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* Adele announced details about her new album…
Oh, but we’ve been waiting a long time for 25, Adele’s next album. So long that she is, in fact, now 27 years old. The Grammy-winning/Oscar-scoring singer used Twitter and Facebook to confirm that her next album, the follow-up to 21, will be a “make-up record.” In an open letter on FB, she apologized to fans for the long wait between albums. “25 is about getting to know who I’ve become without realizing,” she wrote. “And I’m sorry it took so long but, you know, life happened.” Life that included a baby. Her open letter arrived just days after an ad on UK TV played just under 30 seconds of new music from Adele. The song featured the lyrics “Hello, it’s me / I was wondering if after all these years / you’d like to meet to go over everything / they say that time’s supposed to heal ya / but I ain’t done much healing.” From what I heard, it doesn’t sound like we’ll be disappointed.
* Eddie Murphy was honoured…
A who’s-who of comedians feted Eddie Murphy during the Kennedy Center’s 18th annual Mark Twain Prize. Murphy opened his first stand-up set in 28 years with an impression of Bill Cosby, whom he refused to play on SNL’s 40th anniversary show.
* The final Star Wars trailer took the hype up a few notches more…
It’s the trailer that crashed a dozen movie-ticket-selling sites – as if you haven’t already seen it. Fifteen times. I have to say, it’s been mighty fun to watch the hype grow and grow around The Force Awakens. My cousin used to bully me when I was young and it, along with Indiana Jones, was his favourite movie series so I don’t automatically associate it with good nostalgic memories, as a lot of people do. But you could say I’m learning to use ‘the force’ for good.
I ran from the giant needle and thread at the Garment District’s Info Centre, aka the Fashion Heart of NYC. Taking in a route based around some of the art works that are part of the Garment District Arts Festival. From the Distrikt Hotel to Penn Station and around over to Cafe Grumpy. Finished with a Flat White, of course. But if you’re in the mood for something more substantial, there is a lot to choose from at the Urban Space outdoor food stands.
I had only a short time in London last week – on a quick trip to meet director Guillermo Del Toro together with actors Tom Hiddleston and Mia Wasikowska for their Gothic romance/horror film Crimson Peak – but I just had to make time to pop into the National Portrait Gallery for their exhibition of Audrey Hepburn photographs.
So many of the images have become iconic and so it was great to be able to see the names of the men (they were all men) behind the lenses who took the pics, and where the Oscar and Tony-award-winning actress was in her career and life when the various shots were taken.
I used to have a book – a giant coffee table book given to me by a dear friend that I unfortunately had to leave behind in South Africa when I moved to New York – all about Hepburn. It was filled with things from her life – letters, photos, cinema ticket stubs – all detailing her career as a star unlike any other. This exhibition took me back to some of those items, but seeing the images, in a larger format, laid out together, the experience was almost like a lovely meditation. A chance to breathe in each image, and see how she evolved along the way.
Naturally, a few pieces stand out – the Jack Cardiff portrait from the War and Peace set at Cinecitta in Rome in 1955 and Norman Parkinson’s snap of her in a 1950s pink Givenchy dress, the designer with whom she had that lifelong fashion collaboration – are among my favourites. And the Breakfast at Tiffany’s images cannot be overlooked, of course!
All the magazine covers – from Harper’s Bazaar to Vogue to Time – made me think about the value being on a magazine cover nowadays and how it doesn’t play the same kind of role in creating a celebrities in today’s day and age. Hepburn is captivating on them all, but I particularly liked seeing her in natural surroundings, when she’s with a donkey at her farm or sitting with her pet fawn, Pippin. (Yes, she really had a pet fawn whom she “befriended” while shooting Green Mansions.)
I can’t look at images of her as a UNICEF ambassador on a visit to Ethiopia and not feel chills down my spine. Maybe it’s because of knowing the organisation helped her after World War II when she was a child in Arnhem in The Netherlands and suffered from malnutrition brought on by the ‘hunger winter.’ Or maybe it’s because you see the impact of time on her still beautiful face, and that cancer would take her life a few years later.
Perhaps it’s all of that – combined with something she said when visiting the Congo for The Nun’s Story. “Coming to Africa is certainly one of the greatest experiences in my life. Everything I see and feel is so completely new and therefore stimulating. Whatever the eye can see there is beauty in such a visual way.” She used the attention focused on her for a cause that makes a difference. And, though she grew up feeling otherwise about her looks, her beauty has been made forever undeniable in these images.
I ran a 4 mile route around some of the Monument NYC series, which encompasses 10 pieces of street art in Harlem and the Bronx. For more, check out their site.
Today is the day. The Daily Show with Trevor Noah begins its first new chapter under the South African comedian, who is about to sit in a chair occupied for 16 years by a man many Americans came to love and cherish as a custodian of critical thinking and on-the-mark jokes.
It was only December last year when Trevor Noah joined The Daily Show, sending a wave of positive news through a weary South Africa, drained from the drawn-out coverage of the Oscar Pistorius trial. Still a few months into the joy of that good news, the following February, Jon Stewart, after making his first feature film Rosewater, announced he’d be leaving the show and making way for someone new. The unlikely and surprising news that Noah would be taking over from him came a few weeks later. Then, it took some time before we knew when Stewart’s last show would be, and conversely, Trevor’s first. And now here we are, the day has come.
An audience-full of TV fans will line up outside The Daily Show studio for the taping at 6pm on Monday that goes out on air on Comedy Central at 11pm. For South Africans and those European fans Noah has gathered along his many international tours, the episode will air on Tuesday.
I visited the studio on Friday afternoon – along with a host of other international and US journalists. We had some time to talk to Trevor and he seemed cool and calm and in control of how things were playing out. Except he isn’t. And he knows this.
Trevor has likened this experience to sky-diving. “You can do all your preparations on the ground, train, practice, know as much as you can, but then you get into the plane and reach the height you are going to jump and stand at the door, ready, and at that point you have lost control. You control none of the elements, not the direction of the wind, not the bird that may fly into the plane. All you know is the ground is coming towards you and you have to rely on what you’ve done up until now.”
I’ve spoken to friends here about the switchover. One told me he doesn’t think it will work because “The Daily Show is American so The Daily Show host needs to be American.” He doesn’t believe someone from the outside will understand the nuances of being from here and won’t be able to play off of those during the show. Salon, too, believes this and goes further to say the outlook looks “grim.” Indeed I spoke to other journalists from the UK and we shared concerns over whether America will give him a chance to make his own name and way, under the Jon Stewart shadow.
But others I’ve spoken to have welcomed the fresh approach. Comedy Central has said it’s looking to reach a younger, “millennial” audience, but even friends who are a little older than that have told me they like his humour and playing on jokes about things from outside America. Trevor says he intends to use his being an outsider as a way to question many things about politics that Americans take for granted. At Friday’s press event, the news of John Boehner, speaker of the House of Representatives, resigning just broke. Trevor was asked about his reaction, and he brought the team of writers who are working with him and were sitting with him into the answer. He says he will miss Boehner because he used to cry so freely (as evidenced in him meeting the Pope) but what they would do in a situation like that is talk about their favourite John Boehner moments, and he would learn from the writers about things that happened in the past, before he lived in the US, and use that as a springboard to perhaps raise a few questions about a man Americans have become very familiar with. In essence, as he is learning, he wants the audience to re-think those things they take for granted that they know about US politics.
Or so it seems that will be the approach. Trevor assuredly said on Friday the style of the show will change (he wanted more music guests) but it will retain being political, because he still wants to play a part in keeping politicians, no matter where they come from, accountable. “We’ve created this thing, all over the world, where politics is somehow exclusive, politics is show reserved for the political elite,” he says. ” ‘I’ve very smart and so I’m involved in politics,’ whereas the very origins of the word, in Greek, is ‘for the people’, and that’s exactly what it should be: for the people and by the people, and in some ways, many politicians have successfully convinced people it’s not by them or for them, but that it’s the politician’s job to dictate, and that’s not the angle that I come from.”
Trevor has brought with him David Kibuuka from South Africa, who was part of the Late Nite News show nominated for an International Emmy, and Joseph Opio, who ran the Daily Show in Uganda, to New York to join the team of Emmy-winning writers that drives the show. He says that is a continuation of something Jon started, an aim to try and get as many broad voices, different perspectives, into the show as possible.
We’ll see if it works. I for one, as a South African who has reported on Trevor’s career from the start and can’t help but be proud, hope American TV fans at least give him a fighting chance to show them what we’ve been privy to all this time.
The Daily Show with Trevor Noah airs in the US on Monday nights, and in South Africa on Tuesday nights on Comedy Central at 9pm.
On the way to the bathroom of the Empire set you’ll pass it. A jail cell – a touch bigger than the usual 6 by 8 feet – plonked in the middle of a large sound stage. Inside there are three photos stuck on one of the walls. A closer look reveals one of which is a woman holding a baby, with a man sitting next to her and two small boys on either side. It’s a picture we saw briefly, in a cell we saw briefly, on the first season of the hit TV series. It’s the cell where one of the most formidable characters on TV today was made. And it’s a cell Cookie Lyon, played by the inimitable Taraji P Henson, will be returning to again during the second season.
“I asked for it,” says the Oscar-nominated actress, on her character’s return to prison. It won’t happen literally, but rather in the form of flashbacks that will show more about what happened to the matriarch of the Lyon family, who was sent to prison because she took the wrap for her husband’s (played by Terrence Howard) drug misdemeanours.
“I wanted to know what happened to Cookie; how was she able to keep it together and not break? How was she able to come out of there, get her family back together and become a citizen that’s contributing to society. You know, she pays taxes now. Who walks out of jail after 17 years, able to pay taxes – and a millionaire? Who does that??” she asks, her arms flapping the white feathers of the top she’s wearing. It’s paired with jeans, but it still gives Henson a bit of a flamboyant flair, not unlike her character who has become notorious for donning velvet and leopard prints.
But it’s from Henson’s own cupboard – bought from Top Shop. The 45-year-old actress explains viewers will see a bit of Cookie stripped down this season, as the audience gets to learn more about her backstory. “What drove her? What kept her alive in those walls for all that time? I’m interested in knowing that. And I think that’s why people love her so much and give her a past. Because she represents humanity. America. The dream. I [Cookie] had nothing. Basically, I started ‘from the bottom now I’m here.’”
Henson believes its Cookie’s tenacity that endears her. “She could have made all the excuses in the world. But no. What she did – and I think that’s why people are so drawn to this show, crazy as it is, is what her and Lucious were able to do – was take all the negatives and turn them into positives. Their sons won’t be statistics; they won’t know poverty. They are millionaires. They came out of the projects. A lot of people didn’t make it out. Now – did they do it the old natural, you know, good American way? Kinda sorta,” she cackles – the spirit of Cookie ever close the surface of bubbling over.
Henson also admits she’s been “obsessing and binge-watching” a lot of Orange is the New Black – a show that too has gained acclaim for pushing boundaries of what’s possible in this new TV-watching landscape. Which means we’ll be seeing a lot more of the “real” Cookie, including removing her hair. “Oh, I go there!” she says. “Absolutely. I went there. It’s one that I’m so nervous, because we really went there. The madness of it all. Being in a cage. I read that script and saw I gotta take the wig off. I was worried, but I thought, ‘ohhh, okay, you asked for this.’ “
For the most part, the show won’t alter the formula that’s worked so far – Cookie’s stinging one-liners, music that charts before the episode is over, big-name cameo appearances. But there are a few changes. Among them, fellow Oscar-nominated actress Gabourey Sidibe is now a full-time cast member, after her character Becky was promoted by Lucious before he went to prison, from assistant to head of A&R. “She’s no longer getting people tea and making other people’s phone-calls,” says Sidibe, flipping her hair. “She’s making her own calls.” Sidibe says her character wants to be Lucious, the owner of a major record label, even though she has no claim to the throne. A mini-Cookie in the making? Time, and future episodes will tell.
Inside Hakeem’s pad – Kehinde Wiley on the wall
And the music?
For Jussie Smollett, who plays Jamal, the pressure to make Season 2 a hit is real. “It’s like when Michael made Off the Wall, and then went on to make Thriller. This is our Thriller, “ he says, referring to Michael Jackson who has had a major impact on the actor-singer’s song-writing. Smollett, who wrote Season 1, Billboard charting-trackYou’re So Beautiful for real-life bestie Gabourey Sidibe, won’t reveal who has inspired songs for the new season, but he will say he’s growing musically, as his own career develops alongside that of Jamal’s. “The cool thing is that people really want to work with all of us now,” he says. “Before, we had to lay a pavement and prove we were legit. Now we really have been embraced by the music industry.” The second season will see producers like Swiss Beatz and Ne-Yo be involved in the soundtrack. “Terrence [Howard] too, is writing and producing a lot,” says Smollett. “It’s cool to see.” Add in Bryshere Y Gray collaborating with Ne-Yo and Swizz Beatz and yeah, it should be very cool to see.
Empire airs on the Fox Network in the US on Wednesdays and in South Africa on the Fox Channel on DSTV, Thursdays at 9pm.
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