Loaded has ditched the raunchy covers - but is it time for the men's magazine to just let go?
The leading men's magazine of the Nineties has rebranded as a glossy lifestyle title, with an agony aunt column from Julie Burchill, a nostalgia piece on "analogue porn" and an article on "the 90's worst cocaine casualties" all featuring in the latest edition
How must it feel to be entering middle age as a dedicated reader of Loaded, the magazine that spawned "lad culture" fully 20 years ago? The title that once outraged polite publishing and put the press in a spin with its distinctive humour and unashamed and drug-fuelled hedonism, recently re-launched with "all new content" and an "all new look".
In the latest edition, there's a piece on partying by Bobby Davro, an agony aunt column from Julie Burchill, a nostalgia piece on "analogue porn" and an article on "the 90's worst cocaine casualties". Another piece tackles the anxieties of "middle-aged dads whose heyday was the Nineties" as they come to the realisation that their dope smoking no longer has shock value. "Time to tune out and drop off to sleep – on the sofa with some green… tea," it concludes.
Each generation of British men seems to find it harder than the last to let go of its youth. The current cohort of male 40-year-olds is implored to settle down by parents who conceived them in their own heyday of the Glam Rock era. It's perhaps not surprising if they choose to remain lads to the grave.
Aaron Tinney, the new editor of Loaded, insists that it is "not a Nineties nostalgia magazine", but he acknowledges that he is "not sure that people in their early twenties buy magazines any more". So the title, given new life by Simian Publishing, is targeted at a demographic that stretches from 25 all the way to 55. "It's a mix of a little bit of harking back to the Nineties but also appealing to a younger readership," Tinney says.
He says that the "lads' mag" tag – such a feature of the late 20th-century British newsstand – doesn't sit right any more. Loaded is now "a men's lifestyle magazine, the same as GQ and Esquire", he claims.
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A former showbiz writer on The Sun, Tinney, who is 28, has begun his tenure as editor with some smart productions that include interviews with Pharrell Williams, Ray Winstone and Keira Knightley. Gone are the "girlie" pictures which Loaded binged on for years while trying to keep pace with younger and newer weekly versions of the lads' mag, such as Nuts and Zoo. He has hired Lia Nicholls, a former newspaper colleague who was editor of the Bizarre column at The Sun as his deputy and Loaded's first female editorial executive. It's "a sign" that it has moved on from the lads' mag era.
Despite Tinney's protests, the new Loaded drips with nostalgia. A "classic chats" feature wallows in the memory of interviews with Eric Cantona, Liz Hurley and Gary Oldman, who informed the pioneer of lads' mags that "acting's a bit like wanking".
Mike Soutar, a veteran of the men's publishing sector, says that readers of the new-look Loaded are "by and large people who have a long-standing affection for it". "If it's glorifying in its heritage," he says, "that might not be the worst media strategy. The previous generation of men had a shed, an allotment and a pouch of Old Shag."
Soutar, who publishes the men's title Shortlist, was editor of the lads' mag FHM when it was Britain's biggest-selling monthly, outselling Cosmopolitan and Good Housekeeping. As a publisher, he launched Nuts. But he says that the phenomenon of lads' mags "wore out its welcome really quickly". "They were like potassium – they burned incredibly brightly but for a far shorter time than anybody expected."
The latest Loaded features Martin Deeson, the magazine's original Gonzo journalist, re-hired as chief feature writer, interviewing Irvine Welsh, an icon of Nineties culture and a former Loaded contributor himself. Deeson compares Tinney to James Brown, the original "iconoclastic" Loaded editor, but admits that it's hard to recreate that Nineties humour. "We pioneered the fact that you could take the piss out of middle-class prudery masquerading as political correctness. After the 'golden years', the joke got lost and, to my mind, it just became offensive and unfunny."
But he argues that Loaded fans can proudly head into their dotage clutching their favourite read while watching its television equivalent. "Top Gear is risqué, irreverent and childish – and appeals to women with no interest in cars, just as Loaded appealed to women with no interest in footie, Dad's Army or crisps – they just loved the humour," he says. "If there's room for Top Gear to be one of the most popular shows in the world, why not for Loaded?"
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