Shirley Halperin Executive Editor of Music, Variety
Shirley Halperin is Executive Editor of Music at Variety, where she spearheads music coverage for the print magazine and Variety.com. Through her 20-year career, she has held staff positions at Entertainment Weekly, Teen People and Us Weekly and was also a regular contributor to Rolling Stone. Shirley joined the Hollywood Reporter (THR) as Music Editor in 2010, later adding sister magazine Billboard to her resume. Until 2017, she oversaw music news coverage for both publications. Shirley is the author of three books: 2008’s “Pot Culture: The A-Z Guide to Stoner Language and Life,” 2010’s “Reefer Movie Madness” and 2011’s “American Idol: the Official Backstage Pass.”
Creating Music coverage at Variety (04:20)
Variety’s Hitmakers (05:30)
With Scooter and Guy (08:20)
Phish and Israel and Jerusalem of Gold (13:00)
Stoned with Snoop Dogg (29:43)
Headline writing superpower (32:01)
Get Back and the creative process (36:05)
What it takes to be a music journalist (38:15)
Edited Transcription with typos – sorry:
Eitan Chitayat 00:42
Shirley Halperin is an executive editor at Variety where she spearheads music coverage for the print magazine and variety.com. Through her twenty-year career she has held staff positions at Entertainment Weekly, Teen People, and US Weekly and was also a regular contributor to Rolling Stone. A two-time Los Angeles Press Club winner Shirley joined The Hollywood Reporter as music editor in 2010, later adding sister magazine Billboard to her resume. Until 2017, she oversaw music news coverage for both publications. She’s the author of three books 2008’s Pot culture, the A to Zed guide to stoner language and life 2010’s Before Movie Madness, and 2011’s American Idol, the official backstage pass. I have known Shirley for what, thirty years?
Shirley Halperin 01:21
Something like that. 1986?
Eitan Chitayat 01:26
That’s crazy. And you’re the first person I’ve ever interviewed in person.
Shirley Halperin 01:30
Oh, happy post COVID life.
Eitan Chitayat 01:33
Well, it’s really nice to see you here. And we’ve been spending some time while you’ve been here in Israel, and we thought, well, we should do an episode for I’m that. So you know the score. There’s always one question that I ask that starts off with a podcast episode. The question is for you to just complete this sentence. Shirley Halperin, I’m that…
Shirley Halperin 01:52
I should have prepared for this question. Dammit, Eitan.
Eitan Chitayat 01:55
I told you 10 times…
Shirley Halperin 01:56
I’m that… I want to say eccentric because I feel like my job is untraditional and my sort of like, you know, view of the world is a little left of center. And I don’t know, I just like to think of myself as not normal.
Eitan Chitayat 02:14
I concur with that. But that’s because I’ve known you for so long. But I’m gonna ask you a question, which is obvious to you, but not obvious to other people. I mean, when you say she’s the executive editor at variety, what is that? What is your job?
Shirley Halperin 02:26
My job, so Variety is one of the oldest like American newspapers. It started in 1905. So it’s 117 years old. It is literally like one of the first entertainment Bibles. It has long been a place where people in the movie industry go to for their news and television. But they never really got into music, which felt like especially in the 2000s as Netflix came along, and there was just so much more music to be consumed Spotify, Apple, Amazon, it was like a giant gaping hole in their coverage. And in fact, they’ve never really been good at music coverage. Like there’s a famous Variety article from 1956. That was just before Elvis Presley hit big and the article said rock and roll was a fad. It’ll be gone by the summer. And then Elvis comes along. And they were obviously wrong. So they didn’t have that authoritative voice, like they did with film and TV. Now, I was working at Billboard, which was like a dream job in a lot of ways, because that is the preeminent music industry publication.
But it was like a weird time at Billboard, where it was going through different owners. And you know, it just didn’t really feel like a stable place. I wasn’t looking to make a move. But when I heard that variety was looking to get into music, something appealed about that, because I really love launching things. I’ve launched a lot of magazines, I’ve done books, like from zero to 100, whatever pages and there was something just attractive about being able to like completely just guide this new area of coverage for Variety. So when they offered me this job, I took it.
Eitan Chitayat 04:14
So nothing like this had existed at Variety before in terms at the level that we’re talking about with music.
Shirley Halperin 04:20
Correct. And they also just, they were very sort of random with their music coverage. Like sometimes they would cover a concert, they would obviously cover like the Grammys or the big events, but they didn’t have a regular presence. So music people didn’t go there for their news, and I just aimed to change that. And we did like very quickly. It’s going great. I’m on my fifth year there, which is incredible. I’ve launched a couple of franchises like when they hired me, they said we want you to come up with some franchises that we can take to the market like sell and there was one that I always wanted to do a Billboard which I didn’t have a chance to it was called Hitmakers and it was like let’s reward the people who actually make the songs. So a lot of artists like they don’t write their own songs. You know, they have a team of producers team of writers, a&r people, those are the people at the record companies that really guide the music. And I was like, we should do an event just to recognize those people. Because what Variety is really good at is what’s called below the line. So you have a movie poster, right? And you have your stars at the top, and then you have all that other little copy on the bottom that’s below the line. So I was like, we need to be the below the line outlet for music the way that we are for film and TV. And that means producers, songwriters, a&r, publishers, people behind the scenes, and that would be the equivalent of like a production designer and your makeup person and your cinematographer. And I really just was like, This is what variety is good at, let’s not retool the boat. Like, let’s just stick with it.
So that was one franchise, and it’s really been great. We name a hitmaker of the year every year previous homemakers have been like Adam Levine from Maroon Five, Harry Styles, Billy Eilish. And this year, we did Jack Harlow, great new rapper. So those have been the cover stories. And then the other franchise that I did was something that already existed at Variety, but they weren’t really giving it the love that they should have. And that’s called Music for screens. So they would do this feature every quarter. So it’s once every three months. And you’d be like, here’s all the music that you’re hearing in the movies and the the but it wasn’t like organized, it didn’t really have like an essence to it seemed very random. But I was like, this is actually good franchise, we should take this make it a conference, which we did, and make a page on the website. That’s music for screens, and every story about a composer, about sinks, about editing music, about documentaries, and how you create music for that like that should all fall in music for screens. And that’s like a lane that we own. There’s no other outlet in the world. Honestly, that covers music for film, TV, games, the way we do. No one even comes close.
Eitan Chitayat 07:10
So what’s interesting is, you know, when I read Variety, and I read quite a few of the different verticals, I guess, you know, that come out of Variety magazine, you celebrate not just the glamorous stuff. I mean, there’s a strong emphasis on business. And I think it’s interesting because you’ve interviewed I know that you and we can talk about it later, but you’ve interviewed Harry Styles Snoop Dogg, Katy Perry, Adele, you’ve also interviewed Scooter Braun. And more recently, you interviewed Guy Oseary. And so Guy Oseary and Scooter Braun, you know them they’re music moguls, and those are cover articles. Right? So it’s interesting that you put a big emphasis on that as well. Does anyone else do that? Like you do?
Shirley Halperin 07:46
Yeah. Our competitors, The Hollywood Reporter, which doesn’t cover music, I used to cover music for them, but no longer so they kind of did away with their music coverage and Billboard, but they don’t cover the TV dome side. So I do think like we’re in a very unique position, because we’re a business magazine, but we’re also about creating and content and art, you know, so it’s about combining those two things.
Eitan Chitayat 08:12
So tell me, I can imagine so many people will want to get their hands on Scooter Braun or Guy Oseary. So how does that come about? How’d you get the interview?
Shirley Halperin 08:20
Well, with both of them, I got to know them pretty early on in their careers, Scooter more so. Like when I met Scooter, he wasn’t Scooter Braun yet. He had just signed Justin Bieber and I swear he doesn’t remember this. And I barely do too. But he and I had met at a party a couple of years even before that. So I felt like there was a connection there with him like, oh, yeah, I know who you are. Oh, you’re signing this new kid? Oh, let me pay attention, you know, and I was just there from the beginning.
What’s cool about the music industry is that a lot of people come up together, right? So I kind of consider me and Scooter like we came up together even though he’s younger than I am by about 10 years. And with Guy Oseary also, like he started out in the mid 90s, which is right when I started out, and he started a low level a&r person and I was like a low level magazine person. And as my Jobs got bigger, and I had access to bigger acts, his world got bigger. And I just felt like we were on parallel tracks and I bond with these people. Guy is Israeli, so I was interested in him from the start. And Scooter is like a Jew from Greenwich, Connecticut, and I’m from New Jersey, you know, so I felt like we were connected too. We’re both in the music industry. And we’re both looking at the same things just from different angles.
So it’s all about cultivating these relationships over a long period of time. I’m gonna get the Scooter Braun interview because I’ve known him longer. Honestly, you know, he’s gonna give it to me first. And that’s because we have a long-standing relationship. That doesn’t mean like it’s a sycophantic relationship. It’s not sometimes I’ve had to ask some really tough questions of him. But I know I’ll get an answer because he knows where I come from. He knows my background, he knows I’m a real journalist, and I’ve been doing the same thing for a long time. So yeah, I’ve gotten pretty good at it I think.
Eitan Chitayat 10:14
Well, trust is huge. And integrity is huge. And I think that’s, I mean you didn’t use that word. But that’s what it is. I mean, I think that people trust you. And for good reason. You mentioned being Jewish and Israeli. Now for the listeners, you know, you and I met when we were 16, at summer camp in Israel. And that’s how we bonded and we’ve been like good friends ever since really, really good friends ever since. So a little more intense than summer camp. Yeah, it was. It was a very special time, we were 16. And we traveled Israel together and with a group of other people, Israelis and Americans. And I think there were a couple of Europeans like me, Canadians. Yeah, it was just a really bonding experience. But let’s talk about you and Israel. I mean, I know that you were living in Israel, and you left when you were eight. But Israel’s plays a very important role for you. And you’ve been here for a month now. I don’t know if we want to go all the way back when maybe tell us a little bit about like your background, like what happened. You left Israel when you were eight..
Shirley Halperin 11:02
Yeah, didn’t speak a word of English. I remember like being in the English as a Second Language Program in New Jersey, with all of the Vietnamese refugees that came from the Vietnam War, like this was 1980. So they were just coming of age, same age as me. And we all didn’t speak a lick of English. I actually remember the first time I even like registered that I understood a word in English because it was kind of traumatic to not be able to speak even as a young kid. And the first word I remember was ticket. I don’t know why that is the first word where I was like, Oh, I understand what that is.
Yeah, so it was like a really huge learning curve. And I felt like I was behind the ball for most of my education, because I didn’t have the vocabulary. And like, I bombed on the SATs in the states in the verbal category, which is hilarious, because I’m a writer, but it was like, I was terrible at it. And I had like kind of a complex about it, which probably made me want to be a writer and learn how to speak better and write better. But yeah, so I moved to New Jersey at eight and spent all of my childhood and teen years there. And then I went to Rutgers University in New Jersey, so I stayed very close to home. And then at Rutgers, my mind kind of opened up to music. And I was like, I think I want to write about music. And I tried. My first review was a 1993 or 94 Paul Simon concert in Central Park, and I loved Simon and Garfunkel the concert in Central Park. That was one of my favorite albums. So I felt like I had the knowledge to be able to write about it. And it was a great exercise.
And then weirdly, this connects back to Israel. I was a huge, Grateful Dead and Phish fan. I like followed these bands. So right before I did a year abroad in Israel, I went to see a phish concert. And I met John Fishman, the drummer, and we started talking about Israel. He didn’t really know much about it. But he was very interested. And we became friends. Then I was like, well, it’s so July, and at the end of August, I’m going to Israel for a year you should come visit. And lo and behold, like one day, I’m at the kibbutz, and I get a phone call with stonefish saying, we have two weeks off, I was thinking of coming in Israel, and I was like, great. So he came to Israel this is 1993. And we did the entire country north to south and went to Tzfat and talked to some of the like artistic rabbis there. We did Masada, he met my family. It was like really, really special. And during that trip, because we spent so much time together in the car, he taught me about the music business. He was they just gotten signed. And he told me everything about how it works. And I was fascinated. I was like, This is what I want to do. Like it really opened my eyes to like this whole other part of music journalism, which is the business part. And then when I got back to the states, I’m at home one day in New Jersey, and I get a phone call and it’s Fishman and he’s like, Mike Gordon wants to talk to you. He’s the bassist for Phish. And I was like, Okay, I didn’t really know anyone in the band beyond John Fishman. And Mike Gordon was like, Do you know this song, Jerusalem of gold? And I was like, Of course I do. Like every Israeli knows that song. We want to put it on an album. But we don’t know how to enunciate the words. It’s complicated. Hebrew. Hebrew is a beautiful language, but it’s kind of hard to just enunciate, can you help us? And I was like, Sure. My mom was in Israel at the time. So you know, we had two phone lines at home. I have my mom on one line, my grandma on the other line, and we’re going line by line through that song. It was like hours on the phone. And then sure enough, the next year 1994 They put out an album called Hoist. And there it is the last song of Jerusalem of gold. So that was kind of like my big moment, I think. And yeah, I always continued to love the Dead continue to follow Phish. That scene was very much home for me. I’m now like, I do a lot of hip hop coverage. I do a lot of pop. But like during the pandemic, I don’t know if this happened to you Eitan, but I felt like people went back to like that comfort food music, like what made you feel comfortable because everything was like, Oh my God, what the fuck is gonna happen like is the world gonna end? And I went to the Grateful Dead. I just listened to the Dead for like weeks. And I know I’m not the only one. But it was like it felt like home. So it will always be kind of like my heart is that improvisational Americana Folk country blend of music. And that’s what the Grateful Dead means to me.
Eitan Chitayat 15:53
You know, I didn’t know that story, but I’m gonna go listen to that track.
Shirley Halperin 15:56
They did a really good job. It was not easy. And it was actually really eye opening for me too, because my mom, she’s a linguist, a Hebrew linguist. And, to her, the Hebrew language is kind of like the English language is to me, her words are beautiful. And for her to like, explain each one of these words in Jerusalem of gold, the shoresh, the root and how that word came to be. It was just a really like beautiful experience.
Eitan Chitayat 16:23
You know, I think what you said about like, the desire to feel at home and to feel more comfortable really resonates. And I’m just thinking about it now. Because I think when the pandemic did hit, I was suddenly listening to him. I mean, I’m more. I love soul music. So I was listening to a lot of, of course, Prince and Wendy and Lisa and all the, you know, all the music that you know, that I love so much, but also a lot of like Otis Redding, and The Commodores, just like just a lot of music that I really grew up with. And that actually really resonates what you said. It’s interesting. Also, you talked about, like, in the context of music, wanting to feel at home. And we were talking about Israel. And I’m really curious as to what is it about Israel for you, because you live on the west coast. But in your heart, you’re very much here. And you always have been? And I want to ask you two questions. One is, what is it about Israel for you? Which is a very, very big question. But like, literally, what is it about Israel? And the other question I have is, What do you think is the biggest misconception about Israel?
Shirley Halperin 17:18
Good questions, good questions. What is it about Israel, it’s small, it feels like, you know, when I’m in the States, I’m a minority as a Jew, and also as a woman in the professional world, and in Israel to be surrounded by Jewish people. It’s like, it’s a really interesting experience like soulful experience, where you really feel like you’re part of something bigger. It’s also small enough where like, I know all the nuances of the towns and the areas and down south and up north, like there’s so much here to take in. But mostly, it’s just what is it about Israel? It’s my family. It’s like growing up here. It’s having my cousin’s here. My grandparents, my aunt and uncle, we have nobody in the States, we have like one second cousin. And that’s it. So it’s like, I have no family in America. You know, my family is here. Do you remember when they did the article on us? In Chetz va Keshet?
Eitan Chitayat 18:13
That’s a long time ago, I do remember there were four of us, right?
Shirley Halperin 18:16
Yeah. So in that article, which I haven’t read, since it came out, but I do remember one thing that it said. It said, here’s a person who’s divided between East and West, and that was very spot on. And they might actually have contributed to me being a journalist, seeing a journalist be able to capture who I was at 16 and get it that’s always been like that. It’s always been this tug of East and West. I’ve wanted to live in Israel. And I’ve come here and I’ve tried to and then ultimately, it’s too small for me. New York was too small for me. I had to go to LA. I felt like I’ve done New York. I know everybody, I did everything I want to go on to a new city. So that’s what kept me not living here. What was the second part?
Eitan Chitayat 18:57
What’s the biggest misconception about Israel?
Shirley Halperin 18:59
The biggest misconception is that people don’t realize how integrated Israel is in terms of ethnicities, because you have Ethiopian Jews, you have Russian Jews, you have Moroccan Jews, you have people from all over the world who have very different lifestyles and different backgrounds and are able to live among each other, including Arab Israelis. And I love that. When I did my year abroad here, I worked at a cafe, remember, Kapulsky used to be around, they had such good cakes. I worked at a cafe and all of the staff was Israeli Arab. I spent a lot of time with those guys. They were like the kitchen staff. I mean, tons there were tons of and I learned a lot about how much they love this land. And yeah, there’s issues about who owns what, but they still love the land the way that I love the land and that always kind of brought us together. So I think the misconception here is there isn’t a diversity of races which there are and diversity of thought which there is, or that we’re all divided along religious lines, which we’re not. Those things I think you only see that when you’re here. You spend a lot of time here.
Eitan Chitayat 20:10
I agree. I also think you see a lot of criticism about Israel. And there’s a lot to be critical of. But I think that there’s a lot to be critical of in every country. I mean, look at America, look at look at England, look at France. I mean, it’s okay. But I think that it’s also very important that people come to Israel and experience for themselves what it’s really like. Unfortunately, there’s a lot of false narratives being created out there. And I think to all those people who might have this perception of Israel, what you said is true. You know, when I was in hospital, I was in hospital around a year ago for almost two weeks, and I had six doctors, and four of them were Israeli Arabs, and people when I tell them that they’re shocked. There’s a lot of coexistence here. And there is a lot of tolerance, that we also have our issues, and we’re trying to work them out. But I think that that was a very good answer. I have another question for you. Because we’re talking about Israel. And the high tech scene here. What Israel is quite known for in the last decade or two, at least, are kind of the incredible things coming out of Israel. And I recently went to an artificial intelligence conference, where this incredible company presented their vision and their product, and this guy got up on stage. And I was just like, This is amazing. His name was Matan. And I went up to him afterwards. And I said I really like what you guys are doing, let’s stay in touch. And then I introduced him to you just using that as an example. Maybe what is it about these guys? And to me, they serve as the perfect example of Israeli know how, chutzpah – which is kind of like cheekiness and kind, like Audacity to succeed. And also Ronnie Vance, because he’s part of that company, too. I know, I really wanted to talk about them. They’re called My Part.
Shirley Halperin 21:40
Yeah, I think it’s a really cool company. And I think there’s really great education system here, especially higher education, like post high school, but even post college, even post graduate. You know, when my dad moved us to the US, he was like a very early computer science expert he had studied at the Technion, and they were looking for Israelis, just like him who were very fluent in computer languages. So it’s always been like that. I feel like Israel has always kind of had a leg up when it comes to tech. But in recent years, you know, it’s really just been, it’s been amazing to watch and a company like My Part, which basically mines song catalogs to find the unique traits that make a song so that if you’re looking for something specific, you’re not spending hours listening to random playlists on Spotify. They just made the lives of music supervisors and people who work at ad agencies so much easier. It’s like how did not exist before. So it doesn’t surprise me that it came from Israel. And it’s a small operation, but it has a lot of potential. And yeah, they hooked up with this guy, Ronnie Vance, who is an old label guy from the US. And he’s like quite a character, amazing, amazing guy. I loved speaking to him. He has such interesting like wisdom, and he knows the right people. So I think in a way, it’s like a combination of like, you’re an Israeli company so you’ll immediately get attention from the tech world. But you also need that American envoy or whatever to, you know, be able to connect you with the people you don’t know the states in the States. Like, it’s big Silicon Valley’s big, there’s a lot of money out there, but you need to know who to talk to to get it. They’ve sort of it looks like they’ve hooked up with the right person to get them in the room to make it happen. So yeah, it’s very exciting. I’m definitely going to be doing some writing about them. Thank you Eitan for introducing me.
Eitan Chitayat 23:34
Honestly, nothing. I mean, I immediately thought of you because I was so impressed with them. And also when I met Ronnie, he was a founder of Interscope. I don’t remember exactly what it was, but..
Shirley Halperin 23:44
He worked at Geffen Records when David Geffen was still like running Geffen Records, which is like Nirvana, like early 90s. And then it turned into Interscope. And then there was No Doubt and Tupac. And yeah, it’s like one of the most important music companies like ever.
Eitan Chitayat 23:59
Yeah. And when you walk into their office, you see all these golden platinum. I know what discs.
Shirley Halperin 24:03
I gave him such shit, because there were a couple of box sets that had never been opened. But they were on display. And I was like, Ronnie, how could you not have played the complete Bill Monroe? He’s a bluegrass player. Why is it sitting here in plastic? Like I totally embarrassed him. But I have the same thing. I have a ton of box sets at home that have never been opened. Yeah, just nice to look at.
Eitan Chitayat 24:24
He’s, he’s, he’s a he’s a bit of a legend. But he’s just super, super nice guy. And I’m looking forward to getting to know him. So yeah, I mean, like, it’s interesting. We talk about Israel, and I’m very proud of the incredible stuff that comes out of this country that really, really helps people. And so I didn’t think twice when it came to you, you in all of your glory. I mean, I think you were saying at the beginning about being eccentric, as you were talking, I I’m an entrepreneur, like I have, you know, my own branding agency, and I’m always doing much more than that because I can’t help myself and I got a sense of that from you that you’re you’re a bit of an entrepreneur. I mean, you always have something going on, because I think that you need to and that’s me personally knowing you, but tell us about pot because and when you first told me about this years ago as like, oh God, Shirley, what are you doing? And then fast forward to today, you know the world has changed but you to me were ahead of the curve. So tell me about pot. Tell me about the books to people who don’t know, you just tell us the story.
Shirley Halperin 25:21
Sure. Yeah. I mean, I was an early adopter when it came to marijuana. Listen, I like I said, I kind of came up in the Grateful Dead scene. It was obviously a big part of it. My mom would not like hearing this, but I know she’ll never listen. So we don’t have to worry. They were not happy that I kind of was turning into a bit of a stoner in high school. But it really helped open my mind to like poetry and art and books, like I just kind of consumed a lot and in a sort of heightened sense of awareness it seeped in and then like a deeper way. When I went to Israel for that one year abroad, I brought with me three issues of High Times Magazine, which was the marijuana Bible. And because I was like, stuck on a kibbutz or in Haifa, like, I didn’t have access to other media.
So I read these magazines like backwards and forwards. And I was like, I want to work at High Times Magazine, this would be the perfect job for me. You know, I was already starting to think about journalism and stuff. So I got back to the States. And I had my own fanzine, which was like, kind of like a blog, but in print form, that was the first job that I sort of had when I got back, and I went into interview Phish at their record company, and my slot was right after the High Times guy. So I walk in the place reeks. It’s a conference room at Rockefeller Center. And I see there’s High Times memorabilia everywhere, you know, like swag. And I was like, Oh, my God, are you from High Times? And it was this guy, Steve Bloom. And I was like, God, I would love to intern for you. You know, I was still in college. And he’s like, Sure, call me on Monday, we’ll set it up. So I was like, I remember that whole weekend. I was like, Oh, my God, I have to call him I’m so nervous. And I called him I worked up the courage. And he was like, Can you come in Wednesday and helped me transcribe some interviews? I was like, Sure. So I went into the city. See, good thing I was in New Jersey is very easy to get to New York, and I started interning at High Times. And then they were like, Would you like to be our photo editor? I was like, Sure. Now their cover photos are like structures made of weed. So something like Stonehenge, which is Stonehenge but made of weed and I had to learn about the lights and how to frame it.
And you know, it needs to be a cover, like, you know, I really learned the basics of journalism, just doing that job and I got to do some really cool shoots, I booked Ozzy Osbourne for the cover of High Times. That was a very big deal. We got Phish to do a cover for the first time. That was a big deal. And I really worked there. I still had my fanzine. But I worked there from about like 95 to 99, which was like the height of High Times. I mean, other than the 1970s, they were just selling so many magazines, they were making money hand over fist, they started this thing called the Cannabis Cup in Amsterdam, worldwide competition of marijuana. I went, I judged. This is my dream job. And it got me the idea that like, there should be a book about the world of marijuana, like the A to Z Encyclopedia of all these words you need to know and all the history and all the important cultural moments and cultural people influencers in the weed world. I mentioned it to Steve Bloom, the same person who hired me as an intern and said, Do you want to collaborate on this book? And he said, Yes. And we wrote it together. It came out in 2007. And sold really well, like surprisingly well, and there was clearly a need for it. There was a market for it. So I kind of like I remember having to tell my parents not only have I worked at High Times for the last five years, but I’m about to put out a book and it’s gonna get a lot of attention, because did it go a lot of press and it was like one of the scariest things I’ve ever had to do as a 35 year old to tell my parents that I smoke pot, but it did well, and I kind of kept that connection to the marijuana world to that counterculture. I did another book and now I’m actually about to do a podcast. That is also marijuana focused. It’s been kind of an interesting side group.
Eitan Chitayat 29:33
So wait, I mentioned for some of the people that you spoke to, you know, Guy Oseary and Scooter Braun, Harry Styles, Snoop Dogg, Katy Perry, Adele. I mean, the list goes on, I’m sure but is there a fun story that you can share with the listeners about like any anyone?
Shirley Halperin 29:43
The Snoop story is pretty good. I did a cover with with Snoop Dogg. He does a lot of interviews, but he’s a challenging interview because he’s very sort of understated when you talk to him. And you kind of just want him to be like a goofy stoner but that’s not really who he is. He’s got a family he’s got children he’s very into like sports and Little League. He has a football club for like underrepresented communities. He’s very active in charity and just in his community in his world, but he’s also like a stoner icon. So of course, anyone who interview Snoop wants to smoke weed with Snoop. And here I am thinking I worked at high times I’ve smoked some of the best I can handle Snoop’s weed. Wrong. I could not handle Snoop’s weed, I went to his house, sat in his man cave, did the interview, and then Snoop like, he doesn’t smoke past half the blunt, that’s considered like garbage once he gets past like hit three, let’s say.
So I was like, Hey, can I hit that? And he’s like, You sure little girl? Like he literally like said something like that, like you sure you can handle this. And I was like, I worked at High Times I did the book, I can do this. This is in 2012. And I smoked it. And I completely lost my train of thought I was like in some other planet. And usually I’m pretty like focused. And I know how to do interviews, even if I’m a little high. I mean, I have a couple of rules. Like when I worked at US Weekly. You mentioned earlier, I did a lot of red carpets. And I found that if I smoke before red carpet, I couldn’t think quickly I couldn’t like it’s all about getting that quick interview and making sure you get the news. So I had a rule where I would not smoke before red carpet, so I just needed to be hyper-aware. And this was probably the first time that I got high in the middle of an interview and holy shit. He was just laughing at me like I was literally like, I’m sitting in Snoop’s man cave, and he’s laughing at this little girl who came in from LA, it was embarrassing. But story turned out great. Photoshoot turned out great. It’s one of the highlights of my career. And I never did, I never smoked in the middle of an interview ever again.
Eitan Chitayat 31:51
The takeaway here is that you’re good usually at smoking, you had a bit of an episode there. But like on a serious note, what’s your superpower that no one really knows about or that people know about. But you don’t mind sharing.
Shirley Halperin 32:01
It’s turned into like being able to write good headlines that grab people because most people don’t read past the tweet or the headline. And it’s all about getting them to stay and read. And I’ve gotten pretty good at it. I think some of that practice came from working at US Weekly, which was a weekly magazine, it was gossip, it was tabloid, it was about the brightest font in the largest letters with exclamation points, like I learned the nuances of how you draw an audience in. And now I think I’ve really want to say I’ve perfected it. But I’ve gotten it to the point where I can always find that hook. What’s going to grab the reader with this article. I also sign based on what I think has a headline, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve responded to someone and said, I don’t see a headline here, I don’t see how I can make a headline out of this. And that means no one will read it. And I’m not in the business of putting up stories that no one will read. Every one of our stories I’m trying to get an audience. So I think I’ve gotten pretty good at that.
Eitan Chitayat 33:00
How do you feel about and this is an obvious question. But I have to ask you because of what you do, who you are and the respect that you have in the industry like social media today and how it’s affected journalism, and how does that affect what you do at variety.
Shirley Halperin 33:13
It’s tough. When I look to like hire someone, I want to see that they have a social media following that they know how to use social media that wasn’t important 15 years ago. I’ve had to work on it myself. Even though I’m a very early Twitter user, I signed up in 2007. It took me a while before I would actually understand what Twitter was good for. And I really focus it mostly on work. Like even my Instagram is almost all work. The personal side of things like I don’t use it as much. I really see social media as a tool to get the word out on things that you’re writing about. No one cares what my cats look like, or my friend like I just focus it very much on work, which is why I like LinkedIn so much you and I communicate on there sometimes because it’s all work. It’s like Facebook, without the like BS of Facebook. Without the kids and the party and the birthdays and like, I hate that shit. I’ve learned how to use it. And I do think it’s really important. And when someone comes to me, and they’re an editor, or they’ve been some sort of editorial journalistic position, and I see they have 200 followers, and they don’t really use their Twitter or they don’t really use their Instagram or Tiktok. I’m like, What are you doing? How are you spreading the word like, do you don’t get it? I automatically I’m just like, this person doesn’t get it. It’s important.
Eitan Chitayat 34:29
Let me ask you another question about interviews and people out there. You’ve interviewed a lot of people, but is there someone that you really, really want to get that you haven’t?
Shirley Halperin 34:38
There is but I don’t really want to get him, honestly. I would love to interview Paul McCartney, who wouldn’t love to interview Paul McCartney, but what the hell am I going to ask Paul McCartney?
Eitan Chitayat 34:48
Well, let me tell you I just bought his book, which is interesting. It’s not a typical autobiography. What he did was he wrote about the lyrics, about how those songs came to be, and I think they’re around 150. And it’s on my bedside table. And I pick it up every couple of days. And I’ve read five or six songs, and I’m, it’s divided into two parts. And I’m done with the first part, and I’m on to the second, and I’m really enjoying it. He seems like a really good guy.
Shirley Halperin 35:15
I’ve been in his presence. And I’ve I know, and I’d like gawk, but if people why you go up to him and introduce yourself, what am I going to say to Paul McCartney that he hasn’t heard a million times? What am I going to ask Paul McCartney that he hasn’t been asked a million times, I don’t bring anything to the table. And I recognize that even though I admire him, and I’m sure we would have an amazing conversation, but it’s like, am I just going to be another journalist who asks him about the Beatle song that he’s been asked about 5000 times? Like, I don’t know, I just don’t see the point of it.
Eitan Chitayat 35:49
It’s interesting is like, I’m not a journalist, as you know, and I don’t know what I would say to him, but I think what’s interesting about him is now especially with Get Back by Jackson coming out, and this book, and he’s no spring chicken, he’s turned 80. So it’s legacy. Now. It’s like, what’s gonna be interesting.
Shirley Halperin 36:05
I loved Get Back. Amazing. That, to me, was the greatest television. Just let the cameras roll. I found it fascinating. I loved Eight Days a Week too, you know, all of these sorts of new insights into the Beatles that have come just in recent years because of books and documentaries. It’s really been amazing to watch. But I feel like every answer is there.
Eitan Chitayat 36:28
I watched it. I was riveted. I mean, yeah, it was long. And there were a few dips here and there. But overall, it really served the creative community, no matter which community you’re in. Because owning a branding agency and coming up with design coming up with headlines coming up with strategy, when you’re working with people or clients, or they haven’t signed, people tend to think that it’s just oh, well, yeah, it just comes to you, doesn’t it. And it doesn’t, it needs time, you just need to be in it’s the same format, that perfect headline that you were talking about, like it doesn’t just appear out of nowhere, it requires some type of internal process that some people might not see. And what I loved about that was that people, your everyday person got insight as to what the creative process is really like, as opposed to just seeing the output and taking that output for granted. And what was really interesting was, after that film came out a lot of my friends in the creative services field on LinkedIn, funnily enough, were writing about it and saying, You see, that’s exactly what we’re talking about. It doesn’t just appear Oh, just write a headline. No, it doesn’t happen like that.
Shirley Halperin 37:28
Just write a hit song. Yeah, I agree. The process was fascinating. And who did what was fascinating and their dynamics as people was fascinating, like everything about it was amazing. I mean, thank God, that footage existed.
Eitan Chitayat 37:44
Yeah. And and it was the Beatles, you know, like if it if it’s like, that’s the validation, the ultimate validation is look at these guys, these guys did it, you know. So I think it served a lot of people. I’m very cognizant of time. I want to ask you one final question before we go. And that is journalism today. And people looking to you talked about it when you’re looking at resumes, and you’re looking at social media followings, but like for people who want to break in to journalism, as you see it, what is some advice that you could give them for people who are trying to break into the type of thing that you do?
Shirley Halperin 38:15
Well, if it’s music journalism, that’s a little different from straight journalists, like news journalism, I would say the most important thing is to have a very deep breadth of knowledge about all kinds of music, because it used to be that you could just be a rock critic, right? And you were basically reviewing albums or interviewing mostly white classic rock type artists. Today, you need to be able to write about Afro beat, you need to be able to write about Latin music, obviously, the pop stuff, the dance stuff, the hip hop, like you really need to be conversant in all these different kinds of music. That’s the most important thing as a music journalist. As a journalist in general, I would say the most important thing is to be well read, read a lot and not just internet like read, and you need to have connections you need to network and a lot of the junior editors and writers that we hire, come through internship programs, like our internship programs, we will make you a journalist, in six months you will learn how to do this, but you have to be really committed very long hours, news breaks at any time of the day and night, you’re always on alert. My phone is always on me. I can’t really disconnect. I’m tethered to the news cycle. And that’s like a reality that I don’t know if the Gen Zers of the world are willing to really take up. I think people like their home lives, especially after the pandemic. They’ve sort of come to appreciate their lives outside of work, but the news never stops. It’s a 24 hour cycle.
One other thing I would say is during the pandemic, we were writing obituaries almost every other day, so many people of importance were dying from COVID that I have never in all of my years which are known as live have written that many obits in a year, it was actually kind of hard, even though you’re separated from it. And you’re just about getting the news out getting the information out, when you sort of realize the collective loss of all these amazing artists, people like Adam Schlesinger, who’s the singer from Fountains of Wayne, who was doing a ton of Broadway work and movie work, you know, died, like in his early 40s, Hal Willner, the music director from Saturday Night Live, who’d been there, his entire career – got COVID was dead, you know, a week later, it was kind of traumatizing. It didn’t happen right away. It was a lot of that like sitting at home and thinking about yourself and your life and your work. But the obits it was like a dark cloud over us. And as journalists, I don’t think people like appreciated that we need, we need to do that stuff. And it’s hard, even anytime an actor dies, and people start, Oh, these are his 10 greatest roles. These are, this is the mark this person left, we still kind of internalize the grief, because these are artists, and they’re people we care about. And that happened during the pandemic. And as a journalist, I’ve never really had that before.
Eitan Chitayat 41:06
I think that’s a great answer. I’m getting from that be committed and care.
Shirley Halperin 41:10
Yes, and be ready to write at any moment. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been up at one two three in the morning, covering the death of someone and breaking the news of the death, like I was one of the first people to break the news of David Bowie dying, that was huge. But it was also just on a personal level. It was huge.
Eitan Chitayat 41:28
It’s precious. And you have to give a lot of respect. And it’s a responsibility.
Shirley Halperin 41:33
Yeah. And I feel it. And even with like lesser known people in the industry, when they come to us, and they say my grandfather, who was a choreographer in the 1940s, read Variety every day and really wanted his obituary to appear in Variety, I really take that to heart and I get it, and I will do the obituary, I will make sure it’s done right.
Eitan Chitayat 41:53
You know, I think that’s everything that you’re saying. It’s very touching, because I miss the days of feeling from everyone around us in the ecosystem of journalism, the care that you are articulating, because that’s what I’m hearing. I’m hearing care, as opposed to many, many times being surrounded by so called journalists who are putting stuff out there just to be seen. And you can tell honestly, you can tell the difference between wanting to be seen and clickbait as opposed to care and professionalism and responsibility, which is what I think journalism is. Shirley, you are just as good interviewing as you are being interviewed. And what I love about the way this interview is ending now is the fact that we’re not just going to say goodbye, we’re going to turn off the mics and we’re going to go and eat in miznon, which is one of the best places in Tel Aviv. So thank you, I love you, and I hug you.
Shirley Halperin 42:46
Love you, Eitan. So proud of you.
Eitan Chitayat 42:49
Well, that’s it. Thank you for joining me on I’m that. I hope you enjoyed the chat. And I hope you’ll join me for our next guest. In the meantime, definitely hit subscribe, whether you’re on Apple, Amazon, Spotify, Google or any other platform. And if you can, leave a comment, give it a like and tell your friends. That would be brilliant. Stay tuned for the next show. And see you soon.