The story of The Metropolitan began exactly two years ago on New Year’s Eve 2020. After a miserable lockdown Christmas during which we had frantically worried about elderly parents and/or exam-age children, we took some time - on a wan Zoom call with our friends - to worry about ourselves. Specifically, how we should do something creative to distract us from all the worrying.
Thirty years ago this would have ended with us forming a band, but instead we decided to start a Substack. It took us a year to get everything in place - we’re old and we move quite slowly, OK? - which meant that the first issue of The Metropolitan was sent at the beginning of January 2022. Since then we’ve produced an issue every Saturday morning at 9am London time (except that one time we sent it an hour early - time zones are confusing).
Producing all those issues has meant a fair amount of work; each essay takes 10-20 hours to produce. During our year of planning we built up a war chest of material, but we’ve still had to be fairly disciplined about churning things out. But that’s OK. Those bromides about writing - you’re not a writer if you don’t write; write even when you don’t feel like it; treat writing like a job - turn out to be mostly true, DAMMIT.
Top 5 essays this year by all-time page views
When we noticed how quickly we were getting through our pile of pre-written material we started writing formatted pieces on alternate weeks. (The Guardian’s ‘Pass Notes’ is the OG ‘format’ idea.) Focusing on just one film, book, year or show, and slotting into a pre-set pattern, these pieces require less research and tinkering than the longer essays. But they’re tricky in a different way: most of these films/TV shows/books/records have been analysed very thoroughly by other people before us, and we don’t want to just repeat stuff that you’ve read elsewhere, so we try to find new or under-explored angles.
Top 5 formats this year by all-time page views
We got about 40 subscribers in our first week (mostly by bullying friends) and we’re now at over 400, the vast majority of whom are people we don’t personally know, which is honestly quite thrilling. We had two substantial helping hands: the first from Substack itself when it featured us on its home page for a week, and the second from
who linked to our piece on Ballet Shoes, earning over 1,000 visits in one day and a big rush of subscribers (hello, if that’s you). Which just goes to show that recommendations really help. Ahem.
Here’s the graph showing subscribers, page views for each piece on the week of release, and total page views for each piece over the whole year.
Most of our pieces get more reads than we have subscribers (hello, lurkers). Last week’s essay on It’s A Wonderful Life - which we assumed wouldn’t do terribly well because everyone would have better things to do with their Christmas - pleasingly closed out the year with the highest publication-week numbers and the most email opens of any piece this year. (Our open rate is solidly in the 50-55% range which is pretty damned good.)
We can’t work out what kind of content drives traffic. Some ‘golden oldie’ pieces do well (ER, Doctor Who) while others (eg Terminator) don’t; some obscure stuff bombs, some doesn’t. We can only conclude our audience is as complex, picky and inscrutable as we are. And while we do like to see the line going up and to the right, we’re mostly writing because we want to and because we find the subject interesting. So we try not to sulk about numbers. We have noticed that interest dipped at some points during our theme months for Halloween and Christmas. These nearly drove Tobias crazy anyway so we probably won’t do them again.
TLDR; to quote Calvin and Hobbes (now, there’s a piece to be written) we will continue to pursue the inscrutable exhortations of our souls.
Steal this Substack
We’ve only got a handful of paid subscribers, and we’re not offering them anything for their money yet. Sorry about that. (To be completely honest, we only have the ‘paid subscriber’ button turned on at all because we couldn’t work out how to turn it off before we launched.)
Our goal is to get up to around 1000 subscribers before providing something extra for paying subscribers. However, the subs money helps pay for things like hosting and image sourcing (surprisingly expensive!), so it’s incredibly helpful and we are very grateful to those of you who have signed up for it.
To the bewilderment of our families, who received them as gifts, we have produced a print newspaper of the most popular pieces this year. We’re also thinking about producing a full printed compilation of the year’s essays. If you think you might be in the market for either (£5 + postage for the 12-page essay compilation - see image at the top of this email - and probably more like £20 for a full printed compilation), let us know in the comments or by email - firstname.lastname@example.org
Things we did not dunk on this year
One of the promises of The Metropolitan is “no hot takes, no dunking”. It’s not that hot takes and dunking are necessarily bad, it’s just that Twitter already exists. This has meant, though, that there are things we haven’t written about because we couldn’t think of anything nice to say. But as a Christmas present to ourselves we’ve going to let ourselves off the leash and briefly lay into:
Lethal Weapon. We ricocheted past this in our piece on Frank Sinatra and cop movies but we didn’t dwell on it because why would you? It’s flipping awful. Not funny, not clever, and seriously nasty in several places. We decided its success must have been something to do with the - as-then - perceived charisma of Mel Gibson, before we all knew that he wasn’t actually acting: he just is a floridly unpleasant jerk.
Planes, Trains and Automobiles. We watched this on Thanksgiving 2021 to see what the fuss was about, then we spent a year bitching about it, then we watched it on Thanksgiving 2022 thinking that maybe we’d been harsh. We had not been harsh. It’s gloopy rubbish and it’s actually upsetting to see Steve Martin being this unfunny. Please can any Americans explain what we’re missing?
Trust. Oh, Hal Hartley, how we loved you in our 20s, how we’re embarrassed by you in the 2020s. Trust seemed terribly profound when we first saw it; now it’s just 90 minutes of exhausting dialogue with all the natural stresses removed from syllables. All that affect, to no effect. Heathers, which shares some of its plot points and much of its artificiality, is so much more mainstream, and so much better.
Things we might do in 2023
Substack has introduced a live Chat feature. We’ve been talking for a while about staging Metropolitan Watch-Alongs and maybe the two things would go together nicely.
We’ve also been thinking about some kind of dictionary of biography, like the terrific Cultural Icons that Bloomsbury put out in the ‘90s, and maybe an equivalent for things: clothes, toys, designed objects.
We also want to extend the range of what we write about. Our original aim was to bring a uniquely Generation X point of view to culture, not to talk only about the ‘80s and the ‘90s, so - while we still won’t do instant reviews - we might drag our cultural frame of reference into the current century more frequently.
We’ve actually recorded two podcasts - one on ‘twists’ in films inspired by our rewatch of The Usual Suspects, and one on the cultural heft of Top of the Pops - but released neither. We want to do it regularly, but getting all the guests into a room and covering them with duvets is proving logistically difficult. We’ve also considered releasing readings of articles, for people who do jogging or commuting and other olde-worlde things like that.
Here’s the Top of the Pops edition, if you wanted to give it a listen:
(Thanks to friend of the Metropolitan Sergio Gallardo for donating the podcast theme tune - you can hear more of Sergio’s excellent work on Spotify and Bandcamp)
If any of these things appeal, let us know in the comments or by email - email@example.com. If we think there’s an audience it might make us get on with it.
Thank you to…
First and most importantly, thank you to everybody who reads The Metropolitan. We know there are thousands of other things you could be doing with your time and we’re very chuffed that you’ve chosen us.
Thanks also to:
Other Substack authors who’ve helped us along the way this year, particularly:
Mark Dykemanand . has been and remains the Don.
Simon, Polly, Paul L, Kate, Pippa & Bella, Lucy, Adam G, Adam F, Gareth, Ross, Bojana, Anna, Becky, Sandy, Marie-Louise, Sara and Finbar, who have not written for us despite nagging but who have nevertheless been supportive beyond all reason.
Jon Millington, who DID write a very funny piece for us about ‘The Boys of Summer’. (If you fancy writing for us - on the understanding that we can’t pay you; we don’t even pay ourselves - drop us an email: firstname.lastname@example.org)
The staff at
- it’s truly unusual for staff at a social network to be so approachable and personable, what with all the surprise loons they have to deal with.
And - very much - to those of you who have been thoughtful and supportive in comments on pieces and sharing on social media. At times it has made all the difference, sulk-wise.
Happy New Year!
A little reminder of where we started:
10% making tea, 10% swearing, 20% doing some actual work in a state of mild panic, 60% checking Twitter
I've been in the States for roughly a century, but reading this made me want to jump on a plane and return to the UK so I could be proper friends with you lot. Ohh, what the hey: Get me a key made and pop the kettle on, because I'm moving in. Meanwhile, let me know if you ever want a guest post about my life as a professional Doctor Who fan in 1980s America. 😀 Thanks for the shout out, too!
Really enjoy everything The Metropolitan has done this year and glad to have had the chance to "meet" you via Substack. Keep it up!