Local Current Blog

No ‘right way’ to love music: On Rookie Magazine and finding confidence in my own taste

Tavi Gevinson in Brooklyn, Nov. 2018. (Roy Rochlin/Getty Images)

On Nov. 30 Rookie Magazine, an online publication, book series, and podcast headed by Tavi Gevinson, declared that it would shutter for good after a seven-year run. Due to financial difficulty, and ultimately Gevinson’s decision to abstain from implementing a pay wall or selling the site to new owners, the site has ceased to post content and will be unavailable entirely in a few months.

Gevinson founded Rookie in 2011 when she was a sophomore in high school. The site published just three articles per weekday (“Roughly when school ends, when dinner starts and when you should be writing a paper but are Facebook stalking instead,” as the first editor’s letter dictates) by authors no older than nineteen and on topics ranging from books to tech to sex to advice columns and memoir. In 2015, the redesigned site made a commitment to post more content per day, and to expand its coverage.

Rookie interviewed a slew of musicians during its tenure including Lorde, Morrissey, Jhené Aiko, Joanna Newsom, and Lori Barbero. (The site’s first music editor was Jessica Hopper, who got her start in the Twin Cities.) The publication enlisted some artists to share their personal “life soundtrack” and premiered music videos from others. Rookie spurred my three-year-long obsession with Fiona Apple and helped me digest some major pop music moments.

Growing up as an only child in the western suburbs of Minneapolis, Rookie acted as my pseudo-older sibling: introducing me to artists, commiserating with me on the state of American politics, and soundtracking an infinite amount of bus rides.

Yet Rookie was beyond the genetics of a lifestyle or influencer blog. For me, and for countless other teenagers who religiously devoured the site, Rookie was an introduction to the very concept of having real “taste” — of unapologetically liking and disliking things, which was relatively foreign to me before I started reading the site on the daily. There was something giddy and invitational about each article. Reading one was like running into a friend on the street who, excited and flushed, hands you a book or album or nugget of advice on a sticky note. “Here is this great thing I’ve stumbled upon, here is something I’ve been thinking about lately,” they yell before jogging away.

On Fridays in 2012, after sitting for 45 minutes in a bleak, windowless room for seventh period chemistry, I’d spend an extra five minutes at my desk hurriedly loading Rookie’s “Friday Playlist” on my school-sponsored laptop so that I could spend my pre-data ride home listening to the 8tracks playlist scrunched in the back of the bus. Awkwardly positioning the machine away from the driver, I’d hoist my knees up against the back of the seat in front of me and dive into whatever world Rookie contributors had curated that week. Friday Playlists were based around a particular book or TV character, mood, natural phenomena, life stage or distinct experience, yet rarely were they genre- or period-specific. This to me was a more humanized way to share music, one that was built around lived experience rather than in-depth knowledge of the featured artists. Though Rookie contributors and readers knew a ton about music and its intricacies, this knowledge wasn’t necessarily the key to fandom, and the site celebrated so many ways to love things.

Reading Rookie gave me the confidence to take my taste in my own hands away from mainstream media; the greasy sophomore boy with the aux; school; or any other force that emphatically told me what music to like and how to like it. And that’s not to say Rookie shunned pop culture. In fact, it was celebrated on the site, but in a way that integrated the mainstream into a mosaic of other influences and addressed the complex, ravenous curiosity of teenage girls when Seventeen or Teen Vogue or any other publication marketed to the demographic simply did not. Developing a sense of what appeals to you is a major part of growing up. When narratives involving young women rarely feature them obsessing over anything besides bOyZ, development is stunted since the act of choosing to like or dislike something is integral to the basic definition of what it means to have agency over your own experience.

“Rookie is not your guide to Being a Teen,” Tavi wrote in 2011, “It is not a pamphlet on How to Be a Young Woman.” Instead, Rookie offered a way to interact with music, art, relationships and the overwhelming, three-dimensional adventure of being a young person absent of “shoulds.” Rookie exposed me to a world of new influences and provided the courage to pick and choose which to weave into my own experience.

After waking with my head pressed against the cool window of the bus, I’m almost at the end of the week’s playlist, and a song is playing for which I have neither the name nor the artist. I can appreciate it though, for how it guides me along the meandering roads of being 15, and how it was once in someone else’s life, and now in mine.

Lydia Moran is a music and arts writer in Minneapolis.