Album leaks aren't my thing. I prefer to wait until the scheduled release date, at which time iTunes will tell me my preordered purchase is ready for download. But sometimes being a traditionalist is not possible. When there's water dripping from your ceiling, you've got to get a bucket. R. Kelly's Black Panties isn't due out for another week, but someone forwarded me a link to the leak. So off to fetch a bucket I went. I wish I could say I hate myself for it, that it wasn't worth contravening my commitment to legality. But if listening to Black Panties early is a jailable offense, then lock me up and throw away the key.
Oh, look, what have we here? Just another wackadoo Artpop promotion from the as-of-late particularly wackadoo Lady Gaga, right? Getting naked for Marina Abramovic and doing a Thanksgiving special with the Muppets seems of a piece with commissioning a silicone sex doll of yourself, right? Everything just goes into the high-lowbrow, sexual-but-not-sexy kitchen sink that is the Artpop journey, right?
Oh, how you all underestimate Lady Gaga. Much like Jeff Bezos and his army of stuff-drones, this weekend Stefani Germanotta revolutionized product delivery. You see, the Gagadoll, as manufactured by love-doll industry leader Orient Industry, is not just a life-size replica of everyone's favorite art bitch with, as most outlets have only coyly hinted at, anatomically (not urban legendarily) correct orifices. It is also a way, alongside iTunes, Spotify, and physical CD, to experience Artpop.
With Molly on pod leave for the week, Tess and Emily bid farewell to Eastbound & Down — clearly reluctantly, because we're already longing for a version of Kanye West's "Bound 2” video starring Kenny and April. We then dig into the video and the strong reactions it has elicited, defending it against the haters while also trying to figure out if there's any point at which we might be giving Kanye too much credit.
The same question could be asked of Lady Gaga and R. Kelly's incredible performance on SNL this week, yet another musical moment that put us in the Grantland minority for finding it to be a triumph. What is the meaning of Gaga's post-album-drop plastic wig? Is invoking the art world exploiting a loophole against criticism? Will Black Panties leap over the entire 2013 pop wars like a majestic sex dolphin? We do not have the answers to any of these questions, but we'll be jamming to "Italian Hero Sandwich of Love" till December 10.
Gravity SPOILERS herein, if you actually think the experience of watching the most immersive space movie ever can be ruined with a little plot point. So! The part where Sandra Bullock totally looks like a goner and finally gets someone on the radio, only to find the person doesn't speak English? That dude was Aningaaq, the fellow for whom this seven-minute short film is named! Written and directed by Jonás Cuarón — who cowrote Gravity with his auteur papa — Aningaaq could wind up with an Oscar nomination, which THR says would mark "the first feature and spinoff short drawn from the same material to be nominated together in the same year." Give the clip a shot — as gimmicky as it sounds, it's poignant and works well on its own.
This weekend, Lady Gaga hosted SNL for the first time. She had appeared as a musical guest twice, once with Ryan Reynolds and once with Justin Timberlake, and popped up in couple of digital shorts ("3-Way (The Golden Rule)" always deserves a link), but it's kind of surprising she hadn't been a host before, especially during her 2008-09 promotional circuit for The Fame. Her excitement at joining the cast for a night was palpable, as though a 19-year-old Stefani Germanotta had taken over, and she approached her gig with earnest eagerness. In fact, a lot of Saturday's material seemed tailored to Gaga-esque themes, revolving around precocious theater kids and what it means to age out of relevancy (not that Gaga's over the hill by any means, but the way she played a septuagenarian had enough layers to reveal she'd thought a lot about it). She rolled over to allow us (and R. Kelly) to perform push-ups on her abdomen and poke fun at her image, and even when she was striving a little hard to make her eyeballs THIIIIIS BIG as a dorky Apple Genius, she committed to everything she did as a double-duty host and musical guest (and she didn't hang on the cue cards at all, impressively).
We've been talking about Lady Gaga's third studio album, Artpop, for what feels like years by now, and for a while it seemed pretty touch and go — would it break out of its egg fully formed, or be weighed down by its own pretense, a beautiful but flightless bird? Well, we finally sat down and gave Artpop a spin and realized … we all love it. We spend some time figuring out how much of its imperfection is part of its charm, and also appreciate Lady Gaga's embrace of her inner weird old lady.
Next we travel to Equestria and discuss Bronies, the documentary about adult fans of My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic that aired on Logo recently. This quickly becomes a conversation about the joys of fandom in general and what draws certain people to vibrant online lives revolving around a shared love of pop culture (or hamsters).
You know the saying that when somebody shows you who they are, believe them? Maybe an artist's singles really do predict what the album will be like. Miley Cyrus's first two singles were all over the place, and Bangerz followed suit. Katy Perry's Prism A-sides were safe and dark, respectively, and the album oscillates between uplifting and introspective. Lady Gaga released a bunch of scattershot singles that made it hard to imagine how her album would add up, and now we have Artpop to connect the dots. As Gaga's third official album, it's neither as lightheartedly catchy as The Fame nor as pompously preachy as Born This Way. On Artpop, Gaga doubles down on what made her a star in the first place: personality, theatrics, and big hooks you can hang weird hats on.
As always, Gaga uses a Broadway vibrato you will either love or find repulsive, probably depending on how you feel about Liza Minnelli. It's not always as exaggerated as it is on "Applause," but it's definitely present throughout. Gaga goes more nasal and guttural on this album than ever before, and it's a matter of personal taste. I liked it. She leans into the imperfections in her voice — a rarity for a pop star of her stature, but that's why pop culture's in art in her. Gaga's insistence that Artpop is about something doesn't even grate on me, because of course it's about something. We all agree that albums can be works of art, right? So why does pop music often get shunted aside, as if it doesn't belong on the same plane as rock and rap and electronic music? Genreism is a vestige of the past.
Do you watch American Idol? Have you ever watched American Idol? Of course you have! It's popular. But it's sad, too. Every year the country spends half a television season watching contestants sing. They vote for their favorite performer — or against yours. The weeks grind on. Someone wins, even though we all realize that there is no culturally significant difference between a champion and her trail of vanquished competitors. Despite increasingly smaller numbers, Americans still watch in droves. With regard to the show as a catapult to fame, however, we might have moved on.
But that's not what's sad about American Idol — or sadder still about The X Factor. What's sad is that it doesn't give you the winner you want. The first couple of seasons, we didn't what know we wanted, which was lucky for Kelly Clarkson and Carrie Underwood. The culture was just different enough then. But eventually — maybe after Underwood's season in 2005 — you'd listen to the advice of the judges and hear comments from friends, critics, and select social-media guides and realize you don't really want to watch a stranger evolve into a star.
The winner we want never looked like a loser. The winner we want is a fully developed, perversely gifted mutant entertainer. That winner we want has already won. And the winner we want is Celine Dion.
You and I have both readabout plans to jettison celebrities into space — not because an international tribal council voted them off the earth, but just 'cause. They're rich, space is there, they probably hadn't seen Gravity before signing up, and maybe Richard Branson threw them some money. Who knows? I'm not even sure if a celebrity has gone into space yet. (Let's see ... all right, Branson is heading out on Virgin Galactic's maiden voyage on December 25. Brangelina and Ashton Kutcher might also be onboard. Merry Spacemas, weird star-stew!) But now Lady Gaga will be "the first artist to sing in outer space," according to Us Weekly. Kinda specious language — what if an astronaut-slash-artist happened to sing a few bars one time on a mission? — but let's go with it. Or maybe let's say Gaga will be the first to perform in space, because there's no way she'd ever want to go up there in the first place unless she could be allowed to make a thing of it.
This week, Lady Gaga demonstrated that she was back in smash-single-releasing mode with the release of “Do What U Want,” and yesterday, she proved she was back in zero-sense-making-vaguely-terrifying-conceptual-outfit mode as well, debuting a brand-new headpiece outside her hotel in Berlin. What is happening here? Do we feel good about it? What is this, even? Hollywood Prospectus editors Mark Lisanti and Emily Yoshida are on the case.
Yoshida: My immediate reaction: grilled rice ball. Which is always my go-to end-of-meal carb bomb to order at my favorite Japanese eateries. It's warm, it's simple, it's got just enough crunch and salt to hit those pleasure centers in the brain. So of course Gaga’s getup made me feel very warm and nourished — like, I wanna wash that down with a cold Sapporo, from a culinary standpoint. From every other standpoint, it will be giving me nightmares for a week!
One fun thing about the epic pop stan wars of Q4 2013 has been how every time a new single drops into the arena, everyone has to reevaluate the existing standings. Miley Cyrus got an early lead with "We Can't Stop," which gave her an entire summer free from major pop star competition to build anticipation for Bangerz. In mid-August, Katy Perry premiered "Roar," her first single from Prism, the follow-up to record-breaking smash album Teenage Dream. Reviews of "Roar" were extremely mixed, but it shot to the top of the charts immediately. "Roar" and "We Can't Stop" were both unexpectedly mid-tempo, perhaps a reaction to EDM oversaturation over the course of the last year, but some pop fans still clamored for more aggressively beat-driven songs. Two days after "Roar" leaked, Lady Gaga leaked her own new single "Applause."
Gaga had been talking a huge game about her album Artpop for months, so it was with a lot of fanfare that "Applause" hit the Internet, where it fizzled without any warning. "Applause," with its Kurt Weill theatricality and general "that weird lady's doing it again" vibe, spawned a thousand think pieces speculating about whether Gaga's hot streak was over for good. Meanwhile, the safe and cozy "Roar," which is the pop song equivalent of hot milk with honey, shot up through the ranks and easily elephant-stomped "Applause."
There's no way Lionsgate is happy with Escape Plan's anemic debut, but we the people have received a golden treasure attached to the unnecessary movie's existence: seven new videos on Arnold Schwarzenegger's YouTube channel. They're all clips of the Governator reinterpreting some of his classic lines via Reddit request, and they are genuinely Schwarztacular.
Remember back in 2011, when Lady Gaga hosted (and directed) an ABC holiday special called A Very Gaga Thanksgiving? Sure you do (but if not, here you go). It was actually pretty great; it was set at Gaga's alma mater, Convent of the Sacred Heart, and featured Katie Couric and Tony Bennett (who at one point called Gaga "America's Picasso") and a number of wigs (duh). It was just announced that Gaga will once again return to ABC for another holiday season television event, but this time there are Muppets.
It's a shame that Robert Rodriguez is trapped in the shadow of Quentin Tarantino. After Grindhouse it felt like together they were Wham! and apart one was George Michael and the other was the guy who put up with George Michael's fame. Comparing Rodriguez to Andrew Ridgeley might actually be unfair. I can name all of Rodriguez's films. But Grindhouse confirmed their divergent handle on junk. Tarantino's half, Death Proof, gave you the '70s road thriller as feminist revenge comedy. At 76 or so minutes, it was miniskirt moviemaking: short, tight, and wow. Rodriguez's half, Planet Terror, was an extra-large caftan scribbled on by feral kindergarteners and ripped up by wolves: fun, ragged, ugly, in need of a timeout.
When Rodriguez's bad taste can bite into politics or a flavorless genre, he comes alive. You see something like 2010's Machete, and you feel like Rodriguez finally found his calling as a shlock editorialist. The movie came during the height of our country's immigration debates and opted for guerrilla lunacy to attack racism and oppression and U.S.-Mexico relations. Most of his throw-it-all-at-the-wall filmmaking actually stuck. You could tell the ideas meant something to him. And the exuberance in Machete turned out to be a perfect twin for the shock radicalism fueling Tarantino's Django Unchained. The Tarantino is disciplined where the Rodriguez is wild. But both are grisly, dangerous, and violent. Machete you could dismiss as a cartoon. It didn't seem to disturb the peace the way Django did. That's too bad. It has the same gonzo force.
The Dexter series finale was everything Breaking Bad’s closer wasn't: namely, pretty lame. Was there any way it could've been better? Like, if the guy who killed so many people over the last eight years tasted his own medicine, maybe? Quizzed by Vulture about how the writers wound up with that exact disappointing ending, Dexter producer John Goldwyn said, "How about that finale? They won't let us kill him. Showtime was very clear about that. When we told them the arc for the last season, they just said, 'Just to be clear, he's going to live.' There were a lot of endings discussed because it was a very interesting problem to solve, to bring it to a close." Scribble out "interesting," stick with "problem," and that's your show's new legacy forever, buddy.