Rap, in General, I: An Album Title That Did More Than The Album

By Opheli Garcia Lawler

Via Wikipedia

Everyone has already been quick to hop on the criticism of “What A Time To Be Alive.” For an album or mixtape (or whatever think piece you agree with most categorized it as), that was made in 6 days, you can only expect so much. It was a weak album, the whole thing was rushed and could have been done so much better. Drake’s own Fader interview is a an admission on Drake’s behalf that quality work takes time. This was quantity, not quality. What carried this album to success was the “who” rather than the “what,” as well as the hype and presumption in the title of the project.

The beats are sloppy, feeling like skeletons of songs that could have been great instead of two of hip-hop’s biggest names dropping a “legendary” collab. It felt lazy, with a quality comparable to a 14-year-old kid using Digital DJ on his laptop. It was yrically vacant, to boot. Repetition was the backbone of every song, and any sense of chorus was overwhelmed with a bland and uninspiring delivery.  

Future’s slow drawl sounds good on Future. Future doesn’t have to drop bars to make a good song, but when Drake makes his voice mimic Future, and appropriates his sound so much so that their differences as rappers becomes imperceptible, the point of their collaboration becomes voided. A collaboration is supposed to bring two different artists together. “What A Time To Be Alive” felt more like Future was giving Drake lessons on how to sound like Future.

On several tracks, there is almost an imperceptible switch from Drake to Future’s verse. While smooth transitions are an important, it made the songs boring. The beats were still flat, without any sort of layering to hook you to the song, it felt like Future and Drake were singing a stripper a lullaby on many of the tracks.

The way to look at this album is as an artistic and supremely fame oriented success. They just did this. Drake and Future wanted to make some music together, and they did. W.A.T.T.B.A. is simple and wildly monotonous, but Drake and Future are so well established as powerhouses, that work like this won’t hurt them; It will only benefit them. It has already moved 500,000 copies since it’s release, and is predicted to top the Billboard 200 in October. What a time to be alive for Drake and Future’s invincible rap-careers.

Opheli Garcia Lawler is a Highlighter Staff Columnist. Email her at music@nyunews.com

Hump Day Update: October 7th, 2015

By Rachel A.G. Gilman

Via Marisa Hagerty at https://www.behance.net/marisahagerty
Via Marisa Hagerty at https://www.behance.net/marisahagerty

Welcome to Hump Day Update, the place to find out everything you need to know about what’s been going on in the entertainment world for the week. I’m Rachel A.G. Gilman, but enough about me—let’s get to the news.

CBS debuted its newest medical drama “Code Black,” all about that terrifying thing that apparently happens in a hospital when there are more patients than doctors available. If that isn’t a good enough reason to not tune in, then how about the way they stuck an NYU Medical School grad complaining about his debt within the first ten minutes of the debut (just because it’s true doesn’t mean I want to hear about it, CBS).

Will Smith has been breathing life back into his music career lately and now announced he is pretty sure he is also going to be heading out on tour. He also said in addition to recording his new album, he’ll continue working on his acting career with new films. Looks like Smith is expanding his kingdom (shoutout to my “Prince of Bel-Air” fans).

SNL returned this week. It was a pretty strong season opener, and included a woman who continues to surprise us and makes pretty iconic style choices who stole the show. Don’t know if I’m talking about Hillary Clinton or Miley Cyrus? Neither do I.

While we’re on the topic of Miley, she’s got one big fan: John Mayer, who tweeted out a number of raves reviews about her new album being “#whackgenius.” Now, I’m not saying Mayer might’ve been mistaking Montana’s marijuana laws for Colorado’s and that could explain his reaction, but honestly, what else is there to do in Montana?

ABC’s television adaptation of The Muppets came back with poor ratings in its second week of episodes, proving that not everything vintage has the power to make a comeback. Sadly, Kermit and the gang might be forced back into our parents’ attics with bell-bottoms and lava lamps.

Another Hump Day Update favorite, Taylor Swift, caught critics’ attention this week when she reportedly bought a property next to beau Calvin Harris. If this is anything like the trajectory with her past real estate endeavors related to boyfriends, we can expect some new break-up songs in no time.

MTV’s “Faking It” paid homage to “The Breakfast Club” this week, bringing the gang of secret-keeping teens into a room together to reveal all. Now, it’s been a little while, but I don’t remember my high school problems involving my boyfriend’s dad paying me $250K to leave him alone or my dating a professional MFA fighter—just MTV setting more unrealistic goals for kids.

Justin Bieber threw some shade at One Direction this week after it was revealed both parties would be sharing a November 13th release date for their upcoming albums. The date also happens to be a Friday the 13th, so we might want to scout out our hiding places now, just incase the dueling fandoms do indeed bring on the end of the world.

And finally, speaking of fandoms, this past Saturday, alternative-rock band All Time Low was featured in the ABC Family TV movie, “Fangirl,” staring the band alongside Kiernan Shipka and Meg Ryan in a tale of a girl in love with music and film. Not only did I learn one of my favorite bands is apparently mainstream enough to have a safe for TV movie, but apparently fifteen year olds are into them. #RIP to any chance of Rachel being hip and indie.

Hope you enjoyed this week! See you back here next Wednesday.

Rachel A.G. Gilman is a Highlighter Staff Columnist. Email her at entertainment@nyunews.com

Highlighterism, Episode II: The Spookiest Podcast of All Time

By WSN Arts Staff

Calling all disembodied skeletons (we KNOW you’re out there). On this extra-spooky (spoopy?) episode of the podcast, the #ArtsSquad takes on old Halloween films, our obsessions for the week, and we meet Kieran’s new roommate, HONY.**

The Highlighter’s new generation of arts editors is here, and all the witches, goblins, and ghouls prowling the streets of New York can’t keep us from bringing you a much-needed bi-weekly dose of snark, Halloween commentary, and general arts news.

Thanks for tuning in, and if you’re looking for a hang-out spot this October, we recommend Green-wood Cemetery (just try to leave before midnight; don’t want you to get dragged into the floor by a zombie or anything).

This podcast was curated by:

  • E.R. Pulgar, Highlighter Editor
  • Audrey Deng, Arts Editor
  • Allison Stubblebine, Entertainment Editor
  • Kieran Graulich, Music Editor
  • Joseph Myers, Theater/Books Editor
  • Zach Martin, Film Editor
  • Special Guest: Francis Schichtel, Highlighter Photography Consultant
  • **HONY, The Spooky Scary Arts Skeleton

The Colbert Report, III: Who is Stephen Colbert?

By Ryan Matera

Via Oregon Live

Colbert commenced the end of his first month as the host of the Late Show with his best show yet. On Monday he sat down with First Lady Michelle Obama to shoot the breeze about the time they first met and to discuss the rising issue of education in our nation and on a global level. The interview was a friendly reminder of the large role Mrs. Obama has played in health and education during her husband’s tenure. We also got a glimpse at her friendly sense of humor (“I wanna be able to open a window!”), and were able to truly reflect on whether or not we want our first lady to be Melania Trump. Following the interview, Colbert took the Myers-Briggs Personality test in a ten-minute segment where he tried to figure out who Stephen Colbert really is. The bit, entitled “Who Am Me,” was hilarious from beginning to end and perfectly showcased Colbert’s impressive improv talents and his ability to make being a sarcastic asshole lovable and funny.

The rest of the week was nearly just as solid. We watched Jesse Eisenberg nervously plug his new book (he writes short stories? I hope he isn’t taking his “End Of The Tour “role too seriously) and Ellen Page tackle the issue of religious rights conflicting with LGBT community rights. The show was also the first time I’ve ever seen a late night host give the musical time slot to an inventor and artist. Dominic Wilcox’s inventions included stained-glass self-driving cars and a machine that pours your cereal for you.

On Wednesday we saw two similar personalities collide when Stephen sat down with John Oliver. He made Oliver’s gig doing only thirty minutes one night a week with no guests seem trivial, but the conversation was enjoyable as two political comedians discussed strategy. The same night Colbert welcomed to the show musical icon Bill Withers. It would also be very difficult to deny Ed Sheeran’s musical talent while watching him perform “Ain’t No Sunshine” with Stay Human.

Colbert then talked with an understandably exhausted Secretary of State John Kerry who gave insight on the Iran Nuclear Deal and allowed viewers to respect the truly difficult and stressful job he is able to manage quite well.

The show closed the week with a heartfelt monologue reflecting on the Oregon Shootings. In this emotional moment Colbert made it clear that though he doesn’t know what it is, something needs to be done.

The week showed the show playing around with the format to a very positive outcome. I would also like to let the readers know (because my roommates don’t care) that as I was walking home from Union Square last Saturday, Jon Batiste and Stay Human was dancing their way to their gig at Webster Hall. As Jon Batiste dapped me up beneath a marquee with his name on it and I stared awe-struck, I truly knew what it was like be in the presence of greatness. 

Ryan Matera is a Highlighter Staff Columnist. Email him at entertainment@nyunews.com

Dazed and Confused, I: Richard Linklater’s “Dazed and Confused”

by Tony Schwab

Via Radio 1045

Dazed and Confused is a great film because it knows exactly how interesting it’s characters are—a movie that focused on any one of them would be boring, and a movie that took any of there problems seriously would be even worse. With each character given a handful of scenes to stumble around and make themselves look pretentious, everyone stays funny and likable.

The movie can seem plotless at times, but it is a lot less so than later Linklater films such as “Like Waking Life” and “Boyhood.” The main characters each have a real plot arc. Floyd (Jason London), wonders whether being the captain of the football team is worth signing a pledge to stay drug and alcohol free. Mitch (Wiley Wiggins) first worries about getting hazed by a group of seniors and then about fitting in at an upperclassmen party. He is doubled by Sabrina (Christin Hinojosa), another incoming freshmen, who ends up with the intellectual Tony (Anthony Rapp). Mike (Adam Driver), Tony’s best friend, worries about being a nerd his whole life and then loses a fight.

This, of course, leaves out the most famous character in the movie. In his first ever role, Mathhew McConaughey is David Wooderson. He is the ideal that most Linklater characters strive for: perfectly accepting of his place in life. In an understated way, he shapes the plot of the movie, Mitch takes on his personality when buying a six pack and sees how much it works. After this, everything goes right for him. Floyd sees how calm Wooderson is, shaping his final decision about football.

It says a lot about the power of McConaughey here that he could give the same kind of performance in The Wolf of Wall Street and fit in just as well. His inner peace is so deep, he stays the same whether he is an investment banker or a flunkey working for the local government.

The movie has a great time recreating the 70s. Like Boyhood, it captures an era by focusing on the most mundane parts of its pop culture. There is no Led Zeppelin or Rolling Stones. Instead, the biggest music moments are for Slow Ride by Foghat and Schools Out by Alice Cooper. A tentative trip to Houston to by Aerosmith tickets becomes a major plot point. When we see a movie theatre, Hitchcock’s Family Plot is showing. Hardly anyone is concerned with the upcoming election. This being 1976, they are much more interested in the bicentennial celebrations.

It would have been easy for the movie to loose its cool when dealing with the downside of the 70s. The freshman hazing and insane callousness of the adults could have been dealt with in a very harsh way. Instead, the movie sees them as another silly detail of the era, like the music or clothes. It has a sense of humor that comes from being twenty years removed.

Tony Schwab is a Highlighter Staff Columnist. Email him at film@nyunews.com

Hump Day Update (Special One-Time Thursday Edition): October 1, 2015

by Rachel A.G. Gilman

hump day update
Via Marisa Hagerty at https://www.behance.net/marisahagerty

Welcome back to Hump Day Update, the place to find out everything you need to know about what’s been going on in the entertainment world for the week. I’m Rachel A.G. Gilman. But enough about me, let’s get to the news.

Among fall premiers this past week was ABC’s “The Middle,” where middle child Sue Heck headed off for her freshman year of college. Though there were some bumps along the road (literally and figuratively, as half the stuff in the family car fell off the roof) on her journey to move-in day, all ended well, except we were left hanging when her roommate did not show up. From personal experience, Sue, it might be best to enjoy your single while you can. If East Indiana State is anything like NYU, your freshman roommate probably won’t be your soul mate.

At this weekend’s Global Citizen Festival in Central Park, Ed Sheeran and Beyonce collaborated for the first time to duet on her song “Drunk In Love.” This was after Sheeran had already brought up Coldplay’s Chris Martin on stage with him for his own set, proving maybe Taylor Swift has nothing on her English buddy in terms of #squadgoals.

NBC premiered “Best Show Ever” this week, a game show hosted by Neil Patrick Harris, to unexpected low ratings. To be fair, NBC, you kind of set yourself up with the show’s name. Like NYU freshmen wearing flannels and beanies in ninety-degree weather, it’s probably best to just act like you were being ironic.

Ariana Grande is going to do opera when she duets with Andrea Bocelli on his upcoming album. This shouldn’t be too much of a stretch since Ariana and opera singers already have one thing in common: I never have any idea what they’re talking about when they’re singing.

“Blindspot,” more successfully, made its debut on NBC. The show focuses on Jaimie Alexander’s character waking up covered in a series of intricate tattoos, which she must then decode as the clues to crimes. Funny, for most of us out there, I’d think if we woke up with new tattoos, our mystery might be closer to, “how many drinks did I actually have last night?”

One Direction released the name of their upcoming album, “Made in the AM,” as well as another single, “Infinity,” this week. Fan girls then proceeded to take over the Internet, freaking out over what they felt were hypocritical lyrics, but I felt it was refreshingly authentic. This miscommunication is pretty close to a real break-up (appropriate, since 1D is taking a break in March 2016). Stay strong, Directioners.

Speaking of bad relationships, in an interview The New York Times this week, Selena Gomez said she is glad the rest of the world is now finally seeing what she saw in Bieber all along. If what we’re now seeing is ill-fitting pants, a bad haircut, and hollow lyrics, I’m still confused, Selena.

Ryan Murphy’s “Scream Queens” debuted on Fox last Tuesday, finally granting the wishes of all those people out there who say, “Man, I love ‘American Horror Story,’ but I sure do wish there was more Emma Roberts being petty.” You odd balls are welcome.

And finally, it wouldn’t be Hump Day Update without a little Kanye! Lately, he’s talked of running for president in 2020, telling Vanity Fair, “I’ve got five years before I go and run for office and I’ve got a lot of research to do, I’ve got a lot of growing up to do.” To be fair to Kanye, most of the current candidates for president could easily say the same thing.

Hope you enjoyed this week! See you back here next Wednesday.

Rachel A.G. Gilman is a Highlighter Staff Columnist. Email her at entertainment@nyunews.com

The Colbert Report, II: Live at The Late Show

By Ryan Matera

Via Dose

On Friday, I had the opportunity to attend the Late Show to see guests Malala Yousafzai and Kerry Washington as well as Dan Auerbach’s side project, The Arcs. Under the projection dome, Jon Batiste would rock out during commercial breaks and it seemed clear that Stephen Colbert had officially settled into his new role. The excitement and the surprise visible backstage in the first week was replaced with familiarity and expectation. Between breaks, Stephen was larger than life as he was surrounded by crewmen going over notes.

Being in the crowd is not so much watching an episode as it is experiencing the production process unfold. It’s difficult not to be amazed at the amount of work it takes to make an episode happen and even more so at the amount Colbert is managing at once. It unfortunately pointed out how rigid the structure of the show had become. At first him playing around with monologue lengths and trying different bits seemed to show hope for the Late Show game, but after a while it has become just as predictable as most comedy shows.

Stephen has continued to invite guests that are politically stimulating and has used his power as entertainer for positive reasons. His interview with Trump was not overly aggressive but still put him on the spot for decisions he has made and views he holds. Dr. Ernie Moniz, an otherwise unknown nuclear-physicist who was crucial in the Iran Nuclear Deal, had the chance to explain logistics of the deal and assuage concerns that the agreement may not last. In his time with Elizabeth Warren we heard a liberal economic standpoint and learned what a top politician sees as the future of American politics.

He has also been able to appeal to different crowds when he sat down with Steph Curry, Kerry Washington, Malala Yousafzai, and the founder of the Global Citizens music festival featuring Coldplay, Pearl Jam, Beyonce, and Ed Sheeran. The show also maintained its bite as musical guest Raury danced on stage with a Mexico jersey with the name Trump crossed out on the back- all on the same episode with Donald Trump.

One show that held a certain nostalgia towards the Report was Thursday night’s “Popisode” honoring Pope Francis’ presence in the city. He danced around with a cardboard cut out of the Pope, held a panel on Catholicism in America featuring Maria Shriver and Jim Gaffigan, and had the Jerusalem Youth Chorus sing a few songs. The episode reached to play out as a special, much like his election or other themed episodes in the past, but perhaps due to it being on an hour late because of Thursday Night Football or some unexciting guests it did not play out as well as it could have. The episode still shows hope for future stunts and the week as a whole showed the steady rise of Stephen Colbert as our next great Late Night host.

Ryan Matera is a Highlighter Staff Columnist. Email him at entertainment@nyunews.com

The Colbert Report, I: Looking at the Late Show

By Ryan Matera

Via Ramascreen

I would like to begin my first column writing for the Late Show with Stephen Colbert by saying that I believe the show has begun wonderfully, encapsulating both the political awareness and comedic quality that an ideal late night show should have. Colbert does not build the guest on a pedestal much like many of his contemporaries- he never shies away from making jokes at their expense or pointing out their lavish lifestyles. Colbert’s strongest trait is his political savvy. He has attracted to the show presidential candidates such as Jeb Bush and Bernie Sanders, Secretary General of the UN Ban Ki-Moon, and was even able to raise the familiarity of supreme court justice Stephen Breyer. Colbert does not merely flatter these officials either- he purposefully and skillfully poses questions that most viewers didn’t even realize we should have been asking.

His most impressive performance of his first week on air came in an interview with CEO of SpaceX and Tesla Elon Musk. Colbert pointed out Musk’s blatant destructive habits toward Nature (blowing up barges and sending thermo-nuclear devices to Mars??) as characteristic of a super villain. At the end of the interview Colbert had Musk point out the need of protecting the planet we’re still on and begin movements toward sustainable research. After the statement Colbert inserted unapologetically, “Well you seem like the right guy to do that”.

This week’s guest provided more opportunity for more insight and a strengthening of Colbert’s sketch performances. In his interview with Justice Breyer, Colbert inquired on why in an age of absolute government knowledge we are still not able to see the process behind a Supreme Court ruling. The conversation that followed addressed how citizens have the right to know what our government is doing but how keeping the rulings private keeps them honest and free from commercial sway. The interview was not an expose or a game, it was an interesting conversation between two influential and intelligent people.

His interview with Trevor Noah was another that was both comedic and informative. It gave the viewer an insight on Noah’s progress with his show and an early look at his abilities on camera. Due to Noah’s background in South Africa the conversation allowed some insight into the freedom we have in the United States and the amount we neglect it.

Another specialty of the show is Jon Batiste and Stay Human. The band features Batiste jamming out on the melodica, as well as a saxophonist with a game-changing mustache. Every time the show returns from break the viewer at home can see the end of some elaborate jam that leaves the crowd riled up, increasing the excitement of the show and making fans want to see it live.

The show may lack the elaborate schemes Colbert used to pull on the Report or a large fan base, but these things will hopefully come in time to create a late night show with an enigmatic host and interesting guests. Be sure to watch the week ahead with Donald Trump, Malala Yusafzai, Elizabeth Warren, and Jim Gaffigan, then read this column in case you don’t know whether it was good or not.

Ryan Matera is a Highlighter Staff Columnist. Email him at entertainment@nyunews.com

Mads Mikkelsen gets humorous in “Men & Chicken”

By Min-Wei Lee

Via Twitch Film

Mads Mikkelsen, of “Hannibal” and “Casino Royale” fame, joins Danish writer and director Anders Thomas Jensen (“Adam’s Apples,” “The Green Butchers”) in “Men & Chicken,” a refreshing black comedy that casts the actor in a role so far removed from his characteristic performances that his very presence on screen elicits uncomfortable laughter from the audience. The director opts out of creating an over-the-top comedic spectacle by grounding the film in simple yet effective character-centric camerawork and a muted color palette of earthy tones. Such realism enables the audience to suspend its disbelief and fully immerse itself in what is essentially a family adventure about self-discovery and acceptance.

The name Mads Mikkelsen tends to conjure up images of a suave, serious, albeit villainous character in the minds of most moviegoers. The 49-year-old is most famous for playing antagonist Le Chiffre in “Casino Royale” (2006) and, most recently, adeptly taking up the mantle of one of cinema’s most notorious serial killers, Hannibal Lecter, in NBC’s operatic eponymous TV series, “Hannibal” (2013–15).

In “Men & Chicken,” Mikkelsen is a caricature. Sporting a thick moustache over a cleft lip, Mikkelsen plays Elias, an oblivious, sex-crazed man-child who reunites with his brother Gabriel (David Dencik) upon the death of their father and the discovery of their adoption. With questions about their mysterious parentage, the brothers set out on a quest to find their birth father, which leads them to a remote island so small that it’s under threat of being struck off the map by authorities. Their search ultimately brings them to a large, decrepit sanatorium overrun by a motley crew of farm animals and inhabited by their three long-lost and completely insane half-brothers. In an attempt to find out the truth about their origins, the brothers integrate with the household residents, all of whom have nothing in common but their unfortunate hideousness.

Part fairytale, part mystery and part comedy, “Men & Chicken” evades any attempt at genre categorization. Wrapped in a thick layer of strangely endearing absurdity, the audience finds itself simultaneously charmed and disturbed by the eccentricities and erratic behavior of the dysfunctional band of brothers, whose ridiculous antics allow for the exploration of darker themes. Under the veneer of near slapstick silliness, Jensen lays the foundation for a serious existential contemplation of the idea of humanity, embellished by underlying threads of violence and transgression.

“Men & Chicken” made its North American debut at the 2015 Toronto International Film Festival.

Min-Wei Lee is a contributing writer. Email her at film@nyunews.com

Jason Boxer Solo Showcase enlightens, brings the laughs

by Joseph Myers

Via Peoples Improv Theater
Via Peoples Improv Theater

Steinhardt senior Jason Boxer shared joy, happiness and introspection of the human condition with his solo improv performance, “A Nice Guy Doing Nice Things.” The fluid and playful nature perfectly fits with the late-night comedy environment of the People’s Improv Theater. Boxer skillfully assumes the roles of a myriad of characters, poking fun at everyday life’s eccentricities.

Boxer created a string of different but related scenes using only one word from a volunteer in the audience*— “cookie.” From the word “cookie” alone he created scenes about dating, surprise parties, love and test-taking, which all related back to “cookie.” He switched characters at the drop of a hat and paid great attention to detail in the mannerisms and speech of each character so his quick-paced dialogue is easy to follow. Each gesture, voice or sound effect is precise, leaving little room for confusion.

He plays each character with such enthusiasm and energy, that each scenario seems larger than life. His energy exudes exuberance and joy and is paired perfectly with his highly physical comedy. Boxer uses the space of the small black box theater very well, relying on exaggerated, expressive movements and pantomime. Each scene is truly hilarious and speaks a truth about everyday life and the human condition. This is particularly true in a touching scene between a heartbroken man and a drunken stranger discussing the differences between the often-confused feelings of love and infatuation and the vulnerability.

Boxer plays each character and scene with tremendous intention and care, while also feeding off of the energy of the enthusiastic audience. Although is is incredibly clear where he is going with each vignette, he stays true to the ever-developing, fluid nature of improv, discovering the arc of his narrative along with the audience.

Folk musicians Ned Steves and Pat Birk opened the show with a few mellow tunes, then Duncan Gregory introduced Boxer.

Joseph Myers is Theater/Books Editor. Contact him at jmyers@nyunews.com