You can see where GQ was coming from: now that the One Direction boys have entered adulthood (Harry Styles is 19) we can put them on the cover.
In the process, the big daddy of the men’s magazine market was no doubt hoping for a little rejuvenation of its brand and perhaps the sight of these youthful visages on the front page might even lower the average age of the readership – never a bad thing in the minds of advertisers.
More cynically it probably thought that by extending the project to a “collector’s edition” of five different covers (Niall, Liam, Louis and Zayn also had their own front), it could cash in on the obsessive fandom of the band’s army of “Directioners” and their famed hunger for owning anything associated with “1D”.
And why not film the photo-shoot and put it online? That way, the web site gq-magazine.co.uk could also benefit with an avalanche of traffic from the band’s followers, who seem to live their lives online. It started teasing Directioners by pushing out online alerts about its impending scoop: “two days to go…”
But Conde Nast, publishers of the magazine, appears to have lost control of its own stunt. In an article on its own site it spoke of “the most terrifying responses to our One Direction covers”. The website had “crashed” under the strain of the tsunami wave of responses from Directioners. “We weren’t quite prepared for how many tweets we would receive in such a short space of time,” it said. Some of the tweets “frankly had us fearing for our lives,” admitted the blog’s author, who sensibly opted for anonymity. The magazine’s high-profile editor, Dylan Jones, and the article’s author, Jonathan Heaf, might need to wear disguise for a few days.
The interview with Harry, despite being the subject of a supportive tweet from its subject, has not been well received by his devotees. Abusive tweets poured forth. “DO YOU REALIZE HOW MANY PEOPLE WANT TO CASTRATE THE PEOPLE WHO WORK FOR THIS SHITTY MAGAZINE,” was one of the more restrained. One Directioner responded to the magazine’s scoop with the ambiguous comment that she wanted to “stab myself in the uterus”.
And this is before the substance of the interview has been published. The initial vitriol has been based solely on a jokey cover line suggesting Harry is “up all night to get lucky”.What has GQ unleashed?
In an embarrassing development for Conde Nast in London, the American edition – the original Gentleman’s Quarterly that launched in 1957 – has distanced itself from its Limey cousin (launched in 1988). American GQ has published a blog in which it tries to limit the online flak by pointing out that “we’re two different magazines”.
Distinguishing its editorial approach from that of “our transatlantic brethren”, it reassures its readers that its own cover star is the 57-year-old Bryan Cranston, star of hit television show “Breaking Bad”, a classic GQ interviewee.
One Direction are stars of the September issue – a key edition in the calendar for magazine advertisers because it coincides with the start of the new fashion season. GQ would have been conscious that its rival, Esquire, had its own scoop in the form of a cover story with Kate Moss. In publicity terms, it has trumped its adversary – but at what cost?
Older GQ readers, who wish to appear smart and urbane, will surely be reluctant to be seen buying a magazine decorated by a boy band. And the Directioners – who are not a demographic that buys mags – appear to hate the whole idea.
For 1D fans this amounts to theft of their dreams and exploitation of their boys. An old people’s magazine is dragging “the lads” into adulthood and making the heretical suggestion that they are having sex.
I’m not sure that One Direction themselves have been well-advised here. You can see why a GQ cover might appeal to their individual vanities and put them on a level with their heroes. Harry and the others are probably tired of being interviewed by teen mags and blogs and crave being taken more seriously. But at this stage of their career – with their extraordinary international fan base - they don’t need British GQ to promote them and sell their music.
In that sense, GQ has achieved a coup. Only the longer-term circulation and online traffic data will tell whether this exposure to the wrath of the Directioners has blown the famous magazine off course.