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After AfterEllen: On The Future Of The Queer Community On The Internet

Radar

How can queer women’s media make it?

This week, AfterEllen’s Editor-in-Chief, Trish Bendix, announced that the pioneering site, which had spent 14 years as the web’s foremost authority on LGBT women’s pop culture, would be shutting down. The lesbian internet wept and raged, and had existential and literal questions about the world and capitalism and power and the future of queer community and safe spaces.

If you’re not a gay lady, it’s possible you’ve never heard of AfterEllen, or the site I run, Autostraddle, which apparently is the last big web-first lesbian magazine standing. So, quickly: In 2002, a whip-smart Harvard grad and Expedia employee named Sarah Warn started a lesbian entertainment website to talk about the three or four lesbian entertainment stories that occurred every blue moon. She named it after Ellen Degeneres, intended as a tribute to the then-shunned star whom she feared the queer world would one day forget.

AE began as a hobby but soon gained a cult following, enabling Warn to do it full-time. When The L Word premiered in 2004, coinciding with the advent of accessible wireless high-speed internet, AfterEllen quickly became THE cultural hub of lesbian life online. Warn and her partner launched a brother site, AfterElton, smashed them together under their company Erosion Media LLC, and then sold both sites to Logo/MTV in 2006.

Viacom-owned Logo was a new gay-oriented cable network that appreciated its lady-led property, even airing AfterEllen’s video blogs on their channel after-hours. Viacom gave AE the access and the money it needed to grow, and it did. By 2009, Sarah left, and another editor, Karman Kregloe, took over. Trish Bendix who'd been writing for the site for ten years, was at the helm in 2014, when Viacom put AfterEllen up for sale. It was bought by Evolve Media, where it was brought under the aegis of the woman-focused TotallyHer, which intended to take up the challenge of making the site profitable within two years. They failed.

So here we are now, with a lot of people wondering: If AfterEllen couldn’t make it, how can any queer women’s media “make it”?

AfterEllen’s folding proves what I’ve long suspected, which is that running queer women’s media on advertising revenue alone may indeed be a hopeless endeavor. “At MTV, we consistently had advertisers wanting to advertise to gay men (on AfterElton),” Sarah Warn tweeted on September 20th, “but not lesbians, and I developed a theory that stereotypes work FOR gay men as consumers (travelers, affluent) & AGAINST lesbians (no $$, don’t care about clothes, etc.)”

While gay men are viewed as a rapt, monied market for expensive watches, luxury vacations, and very fancy pants, gay women have never quite achieved that cachet, no matter how many glamorous lesbian celebrities slip into the mainstream. As mainstream acceptance increases, however, queer-owned-and-operated media and spaces are struggling and closing. The rise of LGBT verticals on mainstream sites like Buzzfeed and HuffPo have done irreparable damage to sites like AfterEllen and Autostraddle, as well as indie publications for gay men and women alike, which formerly were the only reliable source of gay news. With SEO-optimization and big social media teams, their stories are now the first to pop up, not ours. Many fear queer-specific spaces will become obsolete in this new era. I disagree with my whole heart.

Autostraddle launched in 2009, headed up by me and my then-girlfriend, designer Alex Vega. The team was basically my group of friends, who I’d mostly met through my personal blog and L Word recaps (for now-defunct fansite The L Word Online, as well as a video series on Showtime’s YouTube channel). I was inspired by Jane, Sassy, The Awl, Nerve, Bitch, Bust, and Jezebel. I wanted a site for LGBTQ women that went beyond entertainment, covering a breadth of topics similar to a traditional women’s magazine. We had a slow and often painful start. For the first few years, our site regularly crashed, sometimes for days at a time, and we almost quit every few weeks. Most everybody worked for free. I worked 80 hours a week and hustled for donations. We sacrificed our social lives, sanity, health, financial stability, and pride. We stuck with it because we loved our work and we loved our readers, and they supported us enthusiastically. We had no business experience or ad sales team, but imagined ad money would pour in once we got the traffic numbers or maybe an experienced ad salesperson. We were wrong.

We’ve since blown through ad salespeople and ad networks with what began as earnest optimism and eventually became grizzled pessimism. We’ve been a part of ad networks including Say Media, Google, BuySellAds, and the Gay Ad Network. We’ve had young gay men, power lesbians, and old straight men try to sell ads for us. We’ve partnered with other LGBTQ sites and other ad firms. Our most successful relationship was with Target 10, an LGBT-focused agency that brought us every campaign they could and were an actual joy to work with. Generally, though, every new person we worked with came back to us with the same sad story: They’d never had a harder time selling a property than ours. Granted, we refused intrusive ads and only agreed to shill products we genuinely believed in. We also write a lot about sex, which is apparently okay for straight women but when gay women do it, it’s gross, and advertisers hate it. Our ad revenue has slid down a slope more slippery than the worst same-sex marriage doomsday scenario, but we also learned early on not to rely on it. The companies that have gambled on us have seen incredible results—even our most anti-capitalist readers are always stoked to see advertisers investing in Autostraddle and enthusiastically consume sponsored content. Still, at its peak, ad income was 15 percent of our revenue. Now it’s about 5 percent.

Two ad types run on sites like ours: direct sale and network ads. The former brings in better money—designed by/with and paid directly from the brand or its agent. When no direct sale ads have been sold, network ads feed into those empty spots. Those can be audience-specific ads sold in bulk through a network for a low CPM, or cookie-driven ads personalized by your browsing history. After snatching up AfterEllen, TotallyHer approached us about joining their network. They wanted to sell AE as part of a big gay bundle to advertisers. Coming off five years of ad-people serving us nonstop false hope, we negotiated the contract offered to a shred of its former self: We wouldn’t run intrusive ads, set a minimum $1 CPM, denied exclusivity, and maintained our right to negotiate our own direct sales. Our independence and lack of corporate support, previously a thorn in our poor sides, benefited us here. We had an option AE didn’t have. We encouraged TotallyHer to reach out to other niche queer sites, like ElixHer and VillageQ, to add to their network. I’m not sure if they ever did.

We witnessed, over the next two years, TotallyHer drown AE in intrusive ads, hoping the formula that worked for their other women’s sites would work for AE. I guess it didn’t. Simultaneously, even big online media with deep, venture-capital-infused pockets were struggling to generate ad revenue. Indie sites like The Toast decided to quit while they were ahead, while big online media player Buzzfeed decided to shift its revenue-generating efforts to video; indie publications signed on to the retooled Medium network, and legacy publications began demanding dollars from ad-blocking readers. Facebook and Google, meanwhile, grow richer and richer.

But many of the same things that make our community so unattractive to advertisers are the things that make our community so singularly capable of supporting their own.

The very first lesbian magazine,Vice Versa, debuted in 1947 and was surreptitiously hand-typed by “Lisa Ben” at her office job. She used carbon paper to make multiple copies and would distribute it for free to her friends, encouraging them to pass on their copy to another lesbian upon completion. Vice Versa shuttered when Ben got a new job without access to a typewriter and carbon paper. Profit wasn’t the point; community was.The Ladder came next, published by “homophile” activist group The Daughters of Bilitis, and ran from 1956-1972. It was a lifeline for its readers, but it never turned a profit. They floated for a while on a $100k grant, and closed in 1972 with then-editor Barbara Grier later noting, “no woman ever made a dime for her work, and some … worked themselves into a state of mental and physical decline on behalf of the magazine.”

We’ve lost so many magazines over the years, hundreds of them really, like The Lesbian Tide ('71-'80), The Furies (’72-’73), DYKE: A Quarterly (’75-’78), Azalea (’77-’83), Heresies (’77-’93), Hot Wire (’84-’94), Common Lives/Lesbian Lives (’81-’96), On Our Backs (’84-’06) and Girlfriends (’93-’06). OUT Magazine once devoted equal attention to gay and lesbian issues, but eventually shifted entirely towards men. Logo did the same when it sold AfterEllen. Somewhere in there, Showtime launched and folded the website OurChart. Earlier this year, Advocate “sister” site SheWired announced it had never profited as a stand-alone site and would become a tag on Pride.com. CherryGrrl and PrettyQueer folded, VelvetPark ceased printing magazines and now posts online a few times a month. Some incredible print publications remain, like Curve Magazine, GO Magazine, ElixHer and The Lesbian Connection, but none are surviving solely on ad income. And while Autostraddle remains in operation and everybody who works here is paid, everybody is also desperately underpaid and we still lack basic support staff (I still do the accounting, for example) that big media takes for granted. We scrape by. We don’t have an app, we don’t do video or Snapchat, there’s no social media strategist, no podcast network, no ad team. We work 12 hour days. Writing is my number one skill and passion, but there are months when all I have time for is the business part, and that sucks.

The queer women’s community has long prioritized community over financial stability, but there has to be a way to maintain both, as Olivia Travel has done. What TotallyHer doesn’t understand about AfterEllen and sites like it is that community comes first, and that it is many queers' only source of community.

It is our duty to find a way to maintain those communities without sacrificing that same community’s financial health, and clearly nobody else is gonna do that for us.

The Autostraddle team is my family, and our readers are my extended family. We hang out on our own website, that’s how cool we are. Because it’s reader-generated revenue that keeps this ship afloat, we are beholden to them, not advertisers. Our radical politics, aggressive inclusivity, and over-processed touchy-feely devotion to emotional processing might not impress big companies, but it does create loyal fans who will fight fiercely to keep their safe spaces alive.

In July 2014, we launched A+, a paid subscription program. We initially dealt with backlash that made me seriously consider jumping into Lake Tahoe, but over time, people understood its necessity. So we have that, and we have affiliate marketing—linking to products we discuss (books, clothes, under-the-bed restraint systems, Bikini Zone). We sell a lot of merchandise, too. But A-Camp, an idea I had to bring the web community into 3-D, was our biggest game-changer. Once or twice a year we put together a massive event—a camp/conference hybrid for queer women, trans and non-binary folks featuring workshops, panels, crafts, performances, intensives, dance parties, meet-ups, games and so much more. The staff are Autostraddle writers and artists, and our guest talent has included Cameron Esposito, Jasika Nicole, Hannah Hart, Julie Goldman, Deanne Smith, Lauren Morelli, Julia Nunes and Jenny Owen Youngs. A-Camp is thriving. I love it. But it’s a trade-off: A-Camp requires an enormous staff and immobilizes the website for several weeks every year. It’s also a weird arrangement, the website relying so heavily on A-Camp for its financial survival… but without an influx of ad money, that won’t change anytime soon.

When Alex and I signed a contract with TotallyHer, it was with a kind of resignation, but also hope; maybe the only way to make big mainstream money was to put big mainstream straight white cis men in charge of finding said money. They had a solid track record and expertise. Maybe the master’s tools could build us a little yurt outside their house. And honestly, we were a little bit right. Even after their 50 percent commission, and even with all our restrictions, the TotallyHer ad network generated more revenue for us than any other ad network has. It was good enough for us, but it wasn’t enough to support AE.

Meanwhile, AfterEllen’s folding has shocked our community into action. Internet-savvy queers in their 20s through their 40s grew up on AfterEllen, after all, myself included. AE was the first site to hold media creators accountable for their representation of queer characters. AE was a refuge. AE is important. Donations and A+ subscriptions have been rolling in since the announcement, and a fundraiser launched to support Trish Bendix—who is being denied her severance package for using honest straightforward language on The Advocate, a public forum, to explain AfterEllen’s fate instead of using the obfuscating PR-friendly language TotallyHer chose to employ when they sent an actual straight white cis man onto AfterEllen to assure readers rumors of their demise were overstated—promises to send any money raised over the required amount to Autostraddle. We’re establishing a relationship with the library-nerd-friendly Riot Ad Network, and hoping to soon formalize and publicize our already-utilized policy of offering reduced ad rates to queer and female-owned businesses who need the publicity.

AfterEllen's folding isn't an exception to the rule, it is the rule. Survivors are the actual rarity, and I never thought we'd be one of them.

“AfterEllen is just one of the homes lesbian, bisexual and queer women will have lost in the last decade. It was a refuge, a community, a virtual church for so many,” Trish Bendix wrote on her Tumblr. “I’m not sure that some people outside of us can really ever understand that.”

The Autostraddle Senior Staff Team, from left to right: Managing Editor Rachel Kincaid, Executive Editor Laneia Jones, Senior Editor Yvonne Marquez, Senior Editor Heather Hogan, Editor-in-Chief/CEO/CFO Riese Bernard and Design/Business Director Sarah Sarwar

Dragonfire can't melt steel memes

I'm not quite ready to talk about the amount of time I wasted hoping Game of Thrones would live up to its drawn out hype with the series finale, but I am ready to dive into all the memery that came out of the disappointment. And I'm not alone: Maisie Williams—aka Arya Stark—summed up what we were all thinking in one single tweet: "just here for the memes."

After Daenerys had almost as lackluster a death as Cersei, dying with a quick stab wound, it was pretty clear that it would all be downhill. But hey, at least she's reunited with her BFFs Missandei and Jorah in the afterlife.

That opened up the question of who exactly would be king or queen of the seven kingdoms. Poor precious Samwell thinks we should try democracy, but it's not Game of Popular Vote, it's Game of Thrones.

Apparently, everyone at this point had totally forgotten about the fact that Jon Snow actually was a Targaryen, and the rightful heir to the throne. All the characters who, up until this point in the season, had been obsessed with this fact totally pretended it never happened, and never considered him for the new ruler because he... killed the mad queen.

So what do they do? Choose the one person who always said they never wanted throne and that he never even wanted anything: Bran Stark. Arya didn't save everyone's ass from the Night King to be disrespected like this!

And, with all his pre-existing knowledge and newfound power, Bran still just chilled in his chair. Arya is going into uncharted waters, no idea what danger lies ahead? Nah, don't share the information you have on it. Jon is sent off to the Watchers on the Wall just as his younger brother gains absolute power? Forget about pardoning him, Bran doesn't care.

And who would've guessed that Ser Brienne of Tarth would just go and become a blogger, writing anonymous glowing messages about the dude that screwed her over. I'm not a huge fan of the editorial decisions she made while finishing Jaime's story, but I am a fan of the memes made out of the scene.

And back to Jon Snow: All this potential, all this hype on his real name, and once he kills Dany he's shipped off to the Night's Watch like a sad, discarded puppy. There's not even a real reason for the Night's Watch anymore, so he's basically just being sent off to be out of sight, out of mind, for the rest of time.

But hey, at least they finally made right with Ghost. The goodest boy in all of the Seven... or, rather, Six Kingdoms deserved all the pats, and he finally got them when he was reunited with Jon in the North. It almost made me forget all the nonsense that happened throughout the rest of the episode... almost.

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FROM THE WORLD WIDE WEB
Photos via Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Australia/Getty Images

Our favorite collections from 2019's Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Australia

It's hard not to love Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Australia, an annual exhibition of some of the best in resort dressing, that has Sydney's various cityscapes and beaches serving as its backdrop. For five days, we hopped all over the Australian city to check out the Resort 2020 collections from some of Australia's most established designers and emerging newcomers through an assortment of runway shows, presentations, and parties. The result? An extravagant display of beach-ready fashion, elevated streetwear, and signature Australian style.

For those of you not familiar with the resort season—sometimes referred to as cruise or holiday—it's the in-between seasonal offerings of summer garb that typically hits stores in time for the winter months (you know, right about when we're ready to take those vacations we've been dreaming about). And while we're gearing up to head into summer over in America, these collections also serve as the perfect inspiration for warm-weather dressing—even if we won't be seeing them hit stores until much later this year.

From Aussie staples like Double Rainbouu and Alice McCall to emerging brands like P.E Nation, we rounded up the best Aussie collections we saw this week. Take a closer look at each of them, below.

Aje

Photos via Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Australia/Getty Images

Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Australia kicked off with a bang, the bang being Aje and its glorious Bloomscape collection. Whimsical pieces inspired by the native flora and natural landscape of Australia made their way down the runway, from billowing, sculptural dresses with hand-painted floral prints to rugged, masculine tailoring inspired by the soil, the trees, and the nation's rocky wonders.

Alice McCall

Photos via Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Australia/Getty Images

Alice McCall has been a longtime favorite in the U.S., known for its whimsical and quirky pieces that never skimp on sequins, feathers, and tulle. For Resort 2020, McCall was inspired by the treasures once found in her mother's "dress-up box" of the late '70s, creating her own take on vintage silhouettes but modernizing them and making them new. The result? Romantic, feminine, and glitzy pieces that are sure to turn heads.

Hansen and Gretel

Photos via Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Australia/Getty Images

Good news for anyone who's into the whole sea nymph thing: This trend is not going anywhere, anytime soon, according to label Hansen and Gretel. The Aussie brand's Resort 2020 collection, Venus, celebrated femininity and womanhood while nodding to this very trend with seashell knit crop tops, slinky slips, pastel summer knits, and plenty of shimmery pearlescent fabrics.

Lee Mathew

Photos via Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Australia/Getty Images

Lee Mathews Resort 2020 runway show was a special one: a celebration of the brand's 20th year. And, with that came a retrospective collection taking inspiration from the brand's archives over the past two decades. The collection presented the perfect mix of feminine and tomboyish pieces, mixed and matched and layered with extravagance. Ruffled, tulle skirts were paired with tailored shirting, while in-your-face prints such as polka dots, brush strokes, and bold stripes were used throughout, showing up on flowing silk dresses and structured, oversized shirting and separates.

Bondi Born

Photos via Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Australia/Getty Images

Resort 2020 saw Bondi Born, the ever-chic sustainable swimwear line based in Sydney, debut its first full resort capsule collection. The brand saw its sustainably produced fabrics take the form of knotted and bow-adorned swimwear, breezy seaside dresses and separates, and clean, simple eveningwear—all stunningly timeless, surpassing fashion trends and to be worn for seasons to come.

Double Rainbouu

Photos via Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Australia/Getty Images

In just a few short years, everybody's favorite Hawaiian shirt brand Double Rainbouu has grown beyond its playful shirting assortment with apparel, accessories, and more. For Resort 2020, design duo Mike Nolan and Toby Jones were inspired by the hippie travelers of the '60s and '70s, and a utopia where all creatures live together harmoniously. Set in Sydney's gorgeous Chinese Garden of Friendship, the brand's show featured model "tourists" who wore worldly prints, hippie tie-dyes, and plenty of linen alongside colorful zebra prints, sporty polos, chambray jumpsuits, and classic hoodies, making for a playfully diverse, yet wearable, collection.

P.E Nation

Photos via Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Australia/Getty Images

This season saw emerging Aussie label P.E. Nation present its first solo runway show, Physical Education, for Resort 2020. The brand took its signature spin on sporty '90s activewear and elevated it, incorporating bold, oversized silhouettes, denim, and all of the bold neons we covet. Bonus? The brand announced a killer new collab with Speedo, presenting its vintage-inspired swimwear at the very end of the show. Even bigger bonus? The brand's been upping its sustainability efforts, debuting its first-ever recycled active set, using recycled yarns and organic cotton. It will also be moving to biodegradable packaging by July.

Leo & Lin

Photos via Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Australia/Getty Images

One of our favorite collection this season came courtesy of Leo & Lin. Celebrating the designer's love of history, the romantic "Imperial" collection was a nod at both ancient Rome and the Victorian era, which saw sweeping, bulb-sleeved and high-necked floral dresses and suiting walking alongside flowing, draped Roman-inspired frocks. A modern flair was also sprinkled in, seen in the form of vinyl trench coats and fishnet fabrics.

Ten Pieces

Photos via Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Australia/Getty Images

One of the most buzzed about shows this season was Ten Pieces, the contemporary sportswear collection born from the collaboration between founders Maurice Terzini and Lucy Hinckfuss and designer Allan Marshall. For Resort 2020, Terzini was inspired by his time as a teen in Italy in the late '70s and the disco freak era. A bit punky, a bit hippie, and set in the drained pool of Sydney's iconic Icebergs Club with Bondi Beach as its backdrop, the collection's sporty streetwear pieces—unisex, and meant to be mixed, matched, and layered to its wearer's delight—felt more apt for the beach than a bustling city.

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Photo by Ari Perilstein/Getty Images for ASCAP

"It makes my ears fucking steam out of my head"

Billie Eilish isn't taking Alabama's abortion ban lightly. Speaking to Variety, the singer said that she has "no words for the bitches in the fucking White House." She continued: "Honestly, I can't even look at my phone," because the news is always so distressing.

Eilish doesn't call out any legislators specifically, but she doesn't have to in order to get her point across, namely, that it's outrageous that people don't get to have control over their own bodies. "It's so unbelievable," Eilish said. "It makes me, like, red. It makes my ears fucking steam out of my head. Women should say, should do, and feel, and be exactly what they want."

"There should be nobody else telling them how to live their life, how to do shit…" she continued. "It just makes me so mad that if I start talking about it, I won't stop." Eilish did conclude though with this simple, powerful statement: "Men should not make women's choices—that's all I have to say."

If you want to help the people who will be affected by the restrictive abortion bans that the "bitches in the fucking White House" are doing nothing about, these organizations could use your help.

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MORE in VIDEO

We talk to the pop star about her past, present, and future—and why she spoke out against R. Kelly

JoJo has been through it. Any casual music listener who lived through the 2000s knows what I'm talking about. The singer shot to instant stardom in 2004 with iconic hit "Leave (Get Out)" and released two albums, a self-titled debut and The High Road, which ended up being a fitting description of the journey she was forced to take.

Soon after, Blackground Records refrained from releasing JoJo's third album, resulting in a near decade-long period when she could only put out infrequent singles and mixtapes. She filed a lawsuit against the label in 2013, claiming that her contract was no longer valid under New York law, and when she was freed, her albums were taken off iTunes and streaming services, denying JoJo and her collaborators future earnings and disabling fans from accessing their beloved music. She was finally able to release her third album, Mad Love, in 2016, but there was still a huge part of her career that virtually disappeared—until she took matters into her own hands.

Late last year—on her 28th birthday, no less—JoJo surprised us by revealing that she re-recorded her first two albums and released them online for fans to enjoy once again. It was both the end of a chapter that needed to be closed long ago, and one of the most powerful moves by an artist in the music industry, especially a woman like JoJo who has dealt with a level of power struggles and politics we could only imagine. Below, she opens up about the process of this remarkable venture, her newfound freedom, and her next step.

How did you decide that re-recording these two albums was the right move?
My options were pretty limited. Since I had gotten out of that contract with Blackground, I just realized that I didn't want to reopen anything by trying to have any interaction with them. So I saw what my legal options were and that was to completely recreate these albums and basically cover myself.

How long did that process take? Take me through the process of basically putting everything back together.
My managers and I had been talking about it because we saw it in my comments on Twitter and Instagram a lot, and I just hate feeling helpless. When I saw that there was this demand from my fans of wanting to listen to the first two albums, we called my lawyer and saw what could be done legally from that perspective, and then we just started to brainstorm as to how we could recreate the tracks. I came to the conclusion that what my fans wanted was the nostalgia of the first two albums, of how they found it in 2004 and 2006, so we tried to keep it pretty true to that. The process took, I would say, nine months, from the first phone call to calling my musical directors and have them start the recreation of the tracks, sending them the YouTube link so they could refer back to the original songs, because that's what we had. I didn't have a physical copy of the first two albums.

Were there any songs that you were especially emotional about or ones you connected with when you revisited them?
I definitely got emotional re-cutting a lot of them, particularly "Keep On Keeping On," which I wrote when I was 12. That was one of the first songs that I ever recorded that I had written completely by myself. Just to go back and take in the lyrics that I had written then, it's just still a message that I need to hear. It was just emotional being like, Damn, my little 12-year-old self was an old soul. It was emotional redoing all of them for different reasons because I remembered those sessions so vividly. Especially with remaking "Leave (Get Out)," "Too Little, Too Late," and "Baby It's You," I was definitely freaking myself out with trying to stay true to them but also realizing that I'm a grown person now. I was intimidated by having to hit some of the notes that I hit when I was 12 and 14, like on "Too Little, Too Late," because I'm a different singer, your voice changes as you grow. That made me a little bit anxious [but] I just did it.

You recently spoke out about R. Kelly on Twitter and said you heard stories when you were younger and that people you worked with were also working with him. How did hearing this affect you at such a young age?
To be honest, the way that it was being spoken about in the studio normalized it. I'm looking back on it and realizing how perverse the stories that I was hearing were, about how he'd always have young girls around, how he'd be waiting outside of high schools or he'd be hanging out at the McDonald's. I didn't realize since I was so, so young how very much fucked up that is. He really was just in plain sight being a predator. I was such a huge fan of his. I mean his music is incredible, but at this point, there's just no fucking way to separate him from his crime, and it's just wild. It's just wild that he got away with it for so long, but I think we're in a new era of accountability and transparency and I just think it's definitely about time. But in my comment section, it was like, "Okay, so if you've heard these stories, then why didn't you come forward or say something?" I was a kid when I heard these stories, and I certainly didn't know what to do. I didn't even know how to follow that thought all the way through.

I wanted to talk about the new album you're currently working on. Is there a the direction you're going for?
I want to go back to what comes naturally to me which is R&B, but I think I could care less about genres. I just want to make dope music and release it, whether it's all in one album, one song at a time, however that may be. I'm being super choosy and making a bunch of songs and then narrowing it down from there. I've never been more excited about the music that I'm making. It feels really great, and I think a part of that has to do with closing that chapter of the first two albums, with anything that I did from that time of my career. Now I can move forward and just really be challenged and keep growing and breaking myself down and putting myself back together with the help of my collaborators. It's interesting.

Is your attitude about freedom influenced by the music climate and streaming today? The music world has changed so much since when you debuted.
I guess, but I think, for me, freedom is more of the mental and emotional state. I do think that artists have so many more choices now, whether to be independent, or to do a joint venture like I've done with Warner Bros, or sign to a major but on their terms. I think that there is a lot more flexibility and freedom for us, much of which we've demanded and some that the industry has just had to adapt to. But even when I got off of my former label and knew that I was able to move forward and release music, for many different reasons, I still didn't feel that freedom. I think I was in such a fighter mode that I still felt like I needed to fight things, whether it was myself or... mostly myself.

It's being really hateful toward myself and dealing with a lot of that. For me, this freedom that I'm feeling is just stepping into a new perspective of not recognizing things as obstacles but knocking on them as opportunities, and I think for those who are fortunate enough to be able to get some type of control over their mind, I'm trying to try to do that and to feel as free as possible. I'm excited.

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Photo courtesy of HBO.

We made it

It's finally over. We had a great run—even if the eighth season felt more like a PowerPoint presentation of the show than an actual narrative. But perhaps the most frustrating thing about the show was that it left plenty of plot threads dangling. Still, some of the conclusions that the show left us with were shocking in their own right. Let's revisit.

Spoilers ahead...

Cersei actually being dead

I didn't want to believe it, but it's true. Cersei Lannister, the ruthless Queen that everyone sought to overthrow, is dead. Last week, she and her brother-lover Jaime held each other tight in the bowels of the Red Keep as rocks and bricks fell on top of them. I thought that Jaime would die, once again protecting Cersei, and that she would survive the collapse. This would have provided an opportunity for her to be personally killed by list-obsessed Arya Stark or a power hungry Daenerys Targaryen. But no, Cersei did not survive and I was shocked to see her dead face when it was uncovered by Tyrion.

Jon killing Daenerys

Cersei wasn't the only person whose death came under unexpected circumstances. Daenerys' long, epic journey came to an end at the hands of Jon (also known as Aegon Targaryen, and her nephew-lover). Despite following Daenerys all season, Jon was convinced that she had to go after a little pep talk from Tyrion. And so, what else would a Stark do, other than carrying out a death sentence himself? Jon did it with a blade through Dany's heart. At least it wasn't in her back.

Drogon killing the Iron Throne

If there is one character my heart absolutely breaks for, it's Drogon. Daenerys' death left the dragon motherless and brotherless. He took his grief out on the thing that drove her to the very end, the Iron Throne itself. Drogon melted it into boiling liquid metal before flying away with his mother's body.

Bran becoming King

Since the beginning of the show, viewers have made wagers on who would eventually take the Iron Throne for themselves. Through most of the series, Bran, who hasn't been able to walk since the first episode, was an extremely unlikely candidate. But alas, he was the King when the show ended, and he made a comment that seemed to suggest that he'd known this was his destiny. In other words, he let everyone battle it out while he sat and minded his business, knowing it was all for him to come out on top. A shady queen feels like a more fitting title.

Arya heading "West"

I get it, Arya has already been a free spirit and non-conformist. I also understand that she sent most of Game of Thrones motivated by revenge and with no more to be served, there was little left for her in Westeros. But to send her off exploring the world also felt... odd. Arya said goodbye to her siblings, setting her intentions on sailing to see what's "west of Westeros," so that she can find out what's there. It felt way too soon to assume that she wouldn't still be needed in her homeland, but Arya never was one to stick close to home.

Jon and Ghost reuniting

At the end of the fourth episode fans were furious when Jon Snow prepared to head South with Daenerys, bidding fond farewells to friends and fellow soldiers, but not bothering to pet his direwolf. The show runners said the reason for the impersonal sendoff was that interactions with the direwolves cost too much money to pull off and there wasn't enough budget. So we were all surprised to see Jon and Ghost reunite in the final episode when Jon was once against sent to Castle Black. It was a silver lining in an otherwise dreary episode.

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