Brow Beat
Slate's Culture Blog

April 25 2017 4:58 PM

Sony Is Ending Its Deal With Dr. Luke, But That Might Not Be Good News for Kesha

According to the Hollywood Reporter, Sony Music is cutting its business ties to Lukasz Gottwald, better known as Dr. Luke, the hitmaking producer who is more recently famous for being sued for sexual assault and emotional abuse by Kesha, who is signed to his Kemosabe imprint. Since 2014, when Gottwald countersued Kesha Rose Sebert for defamation and breach of contract, she says she has been unable to release new music, since doing so would require working with the man who allegedly drugged and raped her. Gottwald, to quote Taffy Brodesser-Akner’s New York Times Magazine profile of Kesha, denied through his representatives “that he had created an image for Kesha outside the one she originally crafted for herself; that he had pressured her to put only party songs on “Animal”; that he had dictated lyrics to her; or that he had emotionally abused her in any way.”

Given that Sony now says that the ousted Gottwald “he no longer has authority” to act on Kemosabe Records’s behalf, Kesha might seem to be in a better position. But as the Reporter makes clear, it’s not so simple:

First, in her own court papers, she previously cited reports that Sony's deal with Dr. Luke was imminently about to end and warned the judge that she'd no longer have Sony as a go-between, making her situation worse. Second, Dr. Luke's defamation claims against her are still pending, and in advance of the trial, his attorneys have been collecting evidence about how his career has suffered as a result of her rape allegations.

In other words, the end of Gottwald’s deal with Sony could be used by him in court to prove material damages from her alleged defamation. Meanwhile, Kesha’s own suit remains stalled in court, where in March, a judge ruled that Gottwald’s alleged abuse could not be used to void their contract because “Kesha has admitted that Gottwald's alleged abuse began at the outset of their relationship in 2005”—in other words, according to the courts, she should have known what she was getting into.

April 25 2017 3:54 PM

If Booing Ivanka Trump Is Wrong, I Don’t Want to Be Right

Here is a tweet from CNN’s Chris Cillizza:

Boooooooooo, Chris Cillizza! Boooooooooooooo, Ivanka Trump! Booo! Boooooooooo! Boooo! Booooooooooooo!  Boooooooooooooooo! Boooo! Booooooooo! Boooooo! Booooooooooooooooooo! Booooooooooooo! Booooooo! Booooooooooo!


Booooooo! Boooooooooooooooooo! Boooooooooooooooooooooo! Booooooooooo! Booooooo! Boooooooooooooooo! Boooooo! Boooooooooooooo-urns! Boooooooooooooooooooooooo! Booooooooooooooo!

Boooooooo! Booooooooooo! Booooooo! Boooooooooooooooo! Booooooo! Boooooooooo! Boooo! Booooooooooooooo! Boooooooooo, Chris! Boooooooooooo, Ivanka! Booooooo, Donald! Booooooooooooooooooooooo Jared! Boooooooo, each and every last one of you! Booooooooooo!

All together now…

April 25 2017 3:03 PM

Beyoncé Announces a Scholarship Program for Female College Students to Mark Lemonade’s One-Year Anniversary

Beyoncé's 2016 visual album Lemonade has brought the star no shortage of accolades, including two Grammys and a Peabody, and now the queen is ready to give back. Beyoncé has announced via her website a new program to celebrate the album’s anniversary that will grant scholarships to female students studying creative arts, music, literature, or African-American studies for the 2017-2018 school year.

The aim of the “Formation Scholars” awards is to “encourage and support young women who are unafraid to think outside the box and are bold, conscious and confident.” The scholarships will be awarded to one student from each of four universities—Berklee College of Music in Boston, Howard University in Washington D.C., Parsons School of Design in New York, and Spelman college in Atlanta. Notably, two of these are historically black universities, while the others specialize in the arts.


The announcement does not reveal whether the awards will be full scholarships or merely offset the cost of tuition, but either way, some advice to applicants: Always stay gracious. Best revenge is your paper.

April 25 2017 1:11 PM

Will Smith, Who Has Never Had a Movie at Cannes, Is on the Cannes Jury

After previously announcing Pedro Almodóvar as the president of its 2017 jury and letting Jessica Chastain’s name slip out, the Cannes Film Festival has filled in the rest of the roster, which includes actress Fan Bingbing, directors Paolo Sorrentino, Maren Ade, Agnès Jaoui, and Park Chan-wook, and composer Gabriel Yared. There’s also a particularly surprising name among the jury’s ranks: Will Smith.

While the jury is otherwise full of Cannes veterans—Almodóvar won the festival’s best director prize in 1999 and best screenplay in 2006; Park won the Grand Prix in 2004 and the Jury Prix in 2009—Smith has never had a movie play at Cannes. That may not be unprecedented, but it’s at least unusual, since the Cannes festival typically likes to keep to its own, especially when it comes to determining its biggest awards. The closest Smith has come to the Croisette was in 2004, when he, Angelina Jolie, and Jack Black rode a 14-foot inflatable shark through the waters of the Mediterranean to promote DreamWorks’ Animation’s forthcoming Shark Tale. (The movie premiered later that year at the Venice Film Festival.) Here they are.


Boris Horvat/AFP/Getty Images


Smith did pay a visit to Cannes last year, but it was for the Cannes Lions, the international advertising festival that takes place in June. At that event, Smith discussed the shift in his career from a focus on “winning” (circa the high-profile bomb Wild Wild West) to vetting prospective scripts with the question, “How does this improve lives?” Perhaps it’s that metric that has guided Smith into a string of conceptual head-scratchers like Collateral Beauty and Seven Pounds, alongside more mainstream fare like Focus and Suicide Squad. (Best way to improve your life vis-à-vis Suicide Squad: Don’t watch it.) But if Smith hasn’t shown much a proclivity for the high-powered art films that typically make up the Cannes competition—this year’s lineup includes Sofia Coppola’s The Beguiled, Yorgos Lanthimos’ The Killing of a Sacred Deer, Bong Joon-Ho’s Okja, and Todd Haynes’ Wonderstruck—he’s definitely proven that his tastes lie well outside the mainstream. Being a fly on the wall during that jury’s deliberations would probably be at least as fascinating as any movie they’re mulling over.

Correction, April 25: This post originally misspelled the name of Fan Bingbing.

April 25 2017 12:11 PM

Stephen Colbert and Trevor Noah Know Exactly Why Donald Trump Doesn’t Want to Celebrate His First 100 Days

Saturday will mark 100 days of Donald Trump’s presidency—and yes, believe it or not, it has really only been one hundred days. But the president is downplaying the occasion, something late night hosts have been quick to seize on, given that Trump has still failed to fill his Cabinet, repeal Obamacare, pass major tax cuts, or do many of the things he promised he would within that time frame. Stephen Colbert decided that his Late Show monologue should focus on what the president has accomplished, including passing legislation that makes it easier for certain mentally ill people to buy guns and for hunters to kill hibernating bears.

Trump has disputed the claim that he hasn’t gotten a lot done in his first hundred days on (where else?) Twitter:


“S.C.” has been interpreted to mean “Supreme Court,” but Colbert suggests another alternative: His own name. “I have to say, Donald Trump has done a lot for me in the first hundred days Thank you for your service, Mr. President,” said Colbert, who has enjoyed some of his best ratings since Trump took office. “Now I feel dirty.”

While his supporters might give the president credit for at least trying to do what he said he would, Trevor Noah, over at The Daily Show, does not. “Boy Scouts don’t earn badges for trying to help an old lady across the street,” he noted. “They either help her across or she gets crushed by an eighteen-wheeler.”

Since Trump has now decided that the 100-day mark is an “artificial barrier” that shouldn’t apply to him, Noah points out that he may not want to set a precedent of disregarding a number just because he doesn’t like the result. “Because if most voters in America got to choose the number they prefer, you wouldn’t be in the White House, Donald.”

April 25 2017 9:48 AM

A Comprehensive Guide to How Kendrick Lamar Made Damn

This article originally appeared in Vulture.

At first glance, Damn, the fourth and latest opus from Kendrick Lamar, doesn’t seem as much of a group effort as his previous works. Compared to his last album, 2015’s To Pimp a Butterfly, it has a fraction of the featured guest artists and a shorter run time. But a look at the 14 one-word-titled songs that comprise Damn doesn’t tell the whole story. Beneath the surface, there’s a cavalcade of trusted collaborators (his TDE camp, Thundercat, Kamasi Washington), well-known names (9th Wonder, U2, James Blake, Greg Kurstin, Don Cheadle), and a sprinkling of fresh faces (Zacari, Bekon, Kaytranada, the Internet’s Steve Lacy). Let’s walk through the village it took to make Damn.

April 25 2017 9:32 AM

Feud Eventually Ignored Bette for Joan, and Was All the Better for It

FX’s Feud: Bette and Joan had a disappointing beginning, amounting to an elongated complaint against pervasive Hollywood sexism, padded with spiffy production design and powerhouse acting. But in its closing stretch, the series narrowed its focus, to vital effect. Feud got a shot of adrenaline in Episode 5, in which Jessica Lange’s Joan Crawford successfully schemed to deny Susan Sarandon’s Bette Davis a Best Actress Oscar for Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?—and, on top of that, to ensure that she would be the one to deliver the killing blow, announcing the real winner’s name. Packaged in an hour of prestige TV, the scheme made for a thrilling series highpoint. But it also introduced an important new normal for Feud: The episode was mostly told from the perspective of Crawford—the snubbie, the saboteur, the tragic villain. Feud became her story.

Feud was marketed as a frothy account of the infamous Davis-Crawford catfight, with screen time to be split between them. But the feud itself lacked bite, and Ryan Murphy and co-creators Michael Zam and Jaffe Cohen could get both redundant and stiff when lingering over the actresses’ vicious back-and-forth. With its Oscars episode, the show was briefly put in Crawford’s—and Lange’s—hands. She never gave it back.

This was to Feud’s absolute benefit. Murphy’s overriding interest in the treatment of actresses of a certain age could have applied equally to both Crawford and Davis, but, as Feud seemed to discover over the course of its eight episodes, Crawford’s final years were both richer and more thematically significant. Her post–Baby Jane career was briefer than Davis’, and the turmoil of her personal life—the pending publication of her daughter Christina’s memoir Mommie Dearest, the sheer loneliness of her day-to-day existence—was due for sensitive reexamination. Increasingly, Murphy seemed determine to rewrite Crawford’s legacy, to render her not a monster of anger and entitlement, but a dimmed star whose community looked the other way when she most needed it.

This gave Feud a fittingly mournful center, a chance to spread its wings once it finally left the set of Baby Jane. Following the Oscars came “Hagsploitation,” an episode driven by Crawford and textured by the sad circumstances under which she found herself back on a set with Davis and director Robert Aldrich (Alfred Molina). She was more volatile than ever, low and beaten as she went to do press for Strait-Jacket, a horror film mainly famous now for the absurd image of Crawford wielding an axe. Once again, Crawford came across as a vindictive figure in “Hagsploitation,” senselessly hurling a glass vase at her housekeeper, Mamacita (Jackie Hoffman), and snarling at her brother as he was about to go into surgery. But the episode’s tighter focus allowed her to operate with more agency. In the final episodes of Feud, Crawford’s behavior was determined less by parallels to Davis, and more by her own experiences. Without the need to delineate her motives quite so rigidly, Murphy and his team managed to create a more complex character, still vain but also yearning, equally selfish and isolated. The result wasn’t only devastating. Through Lange’s deft portrayal, Crawford was more sympathetic, too.

April 25 2017 1:10 AM

Universal Buys Elyse Hollander’s Madonna Biopic Script Blond Ambition

The 2016 Black List, the annual list of popular unproduced screenplays voted for by Hollywood development executives, was crawling with biopics (two (2!) of which were about Stephen King) but one stood apart: Blond Ambition, by Elyse Hollander. With 48 votes, it was the most popular script on the list, and second place (Life Itself, by This Is Us creator Dan Fogelman, 35 votes) wasn’t close. Now, according to The Hollywood Reporter, the script has landed at Universal.

It’s the first script sale for Hollander, who worked as Alejandro Inarritu’s assistant while he made Birdman. Set in New York in the 1980s, Blond Ambition follows Madonna during the production of her debut album, 1983’s Madonna. Brett Ratner’s RatPac Entertainment, Michael DeLuca’s DeLuca Productions, and Bellvue Productions were attached to the project by the time it landed on the Black List, but now Erik Baiers and Chloe Yellin are coming aboard from Universal.


Universal may seem like a strange home for a Madonna biopic, given that she was on Sire Records, which was already owned by Warner Bros. by the time she got there, but remember: in the years since the release of Madonna, Time Warner sold Warner Music Group to Edgar Bronfman Jr., who sold it to Len Blavatnik’s industrial group Access Industries. Furthermore, in addition to owning Madonna’s back catalog, Access Industries has vast holdings in natural resources and chemicals: LyondellBassell, Clal Industries Ltd., UC RUSAL, and more! So not only will Universal executives not have to deal with Warner Bros. to license the music, they can maybe get Blavatnik to throw in some free Russian aluminum, Israeli cement, or even good, old fashioned American 1,4 butanediol along with the rights to “Lucky Star.” It’s a material world, after all.  

April 25 2017 12:09 AM

Seth Meyers Looks at Trump’s First 100 Days, Is Not Very Impressed

Seth Meyers returned from a couple of weeks off on Monday with an assessment of Donald Trump’s first 100 days, his failure to accomplish any of his promises, the government shutdown fiasco, his tenuous grasp on the passage of time, his bizarre Mexican wall tweet, that amazing AP interview, and a bunch of other Trump-related disasters that you may have already read about on Slate Dot Com, now in a convenient, Seth-Meyers-narrated form. As you’d expect of an attempt to catch up on several weeks’ worth of Trump bloopers, boners, and outright fuck-ups, it turns into a bit of a laundry list. On the other hand, since current events have been nothing but a laundry list of bloopers, boners, and outright fuck-ups for, well, nearly 100 days, it’s hard to see how else Meyers could talk about Trump, even without a multi-week backup.

And Meyers does a pretty good job of keeping the parade of garbage entertaining, which is about all you can ask these days. Comparing Trump’s unstuck-in-time claim that he “would still beat Hillary in popular vote” to a tweet from Meyers saying that “Rihanna would still go out with me,” is great, as is Meyers’ explanation for the public’s fascination with Sean Spicer. But the Trump administration seems to be becoming something of a comedy trap for this kind of Daily Show/Weekend Update/Colbert Report/John Oliver-inspired segment. It’s been a while since late night writers could get laughs just by having the host read the president’s words, and, to be fair, Trump’s answer to the AP when asked about his border wall is hilarious:

I don’t know yet. People want the border wall. My base definitely wants the border wall, my base really wants it—you’ve been to many of the rallies. OK, the thing they want more than anything is the wall. My base, which is a big base, I think my base is 45 percent. You know, it’s funny. The Democrats, they have a big advantage in the electoral college. Big, big, big advantage. I’ve always said the popular vote would be a lot easier than the electoral college. The electoral college—but it’s a whole different campaign (unintelligible).

But although the president’s answers are funny and tragic and horrible, pointing out that he’s a dummy by using his own words is (a) fish-in-a-barrel and (b) going to make for a long four years. So please, Seth Meyers and company, throw a little more anarchy and a lot more disrespect in the mix, like you did in the brilliant Breitbart News interview earlier in April. Everyone who’s watching your show knows how bad things are; that’s why they’re watching your show. More spitballs!

April 24 2017 4:45 PM

It’s Time to Get Excited About Ian McShane as Mr. Wednesday, American Gods Fans

He’s suave, he’s profane, and he’s concealing a hell of an identity—Ian McShane continues to make all of our Mr. Wednesday dreams come true. The English actor plays a major role in the upcoming Starz television adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s American Gods, and in a new clip from Entertainment Tonight, we get to see more of him in character in an exchange with protagonist Shadow Moon (Ricky Whittle) upon their first meeting. (The clip is NSFW.)

At the very least, McShane’s delivery of a line like “I offer you the worm from my beak and you look at me like I fucked your mom?” should quell any fears fans might have left about his casting. You may never read the novel without hearing his voice again.