Adam Levine is officially People’s Sexiest Man Alive. The chest of the Sexiest Man Alive is permanently inscribed with a string of Mardi Gras beads. The Sexiest Man Alive has a shark tattoo, which is one step away from a dolphin. The preferred birth control method of the Sexiest Man Alive is pulling out. The Sexiest Man Alive named his band Maroon 5. What can account for People’s bizarre choice?
For all the ways that print publications have been rendered obsolete by the Internet, their silliest artifact is perhaps the impulse to dictate to millions of people what they ought to believe is “sexy.” Legacy platforms, from People to Playboy, are increasingly irrelevant to capturing our weird, wild sexual desires. And the people who still read these magazines are growing more and more out of touch. I know two people with a subscription to People: my grandmother and my dentist. This is a magazine that asks its readers whether a variety of handsome celebrities are more attractive with goatees on their faces, as if that were a serious question. Peruse the magazine’s Sexiest Men from the past decade, and you’ll find a roster of blandly handsome and reliably bankable movie stars—Affleck, Clooney, Damon, Tatum. But even among People’s target audience, symmetrical, rich actors can become a bit of a bore. So this year, People opted for an “edgy” choice to get our attention—a symmetrical, rich alternative rock star.
Actually, Levine is a mass-produced parody of what an “alternative” dreamboat is supposed to be. The Cut describes him as “artsy” (scare quotes theirs). Levine’s “edginess” has been officially sanctioned by the NBC reality TV singing competition The Voice, where he serves as a judge; his style has been coopted by Kmart, where he hawks a menswear line; and his appeal has been distilled into two department-store perfumes, Adam Levine for Women and Adam Levine for Men. The term that best describes Levine’s slim-suited, precisely stubbled, and pomade-slicked brand of attractiveness—“metrosexual”—has been a part of our sexual lexicon for almost 20 years now. In the ensuing two decades, sexy men everywhere have become more comfortable incorporating traditionally feminine touches in their personal habits without compromising their sexual identities. But Adam Levine is still grappling with the anxious masculinity that once haunted hetero men who presented a little bit fey. Adam Levine practices yoga … “because the classes are always packed with beautiful women.” The Sexiest Man Alive is edgy, to people whose tastes are perfectly mainstream and a few years out of date.
“I thought Adam Levine was the sexiest man alive long before he got the title from People,” one of these people wrote on Twitter. “Does that make me a hipster?” It does not.
And yet: I may not subscribe to People, but I visit its website just once every year—to see who the magazine selected as Sexiest, and inevitably, to mock the choice. That is the brilliance of People’s annual feature. It appeals to print subscribers on its own merits and attracts clicks from Internet denizens who find its construction of attractiveness personally offensive—like Jezebel’s Madeleine Davies, who reacted to People’s pick by calling Levine “the human equivalent of testing positive for chlamydia.”* Adam Levine: Clickiest Man Alive.
Correction, Nov. 20, 2013: This post originally misspelled Madeleine Davies’ first name.