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Barack Obama: A Story of Race & Politics

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Barack Obama: A Story of Race & Politics

Below is a snippet from Dreams from My Father, in which Barack Obama describes watching Black Orpheus, the first foreign-language film his mother, Ann Dunham, had ever seen.

We took a cab to the revival theater where the movie was playing. The film, a groundbreaker of sorts due to its mostly black, Brazilian cast, had been made in the fifties. The story line was simple: the myth of the ill-fated lovers Orpheus and Eurydice set in the favelas of Rio during Carnival. In Technicolor splendor, set against scenic green hills, the black and brown Brazilians sang and danced and strummed guitars like carefree birds in colorful plumage. About halfway through the movie, I decided that I’d seen enough, and turned to my mother to see if she might be ready to go. But her face, lit by the blue glow of the screen, was set in a wistful gaze. At that moment, I felt as if I were being given a window into her heart, the unreflective heart of her youth. I suddenly realized that the depiction of childlike blacks I was now seeing on the screen, the reverse image of Conrad’s dark savages, was what my mother had carried with her to Hawaii all those years before, a reflection of the simple fantasies that had been forbidden to a white middle-class girl from Kansas, the promise of another life: warm, sensual, exotic, different.

I post this not only as an example of how profoundly and compassionately Barack Obama grapples with racial identity but as a reminder of how people of color see race (mis)represented in art and, more selfishly, the estrangement I sometimes feel as a film critic of mixed-race heritage. “I turned away, embarrassed for her, irritated with the people around me.” Those are Obama’s words, about his mother and the crowd at the revival theater, but they could just as easily be mine, describing what I often feel whenever I see predominantly white audiences swoon for obscene films like Crash, Ann Dunham and Barack ObamaBlood Diamond, and Under the Same Moon, wishing they could see how those films pander to white prejudices by condescending to non-white experience, and how that’s a symbiotic relationship worth affronting.

When I flip through Dreams from My Father, I marvel at the way Obama discusses race, an integral part of his being, and I find camaraderie in his passion, his rage, his frustrations, his curiosity, his understanding, and most of all his conviction. I read Obama and I ponder the way critics like Armond White discuss racial identity and critics like Amy Taubin discuss sexuality, sometimes with deliberate calculation and desire to provoke but always as a natural expression of their distinctive being and as a fearless extension of their life experience, and I am reminded of the hate mail that filters into my inbox, almost regularly since the jejune days of this site, in which I am called a faggot, a spic, a wetback, sometimes worse, at which point I wonder and sometimes laugh at the pain that has nearly provoked me at times over the years to cover my mouth and hang up the skates.

There are many critics who I admire who are white, who are white and who are men, who are white and who are men and who are straight, but I admit to feeling a closer kinship to critics who are not white, critics who are women, and critics who don’t treat their homosexuality as a dirty secret. Some are more radical than others, strident in their desire to level the playing field, but most speak naturally from the gut about the meaning of the flickering images they absorb with their own eyes, a know-how informed by what they have lived as persons who are not white, persons without dicks swinging between their legs, persons who worry if they’ll be reprimanded for expressing desire for a celebrity of their own sex. Rather than toe a hegemonic line, they keep it real, braving the wrath of persons unused to a certain frankness and diversity of discourse, scaring us by asking us to look, acknowledge, confront the dangers that are explicitly there, sometimes dormant, in popular art.

People asking critics to keep their sexual, racial, and gender politics out of their reviews is as insulting to me as asking America to pretend Hillary Clinton doesn’t have a vagina or Barack Obama’s face ain’t white. “If Obama was a white man, he would not be in this position,” said Geraldine Ferraro earlier this month about Obama. “And if he was a woman (of any color) he would not be in this position. He happens to be very lucky to be who he is. And the country is caught up in the concept.” Obama Geraldine Ferrarosupporters cried foul, calling Ferraro a racist, as if they hadn’t seen the poll numbers that reveal Obama’s support among blacks, as if they never read his books or heard his speeches; if they had, they might understand that Obama’s race is exactly what makes him so special.

Ferraro’s comments may have been superficial and resentful but they weren’t racist, and the shrill reaction to her statement only confirmed that most Americans don’t know how to talk about race, and the fact that Slant Magazine’s Sal Cinquemani felt that I would incur less wrath (if any) for voicing anything resembling sympathy for Ferraro because he is white and I am not also shows that there are those who know how but censor themselves nonetheless because there are unspoken rules about how race should be talked about and who should do the talking. Joe Scarborough, earlier this month, braved such conversation on HBO’s Real Time with Bill Maher about how the language people often use to describe and praise Obama (like “articulate”) denotes racism, that we seem to prefer our black politicians to behave a certain way, a bitter truth amusingly touched upon in a recent SNL cartoon that bitingly depicted Obama subjugating Jesse Jackson and Al Shapton’s roles in his political campaign.

However knee-jerk and unpolished, Ferraro’s words acknowledge a mystique surrounding Obama that, in some ways, is not unlike the support Brokeback Mountain received a few years ago, when the film was perceived by gay rights activists posing as critics as a first-of-its-kind: the first mainstream gay-themed film to make money, and one to ostensibly turn the heat down on the nation’s homophobic temper. It didn’t seem to matter that Brokeback was about as aesthetically radical as a Bob Ross painting, only that it was a coup for gay representation on the big screen, and when it lost to Crash for Best Picture, the enraged chalked it up to homophobia, never considering that Crash, infinitely worse than Ang Lee’s prestige picture, simply appealed more strongly to a different, Brokeback Mountainmore insular, more topical sort of political bias. Of course, where the Obama-Brokeback analogy diverges is that while Obama does seem to inspire a certain degree of blind, therefore disingenuous, devotion from his base, I can’t say it’s unfair.

Ferraro’s resentment for the Obama mystique becomes laughable when you consider that she was a booster for Hillary Clinton, whose viability as a presidential candidate wouldn’t have been possible if it weren’t for her sex (or nepotism). If there was a time when I was hesitant to rally behind Obama, specifically around the time I cast my vote for Clinton in the New Jersey primary (there, I admit it!), it was because I had a difficult time (still do, actually) associating with Obama supporters (essentially all my friends) and how their stokedom for Obama hinges, in part, on sexually humiliating Clinton. (They are the same people raging against SNL for its supposed bias against Obama, people like Joshua Alston of Newsweek who’ve misrepresented Fred Armisen’s racial background, failing to recognize that the comedian’s mixed heritage actually makes him the best choice to play the role of Obama in the show’s political sketches.) For proof, just listen to the way the belligerent Chris Matthews or Keith Olbermann, no longer my favorite news guy, talk about the woman on MSNBC—though I’m sure Amy Taubin would say I sound the same way when I talk about Asia Argento (thanks, Nathan, for making me lose sleep this week!).

As evidenced by Dreams from My Father, talking about race comes naturally and forcefully to Obama, a point the media, Obama himself, or his campaign hasn’t really been upfront about, no doubt because the Obama campaign, like Scarborough, understands that the perceived antagonism of Sharpton, who some think gave the most important speech at the 2004 Democratic National Convention, is not something they want to come close to evoking. In Dreams from My Father, I get a sense of a tougher, more vigilant and conflicted Obama, one who thought about and lashed out against the cruelty of racism in its many manifestations (like the people who would traipse into his Harlem neighborhood so FOX Newstheir dogs could shit on his sidewalk, like the white lady in the elevator of his grandparents’ Hawaii apartment building who thought he was stalking her), one who has struggled to understand, sometimes defy the stereotypes of black experience, an Obama I have rarely seen on television. Until this week.

When the insidious FOX began to smear Obama by drudging up Reverend Wright’s presumably controversial opinions about 9/11, the liberal media played dumb, “parroting” (to quote MoveOn.org’s Political Action Team) FOX’s hate speech and pretending as if the seven years since 9/11 never happened—all that death, all those walking wounded, all that political discourse we’ve had about cause and effect (why 9/11 happened, then why Iraq happened—or, rather, why it shouldn’t have happened). The world suddenly became stupider—and then Obama gave the single greatest speech of this entire political season, one delivered with close to the same ardor and ballsiness with which Obama once described his weary flight as an embittered black man throughout his youth, the devil nipping at his heels.

This is the Obama who once wrote: “Look at yourself before you pass judgment. Don’t make someone else clean up your mess. It’s not about you. They were such simple points, homilies I had heard a thousand times before, in all their variations, from TV sitcoms and philosophy books, from my grandparents and from my mother. I had stopped listening at a certain point, I now realized, so wrapped up had I been in my own perceived injuries, so eager was I to escape the imagined traps that white authority had set for me. To that white world, I had been willing to cede the values of my childhood, as if those values were somehowBarack Obama and Reverend Wright irreversibly soiled by the endless falsehoods that white spoke about black.”

It was probably too much for Obama to argue that Wright was more right than he was wrong, ceding not so much to the white world as to a political machine wary of too much gumption, but he still risked plenty for a presidential hopeful wanting to remain electable, renouncing the Reverend’s words if not the man himself, showing the world his backbone, getting philosophical on us without condescension, acknowledging the legacy of slavery, that racism is a problem, that race should be a topic of discussion in our everyday lives, recognizing our unique needs, our common hopes, giving us the context for Wright’s speech that the media did not, referencing the conversations people have inside churches and barbershops, loci of male identity for men of all races, intimating throughout that while he may not have been in public office for as many years as Clinton or John McCain, his experience is of a greater sort, rooted in his genes, the know-how of having lived abroad, having seen racism and colonialism in action, having contemplated the causes and effects of hate, and having struggled, desperately and painfully, to translate vision into action.

Obama’s political courage should be studied, and though his speech was generally well-received, he has been declining in polls (against both Clinton and McCain) since the Wright scandal, and one wonders if he’ll fully recover, having dared to go where few, if any, politicians ever go, having suggested that race should be kept on the table, having shown that his smoldering desire to cultivate conversation about how people are split along racial and ideological lines is not only essential to healing our nation but reaching out and brokering peaceful relations with the non-white leaders of nations abroad. It appears that he will be the Democratic candidate for president, and though I worry for the mental health of anyone who would opt for McCain over Obama, if Obama were to lose in November, he always has a career as a film critic.

This blog entry was originally published on Slant Magazine on the date above.

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Watch: Lady Gaga’s “911” Music Video Is a Surreal Death Dream

The video, directed by Tarsem, finds the singer awakening in a desert surrounded by pomegranates and a broken bicycle.

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Lady Gaga, 911
Photo: YouTube

When Lady Gaga’s Chromatica saw its belated release in May, most of the attention was focused on its collaborative tracks with Ariana Grande, Blankpink, and Elton John. But the dramatic transition from the orchestral interlude “Chromatica II” into the synth-pop dance tune “911” soon went viral on TikTok, making the latter the most-streamed solo cut from the album aside from lead single “Stupid Love.”

Enthusiasm for “911” seems to stem mostly from the transition, but the song itself, which is reminiscent of past Gaga singles “LoveGame” and “G.U.Y.,” touches on the timely topics of mental health and pharmaceuticals. The music video, directed by Tarsem and inspired by Armenian director Sergei Parajanov’s 1969 film The Color of Pomegranates, finds Gaga awakening in a desert surrounded by pomegranates and a broken bicycle. What follows is a surreal dreamscape featuring a bride adorned with a red cross symbol, a woman cradling a mummified body, and Gaga performing jerky choreography while dressed, of course, in a series of elaborate costumes.

The clip, which was shot at White Sands National Park in New Mexico, takes a turn for the heavy-handed when the music cuts out and Gaga begins to tearfully wail straight into the camera. It’s quickly revealed that it was all a death dream, and the characters Gaga saw were, à la The Wizard of Oz, either victims or first responders to a fatal car accident that leaves Gaga on a stretcher and her produce scattered on the street.

Watch below:

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On the Rocks Trailer: A Father-Daughter Journey Through the City that Never Sleeps

Sofia Coppola’s latest promises to be an exuberant love letter to New York.

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On the Rocks
Photo: A24

Sofia Coppola’s follow-up to her 2017 remake of The Beguiled reunites the Oscar-winning filmmaker with Bill Murray, star of her breakout Lost and Translation and the 2015 Netflix movie A Very Murray Christmas. On the Rocks stars the iconic comedian as Felix, the playboy father of a young mother, Laura (Rashida Jones), whose sudden uncertainty about her marriage drives them on a journey through New York City and a number of wild encounters marked by much generational clashing.

Today, A24 released the trailer for On the Rocks, which the studio touts as Coppola’s exuberant love letter to New York (hence Phoenix’s “Identical” on the soundtrack), and “a funny celebration of the complications that bind modern families even as they tie us in crazy knots.” The film also stars Marlon Wayans, Jessica Henwick, and Jenny Slate.

See below for the trailer below:

On the Rocks arrives in theaters and Apple TV+ this October.

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Listen: Dua Lipa Elevates “Levitating” with Help from Madonna and Missy Elliott

The track has been transformed from a midtempo pop-funk earworm into a sleek electro-disco gem.

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Dua Lipa, "Levitating"
Photo: Twitter

Rumors began swirling of a possible collaboration between U.K. pop singer Dua Lipa and Madonna earlier this year when the former’s manager floated the idea in an interview. Lipa has cited the queen of pop as an inspiration for her sophomore effort, Future Nostalgia, a collection of dizzying dance-floor fillers that draws on disco, house, and funk, so going straight to the source for the lead single from Club Future Nostalgia, her forthcoming remix album, feels like a natural through line.

Remixed by DJ/producer the Blessed Madonna (formerly the Black Madonna), who also helped curate and mix the entire album, “Levitating” finds Lipa trading verses with Madame X and fellow genre-bender Missy Elliott, whose early-aughts brand of hip-hop famously blurred the lines between rap, R&B, and dance. The track has been completely transformed from a midtempo pop-funk earworm into a sleek electro-disco gem worthy of Moroder or Cerrone.

Aside from some of her usual vocal tics, including a very Jody Watley-esque “Yeah, yeah, yeah,” Madonna’s voice is nearly as unrecognizable as the song itself, vibing effortlessly atop a crisp backdrop of handclaps and skittering bass, while Missy flaunts her versatility by half-singing and half-rapping an expectedly #NSFW verse.

Watch the music video below:

Club Future Nostalgia is due August 28th on Warner Records.

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Review: Billie Eilish’s “My Future” Is an Unexpectedly Upbeat Tribute to Isolation

The singer’s new single is a deceptively hopeful tribute to personal independence.

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Billie Eilish, My Future

The world could use a pick-me-up right about now, but those hoping that pop singer Billie Eilish would follow up her multi-Grammy-winning debut with a “Bad Guy”-style banger will likely be disappointed by her new single, “My Future.” The track, produced by brother Finneas, is the 18-year-old’s first new release since February’s “No Time to Die,” the theme from the James Bond film of the same name, which was pushed to the end of the year due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Like that song, “My Future” starts off as a dreary but gorgeous dirge, with Eilish’s soulful, layered vocals stacked on top of atmospheric keyboards. Halfway through, though, the track pivots to a spry midtempo shuffle, transforming into a deceptively hopeful tribute to personal independence: “I’m in love with my future/Can’t wait to meet her.” During a period in history when time itself seems to have come to a halt, and the future is uncertain, the song’s lyrics smack of irony: “I know supposedly I’m lonely now/Know I’m supposed to be unhappy without someone/But aren’t I someone?”

Eilish gets even more animated in the music video for “My Future.” The clip, directed by Australian artist Andrew Onorato, is bathed in cool blue tones before a rainstorm gives way to a more colorful palette, matching the song’s shift in mood and tempo. In her isolation, Eilish appears to find solace, communing with and eventually becoming one with nature.

Watch below:

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Taylor Swift Drops Surprise Album Folklore and Self-Directed “Cardigan” Video

The special effects-heavy clip finds the singer climbing inside a dusty upright piano and into a moss-covered fantasy world.

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Taylor Swift, Cardigan
Photo: YouTube

Less than a year after the release of her seventh album, Lover, Taylor Swift has dropped the follow-up, Folklore, along with a music video for the track “Cardigan.” The singer announced the surprise release on social media early on Thursday, accompanied by a series of grayscale photos of the erstwhile country star in the woods that—though reminiscent of an A24 horror film or a metal album cover—reflects a return to a more stripped-down sound.

Reportedly shot according to CDC-recommended Covid-19 safety guidelines and overseen by a medical expert, the video for “Cardigan” was directed by Swift, who also reportedly did her own hair, makeup, and styling. The special effects-heavy clip finds the singer climbing inside a dusty upright piano and into a moss-covered fantasy world, tinkling the ivories of an overflowing grand piano at the edge of a CGI waterfall. Later, she clings to the instrument on a stormy sea before traveling back to reality.

Co-written and produced by the National’s Aaron Dessner, “Cardigan” is an unassuming piano ballad notable for its pointillistic percussion and Swift’s understated vocal performance. As for the titular sweater, it apparently serves as a metaphor for an artist whose love life bears the marks of more than a little wear and tear: “When I felt like I was an old cardigan under someone’s bed/You put me on and said I was your favorite.”

Watch the video below:

Folklore was written and recorded remotely with Dessner and features collaborations with Bon Iver, Jack Antonoff, and a mysterious songwriter billed as William Bowery (after all, it wouldn’t be a Taylor Swift album without a little sleuth-baiting).

Folklore is out now on Republic Records.

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Jonathan Glazer Debuts Strasbourg 1518, a Collaboration in Isolation

The short was inspired by a powerful involuntary mania that took hold of the citizens of Strasbourg just over 500 years ago.

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Strasbourg 1518
Photo: Academy Films/BBC

We’re likely a few years away from catching glimpse of Jonathan Glazer’s long-awaited follow-up to Under the Skin, a Holocaust drama being produced by A24. Until then, fans of the filmmaker will have to be content with his latest short, Strasbourg 1518, a “collaboration in isolation” according to A24 that was inspired by a powerful involuntary mania that gripped citizens of Strasbourg just over 500 years ago.

According to a Guardian article from 2018, a bizarre dancing epidemic took hold of several hundred people in Strasbourg “over the course of three roasting-hot months in 1518,” leading to several dozen deaths. A condition characterized by intense inflammation of the skin, St. Anthony’s Fire, or ergotism, results from long-term ergot poisoning, but in his 2009 book A Time to Dance, a Time to Die, historian John Waller identifies material, cultural, and spiritual causes, such as bad harvests and the arrival of syphilis, for this and other such incidents.

In the context of the Covid-19 pandemic, it’s easy to see how Glazer’s mind was drawn to these not-uncommon dancing raves. Collaborating with some of the greatest dancers working today, Glazer sees in his subjects’ body-moving a profound feeling of protest, a lashing out against, yes, disease but also feelings of isolation. It’s a sensation perhaps best described by Waller himself about the 1518 dancing pandemic: “The minds of the choreomaniacs were drawn inwards, tossed about on the violent seas of their deepest fears.”

Strasbourg 1518 was co-commissioned by London-based arts organization Artangel and the Sadler’s Wells dance house and produced by Academy Films for BBC Films and BBC Arts. The film can be watched in the U.S. exclusively at us.strasbourg1518.film.

See below for the short’s trailer:

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Games

July 2020 Game Releases: Paper Mario: The Origami King, Ghost of Tsushima, & More

After a few exhausting months in the gaming world, July promises to be fun by comparison.

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Ghost of Tsushima
Photo: Sony Interactive Entertainment

After a few exhausting months in the gaming worlde—from delays to disappointments, and one particularly grueling release—July promises to be fun by comparison. Take, for instance, Iron Man VR, whose highest purpose seems to be just to allow players to exhilaratingly fly about, zapping enemies out of the sky. And while the ambitious Ghost of Tsushima may be modeled after a violent historic event—the first Mongol invasion of Japan—gameplay trailers have been sure to emphasize all of the peaceful, entertaining options provided for exploring the artistically rendered open-world island of Tsushima.

Even Deadly Premonition 2: A Blessing in Disguise, the unexpected sequel to a cult survival-horror game from 2010, looks to be cultivating a sense of humor between its moments of darkness. (Is this the first horror game to allow its protagonist to skateboard between destinations?) And, of course, there’s Paper Mario: The Origami King, whose colorfully absurd bosses, like Box of Crayons, suggest that the latest game in the series will be a pure delight.

To help you find the right fit for your current mood, see below for trailers for our most anticipated games of the month, followed by a list of other noteworthy releases across all platforms. (Sound off in the comments if you feel we’ve overlooked anything.)


Ghost of Tsushima (PS4) – July 17

The latest Ghost of Tsushima trailer opens with protagonist Jin Sakai learning that an honorable samurai always looks his enemy in the face, and almost ends with a shot of him skewering a guard through a screen door. We’re excited to explore the contrast between Jin’s two schools of training—the head-on, stance-driven swordsmanship of a Samurai and the stealthy assassination techniques of a Ghost—and to see how Jin’s toolset holds up across this open-world action-adventure game. The game also promises a phenomenally immersive—and historically accurate—depiction of the 1274 Mongol invasion of Japan, though we’re most looking forward to wallowing in all the visual flourishes that characterize the game outside of skirmishes. Just watching the way wind effects are used to whip Tsushima Island’s vibrant red, purple, white, and golden foliage through the air, it’s a credit to just how good this game looks that we’d even consider playing through in the black-and-white Samurai Cinema mode.


Iron Man VR (PSVR) – July 3

Some games sell themselves, and that’s certainly the case with Iron Man VR, whose trailers largely stick to one simple promise: that glory comes to those who fly like Iron Man. Okay, maybe two simple promises, because in addition to the latest demo showcasing the way you can skim along the surface of the ocean and swoop through a cloudy sky, it also lets you fight like Iron Man. We’re already impressed by this demo’s aerial set piece, which has you freefalling from a plane and using your suit’s gadgets to execute emergency repairs. We’re dizzied, in the best possible way, by the potential of this VR experience.


Paper Mario: The Origami King (Switch) – July 17

We’ve never been so intimidated by origami as in the first shot of the Paper Mario: The Origami King trailer, which turns the usually charming Princess Peach into a creepily creased bit of papercraft. Lest you worry that this means the Paper Mario series is losing its trademark humor and charm, Peach immediately cuts the tension with a pun: “Your replies are all paper thin!” What “unfolds” in the trailer suggests that this could be the biggest Paper Mario yet, with Bowser appearing as a potential ally and sights of 3D deserts and oceans for Mario to traverse. At the very least, we’ll be checking this one out just to see how it pulls off epically comic boss battles against office supplies like Tape.


Deadly Premonition 2: A Blessing In Disguise (Switch) – July 10

The original Deadly Premonition was a mind-trippy survival-horror/detective game that played a bit like Twin Peaks meets Silent Hill, and by the look of things, the last decade hasn’t changed director SWERY’s sensibilities at all. Instead, it’s given him a larger sandbox of references to pull from, with the voodoo-tinged Louisiana setting and dual timelines suggesting that he’s a fan of True Detective as well. Of course, it’s hard to put SWERY in a box. After all, the stylish Bond-like trailer for this game is cryptically all over the place, with the image of a man plummeting through red mists, clarinets, and a twerking ass, giving way to a gleaming golden skull and flashes of everything from blood and snakes to hurricanes and what seem to be ninjas. With the game seemingly throwing so much at the wall—for instance, you can skateboard through town—we’re absolutely fascinated to see what sticks.

July 2020 Releases

SINoALICE (July 1) – iOS, Android – Pre-Order
Trackmania (July 1) – PC – Pre-Order
Infliction: Extended Cut (July 2) – Switch – Pre-Order
Marvel’s Iron Man VR (July 3) – PSVR – Pre-Order
Catherine: Full Body (July 7) – Switch – Pre-Order
CrossCode (July 9) – PS4, Xbox One, Switch – Pre-Order
Elden: Path of the Forgotten (July 9) – Switch, PC – Pre-Order
Deadly Premonition 2: A Blessing in Disguise (July 10) – Switch – Pre-Order
F1 2020 (July 10) – PS4, Xbox One, Stadia, PC – Pre-Order
NASCAR Heat 5 (July 10) – PS4, Xbox One, PC – Pre-Order
Death Stranding (July 10) – PC – Pre-Order
Rocket Arena (July 14) – PS4, Xbox One, PC – Pre-Order
Hunting Simulator 2 (July 16) – PC – Pre-Order
Radical Rabbit Stew (July 16) – PS4, Xbox One, Switch, PC – Pre-Order
Drake Hollow (July 17) – Xbox One, PC – Pre-Order
Ghost of Tsushima (July 17) – PS4 – Pre-Order
Paper Mario: The Origami King (July 17) – Switch – Pre-Order
Into the Radius (July 20) – Rift, Quest, Vive – Pre-Order
Rock of Ages 3: Make & Break (July 21) – PS4, Xbox One, Switch, Stadia, PC – Pre-Order
Destroy All Humans (July 28) – PS4, Xbox One, Stadia, PC – Pre-Order
Grounded (July 28) – Xbox One, PC – Pre-Order
Othercide (July 28) – PS4, Xbox One, PC – Pre-Order
Pistol Whip (July 28) – PlayStation VR – Pre-Order
Skater XL (July 28) – PS4, Xbox One, Switch, PC – Pre-Order
Monster Crown (July 31) – PC – Pre-Order

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Music

Review: Lady Gaga and Ariana Grande Drop “Rain on Me” Single and Video

The house-inflected dance-pop tune finds the two overzealous vocalists duking it out to see who can outsing the other.

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Lady Gaga and Ariana Grande, Rain on Me
Photo: YouTube

Lady Gaga and Ariana Grande’s “Rain on Me” is arguably the most anticipated pop partnership since, well, Grande’s duet with Justin Bieber, “Stuck with U,” dropped last week. The second single from Lady Gaga’s forthcoming album, Chromatica, “Rain on Me” is a slick, French house-indebted dance song that finds the two overzealous vocalists duking it out to see who can out-sing the other over the course of the track’s three chart-maximizing minutes.

Despite a sizeable promo push, Chromatica’s lead single, “Stupid Love,” received a relatively lukewarm response from both fans and the general public, but Grande’s presence on “Rain on Me” is sure to have an amplifying effect. The song is reportedly about the singers’ shared public trauma, and while it’s unclear which of Gaga’s myriad traumas the track references, it ostensibly addresses the PTSD Grande is said to have suffered following the terror attack at her Manchester concert in 2017.

Gaga has called “Rain on Me” a “celebration of all the tears,” and claims in a new Apple Music interview that rain doubles as a metaphor for all the alcohol she’s consumed to numb her pain. “I’d rather be dry, but at least I’m alive,” she sings throughout the song. Water, of course, is considered a source of purification and rebirth, but the metaphor is muddled here: “It’s coming down on me, water like misery.”

Created by a virtual army of seven songwriters and four producers, “Rain on Me” builds slowly from a stripped-down opening verse, followed by filter house bass and thundering percussion, while the hook—which, like the rest of the track, seems to be aiming for mid-‘90s house-pop—is composed almost entirely of a pitched-down vocal loop. It’s an improvement over “Stupid Love,” at least until a spoken bridge in which Gaga adopts a robotic affect a la 2013’s “Venus”: “Hands up to the sky/I’ll be your galaxy/I’m about to fly/Rain on me, tsunami.” As for that vocal battle, Gaga’s foghorn largely overpowers Grande’s signature warble, but they sound dissimilar enough that you can at least distinguish between the two.

Helmed by filmmaker Robert Rodriguez, who directed Gaga in 2013’s Machete Kills, the music video for “Rain on Me” finds the two pop stars serving as mirror reflections of each other in a rain-soaked urban landscape, with Gaga even donning Grande’s signature high pony tail. The clip evokes an apocalyptic rave, with the singers and their armies of dancers sporting some very-‘90s club gear, like platform boots and lots of PVC, that complement the track’s vintage aesthetic.

Watch below:

Chromatica will be released on May 29 on Interscope Records.

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Music

Review: Katy Perry Bares All in “Daisies” Single and Music Video

The singles aims for euphoric, “Teenage Dream”-style heights but doesn’t quite reach them.

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Katy Perry, Daisies
Photo: Liza Voloshin

Following a series of standalone singles, including last year’s moderately successful “Never Really Over,” Katy Perry has finally dropped the lead single from her long-awaited fifth studio album, the follow-up to 2017’s Witness. Produced by the Monsters & Strangerz, “Daisies” is an atmospheric ballad that pairs acoustic guitars with textured synth programming and finds the pop singer reflecting on her rise to fame: “I guess you’re out of your mind until it actually happens.”

The track, which clocks in at under three minutes, aims for euphoric, “Teenage Dream”-style heights but doesn’t quite reach them, while its themes of self-empowerment and perseverance are juxtaposed by macabre undertones: “They tell me I’m crazy, but I’ll never let them change me/’Til they cover me in daisies.” Interestingly, “Daises” will be serviced to adult contemporary radio next week before going for mainstream pop adds in June, a sign that Perry—who, at 35, is pregnant with her first child—is shifting her focus to a more mature audience.

Directed by New York-based filmmaker Liza Voloshin, who previously worked with Perry on the vertical video for “Never Really Over,” the music video for “Daises” boasts a grainy, lo-fi aesthetic that matches the song’s dreamy vibe. The concept is simple—reportedly shot at a safe “social distance”—and features Perry frolicking in the woods before stripping off her white dress and bathing naked in a creek.

Watch below:

Perry’s as-yet-untitled fifth album is due August 14th on Capitol Records.

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Games

June 2020 Game Releases: The Last of Us Part II, Disintegration, & More

Right now, we’ll take whatever form of escapism we can get.

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The Last of Us
Photo: Sony Interactive Entertainment

The June gaming calendar remains on the light side, what with studios big and small still adjusting release windows in response to the shifting realities of COVID-19, which has, among other things, limited the physical production and shipment of games. If not for a particularly nasty plot leak, Naughty Dog’s The Last of Us Part II might still be in that distribution limbo, but we’ll take whatever form of escapism we can get.

Our most anticipated titles of the month skew toward the violent, perhaps none more so than the long-delayed The Last of Us Part II, which focuses on 19-year-old Ellie, after settling with Joe in a thriving community of survivors in Jackson County, Wyoming, relentlessly seeking justice in the wake of a catastrophic event. Also of note is the Wild West-set Desperados III, a real-time tactics game that promises to leave players jonseing for creative murders, and Disintegration, a sci-fi shooter set 150 years into the future, where, after so much global catastrophe, humans are on the brink of extinction, with their desperate efforts to integrate themselves into robot bodies having led to much chaos. But this month’s games offer more than just savage thrills. Evan’s Remains, for example, features no enemies or weapons, just a soothing pixel-art aesthetic and a series of logic-based platforming challenges.

To help you find the right fit for your current mood, see below for trailers for our most anticipated games of the month, followed by a list of other noteworthy releases across all platforms. (Sound off in the comments if you feel we’ve overlooked anything.)


The Last of Us Part II (PS4) – June 19

The latest trailer for The Last of Us Part II showcases not just a grown-up Ellie, but a hardened one. No longer the young girl in need of Joel’s protection, she’s now taking hostages, chopping and stabbing human soldiers, and sobbing, bloody-faced and alone, in the darkness. The trailer ends with the 19-year-old bathed in red light, responding to a plea—“We could have killed you”—with a remorseless “Maybe you should have.” We’re beyond amped to see if the trailer’s subtle shifts between showcasing a survivor’s natural coping mechanisms and a monster’s mercilessness carry through into the game itself.


Disintegration (XB1, PS4, PC) – June 16

Between the infantry and mechs bum-rushing an abandoned farmstead and a robotic-looking protagonist who drily encourages his troops by suggesting that they “Don’t die,” it’s easy to see the traces of Halo lingering under the hood of Disintegration. Hardly surprising, given the involvement of Halo’s co-creator, Marcus Lehto. Based on gameplay footage, the feature that excites us is the prospect of gunning down foes from the cockpit of the game’s signature Gravcycle, a hovering, multi-gunned war machine from which hero Romer Shoal can both attack and issue orders to his unique three-person squad. It looks ambitious and explosive, and we hope it won’t turn out to be as empty as Anthem.


Evan’s Remains (PC) – June 11

Fans of Lost, take note. Evan’s Remains packs flashbacks, compelling dialogue, and a massive twist into its brief demo, which only leaves us wanting more. The way the narrative incorporates symbology-based puzzles that must be actively deciphered by leaping between platforms further warmly reminds us of the gameplay loops in To The Moon and the Zero Escape series. In all honesty, though, the demo hooked us from the first shot of its charmingly pixelated, sun-hat-wearing heroine: Who wouldn’t want to help her solve a mystery?


Desperados III (PC, XB1, PS4) – June 16

Each new glimpse of Desperados III further strengthens the impression that when this western is in full swing, it potentially operates as a delightful Rube Goldberg machine, with each of your five gunslingers using their unique abilities in tandem to stealthily murder their foes. We’re particularly enthused about seeing Isabelle Moreau in action, as she can use her voodoo to control hapless foes, though we also got a kick out of watching Hector Mendoza splashily brawl his way through a saloon and then later use a beartrap to disable a unsuspecting enemy.

June 2020 Releases

Little Town Hero (June 2) – PS4, Switch – Pre-Order
Rock of Ages 3: Make & Break (June 2) – PS4, Xbox One, Switch, Stadia, PC – Pre-Order
Pro Cycling Manager 2020 (June 4) – PS4, Xbox One, PC – Pre-Order
Tour de France 2020 (June 4) – PS4, Xbox One, PC – Pre-Order
Clubhouse Games: 51 Worldwide Classics (June 5) – Switch – Pre-Order
Command & Conquer: Remastered Collection (June 5) – PC – Pre-Order
The Outer Worlds (June 5) – Switch – Pre-Order
The Dark Eye: Book of Heroes (June 9) – PC – Pre-Order
The Elder Scrolls Online: Greymoor (June 9) – PS4, Xbox One – Pre-Order
Ys: Memories of Celceta (June 9) – PS4 – Pre-Order
Evan’s Remains (June 11) – PS4, Xbox One, Switch, PC, Mac – Pre-Order
Warborn (June 12) – PS4, Xbox One, Switch, PC, Mac – Pre-Order
Desperados III (June 16) – PS4, Xbox One, PC – Pre-Order
Disintegration (June 16) – PS4, Xbox One, PC – Pre-Order
Burnout Paradise Remastered (June 19) – Switch – Pre-Order
The Last of Us Part II (June 19) – PS4 – Pre-Order
SpongeBob SquarePants: Battle for Bikini Bottom – Rehydrated (June 23) – PS4, Xbox One, Switch, PC – Pre-Order
Ninjala (June 24) – Switch – Pre-Order
Hunting Simulator 2 (June 25) – PS4, Xbox One, PC – Pre-Order
Mr. Driller Drill Land (June 25) – Switch, PC – Pre-Order
Phantom: Covert Ops (June 25) – Rift, Quest – Pre-Order
The Almost Gone (June 25) – Switch, PC, iOS, Android – Pre-Order
Fairy Tail (June 26) – PS4, Switch, PC – Pre-Order
The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel III (June 30) – Switch – Pre-Order
Griftlands (TBA) – PC – Pre-Order

We’re committed to keeping our content free and accessible—meaning no paywalls or subscription fees—so if you like what we do, consider becoming a SLANT patron, or making a PayPal donation.
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