UNDERRATED / Teens have all the fun

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The Independent Culture
THERE are some common misconceptions about Smash Hits that must be dispelled. Yes, this jaunty little rag serves as a happy diversion for 13-year-olds sitting at the back in double Physics. And it has been adopted in some quarters as a fashion accessory-cum-bible for twentysomething I D defectors (you can thank the still-pervading spirit of one-time editor and pop-ironist supreme Neil Tennant for that). But sit down and read the damn thing.

No other music organ has its limitless gusto, its brutal, snarling sarcasm, its throwaway wit. Have you noticed the dotty picture captions, one of the magazine's ongoing strengths? Or the blase way in which it simply lets bands shoot themselves in the foot, without recourse to snide journalistic weaponry?

The magazine is rarely mean-spirited. Its mischief is infectious but, crucially, it calls every shot. It rules its heroes with an iron rod and a compulsory bottle of baby oil. It has momentary respect for them - Take That are current candidates for canonisation, with Bad Boys Inc sniffing at their hides. But it never buckles beneath their celebrity. And therein lies its superiority over other cut-and-paste teen mags. It says to pop fans: treat your heroes as your equals - they are No Better Than You. For the green and easily swayed, this is priceless advice.

The interviews focus on drudging mundanity: what would Meat Loaf cook you if you went over for dinner? Is Grant from EastEnders embarrassed about advertising Fruit 'n' Fibre? ('At least it was regular', the obligingly aggreeable star deadpans). The pictures, laid as they are on a bed of colour that could prove hazardous for epileptics, are similarly offbeat, and frequently perceptive: no one else has drawn quite the same, well, femininity, from Take That's dainty Mark Owen. Just to ram the irreverence home, there's also a column devoted to fans' photos of celebrities snapped in tragic locations like launderettes and shopping malls.

It hit a high note by running words to the latest pop songs, exhaustively exposing every lyrical shortcoming. So you'll get 14 la's printed in the chorus of Blur's 'For Tomorrow', and every 'no no no no no no' that constitutes the profundity of 2 Unlimited's 'No Limit'. If the Beatles were charting with 'Happiness is a Warm Gun', you can be sure they'd list every cringing 'bang bang shoot shoot' of the song's backing vocals. It's just another example of the panache with which Smash Hits observes and savours pop music disappearing up its own behind. It enthuses, then it moves on.

Now, more than ever before, it is essential reading. The fruits of NME are rotting on the bough since snappy writing was replaced by snooty self-righteousness. Mojo is lofty, Select bitty and amateurish, The Face clueless, while poor old Melody Maker hasn't been able to get it up in years. For anybody possessed of even a fleeting lust for popular culture, Smash Hits, is your bible. Welcome to Planet Pop.

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