody who, frankly, maybe we haven’t thought of. Sexy certainly has to do with someone being good-looking and has to do with a certain kind of romantic, flirtatiousness physical appeal that may be beyond just academic appreciation of the way they look. We want some mystery in our sexiness.”
Apparently, People spend months holding the SMA discussions, as well as conducting focus groups and other research to zero in on its eventual pick. And with good reason, any cover is a high-stakes gamble that can cost a magazine millions in revenues.
“A lot comes down to the photo,” Hackett added. “This person looking at you, literally looking at you, making eye contact. … At that moment of transaction, conception, the buyer, the woman has to say, yeah, that’s it.”
Nine years ago, the magazine took a chance by putting Matthew McConaughey on the cover. Hackett said that although he didn’t fit the kind of mould that they were using and not necessarily somebody with big-top box-office pictures, it was his sense of humour and seemingly “good-natured guy” style that worked the magic. As it turns out, the McConaughey issue is still People’s third-best-selling “Sexiest Man Alive” edition.
In another defence, Julie Jordan, a senior writer with the publication, told the press in 2012 that they “watch these guys over the year,” and someone always bubble to the surface.
“It’s a matter of looking at the whole entire year,”
she said, and as you might have guessed, she did mention that they also “pay attention to comments on People.com,” as well as ask “female celebrities” to pick their favourites.
The bottom line is, no matter how they execute it, it will forever be a contentious issue. Like, in a life with so many choices, how do you pick one?
It is so unfortunate that John Legend is the one catching the heat over the magazine’s ambiguous criterions. All things considered, I would like to issue a special congrats to Chrissy Teigen on fulfilling her dream. I can’t really contain that the social media connoisseur has since changed her Twitter bio to “currently sleeping with people’s sexiest man alive. Hilarious!