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The Most Extraordinary Moments Of Rebel Wilson's Successful Defamation Case

Rebel Wilson has won her defamation trial against the publishers of Woman’s Day.


Joe Castro / AAP

Actress Rebel Wilson leaves the Supreme Court in Melbourne, Friday, May 19, 2017.

Her legal team successfully convinced the six-woman jury that eight articles from Woman’s Day, Women’s Weekly, OK! Magazine and New Weekly in 2015 painted the actress as a liar, and damaged her career.

“I just think it’s really important that the truth comes out,” Wilson told reporters gathered outside the court on May 19.

Wilson maintained throughout the trial she had never lied about her real name, age or childhood, and on Thursday the jury returned unanimous verdicts in the actor’s favour.

Bauer Media’s defence argued the articles were substantially true and that they were not likely to cause harm to Wilson.

Here is everything you need to know about what went down in the courtroom.


Victoria Supreme Court

In May 2015 Woman’s Day magazine published an article titled “Just who is the REAL Rebel?”. It was the first of eight pieces published over a three day period about the Pitch Perfect star.

Wilson claims the articles conveyed that she was a serial liar who invented fantastic stories in order to make it to Hollywood.

OMG I’m actually a 100 year old mermaid formerly known as “CC Chalice” ….thanks shady Australian press for your tall poppy syndrome x

04:24 PM – 18 May 2015

Wilson, 37, said the articles implied she had lied about her age, name and upbringing.

Wilson said they also implied she had lied about being caught in a shoot-out; being inside a cage with a leopard; contracting malaria; living in Zimbabwe; and her upbringing as being disadvantaged when it was not.

“Rebel’s world collapsed,” her barrister, Dr Matthew Collins, QC, told the court.

“Rebel knew instantly that the article was serious. It was a crisis. She thought she’d never been hit with such nastiness.”

He claimed Wilson was subsequently sacked from Trolls and Kung Fu Panda 3.

“It should have been the high point of her career… In fact, the phone stopped ringing.”

Wilson described herself as a “cashed-up bogan” on her first day of evidence.


Quinn Rooney / Getty Images

Rebel Wilson speaks to the media as she leaves the Supreme Court on May 22, 2017 in Melbourne, Australia.

One of the claims made against Bauer was that the article implied Wilson pretended she was from a working class background.

Her barrister asked Wilson to describe the meaning of the word bogan.

“You can say it is because you’re of a lower socio-economic group; you could say it is in the way you dress or your haircut or the way you speak or a general lack of culture,” she said.

“I kind of use it very endearingly… Probably right now I’d be a cashed-up bogan.”

.@RebelWilson has been sworn in, and has started giving evidence. “My family doesn’t think I’m that funny.”

12:35 AM – 23 May 2017

She told the court of her childhood in the northwestern Sydney suburb of Castle Hill before the family moved to a suburb further west.

Her parents took different jobs – as an ESL teacher and petrol station attendant – to fund their daughter’s private school tuition.

“To me [the high school] was like a resort…. it was like, oh my god. I thought I was very lucky to go there.”

Her brother Ryan (Ryot) Bownds later told the court the family was not wealthy and that their parents made sacrifices to send their kids to private schools.

The court was shown photos of the caravan used for her parents’ ‘Petcetera Etcetera’ business through which they sold products – including the canine chocolates for which Wilson developed a taste – at dog shows.

One photo showed her as a junior dog trainer at a show in outer Sydney.

The jury was shown a picture of Wilson with malaria as a teenager.

She said she was given medicine after contracting the tropical disease in South Africa after finishing high school. The medicine caused her to hallucinate about being awarded an Oscar.

She rapped the fantasy acceptance speech to the jury: “Listen up y’all, I’ve got something to say, it is about this award that I won today.”

Wilson also told the court she had witnessed crossfire and dead bodies on this trip.

On her next day in the witness box, Wilson told the court she was related to Walt Disney.


Supplied / PR IMAGE

Wilson told the court that she had “always known” that she was Disney’s grandniece.

“It is like knowing who your parents are,” she said.

She had discussed it on The Graham Norton Show in Britain.

“As far as I’m concerned… it’s a distant relationship, it’s something I’m proud of.”

Wilson said she had always been told her great aunt Lillian married Disney.

She told the court that her relation to the animator was the reason for her being accepted into Disneyland’s exclusive Club 33, for which she paid a $60,000 joining fee.

The jury was shown pictures of Wilson as a child on a trip to the Californian theme park.

Wilson even wore Mickey Mouse inspired shoes to court.


David Crosling / AAPIMAGE

Wilson’s sister Liberty Mair gave evidence and agreed that Disney was a distant relative.

The court later heard that Wilson was offered an episode on the SBS documentary series Who Do You Think You Are?, a show where high profile Australians trace their geneology.

But her agent, Jacinta Waters, said Wilson turned down the offer.

The jury was played an episode of the Late Show With David Letterman.


Michael Dodge / Getty Images

Actor Rebel Wilson leaves the Melbourne Supreme Court on May 24, 2017.

In her appearance on the talk show, Wilson told Letterman she lived in a “ghetto” in Sydney.

“When you used the word ‘ghetto’, are you telling us that you mean that as a serious description of the suburb of Kenthurst?” Bauer Media’s barrister Georgina Schoff, QC asked Wilson.

“No, obviously that was a joke,” she responded. “Got a laugh.”

Schoff put it to Wilson that “to get a laugh, sometimes you have to exaggerate the facts”.

“I don’t need to lie to get laughs. Jokes are not lies, they are just jokes,” Wilson said.

Comedian Dave “Hughesy” Hughes and a bunch of supporters showed up with signs to rally behind the actress.


Mal Fairclough / AAPIMAGE

“Proud to be on @rebelwilson‘s side today! #superstar,” Hughes tweeted.

Wilson posed for pictures with them, holding her koala shaped clutch, which she carried throughout the trial.


Mal Fairclough / AAPIMAGE

Her real name was Melanie Elizabeth Bownds, but her mother nicknamed her Rebel after a six-year-old girl who had sung at her parents’ wedding, the court heard.

Wilson decided to legally change her name in 2002 to Rebel Elizabeth Melanie Wilson, taking her mother’s maiden name.

Shari Nementzik, who penned the articles, rejected assertions made by Wilson’s barrister Collins who said she had breached the journalistic code of ethics by leaving out facts from her piece and not giving Wilson a right of reply.

Rebel Wilson starts crying in court as her lawyer reads out a quote from her testimony about the impact of the Women’s Day story

02:26 AM – 06 Jun 2017

Collins also showed Nementzik a number of articles which stated Wilson’s age was 34 (at the time) but the journalist said she hadn’t seen some of them.

Lawyer: “Do you have anything you want to say to Ms Wilson?”

Nementzik: “Just that there was no harm intended whatsoever.”

02:27 AM – 06 Jun 2017

“There’s a lot of confusing research,” Nementzik said.

“No I don’t believe I misled my readers.”

An anonymous source who called Wilson a “lier” [sic] was paid thousands of dollars by Woman’s Day for her quotes, the court heard.


Quinn Rooney / Getty Images

Rebel Wilson leaves the Supreme Court on May 22, 2017 in Melbourne, Australia.

The source commented on a story on the Woman’s Day website in 2012 which claimed she had gone to high school with Wilson and said: “what a lier [sic] she had become!!”

She claimed Wilson added a touch of “fantasy” to stories about her life in order to “make it in Hollywood”.

Nementzik said everyone knows tabloid magazines work on “chequebook journalism” for their stories and that the source was paid $2,000 for providing further information.

Nementzik said her publication decided to revisit the story in May 2015 during the release of Pitch Perfect 2.

Wilson admitted she asked Fairfax Media chief executive Greg Hywood to remove an article which included her real age and an “unflattering” photo of her.


Dean Lewins / AAP

The picture showed Wilson, aged 22, with black, curly hair and accompanied a 2002 article about her trip to New York after she won one of four $12,000 scholarships from the Australian Theatre for Young People.

Wilson told the court she emailed Hywood in February, 2015, to request removal of the article, which stated her age at the time.

“I was in a business relationship with him and he’d asked me to reach out if I ever needed anything,” she said.

The closing legal arguments got heated.


Mal Fairclough / AAPIMAGE

Wilson’s barrister Collins said Bauer Media’s barrister Schoff had “sullied” Wilson’s childhood memories and that his client had showed “enormous dignity” while mud was “thrown at her”.

He said Nementzik should not have treated other media reports of his client “as gospel” and said: “That’s not research – it’s plagiarism.”

Schoff said Wilson hadn’t been “forthright” on a number of matters, and that it wasn’t correct that the actor’s career had slowed down, telling the jury that Wilson had signed contracts worth millions of dollars since the article was published.

The judge quoted Shakespeare’s Othello to the jury.

Justice Dixon quotes Shakespeare: “He that filches from me my good name robs me of that which not enriches him and makes me poor indeed”

Tue Jun 13 00:50:02 UTC+0000 2017

A smiling Wilson addressed reporters outside the court after her successful verdict on Thursday.


DAVID CROSLING / AAP

“It is a win for everybody who gets… taken down,” she said.

“It has been an anxious wait, waiting for two days.”

Wilson said she had been distracting herself by thinking about filming an upcoming movie with “fellow Aussie” Chris Hemsworth in which she will get to kiss him.

“I’ve just been thinking about pashing him and how good that is going to be.”

Judge Dixon will assess damages at a later date.

Gina Rushton is a breaking news reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Sydney.

Contact Gina Rushton at gina.rushton@buzzfeed.com.

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Behind The Cliffhanger Finale Of “The Handmaid's Tale,” And Where The Show Could Go Next


George Kraychyk / Hulu

Elisabeth Moss in The Handmaid’s Tale.

Hulu’s The Handmaid’s Tale has both hewed closely to Margaret Atwood’s 1985 novel and — by the nature of a 10-episode television season, which concluded this week — deepened its characters and supplemented the story. When the show returns for Season 2 next year it will venture into territory beyond the book — an audacious undertaking which creator and executive producer Bruce Miller is ready for. “The fun for someone like me, who’s such a fan of the book, is to imagine what happens next,” he said in a recent interview with BuzzFeed News.

In the show’s fictional world of Gilead — where a theocratic, totalitarian regime has overthrown the US government — healthy birth rates are falling, and miscarriage rates are rising. A premium has therefore been put on fertile women, who live as so-called Handmaids — conscripted surrogates to powerful couples. Starring Elisabeth Moss as a Handmaid who is called Offred, but whose real name is June, the show has excavated small details mentioned in the book and spun them into plotlines that will extend the drama through its second season (and, presumably, beyond).

In the penultimate episode, for instance, Moira (Samira Wiley), June’s best friend from college, bolted from Jezebels, the brothel in which she was forced to work after she was caught having escaped from a Handmaids training center. In the finale, Moira makes it to Ontario, Canada, where she is given refugee status. June’s husband, Luke (O-T Fagbenle), presumed dead in the book, is also in Ontario, having survived being shot as he, June, and their daughter Hannah (Jordana Blake) tried to get out of Gilead in the first episode of the show. And the complicated cruelty of Serena Joy (Yvonne Strahovski) and Commander Fred Waterford (Joseph Fiennes), who subject June to a monthly rape-as-conception ritual called the Ceremony, has been expanded upon — in particular Serena’s instrumental role in setting up the structural misogyny in Gilead that has, by its design, disempowered her. In a distinct act of malice in the finale, Serena takes June to see that Hannah is still alive, but living with another family.


George Kraychyk / Hulu

June (Elisabeth Moss) and Nick (Max Minghella).

But despite one important twist — that she is indeed pregnant — June’s final moments in Season 1 play out exactly as Offred’s did in Atwood’s novel. When a black van — generally a sign of doom in Gilead — comes for her, Nick (Max Minghella), the Waterfords’ driver and June’s lover, urges her to go with it. As June leaves the house Serena and the Commander are panicked, because their pregnant Handmaid is leaving for an unknown fate, and because their authority has been steamrolled. Stepping into the van, June delivers the final words of Offred’s story, as originally written by Atwood, in a voiceover: “Whether this is my end or a new beginning, I have no way of knowing. I have given myself over to the hands of strangers. I have no choice; it can’t be helped. And so I step up, into the darkness within; or else the light.”

Miller said that although “it wasn’t written in stone,” he assumed when he began writing the pilot that Season 1 would end with the novel’s cliffhanger ending. He said: “I read the book a long time ago, and it was absolutely burned into my brain, the ending. Because it’s so” — he paused, sighing audibly — “in some ways, it was so frustrating; in some ways, it was so satisfying. It was full of hope and dread.”

After June gets into the van, she looks into the camera in a moment which echoes the empowered conclusion of the first episode, in which June vows to survive. She is serene; Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers’ “American Girl” plays over the credits. (In the pilot episode, June’s anthem is Lesley Gore’s “You Don’t Own Me.”)

“The nice thing is that at the end of the first season, she finds a little bit of calm, even in not knowing,” Miller continued. “It’s hard for us to do, but in some ways, that’s the lesson of the conclusion of the book: I don’t have any choice, I’m putting myself in the hands of strangers. Which is what, as an audience member, you have to do with the storytellers you’re dealing with.”

There is, though, a final chapter in the novel, called “Historical Notes.” Set at an academic conference in the year 2195, readers learn that Gilead fell, and that Offred’s story was put together based on 30 cassette tapes found in a house in Maine, which she probably visited as she tried to get to Canada. What ultimately happened to her is unknown.

Miller, who is working with the show’s other writers toward a likely spring 2018 debut for Season 2, disputed that “Historical Notes” shows June heading straight toward freedom. “The people in the future guess those things happened — they have no idea. They don’t even know who Offred was,” Miller said. “We certainly have used that stuff as a guidepost and a point of discussion the same way Margaret used it: They’re discussing what possibly might have happened next.”

But, he said, “I think we’re far away from settling Offred in an armchair in Ontario.”


George Kraychyk / Hulu

The backbone of the show’s narrative will continue to be June’s determination to live, and to reunite with her family. From her actions in the finale — in which she leads a rebellion of Handmaids asked to stone to death one of their own, the troubled Janine (Madeline Brewer), as punishment for endangering a child — it appears that June will be instrumental in whatever the coming uprisings are. The Season 1 finale begins with a flashback to June’s first day at the Red Center where Handmaids are trained, as she reflects on how scared they all were then. Things have changed, though: “We don’t look at each other that way anymore,” she says in the voiceover. “It’s their own fault. They should have never given us uniforms if they didn’t want us to be an army.”

It’s quite the tonal evolution from the show’s bleak premiere, in which every interaction is laced with fear. “They’re still under a really brutal and mercurial totalitarian thumb,” Miller said. “But they also have found their own power and their own voice, even if it’s in a small way — ways they can influence the world around them. They’re not terrified; they’re not paralyzed.”

June’s new DGAF approach is also apparent when she rips into Serena for the latter’s ostentatious torture in revealing June’s daughter Hannah to her. After finding out June is pregnant, Serena takes her to a wealthy neighborhood, where she goes into a house. Serena then comes out showing off Hannah, as June impotently beats on the car’s locked doors and windows, screaming as loudly as she can. Wordlessly, Serena returns to the car. “She is a beautiful girl, Offred,” she says coldly. “And she’s happy. And she’s well-taken care of. Listen to me: As long as my baby is safe, so is yours.” At this, June launches into an enraged, obscene monologue of all the things she’s wanted to say, calling Serena “deranged,” a “goddamn motherfucking monster,” and a “fucking heartless, sadistic, motherfucking evil cunt.” As a coup de grâce, June invokes sin and punishment — Serena’s core beliefs — when she says, “Serena, you are going to burn in goddamn motherfucking hell, you crazy evil bitch.”


George Kraychyk / Hulu

Serena Joy (Yvonne Strahovski).

Miller said it was a crucial scene for him to write for both characters, especially with June leaving the house and their future interactions up in the air. “This pot of water has been boiling for a long time,” he said. “I was so proud of Offred as a character, not only for having the bravery to say it, but for having the capacity to distill this woman down to a really clear definition of what the hell she is, as far as Offred sees. She doesn’t just call her names. She lays out: You’re going to burn in hell. The religion you believe in is going to punish you because you are a terrible human being.

“But also, more essentially,” Miller continued, “that showed a degree of perspective and bravery on the part of June that shows how far she’s come in the season.” Plus, he said with a laugh, “Wasn’t it fun to hear all of that stuff?”

Going forward, the current political climate — which has given the show an eerie resonance — will continue to influence The Handmaid’s Tale: particularly the unstable mood of today’s world. “I certainly feel like we’re in a troubling and complicated and accelerating time period where things happen very quickly,” Miller said. “And we’re concerned that things are going to get scary and out of control — it’s an unsteady time. That ties very well into the way June was feeling as the fist of Gilead was closing quietly on America. There are definitely conversations about that, and definitely we’re making straight-line connections to things that are happening now.”


George Kraychyk / Hulu

Nick (Max Minghella) with Commander Pryce (Robert Curtis Brown).

In Season 1, one direct connection between our world and Gilead was the radicalization of Nick, an angry, lost young man who ends up enlisted by his employment counselor into the Sons of Jacob, the sect of Christian zealots which eventually takes over Gilead. Without tying Nick’s story to a specific ideology, Miller said: “It’s a huge issue in the world right now: how those particular conversations happen, how young, mostly men get radicalized. It is a huge issue. Our civilization is pivoting on lots of these little conversations.”

Miller also said that the show’s approach to race might change after he absorbed the critiques of his decision to change Gilead from the racist-led society of the novel, to a multiracial one in which “fertility trumps everything”, as he told BuzzFeed News in April. The show, which features actors of color in the lead roles of Moira, Luke, and Nick, was criticized by some on social media and in essays that it had ignored race to a fault. Miller said he has paid close attention to those conversations, which he called “wonderful” and “respectful.” “It was a big change from the book, and I knew what I was doing when we decided to do it,” he said. “But still, it’s so interesting to hear the conversations people are having and the stuff that’s coming my way that has given me a lot to think about and a lot to address moving forward.

“In the first season, we didn’t hit a natural point where it was a story we wanted to tell. But it’s always on our radar, how to address that in small and big ways,” he said.


George Kraychyk / Hulu

Luke (O-T Fagbenle).

As with everything regarding Season 2, Miller would not be specific — “no comment!” he said when asked whether June might leave Gilead soon and, if so, whether its characters will still be central to the show. “We’re going to be in both places next season,” he said, meaning Gilead and Canada. About the broad ideas behind the second season, Miller said: “It’s really about chickens coming home to roost. There are so many atrocities that the state has committed. How are those going to get out into the world, and how is that going to affect Gilead?”

While the show might be moving on past the book, Miller said the novel’s ethos is embedded in its DNA. “The Atwood style of The Handmaid’s Tale is there’s nothing but things that drive you insane, and questions you want answered.”

He continued: “Famously, the last line of the book is, ‘Are there any questions?’ And the answer for me was always, Fuck yeah, there’s a ton of questions!

Plan Your Dream Wedding And We'll Reveal Which “Bachelorette” Contestant You're Going To Marry

Plan Your Dream Wedding And We’ll Reveal Which “Bachelorette” Contestant You’re Going To Marry

You got: Peter

Is Peter the most handsome man to ever grace your television screen? It’s quite possible. Congrats on snagging the catch of the century.

Peter
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You got: Blake K.

He may have been one of Rachel’s night one rejects, but you’d NEVER let a man this good get away.

Blake K.
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You got: Dean

How could you not love this puppy dog of a human? He’s sweet, adorable, and ready to commit. What more could you ask for?

Dean
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You got: Lucas

He somehow found a way to “Whaboom” himself straight into your heart. Congrats, I guess?

Lucas
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You got: Josiah

He’s deep, sensitive, and not bad on the eyes. Lucky you!

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You got: Diggy

Everyone loves a man with a sense of humor, and Diggy is guaranteed to keep you laughing for hours. Just look at those glasses, he’s adorable!

Diggy
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You got: Jonathan

He may not be the smoothest guy in the bunch, but something about him seems to ~tickle~ your fancy.

Jonathan
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You got: Bryan

Looks like he got your First Impression Rose…and every rose after that, too.

Bryan
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To Modernize The Grammys, The Recording Academy Will Try Online Voting

For years, the Grammy Awards — and the Recording Academy that doles them out — have been accused of having a cultural tin ear. Those who win trophies, critics say, often don’t reflect the vibrance and diversity of the modern music community as a whole. For next year’s ceremony, the Academy is trying a novel technical fix as a part of its efforts to redress that critique — online voting.

Until now, Grammy nominations and winners have been decided by counting returned paper ballots sent out each fall to the Academy’s 13,000 eligible voting members. Many would-be voters aren’t included in those counts, either because they didn’t submit their ballots in time or, in some cases, because they never received them — a fair possibility for touring musicians who spend much of the year with no fixed address. (The Academy doesn’t disclose voter participation rates, which it says are closely guarded by its accounting firm, Deloitte.)

In addition to bringing the nominations process into the 21st century, the Academy hopes online voting will increase turnout and lead to award outcomes that more closely mirror the will of its constituents — particularly younger members who are accustomed to doing everything via the internet.

“We hope that our nominations will better represent the entire community of music makers, especially if there’s a particular segment that we’ve been missing,” Bill Freimuth, the Recording Academy’s vice president of awards, told BuzzFeed News. “There may be certain genres within our awards categories where the demographic that tends to participate in making that particular music might be more tech savvy in general, or might have more of a mobile lifestyle than certain other genres, and we think this might appeal to those folks.”

Freimuth said Deloitte will take rigorous security precautions to ensure that bad actors aren’t able to game the online system and vote more than once, or in more categories than they are allowed. He also touted new interactive elements that will allow voters to listen to nominated songs right from the ballot screen. In the past, critics have charged that many voters may not be familiar with all of the songs nominated in a given category and simply choose the most recognizable name by default.

“We want people to be voting based on the quality of the music, not how many times they’ve streamed it or heard it on the radio,” Freimuth said.

Bigger questions of how to reform the Grammys are not likely to be answered with technology alone. During this year’s show in February, many music fans cried foul after Beyoncé lost the top prize, Album of the Year, to Adele, fueling longstanding allegations of institutional bias against newer forms of music in general, and black ones specifically. Adele herself, a lifelong Beyoncé fan, memorably joined the protests, wondering aloud in a press conference immediately following the ceremony “What the fuck does Beyoncé have to do to win Album of the Year?”

Similar complaints rang out in 2016, when Taylor Swift’s1989 beat out Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly. And at this year’s awards, a handful of music’s biggest stars, including Drake, Kanye West, Frank Ocean, and Justin Bieber, were conspicuously absent.

“The youth — artists like Travis Scott, Future, Migos — they want nothing to do with the Grammy process because they feel like it’s old and outdated,” Shawn Holiday, a voting member of the Recording Academy and senior vice president of A&R at Sony/ATV music publishing and Columbia Records, told BuzzFeed News. Holiday said that he saw the move to online voting as a positive step toward engaging a younger demographic, but that he thinks the Academy “hasn’t yet scratched the surface” in its efforts to keep up with contemporary culture.

“I don’t think the Grammys are always in touch with the people who are really close to the culture and touching the music,” he said. “And I can say that because I’m in those committees and I see the people that they bring.”

Conversations on how to further modernize the awards, including long-discussed limits on membership terms that would phase out voters who no longer actively work in music, are ongoing, Freimuth said.

“If a lot of really great artists and producers and engineers and songwriters in the world are choosing not to participate, then our awards are gonna reflect that,” he said. “We’re doing everything we can to make the process as seamless and as fair and have as much integrity as possible.”

Ariana Grande Will Be The First To Receive Honorary Citizenship Of Manchester Under This New Scheme

Sir Richard Leese, leader of Manchester City Council, said many people already consider Ariana to be “an honorary Mancunian”.

“This seems a fitting moment to update the way we recognise those who make noteworthy contributions to the life and success of our city,” he told the BBC of the proposed new system. “We’ve all had cause to be incredibly proud of Manchester and the resilient and compassionate way in which the city, and all those associated with it, have responded to the terrible events of 22 May – with love and courage rather than hatred and fear. [Ariana Grande has] exemplified this response.”

SZA’s 'Ctrl' Is A Black Girl's Tumblr Come To Life

SZA’s Ctrl is a black girl’s Tumblr come to melodic, vibrant life.

SZA, who is 26 years old and grew up in New Jersey, is speaking in a specific vernacular that will be familiar to black women who spend chunks of their time in certain corners of the internet. It is apparent right from the opening song, “Supermodel,” which begins with a recording of the singer’s mother speaking on the grand theme of the record (“That is my greatest fear. That if, if I lost control or did not have control, things would just, you know. I would be be…fatal”). It’s not that the lyrics come in the form of some impenetrable fancy language, necessarily — it is standard (African-)American English, after all — it is the attitude with which she throws out the lyrics that catches the ear, and then makes the words linger on the mind.

When she plaintively sings “Why can’t I stay alone just by myself / wish I was comfortable just with myself” on that opener, for example, you can almost taste the minimalist Tumblr theme; if you close your eyes you can picture an ironic Blingee lighting up on a loop behind your eyelids. Ctrl is covering much of the ground that fills my own dashboard up every single day, the hundreds of posts that essentially boil down to a quest for self-determination — self-determination in a world that seems hell-bent on pushing us into predesignated roles and situations. And that is expressed in pithy but heartfelt text posts about black girl magic in all its forms, mood boards and videos of hair and fashion inspiration, and the men and women we fancy and love, alongside photo sets and GIF sets of nostalgia-nourished TV shows and age-relevant quotes about life and love and self-care. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that SZA was for a good long time an active Tumblr user (I have followed her on there for years). Even now, via her million-follower Instagram, her preferred platform these days, SZA is still doing much of what her Tumblr used to do (minus the direct contact afforded by her Ask box). Last month she posted a screenshot of a Tumblr post about awkward flirting with the caption: “who dragged me like this?”

SZA’s reputation has been building for years via a couple of well-received EPs, See.SZA.Run and S, and her first studio album Z. In 2013, she signed with indie label Top Dawg Entertainment, the home of Kendrick Lamar and the rest of the Black Hippy crew — the first woman to do so. Three years later, she appeared on and co-wrote Rihanna’s opening Anti track, “Consideration.” Collaborating with the likes of Jill Scott and Chance the Rapper, she’s been making atmospheric, lush, and moody R&B that is as much throwback as it is forward-looking, and it is a combination that has made listeners consider her a safe pair of hands (3.9 million monthly listeners on Spotify is no small feat, after all) — the evidence of which lies in her label’s ease with releasing Ctrl in the same week as Katy Perry’s latest.

Music like SZA’s found its first home on Black Girl Tumblr. Or, at the very least, gained loyal followings there. Artists like SZA, H.E.R., Jennah Bell, Jhené Aiko, and so on were the much-cherished discoveries of like-minded girls and young women who were also yearning for their own reflection to come back undistorted. And so perhaps it is inevitable and fitting that listening to SZA’s Ctrl often feels like reading a series of all lowercase, punctuation-free Tumblr text posts. Those posts are often telling a version of the truth, comically bemused but with an arched eyebrow. SZA is earnest, yes, but that doesn’t mean her eyebrow isn’t raised throughout Ctrl.

You can almost hear that eyebrow creak upward on “Garden (Say It Like Dat)” in which she sings engagingly about self-doubt and anxiety: “Lie to me and say / my booty gettin’ bigger even if it ain’t” is a funny, relatable lyric. And even before she expands it into something more plainly stated, it carries undertones of a little sort of sadness. The latter half of this second-verse lyric, for example, is tongue in cheek and on the nose: “I know you’d rather be laid up with a big booty / body hella positive ‘cause she got a big booty” (her ad-lib — an incredulous “wow” — is pitch-perfect). But then the emotion pinballs quickly again with the quiet admission that comes by verse’s end: “You know I’m sensitive ‘bout havin’ no booty / havin’ no body / only you, buddy / can you / hold me when nobody’s around us?”

In many ways SZA is singing about the things we have come to expect from our indie-slash-folksy white female singer-songwriters, but what Ctrl is delivering comes as experienced and reported through a firmly black girl lens. Like another young musician who has developed an ardent following, British singer-songwriter Nao, SZA makes pop that’s sincere — almost painfully so — but she is also playful and smart and funny. Even when she is not in control (of her gravity, of her ex, of the size of her booty), she’s still “finding herself” while remaining refreshingly self-aware — she knows who she is and roughly where she wants to end up. I thought a lot about Nao’s For All We Know while listening to Ctrl and had a clear thought: Where Nao’s constructions sound something akin to black girl church, SZA sounds like the aftermath of a black girl night out (one in which you might have found yourself crying in the club). It perfectly encapsulates that keyed-up post-club, pre-sleep 3 a.m. feeling when feelings are close to the surface.

There is also a firmness in SZA’s persona on this record, best exemplified by her grandmother’s short, spirited interlude at the end “Love Galore”, addressing SZA by her given name, Solána Imani Rowe: “But see, Solána? If you don’t say something, speak up for yourself, they think you stupid. You know what I’m saying?” It’s a nod and a wink to the listener. SZA knows who’s listening, and who that message is for. Another noteworthy and matter-of-fact exemplification comes straight out the gate on “Doves in the Wind”: “Real niggas do not deserve pussy.” Which is self-explanatory.

On “The Weekend,” a soon-to-be sidepiece classic, SZA is funny: “My man is my man is your man / heard it’s her man too,” she coos dismissively before telling her paramour to make sure he’s at her place “by 10:30 / no later than / drop them drawers / give me what I want.” And on “Drew Barrymore” (a geniusly titled song, effortlessly conjuring as it does images of ’90s teen rom-coms and coded norms of suburban insecurity and acceptance), she is sharp: “I’m sorry you got karma comin’ to you.” When she sings wistfully about the titular character from 1994 film Forrest Gump (first in cinemas when she was 4), SZA’s being cute but also serious — imagine a world in which pussy was given to only deserving men! “Where’s Forrest now when you need him?” she intones almost solemnly on “Doves in the Wind.” “Talk to me.”

The dip into the ’90s oeuvre of Robert Zemeckis notwithstanding, Ctrl is very much of the now. Even with its dizzying array of producers, the entire record sounds cohesively and fluently like 2017: Peep the references to Netflix show Narcos (which also got a shoutout on Stormzy’s 2017 LP Gang Signs and Prayer) or the aforementioned “body positive” (a term whose overuse has given it an unearned negative reputation on Tumblr and beyond). On “Normal Girl,” SZA borrows liberally from Drake’s 2016 single “Controlla” (“You like it / when I be / aggressive”). Even the nostalgic TV Ctrl harks back to is curiously very current again: that period in the ’90s that young people have rediscovered and which they quote liberally from, thanks to streaming. SZA refers to comedy sketch show MadTV on “Doves in the Wind,” and on “Go Gina” she uses one of Martin Lawrence’s catchphrases from his sitcom Martin.

Ctrl is a mishmash of so many influences, which will continue to reveal themselves as it beds in with listeners. Its pop DNA is evident in its many catchy hooks and choruses (“Prom” sounds like a 2017 update of Gwen Stefani’s “Cool,” for example), and her guest stars — Kendrick Lamar, Travis Scott, James Fauntleroy, Isaiah Rashad — add weight but are never overwhelming. SZA has an ear for what is aurally pleasing and commercial: Upon my third listen to the record, I was struck by how happily pretty much every song would sit on the soundtrack of a teen show (won’t someone invite her to score a black girl coming-of-age movie, please?).

What sells the record best, though, is SZA’s own conviction. Like the black girls who live their multi-adjectived lives on Tumblr, she is the best chronicler of her own life. It’s an expansion of self-identity that stretches beyond Strong Black Woman (which is not entirely discarded as one facet) and travels into the territory we have always known was in us. SZA’s music is vulnerable and sweet, self-questioning and self-affirming, all at the same time, in a way that is performative, yes — but also intimate and tender. It is a snapshot of one 26-year-old’s life right now, much like all those Tumblrs are moments in amber. Ctrl feels “Dear Diary” real, which is to say it is Black Girl Tumblr writ large. Control, in all avenues, is the defining characteristic, and it is powerful. “I belong to nobody / hope it don’t bother you / you can mind your business / I belong to nobody” SZA sings on “Go Gina.”

Listening to Ctrl, you don’t doubt it.

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She also dished out some sage advice for trans youth out there:

“One piece of advice I would give young trans folk is to center yourself in your experiences but don’t be limited by only your experiences. Learn more about those around you and figure out how to build coalitions and link up with people who are equally as marginalized. Being different and being seen as ‘other’ in this country doesn’ thave to be an isolating experience, it can be an experience that brings folks together.”

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You got: The Kid Mero

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