What exactly does it mean to be ‘Sexiest Man Alive’?

Idris Elba just won People magazine’s annual accolade. But what’s the point in it anyway?

This morning it was announced that Idris Elba is the 2018 winner of People magazine’s annual award for ‘Sexiest Man Alive.’ Cue a slew of banal headlines, tweets and debates about who won, who lost and why Ryan Gosling still hasn’t had a look in. Elba now has his own personalised Twitter emoji, to boot.

All well and good (if you’re into this sort of thing), but in an age when objectifying the opposite sex is about as switched-on a move as supporting Nigel Farage, surely it’s about time that People drop ‘Sexiest Man Alive’ as an award? After all, ‘Sexiest Woman Alive’ died a death when FHM hit the dust. Times have changed.

Let’s also take a moment to consider that Elba is a curious choice. Yes, he’s objectively good looking, but he’s not the obvious contender for People, whose previous winners have tended to be white, American and about as mainstream as it gets: Matt Damon, Ben Affleck et al. Elba’s Hackney roots, penchant for violent roles (see The Wire and Luther) and gritty directorial debut, Yardie, earlier this year, mean he isn’t the obvious next winner of a competition as generic as ‘Sexiest Man of the Year.’

Idris Elba at the Berlin International Film Festival 2018

He also quashed rumours earlier this year that he was destined to be the next James Bond – a role that most male actors must be gagging for. And that’s not to mention his nonconforming extracurricular interests, like his music persona DJ Big Driis, and his live music and cocktail bar, The Parrot, which is slated to open in London this month.

On second glance, what Elba adds to the accolade – much more than his sex appeal – is his undeniable coolness, charisma and energy. He is just cool, full stop – and that’s something all sexes and all sexual orientations can appreciate.

So, here’s a thought. What if we changed the conversation, and the award, to ‘Coolest Man of the Year’, instead? With his track record of gritty roles, intriguing creative projects and low profile charity work, Idris is more than deserving of the title. If you ask us, it’s more balanced, more nuanced and a more interesting way to explore masculinity.

Now, for next year can we suggest the likes of Ezra Miller, Riz Ahmed or Chiwetel Ejiofor?