A Prairie Home Companion Has a New, Garrison-Keillor-Free Name
When Minnesota Public Radio abruptly cut ties with Garrison Keillor, who hosted public radio staple A Prairie Home Companion from 1974 until 2016, they announced that not only would Keillor’s episodes of the show—decades of them—be pulled from reruns immediately, but the show, hosted by Chris Thile since Keillor’s retirement, would also be renamed. It still isn’t clear exactly what Keillor did—he originally said he’d accidentally brushed a woman’s back with his hand, but later referenced “two employees” who made allegations against him—but we finally know A Prairie Home Companion’s new title. According to the Hollywood Reporter, Thile opened a live performance in New York on Sunday by announcing the new name: Live From Here.
What Would the Original Star Wars Trilogy Look Like if Luke Skywalker Never Abandoned His Dream of Going to Tosche Station?
Long before he became famous for pummeling Ted Cruz on Twitter, actor Mark Hamill appeared in a little science fiction film called Star Wars. Although it did well at the box office, the narrative has one fatal flaw: the hero almost immediately abandons his original goals. Real heroes stay true to themselves and display perseverance in the face of adversity, but Luke Skywalker drops everything he ever wanted the second a space wizard tells him to. What did Luke want at the beginning of the original trilogy? Well, see for yourself:
Clear stakes, clear goals, clear obstacles: George Lucas promises a film here that he never quite delivers. (N.B.: While it’s true that Lucas shot a scene in which Luke finally gets to Tosche Station, he didn’t use it, leaving the trilogy’s central quest abandoned.) So what would Star Wars have looked like if Skywalker—or Lucas—had had a little more gumption, a little more stick-to-itiveness, a little more integrity, a little more heart? To find out, the Gregory Brothers re-edited the entire original trilogy into a 15-minute long autotuned musical called “Tosche Station (Star Wars but Luke Only Wants To Go to Tosche Station and Doesn’t Care About Politics).” It’s exactly what it sounds like from the title and you will never get it out of your head. After so many years, it’s great to see that the original Star Wars trilogy has gotten a Special Edition rerelease that fans really enjoy.
If that’s not enough “Tosche Station” for you, here it is again in a 10-hour loop:
Saturday Night Live Discovers the Secret Ingredient to Staging the Best Christmas Pageant Ever
Christmas pageants are an inevitable, inevitably terrible part of the holiday season, but as Barbara Robinson knew, they can sometimes be tolerable if—and only if—everything goes horribly wrong. That’s just what happened in this Saturday Night Live sketch, in which a llama saves Christmas by appearing in a nativity pageant in the role of a camel, then saves Christmas again by getting a gigantic llama-sized erection. It’s great to see a Saturday Night Live llama graduate from running gag to featured player, and host Kevin Hart and the rest of the cast do a great job of playing off their new co-star.
But just what was going on behind that blanket? To find out, I consulted Llama and Alpaca Care: Medicine, Surgery, Reproduction, Nutrition, and Herd Health, where I discovered the following facts about llamas:
The camelid penis is fibroclastic and is retracted into its sheath via a prescrotal sigmoid flexur. The length of the penis ranges from 35 to 45 cm in llamas and alpacas. The penis is cylindrical, gradually decreasing in diameter from its root at the ischiatic arch to the neck of the glans penis (collum glandis, preputial reflection). The penis originates…
Ok, we’re just going to throw a blanket over that block quote and move along like it never happened. As you have probably noticed, Slate articles rarely incorporate clinical descriptions of llama penises, and I am coming to realize that this lack of llama penis articles was less a “grave oversight” and more of a “sensible editorial stance,” so I hope you’ll forgive this error. There are many articles on Slate that do not include facts about llama penises, and I’d encourage you to read them, lest you draw mistaken conclusions about Slate’s editorial focus. In the meantime, let’s talk about something other than llama penises. How’s politics? Do you like reading about politics? How about we make a little deal: you tell anyone who asks that this article was about politics, and I won’t tell anyone you ended up reading an article about llama penises.
Dave Grohl, Who Used to Be in Nirvana, Plays Crowd-Pleasing Christmas Ditties With the Foo Fighters on Saturday Night Live
Dave Grohl, who many lifetimes ago was in a band called Nirvana, stopped by Saturday Night Live with his new band the Foo Fighters, and he brought some Christmas cheer with him! After starting off with “Everlong,” from 1997’s The Colour and the Shape, the Foo Fighters turned in a rocking performance of “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)” by Darlene Love (off Phil Spector’s 1963 Christmas album) and a guitar arrangement of the Vince Guaraldi classic, “Linus & Lucy,” which first appeared on A Charlie Brown Christmas in 1965. It’s everything you’d ever want from a Saturday Night Live musical guest during the holiday season: a respectful treatment of some treasured Baby Boomer Christmas classics, with something for everyone to enjoy!
Here, incidentally, is a little number from Dave Grohl’s first Saturday Night Live appearance, 25 years ago. He played a song with the crowd-pleasing title of “Territorial Pissings,” which begins with bass player Krist Novoselec howling a lyric from boomer-favorite “Get Together” by the Youngbloods, not respectfully at all, and ends with Grohl smashing his drum set while Kurt Cobain beats up a stack of amplifiers until someone at NBC cuts to commercial.
Which isn’t to say Grohl never sang Christmas carols back in the day. Here he is claiming to not know “Silent Night” or “Joy to the World,” before half-assing his way through a chorus of “We Wish You a Merry Christmas” with the rest of Nirvana.
Twenty-five years is a long time!
Scarlett Johansson Stops by Saturday Night Live to Hang an Ornament on Donald Trump’s Tree of Shame
This week’s Saturday Night Live started off with a visit to the Trump White House, where Alec Baldwin’s Trump was celebrating Christmas with his staff. Or, more accurately, forcing the remaining members of his administration to hang an ornament on Trump’s “Tree of Shame” with the face of one of his enemies, which sort of counts as a Christmas celebration.. The gang’s all here, from outright enemies like James Comey to friends-turned-enemies like Mike Flynn to recently-minted enemy Omarosa, who doesn’t rate an ornament, but shows up in person outside the windows, trying desperately to get back into the sunlight of Trump’s love.
The highlight is an unexpected visit from Scarlett Johansson as Ivanka, a role she memorably inhabited in an ad for the Trump daughter’s signature fragrance (“Complicit”) when she hosted in the spring. That part didn’t require much of an impersonation, which is exactly how much of an impersonation Johansson does this week. Still, she gets the best line, revisiting Ivanka’s statement about Roy Moore shortly before her father endorsed him: “As I said, there’s a special place in hell, and we’re all there.” Second place goes to Trump’s recap of the Moore campaign, one of those things that would be funny if it weren’t exactly what happened:
Poor Roy. I thought for sure he would win. Until he lost. Then I said I always knew he would lose. But at least America knows that I finally supported an accused child molester.
Besides Johansson, it’s a highlight reel of the Saturday Night Live cast’s impersonations from Trumpland: Alex Moffat and Mikey Day as the Trump boys, Aidy Bryant as Sarah Huckabee Sanders, Beck Bennett as Mike Pence, and, above all, Kate McKinnon in dual roles as Kellyanne Conway and Jeff Sessions. It’s also something of an in memoriam tribute all the Trump hangers-on who fell off the gravy train this year, from Sebastian Gorka to Carter Page. God willing, we’ll never have to see Sean Spicer again, but it’s kind of sad to realize we’ll never see Melissa McCarthy’s Sean Spicer impersonation. Or maybe we will. Unfortunately, Jeff Sessions’ Christmas message has the ring of truth:
Merry Christmas! Everybody is going to get away with everything!
Genius Chocolate Chip Cookie Brittle Is the Instant Gift We All Need
This chocolate chip cookie variant should get its own special bookmark in your brain right now, for the next time you need a last-minute party snack or cookie swap entry or a gift for pretty much anyone (including yourself).
It's speedier, easier, and—especially for us crispy cookie devotees—leaps and bounds better than the standard back-of-the-bag chocolate chip experience.
The reason why is so simple: This is just what happens if you take out any trace of leavener in chocolate chip cookies—no eggs, no baking powder or soda, no airy creamed butter—and mash the dough into a thin layer on a baking sheet.
It sounds like something curious kids would make by mistake and has all the makings of a terribly ill-fated idea. But instead, thanks to a generous proportion of melted butter and raw sugar, this dough turns into an addictive, crunchy brittle that falls somewhere between candy and cookie.
Cookbook author and blogger Shauna Sever developed this naturally sweetened recipe for her cookbook Real Sweet based off a version she had found in The American Country Inn Bed and Breakfast Cookbook. After her recipe was pinned a half million times on Pinterest, she ended up demoing it on the Today Show to an incredulous Al Roker.
I first learned about Sever's mystical recipe from Luisa Weiss of The Wednesday Chef. "It is so addictive and so good and so insanely easy that you'll never want to make choc chip cookies again (well, not really, but you know what I mean)," Weiss wrote to me. "It's worth the price of the book."
Conveniently, the brittle packs up well in a big jar for holidays, birthdays, and sugar-fueled road trips and plane rides. It's also quite friendly to swap-ins for the nuts and chocolate—coconut? chile? pretzels?—if you need a place to set yourself, Al Roker, or other curious kids free.
Makes about 3 dozen 3-inch pieces
· 3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons (200g) unsalted butter, cut into tablespoons
· 1 cup (200g) turbinado sugar
· 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
· 1 teaspoon fine sea salt
· 2 cups (250g) all-purpose flour
· 3/4 cup (90g) coarsely chopped pecans or walnuts
· 3/4 cup (130g) bittersweet or semisweet chocolate chips (60% to 70% cacao)
See the full recipe on Food52.
More from Food52
Is The Last Jedi’s Ending a Travesty—or the Best Part of the Movie? Three Slate Critics Discuss.
On the Spoiler Special podcast, Slate critics discuss movies, the occasional TV show, and, once in a blue moon, another podcast, in full, spoiler-filled detail. In this week’s episode, Slate’s movie critic, Dana Stevens, Slate senior editor Sam Adams, and Slate culture editor Forrest Wickman spoil Star Wars: The Last Jedi. What do we make of the big reveal about Rey’s parents? Does the movie do justice to Carrie Fisher? And do the third-act twists make sense, or are there plot holes so big you could drive a Star Destroyer through them?
Listen to them discuss these and other questions below. You can also check out past Spoiler Specials, and you can subscribe to the podcast on Apple Podcasts. Note: As the title indicates, each installment contains spoilers galore.
Podcast production by Daniel Schroeder.
The Last Jedi Finally Revealed the Identity of Rey’s Parents. It Was the Right Choice.
Spoilers for Rey’s parentage and a major Last Jedi plot point ahead.
She’s not a Skywalker. She’s not a Solo. She’s not even a Kenobi or a Jinn or a Palpatine or an Erso. Since The Force Awakens, the Star Wars franchise has been teasing out the mystery of Rey’s parentage, and The Last Jedi finally gave us an answer, though it’s one that will surely have its detractors. Rey’s parents are … nobody.
Well, nobody important, at least. The revelation comes about two-thirds into The Last Jedi, during a confrontation between Rey and Kylo Ren, who is tempting her to join him so that they can establish a new order together. He urges Rey to let go of the past—and suggests that, despite all her searching, she already knows why she was abandoned on Jakku and who her parents are.
KYLO REN: You know the truth. Say it.
REY: They were nobody.
KYLO REN: They were filthy junk traders who sold you off for drinking money. They’re dead, in a paupers’ grave in the Jakku desert.
And so all the elaborate fan theories—She’s Luke’s daughter! She’s Obi-Wan’s granddaughter!—fall away as we learn that Rey doesn’t belong to any pre-established dynasty in the Star Wars universe. It’s bound to disappoint some fans, but it's also a smart choice on the part of the filmmakers, one that honors the franchise’s roots while also giving it a path forward beyond the neverending Skywalker drama.
First things first: Could Kylo be lying about who Rey’s parents are? Sure. He is, after all, trying to convince Rey to cut ties with the Resistance and join him, and “You’re nothing—but not to me” is a smart recruiting tactic. But even if Rey’s parents aren’t actually dead, there’s no reason to doubt it when she says she knows that they were “nobody.” The Last Jedi is full of parallels to The Empire Strikes Back, the film in which Luke learns his own origins, but Rey's story is always a little different. When Rey has a Force vision of her parents on Ahch-To, for instance, she doesn’t see herself in a Darth Vader mask; she just sees herself, as she is. And when she finally learns the secret of her identity, it's during a confrontation that mirrors the one between Luke and Darth Vader in Empire, right down to the offer to join forces and the familial truth-telling. Kylo’s insistence, “You know the truth,” even has a ring of Vader’s “Search your feelings, you know it to be true.” These are signals to the audience that the revelation is meant to be every bit as true and devastating as “I am your father,” if not quite as surprising.
Let’s assume, then, that we can take the fact that Rey does not have some deeper genetic connection to the conflict of the galaxy at face value. That means that a very powerful Force user is essentially a random player in this story, which fits nicely with The Last Jedi’s overarching philosophy, that heroes can come from anywhere, whether they’re ex-Stormtroopers or humble maintenance workers or Force-sensitive kids in the far reaches of the galaxy. It also creates yet another interesting parallel between Rey and Luke; before he learned he was the son of Darth Vader, Luke, like Rey, was just a poor kid from a desert planet who happened to stumble across the right droid.
Making Rey a very important “nobody” also sets the stage for the future of Star Wars, one in which the movies will no longer need the Skywalker family as an anchor. It’s a big galaxy out there, and The Last Jedi’s director, Rian Johnson, is already working on a new trilogy that will explore new characters and an unexplored corner of the galaxy. That makes the Force Awakens trilogy something of a transition period between the old Star Wars and the new, and since Kylo Ren is already the son of two of the franchise’s major players, Han Solo and Leia Organa, the family soap opera angle is well covered. It’s time for some new blood in whatever future the Jedi Order, a family in its own right, will have.
Of course, there’s still a chance that we’ve been tricked and that Rey’s parentage could still be explored further in Episode IX—but that would take away from what Johnson has accomplished in The Last Jedi, and Rey’s unassuming parentage raises other, much more interesting questions to ponder in the meantime. Why is she so powerful with the Force? What’s fueling her psychic connection with Kylo in particular? What made the Skywalker lightsaber call to her, anyway? Is she the next Chosen One? The Chosen One reincarnated, maybe?
Good thing we have two long years to speculate.
Lin-Manuel Miranda #HamilDrops New Track “Ben Franklin’s Song” With The Decemberists
Last week, Lin-Manuel Miranda announced the HAMILDROPS, a new Hamilton project that will see previously unreleased content drop once per month between now and December 2018.
So today, we begin THE HAMILDROPS. We’re gonna drop some new Hamilton content, every month, December NOW through December 2018.— Lin-Manuel Miranda (@Lin_Manuel) December 14, 2017
The first of Miranda’s HAMILDROP is upon us, with the Hamilton mastermind overnight unveiling “Ben Franklin’s Song,” with music written recorded by indie rock band the Decemberists.
This is the first new Hamilton content since Miranda released The Hamilton Mixtape one year ago, and it did not disappoint. Miranda said he wrote the “Decemberists-esque lyrics” with the band in mind, and they include references to Benjamin Franklin’s yearly almanac and his inventions, the glass harmonica and bifocal glasses:
And do you know who the fuck I am?
Yeah, do you know who the fuck I am?
Do you know who the fuck I am?
I am Poor-Richard’s-Almanack-writing Benjamin fuckin’ Franklin
(See also: “I am 76-and-I’ll-still-kick-your-ass fuckin’ Franklin” and “I am Poor-Richard’s-Almanack-writing, polymath, bifocal-wearing, hardened glass-harmonica-playing, Benjamin fuckin’ Franklin”).
You can find all the ways to listen to the new track, as well as wait longlingly for future tracks, at the HAMILDROPs website.
Why Beyoncé Needed Ed Sheeran to Score Her First No. 1 Hit in Nine Years
If living well is the best revenge, perhaps charting well is the best Grammy clap-back? For Ed Sheeran, our premier polymath pop troubadour, this holiday season really has been the ultimate in bad news–good news whiplash. Within the space of two weeks, Sheeran was shut out of every top Grammy category—by a Recording Academy that seemed destined to bolt Sheeran’s name onto all the golden gramophones—and then, days later, he laid waste to the Billboard charts again. “Perfect,” the fourth official single from Sheeran’s ÷ (Divide) album, becomes his second Hot 100 No. 1 song of 2017, eight months after his first, “Shape of You,” completed a dozen-week run on top. The very same day Billboard announced this, the magazine also revealed that “Shape” was the No. 1 Hot 100 hit of the year, outgunning 2017’s record-setting Song of the Summer “Despacito,” which ranks second for the year. And by the way, it’s the second year in a row that Sheeran has been the author of the top Billboard hit, and the third year in a row that he’s had one of the top two: The No. 1 song of 2016, Justin Bieber’s spiteful kiss-off “Love Yourself,” was co-written by Sheeran, and on Billboard's list of the biggest songs of 2015, his “Thinking Out Loud” came in at No. 2.
Pretty quickly, in the press, Sheeran’s attitude toward the Grammy nominations has turned from sad-sack to modestly cheerful and maybe even a bit shady—his comments veering from two weeks ago’s “maybe this year wasn’t my year” to this week’s, “You know, I'm not dying.” He has even started redirecting the media toward his renewed chart prowess: “The week after [the Grammy snub], I get an MBE from the palace, I go No. 1 on Spotify, …I’m about to have my second ever Billboard No. 1—like, there’s so many things in the mix that counterbalance it.” It is hilarious to consider an Ed Sheeran who now turns to the love of the people as compensation for his underrating by the eternally middlebrow tastemakers in the Recording Academy—particularly when the latter camp gave him a Song of the Year Grammy just 22 months ago.
However its creator spins this, the success of “Perfect” on the Hot 100 wasn’t a foregone conclusion. In fact, in America, it was actually a minor comeback. If 2017 has felt like the year Ed Sheeran finally became inescapable, that’s mostly due to one song, the perky, faux–tropical-house “Shape of You.” After landing in January, “Shape” became even more absurdly ubiquitous than the average big hit. It broke a record for the longest run in Billboard’s Top 10—an unprecedented 33 weeks, from January through early September (this is basically how it topped “Despacito” for the year)—and it’s still sitting in the Top 30 in this, its 48th week. The problem for Ed was following it up. “Shape” arrived paired with a second hit, the wistful, windy “Castle on the Hill,” but after a big Top 10 debut in January, “Castle” plummeted and only managed to crawl back toward the Top 20 by midsummer. Third single “Galway Girl,” a risible blend of Irish jig and thumping pop, must have seemed like a good idea for Sheeran’s huge global audience but was an all-out flop in America, peaking outside our Top 40. By the fall, Sheeran had a unique problem: He was pop’s biggest star of the year—especially before his pal Taylor Swift came back—but he needed another real, actual, omnipresent hit.
Sheeran addressed his emergency by breaking some industrial-strength glass: He called in Beyoncé. To be fair, the idea long predated Sheeran’s late-summer search for a single. The two had met and even sung together at the 2015 Grammys, and Ed began courting Bey to sing on the ballad as far back as last spring, while “Shape of You” was riding high. Finally recorded in September—Sheeran said the mighty Knowles-Carter needed only one take (shocker)—the new “Perfect” remained a secret for a few more weeks while Sheeran issued his original album cut as a single. His solo version managed to climb into the Top 10 by late November.
With or without Beyoncé, “Perfect” was fated to be some kind of hit: It’s schlock, if ruthlessly effective. As Alfred Soto points out at The Singles Jukebox, even those of us who find Sheeran noisome have “had to reckon with his considerable craft. He can write hooks and melodies—facts are facts, people.” In addition to orchestration by classical composer Matthew Sheeran, Ed’s brother, “Perfect” boasts an instantly familiar melody and a ’50s slow-dance arrangement. You half expect the Five Satins to show up and start doo-wopping “In the Still of the Night” over the chorus.
This throwback technique can produce magic—witness the 2015 country-to-pop crossover hit “Girl Crush” by Little Big Town, which paired a vintage trad-pop arrangement with creative, gender-flipped lyrics for something fresh and modern. But that’s where “Perfect” falls down—in its banal sentiments. The lyric is basically a mumblecore version of Eric Clapton’s “Wonderful Tonight”: “When you said you looked a mess/ I whispered underneath my breath/ But you heard it/ Darling, you look perfect/ Tonight.” The duet version improves things slightly but is mostly a case of Lord-giveth-and-taketh, as Queen Bey strips away the orchestration—her suggestion—to leave only Sheeran’s sturdy melody but also his awkward lyrics, which often resemble Max Martin in their syllable-filling nonsense but without the bracing lift of a Martin production.
The most Beyoncé thing about the duet was how Sheeran finally deployed it: a surprise reveal. Officially titled “Perfect Duet”—a full acoustic rerecording, yet close enough to the original Ed-only “Perfect” that Billboard counts the two versions together for chart purposes—version deux instantly gave the song a kick to go the last mile. After the Bey duet had been on sale only a few hours, it amassed enough points to hurtle “Perfect” into the Hot 100’s Top Three. The following week, with a full week of sales and streams, “Perfect” leapt to No. 1, ejecting Post Malone’s “Rockstar” from the penthouse after an eight-week run on top. “Perfect” is doing well at radio, too, currently ranked third in airplay. In the 2010s, pop radio hasn’t always warmed to slow romancers, unless they’re by Adele or the people imitating her, but after the smash success of 2015’s “Thinking Out Loud,” radio programmers appear to have placed Sheeran in a bulletproof Adele-like category.
The same week “Perfect”/“Perfect Duet” reached the summit, Billboard officially added Beyoncé’s name as a coequal credit on the single, since nearly two-thirds of “Perfect’s” digital sales were tallied by the duet. It’s the second time this year Bey was added to a single’s artist credit mid-run. Just two months ago, she turned J. Balvin’s “Mi Gente,” a post-“Despacito” crossover reggaetón hit, into a No. 3 smash by Bieber-izing it with new English verses. While the “Gente” remix gave Bey her first Top Three hit in more than three years, Bey’s teamup with Sheeran is an even bigger career milestone. “Perfect Duet” is Beyoncé’s first Hot 100 chart-topper since—perhaps you’ve heard of this one?—“Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It),” which topped the Hot 100 in December 2008, a month after Barack Obama was elected president.
Let’s pause and reiterate this point, which might stun you if you haven’t been paying close attention to the Hot 100 for the last decade: This is Beyoncé’s first No. 1 song in nine years—her first of the 2010s, period, and she got it via Ed Sheeran. For all of the hashtags, concert grosses, political activism, critical acclaim, awards-show and Super Bowl–halftime dominance, and even jokey memes about the indestructability of Beyoncé’s fame, this whole decade the most famous pop star in America has had no pop-chart toppers. She came closest with “Drunk in Love,” the surfbortin’ lead single from her 2013 self-titled masterpiece, which reached No. 2 in early 2014. But “Drunk” peaked largely on the strength of Beyoncé’s massive download sales; it never ranked higher on Billboard’s airplay chart than No. 6. Other chattering-class phenomena like her Bey-squad banger “7/11” or her Black Lives Matter anthem “Formation” have fallen well short of the Top 10 (or, in the case of her delirious, boof-boofing “Countdown,” simply missed the Top 40 entirely). Now four years away from her 40th birthday, Bey seems to have regarded Sheeran’s “Perfect” the way Justin Timberlake leveraged “Can’t Stop the Feeling” last year—as a late-career insurance policy.
So, who needed whom more, between the Ginger Hobbit and the Queen Bey? The short answer is each needed the other—but for different reasons.
Sheeran’s needs were simpler. He had to revive a hit-bound but dormant track on a nine-month-old album. In other words, he had to give the public—even diehard fans—a reason to consume “Perfect” again. So he did what pal Taylor Swift did two and a half years ago with her album cut “Bad Blood,” the fourth single from 1989, which only became a smash after she got Kendrick Lamar to rap on it. As I said in this series when “Bad Blood” hit No. 1, all Lamar had to do for Swift was show up—in the digital era, when all songs are available for single-song purchase or streaming the moment an album drops, the music business no longer has scarcity at its command when it comes to picking the third, fourth, or fifth radio single from an album. Those songs have been out a la carte for months, and even if the artist is a superstar and the album’s a smash, turning a late single from it into a chart-topping hit is tougher now. That is, unless you can get a starry guest to reboot the track—preferably, if you are a white pop star, a cultural-cred–having black artist. (This trick also worked six years ago for Katy Perry on the fourth and fifth No. 1 hits from her record-setting Teenage Dream album, remixed with Kanye West and Missy Elliott, respectively.)
But Beyoncé needed Sheeran, too—as absurd as this sounds, he made Bey more radio-friendly. The 2010s has been a decade of exploration for Beyoncé as she’s, admirably, tested pop’s political and sonic boundaries. Truthfully, Bey has been cutting-edge her whole career, even back when she was a regular chart-topper: helping to reinvent R&B singing around rap cadence on the 1999 Destiny’s Child hit “Say My Name,” breaking the genius sample-deploying producer Rich Harrison on 2003’s start-stop smash “Crazy in Love,” and more. But this decade, she’s really pushed it to the limit, as much as a culturally dominant megastar can, from “Run the World (Girls)” to “Partition” to “Daddy Lessons.” At some point early this decade—probably around the time her 2011 album 4 did solid black radio business but tanked at Top 40—Bey decided that, like her husband’s sometime-friend Kanye West, she wasn’t necessarily going to try for pop hits anymore. Artistically, critically, and on the album chart, she’s pulled this off. At a time when albums don’t shift traditional units anymore, both Beyoncé and Lemonade sold at double-platinum levels (sold, not streamed) and commanded critics’ year-end lists. But sooner or later a pop deity needs a regular-ass radio hit to remind her global following why, exactly, she lives on Mt. Olympus. Sheeran’s wedding-ready weeper jump-started that process—kind of a genius move, when you’re not working on your own album and on de facto maternity leave.
As for Ed Sheeran, “Perfect” puts a button on the biggest year of his career and rights the ship after the Grammy story nearly ruined his narrative. And he’s not done milking the song yet: Late this week, Sheeran confirmed the rumor that’s been swirling for a couple of weeks and dropped “Perfect” version three: a duet with popera demigod Andrea Bocelli. Yet again, Ed’s singing partner might benefit as much from the teamup as Sheeran—Bocelli even more than Beyoncé. Despite two decades of gold and platinum albums and prior duets with everyone from Céline Dion to Mary J. Blige, the Italian tenor has never scored a U.S. Top 40 hit. Literally the only time Bocelli’s name has even appeared on the Hot 100 was the single week in 2010 that his duet with Blige on “Bridge Over Troubled Water” debuted and peaked at No. 75. Two chart weeks from now, when the data rolls in, it will be interesting to see whether in a three-way contest between solo Sheeran, Beyoncé, and Bocelli, the latter racks up enough sales and streams to have his name instantly added to a No. 1 hit. And hey, Bocelli has also—oddly—never won a Grammy. Maybe, by the time of the 2019 awards, “Perfect” will get him to the podium, and get Sheeran back there. Sound craven? You have to suspect this idea crossed somebody’s mind.