“Everything Was On Fire”: Brazil’s Most Influential Music Magazine [SPECIAL EDITION]
I’m Todd L. Burns, and welcome to Music Journalism Insider, a newsletter about music journalism. I highlight some of the best stuff I hear, read, and watch every week; publish news about the industry; and interview writers, scholars, and editors about their work. My goal is to share knowledge, celebrate great work, and expand the idea of what music journalism is—and where it happens. Questions, comments, concerns? You can reach me anytime at email@example.com.
In this special edition, I’m handing things over to freelance writer Beatriz Miranda. A few months ago, I reached out to Beatriz, curious to learn about Brazilian music magazines. With a country so big and a music heritage so deep, there had to be one that might be interesting for folks that didn’t speak Portuguese to learn about. Beatriz told me all about Bizz, a publication that arrived at just the right moment in Brazil’s history. I hope you enjoy her feature on the magazine!
The year was 1985. After two decades of a suffocating civil-military dictatorship, Brazil was finally ready to breathe again. The country was gradually moving towards democracy, and artists were free to express themselves without the risk of arrest. Censorship, finally, was no longer a concern among non-governmental media outlets. And the kids? They were eager for new music. Not the kind their parents listened to. Something their generation could genuinely relate to.
The convergence of these factors couldn’t have been more opportune for the birth of Bizz, one of the most important music magazines in Brazil and the longest-lasting of its kind. From 1985 to 2001, Bizz helped shape the cultural identity of Brazil’s youth by shining a light on Brazilian rock, aka Brock.
Bizz effectively got its start after January 1985 at the first edition of the Rock in Rio Festival. The event was a sign of the times, with more than one million attendees over the course of ten days. “There was an atmosphere of freedom. So everything, culturally speaking, was on fire,” explains José Eduardo Mendonça, Bizz’s very first editor-in-chief. “The air smelled like rock music. When the first Rock in Rio festival was announced, Abril [Bizz’s publishing house] called me. They said there was a youth music phenomenon they wanted to feature in a new music magazine. So the first thing we did was send a team to Rock in Rio to collect data about this youth—their clothing, their vocabulary, their music taste.”
With surveys in hand and a clear direction in mind, Bizz’s official launch was a success. “We knew it would be big. We sold around 120,000 copies, which is a lot, considering music is a very particular segment in magazine journalism,” says Mendonça. According to Cassiano de Oliveira, who wrote a Ph.D. thesis on music journalism during this period, Bizz sold 60% of its monthly circulation in only a week, proving that its target audience (18- to 25-year-olds) was primed for a magazine of its kind.
Featuring Bruce Springsteen on its cover, Bizz’s debut issue hit newsstands in August 1985. The secret to its success was simple: it gave 1980s youth exactly what they were looking for, filling what Bizz perceived to be a “clear, but unmet demand for information about the music world.” The staff was mainly composed of young folks who were into rock music, and Bizz was in tune with the freshest and very best from the Brock scene and abroad. As Mendonça puts it today, “We had easy access to first-hand information, we were invited to every show, had correspondents in Rio, Bahia, London, New York… We were able to cover everything.” Sonia Maia, an early Bizz journalist, wasn’t intimately involved with music journalism before the magazine, but she brought an undeniable energy to the job. “I was a 26-year-old punk fan covering the rock scene from São Paulo. It was so much fun,” she recalls.
That energy leapt off the page. Regiane da Silva became a faithful Bizz reader after discovering the magazine in 1989. “I think Bizz got into the scene at the right time. The editors were clever for bringing everything my generation wanted to know about rock,” she explains. Bizz was crucial in relaying music news. Da Silva, now a Portuguese teacher living in São Paulo, remembers learning about the “extremely unusual” partnership of Raul Seixas, a man frequently referred to as the father of Brazilian rock, and punk rocker Marcelo Nova, thanks to the magazine. José Flávio Júnior, a former assistant editor at Bizz, agrees. “In a world without the internet, Bizz was the big magazine that helped reveal new artists and presented a critical view of what we consumed in other media.”
With correspondents in London and New York and a fascination for everything foreign, Bizz wrote quite a bit about music from elsewhere. In fact, as Mendonça puts it, “During my time at Bizz, there was a sort of fanaticism with English rock.” Maia goes further: “Some of Bizz’s journalists used to praise everything that came from abroad, and see everything from Brazil as a copy.”
In the 1980s, Brock was seen as a “minor genre” by prominent music critics across the country, and while Bizz played a pivotal role in bringing them to prominence, it wasn’t easy. Mendonça remembers that some at the magazine didn’t understand why they would cover Brock at all. “When I decided to feature Roberto Carlos in the magazine [an iconic Brazilian artist, one of the first Brazilian rock artists in the 1960s], some people got mad at me.” Maia looks back in regret at this attitude. “People romanticized foreign rock. By doing this, we somehow delegitimized some brilliant Brazilian music groups. Today, I see this as a consequence of structural racism,” she says, pointing out that Giberto Gil was the only Black artist to have ever appeared on a Bizz cover in the 80s.
Nonetheless, what most people remember today about Bizz was the attention it paid to music from within the country, especially underground artists. Bands such as Legião Urbana, RPM, Ultraje a Rigor, Titãs, Barão Vermelho, and Paralamas do Sucesso (then considered established, mainstream, or pop-rock) were, of course, featured, but one of Bizz’s most famous sections, “Porão” (Basement), was dedicated to groups rising in the Brock scene. “‘Porão’ revealed several bands and helped them gain visibility,” explains Mendonça. “Our audience saw in this section an opportunity to get to know new bands, groups such as Ratos de Porão, Fellini, Voluntários da Pátria, Akira S e As Garotas Que Erraram, and many others.
Within Brazil itself, there was a clear rivalry among cities. São Paulo’s music scene was often portrayed as a serious, “culturally elevated” one, in contrast to Rio de Janeiro. This was no doubt due to the sound: São Paulo’s was more directly influenced by punk music, while Rio became known as a hub of New Wave, adding reggae and disco elements to classic rock. In the eyes of most of Bizz’s critics (who, not coincidentally, were largely from São Paulo), Rio’s rock artists—Blitz, Kid Abelha, Lulu Santos, Lobão, and Eduardo Dussek—were, despite their success, “bad, innocent, unprofessional, silly.”
“What didn’t meet the ‘quality standard’ established by the team was considered bad. Today, I find the idea of music criticism stupid. It’s sad, it’s poor. I didn’t like [the band] Blitz either, for example. It was a matter of taste, but we, as a big magazine, should have taken a fuller picture of Brock into account,” says Maia. Back in her writing days, Maia wasn’t shy about playing with these stereotypes. She recalls the artist Lobão got quite mad at her when she joked in a review that, for Rio rock, his music wasn’t bad.
Despite all this, Bizz remains a beloved touchstone. It was hugely influential for Brazilian youth of the ‘80s and ‘90s, especially due to its commercial partnership with MTV. (The music video network launched in 1990 in Brazil, and would share its video with the magazine.) Anytime a Brazilian act would get a coveted spot on the cover, it ensured a certain amount of success for the group. As Leandro Saueia, now a music journalist, puts it, “I started buying many albums because of Bizz… At that time, no one used to buy ‘the most different’ albums. I wouldn’t risk buying an album that wasn’t talked about.”
Things slowly started to change when the ’90s came around. Bizz began to cover sounds from outside of São Paulo positively, especially those that dialogued with Brazil’s folk and urban music cultures. Two, in particular, were promoted by the magazine: Brazilian heavy metal (mainly represented by the band Sepultura) and manguebeat (led by Chico Science & Nação Zumbi). What’s more, the once celebrated Brock bands started losing momentum, giving way to groups such as Skank, Pato Fu, Raimundos, Planet Hemp, and Charlie Brown Jr, which introduced new aesthetics to the Brock scene.
The ’90s represented a transformative decade not only for Brock, but for Brazil’s pop music in general. Genres like axé and sertanejo began to rise, eventually becoming the most popular music styles in Brazil. As a result, rock was forced to share its once “exclusive” audience of Brazilian middle-class youngsters. Bizz adapted, publishing nostalgic stories about ’80s rock bands and covering the electronic music scene. It’s hard to say whether axé and sertanejo directly led to Bizz’s decline, but by 2001 the magazine had decided to close its doors. Abril, the publisher, was no longer interested in printing it.
Four years later, Bizz returned with a new editorial team. But Ricardo Alexandre, the editor-in-chief of the second (and last) phase of the magazine, knew from the beginning that Bizz’s days were numbered. “Abril wasn’t interested in keeping a music publication focused on young adults,” he explains. “Although we have developed several strategies to keep the magazine alive (a Bizz podcast, a Bizz TV…), it didn’t make sense from a commercial point of view. There was not much of an audience, no big advertiser, and the magazine didn’t work with subscriptions. We used to joke that Bizz was our Apnea Project: every now and then, the magazine had to go to the surface, take some breaths, and go down once again.”
The timing of Bizz’s relaunch couldn’t have been worse: “It was the beginning of Web 2.0, the early days of social networks, mp3s, MySpace. The value of music had changed, but, back then, we couldn’t see that,” remembers Alexandre. “The history of music journalism has always been based on the privilege of access. People used to buy a magazine that could expand their knowledge (on a certain genre or artist). But with the advent of Web 2.0, you suddenly started having access to all the albums you wanted. Bizz was completely knocked down by this new paradigm.” In 2007, the magazine shut down for good.
Bizz’s second phase never achieved commercial success, but, in the words of Alexandre, it was the best phase of journalism at the magazine. “We published interviews with John Lennon and Bob Marley that had been, until then, unreleased in Brazil,” says the former editor, who now hosts a podcast called Discoteca Básica (Basic Discothéque), titled after the section in Bizz that used to feature the best Brazilian and international rock albums of the month.
In 2013, a community of former readers created a Facebook group called “Bizz Clássica.” Today, it’s composed of 6,500 people—former editors, reporters, and rock fans who aim to celebrate and relive what Bizz once represented. Mendonça explains that when he tells people he “worked at Bizz, they’re like ‘Wow!’ I even remember a time when newspapers adopted the term ‘showbizz’ in their economy sections to refer to show business—a clear allusion to our magazine.” To Alexandre, it went far beyond music. “Thanks to Bizz, I learned that people don’t necessarily need to like the same stuff, in music or even politics, in order to make them part of a single community.”
For those looking to dive deeper into the subject, Beatriz recommends the following:
If you have any questions or just want to get in touch with Beatriz, reply to this email and I’ll get you connected.
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The Closing Credits
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