An all-women “Lord of the Flies” reboot is a contradiction in terms

Two male directors are slated for the all-girl remake and, besides Warner Bros., few are excited


An all-women "Lord of the Flies" reboot is a contradiction in terms
“Lord of the Flies”(Credit: Columbia Pictures)

It was announced Wednesday that Warner Bros. will remake “Lord of the Flies” with an all-female cast directed by two men.

Scott McGehee and David Siegel will write and direct the new version, based on the original novel by Noble-prize winning author William Golding, Deadline reported.

“We want to do a very faithful but contemporized adaptation of the book, but our idea was to do it with all girls rather than boys,” Siegel told Deadline. “It is a timeless story that is especially relevant today, with the interpersonal conflicts and bullying, and the idea of children forming a society and replicating the behavior they saw in grownups before they were marooned.”

McGhee added that he hopes the spin will break “away from some of the conventions, the ways we think of boys and aggression. People still talk about the movie and the book from the standpoint of pure storytelling,” he told Deadline. “It is a great adventure story, real entertainment, but it has a lot of meaning embedded in it as well. We’ve gotten to think about this awhile as the rights were worked out, and we’re super eager to put pen to paper.”

People on Twitter were quick to point out why this concept may be inherently flawed:

[flies into frame on a broom]
the thing about lord of the flies is that it’s about systemic male violence + how it replicates
[flies away]

uhm lord of the flies is about the replication of systemic masculine toxicity
every 9th grader knows this
u can read about it on sparknotes 

GOOD: A female-centric Lord of the Flies!
BAD: A female-centric Lord of the Flies written by… two men. 

Photo published for Scott McGehee & David Siegel Plan Female-Centric ‘Lord Of The Flies’ At Warner Bros

Scott McGehee & David Siegel Plan Female-Centric ‘Lord Of The Flies’ At Warner Bros

Scott McGehee & David Siegel Plan Female-Centric ‘Lord Of The Flies’ At Warner Bros

Lord of the Flies, but with women, and also written and directed by two men! This couldn’t POSSIBLY miss the mark! 

We’re literally living an all-male “Lord of the Flies” right now, but sure, let’s see two male writers describe how women would be worse.

As Twitter users explained, McGehee and Siegel — the creators behind the quite brilliant, quite enlightened “What Maisie Knew” — might need a refresh on the nuance of the classic novel and how women actually work together before they actually “put pen to paper.”

Yes, people will talk of “Mean Girls,” “Heathers” and the often self-destructive behaviors of women and girls in cliques both in youth and in adulthood when it comes to this remake. Yet, at its core, Golding’s “Lord of the Flies” is an intensely malenarrative rooted in male group dynamics. The vocal turn-taking gambit that requires the passing of the famous “conch” and so many other aspects of the source material constitutes a sharp critique of how men and boys listen to and interact with each other both in personal and political situations. Women, as we have learned, do things very, very differently.

As writer Roxane Gay said, “An all women remake of Lord of the Flies makes no sense because . . . the plot of that book wouldn’t happen with all women.”


“Black Mirror” is coming back

The show is brilliant, but we’re already living in it


"Black Mirror" is coming back, but do we even need it?
“Black Mirror” Season 4(Credit: Youtube/Netflix)

Today, Netflix released the first teaser trailer and show details about the upcoming fourth season of the satirical, often harrowing dystopian British television show “Black Mirror”.

One episode of the forthcoming edition of Charlie Brooker’s brilliant, wonderfully depressing series seems to be in black and white. Another promises to be a homage to “Star Trek” with Jesse Plemons of “Fargo” sitting in the captain’s chair. It’s all very slick looking, very scary, very gripping.

Take a look for yourself.

Sharp, right?

But, as many will no doubt ask over white wine at house parties across the globe, do we even this?

A running joke (if you can call it that) as the election results swept in on November 8, 2016 was that we had been transported into a particularly nasty, particularly sad episode of the critically acclaimed show — that the looming presidency of a bigoted, sundowning reality star seemed pulled straight from a Booker script. (Indeed, some saw season 2 episode featuring a vulgar cartoon bear winning political office and then turning Britain into a dirty authoritarian hellscape as highly prescient.)

As the term of President Donald Trump as shambled along at upsetting speed, the nation (and the world) has only descended further into absurdist, Bookereque scenarios. Now, the commander in chief dictates policy and threatens nuclear hellfire via social media, sides with Nazis, rewrites history at will, compels the Justice Department to monitor those who demonstrate against him and continues to use his base in the Oval Office to wage petty, personal wars against other celebrities. He sources a tin-foil hat conspiracy theorist for his daily news.

With a revolving cast of despicables running in and out of the West Wing while opening fighting with each other and pushing “alternative facts,” almost every Trump critic has compared the Executive Branch to Trump’s reality show, “The Apprentice”.

All this misery has metastasized beyond the White House. Kid Rock may (or may not) be running for Senate. More than half of all Republicans would be fine with Trump delaying the 2018 elections. A significant portion of them would rather have Jefferson Davis — a traitor and a poor leader who lost the Civil War — as president than go through another Barack Obama administration. Men in polo shirts hoist tiki torches in fear of losing not their rights, but their systematically reinforced privileges.

While Trump’s numbers are down overall, his most ardent supporters seem more impressed with him with each and every obvious falsehood or legislative fail. The worse he performs, the more they love him. Our newsfeeds, and the powerlessness many of us feel while looking at them, are quite a bit more frightening and surreal than anything Booker has offered us.

But you know all this, you’ve probably said all this. At a time when every headline is more instructive of our flawed system (and more grimly vicious), the power of “Black Mirror” to point out the cracks in Western society dims.

When it debuted during the Obama administration, it was a needed corrective to the shared liberal belief that equality, sanity and justice were right around the corner. Much as how “Get Out” was designed to explode the myth of a post-racial America, “Black Mirror” arrived to reveal the often unseen monsters lying just beneath the surface of the connected, seamless future Silicon Valley and the technocrats surrounding Obama had sold us.

Now — as you have said, as we all have said — we live with those monsters every day. As relevant as a fourth season of “Black Mirror” and “The Handmaid’s Tale” may be, they run the risk of becoming rote, of simply contributing to the echo chamber of misery and fear that is our Facebook feeds, our off-hours conversation and cable news. What once was revelatory is now no different, and quite a bit more prosaic, than a White House press briefing.

What’s to learn from this show? What’s to fear that we don’t already scream about? How is “Black Mirror” a wakeup call when we already can’t sleep at night?

But, again, you know all this already.

It will be interesting to see if Booker and company can chart out new relevancies, new unexplored fears that have gone unaddressed in the Trump era. If “Black Mirror” cannot do that, however, it will fail. After all, we spend every day on the other side of a dark looking glass.

1987 is the most important year in alternative rock

From chart hits to mainstream breakthroughs, it was the year modern rock came into its own

Why 1987 remains the most important moment in alternative rock
The Psychedelic Furs; Depeche Mode; Echo & the Bunnymen(Credit: Legacy/Sire)

The National has achieved many things in its career: music festival headlining slots, Grammy nominations and near-chart-topping albums. However, the brooding, Brooklyn-via-Cincinnati band hasn’t had a No. 1 single — until now.

Billboard reports “The System Only Dreams in Total Darkness,” a song from the National’s forthcoming “Sleep Well Beast” album, reached the top slot of the Adult Alternative Songs chart for the week of August 19, beating Arcade Fire’s “Everything Now” by a measly two spins.

In addition to the National and Arcade Fire, the rest of the Adult Alternative Songs chart top 10 includes a slew of seasoned artists: Portugal. The Man, Spoon, The War on Drugs, The Killers and Jack Johnson. Sonically, these acts don’t overlap much. However, on an aesthetic level, they all promulgate a musical approach predicated on constant metamorphosis.

The Killers’ “The Man” is an icy, funky strut; the War on Drugs’ “Holding On” is rife with sparkling Springsteenisms; Portugal. The Man’s “Feel it Still” is a taut, soulful shimmy. The biggest chameleons might be Spoon, whose latest effort is the ominous, funky “Can I Sit Next to You,” which feels like Duran Duran filtered through a paper shredder and pieced back together.

In a striking parallel, the composition of the Adult Alternative Songs chart — notably the abundance of veteran bands who are fearless about evolution — echoes the equally transformative alternative bands dotting 1987’s music landscape.

That’s not necessarily surprising: 1987 was an enormously influential year that shaped how fans and artists alike create, consume and appreciate so-called modern or progressive music.

To understand why 1987 is a cultural inflection, it’s best to consider it the year a burgeoning underground movement crystallized and mobilized. Certain facets of this movement were already in place, of course. Specialty national video shows such as MTV’s “120 Minutes” and “I.R.S. Records Presents The Cutting Edge” and USA’s “Night Flight,” as well as regional video shows (V66 in Boston and MV3 in Los Angeles) were already airing clips from new wave and so-called “college rock” bands. Modern rock-leaning radio stations — notably KROQ in Los Angeles and the Long Island powerhouse WLIR — were also giving these new groups a platform.

On a more mainstream level, John Hughes-associated movies such as 1984’s “Sixteen Candles” and 1986’s “Pretty in Pink” combined relatable depictions of teen angst with a cool-mixtape musical vibe. Hughes treated bands such as Thompson Twins, New Order, OMD and the Psychedelic Furs like futuristic pace-setters. The people responded in kind.

In 1986, OMD’s “If You Leave,” from Hughes’ “Pretty in Pink” peaked at No. 4 on the U.S. pop charts. No wonder critic Chris Molanphy, writing in Maura Magazine, points to “how pivotal Hughes was in helping to break what became known as alternative rock in America — he served as a bridge between what was known in the first half of the ’80s as postpunk or new wave and what would be called alt-rock or indie rock by the ’90s.”

Hughes’ imprint reverberated well beyond films. For example, the movie “Pretty in Pink” took its title from the Psychedelic Furs song of the same name. Appropriately, the U.K. band re-cut the tune, which originally appeared on 1981’s “Talk Talk Talk,” for the film’s 1986 soundtrack. This slicker new version landed just outside the top 40, at No. 41. However, the goodwill earned by this re-do buoyed the Furs through 1987: The desperate swoon “Heartbreak Beat,” the lead single from the band’s 1987 LP, “Midnight to Midnight,” became the Furs’ only U.S. top 40 hit, peaking at No. 26 in May.

“Midnight to Midnight” polarized fans: A collection of full-on synth-pop gloss, it bears little resemblance to the group’s early, moody post-punk. Yet bold evolutions were a 1987 trend; multiple established modern and indie bands staked a decidedly contemporary claim, sometimes in ways that completely overhauled (or at least added intriguing new dimensions to) their previous sounds.

(Let the record show that this phenomenon also has precedent: For example, Scritti Politti’s glittering synth-pop gush “Perfect Way,” which reached the top 15 in 1986, is a far cry from the band’s scabrous post-punk roots.)

Elsewhere in 1987, Echo & The Bunnymen buffed up their gloom on a self-titled album with sharper production, while Depeche Mode countered with “Music for the Masses,” an (appropriately) massive-sounding record with a dense, industrial-synth sound. The Replacements, meanwhile, teamed up with producer Jim Dickinson for “Pleased to Meet Me,” their most streamlined and focused rock record yet. R.E.M. forged a production partnership with Scott Litt that would stretch into the ’90s, releasing the loud-and-proud political statement “Document.”

In many cases, these evolutions didn’t necessarily lead to immediate commercial dividends. In fact, the Smiths — inarguably one of the biggest cult alternative acts in the U.S. — broke up in 1987, making their forward-sounding final album, “Strangeways Here We Come,” a posthumous swan song. However, in 1987, the upper reaches of the pop charts were noticeably more amenable to modern bands.

 Consider this a culmination of a slow and steady trend — how the chart inroads made by OMD and the Psychedelic Furs paired with those made by Pet Shop Boys (“West End Girls” hit No. 1 in 1986) and INXS (who set the stage for its blockbuster 1987 record “Kick” with 1985’s top 5 smash “What You Need”).

“Just Like Heaven,” from 1987’s “Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me,” became The Cure‘s first U.S. mainstream top 40 chart hit, peaking at No. 40 in 1988. The shimmering 1987 synth-pop gem “True Faith” also became New Order’s first top 40 single, landing at No. 32. Other bands found even greater success: Midnight Oil’s “Diesel and Dust” spawned that band’s first mainstream hit, the top 20 entry “Beds Are Burning,” while R.E.M. landed its first top 10 single with “The One I Love” from “Document.” Los Lobos’ cover of “La Bamba” hit No. 1 (though having a major Hollywood movie behind them helped tremendously).

What’s interesting: Besides individual radio station charts and specialized trade magazines, these alternative acts didn’t yet have a dedicated Billboard chart. The publication only launched its Modern Rock Tracks chart on Sept. 10, 1988, “in response to industry demand for consistent information on alternative airplay,” as it noted in that week’s issue. In hindsight, it’s easy to see this chart as a reaction to 1987’s alternative groundswell. The influence of these groups was now impossible to ignore, and measuring their reach and impact — no doubt crucial for label bean counters, if nothing else — made sense.

In an interesting twist, 1987’s beginnings and endings were as formative as their transformations. That year’s dissolution of the Smiths and Hüsker Dü led to each band’s frontman — Morrissey and Bob Mould, respectively — launching fruitful and vibrant solo careers that endure today. Debut records from Jane’s Addiction (a self-titled effort) and Pixies (“Come On Pilgrim”), and second albums from Dinosaur Jr (“You’re Living All Over Me”) and Faith No More (“Introduce Yourself”) put forth an aggressive, hybridized rock sound that presaged ’90s grunge, metal and punk. Even Crowded House’s 1986 debut LP finally spawned two hits in 1987, “Don’t Dream It’s Over” and “Something So Strong.”

And, in terms of the touring circuit, plenty of popular 1987 acts continue to find success; U2 playing 1987’s “The Joshua Tree” to packed stadiums is the most obvious one. Depeche Mode is currently embarking on an amphitheater tour while Echo & the Bunnymen and Violent Femmes have toured sheds together all summer. In spring 2017, Psychedelic Furs tapped Robyn Hitchcock as an opener. In the fall, the band is teaming up with Bash & Pop, featuring the Replacements’ Tommy Stinson, for tour dates.

These tour dates in particular have led several writers to recently question whether “80s pop” or “classic alternative” could become the new classic rock. It’s an intriguing idea, although one the radio consultants at Jacobs Media doubt has traction.

“While these bands may do well at state fairs and other summer festivals boasting well-stocked lineups of bands, their ability to support a format is questionable,” Fred Jacobs wrote in a recent blog post. “Classic Rock — and its derivatives — as well as Oldies stations were predicated on the power of nostalgia — not just for a few thousand fans in a market, but for tens of thousands or more of die-hard supporters. We’re talking mass appeal vs. niche.”

Jacobs then went on to point out that Echo & The Bunnymen received only seven spins on a Classic Alternative station in a recent week. “It’s hard to create a groundswell of support for poorly exposed music that’s now 30+ years old,” Jacobs adds.

In a sense, current successful bands like Arcade Fire, Spoon and the National are better positioned than their 1987 analogs to avoid this trap. Multiple channels — radio, video, streaming, live shows — make it easier for bands to gain exposure and reach more people.

At the same time, 2017’s fractured musical culture means that there are plenty of people who either don’t listen (or don’t need to listen) to any of these bands. For proof, just look at the puzzled reactions to Arcade Fire nabbing the Album of the Year Grammy in 2011. One person’s mainstream band is another’s niche or unknown act. Perhaps the underlying concept that drove alternative music culture’s 1987 rise — the mainstream cracking the door open to outsiders — is still alive and well in 2017.

Annie Zaleski is a Cleveland-based journalist who writes regularly for The A.V. Club, and has also been published by Rolling Stone, Vulture, RBMA, Thrillist and Spin.

You may never hear anything from Prince’s vault of unreleased music

The fate of musical icon’s unreleased songs is less than clear

You may never hear anything from Prince's vault of unreleased music

Prince (Credit: AP/Liu Heung Shing)

Fans of the late musical icon Prince may never be able to admire the content stored inside two of the artist’s storage vaults due battles over rights to his estate, according to the New York Times.

When musician passed in April 2016, he left behind hundreds or even thousands of songs with no plan and no will. “But a conflict in Prince’s estate over a $31 million deal with Universal for music rights means that much of the vault may not see daylight for months or even years to come,” the Times reported.

Kevin W. Eide of Carver County District Court in Chaska, Minn., the judge overseeing Prince’s estate, described the conflict as “personal and corporate mayhem.”

At the beginning of the year things seemed to be on the right track, however, Universal decided it wanted to cancel its deal for Prince’s recorded music which would have included rights to most of the vault as well as those attached to later albums.

One of the most important things was “a timetable for obtaining American release rights for some of Prince’s early hits, after the expiration of existing deals with Warner Bros.,” the Times reported.

The Times explained:

Universal said that it had been “misled and likely defrauded” by representatives of Bremer Trust, the Minnesota bank charged with administering the estate, and demanded its money back. According to Universal, it learned after closing the deal that some of the rights it had paid for conflicted with those held by Warner, through a confidential deal that company signed with Prince in 2014.

Judge Eide has allowed Universal’s lawyers to finally view the Warner contract, and the company’s response is expected this week. Whatever happens, music executives say, the episode may harm the estate and complicate efforts to make another deal.

Some experts believe that no matter the ending, it will come with a price. “I don’t think there’s an outcome that is free of cost,” Lisa Alter, a copyright lawyer told the Times. Alter, however, is not involved with the case. But she also doesn’t believe there is an outcome “that is free of some damage to the estate in terms of throwing a cloud over what the rights really are.”

Music executives have said that it’s quite rare for a deal like Universal’s to be canceled. “And the story has become all the more riveting with allegations of mismanagement and deception on the part of estate representatives, including L. Londell McMillan, a lawyer who once represented Prince and was an adviser to Bremer,” the Times reported.



Charlie May is a news writer at Salon. You can find him on Twitter at @charliejmay

Beautiful songs about “dark, grotesque stuff”: The world according to Panda Bear

Animal Collective’s Noah Lennox discusses his latest solo album, the creative process and death

Beautiful songs about "dark, grotesque stuff": The world according to Panda Bear

Panda Bear (Credit: The Windish Agency/Fernanda Pereira)

Noah Lennox feels relieved. It is Tuesday, January 13 — the release date of his very well-received new album, “Panda Bear Meets the Grim Reaper.” The euphoria I assumed he’d feel has yet to sink in. Maybe relief will morph to happiness in a few weeks, Lennox mused.

This is not the first release day for Lennox. He has dropped several solo albums under the moniker Panda Bear, and nine more with the critically acclaimed experimental group Animal Collective. This latest effort suggests aspects of his personality: reserved, curious, competitive, playful and overwhelmingly thoughtful. The title evokes the concept of death, but Lennox explains that it is more about change — shedding one aspect of yourself for another. While grim material is certainly present on the album, by design it takes a few listens for the feeling to seep in. The darker messages are wrapped in sugary pop-sounds, and bright packaging.

Panda Bear creates a distinctively beautiful form of electronic music. It’s an amalgamation of sound, and is nearly impossible to tease out the individual components: an underlying rhythm, or a string of piano, and of course Lennox’s floating Brian Wilson-like voice. (The inability to “tell what’s what” is how Lennox describes psychedelic music.)

Lennox sat down with Salon to discuss the album, the method of creation, some of his favorite records,  and why he thinks music festivals are weird. This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

So the album’s out today!

It was a long road. It took like three years door to door. There were a lot of people working really hard for this one, so the overwhelming sensation is relief at the moment. Maybe in a couple more weeks it’ll transfer to happiness.

You can exhale now. It’s out and it’s well-received.

Yeah it seems like people like it OK.

Yeah, it’s beautiful. You said it was a three year process. What is your process, and is it different for each album? 

It is a bit different for each album, but for this one every song followed pretty much the same path, in that it would start off without any singing or any vocals of any kind. There are two songs on the album that don’t have any rhythm, and those started really with the samples — classical samples that I used. One’s piano, I think it’s Debussy [on the song “Lonely Wanderer”], and the other [on “Tropic of Cancer”] is from “The Nutcracker.”

But every other song started with the drums and some type of rhythm. I tried to create these little rhythm machines where it wasn’t just the drums but also weird noises, and tried to set it up in this really specific, kind of rhythmic, little rhythm music box. And then just kind of refining that and spending a lot of time refining those little pieces. I made maybe like 60 of those, and the ones I liked the best I fleshed out into more fully realized songs. Refining those Lego constructions of the rhythms, the singing parts, I would kind of just start to hear little lines, and I would maybe record those in some kind of trashy way, just really quickly, to remember it. Then the melodies would get built in a similar way, just sort of adding and seeing what felt right and what didn’t. The words were really the last thing.

You mention Legos — is it sort of a visual process to build it?

Yeah, it is a bit like Legos or painting — or cooking, especially, is my favorite analogy. Certain elements in production feel more like salt and pepper, or like stuff that always has to be there in a way, or that almost always works in some kind of form. And the way that flavors kind of work together, I find a lot of corollaries in production where certain types of production elements really seem to fit together really nicely.

I like production and cooking analogies, because it’s like in cooking the ingredients have been, more or less, the same forever, but people are still finding new ways to combine flavors and present things in really specific ways. To cook the stuff or not to cook it — all these different ways of combining elements and techniques that create new experiences. And I feel like production is the same way, or music production is the same way, where the frequency spectrum has always been the same. There are limits to what you can do with sound but the way that you produce it, the way that you present it, the instruments you use, the types of sounds that you use and how you mix them together, you can still hopefully craft new musical experiences.

Was there a specific feeling or something happening in your life or something you were reading that influenced the trajectory of the album?

Maybe not so much at the time, but thinking back on previous experiences there was definitely a…kind of noticing what would happen to me. There’s a couple moments in my life where I felt like it was a really dramatic shift in who I was before and after an event. Often intense break ups, or when I moved to Portugal, when I moved to Europe the first time, when my father died, stuff like this where it’s like, the way I thought about myself, my identity really changed because of certain events.

I can’t say that I had a blueprint for that, or that I game-plan going into making the album. It really made sense when we had recorded all the songs and I was trying to figure out a sequence or a group of songs that would tell some kind of story, I hoped. And once I found the sequence that is eventually on the album, it really seemed to reflect the process that I would go through in these, or that I thought I went through in these intense periods of change. Of course, with the whole “Panda Bear Meets the Grim Reaper” theme, it made sense. Never talking about death in any sort of literal way, but I was hoping to talk about how, when I would go through these really intense changes, there would be parts of who I was before — or this self image of who I was before — that would kind of die.

What I thought was interesting was how, despite its name, the album itself is pretty buoyant — and even the album cover is beautiful.

The whole concept of the thing was kind of presenting something dark and abrasive and something that maybe we don’t like to think about so easily and presenting it in a way that made it easier to digest. Like if you put this kind of dark, grotesque stuff in this costume that’s really kind of funny and light, it’s much easier to deal with that harsher stuff.

A lot of the way that stand-up comedy works, where the stuff that they’re making jokes about is often really kind of painful and dark, but talking about it in a humorous way makes it easier to think about. And I felt like a lot of music worked in that way, where a lot of the subject matter is kind of heavy and way below the surface, but the songs themselves, the actual sound, feels kind of playful and light.

And there’s certain parts of the production of the music — I guess I’m talking about the vocals and sing-songy, really simple melodies, kind of like pop, in a way — I hope that that stuff would be kind of the costume that was making the more abrasive elements of the production sort of easier to deal with, or would make you want to listen to them to the point that you could kind of wrap your head around the elements of music that take more time to appreciate.

It’s the kind of album where you listen to it multiple times and it sinks in.

I’m glad to hear that, a lot of the albums that have really stuck with me over the years work in that way, where at first maybe I didn’t totally love them but over time I really kind of developed a relationship with them.

What are some of those albums?

[J Dilla’s] “Donuts” is one of them. It was like the pace of stuff, how fast the stuff would transform. It didn’t make sense to me at first. But the more I listened to it, the more I loved it. Probably Grateful Dead’s “American Beauty.” That one, I would like certain songs, but developing an appreciation for the collection of songs just took me a while. Trying to think of something else. “Discovery” by Daft Punk wasn’t as immediate to me as the first one, “Homework.” But I really love that one now. Some Scott Walker stuff — maybe like, “Scott 2,” “Scott 3.” There’s a lot.

I’ve heard people say — I mean, I’m a huge Animal Collective fan — and I’ve heard people say that they had to ease their way into it. Do you think about that when you guys are creating?

Not so much, no. I don’t think any of us like to get our minds involved too much beyond a certain point. I feel like, personally speaking, I do a lot of thinking before actually making any music. I dream about what the thing’s going to be and there’s an excitement to thinking about something that could be exciting and trying to conceptualize it. Like what kind of equipment I’m going to use to make it and how I’m going to perform it live and what’s going to be exciting about it in terms of my picture of what the musical universe is.

But once I actually start making music, I try to remove the mental part of the process as much as I can, because I feel like after that point, it’s just sort of a slippery slope. I was listening to a podcast with Lorne Michaels the other day and he was saying how he really liked that on “SNL” there’s this really hectic, intense schedule, where you have people writing sketches down to the wire and people are working really late into the night and not sleeping a lot. He really likes that kind of atmosphere because he feels like the critical faculty can overwhelm the creative faculty, and I guess that’s sort of what I’m talking about here where if you start thinking about something too hard you’ll just start not making progress and not developing the thing because you’re constantly making judgements about how it should be, or what it should be. Once we start getting our hands dirty we try not to think too much about how it’s going to be received or how it’s going to make sense.

Is the process different for Animal Collective versus Panda Bear? One’s obviously solitary…

Yeah, that’s actually the biggest difference. When you’re doing something by yourself, you know all the moves, and it is much more difficult to surprise yourself with the results. But it’s like this streamlined process; it’s like this unobstructed flow of stuff. But it’s also what makes it less interesting in a way. Working with a band and trying to marry everybody’s perspectives on the thing, you’re often forced to go to places you wouldn’t really go otherwise, so you can be surprised by the results in an exciting way.

Does place have any sort of influence? Baltimore, New York or Portugal?

Yeah, all of those places, I’m sure. But it’s always really difficult for me to trace the lines in any sort of obvious or literal way. For example, the two records before this I made within about 100 meters of each other in Lisbon, but the two albums sound drastically different to me, have very different feelings to me when I listen to them. The environments, like the actual rooms were a bit different, but I still feel like that highlights how tricky it is to talk about how the environment influences the stuff.

But having said that, I’m sure that living in Portugal has influenced the music in some way, it’s just really difficult to talk about exactly how it’s done. But I’m a big believer that when you’re making something, when you’re a creative person, as much as you might try to hide yourself and your experience and your environment and what you do, there’s always little clues and breadcrumbs in there. And sometimes I like to do it really kind of literally, where I’ll title songs [after] places or streets or zones that have meant something to me, kind of as a little breadcrumb trail to my life.

I’ve read some reviews, and I’m always amused by the ways reviewers will project their ideas on an album, and it’s fun to sit with the artist, and learn at least to some degree what the actual intent is.

I don’t mind that at all. I feel like that’s perfectly natural. What bothers me is when they act like that’s not what’s happening, that it’s not just their perspective. You know what I mean?

One of my favorite quotes that my wife is always mentioning i.s, “We don’t see the world as it is, we see the world as we are.” I think that’s totally true. She never knows who said it. Somebody said it and they were a smart person.

I’ve talked to some people who say they could not pick out a favorite songs of theirs, on a specific album or even at all, because it would be like picking favorites with their children. Could you?

I feel that way with albums. It’s really hard for me to say this album is so much stronger than this one. But songs I can do.

And I do because I feel like [my favorites] are the most fully realized versions of what my vision for this stuff was in the beginning. They are the most successful attempts at doing what I wanted to do: “Mr. Noah” and “Come to Your Senses.” They are kind of the most rock songs to me, “Come to Your Senses” less so, but there’s kind of like an aggressive energy to it. The vocals really more sugary and like ear wormy, which is what I want to do.

How do you know when a song or an album is done?

It’s sort of like cooking, you can’t cook the steak forever. At a certain point you’re like, oh it’s done, I’m going to eat that now. That’s kind of what it’s like, a feeling and you know experience helps, just a feeling like something is ready.

I read the Rolling Stone interview where you’re contemplating killing off the Panda Bear moniker.

He kind of goaded me into that though. He’s my friend, Andy Beta, really cool guy, known him for a really long time. It was after we had done the interview and he was like “yeah, I was just wondering if you’ve thought about this?” And I had to admit, I figured if there was a time to do it, now is a good time because of the title, because I’m an old guy, and because I felt like this album was sort of like coming full-circle on something.

It definitely feels like the end in someway of something, which of course is the beginning of something else. But if there was like a smart time to do it would be now, but I can’t say that. I’ll see in a couple or years. I’m not planning on it now.

Sarah Gray is an assistant editor at Salon, focusing on innovation. Follow @sarahhhgray or email

America’s Stupid and Self-Obsessed Capitalist Culture, Perfectly Lampooned by … Weird Al?


Why the nerd comic might be the most relevant artist of the moment.

Photo Credit:

Remember Weird Al Yankovic? That geekmeister from the ’80s who did hilarious parodies of pop hits? He’s back, and critics are calling him the most relevant comedian of the moment, one going so far as to pronounce him “America’s greatest living artist.” His new album, “Mandatory Fun,” just rocketed to the top of the Billboard 200 on its debut week — the first parodic album ever to do so.

Looks like something’s percolating in pop culture, revealing our growing discontent with America’s twisted brand of capitalism. Is it any wonder? We know we’re lied to. We know we’re manipulated. We get that the country is stuck in airtight self-obsession. So we’re starting to gravitate toward artists who confront our slow-boiling anxiety. If death-obsessed pop siren Lana Del Rey (whose “Ultraviolence” album topped the charts earlier in July) is the zombie bride of capitalism, Weird Al is the court jester.

Right sorely do we need him just now.

Who is this guy, anyway?

Raised on Mad Magazine and encouraged by his parents to learn the accordion, Weird Al cut his comedic teeth on Dr. Demento’s radio show in the late ’70s and early ’80s, where he began to conjure catchy parodies of songs like “My Sharona” (“My Bologna”) and “Another One Bites the Dust” (“Another One Rides the Bus”). If you’re Gen X, you remember gleefully sharing these tunes along with your Cheetos during lunchtime.

Eventually he grabbed the national spotlight with his 1984 monster hit “Eat It,” a parody of Michael Jackson’s “Beat It.”  A hero to sci-fi nerds and to every kid burdened with an inner bullshit detector on high alert, Weird Al became a crusader against clichés and an antidote to the toxic inanities of pop culture. Somewhere along the way, he started moving beyond simply goofy and spoofy to something deeper. Obesity, grunge rock, the Amish — there was no sacred cow he would not poke. He held up a funhouse mirror to our foibles.

By 2006, he was introducing a younger generation to his comedic gifts with the hit “White and Nerdy,” a send-up of the hip-hop song “Ridin,’” in which Weird Al portrays a Dungeons & Dragons-playing science nerd who yearns to hang with the gangstas.

Off the Charts

Comedians typically get less cred than other artists, but they are no less essential to society. With “Mandatory Fun,” Weird Al takes his rightful place among those who have explored our strained relationship with the American dream, forcing us to grapple with it. From Charlie Chaplin up through the Yes Men, Russell Brand and Stephen Colbert, these tricksters have connected us to our pain and channeled our collective revulsion.

Why does Weird Al stick to comedy? His answer, in typical fashion, mocks the question. “There’s enough people that do unfunny music,” Weird Al once said. “I’ll leave the serious stuff to Paris Hilton and Kevin Federline.”

For his most recent blockbuster album, Weird Al cleverly used social media to market and grab viral attention, releasing eight videos on YouTube one at a time. More than 46 million people watched. Album sales surged.

In “First World Problems,” done in the style of the Pixies, Weird Al takes on our bourgeois obsession with comfort and consumption, while simultaneously poking fun at the indie rock preoccupations of suburban white kids who complain about their cushy lives: “My house is so big I can’t get wi-fi in the kitchen,” whines the douchey blonde kid Al plays in the video.

Tacky,” set to the tune of Pharrell’s overplayed hit “Happy,” skewers not only the tackiness of dressing cluelessly, but wandering the Earth in a solipsistic bubble: “Nothing wrong with wearin’ stripes and plaid/I Instagram every meal I’ve had…Can’t nothin’ bring me shame.” The brilliance lies in Weird Al’s intimation that the happiness sold by slick pop icons like Pharrell is predicated on a state of oblivious solipsism that cuts us off from the plight of our fellow humans.

Perhaps the best song of all is the Crosby, Stills & Nash-inspired “Mission Statement,” made for everyone who has found herself sinking in the mire of meaningless gibberish that flows through the modern corporate office. In the video, which features that annoyingly overused trope of a hand scribbling illustrations, the despair of office alienation is juxtaposed with the relentlessly upbeat buzzwords and conventions taught in MBA schools. What’s particularly resonant about this song is how Weird Al skewers the corporate capitalism which promised us all the wonders of efficiency, harmony and prosperity, only to deliver us to Dilbert’s cubicle of despair.

In “Mission Statement,” the dreams of love and peace echoed in ’60s folk tunes have congealed into a nightmare in which we can’t escape capitalism’s relentless propaganda, brought to a kind of posthuman wretchedness in which we are forced to speak in the tongues of abstract gods of the market.

As students of the human psyche know, the line between humor and horror is often thin. Weird Al gets us to laugh when we might ordinarily scream. Lighthearted though Weird Al may seem, there’s a deeply moral theme in “Mandatory Fun,” about how capitalism’s servants — narcissism, greed, vulgarity, and all-around douchiness — have to carry out its orders to beat us into a pulverized pulp of compliance.

Weird Al gets our number because he does what we all yearn to do: He bites back.

Lynn Parramore is an AlterNet senior editor. She is cofounder of Recessionwire, founding editor of New Deal 2.0, and author of “Reading the Sphinx: Ancient Egypt in Nineteenth-Century Literary Culture.” She received her Ph.D. in English and cultural theory from NYU. She is the director of AlterNet’s New Economic Dialogue Project. Follow her on Twitter @LynnParramore.

Grumpy Cat, Keyboard Cat and other felines are helping cats (and their owners) build careers on and off YouTube.


The Growing Economy of Internet Cat Videos

(Yep, It’s Real)

Photo Credit: Veda J Gonzalez/

The economy of internet cat videos? Yes, it’s a real thing. The Internet Cat Video Festival? Another real thing. A “meme manager” whose job is to build online brands for Keyboard Cat, Nyan Cat and Grumpy Cat? Oh yes, he’s real too.

Veteran You’ve Been Framed viewers will attest to the fact that funny cat videos were a thing long before YouTube, but cats of all shapes, sizes and degrees of grumpiness have become one of the defining content categories on Google’s video service.

A panel session at the SXSW conference this weekend dug into some of the business aspects around this phenomenon, helmed by Scott Stulen, curator of the Internet Cat Video Festival – a travelling jamboree of feline videos which sold 11,000 tickets at last year’s Minnesota State Fair – 3,000 more than Depeche Mode.

The festival has since toured the US, and popped up in Vienna, Jerusalem and Derry. “At each of these events, people showed up their passion for cat videos,” said Stulen, who stressed that the festival itself is a “break-even” event: “it basically just pays for itself, and that’s been the intent from the beginning.”

Stulen was joined on the panel by Will Braden, creator of YouTube channel Henri le Chat Noir, a series of moody “existential” videos shot in black and white which has notched up more than 7.2m views, plus another 10.9m views for the first two videos on Braden’s personal channel.

“In no way did I ever think this was going to be a career, or any money was going to come out of it,” said Braden, who posted the first Henri video six years ago. “I just thought how exciting it was that I was getting millions of views for this video.”

Braden makes money in two ways: from advertising revenues on YouTube, and then income from spin-off products including a book – subtitle: The Existential Musings of an Angst-Filled Cat – and an online merchandise store.

The book was pitched to publishers using a combination of analytics from YouTube and Facebook. “Now, a lot of the guesswork is taken away: you can come to a publisher and say I have this many followers, here’s where they live, here’s how old they are, all of that,” said Braden.

“It changes the way a publisher has to take a risk on a book. If 1% of all of the people who are your friend on Facebook buy this book, we make our money back.”

Henri’s Facebook page has more than 153,000 Likes at the time of writing, while mugs with his most popular slogans on are doing good business from his official store. “God knows why people want to take a mug into work saying ‘I’m surrounded by morons’. That seems a little antagonistic to me,” chuckled Braden.

He went into more detail on the economics of Henri’s popularity on YouTube, noting that it is “a smaller part of the revenue than people think, but also incredibly complex”.

He noted that many cat videos that have gone viral – even those with 100m views or more – make no money at all unless their creator has a “monetised YouTube account” to place ads around their videos and make money from them. The next tier of financial reward comes from securing a YouTube partner account.

With a monetised account “you might get a dollar or two dollars per thousand views, but if you have a YouTube partner account you can easily double that, and get up to six maybe,” said Braden, before showing analytics suggesting that because Henri attracts a disproportionately female audience compared to general YouTube viewership, the channel is more valuable.

“Henri goes all the way up to $10 on a CPM. This is really high. It doesn’t mean I’m rich, but compared to a lot of things on YouTube, this is a very select and very specific audience,” he said, while warning that success has been a matter of trial and error.

“There really is no blueprint in alot of ways to make something like this work. All of us, every success we have or every mistake we make, we’re collecting data for the next guy or gal.”

Remember that “meme manager” mentioned earlier? That’s Ben Lashes, who switched a job as a professional musician for a role managing the careers of a number of cat brands and other YouTube characters. His first client was musical mog Keyboard Cat and its owner Charlie Schmidt in 2010.

“He calls me up and says ‘I don’t know what to do, I’ve got this video that’s blowing up the internet’,” he said. “So we talked about it for an hour straight. I’m a pop culture geek, and saw Keyboard Cat as like any musician that had recorded a song and woken up with a hit song on the radio.”

That original video has been watched nearly 34.6m times, while the dedicated channel launched by Schmidt and Lashes has accumulated another 58m views since 2007, leading Lashes to his second client, Chris Torres – creator of the Nyan Cat meme, which started life as a YouTube video in 2011.

“It hit this new level of mainstream where all of a sudden a new level of people were understanding what cat videos were. The calls we were getting from merchandising were on a different level,” he said. “We had a legit toy company come and make Nyan Cat toys.”

Grumpy Cat followed in 2012: a kitten who shot to internet fame – initially on Reddit and subsequently on YouTube – on the strength of its naturally unimpressed face. Its official channel now has just under 155,000 subscribers and 25.4m views.

As with Henri, the real money has been generated offline, including a spin-off book, public appearances and endorsements – including the announcement this week that Grumpy Cat is the face of cat-food brand Friskies’ latest seafood product.

The book? “This week it’s in its 10th week on the New York Times bestseller list, almost nine months after it came out,” said Lashes. “The second one comes out in July… And Grumpy could care less.”

He suggested that the audience fuelling this demand is large but also diverse. “It isn’t just the crazy cat ladies, although they’re there in droves. It’s the six year-olds chanting the name of their favourite cats. It’s the hipsters there smoking cigarettes, hip-hop dudes, country dudes… It is the kind of thing where you have to learn to make everybody happy,” he said.

“There’s an evolution of the crazy cat lady,” agreed fellow panellist Grace Suriel, director of social media for TV channel Animal Planet, which has been eagerly joining the cat videos bandwagon in recent years. “From all walks of life, people have cat dresses, cat tattoos… it’s a whole new breed of cat person.”

A generous breed. There’s a strong charitable aspect to many of the businesses built around cat videos, from Stulen’s festival raising “tens of thousands of dollars” for animal charities, through to Friskies donating meals to cat shelters every time people tweet its promotional hashtag during SXSW this week.

“The audience is not only very generous, but very aware of problems with feral cats, and the money needed for shelters and things like that,” said Braden. “Charity is not just the ethical thing to do, it’s good business. Every time I was able to say ‘10% of X product goes to charity’ you’d sell 20% more.”

The SXSW session included a clear demonstration of the appeal of internet cat video stars – at least to an audience attending a panel discussion of internet cat videos – when Grumpy Cat appeared with her owner.

Cue a quarter of the audience (at least) scrambling into one corner, smartphones or tablets in hand for shareable shots while the panelists tried to continue holding the attention of the rest of the room with a key question: what is it about cats that has made them so popular on YouTube?

“Everybody just loves cats,” said Braden. “I just think it has a particular niche and a particular power, because it harnesses such a lot of what people like online. It’s funny, but it also has the ‘aw that’s cute’ thing.”

“I almost see it as a reaction culturally against all the stuff that people have been feeding you for years, now that the power is in the masses’ hands,” added Lashes. “You don’t have to listen to Warner Brothers any more. ‘I’m into this cat, so suck it!’. It’s almost like sticking it to The Man. ‘I’m going to buy a cat shirt…’”

Stulen warned that what doesn’t work are videos that are too self-consciously trying to go viral, before asking his fellow panellists what the future holds for this particular category of online content.

Suriel predicted evolution as more television brands get involved. “Will there be a cat video channel someday? I can definitely see that happening,” she said. “It’s just going to keep moving.”

“What’s been incredible is the people. Really incredible people to work with, and that’s what’s behind anything good like this: people whose intentions are genuine,” added Stulen. “The future is bright as long as those things are in place.”

Meanwhile, Lashes warned doubters that cat videos are unlikely to fall out of fashion in the near future. “With cat videos or Justin Bieber records or a movie that comes out next week, there’s always that question: ‘is this going to be cool tomorrow, is this going to be the hot thing next week?’” he said.

“Sometimes you keep asking these questions and realise hang on, that was 10 yars ago we started asking that question. As long as you keep it legit and keep fans happy, that can go on forever.”

It was Lashes who had provided the shock of the session earlier on, though, drawing an audible gasp from some sections of the audience when revealing his own status as a pet owner. “I have a dog, actually.”

Stuart Dredge is a freelance journalist and editor specialising in mobile apps and mobile content.