Brow Beat
Slate's Culture Blog

May 28 2015 1:46 PM

Us Weekly’s “25 Things” May Be the Best Magazine Feature in All of Media

Rand Paul loves Twilight Zone reruns, composting, and a country duo called “Sundy Best” [sic]. His Thanksgiving turkey recipe involves covering the bird in cheesecloth and then basting it in Madeira wine and butter. His parents didn’t enforce a curfew when he was growing up because “they believed excessive rules can have unintended consequences.”

These are just 20 percent of the facts Paul revealed this week to Us Weekly as part of its ongoing series “25 Things You Don’t Know About Me.” The feature, which first appeared months after a similar Facebook craze for lists of “25 random things” took off in 2009, is exactly what it sounds like. “25 Things” should be polished and anodyne: It’s a glossy tabloid feature written by stars themselves (or at least written by assistants and approved by stars). In reality, it is often gloriously weird. And overall, it is one of the best magazine features around.

A few celebrity facts from “25 Things” over the years:

Bill Maher jumps on a trampoline every day, loves fireproof fire cabinets, and has listened to all 5,000 songs in his iPod in alphabetical order twice.

Meghan McCain loves taxidermy.

Darius Rucker was inspired to go to the University of South Carolina by Erma Bombeck.

Gavin Rossdale calls Christopher Hitchens “my guide.”

Felicity Huffman once thought Miami was a state, and doesn’t know how to read a map.

Blake Shelton often finds himself wondering, “What kind of tree is that?”

Certain categories recur, including favorite drinks, fragrances, charities, and sports teams. Recently, Game of Thrones fandom has become a running theme. But after blowing through those, subjects start reaching for strange memories, regrets, predilections, and aspirations, possibly out of sheer desperation. (25 things is a lot of things!) Credit should also presumably go to the unknown editors who push for the good stuff.

Of course, some “25 Things” subjects don’t seem to need a lot of pushing. Take Cher’s 2013 entry, a masterpiece of the form. These are just the first three entries:

1. Stephen Hawking invited me to lunch one day, and we got into a heated discussion with his students about history vs. math. Stephen said, "Cher, when time travel is perfected, history will be obsolete."
2. Meryl Streep and I saved a girl from a large mugger in New York City.
3. The day I moved out of my home in Holmby Hills, I found a room I never knew existed.

Even famous people who, like recent Bachelor Chris “Prince Farming” Soules, seem a dull as an Iowa cornfield in February, can become a bit more interesting when they submit to “25 Things.” Soules named his childhood Barbie (!) doll Shaulin! (He’s also a Chicago Bears fan, zzzzz.) Swedish DJ Avicii is 24 but feels 35. (What does that mean?) Joey Lawrence is fluent in Latin. (Really?!) And politicians like Paul, the ultimate on-topic automatons, use the space to get mildly personal, if always in the most self-flattering way. In his admittedly blah 2012 entry, President Obama said he’s never missed a parent-teacher conference. Aww.

The real magic of the feature is that few entries are longer than a sentence, so the subjects have no chance to explain themselves. Why does Mike Tyson like reading about the Hellenstic period, and in what form does he consume a pound of blueberries a day? Why did Donnie Wahlberg think it was a good idea to personally pierce his 16-year-old son’s ears? We’ll probably never get the answers. In a time in which it’s easy to imagine we already know everything about the lives of the rich and famous, there’s something magical about that.

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May 28 2015 11:48 AM

This Paper Animation of the Twin Peaks Opening Credits Is Oddly Endearing 

Twin Peaks fans are already having a pretty good year—a new season is on the way, and David Lynch is back on board. But if the wait for new episodes feels endless, here’s something to tide you over: A paper animated rendition of the show’s bizarrely serene opening credit sequence. The pencil-drawn paper cutouts lend the charming feel of a children’s book, and pair perfectly with the droning music. The artist behind this masterpiece already posted an animation of the trailer for The Force Awakens, and plans to upload a new episode every other Monday.

May 28 2015 11:15 AM

Serial Is Coming Back With Two New Seasons

Serial, Sarah Koenig's provocative spin on a true crime podcast, will return in the fall of 2015, according to a press release emailed to newsletter subscribers. This American Life producers are currently at work on the show's second and third seasons, which are slated to come out this fall and next spring, respectively. Will the new storylines resemble season one's troubling reinvestigation of a Maryland teenager's death in 1999? Probably not.

Kicking off their summer press tour, Koenig and co-creator Julie Snyder pledged to try to reduce the amount of time between seasons two and three. They were coy with details about the substance of the new investigations, simply describing the upcoming themes as “very different ... but no less interesting to us.”

May 28 2015 9:59 AM

NBC’s New Drama Is a Strange, Cheap Exploitation of the Charles Manson Murders

When “MURDER. MADNESS. MANSON” is your tagline, it seems oddly restrained to eschew exclamation points. But lovers of obviousness can rest easy knowing that this punctuation choice was the only bit of subtlety indulged in by the creators of the new NBC drama Aquarius (Thursdays at 9 p.m.; all 13 episodes available on starting May 29).

The first hint that Sam Hodiak (David Duchovny) might be a heavy hitter is when he begins his day by … pounding a heavy bag right there in his apartment. He’s a Los Angeles homicide cop who wears his hair high and tight and looks slick in a dark suit and skinny tie. But he starts his car by hotwiring it, and almost every scene in his apartment has a guitar in the shot, so he might be a square, but he’s a cool square, ya dig?

May 28 2015 8:32 AM

The Gross New Reality Show That Forces Poor Americans to Prove Their Virtue

This article originally appeared in Vulture.

In the 2014 fiscal year, Les Moonves, president and CEO of CBS Corp, earned over $54 million. That’s down from his 2013 compensation of $66.9 million, but it’s still a lot of money. Enough, in fact, that in one day, he makes more than double the annual median household income in the United States. Maybe he’s worth it! Charge what the market will bear, etc.; CBS isn’t just paying him to do his job, they're paying him not to do it for anyone else, either. But there’s something really perverse about Les Moonves earning money based on the emotional and financial anguish of poor people, by making a game-theory spectacle of human suffering that he could end, himself, personally, if he wanted to. The people on The Briefcase are agonizing over $101,000—a shitload of money to most of us. But not to Les Moonves. That’s less than 0.2 percent of his income: $101,000 is to Les Moonves what $97 is to a person earning $52,000 per year.

The Briefcase, premiering on CBS at 8 p.m. Wednesday, features “American families experiencing financial setbacks,” to use the network’s terminology. The family is given a briefcase with $101,000 in it, and then they're shown another family who's “experiencing financial setbacks.” They have to decide how much money to keep and how much to give the other people, or whether they want to keep it all for themselves; neither family knows both families have in fact received a briefcase, and that their counterparts are also deliberating over if and how to share the money. In the two episodes CBS made available for review, the decision weighs incredibly heavily on all participants. One woman is so overcome that she vomits. Everyone talks about health insurance. Several people claim this is the hardest decision they’ve ever made. Many, many tears are shed. And perhaps unsurprisingly, people demonstrate impressive generosity. That’s the point of the show, right? To show how generous people truly are? Surely these people were screened not just for emotive telegenics but also for proclivity toward magnanimity.

“We at least have health insurance,” says an injured veteran whose family debt is larger than his annual family income; his wife is the sole breadwinner and works as a night-shift nurse, and the two are struggling to afford to move into a house outfitted for his disabilities. (It’ll be more urgent when their second child is born in a few weeks.) We at least have health insurance. Part of me is moved by his kindness. And part of me wants to start throwing furniture in the street so we can get a new Les Miz going or something because oh my God, fuck everything. How much struggle are we expecting everyone to endure? And how much are we exploiting that struggle by turning it into entertainment?

May 28 2015 8:02 AM

Is Beyoncé Actually More #Onbeat Than Other People? A Dance Critic Explains.

The meme #BeyonceAlwaysOnBeat began picking up steam over the past week, presumably as people started distractedly searching the web in anticipation of the long holiday weekend. Find a song, find a GIF-able snippet of a music video and voila! Two seconds of Internet fame. Or more, if your videos were among the best as chosen by Twitter users, Time, or Vulture, which deemed #BeyonceAlwaysOnBeat 2015’s “Best meme so far.” So as a dance critic, I consider it my duty to set the record straight: Is Beyoncé actually more #onbeat than other performers?

May 27 2015 9:13 PM

Listen to the Rolling Stones’ Great, Never-Before-Heard Alternate Version of “Dead Flowers”

One insight supplied by the Rolling Stones’ forthcoming reissue of Sticky Fingers—or, more specifically, by the many alternate song recordings the band has shared to hype its release—is that the album could’ve been entirely comprised of discarded takes and still been a stone-cold classic. The latest of those alternates, an energized rendition of “Dead Flowers,” is perhaps the most starkly different from its original.

The version that made it on the album is a honky-tonk favorite, with Ian Stewart’s plinking piano line complementing Jagger’s country croon. Here, though, Jagger opts for a looser delivery, and Stewart’s piano is muted at best; instead, we get the Stones in a bluesier mode, with Keith Richards and Mick Taylor indulging in some of their famously intricate guitarwork. The Sticky Fingers reissue is out June 9.

May 27 2015 6:55 PM

Tobey Maguire Moves in on an Oscar in the Trailer for Bobby Fischer Movie Pawn Sacrifice

Tobey Maguire has yet to be nominated for an Oscar, but if the trailer for Pawn Sacrifice is any indication, he’s gunning for such an honor this coming awards season. The actor, whose best-known roles often encompass an air of innocence and wonder, takes on the complicated, wrought life of Bobby Fischer, famous World Chess Champion and troubled public figure, with Edward Zwick (Blood Diamond) at the helm.

It should be an interesting career pivot for him—Fischer’s public image is loaded with political connotations, and it looks like Zwick is focusing heavily on the worldwide hoopla that surrounded his historic 1972 match against the then-World Chess Champion Boris Spassky (Liev Schreiber), of the USSR. The Cold War symbolism is just the tip of the iceberg, though. The Pawn Sacrifice trailer also doesn’t shy away from Fischer’s well-documented struggles with mental illness (according to most resorts, paranoia) or his controversial anti-American and anti-Semitic statements. “They’re all out to get me—the Russians, and the Jews!” Bobby says at one point, firmly echoing some of Fischer’s real-life rants.

May 27 2015 6:21 PM

Jenny Lewis Relives Her Child Acting Days in the “She’s Not Me” Video 

Before she co-founded Rilo Kiley and rose to solo stardom in the indie rock world, Jenny Lewis was a child actress. Her latest video, for “She’s Not Me” off of last year’s The Voyager, revisits Lewis’ acting days with help from a cast of celebrity friends including Fred Armisen, Vanessa Bayer, Feist, and Zosia Mamet. The groovy lilt of Lewis’ ballad pairs perfectly with the humorously nostalgic recreations of her roles in The Golden Girls, Troop Beverly Hills, The Wizard and more. And watching Fred Armisen dance around dressed like a Golden Girl is just the icing on the cake.

May 27 2015 5:16 PM

Watch Big Bird Perform Big Pun’s “Still Not a Player” Like a Pro

Who knew Big Bird had such flow? In this video, YouTube user Benjamin Roberts gives America’s favorite flightless bird the mashup treatment, laying audio from Big Pun’s “Still Not a Player” over video from Sesame Street’s “That’s Cooperation.” The video is short but sweet: There’s just something so perfect about the lyrics “I’m not a player, I just crush a lot” coming from Big Bird.