Remember S Club 7? Here's What The Members Look Like Now

What he’s been up to: Last year, Paul hit the road with his Rocky Horror Show cast mates to perform in various cities. He had a starring role. Lately, you’ll find the 40-year-old selling some of his prized S Club 7 merchandise on eBay.

Interesting fact: Paul and Hannah rekindled their love in 2013, but the relationship was short-lived, ending the same year.

The Definitive Ranking Of 2017 Movies (Based On Their Use Of John Denver Songs)

6. Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Long Haul


Daniel McFadden / Twentieth Century Fox

Jason Drucker, Charlie Wright, and Alicia Silverstone in Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Long Haul.

John Denver song used: “Take Me Home, Country Roads”

The Wimpyverse returned to theaters after a five-year absence in May at the expense of a no-longer-age-appropriate original cast that got ruthlessly dumped like puppies that had grown into larger-than-anticipated dogs. The Long Haul‘s newer, spryer version of the Heffley clan was accordingly paired with a fresh, current topic — how to balance face time with screen time in the digital age. The road-trip comedy results were so dismal they might have killed the franchise for good, but in one aspect, at least, they were pretty on point: And that aspect is John Denver, whose music has bewilderingly been everywhere, at least at the movies, this year. At a low point for the Heffleys on their device-free, problem-plagued road trip to grandmother’s house, their luggage gets strewn all over the highway to the tune of “Take Me Home, Country Roads.” But, like everything else in The Long Haul, its participation in 2017’s strangest soundtrack trend is just off: The movie opts for the Me First and the Gimme Gimmes cover instead of the Denver original. Get it together, Heffleys!

5. Kingsman: The Golden Circle


Giles Keyte / Twentieth Century Fox

Taron Egerton, Colin Firth, and Pedro Pascal in Kingsman: The Golden Circle.

John Denver song used: “Take Me Home, Country Roads”

The greatest pleasure the underwhelming Kingsman sequel has to offer comes not from anything it actually puts onscreen, but from reading director Matthew Vaughn’s grumpy interview responses about realizing that his film is actually the sixth this year to feature a Denver tune. “I was like, fuck you, Ridley,” he (mostly jokingly) told Uproxx about discovering that his movie and Ridley Scott’s Alien: Covenant share a song. “Not that he had any idea, but it did break my heart,” Vaughn said. And sure, it’s possible that The Golden Circle‘s incorporation of “Take Me Home, Country Roads” in a scene of heroic sacrifice might have had more impact if audiences hadn’t heard it employed for a similar cornball-poignant effect so recently before. It’s also possible that the sequence would have fallen flat no matter what, given the only setup it got was a hurried earlier mention of a character’s unexpected fondness for country-western music. Like a lot of The Golden Circle, the moment plays like rough notes for a scene no one got around to actually writing.

4. Free Fire


A24

14 of 84

Armie Hammer, Jack Reynor, and Noah Taylor in Free Fire.

John Denver songs used: “Annie’s Song,” “It’s Up to You,” and “This Old Guitar”

Ben Wheatley’s feature-length firefight takes place in the ’70s, which at first seems mainly like an excuse to dress its stellar cast in outlandish period fashions and to liberate the plot from pesky “why don’t they just use their cell phones” questions. But as the film goes on, it starts to feel like Free Fire was really set in the ’70s in order to make sense of its heavy use of John Denver tracks. The cynical shoot-em-up may not have the year’s best use of Denver’s music, but it definitely has the most, incorporating three songs into its scenario of criminals cracking wise while killing each other in a Boston warehouse. Chief among them is “Annie’s Song,” the surprisingly mellow choice playing in the van of the hotheaded Harry (Jack Reynor) as he pulls up to an arms deal that’s about to go spectacularly wrong. When, multiple acts of violence later, someone gets back in the van and starts the engine, the song gets cranked up again, becoming the perfectly incongruous accompaniment to a sloppy, brutal skirmish that concludes with the crushing of someone’s skull just as the song reaches its peak — fill up your senses on that.

3. Alien: Covenant


Twentieth Century Fox

Danny McBride and Katherine Waterston in Alien: Covenant.

John Denver song used: “Take Me Home, Country Roads”

We never hear the original version of John Denver’s most famous (and the year’s most cinema-friendly) song anywhere in Alien: Covenant. We only hear it sung posthumously by a character who died offscreen between films: Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace), the scientist who was one of the few survivors of Prometheus, the previous film in Ridley Scott’s planned trilogy of prequels. The cracked recording of Shaw croaking out the lyrics to “Take Me Home, Country Roads” is beamed into space like a beacon (or a lure), leading the crew of the colonization ship of the title to land on the planet on which she’d gotten stuck. The more we realize about what happened on the ground, the more Shaw’s song choice turns tragic and haunting, because going home to the place she belonged wasn’t an option.

2. Logan Lucky


Claudette Barius / Bleecker Street Media

Channing Tatum and Farrah Mackenzie in Logan Lucky.

John Denver songs used: “Some Days Are Diamonds (Some Days Are Stone)” and “Take Me Home, Country Roads”

If any film on this list is entitled to revel in “Take Me Home, Country Roads,” it’s Steven Soderbergh’s joyous heist movie. The characters in Logan Lucky live in West Virginia, the state the song is about, even if work and eventual crime frequently take them into North Carolina. Matthew Vaughn could take a lesson from how Soderbergh’s film sets up its extremely effective John Denvery payoff. Logan Lucky opens with Jimmy Logan (Channing Tatum) telling his beloved daughter Sadie (Farrah Mackenzie) about the song, making the case for it as one she should sing in an upcoming pageant. While she’s a fan, she opts for Rihanna’s more crowd- and costume-friendly “Umbrella” instead. But when it comes time to perform, and she spots her dad in the crowd, she makes the last minute decision to sing his favorite tune instead, a cappella, imperfect, and absolutely wonderfully. It’s an irresistibly tear-jerking moment, sure, this act of child generosity to a struggling parent, but it also captures the bittersweetness lurking underneath what is, on the surface, a rollicking comedy. Logan Lucky‘s characters may identify fiercely with the place they’re from, but they’re also constantly made aware of the economic tenuousness and limited options that come with it. Theirs is a strong love, but a painful one as well.

1. Okja


Netflix

Paul Dano in Okja.

John Denver songs used: “Annie’s Song”

Okja‘s John Denver moment comes in the midst of a scene of madcap chaos: The title character, a genetically engineered superpig being hunted by malevolent global conglomerate Mirando, has been on the run with her owner, Mija (Ahn Seo-hyun), the giant animal wild-eyed and panicking as she tramples through the crowded and unfamiliar urban territory. But just as Mija and Okja hit a dead end and Mirando’s men come blundering in, they’re rescued by the forces of the Animal Liberation Front, who’ve come to attempt to save the day. The action slows, “Annie’s Song” starts, and as K (Steven Yeun) helps the bruised Mija up, the rest of the ALF clash, amusingly, with the corporate employees, fighting them off with umbrellas and tablecloths. The camera holds on Mija’s face as she watches J (Paul Dano) tenderly pull a shard of plastic from Okja’s foot. How is this scene so silly and so profoundly moving at once? Maybe it’s director Bong Joon-ho’s astounding skill with balancing tonal juxtapositions, or the aura of serene kindness that Dano projects. Or maybe it’s Denver, singing that ode to his wife, the sweetness of his voice used not quite for irony or for pure sentimentality, but somehow both at once. There’s no more perfect accompaniment for this moment of grace in a movie that portrays the world as increasingly cold and cruel — it’s not just the best use of a John Denver song in 2017, it’s one of the best scenes of the year.

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Cardi B Topping The Charts Is A Victory For All Of Hip-Hop

“Bodak Yellow” is an anthem that travels. The hit track by rapper Cardi B — born Belcalis Almanzar to a Trinidadian mother and Dominican dad — seeps out of cars cruising through New York City’s boroughs. It’s launched the 24-year-old onstage for Drake’s OVO Fest, the MoMA PS1, and Hot 97’s Summer Jam. Janet Jackson danced to it on tour. Missy Elliott, Idris Elba, Rihanna, and even Gayle King have cosigned it. And this week, it reached No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100.

This is no small feat. By virtue of its comprehensiveness, the Billboard Hot 100, which counts physical and digital sales, radio airplay, and most recently, streaming and YouTube to determine a song’s popularity, bears considerable weight. The Hot 100 reflects what the majority of the country is listening to.

Between the chart’s inception in August 1958 and this week, 1,067 singles have earned the coveted top spot. But despite hip-hop’s enduring popularity, fewer than 75 of those singles have been by rappers. In his prolific career, Jay-Z has only topped the Hot 100 twice — as a featured artist on Mariah Carey’s 1999 single “Heartbreaker” and with 2009’s “Empire State of Mind” featuring Alicia Keys. Kendrick Lamar (with “Humble”) and Drake (“One Dance”) are one-timers while Kanye West has managed to fit two No. 1s under his belt (“Stronger” and “Gold Digger”). Nas has never broken through the Top 10.

Women who rap are an even rarer sight at the chart’s summit. Lauryn Hill was the first to earn a No. 1 single with 1998’s “Doo-Wop (That Thing).” In the nearly 20 years since then, no solo female rap performance had earned the same distinction, with the contentious exception of Iggy Azalea’s “Fancy” — until Cardi B. Given the limited number of women rappers who manage to break through the mainstream, this scarcity isn’t altogether surprising. But the fact that artists such as Missy Elliott and Nicki Minaj have yet to reach the No. 1 spot proves how elusive the position is even to the most popular hip-hop artists, especially those who are women. With “Bodak Yellow,” Cardi B — a self-proclaimed “regula degula shmegula girl from the Bronx” — is making history.

Cardi’s rap career has been meteoric, playing off a number of factors, but the path to it was indirect. At 19, the New York native began stripping to make money. Her clientele grew. Soon she began posting candid, daily Instagram videos in her downtime.

“When I started doing videos and everything, I just took a camera and was, like, talking about how corny guys are, how corny bitches are. Just doing jokes that I do with my friends,” she told Complex in 2015. “A lot of people when they meet me will be like, you are just like your Instagram video. I’m like, ‘bitch, I know.’ That’s who I am.”

Next, she parlayed her internet popularity into a two-season stint on Love & Hip Hop: New York. A gift from the GIF-gods, her mix of cheeky hilarity, disarming honesty, and brash behavior charmed viewers and expanded her fanbase further. Encouraged by a manager, she decided to focus on pursuing music — a long-standing dream of hers — and wound up reaching her widest audience yet. Cardi turned viral catchphrases into rhymes and, after recording two mixtapes within 12 months, signed to Atlantic Records earlier this year.

Released with no major promotion this past June, “Bodak Yellow” is her first charting single, and a mammoth one at that. Leaning on a minimal beat of three alternating notes and trap drums, Cardi borrows from the cadence used in Kodak Black’s 2014 hit “No Flockin’.” But while Kodak’s style was laid-back, here Cardi’s thick, husky voice is coolly aggressive, much like a seasoned boxer.

Although women in hip-hop have been some of music’s most electrifying, pioneering, and influential artists (see: Lauryn Hill, Missy Elliott, Queen Latifah, Lil’ Kim, Trina, and Salt-N-Pepa for proof), in recent years they’ve been on a decidedly downward trajectory. Few are signed to popular labels, and when they are, they often face targeted discrimination. That they are predominantly women of color means there are even more obstacles before them, inside and outside the industry. In Ava DuVernay’s documentary My Mic Sounds Nice: A Truth About Women in Hip-Hop, Trina reveals that “females don’t get as much exposure and as much perks as the guys,” while Salt-N-Pepa have been candid about dealing with racist record companies. Accompanying the racism, colorism, sexism, misogyny, and general exploitation that goes unchecked, there’s a pressure to fit parochial beauty standards. Missy Elliott was kept out of a Raven-Symoné music video early in her career because she didn’t “fit the image,” and her verse was lip-synched by a thinner, light-skinned actress instead. Women who rap face a minefield.

But Nicki Minaj defied the odds. After releasing three mixtapes, she signed on to Lil Wayne’s label, Young Money Entertainment, in 2009, and it wasn’t long before she began tearing up the charts. For the past decade, she has bypassed industry biases against women who rap by hinging on pop sensibilities and her whimsical brand of Barbie bohemia. And with that followed a myriad of endorsement deals and manufacturing opportunities. Last year, the rapper released an eponymous mobile game, aptly titled “Nicki Minaj: The Empire”; she’s aware of what she’s built.

But the superstar still bumps into barriers, even when bursting through others. Earlier this year, Minaj broke Aretha Franklin’s record for most entries on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. Despite collecting 79 charting singles — 32 in which she’s been the lead artist — and counting, she’s never hit that No. 1 spot. Her closest call came with 2014’s “Anaconda,” peaking at No 2 behind Taylor Swift’s “Shake It Off.” (Coincidentally, Bodak Yellow usurped another Taylor Swift track — “Look What You Made Me Do” — to top the chart.)

Beyond the obvious element of pure data, it’s impossible to pinpoint the deciding difference between Cardi’s triumphant position and what has kept Minaj from achieving that same goal. But for a hip-hop purist, the differences between the two are actually encouraging. It’s even more exciting for those who champion women who rap.

For one, Cardi B’s professional power doesn’t come tethered to a man. Though she’s reportedly dating Migos member Offset, she’s always been up front about her independence and appetite for man-eating. “Ever since I started using guys, I feel so much better about myself,” she revealed in the sixth season of Love & Hip Hop: New York. “I feel so damn powerful.” Meanwhile, a lot of her predecessors had male mentors or collaborators who helped them gain exposure and hit a turning point career-wise. This isn’t to say they weren’t ultimately at the helm of their own ships — their livelihood demands fierceness — but Cardi proves that a woman needn’t be accompanied before given a seat at the table.

And now that she’s at the table, she’s gracious. Beefs are practically ingrained into hip-hop, harkening back to old-school rap battles and persisting since. In June, fellow Bronx-bred rapper Remy Ma’s diss track “ShETHER” rampaged throughout the internet, earning her the BET Award for Best Female Hip-Hop Artist (and ending Minaj’s seven-year winning streak). Nevertheless, Cardi stays humble. She’s shown love to both Taylor Swift and Nicki Minaj. When asked if she’s coming for Minaj’s crown, she brushes it off: “I don’t wanna be, like, queen … I just wanna make music and make money.”

“Bodak Yellow” is pure, unadulterated hip-hop; it goes hard. Meanwhile, throughout her career, Minaj has used pop-oriented music as a path to the mainstream. This may have been a personal preference, a clever choice, or perhaps more of a necessity; the industry traditionally deems women to be more marketable as pop artists than rappers. With this in mind, “Bodak Yellow” could signal a sea change, or at least provoke one.

Still, make no mistake: This is a specific victory for women in hip-hop, but it also obliquely carries a win for hip-hop overall. This past July, according to Nielsen Music, hip-hop/R&B dethroned rock as the most popular genre when it comes to overall music consumption in the United States. Hip-hop’s recent coronation comes as a result of the increasing popularity of streaming and, unsurprisingly, so does “Bodak Yellow”’s success.

It’s important to remember that the Billboard Hot 100 is a measure of mainstream popularity. It’s not necessarily indicative of artistry or quality. (Again, Missy Elliot has yet to top the chart. Baha Men on the other hand…) And looking at all of the singles to conquer the chart since its inception, it starts to read more like a barometer of the music climate and its subtle prejudices. A disproportionate number of rap artists who’ve earned No. 1 singles are white. For instance, Eminem has had four while Macklemore, in his relatively short career, has earned two. And then there’s the fact that the first three rap vocals to earn the honor came from Debbie Harry, Vanilla Ice, and Marky Mark.

Even the claim that the Hot 100 has historically denoted overall popularity is debatable. Before digital means for music consumption existed, Billboard only considered physical sales numbers and radio play. It couldn’t incorporate the cassette tapes, CDs, or .zip files shared between hip-hop heads and other underground music fans. Though this is a factor that might sound negligible to some, it shouldn’t be discounted. Most of today’s successful rappers used mixtapes as inroads to their success. According to the Recording Industry Association of America, by 2006, the mixtape circuit was responsible for an estimated 30 to 50 million sales per year.

While streaming has largely replaced mixtapes — the original street albums of hip-hop — and is now a commanding factor in where a single lands, it feels questionable to give all previous chart-toppers as much credence as they’ve received; we can’t truthfully equate their winning with conquering. Pre-internet sources for songs were mostly limited to the whims of major labels and AM/FM stations. In other words, for a long time, our musical tastes were more curated than discovered.

That is, until now. It sounds extreme, but “Bodak Yellow” — especially considering its journey as a sleeper hit — is a song of the people. That an often-underestimated 24-year-old Afro-Latina crafted it, makes it all the sweeter. Admittedly, this victory brings no guarantees; plenty of Hot 100 chart-toppers are also one-hit wonders. But the possibilities escorted by “Bodak Yellow”’s success are thrilling. This is more than just a feat for hip-hop; it’s a moment. Nicki Minaj mastered how to work a system. Cardi B may be ushering in a new one.

Sandi Rankaduwa is a Sri Lankan–Canadian writer, comedian, and filmmaker who’s written for The Believer, Rolling Stone, This Hour Has 22 Minutes, Exclaim!, and The Coast. She splits her time between Brooklyn and Halifax.

The Lady Gaga Documentary Is Honest About Everything Except Her Career


Behrouz Mehri / AFP / Getty Images

Lady Gaga poses for a photo call to promote Joanne in Tokyo on November 2, 2016.

As she promotes her latest studio album Joanne in a scene of the new documentary Gaga: Five Foot Two, streaming on Netflix starting September 22, Lady Gaga explains: “I don’t think the world was ready to see who I really am because I wasn’t ready to be myself. I’m saying ‘This is me with nothing.’” This is the conceit behind the 2016 album Joanne, and, in some ways, the ostensible theme of this new film. Gaga has explained that it wasn’t designed to be a “commercial” for her, but rather that she was simply looking to honor the director’s vision of her life. Though she didn’t produce the film, which was directed by Chris Moukarbel, he gave her complete agency.”

This kind of documentary has become an almost expected instrument for pop stars to present their own narratives about pivotal moments in their careers. For example, Beyoncé’s Life Is But a Dream addressed her decision to fire her father as manager as she transitioned into the harder-edged musical incarnation of the 4 album; Katy Perry’s Part of Me, which came out during her Teenage Dream career peak, explained the label struggles that culminated with her finding the cotton candy aesthetic that made her a star. These films offered some context for hungry fans to consider the intersections of these performers’ personal and professional lives.

Five Foot Two does provide some interesting glimpses of Gaga as a woman. She declares a newfound confidence (“My threshold for bullshit with men” is over, she says); she opens up about her struggles with fibromyalgia — which this week caused her to postpone her tour — and her loneliness; and lets us in on some of the moments of doubt and anxiety that still creep up on her about her work. But the film is notably evasive in chronicling Gaga’s professional life during an awkward moment of her career, from late 2015 to early 2017, as she recorded and released Joanne.

That album was intended as a mainstream comeback, following Gaga’s decision to take a break from Top 40 pop stardom after her album 2013 Artpop underwhelmed and she made headlines for lashing out at her management. She ultimately stepped off the pop runway and reinvented herself as a jazzy chanteuse in duets with Tony Bennett, reminding us of her powerful voice and musicianship with stunning moments like her 2015 performance of songs from The Sound of Music at the Academy Awards.

Five Foot Two virtually ignores the elephant in the room.

None of this context is overtly addressed in the film. While all documentaries like this bob and weave around revelation and concealment to avoid being too explicit or too bland, Five Foot Two virtually ignores the elephant in the room: the overwhelming media narrative about Gaga no longer dominating the zeitgeist like she once did and the subdued reception of Joanne, which opened with her lowest-charting lead single in years and has sold fewer than a million copies, a small fraction of the sales for her early albums. Even Billboard registered its surprise at how quickly Gaga stepped back from the project, releasing a non-Joanne EDM single just six months after the album. Still, the story the documentary tells is not “struggling pop star attempts a comeback,” but “pop star at her peak is nervous about ‘stripping down’ her image and sound.”

The resulting narrative, unraveled through carefully curated personal and professional vignettes — featuring scenes of Gaga doing everything from going to the doctor to buying her own album at Walmart — is not especially revealing in the way that the conventionally humanizing title suggests. Instead, it helps explain why she has struggled to re-establish herself in the cultural landscape. At a moment when other pop stars have turned their music into intimate confession and reality television, Gaga has been unable to perform the personal in the boldly unconventional style that made her famous.


Courtesy Of Netflix

A scene from Gaga: Five Foot Two

The most compelling public dramas around Gaga have always come from her career, not from her personal life. Even the National Enquirer ran a headline earlier this year (“Flameout! Lady Gaga’s Career is a Goner!”) as if reporting on a sex tape. And in the past, she has been savvy about commenting on these kinds of stories; her promotional trailer for Artpop attempted to get ahead of the media by proclaiming, “Lady Gaga is no longer relevant. Ever since Born This Way, she’s a flop, DO NOT buy her new single.’”

But this kind of self-aware humor about her career is virtually absent from Five Foot Two. Aside from Joanne leaking early, there is no real failure in this film. The documentary begins and ends with her 2017 Super Bowl performance, one of the few “professional triumphs” of the kind that the promotional materials mention, which also gave her a momentary respite when her sales and streaming numbers got a big boost in the show’s aftermath. But that show, the highlight of her recent career, was a celebration of her previous hits — not the new persona and style she was crafting and introducing throughout the period the documentary chronicles.

Aside from Joanne leaking early, there is no real failure in this film.

As she explains in the documentary, Gaga constructed the personal concept for Joanne by turning to the very distant past: a memory of an aunt she never met, who died of lupus at 19. Throughout the documentary, Gaga appears confused (much as observers were during the album’s release) about what this family story means, and about the role it’s supposed to play artistically, though no one around her seems to question it. She constantly presents the album as a deeply personal statement, as if it’s literally the raw material of her life. “I am Joanne, I am my father’s daughter, and so that’s what this record is about,” she tells a New York Times reporter in the documentary, after recounting the aunt’s story. “It’s your gift to your father,” he says, repeating back her own narrative to her, and thanking her for sharing.

And there is a big scene when she presents the title song to her grandmother, who we are expecting to be deeply moved. But it ends up turning awkward — Gaga’s grandmother, Angelina, seems confused by her desire to make drama out of this family story. (“You ready to hear it?” Gaga asks, somewhat somberly, and the grandmother nonchalantly replies, “I guess.” The grandmother ends up comforting Gaga as she cries, reminding her, “Honey, it’s been a long time. It’s been over 40 years.” As Gaga leaves her apartment, Angelina says, “Don’t become maudlin over all this.”)

That titular song’s concept — revisited in the documentary — was not actually carried through the album. Instead, Joanne mixed Gaga’s usual pop fantasias (“John Wayne”) with political statements (“Angel Down,” about Trayvon Martin), while restaging the history of rock from ‘60s melodies to ‘80s synth. She introduced this “intimate” album that people assumed would be about family or her life with the Pat Benatar–esque lead single “Perfect Illusion.” Its accompanying video of Gaga as mosh pit chick didn’t seem to connect to the stated overall concept of family relationships or being her father’s daughter. She later said in interviews that the song was about relationship illusions in the social media age, and teased fans by suggesting it was about her ex-boyfriend Taylor Kinney. As with Artpop, Gaga seemed unable to edit her visual, lyrical, and promotional concepts into a cohesive pop presentation. “Perfect Illusion” peaked at No. 15 on the Billboard Hot 100, and quickly disappeared.

Gaga seemed unable to edit her visual, lyrical, and promotional concepts into a cohesive pop presentation.

In the worldview of Five Foot Two, which shows fans excitedly singing the song’s lyrics, those who didn’t like Joanne were simply turned off by an honest new artistic persona. (The film very quickly quotes voices from reaction videos saying she sounds too “different,” requesting she “bring back the real Lady Gaga,” and echoing her trailer, “She was over at least a couple years ago.”) The real, arguably more honest, drama was happening outside of the camera’s frame, as Gaga was cringe-inducingly invoking Trayvon Martin in her tweeted reply to a New York Times review that critiqued the album’s lack of coherency and seeming lack of inspiration.

“It’s scary ’cause you know if they don’t like it, it’s like, it’s my life,” she says at another moment in the documentary, of her fears before the album’s release. But it’s her art, not her life, that was up for critique. Speaking off-screen as footage of her taking promotional photographs appears on screen, Gaga explains the album’s role as part of her ongoing attempt to de-escalate or reset her image. “I know that we want to elevate everything,” she tells a member of her team, “but I can’t elevate it to a point where I become Lady Gaga again, because then it’s like, why even? Why did I make this record?” The comment reminds us that however personal the album might be, it was also a pop star’s career move — as is the film about its making.


Courtesy Of Netflix

Lady Gaga in costume for her 2017 Super Bowl performance in Gaga: Five Foot Two.

Perhaps Gaga is too close to Joanne, and the work she’s done to create and promote the album over the past two years, to expect her or this documentary to have critical distance on it. But at one point in the film, she sheds interesting light on her earlier career. Sitting outside the studio, referring to producers or record company executives, she explains, “The methodology behind what I’ve done is that when they wanted me to be sexy or they wanted me to be pop, I always put some fucking absurd spin on it that made me feel like I was still in control.”


Kevin Winter / Getty Images

Lady Gaga onstage during the 2010 MTV Video Music Awards, wearing her famous “meat dress.”

It’s an illuminating way of viewing the provocative cultural politics of her earlier persona. But it’s also a reminder that Gaga has not successfully managed to put her own spin on the current “personal pop” zeitgeist. During the time Gaga took a break from the charts, other pop stars have been making music about their personal lives in more explicit ways. Beyoncé, for instance, sent fans on a search for “Becky With the Good Hair” as they filtered the lyrics of Lemonade through rumors of real-life infidelity; Kesha recently released an album that acted as cathartic triumph over public trauma; Taylor Swift uses her music like a reality television show to comment on her ongoing public feuds and relationships, and the media narratives around them. (Indeed, Five Foot Two first made headlines because of Gaga’s comments about Madonna.) In some ways, this reticence or unwillingness is understandable because Gaga has always been more interested in making art through commenting on the erotics of fame (whether the intimacy and erotics of paparazzi, or the love of applause), than by writing about love or participating directly in the celebrity dating circuit.

But one of the film’s most telling moments comes when Gaga asks a stylist, “Do you think that, like, some of my older fans are going to be disappointed that I’m not dressed up?” And the stylist replies, parroting back Gaga’s narrative about the album, “I think everyone’s going to be excited that it’s just, like, solely about feeling it, without anything to cover it up.” It comes off as an employee telling the empress that she has — lovely — clothes on. But one can read between the puff-piece lines to understand why Gaga’s attempt to transcend her meat-dress persona and showcase a more intimate side of herself through Joanne didn’t quite hit the right notes.

“Stripped-down” Gaga is still a costume, and the old Gaga would have made art out of the artificiality of that pose. Instead, she turned to very conventional ideas about authenticity and family to perform the woman behind the mask. Gaga has always been able to spin her contradictions into compelling art and performances; perhaps limited by her access, the makers of Five Foot Two weren’t quite able to do the same. Yet even if it avoids asking the most interesting questions about her, the film can’t fully obscure the entrancing qualities of one of the most compelling pop presences of our time, playing herself playing herself — and maybe that’s exactly how she wanted it. ●

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Exclusive: Here's The Cover Of Questlove's New Book

According to Questlove’s publisher, Ecco, the new book is a “guide to living your best creative life” filled with Questlove’s wisdom on inspiration and originality, as well as his own life lessons and experiences.

In Creative Quest, Questlove synthesizes all the creative philosophies, lessons, and stories he’s heard from the many creators and collaborators in his life, and reflects on his own experi­ence, to advise readers and fans on how to consider creativity and where to find it. He addresses many topics — what it means to be creative, how to find a mentor and serve as an apprentice, the wisdom of maintaining a creative network, coping with critics and the foibles of success, and the specific pitfalls of contemporary culture — all in the service of guiding admirers who have followed his career and newcomers not yet acquainted with his story.

Whether discussing his own life or channeling the lessons he’s learned from forefathers such as George Clinton, collaborators like D’Angelo, or like-minded artists including Ava DuVernay, David Byrne, Björk, and others, Questlove speaks with the candor and enthusiasm that fans have come to expect. Creative Quest is many things — above all, a wise and wide-ranging con­versation around the eternal mystery of creativity.