The Pop Manifesto is an ambitious name for an Internet-only zine, but so is the concept behind it. Founded by Ilirjana Alushaj and Karl Maier back in 2005, the add-free web-only publication has grown from humble beginnings to expand to a blog and record label, championing up-and-coming artists, designers, and musicians. Like the alt fanzines of the '90s, The Pop Manifesto is a place for its founders to spotlight what they love. The only difference is that it's a digital object, rather than paper booklet Xeroxed after-hours at Kinko's.
"I feel like the concept of a zine is people writing about stuff they really love without thinking about sales or who’s going to read it," said Alushaj, who now runs the project solo. "It’s a passion project."
Part of the motivation behind The Pop Manifesto is to expand the idea of what "pop"can be. "People always thought it was a negative if you liked pop music," said Alushaj. "But for me pop culture is simply something that is catchy and grabs my attention—that can be anything." And that panoply of ideas is exactly what the zine reflects. Now on its 11th issue The Pop Manifesto has featured everyone from musicians like Grimes, Complex cover star Charli XCX, and Hit-Boy, to artist Joel Shapiro and the fashion designer TOME—anyone who falls under Alushaj's hyper-modern worldview.
But though The Pop Manifesto is digital, the ethos is still staunchly DIY. "I don't have click bait headlines or sensationalism. It’s more about people talking about themselves and their art," said Alushaj. We spoke to Alushaj about the early days of zine, her problems with the Internet, and how to make a manifesto of your own.
It seems like you're always doing a million different things. Can you give us a little intro as to who you are?
My name is Ilirjana Alushaj. I’m from Australia and Montenegro. However, I lived in Brooklyn for a very long time and only recently moved to L.A. I work in artist management as well as music and fashion consulting.
And you also play music!
I also play music, yes. I DJ, write, and perform music under the name Ille. I was in a band called Apache Beat. I’ve made a bunch of music under various other names [including Typical Girls]. I love doing lots of things all the time. I think it would be strange for me to only have one path of interest.
This is our small section of the Internet, so we wanted to make it look special and different.
The zine started way back in 2005. How was it originally conceived?
It casually started in 2005, but we didn’t do that much until a few years later. At that point it was just me and Karl Maier—he used to be part of Rinzen, but now he’s in Craig & Karl, which is amazing design collective. We were good friends back in Australia, and had been chatting about doing something together for ages. I was a punk kid and was always making some variation on zines, so that’s the first thing that came to mind. Under a random whim at art school I had registered the name "The Pop Manifesto” so we went with that.
Now you have fashion, design, and music, but it seems like the early issues were mostly just music focused.
The zines we were making originally were a majority music related. It was an easy thing to write about for me at the time, as one of my first jobs was writing for Vice about music, but honestly I just like all sorts of pop culture a lot. The whole premise of The Pop Manifesto when we started was to highlight artists, not only from music, but design and fashion, who are not necessarily masters yet. Or if they’re known, they’re not totally known. You’ve heard their name but are not sure what they do. So that was more of the goal of the zine.
that’s the definition of pop: it comes out at you.
What do you think makes it a digizine instead of a traditional website? Or, for that matter, why not make it a paper zine?
Print media is kind of dead in the water. I’m very pro-digital in most things. We decided, instead of doing a print one, to do it online. I feel like when people make zines, they make them because they honestly like what they’re writing about. The whole issue is promoting whatever we have written about. It’s not a thing where I do it because I know I’m going to make a million dollars. I don’t have to think about exterior factors of why I wouldn’t put someone in there. It’s just shit I like that we just put in. I think that makes it more of a zine than an "online publication." Whenever I’ve dealt with blogs or anything like that, there’s sometimes other motives behind things. I just do it because I love it.
Is it ever hard to secure talent? Some of the artists—like Charli XCX, for example—are pretty big now.
Well, I know Charli. She is a sweetheart. Working in music you meet a lot of people. The Pop Manifesto is one of those things where people know about it, and I guess they like it or don’t. Each issue is super curated, and all the writers and photographers are also amazing people in their own right. It’s a nice showcase of the new talents of whatever year it comes out in. I hope everyone who has been in it has been happy about it.
How important was the look of the zine when you were creating it?
For me the aesthetic is as important as what’s written in it. I’m very aesthetically oriented. Blogs on the Internet all kind of look the same. This is our small section of the Internet, so we wanted to make it look special and different.
The best thing if you want to create something like The Pop Manifesto is to focus on what you love, and then you’ll never regret putting anything out.
What does "pop" mean to you?
That was the whole thing: a pop manifesto, a place where you would write about different kinds of pop, including off-kilter pop—you know, pop that’s not necessarily straight down the line. We’ve done everyone from [Throbbing Grisstle member] Cosey Fanni Tutti to Iggy Azalea, Hit-Boy, Ashish, basically everything. We try to go as far out as possible, but it is all pop in my opinion.
Now it seems everyone likes all kinds of music, but five years ago there was a larger divide between "underground" and "mainstream" pop. It seems like things have shifted in favor of your world-view.
Throbbing Gristle, to me is pop because they do some wack shit that grabs my attention, and that’s what pop is. Literally, that’s the definition of pop: it comes out at you. I feel like people automatically think of pop as only artists like Katy Perry. Every artist, no matter if they are in fashion, music, or design, can be pop. It's a non-direct, non-linear way of looking at it.
How have you seen the way people talk about music on the Internet change since you’ve been doing this?
Just from being in a band myself, seeing how uninformed thoughts about music come up online from people who have never written music, never performed, it bugs me out a bit. I don’t read a lot of music journalism unless it’s a topic or artist I enjoy or want to learn about. I’m not a huge fan of reviews or writing reviews either. That being said, more people are talking about things that were never talked about before, and I think that’s cool.
On the other hand, though, zines are somewhere you can just evangelize about the things you are super stoked about.
Yeah, that’s the whole point of them. I’d never claim that The Pop Manifesto was something where you would find critical debates. These are simply super talented people, and they have something to say about what they do, and we are going to focus on that. Now it’s 15 stories in an issue, and those 15 people are my favorite people right now, whom I really admire and I want featured.
You’ve also put out music as a label. How did that come about?
To be honest, it’s not really hard to start a label—you just need to find talent and a distributor. [laughs] Being involved in music, I saw so many amazing people I wanted to sign, so I started a label. I've been really busy with other projects, so it got put on hold. Next year, however, I’m definitely re-launching and releasing some new music. I’m excited by that because I love the fact that The Pop Manifesto has turned into somewhat of a label. It’s just the natural progression of the idea of a zine.
What would you say to someone who wanted to do something similar?
Just learn a little bit about programming and then hone your tastes. It can’t be too general, if that makes sense. There’s so much stuff out there on the Internet that if you want to build a zine definitely make it personal to your style and interests. Don’t worry too much about what other people are going to think about it because, in the end, it’s your project, and it has your name on it. It’s your baby, and if you start pandering, you’ll end up having work attached to you forever. The best thing if you want to create something like The Pop Manifesto is to focus on what you love, and then you’ll never regret putting anything out.