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Can You Retire A Song?: On Lana Del Rey, “Cola,” And Harvey Weinstein

Music

What do we do with problematic songs?

“Harvey's in the sky with diamonds /
And it's making me crazy /
All he wants to do is party with his pretty baby”

What’s in a name, eh? Lana Del Rey’s "Cola," a track from her Paradise EP, has been metaphorically boxed up and stored away in the attic, unlikely to see the light of day again, given the strong rumors that the song—and the above line, in particular—is about disgraced producer Harvey Weinstein.

“When I wrote that song, I suppose I had like a Harvey Weinstein/Harry Winston-type of character in mind,” she recently confirmed in an interview with MTV news, going on to say, “Obviously I don’t feel comfortable with it now,” before saying the song would be “retired.”

It speaks to the blurred lines that exist between real life and mainstream pop culture now. Though it’s not as if Del Rey has cowed to pressure here, her choice to remove "Cola" from live sets does presume that pressure was expected. However, with "Cola" being an uncharted EP track, it was arguably a decision she didn’t have to think too much about—history shows us that once songs are out of their box, it’s quite hard to put them back in. 

Someone who knows more than most about this is Paramore’s Hayley Williams. It was back in 2015 when she wrote a blog post addressing criticism aimed at the band’s biggest song "Misery Business," written when she was 17; in response to being called out on it again this year on the press cycle for their new record, After Laughter, she said, "If I can somehow exemplify what it means to grow up, get information and become any shade of ‘woke,’ then that’s A-OK with me.

However, "Misery Business" is still Paramore’s biggest hit, the gateway through which many of their incredibly devoted fans found them, and so it still occupies a prominent place in their live set. Seeing them earlier this year, this was the moment when CHVRCHES’ Lauren Mayberry was brought on stage to join them, and it’s also the song that plays when a fan is brought on stage to blast out the chorus with them. Were Williams to double-down on her misgivings about the lyrical content, retire the song, and replace with any number of her other brilliant, beloved ones, it’d be a case of shutting the stable door long after the horse has bolted, entered itself into the Kentucky Derby, won, and been put out to stud. Also, for better or worse, that song doesn’t belong to her anymore, it’s sort of not her decision to make—whatever it meant to her when she wrote it, it means something else to those fans now. 

The question of whether or not a song can be retired becomes slightly more complex (or maybe not complex at all, depending on your stance) when discussing one of America’s preeminent songwriters Randy Newman. Newman’s songwriting is acerbic, ironic, witty, and very often written in character, often not particularly empathetic one at that. The song "Rednecks" is sung from this point of view, and includes the N-word—it’s the hook. There’s a question of verisimilitude here, I suppose, which Newman addressed in an interview with The Spectator this year, saying: “Once the guy was talking, I had to have him say... what he might say, because that’s what I’m sensitive to,” before he goes on to question whether or not he’d write the song now. 

Incidentally, he said a similar thing about the POV character in his biggest hit, "Short People," on an episode of NPR’s Talk of the Nation: “The guy was nuts, he had some kind of odd sort of mania that I didn’t think anybody had. And they don’t basically. I’m not sorry that I wrote it, but I wasn’t sensitive to the fact that people were fairly sensitive about that subject.” 

Now, far be it from me to ask one of America’s best songwriters to check his privilege, but in both of these pieces of self-analysis, he reveals his in sharp focus. In another interview, this time with Jon Ronson, Newman strolls the palm tree-lined Los Angeles boulevard where he was born, and, in a knowing mock to Bruce Springsteen, says, “How the hell am I gonna know America living here?” 

The problem is, this question of verisimilitude isn’t one often applied to songs, in the way it might be for a novel or a film. Because we are hearing the word coming out of Newman’s mouth, at the end of a pretty catchy chorus, that’s not the same as seeing it written down in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. It’s harder to divorce the word from its origin, and impossible to forget its origin is “a white man” (see also: Quentin Tarantino). And indeed, while Huck Finn has sufficient time for the violence of the language to be condemned and dissected (Tarantino’s films have sufficient time to do this, too, incidentally, they just don’t), in the case of "Rednecks," this doesn’t happen in the text; we are relying on good faith of the audience, and knowledge of Newman’s previous work. And yet, you imagine that as with the backlash that came in 2011 when a version of Huck Finn was published removing those racial epithets, a similar thing would happen were Newman to cease playing the song for these reasons, or rewrite the hook line, a feeling that the audience’s intelligence was being insulted. 

In today’s parlance, each of these songs would be referred to as “problematic"; there’s enough context to cover the author’s back against accusations of racism or sexism, but at the same time, they do reveal a privilege or help perpetuate a certain kind of culture. However, writing about the proliferation of this word in contemporary culture, Jamie Weinman argues that it has its own, err, problems, chiefly because its vagueness allows it to be applied indiscriminately to most things:

Because anything can be problematic, writers feel comfortable using it without trying too hard to justify it. This can be particularly common in art, where the use of a trope is sometimes justified on an individual basis even if it reinforces old stereotypes: calling it “problematic” sometimes seems like a way of sidestepping the question of whether it’s well used, or whether it should have been avoided.

The common denominator here is that of shifting context. Songs don’t exist in a vacuum, their meanings—arguably more than any other piece of art—are prone to all manner of different interpretation. Sang by both a man and a woman in a light-hearted musical scene, "Baby It’s Cold Outside" is ribald and flirtatious. Sang solely by a man, or read solely from a male point of view, it comes off as predatory. What the recent cultural awakening has led to is the introduction of the questions that Weinman claims all too often go avoided—is a trope well used, should it have been avoided. That’s what Del Rey was tapping into with "Cola," a trope, and her decision to pull it, based on how accurate that trope is, sets an interesting precedent going forward for how music and culture intersect. In effect, the overall question of whether it can be “retired” is moot—it’ll still exist online, people who like it will continue to listen to it, it’d be nigh on impossible to extinguish that song altogether. However, by addressing it in the current climate, Del Rey’s asserted her ownership of it and shifted the context herself. 

Photos by Joe Maher/Getty Images, Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images for TIME

Must have been pretty awkward

Taylor Swift and Sophie Turner were guests on the U.K.'s The Graham Norton Show together, which must have been awkward for Turner's husband, Joe Jonas, seeing as he also happens to be Swift's ex. I wonder if his name came up?

The interview doesn't come out until Friday night, but promotional photos show the two sharing a couch. Swift is making an appearance to perform her new single, "ME!" while Turner is promoting her new film, X- Men: Dark Phoenix. But it seems necessary for the two to be asked about Jonas.

Swift was just on the Ellen DeGeneres Show earlier this month, where she brought up the fact that she felt bad for putting Jonas "on blast" on DeGeneres' show back in 2008 by telling the audience that he broke up with her in a record-setting short phone call. But, according to Swift, she and Jonas are chill now, since it happened pretty long ago, which means she's probably already hung out with Turner and maybe even gossiped about him with her.

We can only hope that they get the chance to spill some tea on television.

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FROM THE WORLD WIDE WEB
Screenshot via YouTube, Photo Courtesy of HBO

"That's! His! Auntie!"

Leslie Jones has rewatched the Game of Thrones finale with a beer in hand, Seth Meyers at her side, and a full camera crew ready to take in all her glorious reactions. Spoilers ahead, but, if you haven't watched last week's episode already, that's kind of on you at this point.

When Jon Snow started to make out with Daenerys, also known as his aunt, only to stab her through the chest moments later, it was emotional whiplash for everyone watching. And, Jones' reactions—both from her first and second viewing—sum it all perfectly.

"That's! His! Auntie! [gagging noises]," Jones says before making an aside about calling the police if her uncle ever tried to do the same. But then the knife goes in, and Jones screams. "Did you see that?!" Jones asks, "Yeah bitch, that's a knife in you." Meyers points out the funniest part of all: "Why are you so upset about someone kissing their aunt but totally fine with someone killing their aunt?" Jones replies, "Because that bitch needed to go," and, well, same.

Other highlights from the comedians' rewatch include comparing Dany's victory speech to a bad improv gig, predicting that their dogs would have less of a reaction to their deaths than Drogon did to his mother's, and more.

Watch all of Jones' reactions from this Late Night clip below.

Game of Jones: Leslie Jones and Seth Watch Game of Thrones' Series Finale youtu.be

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These lyrics are a lot

Robbie Tripp, aka Curvy Wife Guy, is back with a music video, titled "Chubby Sexy," starring his wife and a trio of models. In it, Tripp raps about his bold choice to find women with an average body size attractive.

The video begins with a series of statements laid over some pool water: "Curves are the new high fashion," "Chubby is the new sexy," "We Out Here." Tripp posits that these queens deserve an anthem, which they do. What they do not deserve is this Cursed Song. As he lists all the names he knows to call them by (thick, thicc, and BBW), one model (who I really, really hope was paid well) squirts some lotion down her cleavage, and Tripp begins dancing.

"My girl chubby sexy/ Call her bonita gordita," Tripp states in his chorus, before going on to compare "big booty meat" to the peach emoji. Another thing he mentions is that his wife can't find a belt that fits her waist, and that's why he calls her James and the Giant Peach. He then tries to dab. Here are some of the other Cursed highlights from his, uh, verses:

Got those Khaleesi curves/ Knows how to dragon slay
She like a dude that's woke/ We like a girl that's weighty
Some say a chubby girl that's risky/ But they ain't met a curvy girl that's frisky
Imma dunk that donk like I'm Andrew Wiggins.
Thick like an Amazon/ Built like Big Ben.

Tripp says one thing in the video that I couldn't agree more with: "She don't need a man." No, she does not. Please run. If you must, watch the entire video, below. Or send it to your nemesis!

Robbie Tripp - Chubby Sexy (Official Music Video) www.youtube.com

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Photo by Emma McIntyre / Getty Images.

See the promo here

It was bound to happen. The Kadashians and Jenners have committed themselves to letting the cameras roll on their lives, for better or for worse. So if you thought that the Jordyn Woods and Tristan Thompson cheating scandal was off limits, you thought wrong. The trailer for Sunday's episode of Keeping Up with the Kardashians was just released, and it involves the famous family working through the fallout of what happened when Woods went to a party at Thompson's house.

The teaser includes the infamous clip of Khloé Kardashian screaming "LIAAAARRRRRR." It's still not explicitly clear who prompted that strong response. She could be responding to Thompson, who clearly isn't always honest. Or she could be reacting to Woods account of the events on Red Table Talk. But the most revealing moment comes when we see Kylie Jenner—who was Woods' best friend before all of this happened—react for the first time.

In a heart-to-heart conversation, momager Kris Jenner says, "For you and Jordyn, it's like a divorce." Kylie only offers this in response: "She fucked up." Based on Woods' version of events—which I'm inclined to believeThompson is the one who fucked up. Still, I'm hoping for some kind of reconciliation between the two longtime friends. Perhaps we'll have to wait until next season for that.

Check out the promo video below.

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Photo by Michael Gottschalk/Getty Images for Topshop Topman

We'll miss you

According to Business Insider, Topshop will close multiple Topshop and Topman locations in a step to avoid bankruptcy, including all 11 of its U.S. stores. In total, 23 stores will be shuttered globally.

This decision follows Topshop's recent filing for bankruptcy in the U.S., and a string of controversies surrounding the chairman of Topshop and Topman, Sir Philip Green. Last year, Green was investigated for sexual assaulting and racially abusing employees. Business Insider notes that though the brand thought it would fare much better in the States, it has not grown as quickly here as it expected. This is likely due to the successes of less expensive U.K.-based online retailers like ASOS.

Topshop stores first arrived here in 2009, and were met with crowds and excitement—for a time. The brand's dwindling success in the U.S. and declining revenue globally has been chalked up to a "challenging retail environment, changing consumer habits, and increased online competition," according to Ian Grabiner, the CEO of Topshop's parent company, Arcadia Group.

Arcadia Group is also submitting a restructuring plan for approval, which would involve negotiating lower rents for its shops and cutting pensions for employees in half. These proposals have not gone into effect yet. Grabiner said that the restructure and closings are a "tough but necessary decision for the business."

If you live in the U.S., you'll still be able to shop from the retailer online and at its wholesalers, such as Nordstrom—but it won't be the same as stepping into its stores.

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