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The plan this week was to write something about People's Sexiest Man Alive issue. I saw it as an opportunity to pontificate about the nature of sexiness and how it is really very personal and idiosyncratic and not something People magazine can decide for you. Especially in this day and age, when "straight-lady monoculture," as Amanda Hess put it in a smart history of the institution for Slate, is ridiculous, the assertion that Chris Hemsworth is the sexiest man alive seems as fresh as a joke about decaf.

As proof of how obsolete People's signature award has become, Hess pointed to last year's choice, Adam Levine, the coconut-water-chugging Maroon 5 singer and TV star who used to date supermodels (he's now married to one) and once, during an interview on a private jet, thrusted his pelvis while explaining "in a sing-song falsetto" that yoga was good for "[haaaaving seeeeex]." Levine, as Hess put it, "was the magazine's most hollow choice ever: not the Sexiest Man Alive, but perhaps the most Sexiest Man Alive-y man alive." I'm sure some readers found Levine sexually appealing; more outspoken observers riffed on what STI he embodied.

I find Adam Levine sort of attractive. Not because he's so sexy, but because he's so "sexy" that it's repulsive, which is way more sexy. What's hot is often disturbing in the light of day, and the right kind of "off-ness" is at least as appealing as the right sort of physique. Which is, of course, what makes "sexiness" such a ridiculous concept: Turn-ons are so highly individual that they tend to make no sense by any objective standard. I was unmoved by the Hollywood hunks featured in People's section on Hollywood hunks' greatest fears. But Bradley Cooper (Sexiest Man Alive 2011) answered, "The Oompa Loompas," which were among my childhood crushes before I discovered Tiger Beat.

(For a more interesting example of a "sexy" musician redeemed by grotesqueness, there's Lewis, a.k.a. Randall Wulff, the Canadian Don Johnson lookalike whose mysterious 1983 album, L'Amour, was reissued this year – his second, Romantic Times, was discovered soon afterward, and came out on vinyl this month. Songs such as Bringing You a Rose, sung in a pathetic, fapping moan, would be funny if they didn't sound so deeply troubled. Which makes them sexy.)

"Sexiness" is unpredictable and bizarre; if we can acknowledge that, we can stop feeling bad about the fact that our earliest crushes may have included malevolent Disney anthromorphs with Hypno-Disc eyes. That's what I'd planned to wax on about in this space. The problems with that angle were twofold. First of all, it's pompous: We all know that sexual tastes are weird; we just have different comfort levels around discussing that in public. Second, it completely ignores the charms of People's Sexiest Man Alive issue.

That charm doesn't come from Chris Hemsworth, or his tolerance for changing diapers; it doesn't even come from complaining, as is tradition, that Chris Hemsworth was chosen over Neil Patrick Harris and Chris Pratt. It comes from the fact that, once a year, grown ups get to read articles such as "Love Me, Love My Dog," and "From Geeky to Gorgeous" ("I was a nerd growing up," confesses Louis C.K., 47), and "Sexy Men at Work" ("While the Union, N.J., high school history teacher finds time to advocate for public-education reform and mentor underprivileged youth, his dating life has taken a back seat"). They get over-the-shoulder grins from Mr. Clean ("Less scrubbing time means more sexy time") and meaningful squints from "Rusty," the face of Liquid-Plumr (for "when you need it fast"). If you can't find the joy in all this, you're about as fun as a think-piece about the nature of sexiness.

"Sexy," in the People sense of the word, is "sexy" in the Right Said Fred sense of the word. It's "sexy" as depicted in the Saturday Night Live sketch, where Patrick Stewart plays an erotic cake-baker who only makes cakes featuring women going to the bathroom. Which brings me back to Adam Levine, who turns out to have been the perfect choice for Sexiest Man Alive, at least in spirit. He stands for a guy we hate (douchey, frattish, wealthy, sleazy and less cool for being covered in tats), dialled up so high that hating him becomes pointless. It's just more fun not too.

Levine is, at least, a crowd-pleaser: He gets why people dislike him, but is human enough to seem a bit sensitive about it. "You know what the gist of this article is?" he told GQ's Jessica Pressler, in a profile this July. "Your opening line can be: 'You don't have to like me, but I'd prefer it if you did.'" The same goes for Matthew McConaughey, 2005's SMA choice, who is so dynamically bananas that it makes no difference whether he's supposed to be or not.

The appeal of flipping through Tiger Beat back in the day was getting to pretend that I was "normal" – as normal as all the other kids seemed when they pretended to be normal. I started reading it when normal started to matter, and now that I'm lucky enough not to feel that pressure any more, I get the same stupid kick out of People's SMA issue without the attendant anxieties about whether I'm actually into all this.