Interview #22

Stupid Faces the Music

Holly Knowlman

Written by RMM
Photos by Holly Knowlman/ Billy Lee/Belight

It might be called ‘Stupid’ but there’s nothing obtuse or brainless about this new print publication to hit the stands (figuratively speaking). A magazine about pop music, listening habits and technology, Stupid is changing the tempo on how we talk and think about one of our most common forms of cultural expression. With major labels and artists turning to the digital realm to appeal to millennial habits, it might be surprising that a new print magazine is taking the stage. Stupid is a calculated leap into a world where streaming and YouTube music videos reign supreme, and joins the likes of Melody Maker, NME, Rolling Stone, Billboard and Smash Hits in an attempt to dissect pop from the inside out.

Toronto-based writer Holly Knowlman is the brains behind this daring magazine. Like many new magazines that get their start in the world, she chose to crowdfund it on Kickstarter. Her efforts paid off — Stupid raised more than 75% of its goal in the first day alone.

RMM speaks to Holly about kickstarting her Stupid project, and how a pop magazine is increasingly relevant now more than ever.

RMM: Pop music is something that’s so time sensitive — one moment it’s in and the next moment, another hit takes its place. Print is something that, as you said, lasts forever. How do you strike a balance between creating something that people want to keep and something that will stay relevant to the trends in pop music?

Holly: The thing about print is that it’s tangible. I fucking love that I’m making an object people can put their hands on. I love that people could pick up a copy of Stupid Magazine and then have it hang out in their home for years to come.

I want Stupid to be something people don’t throw away. I want kids to pick it up and realise they can be writers/artists/musicians/entrepreneurs/anything they want. I want them to read it, tear it up, stick it on their walls and then go out and do something better.

My passion for culture comes from being raised in a household where that really mattered. I was a curious kid who grew up surrounded by books, magazines, theatre programs and CDs. I’d like to be able to pay that forward.

RMM: How do you (or anyone for that matter) decide what is “pop” or not? Sophie Auclair does explore this in her article, but what’s your personal take on this?

Holly: One of the dopest thing about being an editor is that I kind of get to decide. At least in the context of the magazine. But really, I’m more interested in the debate around what defines pop than I am in having a fixed definition. That notion of strong opinions loosely held really resonates with me - I like to argue a point, but really I don’t know anything about anything.

Here’s an example. Piko Taro’s Pen Pineapple Apple Pen. You could easily make the argument that it’s pop - it’s been viewed more than 15 Million times, and it’s the shortest song ever to make it into the Billboard Top 100. It even has its own pop-up restaurant in Tokyo. But I wouldn’t call it a pop song, because there’s no musicianship there. The fact that it’s a throwaway doesn’t make it artless necessarily, but it’s art grounded in comedy rather than in music.

But as I said it’s completely subjective. Stupid Magazine is a platform for me to explore my own interests and hone my skills as a media maker, but it’s also very much about making space for different ideas and perspectives.

RMM: What makes a great pop song? And while we’re at it, what’s your favourite pop song?

Holly: I think truly great pop, like truly great art, is a commentary on the world we live in. It’s progressive, it’s authentic, and unapologetic about the perspective it shares. It has to be well-executed, of course, and I think great pop also has a longevity to it. A lot comes down to the artist too - their vision and presence.

My favourite pop song is Always On My Mind by Pet Shop Boys. That’s my stake-in-the-ground top choice because I fell in love with it early, it’s a cover of a cover of a cover, and it has many of the musical elements I enjoy.

RMM: Most indie magazines these days view their topics of choice from a very Western point-of-view. Will Stupid cover pop music culture from around the world?

Holly: Yes! I’m super ignorant but also incredibly open to exploring different pop genres globally. I’d like to do something on K-Pop at some point.

We’re committed to booking writers with different perspectives and domain knowledge, and I’m especially interested in exploring how technology is influencing global listening habits.

RMM: What or who is your pop music guilty pleasure?

Holly: Guilt is a misguided emotion. I believe that we try and make the best decisions we can with the information we have available to us at the time. Even if we don’t always get it right.

RMM: Finally, what other magazines inspire you/Stupid? (They don’t have to be indie magazines!)

Holly: Learning about Sniffin’ Glue and about UK punk was a formative experience for me. I also fell in love with Found Magazine as a teenager. Every issue is a collection of found notes, messages, scraps of paper. There’s something deeply charming and human about it a way that’s not too dissimilar from PostSecret.

I’m incredibly inspired by the work California Sunday is doing, and I think FACT is killing it right now. I love Little Brother, a Toronto-based literary publication, and recently I’ve been drooling over Lucky Peach. I also have fond memories of Super Super. If anyone else remembers that mag I’d love to hear from them.

Stupid Magazine is a print publication about pop music, listening habits and technology. Our second issue - Platform Wars - is all about the role of streaming services like Spotify, Tidal, Soundcloud and Bandcamp in how we’re consuming music today. Get in line for our next release by signing up at Stupid Magazine.

Holly is the Founding Editor of Stupid Magazine. You can follow her on Twitter:@hollyknowlman or email

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