Brow Beat
Slate's Culture Blog

Sept. 4 2015 11:33 AM

Stephen Colbert’s Spoofs of Podcast Ads for His Late Show Podcast Are Dumb, Brilliant

Stephen Colbert is an avid podcast listener. At Slate we know this because he’s been known to call our offices when the Political Gabfest isn’t up on schedule. But now we also know this because he’s been putting out his own podcast about the making of the Late Show, and the fake ads he’s taped for it demonstrate a deep love-hate relationship with podcast ads—the same kind of deep love-hate relationship that all regular listeners share.

For comedy nerds, the podcast is worth listening to for all sorts of reasons. But for me, as someone who’s more of a podcast nerd than a comedy nerd, the fake ads are the best part.

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Sept. 4 2015 11:23 AM

Miguel Performed an Intimate Acoustic Set in a Michigan Family’s Living Room

With tracks like “The Valley,” Miguel might not be the first artist to come to mind as a family-friendly performer. But recently the artist took to an unusual stage—a Michigan family’s living room—to perform in support of Make Room, a campaign to raise awareness for struggling renters.

Miguel’s heartfelt acoustic renditions of “Coffee,” “What’s Normal Anyway,” and “Adorn” speak to his own tie to the cause: “I grew up in a single parent family, and my mom often struggled,” Miguel said before he began performing. “I would see her work really hard and come home and be tired and give everything she had to us. And so it’s really cool to be able to hopefully just let you know that people are paying attention.”

Sept. 4 2015 11:17 AM

Janet Jackson Shares New Song “Unbreakable,” a Tribute to Her Fans

Janet Jackson is officially back: Her first tour in four years kicked off earlier this week to glowing reviews and her first new studio album in seven years, Unbreakable, is set for release in October. Now she’s dropped the title track, and like her first single from the album, the sultry “No Sleep,” Jackson and her long-time collaborators Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis have brought back the old-school sound that her fans first fell in love with.

“Unbreakable,” which opens the album, starts off as a ballad, with Jackson singing to an unspecified “you” about how, though she’s made mistakes, she’s never gone “without your love,” adding, “you made me feel wanted.” As the song shifts into a smooth, mid-tempo groove, it becomes clear that the “you” she’s referring to is actually, you, her fans.

Sept. 4 2015 8:02 AM

How Mr. Robot Became One of TV’s Most Visually Striking Shows

When Tod Campbell joined Mr. Robot as director of photography on its second episode, he had what Marlo Stanfield from The Wire might refer to as “one of them good problems” in deciding how to shoot it. Lead actor Rami Malek’s eyes were almost too gorgeous. “My God, Rami? I could put a light a hundred yards away and his eyes would pick it up,” says the veteran cinematographer of shows from Friday Night Lights to Sleepy Hollow. This ocular casting coup helped determine how Campbell came to shape the distinctive look of creator Sam Esmail’s twisty, anti-capitalist hacker drama, one of the summer’s standout shows (its finale airs on USA tonight). And you don’t need Malek-size eyes to see that Mr. Robotcomposes its shots like nothing else on television today. 

Fitting for a show about those occupying society’s technological substrata, Mr. Robot’s characters are often placed at the very bottom of the frame. This leaves massive amounts of headroom that suggests a great weight hanging over their heads, and echoes their isolation: When they’re talking right to each other, they seem alone. In more conventional filmmaking, conversations are cut with the characters looking at each other from opposite ends of the frame, leaving what’s known as “leading room” between their faces that helps convey the physical space they occupy. Mr. Robot inverses the norm by “shortsighting” the characters, positioning their faces at the edge of the frame closest toward the person to whom they're speaking.

Sept. 3 2015 4:41 PM

Here Are Two New Songs from Empire’s Second Season. (Pitbull Makes a Cameo.)

Fox just released two new songs from Empire’s much-anticipated second season, and in one, Pitbull even makes an enthusiastic cameo. “No Doubt About it” (also featuring Jussie Smollett, who plays Jamal Lyon) is as infectiously danceable as one would expect, with such brazen, party-friendly lyrics as, “Aint nothing more important to me right now / than this shot of tequila.”

“Ain’t About the Money,” which features Smollett and Yazz, aka Bryshere Y. Gray, aka Hakeem Lyon, is a more seductive number, and sticks closely to the show’s central theme: “Ain’t about the money,” the main refrain chants. “It’s about the power.”

Sept. 3 2015 2:02 PM

So the Terminator, Obi-Wan Kenobi, Blade, and Michael Jackson Walk Into a Bar

There’s no shortage of pop culture mashups nowadays, but this video, in which over a dozen different movie characters inhabit the same hot spot called “Hell’s Club,” brings things to a whole new level. Using clever, seamless editing, Antonio Maria Da Silva creates a red-and-blue-tinged world in which Anakin SkywalkerBladeCarlito Brigante, Rollergirl, Saturday Night Fiver’s Tony Manero, and even Michael Jackson (à la “Smooth Criminal”) come together to trade sideways glances, dancing partners, and, eventually, bullets.

If you have 10 minutes to spare, it’s well worth watching, and pays off with the kind of shootout we could previously only imagine.

Sept. 3 2015 12:04 PM

Key & Peele Imagined the Most Awkward “Celebrity Storms Out of an Interview” Scenario Ever

The end of an era is almost upon us. Next week Key & Peele will air its final episode, and the first sketch has arrived, bringing with it some great physical comedy that the duo has become known for. Young Bidness (Jordan Peele) is a rapper being interviewed by talk show host Morty Jebsen (Keegan-Michael Key), but things get a bit crazy after they return from a commercial break. Morty makes the mistake of bringing up Young Bidness’ separation from his actress girlfriend Tiffany Bouquet, and the artist isn’t having it.

As Morty (a not-so-subtle send up of Larry King) presses the issue, Young Bidness adamantly decides the interview is over and starts to leave—which proves much more difficult than he imagined. 

Sept. 3 2015 11:48 AM

In The Lobster Trailer, Colin Farrell Must Fall in Love or Be Turned Into a Crustacean

In The Lobster, Colin Farrell once again finds himself on the wrong side of the law—but this time all he’s done is fail to meet that special someone in a society where singledom is illegal. Luckily for Farrell, in this brave new world—imagined by director Yorgos Lanthimos, who also made the great and unforgettably odd movie Dogtooth—there’s a compound dedicated to helping (read: forcing) people to fall in love. Those who fail to make a match in 45 days are turned into an animal of their choosing. You can guess from the title what kind of critter Farrell will become if he’s not up to the task.

The movie, which is Lanthimos’s English-language debut, got mostly rave reviews after its premiere at this year’s Cannes Film Festival, where it took home the Jury Prize. The trailer is intriguing enough on its own, but critics also noted that there’s more to the movie than meets the eye—including some satire of the kind of snap-judgment dating we engage in on sites like Tinder.

Sept. 3 2015 9:02 AM

Same As It Ever Was: Women on the Hot 100

An earlier version of this post appeared on the author’s blog, The Illiterate.

Remember last fall, when it looked like women, for the first time since the late ‘90s, were taking over the pop charts? When female artists occupied the entire Top Five and held onto it for almost two months? When over half the records to enter the Top 10, for all of last year, were by women? You must, because everybody commented on it, and everybody was overjoyed, including me.

Those days are over. Almost a year later women not only don‘t dominate the pop charts, but occupy a smaller share than they have since the early ’80s. Now that Taylor Swift’s 1989, Nicki Minaj’s The Pinkprint, and Meghan Trainor have begun to fade, the Top 10—and especially the No. 1 spot—has been dominated by men. Those women who have made it into the Top 10 are almost always in the company of men. The only solo women to enter the Top 10 in the first eight months of the year are Ellie Goulding (whose “Love Me Like You Do,” ironically enough, was boosted by its appearance on the soundtrack of Fifty Shades of Grey, a movie celebrating male domination) and Rachel Platten (whose “Fight Song” is about how she almost gave up on making it in the music industry). Every other record has either relegated the woman to a feature on a man’s record (Nicki Minaj and the uncredited Bebe Rexha on David Guetta’s “Hey Mama”), or presented a woman sharing space with a featured male (Natalie La Rose’s “Somebody,” featuring Jeremih, Selena Gomez’s “Good For You,” featuring A$AP Rocky, and the Rihanna/Kanye West/Paul McCartney collaboration “FourFiveSeconds”). And even though Taylor Swift’s “Bad Blood” would have made the Top 10 without the addition of Kendrick Lamar on the remix, he’s there all the same.

Here’s an even more depressing statistic: In the preceding paragraph, I’ve named every record featuring a woman’s voice to make the Top 10 in the first eight months of the year, a total of seven out of 23, or less than a third.

Sept. 3 2015 8:33 AM

How We Are Your Friends and Other August Flops Were Maimed by Bad Marketing

This article originally appeared in New York magazine.

In 2006, the song “We Are Your Friends”—a remix of “Never Be Alone,” by the British band Simian, credited to Justice vs Simian—won the award for best video at the MTV Europe Music Awards. As members of Justice vs Simian went to collect their awards, Kanye West burst onto the stage to interrupt them, claiming that he’d been told he would win for “Touch the Sky” and saying he’d had a little “sippy sippy” beforehand. Fast-forward nearly a decade later. Kanye is smoking prior to awards shows now, and “We Are Your Friends” is in headlines again, but this time for a very different reason: The song has lent its name to one of the worst-debuting films of all time.

We Are Your Friends, Zac Efron’s moody trip into the world of DJ-bro euphoria and dudes wearing headphones around their necks, opened to $1.8 million in 2,333 theaters—the worst opening for a 2,000-plus-theater live-action release since 1982, according to Box Office Mojo. That per-theater average of $772 is worse than The Adventures of Pluto Nash. It’s worse than From Justin to Kelly. It’s less than half of what Mortdecaidid on its first weekend earlier this year. It’s very, very bad, and it likely means that we’ll be seeing less of a few things going forward: movies about DJs, movies starring Zac Efron, movies named after French dance remixes, etc.

The poor opening is also in keeping with a pattern that’s spanned the month of August. The weekend of August 8, Meryl Streep’s Ricki and the Flash opened to $6.6 million in 1,603 theaters—on target with estimates, but Streep’s lowest-opening wide release since Lions for Lambs in 2007. Two weeks later, Jesse Eisenberg and Kristen Stewart’s American Ultrabombed harder, taking in $5.6 million from 2,778 theaters. American Ultra’s rough start sent its screenwriter, Max Landis, on a Twitter rant that led him to a conclusion folks have been batting around for years now, ever since the onslaught of superhero movies and franchise installations began in earnest: “big level original ideas don't $.”

Although this is true in a very first-look sense—the highest-grossing original live-action release of 2015 is San Andreas, at No. 13, and San Andreas doesn’t scream “original”  it also overshadows a larger trend. The problem with all three of these movies is that potential moviegoers didn’t understand what they were. The ads conveyed little information about the central idea, much less a sense of what kind of tone, genre, or atmosphere could be expected. None of the three had solid enough reviews to lend them a prestige feeling, meaning tone, genre, and atmosphere should’ve been their stock in trade. In a time when concepts and franchises, not actors, are becoming the primary determinant of a movie's success, these three movies highlighted their stars and little else. The marketing failed them.