ESPN The Magazine

Inside The Mag’s Music Issue covers featuring Katy Perry, JJ Watt, J. Cole and Dale Jr.

ESPN The Magazine’s Music Issue hits newsstands Friday sporting two colorful covers, one featuring pop star Katy Perry and NFL powerhouse JJ Watt; the other cover showcases NASCAR star Dale Earnhardt Jr. and platinum-selling hip hop artist J. Cole. Front Row gets an inside look into what makes this year’s Music issue sing thanks to The Mag’s contributor Stacey Pressman:

(L-R) Dale Earnhardt Jr. and J. Cole share one of the covers of ESPN The Magazine's Music Issue.
(L-R) Dale Earnhardt Jr. and J. Cole share one of the covers of ESPN The Magazine’s Music Issue.

How does The Mag work in collaboration with ESPN Music?
Pressman: Music Issue lead editor and Mag senior editor Raina Kelley and our team work with ESPN Music Director Kevin Wilson, who sits in on our planning meeting. He has certain relationships with artists and labels that can prove to be helpful in the ideas process. He books a lot of the artists for X Games and every day is licensing music for the network. His voice is very helpful in making sure The Mag is on the pulse of what is current.

How do you determine who you want to include in the issue?
Pressman: We definitely start off with a dream list of athlete and artist pairings who we want to include. A lot of them are the hottest and most relevant names who bridge the nexus of the sports and music establishment. Every year, this project reminds us just how difficult it is to get high profile celebs in the same room. Athletes who are in season have a game schedule and musicians have tours and promo schedules. We start by researching where in the country certain artists will be.

We wanted to have a few different photo “looks” but we are also aware of the challenge pairings present.
– Stacey Pressman, ESPN The Magazine, on pairing artists and athletes for the Music Issue

How do you decide which athletes and artists to pair together?
Pressman: In determining pairings to photograph, we usually reach out to the artists first to see if they are fans of any sports and if they would be willing to participate. If the artist are big fans of a team or an athlete, they might be willing to travel. For instance, in this year’s issue, some artists were shot alone. We wanted to have a few different photo “looks” but we are also aware of the challenge pairings present.

If it’s the right combo, it can work. For instance, J. Cole mentions Dale Earnhardt, Jr. in a song [“Note To Self”] on his new album. Cole is from North Carolina and was willing to fly to Dale’s property there for the shoot. For someone like Katy Perry, she is rehearsing for the Super Bowl XLIX [halftime performance], so we had to find a high profile NFL player who could travel to her [in Los Angeles, where Perry is rehearsing]. More often than not artists and athletes want to participate, it’s simply the schedule that proves to be the main limitation.

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