Brow Beat
Slate's Culture Blog

June 25 2017 11:59 PM

Lorde Lording It Over the Billboard Charts With Her First No. 1 Album

Lordy, lordy, look who’s in the Top 40! That’s what absolutely no one was saying on Sunday as Lorde’s new album Melodrama debuted at the top of the Billboard 200 chart. (For starters, it’s a different chart.) This is the first No. 1 album for the 20-year-old New Zealander, whose debut LP Pure Heroine topped out at No. 3. Melodrama replaces Halsey’s Hopeless Fountain Kingdom, which in turn replaced Katy Perry’s Witness, marking the first time female artists have had three No. 1 albums in a row since 2012, when Taylor Swift, Alicia Keys, and Rihanna released consecutive chart-toppers.

The relative ranks of Lorde’s albums aren’t directly comparable, however: Pure Heroine was released in 2013, before Billboard changed its methodology to account for streaming music. So rather than album sales, Melodrama earned its No. 1 spot by selling 109,000 “equivalent album units,” which includes 82,000 “traditional album sales.” The remaining 27,000 equivalent album units were made up of a mix of individual track purchases and streaming users: Ten sales of individual tracks are counted as one album, as are 1,500 plays of a track on a streaming service.

That means Melodrama’s impressive chart debut could theoretically include as many as 40.5 million streams of “Green Light,” which, at 4:03 per, would represent 312 years of collective human endeavor in a single week. (Full disclosure: I am personally responsible for at least 12 minutes and 9 seconds of that total.) Here’s the YouTube stream for the video, which has racked up 75 million views since March 2, or more than 500 years of “Green Light.” Let’s see if, as a species, we can spend a cool millennium listening to “Green Light” before next week’s chart is released:

June 25 2017 7:26 PM

Decepticons Triumph: Transformers: The Last Knight Brings in a Not-Very-Nice $69 Million

Autobots waged their battle to destroy the evil forces of the Decepticons at theaters worldwide this weekend once again, but fewer humans than ever showed up to watch. Transformers: The Last Knight pulled in only $69 million at the domestic box office over the five-day weekend, Variety reports. For most films, news of a $69 million opening weekend would be greeted with a heartfelt “nice!” from studio heads, but the budget for the new Transformers movie was more than $200 million, and this represents the worst opening in the franchise’s five-film history. (The $1.8 million opening weekend for 1986’s animated feature Transformers: The Movie doesn’t count, because it was made before adults started going to Transformers movies.) It’s just more proof that the Transformers movies are critic-proof: Slate’s Sam Adams was reluctantly won over by the film, but a good review didn’t make any more of a difference to the box office than the widespread critical revulsion that greeted director Michael Bay’s earlier, more financially successful installments.

But the encouraging signs that the American public may have begun to tire of giant robot movies must be weighed against the fact that the larger world clearly has not. The film racked up $196.2 million in foreign box office, with $123.4 million coming from China alone. Paramount distribution president Megan Colligan made the studio’s priorities explicit:

In the end, our business is global. The global number does matter, and this movie is built for global audiences. We certainly would have liked to see more come out of the domestic market.

In the non–giant-robot division, The Big Sick, the semi-autobiographical romantic comedy written by Kumail Nanjiani and Emily Gordon, reportedly earned $435,000 from just five locations, giving it the highest per-screen average of any film this year. Meanwhile, Wonder Woman took second place in overall domestic box office, bringing in another $25.2 million. It placed just ahead of Cars 3, which dropped to $25 million in its second weekend.

Paramount is reportedly working on at least two more Transformers movies.

At least.

June 25 2017 4:44 PM

Netflix Fires Girlboss

Netflix has cancelled Girlboss, its comedy series based on the life of Nasty Gal founder Sophia Amoruso, Variety reports. Amoruso announced the news on Instagram, in a post (apparently since deleted) that touched on her frustrations with being fictionalized for television:

So that Netflix series about my life got canceled. While I’m proud of the work we did, I’m looking forward to controlling my narrative from here on out. It was a good show, and I was privileged to work with incredible talent, but living my life as a caricature was hard even if only for two months. Yes, I can be difficult. No, I’m not a dick. No, someone named Shane never cheated on me. It will be nice to someday tell the story of what’s happened in the last few years. Ppl read the headline, not the correction, I’ve learned.

The series was created by Pitch Perfect writer Kay Cannon and loosely based on Amoruso’s best-selling book about her experiences building a fashion empire. As Slate’s Heather Schwedel noted when she reviewed the show back in April, Girlboss’ Horatio Alger aspects were somewhat undercut when Amoruso stepped down from Nasty Gal as part of its bankruptcy filing in 2016.

Netflix has been on a cancellation streak lately; Sense8 and The Get Down both met similar fates in the last month as Netflix’s chief content officer Ted Sarandos cracked down on underperforming shows. “A big expensive show for a huge audience is great,” Sarandos said at the Produced By conference earlier in June. “A big, expensive show for a tiny audience is hard even in our model to make that work for very long.” Netflix has yet to officially comment on the show’s cancellation, but it sounds like the first thing the company should be drafting is a personal apology to “Shane.”

June 25 2017 12:22 AM

Pitch Perfect 3 Will Have More Explosions Than Any Other A Cappella Movie So Far

The trailer for Pitch Perfect 3 was released on Saturday, and it looks like not even graduating from college can save the members of the fictional a cappella group the Bellas from their dark musical pasts. Nor, it seems, can they be saved from exploding boats: The trailer prominently features stars Rebel Wilson and Anna Kendrick flying in slow motion away from a blast that would fit in just fine in Transformers: The Last Knight. The unusually high-octane action seems fitting for this installment, however, as the Bellas face off against their worst nightmare: a group, led by new addition Ruby Rose, that writes its own songs and then plays them on musical instruments. Even if the premise is more paper-thin than usual—“Every year the USO puts on this performance to support the troops in Europe!”—Rose is a formidable villainess and should be a good foil for the ultra-nerdy Bellas.

The main question any new Pitch Perfect film has to answer, however, is whether the series has abandoned its alarming dedication to making fat jokes at Rebel Wilson’s expense. On the evidence of the trailer, the answer is, “Not even a little bit.” Wilson jokes about changing her name to “Obesity” while wearing a red “MAKE AMERICA EAT AGAIN” hat. On the other hand, Elizabeth Banks and John Michael Higgins are returning to reprise their roles as “twin Fred Willards from Best in Show,” and there’s no such thing as too many Fred Willards from Best in Show. Banks directed Pitch Perfect 2 but is handing directing duties off to Trish Sie this time around; Sie made her name with OK Go’s ingenious “Here It Goes Again” video, so the choreography should be fun. The script, as with earlier installments, is from 30 Rock veteran Kay Cannon, who has by now strayed pretty far from Mickey Rapkin’s nonfiction book about collegiate a cappella competitions. Will the latest episode in the Pitch Perfect saga soar, or will it be another aca-disappointment? A cappella–loving Americans can aca-find out on aca-Dec. 22.

June 24 2017 10:15 PM

Meet a 19th-Century Belgian Inventor Who Believes “Bat” Jennings Is Trying to Steal His Inventions

From time to time, Slate has republished past works of journalism that weighed in on current controversies, from a Union officer’s thoughts on honoring the Confederacy to a Los Angeles Times column from the 1920s about whether it was OK to use the word daddy in a sexual context. This story, about a Belgian man arrested in Chicago in 1899 after trashing his house in a rage because he was under the impression two men were trying to steal his inventions, has absolutely no bearing on any issues of the day. No one mentioned in this story went on to become famous, and the dispute among J. Caillet, “Bat” Jennings, and Silas Barr has long since been resolved by the grave—if Jennings and Barr existed to begin with. (Caillet did.) But it’s a gorgeous and strange piece of writing, particularly Caillet’s brief account of his long decline, and it would be a shame to have to wait for a current event that could somehow be yoked to a “paranoid, down-and-out Belgian inventor” frame to bring it to you. So here’s Caillet’s story, as published (with no byline, sadly) on Feb. 3, 1899, in the Chicago Tribune. —Matthew Dessem


J. Caillet, a Mad Inventor, Mystifies the Police

Aged Belgian, Who Says His Family Is Wealthy and Powerful, Imagines Foes Are Trying to Steal His Models from 399 West Randolph Street and Goes Insane—Strapped Down at Police Station—Wife Corroborates His Statements.

J. Caillet, 399 West Randolph Street, who says he is an inventor of reputation and son of Peter Luis Caillet, a former banker in Brussels, worth $10,000,000, was locked in a cell at the Desplaines Street Station last night on a charge of disorderly conduct. He was arrested on the complaint of his wife, who went to the Lake Street Police Station and said there that her husband was breaking the windows and furniture of the house and becoming dangerous because he supposed that two men were trying to break in and steal his inventions. Her husband, she said, had been driven insane by his misfortunes and the poverty that had followed his once brilliant career.

Caillet was so violent when brought to the station that he had to be placed in a “strait-jacket.” Lieutenant O’Hara questioned both the man and his wife for an hour, but was unable to get a connected story from them. Mr. Caillet, when seen later, talked as follows:

“I am a Belgian, and the son of Luis Caillet, a wealthy banker of Brussels, who died in 1860. I was educated as a civil engineer, and I have served three years in the French army. I have been in this country twice, the first time in 1892, when I came to travel and to spend my money. I was married to Mrs. Agnes Gray, a Scotch woman, in Boston. I returned before the World’s Fair, and I had an exhibit there.

“After the Fair, my wife and I lived at the Victoria for a time, moving from there to 4114 Grand Boulevard. My inventions include a process for preserving hides and a device for muzzling dogs. At last all my money was spent, and we moved to the West Side, coming after a time to live in the house at 399 West Randolph Street, where the men tried to steal my inventions. They are ‘Bat’ Jennings, 416 State Street, and Silas Barr, 5819 Indiana Avenue.

Caillet then mentioned the many friends he possessed in this city and Belgium, adding that a remittance of $350,000 was due him from his father.

“See Mr. Henrotin, the Belgian Consul,” he told the police. “He will tell you who I am.”

The man’s wife followed him to the station and declared that every word her husband said was true. “And there’s more to it, too,” she said. “He has been persecuted by two men who are trying to take his fortune away from him.”

For more than an hour, Lieutenant O’Hara questioned Mrs. Caillet, and when he had finished the interview he was as much puzzled as to what to make of the case as he had been when he first heard Caillet’s statement.

When questioned regarding Caillet’s story early this morning, Consul Henrotin said he recalled that a Belgian of that name lived in Chicago, and was, he thought, an inventor of children’s toys, it seemed to him. Caillet, he said, came from a good family in Belgium, though he was not too familiar with the details of his history. He had not heard from him for some time, and did not know that he was married.

No such names as “Bat” Jennings and Silas Barr are given in the city directory at the addresses given by Caillet.

June 24 2017 4:58 PM

Here Is a Video of Will Ferrell in Tiger Face Paint Singing “Superstar” by the Carpenters

There are two kinds of people in the world: people who need an elaborate explanation for why Will Ferrell went on Conan in tiger face paint to perform “Superstar” by the Carpenters and people who know that any explanation would make the video—again, that’s video of Hollywood funnyman Will Ferrell with his face painted like a tiger, belting out the Carpenters’ signature hit—less amusing.

But which type of person are you? Well, if you clicked on a headline reading “Here Is a Video of Will Ferrell in Tiger Face Paint Singing ‘Superstar’ by the Carpenters” and thought to yourself, What a strange thing for Will Ferrell to have done! I can’t wait to find out more about his reasons for behaving so oddly by reading this article, you are in the first category. To be honest, you might get more enjoyment from seeking out news stories that are specifically crafted to provoke this type of curiosity before immediately satisfying it. Look for headlines like “You’ll Never Guess Why Will Ferrell Is Wearing Tiger Face Paint and Singing ‘Superstar’ by the Carpenters” or, better yet, “You’ll Never Guess Who Just Went on Conan in Tiger Face Paint to Sing a Song by the Carpenters That You’ll Also Never Guess.” Nothing wrong with creating an itch, then scratching it! (Here’s your answer.) But you’ll notice that this particular Slate article never promised you an explanation, even in a parenthetical—it promised you a video of Will Ferrell, in tiger face paint, singing “Superstar,” by the Carpenters. And let’s face it: When it comes to providing video of the star of Anchorman covered in face paint and singing the Carpenters, Slate has delivered, big time.

But there’s another kind of person in the world, for whom the headline “Here Is a Video of Will Ferrell in Tiger Face Paint Singing ‘Superstar’ by the Carpentersdoesn’t raise any further questions. For these people, and I am proud to count myself among them, a video of Will Ferrell in tiger face paint singing “Superstar” is sufficient unto itself, ready to shoot into outer space to explain to extraterrestrial life all that is great and noble about our culture. To paraphrase President Kennedy, we choose to go on talk shows in tiger face paint and perform “Superstar” by the Carpenters (or, more to the point, choose to watch videos of other people doing the same) not because it is explicable but because it is inexplicable. It is to those brave pioneers that this Slate article, “Here Is a Video of Will Ferrell in Tiger Face Paint Singing ‘Superstar’ by the Carpenters,” is humbly dedicated.

June 23 2017 5:19 PM

Listen to Owl City’s Cover of “Waving Through a Window” From Dear Evan Hansen

If ever a Broadway musical was begging for Owl City to cover one of its songs, Tony winner Dear Evan Hansen is that musical. Songwriters Benj Pasek and Justin Paul’s music is already pretty pop-friendly, which makes a new cover of one of their songs by Adam Young, the man behind Owl City, all the more appropriate. Young brings his distinct electro-pop style to a new version of “Waving Through a Window,” now available to stream:

Young told Billboard that while he still has not seen Dear Evan Hansen, he agreed to cover the song originally sung by Ben Platt after getting a call from Pasek, Paul, and music supervisor Alex Lacamoire. “One of the things that Alex, Benj, and Justin mentioned to me in their initial pitch was, conceptually, if there was a radio in Evan Hansen's bedroom, they thought it would be playing Owl City music,” he said. “He’s this outsider, he’s got social anxiety, a lot of things I dealt with as a high schooler myself.”

Young’s chipper emo sound is a perfect fit for the soaring but still anxiety-riddled song, so we give his version 8,000 out of a possible 10,000 lightning bugs.

June 23 2017 1:54 PM

Watch and Weep at Every Instance of Product Placement From Michael Bay’s Movies

Ah, product placement. The devil's bargain every blockbuster filmmaker must make peace with in order to finance his or her loosely plotted deafening destruction orgies.

Michael Bay—director of such hallmarks of American cinema as Transformers, Armageddon, and Pearl Harbor—is one of filmmaking's biggest product placement perpetrators. No Michael Bay film is without its dose of embedded marketing, and, thanks to Matt Singer at ScreenCrush, we now have a compilation of every single instance of product placement in Michael Bay's filmography.

Some of the examples in the video are pretty forgivable. Fine, every character can be drinking a Pepsi in that scene. Fine, Josh Duhamel can use an HP laptop in that scene. Fine, that XBox 360 can turn into a Transformer.

But some of these examples are unforgivable in their visual aggressiveness. No, a Transformer shouldn't crash into a speeding Bud Light truck in the middle of Manhattan, thus making it explode and scatter hundreds of electric blue aluminum Bud Light bottles onto the street. And then Mark Wahlberg certainly should not then pick up one of the bottles and take a refreshing foamy swig from it.

No, no, no, no, no, no, no. Product placement shouldn't be that unsubtle. Bud Light shouldn't be used that prominently. That's so shameless and such a gross reminder that we live in this oppressive capitalist society run by corporations that stand on the heads of hard-working Americans and will stop at nothing to satisfy their bottom lines.

How dare you, Michael Bay, use the visual art of filmmaking to aid this disgusting corporatism. Watching this video is a maddening experience. It makes me angry. It makes me stressed. It makes my blood boil.

I need to take a breath.

I have a headache.

I need to sit.

Actually, you know what I need?

I need a drink.

I need a nice, tall, aluminum bottle of Bud Li—DAMMIT.

You win, Michael Bay. You win.

June 23 2017 12:40 PM

Seth Meyers Proves He’s As Good at Going After Senate Republicans As He Is at Skewering Trump

Ever since his White House Correspondents’ Dinner performance in 2011, we’ve known that Seth Meyers was highly capable of zinging one Donald J. Trump and zinging him hard. His “A Closer Look” segments have only bolstered that impression. Meyers and his team at Late Night have made so many jokes about Trump that it’s easy to forget how consistently strong they are across the board, so it’s always refreshing when Meyers sets his sights on other politicians.

The majority of Thursday’s “A Closer Look” segment wasn’t dedicated to poking fun at Trump but going after Republican senators who finally unveiled their cruel master plan to screwe over lower- and middle-class Americans by taking away their health care in service of providing tax cuts for the rich. Or, as card-carrying Turtle Club member and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell put it, to provide Americans with the better care they deserve while freeing them from Obamacare, which is “teeter[ing] on the edge of collapse.”

Meyers pointed out that many Republican senators didn’t even know what was in the proposed health care bill because McConnell essentially wrote it behind closed doors. “No one’s ever doing anything good behind closed doors,” Meyers said. “If your teenage son was locked in his bedroom this long, you wouldn’t say ‘Hey buddy! Are you doing extra credit homework in there?’ ”

Nevertheless, Meyers didn’t those senators use their ignorance as a shield against charges of complicity. “If you’re genuinely appalled by this bill and the process used to write it, you need to actually do something about it,” Meyers said.

The segment really took a turn when Meyers started to go after McConnell. Meyers played a clip of Sen. Chuck Schumer’s fruitless pleading with McConnell to allow bipartisan deliberation before the bill was put to a vote, and juxtaposed it with McConnell’s now obviously hypocritical statements from 2009 and 2010 about how the passage of the Affordable Care Act—which was far lengthier and more open than the process of crafting the American Health Care Act—was rushed and secretive.

“What we’re seeing right now is a breathtakingly cynical process to produce a breathtakingly cruel bill.” Meyers said.

Thursday night’s “A Closer Look” had a Jon Stewart–esque quality to it, albeit slightly cheerier. Meyers’ jokes went hard, but he has yet to really take the gloves off. However, if the Republicans’ health care bill that is projected to take health care away from so many Americans actually does pass, we could probably expect to see a side of Meyers that we haven’t seen before, one that’s angrier and more relentlessly savage.

June 23 2017 11:41 AM

Johnny Depp Alludes to Trump Assassination, Joins Kathy Griffin in the Shush Club

Slate is proud to award Johnny Depp an honorary membership to the Shush Club with a special distinction in You’re Not Helping after the actor joked about the assassination of Donald Trump during an appearance at Glastonbury Festival in England on Thursday. Depp was there introducing his 2004 film The Libertine when he was asked about the U.S. president during an audience Q&A.

Here are his comments, via the Guardian:

“When was the last time an actor assassinated a president?” he asked in reference to the death of Abraham Lincoln by John Wilkes Booth in 1865.
“I want to qualify, I am not an actor. I lie for a living. However, it has been a while and maybe it is time,” he added.

There’s really no good time to joke about a Trump assassination, but Depp’s comments are especially egregious after a gunman opened fire on Republican representatives during a congressional baseball practice just last week. Depp may also be trying to capitalize on misguided outrage over the Public Theater’s staging of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, which includes the stabbing of a very Trump-like version of the Roman politician. Depp preceded his remarks by warning the audience, “By the way, this is going to be in the press. It will be horrible. I like that you are all a part of it,” because just saying “I’m about to be needlessly provocative to make headlines” would have been overkill.

But provoke he did, and the backlash was swift, with some comparing Depp’s comments to Kathy Griffin posing for a photo with a bloodied Trump head.