Covers of The FADER are iconic. How iconic, you may ask? Well, so quintessential, that the magazine makes nearly every cover available for sale online in the form of a poster. Known primarily as a music magazine, gracing the cover could be seen as something of a rite of passage: it’s seen nearly everyone, from Kanye West, to his buddy Bon Iver, to Drake and Future, Indie stalwarts Beach House, and even Hannibal Buress. Covering the intersection of culture and life, The FADER, with its double cover each issue (bi-monthly print schedule), has become one of America’s finest publications, and now, with the election arriving in the very near future, they’ve published a groundbreaking volume known as The America Issue.
With 2016 seeing perhaps the most important election of our lifetimes, The America Issue looks to step back and take a broader look at not only music and pop culture topics, but issues like growing up in america, race, legalization of marijuana, and more. For the first time in the magazine’s 17-year history, an athlete—the unparalleled Serena Williams—graces the cover, as well as experimental band and Odd Future associates The Internet. And in another first, the magazine released the entire issue online last week all in one big drop, much to the internet and FADER reader’s delights. And, oh yeah, Michelle Obama wrote a piece too.
The editor-in-chief of The FADER, Naomi Zeichner—who was featured earlier this year in our Brooklyn 100—doesn’t have a whole lot of time free time. She’s constantly overseeing the print magazine and FADER website’s original content, making sure everything fits the voice and is editorially sound. But, luckily, she found a few minutes to chat with us about what went into The FADER’s first America Issue, how the decisions were made, and what the issue’s true mission might be.
Brooklyn Magazine: This is the first time that The FADER has done an America issue. What was the idea behind it?
Naomi Zeichner: When we were setting the print schedule at the beginning of the year, I knew that I wanted to do an election issue, and how we specifically approached that firmed up over time. There were a lot of terrible tragedies this summer, and throughout the year that affected a lot of us personally, and collectively as a staff. So we wanted to do something that in some ways was memorializing the people whose lives have been lost tragically, and then also celebrating life, and we thought that that was the way that we were going to tackle an election issue, or a politics issue.
I think that there’s been a lot of really great magazines, actually, in the last couple weeks around the election. Bloomberg had a really special, amazing election issue. New York magazine just did an amazing issue about the Obama years. I really like looking at these magazines together—which are all ambitious, interesting packages—and I think the way we approached it was very different and very us.
Definitely. I was reading through the stories, and the biggest name involved is the higher education piece by Michelle Obama. What was it like securing her, and where was that idea rooted?
We’ve been sort of knocking on her door for the better part of the year. I think we’re still very inspired by her; in a lot of ways, I would call Michelle Obama a muse for the entire issue, and we were interested in seeing what she was available for. I think that most of the press that she does is pegged to an initiative of some type of hers, and we felt that we were thinking that most of our readers are at the cusp of childhood and adulthood, and we really wanted to tell stories in that space about how people begin their adult lives, and that had great synergy with her big push for people to go to college, and so she was passionate about that and so were we, and it worked out really well.
I think her team is really amazing, and it’s been fun for us to watch the Obamas this year, and how they’ve enjoyed their last days, welcoming people into a space that maybe that person always feels they belonged in. Like, the South by South Lawn festival that the Obamas had the other day was really amazing. For Michelle Obama to recognize that FADER exists, and to recognize readers by contributing is very meaningful for us, and we really appreciate it.
I think that piece was very well done, and having her as the byline, of course, is so special. Some of the other big names came with the two cover stories, Serena Williams and The Internet. What was the process like to arrive at those two subjects?
You know, how we choose covers is a little bit different every time. We have no rules, and I think we’re very lucky to have that; there’s no data algorithm that we’re running. We wanted to celebrate people who inspire us, and who are emblematic of how great we think this country really is, and how great a life can be here, or how great you can choose to make your life here, and I think Serena was a towering figure of the idea of success. In this issue we sort of follow from childhood to adulthood, so we were really thinking about a figure that really embodies what adulthood can be, and for us that was Serena. I think it was really exciting for her to do a story that was very tied to her as a towering figure in culture, apart from sport, and the kids who work at FADER, we grew up watching Serena walk the VMA red carpet and hearing about her in rap songs, and watching her win tournaments. So we’ve known her not only as an athlete, but as a part of culture, and someone who’s always made culture a part of her life, and not shied away from that.
On the flip side, a story that we thought embodied childhood and young people now, and the generation that we’re excited about and covering all the time were The Internet. They’re a band who are at a really interesting place in their career, coming up on their fourth album, and fourth album in really not so many years from the time that they began, while also embarking on solo projects. The band is the band, but it’s a sort of expanding collective, where it’s kind of grown to encompass all these individual ambitions, and I think that we thought that that was a pretty telling story for a young person worldview, that to win today you have to really develop yourself, and take care of yourself, and also take care of the people that take care of you. I think we’re really excited about how that group has worked to better themselves and better each other, and their art is a testament to the fact that anyone can make great art if you’re a good person.
I’m a big sports fan, and I thought the Eugene Monroe feature was really interesting. He’s got a similar story to what you hear a lot of coming out of the NFL these days with these younger retirements. How did you guys arrive with him at the center of that story?
I think we were trying to reflect on people at particular stages in life, and make sure that everybody in the issue was at a different stage, and that we were covering as much ground as possible. His story covered so much ground. Across the issue, we also wanted to represent issues that matter both to voters, and issues that are touching our lives. So, he’s a football player, which is obviously the most American game, the pinnacle of American culture in some ways. His life touched people who were struggling with opioid use or abuse, and he’s become an advocate for the legalization of marijuana, and all of those things are just important political issues for a FADER reader, or a FADER voter. He was a really fascinating person. Also, the idea of what comes after a success like Serena’s; we wanted to talk about what adulthood could be like, and what happens when you’re super successful at a young age, and then life takes a turn, or your body takes a turn. I think we wanted to understand how people cope with those kinds of changes, and I think he’s done so in a really interesting way.
What was the biggest difficulty in putting together this group of stories? Was there ever a hiccup?
There are always hiccups. I would say that all of these stories are like snowflakes—there are always little things that happen with every single one. But the thing I’m most proud of here, and that is challenging with this really unique magazine, is that this issue has 18 features that we made a part of making this issue. Some of them actually didn’t make it into print—just web. I think that’s the correct number, and they’re all real features. They’re pretty substantial stories, with multiple pages of photography, and quite a bit of text, and that’s a bit different than what we do issue-to-issue, and it’s a bit different than the typical run-of-the-magazine, any glossy magazine. And what it takes is just a lot of people.
That’s the challenge: getting that many people in formation. One of my favorite stories in the issue is a portfolio of interviews with teenagers, and for that we had a brilliant photography intern. He got a bunch of his friends involved who were also photographers from all across America, and then they got a bunch of their friends involved. So in that story we’re talking about, like, 30 people, you know? I think that’s kind of the art of a magazine, wrangling all of those people and channeling their energy into something that feels organized. I think that’s also the pleasure of this issue in particular: we used a lot of new contributors that we haven’t used before. There’s a lot of young people who participated in this issue, a lot of the photographers who are working, they’re in their 20’s. I think that we really took the task seriously of not only wanting to tell stories about America, but to have the America that we love represented in storytelling of those stories.
I was on Twitter right when the issue came out online on Tuesday, and I know it was the first time you guys ever dropped the whole issue online at once. What was it like seeing such a positive reaction to something that the magazine had never done before?
I think it will remain to be seen whether that strategy of dropping an entire issue online was wise, but can confirm that it was a lot of fun. I think it was really important for us, and I do think that we were successful in dropping the whole thing at once, in that we work really hard on these magazines and we do think of them as holistic bodies of work. We’re also very aware that most of our readers never see them in print, or see them online first and engage with them most meaningfully online, and so we really wanted to give everybody that print experience for this one. We really wanted these stories to tell a bigger story together, adding up to a sum bigger than their parts. It was never a question that that’s how we wanted to present it.
I think it’s going to be interesting for us to see how people interact with the stories over the course of the issue cycle in the next month, and to understand better if that’s a way people like consuming the magazine online. I think we’re always interested in learning about our audience, and learning how people read our stories. FADER is a music magazine, and we care really deeply about music, and I hope that we are the best music magazine, but when I think about the people that also love music as deeply as I do, and live music with me, we care about other things too. Because that’s true, it’s been my goal to make FADER a magazine that serves people that care about music that also care about wider culture, and I think in working on an issue that was so based on wider culture, and took music as a lens and a jumping off point, I really wanted to share that vision with people in a complete way so that they could see it, and understand that direction where we’ve been. We are not just a music magazine, but a music and culture magazine for people who love music.
I’m glad that you mentioned taking in the whole issue as a holistic experience. When people look at this entire America issue, what would you say the magazine’s mission statement was, and in an ideal world, what would the reaction to that mission statement be?
That’s a great question. Ultimately, the thing that I hope, after spending some time with the issue, that people might walk away with is a pretty simple notion that sounds kind of corny, and might not sound revelatory, but that life is really precious. This has been a hard year. The people who read The FADER, the people who make The FADER, we feel like this is, in a lot of ways, a really scary and difficult time to be an American. But I think we also feel very proud of the people who we know who make that experience better, and make the lives that we are able to make better, and also in seeing tragedies and people losing their lives, I think for us the reaction outside of anger or pain is also a desire to heal together and to value our lives. I think in choosing the framework that we thought for this issue, that was the ultimate taste that we wanted you to leave with, that life is really valuable, and to try in different ways to have the best experience with it that you can. Like I said, it sounds a little silly, or a little cheesy, but I think that in some ways, for me, that was at the core of the project.