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What Would Barry Do?

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What Would Barry Do?

To be perfectly honest, I had turned off last week’s election broadcasts by 9:30pm. My prediction that it would be decided by nine o’clock was only premature by half an hour. Instead of watching John McCain, my choice for president, get defeated by Barack Obama, I decided that the movie 300 would be a more entertaining lost cause to see played out. Based on what little of the coverage I did catch, including that high-tech news anchor hologram on CNN and those inane electronic touch screens that are more suited for weather reports, I think I made the right decision.

The combination of an incumbent GOP president with ever-declining approval ratings, Obama’s near perfect campaign, an economic meltdown, and their own mixed messages, made the McCain/Palin ticket seem as over-matched as Greek King Leonidas’ thin Spartan army against the Persian onslaught. Unfortunately for him, McCain didn’t have his own campaign equivalent of the narrow pass at Thermopylae to funnel the odds in his favor.

While I’m still waiting to have my first “obamasm,” I resented the notion suggested by my unabashedly liberal cousin that the electoral results had left me holed up in a bunker. I pointed out (perhaps a bit too defensively) that most of the blatant displays of emotional outbursts I witnessed after the Obama victory were exhibited by her side. I’ll be fair and refrain from criticizing verklempt supporters who were savoring an historic moment as long as no one castigates me for remaining dry-eyed. In the same way that a lion tamer should never get too relaxed while in the cage, a real conservative probably shouldn’t get choked up over ANY politician. There’s something to be said for the dispassionate objectivity garnered when taking a healthy arms-length posture toward elected officials.

As they enter the political wilderness for an indeterminable period of exile, many in the GOP brain trust are thrashing about seeking to pin the blame for the loss on someone or something other than themselves. The most common conclusion held in Republican circles seems to be that McCain just wasn’t “conservative” enough. Michael Medved takes issue with that stance in his column that asks the question: “Was the Maverick Too Moderate to Win?

“In fact, the results from Tuesday show that McCain did better than his conservative running mates—and in some cases, much better. In New Mexico, for instance, the Presidential nominee ran three points ahead of the hard-line, anti-immigration candidate Steve Pearce, who ran for an open Senate seat. McCain also drew three points more than incumbent Senator Saxby Chambliss in Georgia, six percentage points more than Senator Elizabeth Dole in North Carolina, five points more than re-elected Senate leader Mitch McConnell in Kentucky, two points more than Senator Roger Wicker in Mississippi.

“For instance, Senator Susan Collins of Maine beat back a well-financed Democratic challenge and drew an amazing 61% in her state—where McCain got only 40%. Likewise, Gordon Smith in Oregon (who may still retain his seat after the long tabulation process concludes) advertised his willingness to work with Democrats (including Barack Obama) and ran four points ahead of McCain.”

On the other hand, the American University’s Center for the study of the American Electorate reported that Republican turnout at the polls was down by 1.3 percent. So, the numbers Medved cites are probably skewed in favor of “moderates” because of the GOP dogs that chose not to bark and instead stayed home on November 4th.

Right now the Republican party finds itself in a large hanger like a team of FAA investigators arranging pieces from the wreckage of an airline disaster trying to determine exactly what went wrong. Certainly, crosstalk between Bush, Cheney, and Rumsfeld can be heard prominently over the black box. But that probably obscures a more serious rudder problem for the GOP.

I don’t think it’s as simple as suggesting that we’re a more moderate nation now. The passing of Proposition 8, a ban on gay marriage in California, for instance, would seem to belie that notion. This ballot proposal passed in a state that voted for Obama by a twenty-four percent margin. Obama did enunciate “gay rights” as part of his agenda. But, I’m being charitable when I characterize his stance on the gay marriage issue itself as very nuanced.

So, where to begin? I find the suggestion of a battle waging between the moderate and conservative wings of the Republican Party an intriguing, if not flawed, concept. Flawed because I’m not sure I always agree with the current definitions of what a “moderate” or a “conservative” is.

From my bunker the following night, I continued my election recovery therapy by watching Mr. Conservative, HBO’s documentary on Barry Goldwater. In 1964, he was arguably the very first “conservative” candidate for president and author of the ground-breaking The Conscience of a Conservative. Goldwater famously said at his nominating convention that “extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice” and (bold added) “moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue!”

There’s that word, “moderate,” again. This time it’s used as a pejorative to chastise those who refuse to take a definitive stance on issues and instead try to split the difference. Love him or hate him, I don’t think Goldwater could ever have been accused of that.

No one’s asked me and I sincerely doubt it will happen, but I can’t help but wonder (or hope) that this downtime could be used to retool the GOP more into the image of Goldwater than the confusing quilt of contradictions it is now. Again, the definitive post-mortem on 2008 hasn’t really been written, but my gut tells me that this would be step in the right direction (no pun intended).

It’s important to point out that were he starting his career as a conservative politician today, Goldwater, would probably not pass muster with many of the current crop. For one thing, he was pro-choice. And, when confronted with the question late in his career, Goldwater supported gay rights as well. From a truly CONSERVATIVE viewpoint, he correctly saw these as matters of personal choice that a properly limited government simply had no business injecting itself into. Goldwater wasn’t trying to be provocative or appease the other side. He was just being consistent.

However, one of the reasons for the ultimate success of conservatism as a movement in the late 70s and 80s was its alliance with the “Religious Right” who carried their very vocal stance on social issues into the center of the Republican tent. This has proven to be a two-edged sword as their agenda has often been at odds with the original premise of “conservative” governance.

Here’s the thing. I’m an Eastern Orthodox Christian. Which is sort of like being a Roman Catholic without all the laughs. As such, I certainly understand church dogma on the aforementioned social issues and, truth be told, agree with most of it. However, when push comes to shove, I’m most comfortable following what I see as the founder of my religion’s stance against the mixing of church and state inherent in his admonition to “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”

As described in the New Testament, Jesus made that statement while being duplicitously questioned by a group of men over the apparent conflict between church teachings and Roman tax law (it’s always about taxes, isn’t it?). The questioners were attempting to trick Jesus into committing a seditious act by getting the rabbi to preach against Roman taxation. Cleverly (he was GOD, after all), Jesus assessed their motives and effectively sidestepped the issue. Requesting to see a Roman coin, which one of the men produced, he asked them to describe it for him. The coin had a likeness of Caesar, a divinity in Roman culture, engraved on it. As their religious doctrine did forbid the possession of such a graven image, that alone probably caused Christ’s questioners no small level of embarrassment. So, it was probably with a sort of shrug that Jesus uttered his often quoted answer.

To be sure, because it was a tactical, almost political, answer, many find it too ambiguous to be instructive. However, I agree with the interpretation of the incident as a caution to the faithful that the mixing of theology and politics is, at best, a tricky undertaking and should be avoided. Goldwater was a bit less ambiguous and said straight out that religious groups had NO business in the making of governmental policy. So, while I hold pretty strong negative feelings about abortion personally, I hesitate a bit when confronting how to legislate it. I’d hasten to point out that I find any argument against capital punishment that quotes the Pope is equally problematic for that same reason.

Of course, from the Left’s perspective, it often seems that any conservative who takes a pro-choice stance is magically transformed into a thoughtful and reasonable person. I remember one particular Goldwater appearance on the Tonight Show where he was on a roll lambasting the Religious Right. The segment was intercut with shots of another guest that night, Rosanne Barr, who was shown beaming at the senator admiringly. The frequency of the cuts to the comedienne left me with the impression that the television director in the booth felt that Barr’s approval somehow added epistemological weight to Goldwater’s position.

I often wonder if those who now would label Goldwater as a moderate, or even a liberal, truly understand his classically conservative views on other issues such as gun control. Goldwater certainly didn’t interpret the Second Amendment as moot because it strictly applied to state “militias” (whatever those are). Of course, based on a Brian Williams interview of Barack Obama that I recently saw, the President-elect interprets the Second Amendment as an “individual right” too. Or perhaps that was another nuanced position.

As I write this, the top economic story today is the question of what to do with the troubled American auto industry. Specifically, should the Detroit based automakers be bailed out, as the banking and mortgage industries were a number of weeks ago? The sight of Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm as part of Obama’s financial advisory team (which strikes many of us in this state as laughable) would seem to indicate Obama’s inclination toward such an action. Personally, this is a tough one for me. As a Michigander who drives past the GM building every day, it’s my ox that’s now being gored. But my free market inclination is just a bit queasy about using more taxpayer dollars (which haven’t been collected yet) to prop up yet another set of corporations.

Indeed, the repercussions of a failed domestic auto industry could affect up to three million other workers nationwide. Or, as Stella (Thelma Ritter) said about nervous car company executives in Rear Window, “When General Motors has to go to the bathroom ten times a day, the whole country’s ready to let go.”

I’m pretty sure that Goldwater would be against the proposed bailout. He didn’t hold back from his criticism of management OR labor when he opposed the passage of the government loan for Chrysler in the 1970’s:

“I think this is probably the biggest mistake that the Congress has ever made in its history. I think future historians will register this action as a beginning of the end of the free market system in America. The company was badly run.”

This week, Thomas Friedman called for what would amount to a dramatic government takeover of the American auto industry. He correctly assigns blame to management for it’s inability to make a profit on smaller, more fuel efficient cars, but mentions the culpability of labor and dealers in the domestic auto cost structure only in passing.

Friedman also fails to give the automakers any credit for their recent accomplishments, which, as pointed out by AP writer Tom Krisner, include “huge progress this decade in cutting costs, raising productivity, and building competitive cars while handling multiple government regulations and a powerful labor union.”

Krisner further writes:

“As Honda and Toyota took over the small and mid-size car markets, Ford, GM and Chrysler put most of their resources into trucks and SUVs, which brought in billions in profits that covered growing health care, pension and labor costs…

“…When times were good, the automakers did not take on the UAW, which the companies say drove up their labor costs to $30 per hour more than Japanese companies paid their workers. The figure includes pension and health care costs for hundreds of thousands of retirees.

“When GM pushed for changes in 1998, the union went on strike at two key Flint, Mich., parts plants, shutting down the company and costing it about $2 billion in profits…

“…when the SUV and truck market started to fade in the mid-2000s, executives realized their business model would no longer work and began globalizing their vehicles, streamlining manufacturing processes and developing new and better cars.

“The UAW, realizing that the companies were in trouble, agreed to a landmark new contract last year that nearly eliminated the labor cost difference between the Detroit Three and the Japanese, shifting retiree health care costs to a union-administered trust fund.

“But just as the cost cuts started to take hold and new products were rolling out, gas prices rose rapidly to around $4 per gallon and Wall Street collapsed, virtually eliminating credit which 60 percent of car buyers need.”

So, I’m reluctantly forced to choose between two options: a bailout, complete with all sorts of federally intrusive stings, that might make me feel good short-term, or to Darwinistically let free market forces work in the hopes that a stronger automotive organism will evolve. Taking my cue from Goldwater, I’m forced to choose the latter. I can’t honestly see federal appointees doing a better job at running the Big Three if Friedman’s vision were fully implemented. One needs only to look at the U.S. Postal Service, which currently is in the red, to understand my diffidence.

One of the best alternatives to a bailout I’m aware of is a proposal that would give the same sort of tax credits to people for buying American cars that were offered to those who installed more efficient home energy systems such as solar energy panels or up-to-date windows. At least then the cost of such a rescue could be tied more directly to some measure of success.

It’s going to be a tough call and one of first tests of the new Democrat-controlled Congress and White House. While I’ve tried to keep the focus here on the Republicans, I certainly have feelings (and misgivings) about what I see happening on the other side of the aisle. However, I’m honestly hoping that they do well. My family’s future hinges upon their success (or failure) as much as anyone’s.

As for the GOP, it looks like THEIR dream of “less government” has finally been fulfilled. Just not in the way they envisioned it.

Matt Maul is author of the blog Maul of America.

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Music

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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Jessie Ware Returns to the “Spotlight” with New Single and Album

The U.K. singer’s latest is a sultry, understated throwback to Giorgio Moroder and Pete Bellotte-style disco.

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Jessie Ware, Spotlight
Photo: Carlijn Jacobs/Interscope Records

Jessie Ware has dropped the lead single from her upcoming fourth album, What’s Your Pleasure? Co-written by the U.K. singer-songwriter and Danny Parker, Shungudzo Kuyimba, and James Ford (who also produced the single), “Spotlight” is a sultry, understated throwback to Giorgio Moroder and Pete Bellotte-style disco. Ware’s carefree vocals float atop a lush arrangement of swirling strings, guitars, and wobbly bass.

According to a press release, the album is a “thank you” to Ware’s long-term fans. The singer describes “Spotlight” as a “first taste,” but she’s has been teasing a more club-oriented effort since 2018’s “Overtime,” a blissed-out slice of classic house reminiscent of her early collaborative singles. The final tracklist for What’s Your Pleasure? has yet to be revealed, but fingers crossed that last year’s nearly five-minute disco daydream “Mirage (Don’t Stop)” makes the cut.

“I feel like these last few years I’ve had to do some exploration to figure out what I wanted to write about musically again and learn new things about myself. I’ve been yearning for that escapism, groove and maybe it’s time to say goodbye to the melancholy Jessie,” Ware says.

Directed by Jovan Todorovic, the mesmerizing video for “Spotlight” was shot in Belgrade aboard former Yugoslavian dictator Josep Broz’s infamous Blue Train. The celebratory clip captures a kaleidoscope of emotions as Ware walks, struts, floats, and dances among the train’s passengers.

Watch below:

What’s Your Pleasure? is scheduled for a June 5 release on PMR/Friends Keep Secrets/Interscope Records.

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Review: Lady Gaga’s “Stupid Love” Single and Video Fail to Spark Joy

The singer’s latest is a catchy but uninventive slice of electro-pop.

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Lady Gaga, Stupid Love
Photo: YouTube

After Lady Gaga’s new single, “Stupid Love,” unexpectedly leaked online last month, many of the singer’s not-so-little-anymore monsters were quick to take to Twitter and dismiss the rather unremarkable dance-pop tune as a demo or outtake from a previous era. It seems that was wishful thinking. Officially released today, the lead single from the pop singer’s first studio album of original material in four years, is a catchy but uninventive slice of electro-pop driven by a synth bassline reminiscent of the singer’s since-deleted rape fantasy with R. Kelly, “Do What U Want.”

“Freak out, freak out, freak out, freak out, look at me now,” the Muppets Most Wanted actress croons atop a midtempo dance beat, courtesy of producers Bloodpop and Tchami. The track’s other elements—from Gaga’s faux-operatic vocals to the song’s diced-up hook—fail to spark much joy. If it had been released on the heels of 2013’s garish Artpop, “Stupid Love” might feel merely repetitive, but following a series of ostensibly more “mature” albums—the jazz collection Cheek to Cheek, the roots-inflected Joanne, and the soundtrack to A Star Is Born—it’s downright regressive.

The rumored title of Gaga’s sixth album, Chromatica, presumably refers to both the chromatic musical scale and the color wheel one learns about on the first day of art class, and the music video for “Stupid Love” likewise trades in simplistic themes and visuals. Shot on an iPhone by director Daniel Askill, the choreography-heavy clip stars Gaga—who dons various fuschia-colored costumes and plastic face jewels that are less Björk than Party City—as the hearing-impaired leader of a group of “Kindness punks” who implore various warring, color-coded tribes to choose love.

It’s about as corny as it sounds and lacks the (comparatively) sophisticated mythology or narrative of videos like 2011’s “Born This Way.” Even when Gaga’s early videos felt derivative or the concepts slipshod, there was at least a sense of an artist tapping into, and sometimes even defining, the zeitgeist. “Stupid Love” feels like the product of a full-grown performer trying to appeal to a fanbase she apparently believes is still composed of adolescent misfits.

Watch the video below:

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Billie Eilish Drops Lush James Bond Theme Song “No Time to Die”

The lush, darkly cinematic track feature an orchestral arrangement courtesy of Hans Zimmer and guitar from Johnny Marr.

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Billie Eilish, No Time to Die
Photo: Interscope Records

On the heels of her historic Grammy wins, singer-songwriter Billie Eilish has unveiled “No Time to Die,” the theme song from the upcoming James Bond film of the same name. The song was produced by her brother and frequent collaborator, Finneas, and veteran knob-twirler Stephen Lipson. The lush, darkly cinematic track falls in line with past 007 themes, with an orchestral arrangement courtesy of Hans Zimmer and Matt Dunkley, and featuring guitar from Johnny Marr of the Smiths.

The 18-year-old Eilish, the youngest person and first woman to win the four main Grammy categories in the same year, is now the youngest artist to both write and record a Bond theme. She will perform the song live for the first time at The Brit Awards on February 18.

No Time to Die hits U.S. theaters on April 10 through MGM/United Artists Releasing.

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