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Polluting young minds? Smash Hits and ‘high Thatcherism’

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This article is an analysis of the British popular music publication Smash Hits at the peak of its commercial power in the late 1980s. Whereas academic attention has been diverted towards its early, more ‘alternative’ period in the late 1970s, as Railton suggests, like many similar publications it has not been widely studied within the academy and particularly not in relation to its engagement with overtly popular music. On the rare occasions it is discussed it is broadly dismissed as being conservative and overtly consumerist, merely a ‘teen glossy’ that provided posters for teenage girls’ bedrooms. Through a content analysis of issues published in 1987, with a specific focus on an interview with Margaret Thatcher conducted by Smash Hits in March of that year, this article will attempt to redress this imbalance. It aims to demonstrate that as a guide to the politics of popular music and youth culture at the end of ‘high Thatcherism’, Smash Hits deserves to be studied with the same respect as it’s more credible ‘inkie’ and ‘indie’ peers of the period. It will also suggest that the very nature of Smash Hits as a reflection of populist taste allowed it the scope to cover, as cultural texts, a range of musical performers and styles far broader than that seen in the indie press of the time and that, in turn, this allowed it to visualize key youth movements they ignored. Finally, it also hopes to outline how it’s representation of gender, sexuality and race was very much at odds with mainstream, and specifically Thatcherite, ideals in this period.
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Keywords: NME; Smash Hits; Thatcherism; identity; music press; popular music; youth culture

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: University of the Arts London

Publication date: October 1, 2017

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  • The Journal of European Popular Culture investigates the creative cultures of Europe, present and past. Exploring European popular imagery, media, new media, film, music, art and design, architecture, drama and dance, fine art, literature and the writing arts, and more, the journal is also of interest to those considering the influence of European creativity and European creative artefacts worldwide.
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