After a big rollout by her publicity team, Britney Spears's most recent single, "Work Bitch," stalled on the charts and never even made it into the pop heroes' circle currently monopolized by the likes of Katy Perry and Lady Gaga. It was a big disappointment for fans anticipating her upcoming album, Britney Jean, as well as a reminder that no artist is indestructible, particularly in the fickle youth-centric landscape of pop music. "Work Bitch" sounded a little tired, even through Britney seemed more focused than she has in years. The music video was hyped up and hoped to help sales, but even Britney using her famously damaged knees in the choreography didn't help the song make much headway toward becoming no. 1. Then Britney let it slip during a radio interview that she hadn't so much chosen the video's sexy dominatrix theme as she had been pushed into it, and that she had asked for several edits to tone down the raunchiness.
Britney's "I'm a mom" rhetoric didn't sit well with everyone, but she's our Britney, and it's her choice. And unlike other pop stars (cough cough, Katy), Britney wasn't so much commenting on the sex-saturated state of the industry as just making a plea for herself. She doesn't want to wear the latex leotards anymore, so why make her? Just because fans want Spears to emulate the look she established as a teenager doesn't mean she has to. Maybe she's tired of being compared to her sexually precocious underage self and being accused of coming up short. With her Vegas residency starting soon and 31 years under her belt, Brit Brit should be able to coast on nostalgia and her catalogue of platinum hits without also needing to strip every night to make the audience sure that her abs are still high-def.
Justin Timberlake dropped the video for "Tunnel Vision," the third single off his 20/20 Experience, the other day, prompting many viewers to point out the major similarity it shares with Robin Thicke's blockbuster "Blurred Lines" video: Boobs! Several of them.
"Bow Down/I Been On," the probable first single(s) from Beyoncé's next album, has been as divisive and controversial as Spring Breakers, as audiences seem unsure how seriously to take it. After all, this is Beyoncé, queen of mixed messages. One thing comes across loud and clear: Beyoncé is not here for your expectations of her. Even if her most seemingly impromptu moves are incredibly calculated (ripping the earpiece out during the national anthem!), practiced to seem extemporary, we will never be able to prove it because she is just that good at faking being real.
Earlier this month, the rapper Joe Budden — he's a "star" of VH1's Love & Hip Hop, but you probably still know him best for "Pump It Up" — went on local New York affiliate Fox 5 News to bravely tell his story. See, all summer he'd been experimenting with Molly, and Molly almost killed him dead. “I didn’t see a problem with the fact that maybe five days would go by without sleeping," Budden told gravely concerned reporter Lisa Evers, while the two reclined on a plush couch in his New Jersey home. "I didn’t see a problem with the fact that maybe I was hallucinating at times." He managed, just barely, to fight it off, Evers told us grimly, with the help of people who loved him, and he hopes his plight will send the message to the world: “Popping a Molly can make you feel happy and sexy. But experts warn that just one dose can mess up your brain for life.” Then she plugged his new album.
I'm not trying to take the piss out of Budden's, or anyone's, legitimate substance abuse issues. But this, at least as packaged, is something else. The ominous allusions, the scarred survivor story, the aggressively substance-free reporting — this is a bit of Drug Trend Paranoia 101.
Justin Bieber Cheated on Selena Gomez a Lot: "HIGH ON DRUGS, TEEN STAR JUSTIN BIEBER CHEATED ON SELENA GOMEZ WITH A SEXY STRANGER." Just before the holidays, Bieb had a "drug-fueled hookup with another girl." The drug was mostly weed, and the girl was voluptuous 22-year-old L.A. nursing student Mimi Jenson. They were introduced by Lil' Twist, and went to a weed store in Hollywood, a McDonald's, and then back to the hotel. There they "did a lot more than eat." I bet they got a hundred-piece McNuggets. They also "smoked pot and used a baby bottle to measure out the ingredients for sizzurp, the street cocktail made famous by Three 6 Mafia and Ke$ha." Mull that sentence, please.
Tom Cruise's Midlife Crisis: "Alone and awkward, Tom Cruise wages a futile battle against time." Tom Cruise is mortal? "He's kind of broken. He's too concerned with what people think." Tom has been hitting clubs in an attempt to get over his divorce. "Tom's trying to look cool and go out and be hip, but he just looks silly and icky. He's going through a midlife crisis." His 50th birthday may be to blame. "Midlife crises become acute if a man's life is marked by failed marriages and strained relationships." Turning 50 in itself can be "a traumatic event for many men." He hasn't seen daughter Suri in two months. "He's lost his place as a husband and father." He's also worried about his career. "Tom is very nervous about being eased out of big action star roles." That doesn't have to be an issue necessarily, as men get to play leads much longer — just look at 60-year-old Liam Neeson headlining the Taken franchise. Tom has no idea how to be single. At a London club "he looked awkward and uncomfortable. The rest of the club was dancing, but Tom was in a corner talking to a woman like it was a business meeting. As rich and famous as he is, Tom just doesn't know how to fit in." A therapist says that Cruise "has to confront that his power is shifting." NEVER!
Seven Psychopaths, Martin McDonagh's follow-up to 2008's excellent In Bruges, comes out this weekend, and while we're certainly looking forward to the director teaming up with Colin Farrell again, it's a pretty good bet that nine out of 10 scenes will be effortlessly stolen by Christopher Walken, arguably the original modern psychopath. With over 120 films on his résumé, not to mention all those SNL hosting gigs, and countless other cameos over the years, going down a Walken YouTube rabbit hole can be a daunting undertaking. So come in, have some champag-nyeh, and let the Grantland staff be your guide to the best of Walken on the Internet.
In February of this year, the Russian punk band Pussy Riot — 24-year-old Maria Alyokhina, 22-year-old Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, and 29-year-old Yekaterina Samutsevich — staged a performance/protest at Moscow's Christ the Saviour Cathedral, in which they recited a "punk prayer" featuring the lines, "Virgin Mary, Put Putin Away." (You can see the performance here.) They were arrested and charged with hooliganism, and during their months-long trial, they faced a sentence of up to three years in prison. During that time, they became a cause célèbre, with everyone from Paul McCartney to Madonna to Alicia Silverstone weighing in with their support. (The former Miss Match star was particularly concerned with Pussy Riot's diet: "Dear President Putin ... may I please have your assurance that Ms. Alekhina will have access to vegan foods?") And Kathleen Hanna, the original riot grrrl, has just spoken at length to Pitchfork about her support for the embattled punk-rock feminists. Of course, this being a different country and all, the Russians don't see it as a clear-cut case in defense of free speech. As GQ Russia editor-in-chief Michael Idov explains in a New York Times op-ed:
Every new Madonna album comes with a new Madonna persona, and the MDNA Madonna is seemingly into rave culture, partial nudity, and mind-blowing cultural tone-deafness. The first two may as well be put-ons, but the third is turning out to be pretty genuine: The New York Times reports that Ms. Ciccone is now defending her use of Nazi imagery during a performance in her current world tour after coming under fire by the conservative French National Front leader Marine Le Pen. Apparently it doesn't go over so well when you slap a swastika on the forehead of a political leader and juxtapose it with Hitler's head shot, in what sounds like the worst PowerPoint ever. (No protestations yet from Hu Jintao, Pope Benedict XVI, and Sarah Palin, who are similarly branded in the clip.)
Johnny Depp's Broken Heart: "On a recent night at West Hollywood's Sunset Tower Hotel, Depp was uncharacteristically quiet and alone. Johnny looked forlorn. He sat at the bar, nursing his drink, listening to the piano player. He seemed to be lost in his thoughts." His split from Vanessa Paradis was just made official and he has subsequently "turned to women for comfort." His life in the French countryside with partner Paradis was "idyllic" for years. "Johnny would walk to the local cafe, sip an espresso with the men of the village and stroll home. That was his dream." But Paradis found it stifling. "She would always complain that she was bored. She said she felt like an old woman who had given up on life and constantly told him she wanted to live in L.A." While she encouraged him to take the role of Jack Sparrow, she became "resentful" of his long shoots on location. "Vanessa started to feel like she'd sacrificed her career for his." Depp "started to drink heavily." He disappeared constantly to London and New York "rather than be in a dark and brooding mood around the kids. He wouldn't contact Vanessa because he knew she'd give him hell." After the split, Depp started hanging out a lot with Marilyn Manson. He started sleeping with Amber Heard, his co-star in The Rum Diary, despite the fact that she has a serious girlfriend. They bonded over a shared love of Hunter S. Thompson. Paradis responded to Depp's infidelity by screaming, "If I see her, I'll drown her!"
Welcome back to our series Rembert Explains the '80s. Every so often, we'll e-mail 25-year-old Rembert Browne a video from the 1980s that he hasn't seen. Rembert will write down his thoughts as he's watching it, then we'll post those thoughts here. This week's installment was selected by Grantland editor-in-chief Bill Simmons: a portion of the 1985 American Music Awards. If you have an idea for a future episode of Rembert Explains the '80s, e-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Simmons's note: I'm demanding a breakdown of this clip please
Rembert's note: I've got no choice, he followed "demand" with "please." So kind.
Monday was a pretty great day for random music-industry-based tiffs! Exhibit A: Drummer Patrick Carney of The Black Keys — the band who just got done semi-apologizing for bashing Nickelback — had some words for Sean Parker, the Napster/Facebook genius/schmoozer turned Spotify board member. Explaining why the Black Keys don’t release their music on Spotify, Carney said "Trust me, Dan [Auerbach, front man] and I like to make money. If it was fair to the artist we would be involved in it." But also: "I honestly don't want to see Sean Parker succeed in anything. I imagine if Spotify becomes something that people are willing to pay for, then I'm sure iTunes will just create their own service, and they're actually fair to artists." And, most important: "He's an asshole. That guy has $2 billion that he made from figuring out ways to steal royalties from artists, and that's the bottom line. You can't really trust anybody like that." Parker has yet to respond, but considering he survived being portrayed as an asshole, with a coke problem, by an ex-pop star, in an Oscar-nominated movie, you can assume he’ll be able to laugh this one off. Also possibly helpful: the aforementioned billions of dollars in his possession. Meanwhile, if you want to listen to the Black Keys' new album, El Camino, you’re just going to have to illegally download buy it like everybody else.
Maybe it’s because everyone in the music industry has spent their post-SXSW week intermittently napping, or maybe it’s because everyone in the music industry decided to hide all the cool shit from me — but this felt like a real down week for new music. Thank the heavens for Frank Ocean, then, who, to date, still doesn’t know how to take a track off. This one was supposedly slated for the official Nostalgia re-release, which is now not happening. Ah, why nawwwwt, Frank? “Hahaha. What I look like a year later re-releasing my last album? Not icey. Bitch I’m icey.” Also: “ONLY SAYING THAT FOR MY JOURNALIST/BLOGGER FRIENDS. i know my icey-ness is obvious.” Noted.
Global hit from Brazilian vocalist Michel Teló (formerly of Grupo Tradição) that sounds like any singer-songwriter stuff you might hear drifting beerily through windows on the college quad, but with way more accordion as befits sertanejo universitário. The title translates from Portuguese to "Oh If I Catch You!" and the song spawned a dance that soccer players like Neymar, Cristiano Ronaldo, and André Santos do to celebrate scoring. Best YouTube Comment: "IT`S THE UGLIEST SONG NOT ONLY IN THE BRAZIL BUT IN THE WHOLE WORLD BY THE WAY I LIKE NIRVANA" —juniorsabara Grade: B
Dear 4/4 Europop House (c/o a hopeless place): Last summer was amazing and I will treasure it forever, but it's February now, and I seriously need some space. This is kind of awkward, but I'm seeing a new chick named Lana Del Rey. She is mumbly and spooky and brutally hot and all we do is smoke pineapple blunts, have weird sex, and play video games. Happy Valentine's Day. Please don't contact me ever again.