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Take a Breath — the ‘Wildest Dreams’ Video Isn’t Racist — Now Exhale

I am a black woman, and this week the internet says I should be angry because Taylor Swift’s “Wildest Dreams” video is set in an Africa full of white people. In it, director Joseph Kahn channels old Hollywood, with Swift and her co-star, Scott Eastwood, playing actors from the 1950s filming a movie on the African plains. The co-stars have an affair offscreen. There are exotic animals. When the actors return to the States for the premiere, it turns out one of them is already hitched. Hearts are broken. End scene. Oh, wait, sidebar, almost forgot — there are no black people.

After watching the video during its debut on the VMAs Sunday night, my initial thought was that it's boring. It's the visual equivalent of a harlequin novel on flibanserin. But then, like a stampede of zebras across the sunbaked savanna, the outrage started to roll in via headlines across the globe. Jezebel called it “a highly stylized, white-washed celebration of African colonialism.” NPR went further: “We are shocked to think that in 2015, Taylor Swift, her record label and her video production group would think it was OK to film a video that presents a glamorous version of the white colonial fantasy of Africa. Of course, this is not the first time that white people have romanticized colonialism: See Louis Vuitton's 2014 campaign, Ernest Hemingway's Snows of Kilimanjaro, the 1962 film Lawrence of Arabia and of course Karen Blixen's memoir Out of Africa. But it still stings.”

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  • Posted 9/4/15 at 10:33 AM
  • Rape

Chrissie Hynde Stands by Her Controversial Rape Comments

In an interview with the Sunday Times last weekend, Pretenders front woman Chrissie Hynde stirred up controversy with comments about rape that many viewed as victim-blaming. "Technically speaking, however you want to look at it, this was all my doing and I take full responsibility," she said of being sexually assaulted at 21. In an excerpt from her forthcoming memoir, she offers more general opinions about rape: "If I’m walking around in my underwear and I’m drunk? Who else’s fault can it be?"

Since then, other rape survivors have criticized Hynde's words, most notably, former Runaways bassist Jackie Fuchs, who revealed her own assault earlier this summer. "It’s a really dangerous message ... Poor judgment is not an invitation to rape, nor an excuse for it," Fuchs told Yahoo on Tuesday.

Despite the outrage, Hynde is standing by her original comments. She tells the Washington Post in a new interview:

"They’re entitled to say whatever they want. Do I regret saying it? I don’t know. I haven’t really thought about it. [What I said] sounds like common sense. If you don’t want my opinion, don’t ask me for it. At the moment, we’re in one of the worst humanitarian crises in our lifetime. You see that picture of  a Turkish policeman carrying the body of a 3-year-old boy who got washed up on the shore. These are the heartbreaking images we have and we’re talking about millions of displaced persons and people whose families have been destroyed and we’re talking about comments that I allegedly made about girls in their underwear."

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Stream Craig Finn’s Faith in the Future and Learn What Inspired His Solo LP

When Craig Finn began work on his second solo album, Faith in the Future, the Hold Steady front man told his producer Josh Kaufman that he wanted it to be "elegant and hopeful." And by elegant, he meant "something that befits a 44-year-old man." He started writing the songs, which possess far more subdued vibes than the loquacious bar-rock of his main band, in the wake of his mother's 2013 death by examining how people move forward following tragedy. Some songs are more autobiographical than others: "Newmeyer's Roof" stems from Finn’s experience on 9/11, watching the towers fall from a friend’s roof in the East Village; while "Going to a Show" is partially about his love of going to concerts by himself. To accompany Vulture’s exclusive early stream of Faith in the Future, out September 11 via Partisan Records, we caught up with Finn at a bar in Greenpoint to talk about how life in New York inspired these soulful troubadour songs.

Listen to Finn's new LP a week early here exclusively. »

Listen to Janet Jackson’s Very Lovable ‘Unbreakable’

Janet Jackson unveiled the track list, release date, and titular single from her latest album, Unbreakable, on Thursday. The song (listen below) plays like a pleasantly retro-sounding, long-overdue love letter. To whom? Well, it's hard to listen to the outro and not think she's at least slightly winking at her fans: "Hello / It’s been a while / Lots to talk about / I’m glad you’re still here / I hope you enjoy." But Unbreakable, song and album, like much of Janet's prior material, will likely work on various levels. "Themes [of Unbreakable] will include, Janet's views on where we stand today as individuals and as the inter-related elements of a planet. Some of these relate to her convictions passionately expressed in Rhythm Nation 1814, including the need to bring things out in the open and to have a dialogue," notes a statement on her website. "The album also will mark the first time Janet Jackson has opened up about her brother Michael and with reflections concerning her youth." The record, Janet's first studio album in seven years, drops October 2. Glad to have you back, Miss J.

Listen here: »

A Composer Hopes His Music Will Put You to Sleep

The entire point of Sleep, a digital album composed by British musician Max Richter, is that the eight-hour piece lulls its listeners to sleep. The classical composition includes strings, a lightly played piano, and some appropriately dreamy vocals — more oohs and ahhs than actual lyrics. Sleep will be available for purchase Friday, but it’s streaming live for free Thursday starting at 8 p.m. (that’s 8 p.m. in whatever time zone you happen to be in), should you want to call it an early night. 

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Empire Releases First New Season Two Songs (Including a Pitbull One)

 Three weeks before #EmpireSeason2 debuts, Fox has released the first new tunes that the Lyon clan will be working on when the music-biz soap returns. First up is the Pitbull song "No Doubt About It," performed alongside Jussie Smollett, which is charming not just for confirming that Mr. Worldwide exists in the Empire universe, but also for Pitbull's total commitment to name-checking "Jamal." (If it sounds like a Ne-Yo song, that's because he co-wrote it.)

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Lana Del Rey Doesn’t Need to Defend Her ‘Bad Feminism,’ But She Tried Anyway

Lana Del Rey sat down with No. 1 stan James Franco (remember, he wrote an entire book fantasizing about her) for her new cover story in V magazine. In it, the two got to talking about her controversial comments on feminism. Last year, the singer told The Fader, "For me, the issue of feminism is just not an interesting concept. I’m more interested in, you know, SpaceX and Tesla, what’s going to happen with our intergalactic possibilities."

True to her word, she started a hotline to promote her upcoming album on which you can listen to an entire lecture on the origins of the universe and an Elon Musk TED Talk. But to respond to all that feminist policing she's since incurred, Lana now has this to say about her personal beliefs on the matter:

"The luxury we have as a younger generation is being able to figure out where we want to go from here, which is why I’ve said things like, 'I don’t focus on feminism, I focus on the future.' It’s not to say that there’s not more to do in that area. I’ve gotten to witness through history the evolution of so many movements and now I’m standing at the forefront of new technological movements. I’m not undermining other issues. But I feel like that’s obvious, like I shouldn’t even have to bring that up."

Lana Del Rey: Not the feminist hero we need, but the one we (probably don't) deserve.

Miley Cyrus’s Dead Petz Is Hard to Like, or Even Endure

Last spring, while she was off touring the world, Miley Cyrus’s beloved husky, Floyd, was eaten by coyotes. I caught the tour a few nights later, when it hit Izod Center, and was transfixed by what I saw: Something about this misfortune seemed to have broken Cyrus open — made her stranger, sadder, and less inhibited than your typical pop-star at the helm of a giant, well-oiled arena show. The performance was alive with messy emotion. She actually cried when she sang her love songs, like the slurry, Mike WiLL–made ballad “My Darling” … partially because she was singing them to a humongous, inflatable replica of her dead dog. To call the night surreal is a bit of an understatement. At best, the Bangerz Tour had the feel of a Dada performance co-sponsored by American Express — where wild imagination (or, at least, truckloads of weed) met a blockbuster budget. It was a blast. When it was all over, which is to say, after Cyrus rode into the rafters while straddling a giant “scream-activated hot dog,” I left the venue feeling energized, inspired, and convinced that, with her avant-garde take on female sexuality and her gleeful, absurdist humor, Miley Cyrus was rewriting the script for the modern pop-star.

But after listening to her latest album, Miley Cyrus & Her Dead Petz (RIP, Floyd, as well as her late blowfish, Pablow), I am less enthusiastic. Or maybe I am just tired — this 23-track album is 92 minutes long, and it easily feels twice that length. Songs meander and build to nothing. Melodies sag. Themes (weed; sex; the universeman) recur so frequently that it’s often hard to distinguish one track from the next. A song called “Space Boots” comes right after a song called “Something About Space Dude.” I feel like this fact tells you a lot about the overall vibe of Miley Cyrus & Her Dead Petz.

Miley Cyrus & Her Dead Petz sounds like Madonna’s Ray of Light, had it been made by a 14-year-old who just downloaded a free 30-day trial of Audacity. »

Hear Lord Huron’s Gorgeous New Song Inspired by the Majestic Appalachian Mountains

Ben Schneider, the nucleus of L.A.-based indie-folk act Lord Huron, has always filled his lyrics with expansive descriptions of natural landscapes and existential conflict. On Lord Huron’s latest album, Strange Trails, those descriptions are often dark and apocalyptic, packed with creepy desert towns, scorched earth, and end-times premonitions. But Schneider never lets the weight of his subject matter dictate the mood of his songs; Lord Huron’s music is delightfully easygoing. Smooth harmonies and simple acoustic arrangements come down like a gentle country breeze even when Schneider is singing about the end of the world.

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Watch the Biebs Explain What the Deal Was With All Those VMA Emotions, Forgetfully Reveal His New Album’s Release Date

Justin Bieber gave an emotional comeback at MTV's VMAs this past weekend — i.e., he did not get booed and he put "everything on the line." Here, he explains to Fallon exactly why this year's awards show meant so much to him. (Hint: It had less to do with the harness suffocating his junk, and more to do with the fact that he was surrounded by knuckleheads and cameras the last few years. And if you don't believe him, he might just scoff and point a finger at you!) Also of note: The Biebs forgetfully revealed, with all the mysteriousness and distant cool of a Twilight character, that his new album drops November 13. Or something.

Please Adjust Your Book-Club Schedules: Gucci Mane’s Autobiography Is on the Way

Gucci Mane continues to make productive people (yes, especially including those not in jail) look like huge procrastinators, as it was announced Wednesday that the busybody rapper will release an autobiography within the next year. Gucci, who is doing time on federal gun charges, had his team (or himself talking in the third person) make the announcement via Twitter, noting, among other things, that "he has been called the most influential artist of this generation and definitely is one of the most prolific." True. Over the course of his sentence, originally slated to last till 2017, Gucci has already released numerous mixtapesappeared as a guest on a slew of tracks, and even pushed a out new movie. How? Maybe you are thinking, Gucci Mane is so productive because he doesn't have distractions! Wrong. He does. He is the Trap God. So, how? It is a true wonder why this man is not sponsored by Nike, as he has officially become the artistic epitome of "No Excuses" and "Just Do It."

Here's how the book was announced: »

Alabama Shakes’ Brittany Howard Made a Sick Punk Album With Her Thunderbitch Side Project

Earlier this summer, Alabama Shakes front woman Brittany Howard told Vulture that "there's no way to be original," in reference to the myriad influences on her band's latest album, Sound & Color. While that may be true, if there's any way to keep things fresh, it's to never stop moving forward via constant creation. In Howard's case, that means starting a side project, which she did three years ago with members of Fly Golden Eagle and Clear Plastic Masks. Together they form Thunderbitch, and today they released a self-titled album, which is streaming now on their site.

If you've grown fond of the blues rock Howard tends to make with Alabama Shakes, don't worry, that's still there ("Very Best Friend"), but overall, this is Howard's attempt at making a punk album — her Joan Jett moment, if you will. (There's even a song called "I Just Wanna Rock n Roll.") Blistering opening track "Leather Jacket" has her offering a withering stare in song form, speaking of the leather jack she's owned for "all these years of looking totally fucking awesome" like it's a badge of honor. The energy on the whole project is indeed thunderous, and Howard sounds like she's having a hell of a time. At this rate, we'll probably get another Alabama Shakes album by the year's end. Hear a brief snippet of Thunderbitch below.

  • Posted 9/1/15 at 5:16 PM

9 Best New Songs of the Week

Every week, members of the Vulture staff highlight the best new music of 2015. If the song is worthy of your ears and attention, you will find it here. Read our picks below, share yours in the comments, and subscribe to the Vulture 2015 Playlist for a comprehensive guide to the year's best music.

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  • Posted 9/1/15 at 7:21 AM

On Delay: Dr. Dre, Harper Lee, and the Problem of Long-Awaited Masterpieces

I’m worried that in the end I’ll never know, not really, what I think about Dr. Dre’s new album, Compton, released earlier this month as the official soundtrack to the new (and increasingly, and rightly, controversial) N.W.A biopic Straight Outta Compton. Here is a partial list of the things I think I do know: I know that the drums on almost every track are characteristically Dre, a study in perfected slap and kick. I know that the distention and wooziness that stretch across the album double as a subtle reminder that several of the qualities now commonly attributed to southern rap have their provenance in and around Los Angeles County. I know that the album is also a testament to the mogul’s ear for talent, ever true: Some of Compton’s most electric moments come by way of old protégés — Eminem, Kendrick, the Game — and promising unknowns like the Bilal-reminiscent Anderson .Paak. I know that Dre, sort of miraculously, can still really rap.

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Doing Karaoke With Tori Kelly

As you probably saw last night, Tori Kelly sings runs that can melt your face off. The 22-year-old YouTube-bred pop star can turn every Yeah into an endless, acrobatic Yeaaaeeeeaaaaaeeeaaooahaaoaoaoah, as if she has an entire gospel choir living in her throat. She got her start deploying that signature melisma doing cover songs on her video channel, where none other than megamanager Scooter Braun reportedly spotted her and added her to his client list.

Along with Scooter, I've been watching. Repeat viewings of every video on Kelly's channel (not to mention her cheerful urban-pop earworm “Nobody Love”) have convinced me that she can sing anything — literally anything — and make it sound incredible. (Her cover of a Paramore song even made me like a Paramore song for one minute. One.) I wondered if I could survive one of those runs at close range, if my skin would maintain its physical form. So, I emailed her PR team: “Hey, I kind of want Tori to melt my face off. Would she sing karaoke with me?” To my surprise, her management said yes.

A surprise appearance from Karlie Kloss. »

Kylie Jenner and Tyga Flaunt Their Newly Legal Love in His ‘Stimulated’ Video

Hours after making their public debut as a couple at the VMAs — with the rest of the Kardashian-Jenner fam, of course — Kylie Jenner and Tyga cemented their recently legal relationship in video form. Just after the show, Tyga released his video for "Stimulated," a song off his new mixtape in which he shrugs off any wrongdoing with Kylie before she turned 18. The controversial lyric: "They say she's young, I should've waited / She a big girl, dog, when she stimulated." It seems Kylie's cool with what Tyga's implying because she stars in the song's video, in which the two get cozy on a balcony for all the world (and paparazzi) to see. If you're still grossed out by the whole affair, join the club.

These Were the Truman Show VMAs

In 2013, Kanye West gave a spirited, instant-classic interview to former BBC Radio 1 host Zane Lowe. “I’ve reached a point in my life where my Truman Show boat has hit the painting,” he said, in perhaps the most frequently quoted bit of the segment. West was referring, of course, to the moment at the end of Peter Weir’s 1998 sophisticated dorm-room stoner drama when Jim Carrey’s character sails up to the wall at the end of the closed-off television set he’s taken for the real world, realizes its artificiality, and engages in a conversation with his “creator,” a TV producer played by Ed Harris. “Was nothing real?” Truman Burbank asks an omniscient voice he can’t see. “You were real,” the producer says. “That’s what made you so good to watch.”

Oh, 2015 VMAs: Was nothing real? I am both shocked and relieved to report that I actually believe a few things were: Bieber’s tears, Nicki’s swipes at Miley, O’Shea Jackson Jr.’s palpable embarrassment when his father was speaking to young people. And, of course, every word (and every prolonged silence!) uttered by the 2020 president of the United States, Kanye West. In retrospect, it seems like he called it a few years too early: Last night, at the 2015 VMAs, was when Kanye’s Truman Show boat officially hit the painting. “I still don’t understand awards shows,” he said in the middle of the best TED Talk I’ve ever seen, a meandering, exhilaratingly freewheeling speech accepting the night’s Video Vanguard award from Taylor Swift. At first, the pairing seemed like a staged, slightly stilted act of televised public reconciliation, not unlike the one Swift and her former Twitter sparring partner Nicki Minaj participated in during the show’s opening number: Swift did a cute, rehearsed, inevitably groan-worthy “Imma let you finish” joke, and West seemed to be gearing up for a public apology. “I think if I had to do it all again,” he said, referring to the night six years ago when he swiped the award out of Swift’s hands, “What would I have done?” But then he did something so much better than answering that question: He steered the boat straight into the wall. “You know how many times MTV ran that footage again because it got them more ratings? You know how many times [tonight] they announced Taylor was presenting the award because it got more ratings?” What a thrill to hear someone speaking from the heart, to listen to an artist unafraid to let us in on the process of exactly how his thoughts come together, to watch a show that had been intermittently frustrating and boring us all night suddenly collapse in on itself.

I have to admit I was rooting for Miley. »

Here’s the Actual ‘What Do You Mean?’ Video for You, From the Biebs

As part of VMA Day, Biebs unspooled the main video for "What Do You Mean?" (you can watch the lyric video here). This one is kind of like David Fincher's The Game, except it's a five-minute music vid about a really cool, intricate date, instead of a 129-minute movie about a really cool, intricate birthday. Also, skateboards and John Leguizamo in place of Michael Douglas and Sean Penn. 

Miley Cyrus Closed Out the VMAs With a Killer Drag Show and a Surprise New Album

That song Miley closed out the VMAs with? It's part of a surprise new album with the Flaming Lips, Miley Cyrus & Her Dead Petz, which she just dropped for free, and you can stream it both on her website and below. It features Big Sean, Ariel Pink, her faithful producer Mike Will Made-It, her dad Billy Ray Cyrus, and more. And she's already got a vibrant video for its trap-heavy first single, "Dooo It!":

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