The death of The Sexiest Man Alive

Globe photo illustration by Samantha Stamas

You may not have heard the big news (over the racket of smashing Keurigs), but earlier this week, country singer and “The Voice” judge Blake Shelton was named People Magazine’s 2017 Sexiest Man Alive. It was a November surprise that sent many a Twitterer into a spiral of deep uncertainty.

Sure, as a living man, Shelton nails two of the honor’s three criteria, which science assures us ain’t bad.

But what of that first qualifier? That is: Is Blake Shelton sexy? People couldn’t seem to — oh wait, yes they could, never mind. 


“Blake Shelton looks like the single dad in a Hallmark movie called ‘Sexy for Christmas,’” tweeted comic Brandi Brown. “Blake Shelton is sexy if you like a guy who’s always about to lean in and tell you about hearty, healthy, American dog food,” tweeted viral “Jeopardy!”-snapper Louis Virtel. “Way to hold It down for all the 7s out there. We appreciate you,” tweeted NBA player Evan Turner, who — hm! — fancies himself a 7. 

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Cumberbatchers, Elbaphiles, Momoasexuals, all emerged united across various sub-sects of Twitter to voice their discontent, anger, and confusion over this year’s chosen one. They pointed to Shelton’s historically horrible and ample track record of racist, sexist, and homophobic output on Twitter (for which he’s since issued one of those non-apologies “to anybody who may have been offended”). They pointed to what he said upon winning: “I can’t wait to shove this up Adam [Levine]’s [expletive].” (Levine won in 2013.) And they pointed to his Objectively Very Bad Tattoo (a pattern of deer tracks mistaken so often for a gathering of ladybugs that Shelton was compelled to flank them with barbed wire to make them “more manly”).

All aggressively non-sexy things. To paraphrase Shelton, who is he when we’re not looking?

Sprinkle in that he once reported getting “a real kick” out of watching his pet turkey (named Turkey) eat turkey and that he soaks his hair in a mixture of ketchup and eggs for an hour once a week, and hmmm. I feel myself swiping left, y’all.

Still, this is all pretty subjective stuff. One man’s highly problematic tweeter, after all, is another woman’s total stud muffin. Consider that a couple years ago, Shelton towed an Oklahoma man to safety from waist-deep floodwaters. Is that sexy? Yes. That is possibly sexy. Shelton is also rich, famous, taken (by Gwen Stefani), and disarmingly goofy — also things that, in a controlled environment, could be effectively synthesized into a compound approximating sexiness. And the ketchup-egg thing really does seem to work wonders on those flaxen locks of his. And he does have those steely, stolen-from-Martina-McBride’s-head-blue eyes . . .


A look back at Sexiest Man’s 29-dude lineage tells a tale of, well, white guys winning things (Shelton is the 27th white winner) but also the otherwise unstable nature of “sexy.”

After a water-testing first three years (Mel Gibson ’85, Mark Harmon ’86, Harry Hamlin ’87), the Sexiest committee spent its first decade toying with what made a man a sex symbol: JFK Jr. was the youngest winner at 27 (and the first departure from Hollywood) in 1988; Sean Connery (yeek!) was the oldest the very next year at 59. “Hollywood’s hunk with a heart” Patrick Swayze (’91) was followed by “big lug Adonis” Nick Nolte (’92). And somehow Richard Gere snuck in twice — once as part of the Sexiest Couple (with Cindy Crawford) and once on his own in 1999. Other two-timers (so to speak) include no-duh choices like Brad Pitt (’95 and ’00), George Clooney (’97 and ’06), and Johnny Depp (’03 and ’09).

More recently, the issue retooled itself into something more like a standard-issue stud-finder. Ryan Reynolds (’10), Channing Tatum (’12), Chris Hemsworth (’14), David Beckham (’15), and Dwayne Johnson (a.k.a. The Rock, ’16) all steered the redefinition of “Sexiest Man” from championing ineffable qualities to drooling over visible abs. In this context, Shelton’s win might represent some good news for the average dude (who still fancies himself a 7) — the start of a paradigm shift in the tectonics of sexy toward more even ground. 

But no. Here’s the thing: This whole stink over Blake Shelton isn’t really a question of whether he’s sexy, let alone sexy enough to be “Sexiest.” In fact, let’s forget Blake for a second.

As a lifelong gay who likes to think he brings a sommelier’s sensitivity to critical distinctions like these, I feel like I’ve been pinching my nose through the entirety of 2017, essentially operating without the faculties necessary for identifying and evaluating what may or may not qualify as “sexy.” What even is a sexy man right now? Is that still a thing you can be?


Do blue eyes and fantastic hair make it fine for a man to “wish the [expletive] in the next room would either shut up or learn some English so I would atleast [sic] know what he's planning to bomb”? Does aw-shucks old-boy charm permit a man to publicly refer to his ex as a “fat ugly bitch”? Or post reference to a “sick fantasy” involving a then-16-year-old actress? Deleting thousands of tweets for fear that someone might read them: Sexy or no?

Help me: What exactly must be overlooked in order to focus on the sexy part?

What with all these Harveys and Kevins and Georges and Bills and Louis-es and (et tu?) Als and Donalds showing off their true colors as though true colors were all they had on under a loose trenchcoat, the very idea of a Sexiest Man contest right now just feels like an unwelcome intruder — a dude from “Magic Mike” humping his way across the floor of an emergency room. From what I gather, there really doesn’t seem to be any urgent inquiry from the general public toward which powerful men seem most primed and ready for sex — and even less of an obligation to reward them for it. 

Michael Andor Brodeur can be reached at Follow him on Twitter: @MBrodeur.