Not that anybody ever confused it with Scientific American, but I recall that it was once anointed the hottest publication in a hot category. In fact, in a story I wrote on the teen-mag category four years ago, the president of a since-shuttered magazine acknowledged that Teen People heralded the move away from the "oh-my-God-my-mother's-a-drunk-and-I-had-to-raise-my-brother-and-sister stories" that once dominated the genre.
So naturally, the first article I landed on after opening the Summer 2005 issue of Teen People was one in which somebody/something named JoJo discusses her "real-life drama." This was followed by Mario unveiling his "private pain" for all to see. Poverty? Divorce? Drug addiction? Ick!
I suppose that what Teen People is trying to tell us is that young celebrities are just like any other acne-bronzed teen, gosh darn it. But they aren't. You know why? BECAUSE THEY'RE CELEBRITIES. They have handlers and houses and baubles and boats. Thus Teen People's differentiating hook - which, according to a house ad in the summer issue, is to "let [teens] hang out with their favorite celebrities" - boasts all the authenticity of a street-corner Rolex, no matter how many "real-girl" concert fashion spreads it runs as an afterthought.
The Summer 2005 "Hot Music Issue" issue provides supposed celebrity access in any number of ways. Personalities like Kelly Osbourne offer their take on current tracks, while super-dreamy hunkboats like Usher, Jesse McCartney, and Bow Wow answer readers' questions about relationships. There's a section in which celebs discuss their most embarrassing moments (get this, kids - Hilary Duff once tripped!!!). Plus the hotter-than-Carolina-asphalt Carrot Top drops in to rate songs by TV actors. No, I didn't make that last part up.
Then there are the features, which find Kelly Clarkson attempting to prove that she's not a mass-marketed automaton and one of the Good Charlotte lads discussing the "sadness that follows [him] everywhere [he] goes." The "Up Close and Personal" section features a bunch of staged-looking candid shots of the Black Eyed Peas (currently challenging Crosby, Stills & Nash for the title of Worst Band in the History of Western Civilization) and a product-placement extravaganza cloaked as a NYC shopping jaunt with Amerie.
Does the magazine look good? Yeah, more or less, especially in the handful of font-shifting flourishes that pop up here and there. But there's little here that teens haven't seen before, in mags and elsewhere. And without some kind of distinguishing editorial or design hook, Teen People comes across as little more than a smattering of photos and exclamation points.
It's no secret that teen mags have been pretty much left for dead by the combination of video games, the Internet, text-messaging, and even activities that involve actual in-person human interaction. Even so, my final thought upon closing the summer 2005 Teen People was that I hope somebody has pre-paid the mag's funeral expenses. It touts stale trends, hypes bands that have long since cooled, and speaks down to its readers as if they were drooling, unblinking dullards. It's hard to think of anything less relevant on the newsstand today, for this or any other audience, and that's saying a lot.