Let’s Read Sugar, June 1997!

Sugar was a teen magazine based in the UK that ran from 1994 to 2011, and then lived on in some form or another online until going dark in 2016. According to the Sugarscape wikipedia page, “Sugar used explicit sexual editorial to attract readership”, which…I have no idea what they’re talking about. The magazine covered the same array of true life (“true” life may be a little embellished) teen stories, fashion, celebrities, and promotional giveaways that any of the American teen magazines I read growing up did. They just did it in a borderline incomprehensible British lexicon that made it fascinating to pore through.

I discovered this magazine on my own as a teen back in the late 90s, during a trip out of my very small hometown to the somewhat less-small town next to it where there were things like bookstores. I don’t know how it happened, but Barnes & Noble briefly sold Sugar in their magazine section, and coming across it blew my very small world apart. It was like discovering a mirror dimension where there were teen girls who looked like me and dressed like me and liked the same things as me, but the famous boys were famous boys I had never heard of, the candy was candy I had never seen, the music was…the Spice Girls, who couldn’t be escaped in 1997 even if you lived on Mars, fine, but the world was so similar yet so different from my own that it provided a wonderful little escape into something new to puzzle through and wonder. Sadly the US distribution of Sugar didn’t last long, but I treasured the few issues that I could get my grubby hands on.

The line “it’s swimming with saucepots!” is the first thing that should tip you off that something is different here. You’ll figure out what a saucepot is pretty quick if you keep reading (or if you are fluent in Universal Teen Girl Magazine). This is the USA edition, which makes me wonder what the difference is, maybe the ads are a little different from the UK edition. It also took me until this very moment to wonder why exactly the cover model is wearing a t-shirt while having fun in a pool. England is cold, I suppose, maybe she was cold. Maybe this was the staff’s response to being accused of “explicit sexual editorials”, so now this poor girl has to awkwardly stay covered up.

Our cover model is an American girl named Jamie Paetz, who – my sources, admittedly, are robots on the Internet – went on to have some fame as a model for Maxim in the 00’s, dated Elliott Yamin, and was briefly married to someone who was briefly in the band Korn. And, according to this, she once kissed Shamu the killer whale. So, you know, a full life. Also, I’m sorry for those who are expecting Liam and Patsy’s baby pics, I didn’t include it because it was sort of awful (it’s one of those IF THEY MATED photo mashup things that Conan O’Brien did all the time in the 90s and those have always been terrible.)

Some celebrity gossip and paparazzi photos that I understood about 60% of at the time and even less now. I have no idea who this Ginger person is and trying to google “uk comedian ginger” is about as useful as you think it is. So I am afraid he and the relevance of his F sweater have been lost to time. This was my first exposure to the English phrase of “sorted!” which is this context is kind of like “alright!”, but I had no way to define it at the time so I wondered if that was the name of the columnist signing off and their name was just SORTED!

And, as promised, the sauce-pot strategy section. Nine strategies to shop for essential kitchen tools with your partner! Look at these attractive people, discussing and joking so intently about their cookware – wait, that’s not it? A sauce-pot is slang for a cute boy, apparently. Is this still a common term for a cute boy in England? Was this EVER a common term, or is this just a prank that the staff made up to make the USA edition readers feel confused? I guess saucy is a term for someone attractive, so…sauce…pot…would be saucy-er? Also, wow, some of this advice has, uh, not aged particularly well.

Step one: blow out the lighting saturation in the photo so her nose disappears!

Some phenomenal photomanipulation going on here.

13 year old me was…not impressed with the selection of boys here awaiting me on the other side of the pond. I’m sorry, I’m sure you all grew up into lovely blokes and something something Brexit and everything but aside from maybe the kid who mentions he’d spend his money on a private Prodigy concert I was detecting very low inventory of sauce-pots.

This, on the other hand, I found strangely engrossing. Who is this Norm, and why does the Twix repel him so effectively? What’s so bad about The Norm? Can’t we learn to live with The Norm?

I appreciate that the boys seem to be cowering together in a protective huddle in the corner as the BLAZING VESPA FURY OF FEMALE EMPOWERMENT ROARS THROUGH THE PATRIARCHY on its way to buy more Feminax from the pharmacy.

So, a huge amount of content in this magazine is built on “teenagers submitting embarrassing pictures and winning truckloads of free promotional garbage in return”. I only captured one or two, but you basically can’t turn the page without seeing some random 14 year old with a candy bar shoved up her nose. Earn that free lipgloss on your way to the hospital, Pamela from Cheswick!
The best friend story is cute, but if I’m reading this right – Chazza stole Laura’s crush, then gave him a shout-out in her letter that was supposed to be about her friendship with Laura and called him her “faithful” Ted?! WOW. Chazza better watch her back because I’m suspecting that Laura could only take this so long before macing her with that body spray.
Also, the non sequitur from the “snippets and scribblings” section: why do pork pies have jelly in them? no-one likes it so what’s the point? is a question that has haunted me since I first read it in 1997. What does that mean.

Teenage me found this ad to be delightfully worded, as nobody in America calls underwear “knickers” unless you are referring to some kind of frilly pantaloon-esque undergarment of the kind that Minnie Mouse would wear.

You too can look like Ginger Spice with just this…Union Jack t-shirt.

Some fashion that seems pretty on-par with what the kids in the states were wearing for the summer of 97. That blue skirt and top set is still super cute. I remember teenage me being somewhat confused by the presence of pools in this photoshoot. Teenage me didn’t think that England had things like swimming pools and palm trees. Teenage me was not particularly smart.

I’ve also always wondered if something happened and the girl pictured in the blue bikini was supposed to be the cover model originally, because that feels like much more of a cover shot than Miss T-Shirt Pool Floatie, but again – apparently the magazine was feeling some pressure for being too sexually explicit. Which maybe is why they’re featuring some pretty full-coverage swimsuits here, although I do think most of them are cute.

I found myself doing a deep dig on whatever the heck North And South were. From what I can tell, they were a made up boy band who had their own TV show called No Sweat, but they were also a real boy band who made…music. I’m going to share the video of the song that they’re trying to sell here. It is…it is so bad. Prepare your ears.

I don’t know how desperate you are to break out of your BBC Children’s show before you make a song that just consists of one screaming I’M A MAAAN NOT A BOY for three and a half minutes while your fake-real boy bandmates bob supportively and occasionally disco-scream behind you, but I’m going to say it’s real desperate. But wait! THERE’S A TWIST! Tom, the one back there who thumps his hand on the keyboard a few times, sought fame and fortune overseas when the band split up and found himself in the qualifying rounds of American Idol season six. You know that season…the one with ELLIOTT YAMIN. Who, lest we forget, dated JAIMIE POOL SHIRT COVER MODEL PAETZ.

Another ad that fascinated, baffled, and horrified me. I don’t even know what to say here. What is this racist and fatphobic nightmare fuel? For a shampoo ad?? What do you make of it?

Sorry the Imagur linking process went a little wonky so I have to post these two parts separately

Here’s some helpful advice on how to date someone named Paul Nicholls. Don’t be afraid of the fact that he looks about 37 and is advertising himself as a lure to teenage girls, at the time of this printing he was a very reasonable 18 years and 11 months old. The writing in this article includes choice phrases such as “Ecky thump or summat” and a helpful formula to calculate how many lipsticks his net worth can buy for you, so I’m getting the sense that this is a true English dreamboat swoonworthy of buying out the saucepan section at Miss Selfridge’s or have I lost it by now phwaowar sorted.

More very of the time borderline psychotic late-90s teen magazine advertising. But I’ve always liked this one.

For just 50p (about the equivalent in US to $1.20 today) per minute you can tell us your precious marketing data and we’ll tell you all about these prizes that you will never win! You, Gemma Louise Britishgirl, 13, from Devonshire, you want a New York Jets t-shirt for some reason right? SORTED!

11 Things Nick Stabile Probably Never Actually Said, Featuring Nick Stabile! I vaguely remember him from around this time but I never watched Sunset Beach, I guess he briefly played Fox on Passions aka the greatest soap opera of all time. He seems to have found his niche on soap operas, so good for him. I’m not sure what he’s doing in this magazine, maybe Sunset Beach was a hit in the UK? He’s also, um, 26 in this article, which seems a bit old in hindsight, but the article isn’t giving you explicit advice on how to stalk him into submission and hit him with a sauce pot, I mean frying pan, so it’s harmless.

This is the condensed-to-one page version of a feature that was an endless spread of Cute Famous Sometimes Shirtless Boys And Their Opinions On What They Want From Girls, some of whom I recognized and most of whom I didn’t. Look at that awful photo of Ewan McGregor, but note – Scottish Saucepot Star Wars alert! Also I may not be the world’s greatest fact checker but I’m pretty sure that Brad Pitt did not buy Gwyneth Paltrow five houses. And did they straight-up just fat shame Robbie Williams?

With cred firmly established here as “woman who has bedded both Dean Cain and Matt LeBlanc”, world class athlete Gabrielle Reece gives some reasonable advice on exercise and fitness.

I definitely remember Lip Lix, or was that just what Lip Smackers were called overseas? I had whatever was the darkest color was because it was as close as I could get to owning black lipstick. And I indeed was the sexiest, chicest, and edgiest 13 year old in world history class with my raisin toast scented brownish-purple chapstick.

I’ve never heard of The Charlatans but it looks like they’re still big in the UK. Looking over their video for “North Country Boy” I judge them to be Cute Enough but not quite Scorcher Summer Smasharoo level Saucepotty. This video is very very 1997, down to the green filter and everything.

I can’t answer the question of why every music video made between 1997 and 1999 was shot as if it were trapped in the Matrix, it just was and we didn’t question it.

I don’t have much to say. It speaks for itself. It made me laugh. Lucky cow! Lucky clever cow!

I remember the heartbreak that sank in when I realized that this was NOT Darren Hayes from Savage Garden and instead was some guy named Neil from yet another band I’d never heard of. He seems nice? And according to the forensic handwriting expert that Sugar has on staff at all times, his handwriting indicates that he may buy me even more lipsticks than Paul Nicholls would, if we were in a relationship. SORTED!

And finally, our back cover brought to you by Virgin Lips (wow) soda. Now that’s a slogan. As bizarre and garish as these ads have all been, I’ve admired the style of minimal text and maximum graphics. Well, except when they’re racist and stuff. Anyway, that’s it for this one. I hope you liked it and it didn’t completely alienate you and wow, 1997, what a year right? Thanks for reading!