Slate's Culture Blog

Nov. 20 2014 6:02 PM

What Is It Like to Be Suspected? We Discuss the Latest Episode of Serial.

Serial is investigating the 1999 murder of a Baltimore area high school student, and here at Slate we are following the story closely, discussing each new episode as it appears. This week, David Haglund and Katy Waldman are joined by Willa Paskin,Slate’s TV critic, to talk about the new testimony this episode introduced; the prison life of Adnan Syed, who was convicted of the crime; and Serial’s attention in this episode to the victim, Hae Min Lee, and her family.

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Nov. 20 2014 5:51 PM

Key & Peele Shows Us the Dark Side of That Viral Aerobics Video

Two weeks ago we brought you the amazing aerobics championship video that syncs up perfectly with Taylor Swift’s “Shake It Off.” Now, in a new sketch, Key & Peele imagines us the dark side of that video.

It’s worth noting that Key & Peele director Peter Atencio, the show’s secret weapon (he directs every episode), has called the sketch his “favorite Key & Peele sketch of the season, and possibly ever.” It’s not hard to see why: While the premise is simple—there’s hardly any dialogue—everything from the VHS-style grain and neon costumes to the goofy choreography and inspired casting of Clint Howard is note-perfect. While you might not initially notice something like the mid-sketch switch in aspect ratio (from the boxy proportions of TV to a more cinematic widescreen, for the behind-the-scenes footage), it’s by nailing details like these that Key & Peele stands out among the competition.

Nov. 20 2014 3:13 PM

The Three Kinds of Scenes, According to Mike Nichols

"There are only three kinds of scenes: a fight, a seduction or a negotiation,” the protean director Mike Nichols, who died yesterday at age 83, liked to say. It was an idea he often returned to in interviews, often appending as a coda this bit of advice from his former comedy partner Elaine May: “When in doubt, seduce.” It seems an astonishingly simple formulation on which to base a six-decade career spent moving effortlessly from standup comedy to theater to film and back to theater again, racking up landmark achievements in every field while always somehow keeping a finger on the pulse of what America was ready to see, needed to see, at that political and cultural moment: the sexual frankness and chilly suburban satire of The Graduate, the impassioned labor activism of Silkwood, the anguished vision of HIV-ravaged gay culture and Reagan-era indifference in Angels in America.

The best scenes from Mike Nichols’ films are seductions, negotiations, and fights all at once.

Nov. 20 2014 1:56 PM

The Barden Bellas Return in the Trailer for Pitch Perfect 2

After Pitch Perfect, a movie about two dueling a cappella college groups, became 2012’s biggest sleeper hit, a sequel was more or less a given. Next year, both the Barden Bellas and the Treblemakers will return—and the trailer for Pitch Perfect 2 suggests this might be their swan song. Elizabeth Banks is in the director’s chair this time around, and the film’s ensemble cast (Anna Kendrick, Rebel Wilson, Anna Camp, etc.) are back at Barden for their senior year—a milestone they emphasize with a more somber rendition of the first film’s hit song “Cups.”

Nov. 20 2014 1:44 PM

Why It Matters That Alfonso Cuarón Is Speaking Up About Violence in Mexico

Last week, directors Alfonso Cuarón, Guillermo del Toro, Alejandro González Iñárritu—the so-called “Three Amigos”—spoke out about the  missing Mexican students from Ayotzinapa and the situation currently unfolding in Mexico. Separately, actor Gael García Bernal discussed Ayotzinapa on the red carpet at the premiere of his new movie. You might be inclined to ignore what they have to say—or even to dismiss their comments as worthless posturing. But that would be a mistake. Their remarks are part of a larger and dramatic shift in Mexican politics brought on by these horrific events.

Nov. 20 2014 1:18 PM

Peter Pan Live! Looks as Campy as We Expected It to Be

Last month, we got our first glimpse at what NBC’s Peter Pan Live! will look like. Now, with the TV special’s first trailer, we know how it will sound. We hear Peter (Allison Williams) singing his familiar songs about flying, not growing up, and living in Never Never Land—and we also get our first looks at Wendy (Taylor Louderman) and Tiger Lily (Alanna Saunders).

Nov. 20 2014 12:33 PM

An Alternative Thanksgiving Pie for Pumpkin Haters

There is a small but vocal contingent of people who, inexplicably, dislike pumpkin pie. Many of these people are children. At least 116 of these people belong to the Facebook community called “I Hate Pumpkin Pie.” One food blogger unfathomably decried pumpkin pie filling, which she said “so often winds up turning even a perfectly good pie crust into sodden mush.” (She did concede that her dislike was “almost un-American.”)

If you have the misfortune of counting one of these pumpkin pie haters among your kin, what should you feed them for dessert on Thanksgiving? The obvious answer is pecan pie. But there is another option that looks almost exactly like pumpkin pie when it comes out of the oven (if not when you cut into it), yet tastes vastly different. It is suitable for pumpkin lovers and pumpkin haters alike. It is honey custard pie.

Nov. 20 2014 10:12 AM

Mike Nichols, Legendary Director of The Graduate and More, Has Died

Mike Nichols, who died Wednesday at the age of 83, had the kind of career most could only dream of, and few have actually accomplished. His legacy as a director extends to nearly every corner of the entertainment business. On Broadway, he directed the first runs of award-winning plays like Barefoot in the Park and The Odd Couple. On screen, he helped transform Hollywood with Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? and The Graduate, and television with the miniseries adaptation of Angels in America. Through his wide-ranging work, Nichols became one of only a handful of people to win a so-called EGOT: an Emmy, a Grammy, an Oscar, and a Tony.

Nov. 20 2014 10:00 AM

Exclusive Premiere: A Scat Performance Turns Hilariously Ugly on Key & Peele

Some of the best Key & Peele sketches feature the duo caught up in an absurd competitive situation. Think of the hat-off, the Martin vs. Malcolm community theater performance, or the soul food showdown. This sketch from next week’s episode returns to the trope, this time in a 1960s jazz club setting.

In “Scat Duel,” they play beefing jazz vocalists whose performance turns passive aggressive quickly, with insults flying back and forth. The premise is not quite as off-beat as their previous forays into cutthroat banter, but their digs are funny, and delivered with just the right amount of silliness. Plus, the always hilarious Retta makes a cameo and ups the comic ante. Check out the exclusive premiere below.

Nov. 20 2014 8:32 AM

Hatsune Miku Is a Piece of Software. She May Also Be the Future of Music.

This article originally appeared in Vulture.

Hatsune Miku, one of Japan’s most famous pop stars, has been 16 for the past seven years. She wears her cascading aquamarine hair in pigtails that skim the ground when she dances, and according to stats offered up on her record company’s website, she stands five-two and weighs about 93 pounds. She has opened for Lady Gaga, collaborated with Pharrell, and sung more than 100,000 songs, dabbling quite literally in every genre imaginable. If you’ve heard of her, you’ve probably heard her described as a “hologram”; maybe you’ve also heard people say she doesn’t exist. But both of these are the kind of misnomers that are liable to send her legions of die-hard fans—and there are 2.5 million of them on Facebook—into cardiac arrest. (Don’t even think about calling her a cartoon.) She is, depending on whom you ask, a harbinger of a radically collaborative future in pop music or a holographic horsewoman of the apocalypse. Indeed, last month, shortly after she made her much-discussed American-network debut on The Late Show With David Letterman and shortly before her two headlining shows at the Hammerstein Ballroom, a New York Times headline wondered, “Does Hatsune Miku’s Ascent Mean the End of Music As We Know It?”

Miku is what’s known as a Vocaloid, an avatar of voice-synthesizing software (also called Vocaloid)—roughly, Siri–meets–GarageBand. One fan-written history of Vocaloid explains: “Human voices are recorded in short samples, and these samples are stored in a database which becomes a software for songwriters and producers to use as an alternative [to] a singing voice.” Cutting edge as it sounds, this technology is actually not that new. In 1962, Bell Labs’ IBM 704 became “the first computer to sing” when it performed a very proto-Kraftwerk-sounding rendition of “Daisy Bell” (to which Stanley Kubrick paid chilling homage a few years later in 2001: A Space Odyssey). Modern Vocaloid technology dates back to 2000, when development for commercial use began, although in its early days it was still a niche concern appealing only to music producers and software engineers. Then a Sapporo, Japan–based music-software company with a name straight out of a William Gibson novel, Crypton Future Media, had an idea: What if you could market Vocaloid to a mass audience? In 2004 it released its first Vocaloid voice-in-a-box: Meiko, a brunette pixie in a red pleather two-piece; in 2006 came Kaito, a brooding, blue-haired misterioso in a long white trench. For about $170, anyone with a personal computer could write a song using Meiko or Kaito’s voice.

It wasn’t until 2007, though, that Crypton released Hatsune Miku (her name means “first sound of the future”), a highly stylized Vocaloid specifically designed to appeal to anime fans. (Her voice bank was recorded by the anime actress Saki Fujita.) Crypton CEO Hiroyuki Itoh hoped that Miku would take off, but he says he was “astonished” by what happened next—not only a surge in sales (40,000 copies sold that year) but a sudden outpouring of Miku fan art. She was an instant star.