Every year I curate a running playlist of powerhouse tracks featuring female vocalists. I call it “Fuck Yeah Divas!” and previous installments have prominently featured both pop powerhouse Santigold, a.k.a. Santogold, a.k.a. Santi White, and Karen O’s reliably manic Yeah Yeah Yeahs. The opportunities presented by a crossover are considerable, and so the same is necessarily true of expectations. Last time I got this excited about seeing two women’s names in such close proximity, they were “Phoenix” and “Chun Li” and I was salivating over the release of the latest Marvel v. Capcom game.
I put on “GO” anticipating pop with fangs. And sure enough, Santi opens the track with the kind of sneer that can’t help but show its teeth: “People want my power and they want my station.” On impressive display is Santi’s knack for vocal contortions, as she repeatedly nails complex, oddball melodies that the post-Mariah melismaniacs parading around the Top 40 couldn’t dream of delivering. Like in the first verse, where the rhyme is “Paris” with “status,” she’ll use the last syllable of each word to throw her voice into a furious Xena yelp without losing the note or her annunciation. Lyrically, “GO” is a hater-baiting anthem in the same line of descent as M.I.A.’s “XXXO” and Robyn’s “U Should Know Better.” Santi does this kind of material exceptionally well, sounding less paranoid than M.I.A. and less self-absorbed than your average trash-talking rapper, and, as “L.E.S. Artistes” proved, she can pull of self-righteous better than almost anyone else, largely because her crusading actually scans, credibly, as righteous. But where “L.E.S. Artistes” simply singed the eyebrows of hipsters and critics, “GO” is a flamethrower of indignation pointed at all manner of sycophants, fast-trackers, and get-rich-quickers.
It helps that “GO” sounds as quick and clever as Santi herself, alternating a prickly, heavily overdubbed stutter with verses that sound like a Go-Go’s track tattered and tied up with guitar strings. The track, which was constructed by Santi, Q-Tip, Switch, and the Yeah Yeah Yeah’s guitarist Nick Zinner, recalls the rampaging glee of Karen O and Zinner’s work on the Where the Wild Things Are soundtrack, but sonically favors Go! Team maximalism to that film’s primal pop stylings.
For verse three, Karen O commands the track with the same quotient of regal and batshit that Nicki Minaj brought to Kanye’s “Monster.” (Could you even imagine if they remixed “GO” to give Nicki a verse? I could see her tearing this shit to pieces, and yeah, I know she’s way overexposed right now, but that bad girl trifecta…I mean, damn, no words for what I’d do to hear that on Nicki’s next mixtape.) Since the Yeah Yeah Yeahs have moved from scrappy Brooklyn bomb-throwers to something of an institution in indie rock, Karen O’s antics, both on stage and record, have been domesticated. If It’s Blitz! suggested that she had yet to be totally declawed, then her verse here shows that she can still flip into full-on punk-rock dragon-lady mode when there are asses to be kicked. Surely, the energy she’s feeding off of must feel familiar (there’s considerable overlap in the Santi/Karen O experience of hype, expectation, and backlash, not to mention their negotiations of the underground art world as educated minority women) and she sounds newly invigorated.
All the stranger, then, that Santi should admit to Life and Times that insecurities on both ends almost stopped the collaboration from going off: After a missed email, each singer briefly concluded that the other had been turned off by her work. Santi and Karen O obviously managed to uncross their wires and pull the track together nicely. I can’t believe that the two ferocious vocalists strutting and snarling on “GO” have anything to be insecure about. Whatever anxiety the pair feels about their standing in the music world, it’s all sublimated as swagger and virtuosity here. There’s only one reasonable reaction to “GO”: Hit repeat and pray that the ladies take this double-headliner on the road.
Oscar 2019 Winner Predictions: Adapted Screenplay
After walking back almost all of its bad decisions ahead of this year’s Oscars, there’s no way AMPAS isn’t going to do the right thing here.
Eric and I have done a good job this year of only selectively stealing each other’s behind-the-scenes jokes. We have, though, not been polite about stepping on each other’s toes in other ways. Okay, maybe just Eric, who in his impeccable take on the original screenplay free-for-all detailed how the guilds this year have almost willfully gone out of their way to “not tip the Oscar race too clearly toward any one film.” Case in point: Can You Ever Forgive Me? winning the WGA’s adapted screenplay trophy over presumed Oscar frontrunner BlacKkKlansman. A glitch in the matrix? We think so. Eric and I are still in agreement that the race for best picture this year is pretty wide open, though maybe a little less so in the wake of what seemed like an easy win for the Spike Lee joint. Nevertheless, we all know that there’s no Oscar narrative more powerful than “it’s about goddamn time,” and it was so powerful this year that even the diversity-challenged BAFTAs got the memo, giving their adapted screenplay prize to Lee, Charlie Wachtel, David Rabinowitz, and Kevin Willmott. To bamboozle Lee at this point would, admittedly, be so very 2019, but given that it’s walked back almost all of its bad decisions ahead of this year’s Oscars, there’s no way AMPAS isn’t going to do the right thing.
Will Win: BlacKkKlansman
Could Win: Can You Ever Forgive Me?
Should Win: BlacKkKlansman
Oscar 2019 Winner Predictions: Original Screenplay
This season, Hollywood is invested in celebrating the films they love while dodging the cultural bullets coming at them from every angle.
You know, if it weren’t for the show’s producers effectively and repeatedly saying everything about the Academy Awards is terrible and needs to be changed, and the year’s top-tier contenders inadvertently confirming their claims, this would’ve been a comparatively fun and suspenseful Oscar season. None of us who follow the Academy Awards expect great films to win; we just hope the marathon of precursors don’t turn into a Groundhog Day-style rinse and repeat for the same film, ad nauseam.
On that score, mission accomplished. The guilds have been handing their awards out this season as though they met beforehand and assigned each voting body a different title from Oscar’s best picture list so as not to tip the Oscar race too clearly toward any one film. SAG? Black Panther. PGA? Green Book. DGA? Roma. ASC? Cold War. ACE? Bryan Singer’s Bohemian Rhapsody. Even awards-season kryptonite A Star Is Born got an award for contemporary makeup from the MUAHS. (That’s the Make-Up Artists and Hair Stylists Guild, not the sound Lady Gaga fans have been making ever since A Star Is Born’s teaser trailer dropped last year.)
Not to be outdone, the Writers Guild of America announced their winners last weekend, and not only did presumed adapted screenplay frontrunner BlacKkKlansman wind up stymied by Can You Ever Forgive Me?, but the original screenplay prize went to Eighth Grade, which wasn’t even nominated for an Oscar. Bo Burnham twisted the knife into AMPAS during his acceptance speech: “To the other nominees in the category, have fun at the Oscars, losers!” In both his sarcasm and his surprise, it’s safe to say he speaks on behalf of us all.
As is always the case, WGA’s narrow eligibility rules kept a presumed favorite, The Favourite, out of this crucial trial heat. But as the balloting period comes to a close, the question remains just how much enthusiasm or affection voters have for either of the two films with the most nominations (Roma being the other). As a recent “can’t we all just get along” appeal by Time’s Stephanie Zacharek illustrates, the thing Hollywood is most invested in this season involves bending over backward, Matrix-style, to celebrate the films they love and still dodge the cultural bullets coming at them from every angle.
Maybe it’s just tunnel vision from the cultural vacuum Oscar voters all-too-understandably would prefer to live in this year, but doesn’t it seem like The Favourite’s tastefully ribald peppering of posh-accented C-words would be no match for the steady litany of neo-Archie Bunkerisms spewing from Viggo Mortensen’s crooked mouth? Especially with First Reformed’s Paul Schrader siphoning votes from among the academy’s presumably more vanguard new recruits? We’ll fold our words in half and eat them whole if we’re wrong, but Oscar’s old guard, unlike John Wayne, is still alive and, well, pissed.
Will Win: Green Book
Could Win: The Favourite
Should Win: First Reformed
Watch: Joanna Hogg’s The Souvenir, Starring Honor Swinton Byrne and Tilda Swinton, Gets First Trailer
Joanna Hogg has been flying under the radar for some time, but that’s poised to change in a big way.
British film director and screenwriter Joanna Hogg, whose impeccably crafted 2013 film Exhibition we praised on these pages for its “disarming mixture of the remarkable and the banal,” has been flying under the radar for the better part of her career. But that’s poised to change in a big way with the release of her latest film, The Souvenir, which won the Grand Jury Prize at this year’s Sundance Film Festival. Prior to the film’s world premiere at the festival, A24 and Curzon Artificial Eye acquired its U.S. and U.K. distribution rights, respectively. Below is the official description of the film:
A shy but ambitious film student (Honor Swinton Byrne) begins to find her voice as an artist while navigating a turbulent courtship with a charismatic but untrustworthy man (Tom Burke). She defies her protective mother (Tilda Swinton) and concerned friends as she slips deeper and deeper into an intense, emotionally fraught relationship that comes dangerously close to destroying her dreams.
And below is the film’s first trailer:
A24 will release The Souvenir on May 17.