‘Music bible’ NME stops printing after 66 years

Clockwise from top left: The Slits, Alex Turner, Bowie, Rihanna, The White Stripes, Daft Punk.

What killed NME? For decades, the popular music magazine had the power to make or break bands. Now it has been broken in turn: as of next week, it will no longer print its weekly edition.

In 1952, the year the Queen ascended the throne, a failing magazine called Accordion Times and Musical Express was relaunched as the New Musical Express. Over the decades, NME became the UK’s best-selling music publication. It shaped the public’s taste in rock and pop — and even influenced the music itself.

This week’s issue will be the last. NME’s circulation had dwindled to a fraction of its peak by 2015, when it was relaunched as a free paper. Yet the boost in advertising revenue was not enough to keep the magazine going. The website will continue to run.

NME drew followers with its flashy covers, punchy interviews and bolshie criticism. It plugged everyone from The Beatles to Amy Winehouse. Before the internet, it gave many readers the only chance to see what their favourite bands looked like. The edgy, opinionated articles were written by journalists who often lived as wildly as the musicians they wrote about.

The magazine focused on guitar rock, spearheading movements like punk and Britpop — “NME band” even became a genre. But it sometimes branched out: in the late 1980s, it regularly covered hip hop. Recently, NME went more mainstream, stirring debate by putting stars like Justin Bieber on the cover; some say that this was its downfall.

The truth, according to The Guardian’s music critic Alexis Petridis, is more complicated. The internet lets us listen to almost anything for free, and Petridis argues that music tastes have become “less tribal” as a result. Genres are looser than ever, and everyone is into a bit of everything. The days when NME could thrive by championing specific movements are over.

Meanwhile, music has become less political. NME’s favourite bands, like The Clash and The Smiths, sang about social issues. In these tough times for the music industry, labels stick to safe artists like Taylor Swift. Pop and rock, Petridis writes, has become less rebellious, less relevant. It is no longer “‘the teenage news’ — the main means by which youth culture defines itself”.

Is he right?

Genre benders

For sure, say some. The age of “indie kids” and “emos” is over: genre is becoming fluid. Nowadays, music is best explored through eclectic playlists and specialist blogs. The internet lets us cultivate our own tastes and beliefs. We don’t need old-school bands and music magazines to tell us what to think.

Rubbish, reply others. At recent award shows, Stormzy and Kendrick Lamar demonstrated that protest music is alive and well. In fact, hip hop and R&B have emerged as the genres of our age. They show how music continues to shape and divide society. If NME had paid attention, rather than keep focusing on guitar rock, it might still be around.

You Decide

  1. Who is the greatest music artist of all time?
  2. Has the internet been good or bad for music?

Activities

  1. Write a review of a piece of music that you feel strongly about — whether you love it or hate it.
  2. Pen the lyrics to a song titled “End of an Era”.

Some People Say...

“You should never believe that art has any rules.”

Stormzy

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
Until this week, around 300,000 copies of NME were handed out in shops and stations across the UK. The idea was that a free publication would have a huge readership, and the magazine could therefore charge advertisers a lot. In its statement this week, however, NME’s publisher confessed that the advertising market is “very tough”. Alongside the website, the company will launch two new radio stations.
What do we not know?
Whether NME will survive as a digital-only platform. The publication claims that its online audience is growing fast, and that 13 million people visit its website each month. These are healthy signs. At the same time, some suspect that it is mostly read by nostalgic older readers and is struggling to stay relevant. Do you read it? Why (not)?

Word Watch

Accordion Times
In the 1930s, the UK went accordion-crazy, and this was one of the magazines that launched to cover the scene. When the craze died down, the publication changed its name and phased out its accordion coverage.
Bolshie
Rebellious and combative. The word is an abbreviation of “Bolshevik”.
Lived as wildly
The editor’s secretary later recalled that, on her first day in the office, she saw blackened spoons — for cooking drugs — in the kitchen.
Specific movements
Sometimes, NME journalists coined whole new subgenres, such as the short-lived “New Wave of New Wave” in the early 1990s.
The Clash
The punk band promoted left-wing causes, siding with revolutionary groups around the world. They heavily criticised the conservative politics of Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.
Tough times
In the first 15 years of the century, revenue in the music industry fell by around 40% as the internet spread and piracy took hold. More recently, revenue has risen again thanks to the boom in subscription streaming services.
The teenage news
The phrase was coined by writer Jon Savage.

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