Something rather odd happened to Smash Hits in the early-90s. Not only was there a redesign that made it look like they’d recently got a shiny new computer at the office, but, they’d just about run out of pop stars to write about. Around 1992/1993 you’d be more likely to see “Hollywood Hunks” on the cover like Luke Perry, Keanu Reeves, and Christian Slater, or TV presenters including Toby Anstis, Chris Evans and Andi Peters. What?!?!
And inside you’d be more likely to come across gossip about people in Home And Away than any interviews with star names. This was mostly down to the increasingly “faceless” amount of pop music around, with many enjoyable but here today-gone tomorrow anonymous dance acts filling up the singles chart with their rackets. Come back Rick Astley, all is forgiven. However, a letter from my sister was published in an issue around this time, so clearly all was not lost.
And in 1992, Number One closed and merged with Fast Forward, meaning that after nine years they had seen off their closest rival. One enjoyable feature around this time was “Oh No! Not The Biscuit Tin!”, where various people had to answer bizarre questions picked at random from the tin. Things picked up a little in the mid-90s when they tried to embrace Britpop, and all the major players made the cover including Blur, Oasis, and, er, The Bluetones, but was this really the place for them?
In 1997, there was a TV advertising campaign, with the phrase “100% Pure Pop”, which featured a young Billie Piper, who launched a pop music career of her own about a year later, and soon she was appearing on the cover herself. And by the late-90s, there was the Boy Band invasion. These rather bland and interchangeable characters received a line of questioning that strayed little beyond wondering who they were currently “snogging” (anything more probing than this was usually answered with “oh my god!”), which was usually accompanied by a big picture of them with their top off.
S Club 7, Steps, Westlife and the like practically alternated on the cover, weren’t there any other pop groups out there? Coming into 2000, and I was in my mid-teens at this time, and I was really into pop music. There were some changes including a new masthead replacing the one that had been around since 1985, probably to get ready for the new millennium or something.
Also around this time, the brand (I don’t like to describe a magazine as a “brand”, but this one really was) was expanded, with the introduction of a TV channel and radio station. But sales were beginning to fall, and while Smash Hits might have been a big deal in the 80s, there was a new generation coming along that wasn’t really that interested.
And then we go into the era where Pop Idol and the like took off, and now the magazine was filled with rather a lot of pointless gossip and uninteresting manufactured pop stars, along with endless price increases and more free gifts. It’s a rather easy comparison to make, but the magazine was now falling out of favour, just like so many acts that had briefly featured in their pages over the years.
It was still something of a surprise though when Smash Hits closed in 2006, and not long after Top Of The Pops ended as an ongoing weekly show, meaning that two of the longest-running institutions that championed pop music had both gone. Not long after this, a book was released featuring some of the highlights of the magazine, and you have to say now, when it was at its best, it really was splendiferous.