I truly believe in my heart of hearts that in the world according to Essence, there are only 12 black celebrities: Beyonce, Jill Scott, Jada Pinkett, Queen Latifah, Taraji P. Henson, Kerry Washington, Nia Long, Alicia Keys, Mary J. Blige, Michelle Obama, Gabrielle Union, and their November cover subject, Tyler Perry. We love these ladies, especially Mrs. O, and they are all amazing in their own right but damn it they are NOT the only black folks doing things in the entertainment industry and Essence of all people should know this.
Last month, I suggested we start a bet in the office on who would have next on the magazine’s cover because after I saw Jill Scott grace the October issue, I knew guessing the probability of the magazine using one of its tried and true go-tos was about as high as a professional basketball player cheating on his wife with a video chick. And sure enough, there was Tyler Perry in all his golden purple joy plastered on the glossy for the fourth time since 2007—nearly once every year.
I know the good folks over at Essence are smart, so it’s not as though they don’t know that they’ve recycled the same people over, and over, and over again. I think they fail to realize that we peeped game too – or they just assume we love these people so much we don’t care. That’s the only logical conclusion I can draw, based solely on the annual cover repeats, and the fact that when Mary J. Blige was the guest editor for the June issue, they boasted that this was her twelfth time on the cover – as if that was a good thing. I’m sure Mary doesn’t mind, but the readers that are still hanging on? Trust me, they care.
The problem is simple, Essence is the only magazine specifically for black women. If anyone should be constantly reinventing themselves – and their covers –it should be them. Why is a magazine for black women acting as though there are only a handful of us to choose from? Yes, I’m sure they’ve done all sorts of studies on who sells magazine covers, which is probably why they keep serving up the same best sellers, but would it kill them to take a risk – that wouldn’t really be a risk at all?
Let’s think about this year’s Summer Olympics, black women were the London Games. Did Serena have a cover, what about the US track team – hello Sanya Richards-Ross, heck even Lolo Jones, and regardless of her being 16 years old, there isn’t one person on this earth who would say they’ve had enough of Gabby Douglas. Essence had a huge opportunity with those ladies, but who did we get this summer instead? Mary, Obama, Nia, and Jada. Anyone else hear the Four Tops singing “it’s the Same Old Song” in their head?
At the height of Gabourey Sidibe’s “Precious” hype, it’s amazing that Elle put the actress on the cover, rather than Essence. I’m curious if the magazine got the memo that Janelle Monae is the hotness right now, not to mention a Cover Girl. The Braxtons? Solange? Ri-freaking-Hanna? These are women who are high in demand right now. Yes, Rih Rih is a bit of a wild child but if Oprah can have a sit down with her, I’m sure Essence could tailor their talk to something their readers would care about. The question is do they care about what their readers care about?
We know why everyone went bananas over Viola Davis’ November 2011 cover, she was the first new face in a hot, long minute. And when they followed that up with Tasha Smith in December I just knew someone over there had had their Eureka moment. For a brief second I thought, yes, they finally get it! They found out that more than 12-15 black people are doing big things. And then January 2012 issue came out. And I saw Queen Latifah in a red onesie. And the cycle continued.
In Essence’s defense, they’re probably a little nervous to think too far outside the box anymore, considering the two times they tried people had a full-blown fit. Remember the Diddy-Kim Porter catastrophe? Reggie Bush backlash anybody? Granted these weren’t the best choices, but that did mark the beginning and the end of Essence’s let’s be creative era.
Many have come to the conclusion that the magazine wants to play it safe and cater to a demographic that clearly is much older than the 18-34-year-old crowd. And that’s all good and well, except if that’s true, then why post pictures and videos of women like Evelyn Lozada on the website? The disconnect is alarming. I’d love to go back to being a faithful Essence reader but looking at the covers, I can only assume the content inside is just as predictable as the faces on the outside. At this point all I can suggest is Time Warner steal Desiree Rogers and let her bring the magazine (and its website) back to life just like she did Ebony.
What’s your take on Essence? Who do you think they’re sleeping on for cover choices?
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