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In 2011, the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD), blasted Tyler and Odd Future for their homophobic lyrics.
“Tyler and Odd Future are padding their lyrics with anti-gay slurs and dangerous, violent rhetoric,” wrote Matt Kane, GLAAD’s Associate Director of Entertainment Media. “But there is nothing ironically clever about hate speech, particularly when a significant part of those listening are adolescents seeking to emulate their favorite artists. It’s simply irresponsible and destructive.”
Breaking the fourth wall on reality television is usually a fascinating exercise: It’s an opportunity for a show to reveal the true inner thoughts of its cast, which often include complicated feelings about being filmed and its machinations. Being a celebrity on a reality show, and knowing everything is being documented, adds layers to the experience that can’t be acknowledged without discussing the show itself, which is generally forbidden. Why does that husband seem like such an asshole? Oh, he hates his marriage being on camera! Did anyone try to help when that cast member seemed like she was actually having a nervous breakdown? Yes, one castmate went to producers and begged them to intervene. The casts of the Real Housewives shows offer particularly satisfying insights during their reunions, when they talk openly about the repercussions of being on the show: for them, for their families.
But the Bachelor franchise tries to keep its secrets much more closely held, as its trappings of romance would be less interesting without the pretense of true love. The shows have only occasionally tripped into the dimension of actual reality in their 15 years of existence, like on the recent season finale of The Bachelorette when Rachel Lindsay watched herself, in front of a live audience, be humiliated by her runner-up Peter Kraus, who told her he wasn’t ready to propose yet, causing her to break up with him. When Kraus came onto the stage to talk to Lindsay after they had both watched the painful scene, she was icy and clearly still angry at him. He apologized for having damned her to a “life of mediocrity” should she choose Bryan Abasolo and his pathologically eager-to-marry promises. Lindsay shot back at Kraus that she was “living my best life,” and tried to say, without being able to offer specifics, that she had seen cracks in their relationship before the breakup — her voice indicated that she was trying to convince herself about both things. As for how she really feels about Kraus — seemingly furious, and definitely determined to spike his chances to be the Bachelor — that’s up to his devoted internet army of zealots to tweet about.
This is all to say that, yes, the Bachelor franchise is capable of offering revealing emotional moments, some of which we’ve never seen on television before. Which makes its evasive, drawn-out handling of the alleged sexual misconduct (which eventually proved to be unfounded) between two Bachelor in Paradise castmates — Corinne Olympios and DeMario Jackson — even more disappointing and tasteless.
Whether it would have ever been appropriate for Bachelor in Paradise to address this incident is an open question. From its tin-eared first promo for the season, which appeared to exploit the allegations, and a cast photo in which Olympios looks like she can barely stand, it may have been better for Warner Bros., the studio that makes the show for ABC, to realize, There are things we are good at, and it’s OK that addressing accusations of sexual misconduct isn’t among them. Bachelor in Paradise is silly, and meant to be late-summer froth: Would the audience have faulted it for just starting over and pretending nothing bad had happened? The premiere never revealed what actually did happen on that first day of shooting that caused production to be suspended. If it’s possible for us to know less about the events than we did before, the two-episode premiere has achieved that. In an interview with Entertainment Weekly in early August, host Chris Harrison said that not to address it would create an “elephant in the room and then it will taint the entire season.” Yet what became clear in watching the premiere is that when production resumed, not to use the days of footage they had already shot would have been impossible, given that a short schedule (usually 18 days, but only 14 this time because of the shutdown) forced the story to move quickly. How else to explain Dean Unglert’s immediate attachment to Kristina Schulman, and Lacey Mark’s disappearance after her grandfather’s death, if they’d scrapped the first few days? Once Warner Bros.’ investigation concluded that there was no misconduct and the show began filming again, they had no choice.
And so the show’s producers and Warner Bros. were stuck. The result is the worst of both worlds: Bachelor in Paradise — which, again, is meant to be stupid fun — has now been at the center of heated discussions about the very real issue of binge-drinking, consent, and sexual assault, and the historically loaded topic of black men being accused of rape by white women to disastrous ends. In the end, the show managed to trivialize both scourges.
Monday night’s episode ended with the crew literally putting their cameras down. And it teased that Tuesday’s episode would begin with the cast, having been sent home during the suspension, returning to Sayulita, Mexico, to talk with Harrison. But no: Bachelor in Paradise couldn’t help drawing out the story more, showing the wedding of Evan Bass and Carly Waddell, who became engaged during last summer’s season of the series. The contrast served as a perfect example of the show’s inept handling of the Jackson-Olympios disaster: Let’s get through this cheesy wedding of two Bachelor Nation also-rans in order to get to more pablum from Chris Harrison! Yes, there was a shaman ceremony — and the proceedings served to kill the first 45 minutes of the episode.
When the show finally got down to it, the result was like an advertisement for The Bachelor mixed with the worst discussion among college freshmen you’ve ever seen. As Harrison gathered the remaining cast members (Jackson and Olympios excluded) on a couch to talk, I did wonder what viewers who weren’t immersed in this story as it unfolded in the news thought was going on, since the show never actually said in plain English why the shutdown occurred. At the end of Monday’s episode, Jackson and Olympios were called away by producers — and from there, everyone just talked about being confused.
Harrison began by talking about the investigation, and asking whether they trusted the conclusion that no one in the cast had done anything wrong. The cast, in turn, gushed about how much they love the producers and the crew, and how they knew dealing with the incident was so hard for them. “It was brutal,” Harrison agreed. The cast seemed also to take umbrage at the press coverage — their uniformly anti-media takes were positively Trump-like — that implied the show manipulates them. “I think there’s a weird perception that exists out there that we’re not in control of ourselves when we’re here,” said Derek Peth, who, according to Jackson’s interview with E! News, got so drunk the first night that he threw up all over himself. “You guys aren’t mindless robots?” Harrison asked, to supportive titters.
The conversation then turned to how unfair the media coverage and fan response had been to Jackson, and how this allegation will haunt him even though he was absolved. Raven Gates, a white woman from Arkansas who had been vocal on social media during the show’s shutdown, said she was “empathetic with DeMario” because of the cultural tendency to blame “African-American men for crimes they didn’t commit.” Jasmine Goode, a black dancer who, like Gates, also defended Jackson on Twitter and in the press during the suspension, said, “I was just thinking the whole time, like, what if this happened to my brother, you know?”
After the race discussion, the conversation turned to slut-shaming, consent, and the fact that Olympios referred to herself as a “victim” in the statement she released after the shutdown. “Why do you think she did that?” asked Harrison. Danielle Maltby answered: “She wanted to try and save face, was kind of what I took from it.” (So much for not slut-shaming.) And this would have been a place to mention, since it’s not clear, that two producers filed the complaint questioning whether Olympios and perhaps Jackson were too drunk to consent: It wasn’t Olympios’s initiative.
From there, there was a short conversation about the double standards men and women face when it comes to sex. Gates said that when she was in an abusive relationship, which she alluded to during her season on The Bachelor, she was sexually assaulted. “So I hope this situation doesn’t deter actual victims from coming forward and really speaking their truth and getting help and asking for help,” Gates said. She didn’t emphasize the word “actual” in the phrase “actual victims.” But this framing insidiously pitted Gates against Olympios, who viewers know to be sexually aggressive and who said she was wasted when she hooked up with Jackson (in her statement, she wrote, “I have little memory of that night”).
What followed was a conversation about consent with Harrison in the role of the health teacher. “So if somebody’s passed out, unresponsive, can they give consent?” Everyone: No. “If somebody’s drunk, can they give consent?” Everyone: Crickets. It’s a more complicated question, and the discussion ended with Diggy Moreland saying, “I think we’ve all been there the next morning, whatever, and you’re like, ‘Yeah, I probably shouldn’t have done this,'” which was met with uncomfortable laughter.
The whole segment was, by my count, 14 minutes, and ended with Harrison asking the group, one by one like airplane passengers seated in the exit row, whether they wanted to proceed with filming. (Ha!) Then, Harrison officially restarted the show, with talk of eliminations, roses, and bartenders. “After we shut down for more than two weeks, with the power vested in me, I now declare Bachelor in Paradise back open!” The opening credits, set to the song “Almost Paradise” and designed for maximum idiocy, then rolled.
It was all a missed opportunity. I can fantasize about how on Earth 2’s Bachelor in Paradise, the cameras would have been rolling the whole time on Olympios’s and Jackson’s experiences. How we would have seen Elan Gale, an executive producer, pressure Jackson to quit the show, as he told E! News he did. In Jackson’s recollection, Gale came to him and said he needed to leave at the rose ceremony or else. “Tell Chris and the crew that you love them, you’re thankful, however you’re not here for the right reasons,” Jackson remembered Gale saying. That would have been, in Bachelor parlance, truly the most dramatic rose ceremony ever.
What puzzles me the most, though, is why the audience wasn’t shown Harrison or producers laying out the new rules Warner Bros. said it would be implementing after the investigation “to enhance and further ensure the safety and security of all participants.” The studio has been shy about saying what the rules are, and Channing Dungey, ABC’s entertainment president, deflected questions about them multiple times at a recent press conference.
But they’ve leaked out anyway: TMZ reported that contestants who wanted to have sex needed to ask a producer’s permission before proceeding, and that if either or both of them appeared too drunk to consent, the producer could say no. TMZ also reported that the show was enforcing a two-drink maximum per hour, and that all drugs needed to be dispensed by a nurse. These seem like good rules, and smart, easy ways to make sure things don’t get out of hand! Why make it seem sinister — or in Harrison’s double-speak to The Hollywood Reporter, “We’ve really learned from our mistakes, but there really weren’t any major mistakes made”? Unless, of course, you’re afraid that the rules tacitly admit that some of the cast members get blackout drunk, perhaps mix drugs and alcohol, and don’t know what they’re doing.
Oh. Maybe that’s why.
Kate Aurthur is the chief Los Angeles correspondent for BuzzFeed News. Aurthur covers the television and film industries.
Contact Kate Aurthur at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Okay but what actually happened to this sword when Dany roasted the Tarlys?
Sure, Tywin melted it down into two lesser swords, but let’s just pretend that never happened.
Stick ’em with the pointy end.
Pshh, Valryian steel? Everybody’s got one of those. You need a truly unique blade, like Dawn, forged from the metal of a fallen star.
You earned it and you know how to wield it. Now the only question is, will Jorah be mad when he finds out you have his ancestral sword?
Oathkeeper may yet have a role to play in the show. In the books? Ehhhhhhhhhh.
You’re a rare breed and you need a rare blade. Dark Sister, one of the two Targaryen ancestral Valyrian swords, is lost somewhere in the realm…but I have a feeling Bran might know where it is.
It’s impossible to listen to Kesha’s third album, Rainbow, released last Friday, without considering how miserable the last five years of her life have surely been. Since 2013, Kesha has been embroiled in a very public legal battle with her producer Dr. Luke, who signed her to his label, Kemosabe Records, when she was just 18. Kesha sued him for sexual assault, battery, and emotional abuse, among other allegations, and also asked the courts to release her from her contract. They didn’t, so Dr. Luke is still — if only financially — involved in Rainbow, giving the album an added layer of darkness and vibrancy and rage. On “Learn To Let Go,” one of a few songs that seem to directly address her abuse, Kesha sings, “Had a boogieman under my bed / Putting crazy thoughts inside my head / Always whispering, ‘It’s all your fault’ / He was telling me, ‘No, you’re not that strong.’”
The details of Kesha v. Dr. Luke were very public and incredibly bleak. Kesha’s lawsuit alleges that Dr. Luke dosed Kesha with the date rape drug GHB (claiming they were “sober pills”) and raped her in 2005. In 2014, Kesha checked into a rehab facility for an eating disorder, which her mother blamed on Dr. Luke’s influence. “I’ve watched my beautiful, self-confident, brilliant daughter be berated and ridiculed for her looks and weight to the point that she almost died,” she told People. The suit also alleges that Dr. Luke offered to release Kesha from her contract if she retracted her rape allegation.
Kesha claims Dr. Luke was violent with her (leading to her running barefoot along the Pacific Coast Highway to get away from him), and that he restricted her creative control over her own music. Even after all this, the courts did not release Kesha from her contract, so — while Dr. Luke is not directly involved in Rainbow, and is no longer the CEO of Kemosabe Records — the contracts she signed with him even before the agreements she made with Sony means he’ll still benefit financially from her work.
So after all this, when Rainbow dropped last week, and it became clear that it was an excellent record, there was a kind of collective sigh of relief. In the days since the album’s release, most reviews have been jubilantly positive; Rolling Stone wrote that “Kesha channels that drama into the best music of her career.” Vulture called Rainbow “a ray of hope and solidarity, and it stays coolly upbeat and confidently shuffling through genres.” Vanity Fair raved that the album is “a blatant, angry response to the singer’s battle with a legal system that has left her feeling frustrated and trapped as an artist — but also a powerful pop album that earns the anticipation.” Even less glowing reviews of Rainbow still tout the record as a hit that Kesha has earned through sheer force of will.
You get to claim Kesha’s victory too, even if — or especially if — you’ve never gotten a win for yourself.
Most people wanted Kesha to have a win for herself after dealing with a long, public, and personal fight with the man whom she claims didn’t just control her career, but her body and her life. But many of Kesha’s listeners — particularly women, queer, and nonbinary people with their own histories of sexual trauma — didn’t just want the album to be great for her sake; we, too, needed it to be great, because wins are so few and far between for victims of abuse in society at large.
On Twitter, the #FreeKesha hashtag is still a hub for fans to remind each other to keep Rainbow on the charts, as well as a place where fans go after other celebrities for ostensibly failing to buy Kesha’s music after supporting her during her trial. Thousands of them signed heartfelt petitions lobbying for her creative freedom from from Dr. Luke. All around, her fans are holding her up as not only a talented vocalist but an advocate for abuse survivors. A lot of people don’t get any solace after trauma, especially sexual trauma, and certainly not any legal or public vindication on a larger scale — which makes Rainbow’s success all that more vital for the members her fanbase with similar pasts. No matter your trauma, you get to claim Kesha’s victory too, even if — or especially if — you’ve never gotten a win for yourself.
Kesha has never been a “perfect victim”: Her image has always been one of a woman who liked getting fucked up and going to parties and meeting boys. Her 2009 video for “Tik Tok” starts with her waking up hungover in a stranger’s bathtub, leads to her getting arrested while singing about drinking, and ends with her in another bathtub at another party, missing a shoe. But Kesha’s comments since then have suggested that much of that pop star persona was a marketing strategy encouraged by her management, rather than an artistic choice on her part. “What’s been put out as singles have just perpetuated a particular image that may or may not be accurate,” Kesha told Rolling Stone in 2013. “I don’t want to just continue putting out the same song and becoming a parody myself.”
In the aftermath of the lawsuit’s details becoming public and Dr. Luke’s lawyer calling the suit “a continuation of her bad and offensive acts,” it would have made sense for Rainbow to be a chance to rewrite Kesha’s image entirely. Women who’ve been victimized generally have to be perfect — poised, ladylike, sober — in order for their claims to have public legitimacy. Rainbow, however, balances Kesha’s public images of being both survivor and party girl without relying too heavily on one or the other.
There are plenty of nods in these songs to Kesha’s last five years, her abuse, and her recovery. “Bastards,” “Praying,” and “Learn To Let Go” all feel like direct responses to her abusers and detractors. But saying that this is a record addressed to or about Dr. Luke, specifically, feels reductive; instead, it’s a more nuanced look at how a woman is crawling out from under the label of “victim” without erasing swaths of her personality or character or history. There are a lot of nods to her old shtick, too: “Boots” starts off with her talking about having boys in different cities; “Boogie Feet” is an incredibly fun song about dancing; “Godzilla” is literally about dating Godzilla; and “Hunt You Down” includes Kesha cutely cooing to a love interest: “Don’t make me kill you.”
Kesha made an album where her anguish was just one part of the narrative, instead of the whole story.
Kesha also duets with Dolly Parton on a cover of “Old Flames (Can’t Hold a Candle To You).” The meaning of the song and the duet is incredibly layered: Kesha’s mother, Pebe Sebert, was one of the songwriters of the original version in the late ’70s. But the duet also suggests that Kesha is channeling Parton’s trademark sexy, don’t-give-a-shit attitude, while also getting some support from a woman whom people also once refused to take seriously as an artist. “I wanted to call the album Rainbow because after the storm, there’s a rainbow,” Kesha wrote for Refinery29. “This was my way of telling myself that i was going to make it through. I made the decision to take the dollar sign out of my name. I did away with my cynical self-deprecating ‘I don’t give a fuck’ attitude and the matching Twitter name @keshasuxx. I let myself be 100% genuine, vulnerable, and honest.”
There’s something joyful about a woman refusing to relegate her art to being solely about her trauma, especially when her trauma is one that demands constant explanation. Sexual assault survivors and women who have been exploited by men are often forced to explain what happened to them over and over in order to get people to believe them. But instead of writing a record dedicated to that explanation, or even to her own grief over being locked in an unwinnable war for the last five years with the very people tasked with developing her career, Kesha made an album where her anguish was just one part of the narrative, instead of the whole story. “This whole album, for me, really is a healing album,” she told NPR. “It’s healing from so many things from my past and just trying to get back to the most childlike, naive, purest version of myself that I can find.”
In this sense, Kesha is much more successful at the “purposeful pop” Katy Perry was trying desperately, and failing, to accomplish with her 2017 album, Witness. For a while, Perry and Kesha had similar public personas, both technicolor party people who made fun pop music about boys and hanging out and dancing. Recently, Perry decided to swerve into more socially conscious music, an attempt to make fun music that had heft. It was not well received, maybe because the “purpose” behind Perry’s work was unclear. For Kesha, we already have a point of reference because her trial was so public, and her desire for personal and creative freedom so clear. Perry livestreamed her therapy sessions for all to watch in some warped attempt to create intimacy, but Kesha doesn’t need to manufacture affinity with her listeners.
Rainbow isn’t perfect. Some songs veer into mawkish expressions of self-confidence and closure, and Kesha still dabbles in cultural appropriation. (The video for “Praying” is rife with Sanskrit-stylized text, and artwork for the single features Kesha wearing a third eye. There’s also something truly unbearable about a white lady singing “Don’t touch my weave,” as Kesha does in the feminist war cry of “Woman.”) Those choices aren’t defensible, but Kesha’s fans are especially prickly about criticism. Rainbow is foremost an album about healing after trauma — and women get so little of that in the world that it’s not surprising people might want to give Kesha a pass on something that would otherwise be picked apart.
The least we wanted for Kesha — and through some transference, for us — was an album that would reestablish her as a force of nature, and stand as proof that someone with bad intentions can’t tear you down all the way. We wanted (and continue to want) something similar for Britney Spears, ever since her very public mental health crisis in the late 2000s. Since then, she’s released three albums which have been considered critically uneven but enthusiastically received by her loyal fanbase. (It’s likely Kesha would’ve been supported by her base regardless of whether Rainbow was any good, but the fact that it is good makes it even easier to celebrate.) Taylor Swift, meanwhile, recently won her countersuit for $1 against a radio DJ whom she claims groped her in 2013. Swift has hardly been a media darling in the last few years, but she’s never had a more sympathetic audience than while fighting against the kind of trespass so many women have experienced before.
We needed the album to be good because we wanted her to win, but we wanted her to win so we could regain some faith ourselves.
That same protectionist sentiment around Kesha might seem overblown, if not for the long history of women having to stand by each other after a sexual assault or a rape or abuse, because the system doesn’t work or because it’s so impossible to be believed or because your history suggests you might have been asking for it. If Rainbow were bad, or even mediocre, it would feel like one more collective trauma. We get so little; it’s such a relief for her — for all of us — to get this one thing. We needed the album to be good because we wanted her to win, but we wanted her to win so we could regain some faith ourselves.
At the beginning of August, Kesha performed “Woman” live at YouTube. Wearing a pink suit with yellow planets adorning the jacket, Kesha sways while holding up two middle fingers and singing, as she puts it, “about being a badass motherfucker.” Near the end, she mock-collapses, trying to keep singing while two men hold her up, wrapping her in a glittering cape. When she sings, “I’m a motherfucking woman,” she pushes them both off and sings her song on her own. The imagery is hardly subtle, but subtlety isn’t really necessary here. The power of this message comes from its directness, and how easy it is for all of us to take a piece of it for ourselves. ●
Scaachi Koul is a senior writer for BuzzFeed News and is based in Toronto.
Contact Scaachi Koul at email@example.com.
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