Lads’ mags were a subgenre of Men’s magazines that focused more heavily on the pursuit of women, drinking, drugs, music, film among other male orientated topics. The main four Lads’ mags were Loaded, FHM, Nuts and Zoo. Other Lads’ mags existed but did not enjoy as great success as the aforementioned. Although it wasn’t the first magazine of its kind, Loaded was the first to truly encapsulate lad culture and give a sense of belonging back to men of the nineties. Loaded was a men’s monthly launched in 1994, with editor James Brown at the helm. The magazine was responsible for the rise of lad culture, a response to the ‘new man’ and girl power style feminism.
It targeted young men in a far more brash way than Esquire or GQ with their mature, fatherly tone. Branded as the magazine ‘for men who should know better’, it was the ironic sexist slant that allowed Loaded to avoid any real backlash for its somewhat derogatory stance on women. Features and interviews with musicians, actors, models, writers and sportsman gave Loaded a resounding sense of social influence. This was the real differentiation between Loaded and its competition, it had a distinct style and smugness. Straplines such as ‘fat slags’ and ‘Brookside’s sexiest babe’ were the norm for Loaded covers. It made no apologies for this and was championed by its readers and the industry.
As a result, it won the coveted PPA Magazine of the Year award in 1995 and 1996 as well as many other prizes. Reaching a readership figure as high as 457,318 in 1998, Loaded was a huge earner for its publisher IPC. A surprising success, Loaded was expected to fail but turned out to be one of IPC’s highest earners. Mainly down to its high advertisement revenue.
The departure of editor James Brown in 1997 saw a shift in Loaded’s image. Moving away from editorials and features of substance, most issues were adorned with scantily clad women on the covers and throughout each issue. As FHM surpassed Loaded’s readership figures by some way, a magazine rich in sultry was favoured. Brown tried to disassociate Loaded from laddishness as he believed it was a mere to undermine its worth and cultural importance. Providing more editorial content had always detracted from its blatant celebration of nudity and debauchery. As interviews and features became less prominent in the magazine, its sales began to decline.
With a monthly readership of 350,040 in 2000, it was only declining slowly. However, the arrival of Zoo and Nuts in 2004 saw figures plummet and by 2006 it was down to under 200,000.Not only Loaded saw its sales figures sharply drop in 2006, FHM and Zoo also suffered similarly. As a whole, Lads’ mags were beginning to bare the brunt of the Internet’s arrival.
Content being accessible in just a few clicks was something few publications had truly understood and prepared themselves for. There was a strong correlation between this drop in sales and it being the first year that most adults in the UK had internet access in the comfort of their own home. Pornography was readily available, free of charge and replaced the embarrassment many young men started to feel when purchasing titles like Loaded or Zoo. It made the need for a taboo product almost extinct, naked women are now available to be ogled without having to purchase a magazine. Loaded attempted to revert back to its stylish covers and feature heavy feel but it was too late for any chance of a reinvention.
New generations of Lads’ mags readers saw no reason to buy a cumbersome item like an A4 magazine when smartphones and other internet-capable portable devices fulfilled their every need. Sites like the Lad Bible, Buzzfeed and UNILAD have resurrected and embodied the new lad culture much like Loaded and FHM did in the nineties. Each site receives millions of views and anticipated the explosion of social media like no other publication could. Their Facebook and Twitter pages receive millions of interactions and have a dedicated following much like Lads’ mags once did. Publishing ‘shareable’ content like humorous interviews, list based articles and images of barely clothed women – these social media pages became key players in lad culture before print based publications even had a chance to establish an online following. As pressure mounted on Lads’ mags and sales dwindled to as low as below 40,000 a month: the big four publications began to close their doors between 2014-2015. After many changes in ownership and rebrands, Loaded now operates online only and has a readership far smaller than it did as a print publication in the mid 90s.
It has attempted to position itself as a similar social media outlet to the Lad Bible or UNILAD, rife with clickbait content in order to generate views. Not only did the switch from print to online content harm Lads’ mags’ sales figures, the economic crisis of 2008 saw Loaded’s figures drop below a six digit number for the first time since its inception. Rapidly declining circulation and very little advertising revenue meant publications teetered on the brink of extinction. Rising unemployment and less disposable income meant magazines were sparingly bought by young men and magazines in general were not something shoppers saw as a necessity anymore. As free magazines like Time Out and Shortlist grew in popularity, the general public did not need to even pay for tangible content.
The feel good factor surrounding these titles had grown stale. Readers were widely uninterested in cars they couldn’t afford and watches worth more than most of their possessions. Some publications cut their cover prices to as low as 60p but this wasn’t enough to re-energise a once proud readership.
Furthermore, a reliance on hedonistic masculinity was a key reason men were not buying copies of Lads’ mags in the late noughties through to early twenty-tens. A decade under New Labour had seen social progression and a liberal shift in the way most people viewed sexuality, sex and gender identity. The ideas presented (in Lads’ mags) on masculinity, sex and the constant use of nudity to sell magazines had become tiresome. These magazines were condemned mostly by feminist groups, bringing the Lose The Lads Mags campaign to fruition in 2012-13. It piled pressure on leading supermarkets to stop selling magazines with naked women on the front as it was seen to be a form of harassment for staff and inappropriate to young children. As a result of the campaign, supermarkets either put modesty covers in front of the magazines, moved them to the back of top shelves, age restricted them to eighteen plus or in the Co-Op’s case refused to stock them.
With the huge footfall that supermarkets possess being denied to Lads’ mags, it was only a matter of time before their readership began to decline to a point of no return. Modesty covers only added to the taboo of buying a publication like Loaded and signified the near end of Lads’ mags. Although campaigns had succeeded with covers to Lads’ mags, some believed women’s glossy magazines like Cosmopolitan should be covered by a modesty banner too in order to be fair and unanimous. They peddled similar dangerous ideas about women but escaped criticism and calls for censorship. Three studies carried out by social psychologist were compiled into findings by the University of Surrey.
They mostly tried to identify a correlation between sexism and Lads’ mags consumption. The findings were clear that Lads’ mags normalise sexist behaviour and it is far more common in readers of Lads’ mag publications. One of the studies published by the University of Surrey asked participants to differentiate between the quotes of convicted rapists and extracts from Loaded, FHM, Nuts and Zoo. Many found it incredibly challenging to identify who had said what and some lines from Lads’ mags were actually more vulgar than that of convicted rapists. This is evidence of the dangerous ideas young men are presented with in Lads’ mags.
As societal ideas progress and become more tolerant, it is unsurprising that many called for Lads’ mags to be taken off the shelves of supermarkets. On the other hand, the British Crime Survey boasted that there had been no increase in violence towards women as Lads’ mags’ sales increased. When Lads’ mags first came to the forefront of popular culture in the mid nineties, they regularly sold over 400,000 copies an issue. Despite the repeated bemoaning of lad culture’s attitudes towards women, incidents of domestic between 1997 to 2009 fell by 64 percent. Also, the number of victims of sexual assault decreased in the mid to late noughties. This study shines some light on the fact that although derogatory, men’s magazines pose very little actual harm and are simply there to serve as light entertainment and don’t produce as dangerous ideas as we may think.
An image conscious generation of young adult males began to disassociate themselves from laddish behaviour and moved towards metrosexual values. GQ and Men’s Health presented values of a new man that many felt a closer affiliation with. More tasteful cover shoots were favoured and staple topics of eating, drinking and living well were favoured. These magazines still presented unrealistic body images and had pieces on women that could be seen to objectify them and perpetuate dangerous ideas towards sex and relationships.
However, they escaped confrontation from groups due to their distinct lack of naked women used. Also, laddish behaviour, as seen in Lads’ mags, was blamed for not only perpetuating an unhealthy physical lifestyle but for helping to greatly worsen a mental health crisis in young men. A report by the Samaritans in the late nineties spoke of macho attitudes stopping men from speaking out about their feelings and mental health problems. Objectively, Lads’ mags did fail – they now scarcely exist in print forms and are looked back on by many with a strong sense of bitterness. This should not be the case, Loaded was a magazine rich with witty content and bold design that is still replicated today. It changed the face of magazines and helped to sustain a culture, something that very few publications can claim to have done.
Overlooking the smut that Lads’ mags later began to represent, they were ultimately of the time and were tragic victims of an ever changing political, social and technological landscape.