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Social media icon Bretman Rock makes his debut as the first openly gay male featured on the cover of Playboy Magazine. The 23-year-old Filipino influencer has been producing beauty content online over the last five years, collaborating with major makeup brands, starring in his own reality show, and climbing the social media ladder. Flashforward to 2021, and he’s just made history.

 Bretman Rock went viral on the 6-second video app Vine (rest in peace) back in 2015 and immediately became a sensation for his audacious sense of humor. With over 8.8 million subscribers on YouTube and 13.1 million followers on TikTok, it’s no surprise that Rock has become such an obsession amongst Gen-Zers. Back in 2017, Time Magazine listed Rock as one of the most influential teens of the year, and he made his first cover debut on the 2019 Pride Month issue of Gay Times.

 Bretman Rock’s creativity has gone offline in multiple brand collaborations, releasing makeup collections inspired by his Filipino background. In January 2021, Rock’s reality show MTV Following: Bretman Rock premiered on MTV’s YouTube channel and looked at the more raw, unfiltered side of his life in Hawaii. In June 2021, Rock was nominated for and received an MTV Movie and TV Award as a Breakthrough Social Star, where he thanked both the AAPI and LGBTQ+ communities.

 Although Playboy Magazine has been a cultural phenomenon for the last 60 years, the online pornographic market has overtaken the once-hailed men’s magazine. The online porn industry in the US sees annual revenues up to $97 billion, which explains Playboy’s millions in annual losses. Initially founded in 1953 by Hugh Hefner, magazine publisher and glorified pimp, Playboy was considered a progressive pornographic publication, at that time, for defyed the 1950s anti-obscenity laws. Playboy’s first issue featured blonde bombshell Marilyn Monroe on the cover and nude centerfold, launching the magazine into an international success. At its height in 1975, an issue of Playboy would sell an average of 5.6 million copies. They'd go on to feature more celebrity icons and even turn playmates into celebrities themselves. Beyond print, the brand expanded to fashion, film, and television. In 2005, Hefner and his entourage of blonde, busty babes were featured in a reality TV show, The Girls Next Door, focusing on their lavish lifestyles as Hefner’s girlfriends in the Playboy Mansion. After years of tell-all exposés from past playmates and the print magazine’s gradual decline in sales, in 2020 Playboy released its final print publication and entirely shifted gears to digital issues. With online competitors like OnlyFans and PornHub easily at our disposal, we have to wonder if Playboy’s seemingly more vanilla content can keep up with what's trending on the Internet.

Over the years, the nudie mad has recognized that it cannot sustain itself without keeping up with the times and reaching a broader audience, specifically women. In contrast to the 1960s male demographic, Playboy has gradually incorporated content to diversify its audience, epitomized in their Summer 2019 Gender & Sexuality spread. As Playboy shifted to the online sphere, it seemed only fitting to include more social media celebrities. Featuring Bretman Rock on the cover is an approach to remain socially relevant with a younger, more liberal demographic; however, Playboy began gradually diversifying its content starting back in the 1970s. Darine Stern was the first solo Black cover girl for Playboy in 1971. In July 2020, Bad Bunny graced the cover as the first solo male model, other than Hefner himself, and discussed his role as a queer ally in the Latin Hip-Hop sphere. While they made history back in 2017 with French model Ines Rau as the first transgender playmate, last fall Playboy Mexico featured the first transgender woman on the cover, social media influencer Victoria Volkóva. As Mexico is the second-deadliest country for trans/gender-diverse individuals, featuring a trans-woman on the cover was a major political statement. 

 Bretman Rock’s issue transcends the boundaries of a magazine traditionally centered on the male gaze. While the future of Playboy is still a little shaky, competing in the oversaturated online porn market, the progressive strides made in the last few years are the silver lining in transforming what was once outdated, anti-feminist exploitation into a liberating display of expanded sexiness. Bretman Rock tweeted out his cover shoot with the message,

Playboy previously partnered with Rock in June 2021 to release limited-edition t-shirts in honor of Pride Month. Bretman Rock’s Playboy interview is anticipated to release later this month.

Top photo: Screenshot from YouTube

Elizabeth Safaryn is a fourth-year student at New York University, studying Media & Communications. She lives in the Lower East Side of Manhattan and enjoys learning/writing about feminist representation in cinema and social media. You can follow her at @lizsafaryn