Celebrity profiles too often boil down to the same question: What if this famous person were dating a magazine writer? Since that question is only 10 words long and a feature-length magazine story is usually at least 5,000 words, readers are then subjected to confusing, vaguely creepy lines like “She is 26 and beautiful, not in that otherworldly, catwalk way but in a minor knock-around key, a blue mood, a slow dance” (that’s Margot Robbie, according to Rich Cohen in Vanity Fair), and “She seemed to be made from champagne” (Scarlett Johansson, per Anthony Lane in the New Yorker).
It is actually a bit refreshing, then, to read a long, romantic magazine cover story about a famous man that focuses attentively on that man’s physical charms. The man in this case is Justin Trudeau, the publication is Rolling Stone, and the result is both melancholy and sweet, a feature-length love letter. The cover line asks: “Justin Trudeau: Why Can’t He Be Our President?” Blame the Constitution for that one. But the real question raised by the profile is: Why can’t we have a normal president?
Let’s start with the cover photo itself. Trudeau is obviously a handsome man, but he has a desperation to please that has always struck me as a bit thirsty. A man who is constantly kayaking up to strangers to talk about climate change does not do it for me, sexy-world-leader-wise. That try-hard eagerness often seems to seep through in photos. In Vogue last year, he awkwardly “rested” his face on his hand without appearing to put any pressure on it, while staring dreamily into the middle distance. The result was something like a highbrow Glamour Shot.
The Rolling Stone photo, by contrast, is veritably Obama-esque. Here is Trudeau at work, presumably in the Canadian version of the Oval Office. He has his sleeves rolled up just so, because you’ve caught him on a Tuesday afternoon between meetings. He gazes directly at the camera, his one brow cocked ever-so-slightly, suggesting he is in on the joke of his own sex-symbolism.
The profile itself, by writer Stephen Rodrick, frames Trudeau as the anti-Trump. He’s articulate, he’s likable, he’s happily married, he cares about refugees, and “his dark hair is a color found in nature.” Throughout, Rodrick nods subtly to romantic celebrity-profile tropes, and to Trudeau’s reputation as a heartthrob, without playing it for homoerotic yuks. “For Trudeau, listening is seducing,” he writes. “As we chat, he smiles and locks in with his blue eyes, but Trudeau, whose mother’s side is of Scottish descent, swats away all Trump-baiting questions with a look that says, ‘Not today, laddie.’” Elsewhere, he swoons over the prime minister’s regular-guy bona fides, somewhat miraculous considering he’s the son of a former prime minister. “Trudeau doesn’t play golf; he snowboards,” Rodrick writes. “There is a real person inside him.” The piece describes his socks on two separate occasions.
Canadians are already mocking the piece online for its gushing tone, and for some minor mistakes like a reference to the “Royal Canadian Mountain Police.” Yes, the profile includes the line “Trudeau has a tat of a raven and, sigh, the planet Earth.” Yes, it’s is a little over the top. Obviously it’s nowhere near the kind of panting objectification that magazine writers often practice on female sex symbols who happen not to also be world leaders. But as drooly magazine profiles go, at least this one feels relatively self-aware of its over-the-top-ness. And who could begrudge America a few harmless fantasies about the head of state next door?