Slate's Culture Blog

Oct. 24 2014 8:20 PM

Taylor Swift’s 1989: A Track-by-Track Breakdown

After months of being kept tightly under wraps, Taylor Swift’s sure-to-be-blockbuster new album 1989 suddenly leaked online today. We won’t have Carl Wilson’s full review until next week, when the album is scheduled to be released, but in the meantime here’s a complete track-by-track guide.

1. “Welcome to New York”

By now most fans will be familiar with this synth-pop NYC anthem, co-written with Ryan Tedder, though they might not realize that it makes more sense as the album’s opener. In that context, the song is less about Swift’s real-life change of address and more about her move into full-on pop. Perhaps that’s why the central metaphor the song uses for the city is a sonic one: She says she came “searching for a sound [she] hadn’t heard before” and found “a new soundtrack” and a new beat she can “dance to … forevermore.” It’s as much a welcome to her new sound (for forevermore!) as it is about the city.

2. “Blank Space”

“Welcome to New York” may be wide-eyed and innocent, but the acid “Blank Space” is anything but. Those who don’t listen closely might miss the irony, but the song finds Swift—over a hip-hop-influenced drum machine beat recorded with Max Martin and Shellback—sending up her own reputation as a naive heartbreaker, a “nightmare dressed like a daydream.” “I’ve got a long list of ex-lovers,” she warns, plus “a blank space baby/ And I’ll write your name.”

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Oct. 24 2014 4:17 PM

Killer Mike and El-P of Run the Jewels Talk Writing, Rap Regionalism, and Cat Sounds


On Friday morning, Run the Jewels released their new album, RTJ2for free download. It wasn’t expected until Monday—the early release was the kind of welcome surprise that has quickly become typical of the rap duo. Already acclaimed individually, El-P and Killer Mike formed Run the Jewels—named for a line in LL Cool’s J “Cheesy Rat Blues”—after collaborating on Mike’s well-received 2012 solo album,R.A.P. Music. Last year, the two put out, also for free, their debut album as a duo, and it was met with critical raves, appearing high on many publications’ best-of-2013 lists.


They plan to follow up their sophomore album next year with Meow the Jewels, a remix of the new record using cat sounds—a project that started out as a joke but quickly turned into a full-fledged project, funded via Kickstarter, with proceeds going to charity. I spoke with El-P and Killer Mike over the phone to talk about the new album, the cat thing, Taylor Swift, and more.   

Oct. 24 2014 2:23 PM

Watch a Hitchcock Tribute That Includes Every Single One of His Surviving Films

Hitchcock retrospectives are nothing new, but rarely do they go beyond the iconic fan favorites (Psycho, North By Northwest, The Birds) to also include his little-seen early work. Editor Shaun Higgins (Hello Wizard) has done just that with this 12-minute tribute to the director, which spans the entirety of his feature-length career of surviving films, including the silent films The Pleasure Garden (1925), The Farmer’s Wife (1928), and The Manxman (1929).

Oct. 24 2014 1:29 PM

David Simon on Cities, the Police, and His Next Show

“The city to me is the only possible vehicle we have to measure human achievement,” David Simon said earlier this month, in a rapturously-received keynote speech for Observer Ideas, a one-day, TED-like collection of thought-provoking talks held at London’s Barbican Centre on Oct. 12. “We’re an urban species now,” Simon continued. “If you look at Karachi or Mexico City or Hong Kong or London or New York or Yonkers or Baltimore or any of these other places, the pastoral is now a part of human history. We’re either going to figure out how to live together in these increasingly crowded, increasingly multi-cultural population centers or we’re not. We’re either going to get great at this or we’re going to fail as a species.”

Oct. 24 2014 11:14 AM

What Did You Make of the Latest Episode of Serial?

Here’s something we haven’t done before: a Spoiler Special podcast about ... another podcast. But Serial, the new podcast from This American Life, is so gripping and confounding we had to discuss it. On the first season of the show, Sarah Koenig and her fellow producers are investigating the 1999 murder of Hae Min Lee. Did the police get the right man? Or is Adnan Syed, Lee’s ex-boyfriend, locked up for a brutal crime he didn’t commit?

Oct. 24 2014 9:39 AM

Download Run the Jewels’ New Album for Free Right Now

For fans of rap duo Run the Jewels, Christmas has come early. Three days early, in fact, as overnight El-P and Killer Mike released RTJ2, the much anticipated follow-up to their 2013 debut album, ahead of its scheduled Oct. 27 release date. “We just couldn’t wait another damn day longer to share RTJ2 with you,” they said in an email to fans. (It had leaked online shortly before Run the Jewels released it themselves.) You can download the album in full for free by clicking here.


Oct. 24 2014 9:03 AM

Who Are They Gonna Call for the All-Female Ghostbusters? We Have Some Suggestions.

A couple of weeks ago Paul Feig confirmed that a new Ghostbusters film was officially in the works, and that would it star “hilarious women.” But who? Original Ghostbuster Bill Murray personally nominated Emma Stone, Kristen Wiig, and hisSt. Vincent co-star Melissa McCarthy; Lena Dunham says she wants in; and one-time X-Files star Gillian Anderson has publicly begged to be cast.

But, after careful consideration, we’ve come up with our own wish list of actresses we’d like to see cast as Ghostbusters, including—but certainly not limited to—Tina Fey, Kerry Washington, and Mindy Kaling. To informally audition them, we’ve also reimagined the franchise’s classic theme song as performed by some of the actresses who could—or at least should—have a shot at becoming the next Ghostbusters, which you can watch above.

Oct. 23 2014 6:55 PM

A Goodfellas Actor Sued The Simpsons for Stealing His Likeness. Does He Have a Case?

Earlier this week, Frank Sivero filed a lawsuit against Fox TV Studios, 21st Century Fox America, and Matt Groening, asking for compensation for using what he claims is his likeness for the character of Louie on The Simpsons. Specifically, Sivero has asked them for $250 million, arguing in his suit that Louie is based on Frankie Carbone, the character Sivero played in Goodfellas.

So how alike are Louie and Frankie? Watch them in action side by side and see for yourself.

Oct. 23 2014 5:08 PM

What Happens When You Serve McDonald’s to Food Snobs and Tell Them It’s Organic

A Dutch production agency “specialized in awesome viral video content” recently decided to carry out a cartoonish foodie version of the Judgment of Paris: It sent two pranksters to a food expo armed with samples of McDonald’s sandwiches and snacks, which they told people was their “new, organic alternative to fast food.” Predictably—and somewhat amusingly—the denizens of the food festival were much kinder to McDonald’s fare when they thought it was organic. (For English subtitles, hit play, then click on Settings—the little gear icon at the bottom of the video—and Subtitles/CC.)

To be fair, some of their reviews are not quite raves: “The structure is good,” says one solemn man. “

Oct. 23 2014 4:03 PM

You’re Doing It Wrong: Puttanesca Sauce

Let’s get it out of the way: Yes, puttanesca literally translates to “of, relating to, or characteristic of a prostitute,” to quote the OED. I’ll wait while you finish chortling. It seems that no food writer can resist elbowing their readers in the ribs, making ill-advised jokes and double entendres at the mere mention of pasta puttanesca. The name is often said to have originated with old-timey courtesans, who ostensibly favored it because it was quick enough to make in between appointments, or because it smelled so good while cooking that it lured clients in from the street. But on further consideration, neither of these origin stories seems particularly plausible—I mean, sex workers aren’t the only people who appreciate quick, aromatic meals. According to food historian Jeremy Parzen, the name has more to do with the practical use of puttanesca in Italian than its literal definition: Italians use puttana (and related words) almost the way we use shit, as an all-purpose profanity, so pasta alla puttanesca might have originated with someone saying, essentially, “I just threw a bunch of shit from the cupboard into a pan.”

Regardless of its etymology, that’s what puttanesca sauce is: a bunch of shit from the cupboard, thrown into a pan. And it’s really good. That’s because the ingredients it relies on for flavor—garlic, capers, olives, anchovies, and crushed red pepper, primarily—are assertive, pungent, and invigorating. Unlike traditional tomato sauce, which is tomatoey through and through, puttanesca sauce is a study in opposites: Anchovies and olives are salty where tomatoes are sweet, oily where tomatoes are watery, dark in color where tomatoes are vivid. The combination of these contradictory ingredients is—to borrow a term from the label on my jar of capers—nonpareil.

There are two main errors people commit when making puttanesca sauce.