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Copy Rites: YouTube vs. Kevin B. Lee

When the history of intellectual property law is written,January 12, 2009should be marked as a decisive moment.

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Copy Rites: YouTube vs. Kevin B. Lee

When the history of intellectual property law is written, January 12, 2009 should be marked as a decisive moment. It was the day that my friend, fellow House Next Door contributor and sometime filmmaking partner Kevin B. Lee saw his entire archive of critical video essays deleted by YouTube on grounds that his work violated copyright.

Regular readers of this blog are familiar with Kevin’s work. He’s the New York-based publisher of Shooting Down Pictures, a film history and criticism website dedicated to watching and discussing each of the 1,000 feature films cited on They Shoot Pictures, Don’t They? For years now, Kevin has been writing about each and every film on the list, starting out with a personal, critical essay, then segueing into a compilation of excerpts from various works of history and criticism. His goal was to give his audience a sense of a film’s place in modern culture and collective memory.

Some of his entries were accompanied by freestanding video essays that used ripped scenes from DVDs and voice-over narration (by Kevin or a guest critic; I participated in two essays myself, on The Outlaw Josey Wales and They Died with Their Boots On). I can’t point you to those pieces because they’re gone. So is the rest of the approximately 300 minutes’ worth of work Kevin posted to YouTube, working solo or in collaboration with fellow critics, including Jonathan Rosenbaum, Chris Fujiwara, Mike D’Angelo, Richard Brody, and many House contributors.

Kevin’s trailblazing example inspired me to give up print journalism last year and concentrate on filmmaking, and make video essays—criticism with moving pictures—a key part of my new life. I’ve been privileged to work with Kevin on video essays for the Museum of the Moving Image, which believed in the critical relevance and legal sturdiness of the format and asked us to do series on the films of Oliver Stone and the opening credits of HBO’s The Wire. Many other critic-filmmakers have followed in Kevin’s footsteps, including Jim Emerson, publisher of Scanners, who dove into the pool with a wordless video essay tied into The House’s “Close-Up Blog-a-thon,” and who recently uploaded a ripped DVD clip from Warner Bros’ The Dark Knight to augment his recent series of articles attacking the film for narrative and visual sloppiness.

Can a critic argue without clips? Sure. Film criticism has largely done without external accompaniments for a century and can continue to do without them. But it’s important to note that clips and still frames have been a central part of cinema studies since its inception. Anyone who’s attended a film history or theory course knows how valuable they are. Clips often determine the difference between learning something and truly understanding it. They’re quotes from the source text deployed to make a case. Take them away, and you’re left with the critic saying, “Well, I can’t show you exactly what I mean, so I’ll describe it as best I can and hope you believe me.”

This, in a nutshell, is the defining difference between criticism pre- and post-millennium. For the first time ever, when someone says to a critic, “Show me the evidence,” the critic doesn’t need to unlock a film archive vault or even haul out a DVD player to produce it. He can call it up online anytime, anywhere, for anybody.

The implications are astounding. The technology’s potential has only begun to be tapped. And as you know, there’s more to it than classroom-style argumentation. Digital editing software and DVD-ripping technology permits anybody with filmmaking skill and the right tools—say, Handbrake to rip discs, MPEG Streamclip to convert them to edit-able format, and iMovie or Final Cut to put the pieces together—to manipulate commercial media in all sorts of ways, then post the result on the Internet. Suddenly mass entertainment became as malleable as paper or clay. The combination of editing software, DVD- and CD-ripping technology and YouTube led to a kind of creative Wild West, with non-professionals mining, sharing, re-editing and posting copyrighted content with impunity. Some of the efforts were clearly fresh and vital: Kevin’s pieces; cheeky mash-ups like Melbelinkie’s “40 Inspirational Speeches in 2 Minutes”; the exuberant work of Goldentusk, whose copyright-flouting theme-song spectaculars have given me more pleasure than any stage or screen musical I’ve seen recently.

But of course, the vast majority of the copyright-flouting stuff on YouTube was just plain theft: people figuring out they could get something for nothing, then sharing it with strangers. There are entire YouTube channels consisting of ripped DVDs or the contents of somebody’s record collection. There was so much of it, proliferating at such a terrifyingly rapid pace, that the Viacoms and Time-Warners of the world doubtless began to feel like store owners huddled behind a counter during a nonstop orgy of looting. Something had to be done.

And it finally was. As you read this, the west is about to be crisscrossed with fences and railroad tracks thanks to digital watermarking and steganography, processes that embed invisible codes in commercially reproduced audio and video. These practices allow copyright owners to detect when their products are reproduced and posted online (via automated software: nobody has the manpower or time to do it personally), then send emails to the publishing website demanding that the work be removed. The sites generally oblige, no questions asked, because (here we go again) there aren’t enough hours or people to examine each new posted work and decide if it adheres to the principles of fair use—and even if the sites were bold enough to attempt such judgment calls, the media companies and artists’ estates would sue the hell out of them until they relented and did as they were told. YouTube’s current definition of “The Right Thing” is, “Whatever makes life easiest.”

For DVD-rippers of all sorts, the start of 2009 feels like the beginning of the last act of The Godfather—the point when all family business gets settled at once, spectacularly and in public. In the past few weeks, I’ve seen a few of my rip-dependent video essays (most of which I believe I could defend as fair use-exempted work) taken off YouTube or denied publication in the first place. For the the most part, attempts to appeal the decision appeared to have been round-filed by the company. I’ve heard similar war stories from Kevin, Jim Emerson and House contributor Steven Boone, whose mash-ups started vanishing from YouTube a few weeks back.

If you believe you’ve got a legitimate objection to a takedown notice, good luck pursuing it. YouTube makes it as difficult as possible for individuals to make their case. The company offers Google’s main switchboard number as its only readily apparent public contact point (call it and you get a dead-end voicemail menu). When YouTube users try to dispute a takedown, the company typically responds with vague boilerplate emails that translate as, “Run along, kid, you bother me.”

Even filmmmaker/rights holder disputes that seem to end well have ominous undertones. This past Friday, for instance, I uploaded a wordless video essay to YouTube that employed clips from past and present musicals to show the visual signature and influence of director-choreographer Busby Berkeley. Within hours of processing, I got emails informing me that the piece had been disabled due to copyright claims from NBC Universal (owners of The Big Lebowski, one of several modern films quoted in the piece) and the owners of the song “I Only Have Eyes for You,” featured in the Berkeley-choreographed musical Dames. I disputed both claims. NBC Universal and the “Eyes” rights holders backed off, but only partway. The Berkeley piece was restored as of late last night, but the embedding function is currently disabled. My short documentary about the animator Bill Melendez (“A Little Love”) was likewise flagged by the owners of “Peanuts.” But rather than automatically block playback or disable the audio, the rights holders let it stay up (and be embedded elsewhere) while reserving the right to monitor viewing levels and add commercials later.

These seem like OK compromises until you consider the implications: the distributors of art and entertainment are, to greater or lesser degrees, being permitted to dictate the terms under which their products can be quoted, interpreted, parodied, examined or otherwise discussed.

Kevin has copies of all his work, and I’m sure it will show up again somewhere, sometime. But the obliteration of YouTube as a global platform for his voice is a crime of greater magnitude than anything he did to create the video essays in the first place. YouTube is the town square of the 21st century—rather like a gigantic virtual mall that is, technically speaking, a private space, but which operates as a public sphere: a gathering spot, a cultural and political crossroads. By scourging Kevin’s work from this crossroads and banning his video essays—and, potentially, all similar work—from YouTube, the company is allowing the powerful to muzzle the near-powerless. And it is endorsing the idea that in cases involving intellectual property law and the Internet, filmmakers can be deemed guilty, silenced, then made to plead for their right to speak.

There’s also an unspoken class bias at work here, a bully mentality that chooses its targets based on who’s likely to fight back and win. Consider commercial TV, which is filled with programs that routinely air copyrighted material without permission for purposes of journalism, satire or simple entertainment. The Daily Show and The Colbert Report don’t ask permission to air any of the news clips they slice and dice each night for yuks; they consider a network’s onscreen logo to be acknowledgment enough, and their assumption is almost never challenged. Talk shows don’t think twice about airing a rival network’s news footage or clips from a popular or notorious TV program in order to spark a discussion or anchor a satirical montage. Infotainment shows compile film clips for use in movie star obituaries—not just electronic presskit snippets meant for PR purposes, but clips from older movies that predate EPKs and that might have originally aired on some corporate competitor’s channel—and the movie’s copyright holders don’t object. The shows that feature such clips are routinely repurposed on the parent company’s websites, often with ads and sometimes with embedding functions that allow the clip to be reproduced by bloggers, and there are not currently, to the best of my knowledge, any lawsuits seeking to stop the practice. Kings wink at each other. Peasants get the axe.

Kevin B. Lee is not Napster; he’s not some guy uploading every frame of every Bette Davis movie for kicks; he’s not even Goldentusk. He’s a critic and scholar doing work that could be considered, at worst, compelling free ads for essential pop art. YouTube, by reflexively siding with whichever party has more money and power, has renounced its founding spirit.

There should be a way to distinguish between piracy-for-profit (or unauthorized, free redistribution) and creative, interpretive, critical or political work that happens to use copyrighted material. And there must be an alternative to unilateral takedowns. The issues aren’t just legal, they’re practical. History has demonstrated that there’s no copyright protection that can’t be defeated, no corporate edict that can’t be subverted. And given the technological sophistication that permits digital watermarking, there ought to be a way to make sampling of any sort, authorized or not, scaled to suit the filmmakers’ means, profitable for the rights holders, and as fully automated as the copyright-infringement-scouring that’s currently happening all over the Internet.

Whatever the solutions, they should be something other than one-size-fits-all. Digital watermarking abusers are engaged in an unwinnable war—one that, in its present state, will only produce collateral damage and make them increasingly unsympathetic, and therefore more likely to be demonized and resisted. The entertainment industry’s unwillingness to recognize the plain fact that people have complex, idiosyncratic and yes, possessive relationships to songs, films and TV shows—relationships that are qualitatively different from their relationships to cars, hats, shoes and beer—contributes to a culture of calcified mutual resentment, and a public mindset (manifested most vividly in generations that cannot remember life before the Internet) that sees big entertainment companies as lead-footed dopes—Elmer Fudd blasting every rabbit hole in sight hoping to hit Bugs Bunny.

The situation as it stands is immoral, untenable and, I believe, a violation of fundamental rights. Almost nobody taking part in the early phases of digital media has the money to fight the Googles and Viacoms of the world, and of course that’s what the takedown gremlins are counting on; injustice not resisted eventually becomes tradition. I fervently hope some brave, knowledgeable lawyer will see that there’s more at stake here than the ethics of ripping and posting scenes from movies, and make a test case of Kevin’s unconscionable treatment. The circumstances may seem mundane, but the implications are grim as can be. When individuals and governments permit corporations to dictate the terms by which their culture may be examined, the First Amendment becomes just another pile of words.

A Brooklyn-based film editor and a former critic for The New York Times, The Star-Ledger, and New York Press, Matt Zoller Seitz is the editor emeritus of The House Next Door. For now, at least, he posts videos on YouTube under the name InsomniacDad.

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Music

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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Film

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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Music

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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Music

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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Film

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

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