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teen whisperer leesa coble shares the secrets of tiger beat magazine

From The Monkees to 1D, Tiger Beat and Bop magazines have defined what it means to be a teenage girl in America for 50 years.

Teen fangirl staple Tiger Beat has graced American newsstands for nearly fifty years, with its exuberantly collaged covers featuring the boy idols of the moment. Those clean-shaven faces have changed over the years, as has the media landscape (Tiger girls can now download their mag at the App store), but the magazine’s innocent cheerleading is much the same as when Chuck Laufer started it in 65. Laufer also founded Bop, Tiger Beat’s sister publication, in 83, and both publications are now run by his son Scott from the Los Angeles suburbs. The operation is delightfully retro; it’s all about positivity and cute boys. Leesa Coble, editor-in-chief of Tiger Beat and Bop, is a charmingly bubbly grown woman who spends her days thinking about Justin, Harry, and Cody.

With covers from the Monkees to One Direction, the Tiger Beat and Bop archives showcases a universe always on the thrillingly vanilla cusp of a first kiss, even as they reveal our changing tastes in everything from hairstyles to music. As Leesa says, the magazine’s back issues “are archiving iconic pop culture history. You can look back at these magazines and know exactly where we were as a culture. That’s a great thing to have from a teenage perspective.”

Tiger Beat is so ingrained in American pop culture that The New York Times mistakenly included a parody cover featuring Obama (“I sing in the shower!” Barack) in a slideshow about the magazine’s history. The Times had to issue a rare publishing apology attributing the cover to satirical rag The Onion.

Growing up in the nineties the boy-focused girls I knew read Tiger Beat, while the girl-focused girls read Sassy, but there was perhaps less ideological distance between the two than you might’ve thought. Tiger Beat  and Bop have always supported self-confidence and positivity, amidst the fangirl vibe.

“There is an underlying component of the magazine that is spreading a lot of positive messages,” says Leesa. “At that age you’re looking for somebody to look up to, and you’re looking for ways to navigate your own life. We’re not heavy-handed - we’re trying to relate to them in a way that they will accept.”

The magazines have cannily weathered a disastrous magazine industry downturn by doing endless, grassroots market research. Leesa explains, “We’re not driving their taste in music or pop culture or entertainment, they really drive us to know who to put out there.” Find out what the kids like, through polling and research, and feed it to them constantly.

Cultural shifts are slowly making their way into the fangirl bubble. It’s not all about boys, boys, boys anymore. “Starting as far back as Hilary Duff, females are becoming much more popular, which I think is awesome.” Leesa says, “Everyone from Ariana Grande to Demi Lovato and now Shailene Woodley. I like to see that personally because I like that they have girls to look up to.”

Gay culture has filtered into the conversation too, through the lens of increasingly open teen celebrities. Lucas Cruikshank, of Nickelodeon’s Fred, was one of the early examples Leesa remembers: “He did a video where he came out, and we posted that. That was a really cool moment, especially because he was an active teen star and that was really unusual, for somebody to come out at that age, when they have that kind of caliber professionally.”

As to how Leesa Coble sees the current crop of pimply, passionate youth, there’s hope. And at the heart of this boy-band dynasty, there’s a surprising message of girl power. “What I think is great about this generation is that they are empowered by media in terms of the choices they have and how much they can take into their own hands, be it through YouTube or blogging or creating their own presence in the world. What they’re producing and how they’re putting themselves out there is really cool. Especially girls.”