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Blake Shelton is People magazine’s “Sexiest Man” of 2017. The internet isn’t having it.

The backlash goes far beyond Shelton’s looks.

Today's Halloween Extravaganza 2017 Nicholas Hunt/Getty Images
Aja Romano writes about pop culture, media, and ethics. Before joining Vox in 2016, they were a staff reporter at the Daily Dot. A 2019 fellow of the National Critics Institute, they’re considered an authority on fandom, the internet, and the culture wars.

It’s been a year full of unexpected voting decisions, but even the hardiest of souls was likely unprepared for People magazine to announce that the “Sexiest Man” of 2017 is … Blake Shelton.

That’s right. Blake Shelton: country singer, Voice judge, boyfriend of Gwen Stefani, and frequent purveyor of weird gay panic, misogyny, and Islamophobia.

If naming Shelton was a publicity stunt, it worked: Twitter users were so startled by the revelation that both “Blake Shelton” and “Sexiest Man Alive” trended for most of Wednesday, and the jokes flowed loudly and freely:

Many social media users were quick to compare Shelton’s looks to things that are — how can we put this? — not sexy:

Of course, People is routinely derided for its choice of Sexiest Man Alive, which is a transparently PR-driven exercise often jokingly equated to a “best publicist” award. As such, each year’s choice invites a wave of alternate opinions, and 2017 is no exception, with social media users being quick to point out other, sexier alternatives to Shelton:

Twitter users had many opinions on who the actual sexiest men of the year were, but a general consensus seemed to form around the triad of perennially overlooked frontrunner Idris Elba, upcoming Aquaman actor Jason Momoa, and the usual gaggle of white guys named Chris:

But despite the jokes, there’s plenty of reason beyond the subjective nature of sexiness to be critical of People’s decision — namely because Shelton has been flagrantly and repeatedly homophobic in the past, once “joking” in a 2011 tweet that he would leave any gay man who tried to touch him beaten and bloody.

He also used the stage at the Country Music Awards for an awkward gay joke about Jake Gyllenhaal because he starred in Brokeback Mountain, and has repeatedly referenced gay panic and jokes about finding lesbians hot on his Twitter account. In the past, he’s made toxic jokes about women, including noting, in 2010, a “sick fantasy” about then-16-year-old Dakota Fanning, and has repeatedly made Islamophobic and xenophobic jokes about non-English-language speakers and foreigners around him.

Last year, after the tweets were uncovered and public outcry arose, he attempted to pass off all of his statements as comedy. Yet since then he’s gone on to openly decry “political correctness,” and last year praised Donald Trump for “say[ing] what he thinks,” without acknowledging the coded racism and bigotry that often underlies Trump’s statements.

After the news about Shelton’s new title began circulating, many began pointing out the singer’s problematic history:

Still, some were quick to point out that it’s not the first time People has made odd decisions in its annual Sexiest Man vote. For starters, the list has historically been overwhelmingly white, with only two men of color ever gracing its cover — Denzel Washington in 1996 and The Rock in 2016. This fact, combined with backlash over Shelton, had many onlookers pointing out how problematic the list has historically been.

Not to mention how weird some of the choices have been:

Clearly, People’s Sexiest Man award is yet another public institution that needs to be dismantled and rebuilt from its sexy foundations.

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