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The Weeknd’s Creative Director La Mar Taylor Calls Out Grammys Over Snub, Says CEO Is a ‘Pawn’

The Weeknd's Creative Director La Mar Taylor Calls Out Grammys Over Snub, Says CEO Is a 'Pawn'

The Weeknd didn’t get any nominations for the 2021 Grammys, and now his creative director La Mar Taylor is joining the chorus in calling out the recording academy.

“I can’t believe these institutes still exist and move in ways that test human intelligence,” wrote Taylor on Instagram. “It’s insulting and disrespectful on so many levels. Time and time again, year after year, they embarrass and belittle artists who pours [sic] so much blood, sweat and tears into their craft, only to get snubbed or denied their greatness. Abel is one of the greatest artists ever to walk this earth and is still the #1 underdog.”

La Mar Taylor, who is also a co-founder of the Weeknd’s arts incubator HXOUSE, accompanied his response with a screenshot of the infamous video of Kanye West pissing on one of his own Grammys. In further comments shared to his Instagram Stories, he added, “‘Blinding Lights’ is the longest top 10 charting song in history. It’s shattered a dozen other records ontop of that. Please explain to me how it’s not nominated for song of the year????”

Tayor also took a moment to respond directly to the Recording Academy’s interim president and CEO Harvey Mason Jr., who has insisted there was no hidden agenda behind the snub. “Harvey Mason Jr., this is the ‘black man’ who is the new head of the Grammys committe,” he wrote alongside a photo of Mason. “He’s a pawn and was put in front of the institute to make it seem like they have integrity and are ‘changing’ their historic oppression ways. Please…LOL. This man is a bandage at best.”

He went on to suggest the problems with the Recording Academy run deep enough that the roots of the Grammys are rotten, not just the branches. “The wound is so deep and rotten with infection it’s beyond repair,” he wrote. “We need to create a new system that is for the people, by the people. How does this man + 20 unknown people decide who gets nominated and who doesn’t? THIS MAN IS NOT THE CULTURE AND DOES NOT SPEAK FOR THE CULTURE.”

Image via Instagram
Image via Instagram

The backlash to After Hours and “Blinding Lights” not getting a single nomination was loud enough to garner an extensive response from Mason. “For the Weeknd, in every year you only have a certain amount of people you can nominate for each category,” he said. “We are excited about some of the other categories where he was nominated. It’s never easy to tell where people are going to land.”

Elton John, who had his own track “Your Song” interpolated on “Scared to Live” from After Hours, appears to agree with Taylor in that the Weeknd was snubbed. “In my humble opinion… ‘Blinding Lights’ Song of the Year, Record of the Year #GrammySnub,” wrote the 73-year-old owner of five Grammys and 34 nominations.

In his response to the Grammys snub, the Weeknd tweeted on Tuesday, “The grammys remain corrupt. You owe me, my fans and the industry transparency.” 

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13 Shows You Can Watch Without Actually Looking at the TV

13 Shows You Can Watch Without Actually Looking at the TV

Illustration for article titled 13 Shows You Can Watch Without Actually Looking at the TV

Illustration: Elena Scotti (Photos: Getty Images, Shutterstock, Netflix, Screenshots via YouTube

We use audio apps for concentration and music for easy listening—it’s time to add TV and movies for ambient viewing. There are a number of television shows that you can play in the background that follow a genre pattern, require minimal attention, and almost always have a voiceover to tell you everything you need to know.

This doesn’t necessarily mean the show or movie is bad. As the site Creative Screenwriting says, “Formulaic is Good!”—it allows for easy background entertainment you can still fully enjoy, even while you’re taking care of that to-do list. From romantic comedies to competition reality TV to addicting home improvement shows, here’s what to watch while you work and still be productive.

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Beyoncé’s ‘Black Is King’ — Behind the Visuals With DP Santiago Gonzalez

Beyoncé’s ‘Black Is King’ — Behind the Visuals With DP Santiago Gonzalez

Beyoncé’s “Black is King” earned nine Grammy nominations Tuesday, including song of the year and record of the year. The singer, who led the nominations, also received a nomination for Best Music Film. It was the fourth time she has been nominated in that category after winning for Netflix’s “Homecoming” and getting nominations for “Lemonade” and “Beyoncé & JAY-Z: On the Run Tour.”

“Black is King,” now streaming on Disney Plus, was executive produced by Beyoncé as a visual companion to her 2019 release, “The Lion King: The Gift.”

Cinematographer Santiago Gonzalez talked with Variety about how the visuals for the Grammy-nominated music film came together and collaborating with Beyoncé.

What conversations did you have with Beyoncé regarding the visuals for “Black is King?”

The project evolved as we shot. Most of the conversations about the look of the different sections I shot were discussed more with each specific director. I was in a lot of prep meetings with Beyoncé but those were after she and the director had landed on a general look and feel for the section. These meetings would be logistical and world-building and at times I would present to her my ideas for the lighting so we could get more granular about what was needed for each day.

After we shot the first section of “Find your Way Back,” the project seemed to grow larger in scope to eventually become “Black is King.” I was brought in to shoot “Find your Way Back” and “Bigger” with Kwasi Fordjour directing, which eventually led to me staying on for various other sections with several different directors and production designers. I filmed “Mood 4 Eva” with Dikayl Rimmasch directing and Ethan Tobman as production designer. I moved on to “Don’t Jealous Me” and “Otherside” with Emmanuel Adjei directing and Miranda Lorenz as production designer, and finally to “My Power” with Beyoncé directing and Hannah Beachler as production designer.

Beyoncé directed “My Power” and that section of the film was the one on which I collaborated with her the most. There was also a co-director, Julian Klincewicz, who operated a vintage Ikegani broadcast camera from the 1980s. Our discussions were mainly focused on the set, which was inspired by Alejandro Jodorowsky’s film, “The Holy Mountain.” We wanted to make sure to show how grand the set was. I thought of it as a temple dedicated to the power of femininity — sisterhood and motherhood. We used wide lenses and low sweeping angles to add dynamism to the dance and show the grandeur of the space.

The Ultra-Wide 8mm Prime made each column feel huge and added speed to the camera movement and made the columns feel alive and large. One of the things Beyoncé reiterated on the day of the shoot was that she didn’t want to be the point of focus for any shots that included the featured artists (Tierra Whack, Busisswa, Moonchild and Nija).

You can see Beyoncé on the edge of the frame, or integrated into the group where all the artists are the same size in the scene. Because of this, and to show the set, I wanted to keep the lighting bright and with less of a key light. No one had their own beauty light and the lighting was designed to highlight the women’s natural beauty.

The narrative to “Find Your Way Back” is beautiful — can you break down how that was filmed and framed — and the vision behind this number?

“Find Your Way Back” was the first video I did for the project. I think at this time it was just being thought of as a video to be released independently and it wasn’t until we filmed scenes for “Bigger” that the scope of the project became a much larger film. It’s funny — when we were prepping for “Find Your Way Back,” the idea behind it at first was to shoot the entire video on drones.

We had a location near Pismo Beach and the idea was to film large wide shots with Beyoncé small in the frame and then come into a close-up, and variances on that. The shoot prep was so quick that even though I wanted a camera that I could carry around with us to shoot in between drone setups there was no time and so we proceeded with the drone idea.

On the shoot day, Beyoncé’s team arrived and to my excitement, they had a full Alexa Mini package with them and so I recruited some of the drone team to help me. I built my own camera, pulled my own focus and downloaded my own media, but this gave me the freedom to move faster during some of these shots.

To me, the song felt like it was a call to come back home, to come back to our ancestry and the journey that follows. I think the idea of Afrofuturism is introduced here — with celestial bodies, the Dogon Kanaga masks, etc. In the video, we see a lot of light scenes (desert) and dark scenes (Beyoncé laying down on a bed of stars, the comet landing, the lantern dance, a starry sky) which visually represent a journey and also a duality.

Another thing that was very present for me was the use of sequins and crystals in the fashion which we lit so that they could sparkle and glimmer like stars. Kwasi and I discussed framing her with a lot of negative space around her, primarily above her or to the sides and VFX proceeded to add the moon behind her in a lot of these shots. We scouted sand dunes for a full day and were looking for interesting shapes in the dunes, either very deep valleys or high ridges that would play well with the drone.

I felt terrible sending Beyoncé hundreds of yards down into a valley that I knew she’d have to climb out of later, but we got an incredible image from that. In my experience, she always has the vision to see what the payoff will be. Some of the framing came directly from me thinking about the cover art of Miles Davis’ “Bitches Brew” — I composed a profile of Beyoncé with dancers in the back as an homage to that art.

“Mood 4 Eva” is another stunning visual, this time with prints — were there filters or specific lenses?

This video was the exact opposite of the simplicity of “Find Your Way Back.” Instead, “Mood 4 Eva” was a behemoth two-day shoot in which we had 20 big setups around a Beverly Hills mansion and my crew totaled around 40 people in both G&E and camera. The scope of the shoot was massive and we had quite a bit of prep for it.

This track is the “Hakuna Matata” of the “Black is King” narrative and thus we wanted the mood of this to be bright, with good contrast, and saturation to make it feel opulent. The idea for the video was a carefree lifestyle with a dreamscape harkening back to old Hollywood and culminating in a Busby Berkeley style aqua-musical fantasy.

The co-director for this section, Dikayl Rimmasch, wanted a vintage look but with images that felt poppy, rich and saturated in the grade. We decided to employ Kowa Cine Prominars — spherical lenses built in the 1960s. They gave us a vintage feel, looked great on skin tones, and had a warmer flare. I also used a diffusion filter to bloom the highlights just a bit and make the images slightly softer. The lighting was mainly designed to feel naturalistic and to make Zerina Akers’ amazing wardrobe stand out. I also wanted a lot of the window light to bloom so that we conveyed a dream quality to the video.

One of the main references for this video was the Esther Williams aqua-musical “Bathing Beauty,” which we used for framing and lighting of some of the synchronized swimming sections. Some other references used were Eddie Murphy’s “Coming to America,” particularly for Beyoncé’s waking up scene, and Hype Williams’ film “Belly” for the club scene.

“Bigger” is a phenomenal display of visual wealth and riches — the water background, the colors — what went into that concept?

Disney Plus

“Bigger” is one of my favorite sections of the film. Everything came together for this section. There was a beautiful clear day and an amazing sunset that played beautifully for the scene. I did enhance the daylight slightly with a couple of big units, but besides that we played it natural — embracing the direct sunlight and not opting for a large overhead diffusion.

One of the recurring visuals that Beyoncé asked for was a drone shot that was a slow push from a very wide landscape to a mid-shot of her in a beautiful setting. We did one on Bigger and repeated this motif in several of the other videos. In addition to capturing some of her performance on the beach with a drone, I was able to shoot this in both a digital format and on film.

Half of the video was a performance with Beyoncé singing to the track which I filmed on an Alexa Mini with some Zeiss Super Speeds. In addition to the performance, we also shot an elaborate line procession in which Beyoncé carries a child and washes the child alongside other mother-like figures also holding babies.

For this section of the piece, I shot Kodak film with “Astra” Master Primes that were designed by cinematographer Hoyte Van Hoytema who used them on the film “Ad Astra.” I opted to use film because I wanted it to feel different from her performance pieces.

This portion was all shot as a beautiful single-take shot by Steadicam operator Nick Muller that unfortunately didn’t make it through the edit process, which was really a shame. The shot followed Beyoncé carrying the baby with the frame moving from a very tight closeup to a wide and back and forth between the two. We ended up shooting the line procession through nightfall. I kept adjusting my stop until there really wasn’t any light left to get an exposure.

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How to Gift a Streaming Service

How to Gift a Streaming Service

Illustration for article titled How to Gift a Streaming Service

Photo: dennizn (Shutterstock)

In many ways, the digital age has made gift giving easier. You can fill up a single online shopping cart and send gifts anywhere in the world. At the same time, some things are not as easy as they used to be. Remember when you could just walk into a store and buy someone a DVD? Now there’s a good chance your intended recipient doesn’t have a DVD player. These days, 60% of TV and movies viewed in the U.S. are streamed online, and how do you gift a digital stream?

Here are some ways you can gift a streaming service or a digital film without hacking into your loved one’s account.

Gift cards to get them started

You can find gift cards for the larger streaming services at many department stores and pharmacies. Often they are hanging on a rack right next to the Starbucks and Best Buy gift cards. You can also purchase a gift card online for the streaming service of your choice. This is the easiest way to gift a streaming service to your friends and family.

Here are links to purchase gift subscriptions for the biggest streaming services: 

  • Netflix: Gift cards are sold in various dollar amounts from retailers and third-party sellers.
  • Hulu: Gift cards are sold in various dollar amounts from retailers and third-party sellers.
  •  Disney+: Choosing to “gift a year” of membership to the streamer will run you $69.99 (new subscribers only).
  • Amazon Prime: You can gift someone three months of Prime membership for $39, or a year for $119.
  • CBS All-Access: Gift cards are sold in various dollar amounts from retailers and third-party sellers.
  • The Criterion Channel: Gift the true cinema buff in your life a one-month subscription ($10.99) or a year-long membership ($99.99).

Note that some services, including HBO Max and Peacock, currently don’t offer an easy way to gift someone a subscription.

This is a gift that will keep your recipient entertained for months—or even a whole year—but there’s a downside: they will have to remember to cancel or they might be on the hook for the monthly fee once your gift runs out. It’s not always the case—unless they choose to link a credit card, those who sign up for Hulu via a gift card will actually see their accounts closed once the gifted amount has run out, preventing you from giving the gift of a monthly bill after the holidays.

Keeping an account going

Over 50% of U.S households subscribe to multiple streaming service subscriptions, meaning there is a good chance your giftee already has Disney+ and Netflix. In this case, consider giving the gift of a few free months, whether via a physical gift card or a digital one, that the receiver can redeem via their existing streaming account. On Netflix, for example, they’ll be able to navigate to their account settings and choose “Redeem gift card or promo code.”

Important tip: Some streaming services allow you to purchase gift cards directly, while Netflix and Google Play require you to purchase them from a third party like Amazon. Browse the service-specific links above to explore some options.

Gift a single movie or TV show

The only streaming service that allows you to give the gift of a single movie or television show is Apple TV. Gifts of movies and TV shows can only be completed using your iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch. Search the Apple store while logged in to your Apple account. Once you’ve selected the film, Apple support instructions state, “In the iTunes Store, tap the Share button, then tap Gift.” You can choose whether you want the individual to receive notification of the gift immediately by email, or you can schedule a time for the notice to be delivered.

Given all the headaches of digital copy protection and copyright laws, giving a digital film will never be as easy as wrapping up a DVD. For now, gift cards are the best way to give the gift of entertainment in the streaming age.

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Billie Eilish ‘Bad Guy’ Gets an Infinite Fan-Cover Video Mashup From YouTube

Billie Eilish ‘Bad Guy’ Gets an Infinite Fan-Cover Video Mashup From YouTube

YouTube is letting Billie Elish fans remix her chart-topper “Bad Guy” — using thousands of users’ cover versions — in a virtually infinite number of permutations.

On Monday, the video platform debuted “Infinite Bad Guy,” available at this link: YouTube says the interactive experience (which will carry no ads) is meant to celebrate Eilish (and her fans) after the song crested 1 billion views earlier this month, her first music video to hit the milestone.

“Infinite Bad Guy” uses machine learning to bring together more than 15,000 “Bad Guy” covers, lip syncs, dances and more from across the globe, representing numerous musical styles and languages. YouTube says you’ll see a different mosaic of music videos every time you watch it.

Billie Eilish is an exceptional artist, and it’s clear her fans on YouTube agree,” said Vivien Lewit, YouTube global head of artist relations. “This is a thank-you to Billie and all her friends.” In 2016, the video giant hosted Eilish at YouTube Space LA and helped her create one of her first videos.

YouTube worked with Google Creative Lab to develop and launch “Infinite Bad Guy.” The team at Google Creative Lab used AI to align the audio from the thousands of videos with different tempos, instruments, keys and styles. For videos that deviated from the original track (such as acoustic or a capella versions), Google Creative Lab built a neural network that could predict matches between covers and the original.

Each “Infinite Bad Guy” experience starts with Eilish’s original music video. Within a few seconds, you’re presented with two random cover versions to start exploring (or you can just press the autoplay button and then sit back to watch). The site includes scrolling hashtags to let you find “Bad Guy” covers using different instruments or in different genres. At any point, you can hit pause to see all the videos you’ve watched and get stats about your unique viewing experience. You can also click through from the covers to any creator’s YouTube channel.

YouTube Infinite Bad Guy siteYouTube Infinite Bad Guy site

“This project is a loving monument to YouTube fan culture, in all its diverse and wonderful glory,” Google Creative Lab producer Jay Chen said. “With billions of combinations, every viewing is unique, and we can’t wait for you to play it.”

At launch, “Infinite Bad Guy” pulls from approximately 10.5 million seconds of source video. Mathematically, according to YouTube, that means the current set would yield 1.46 x 10100 years of video combinations.

In 2020 alone, Eilish’s videos have garnered more than 4 billion global views on her official YouTube channel. She has over 35 million YouTube subscribers, putting her in the top 15 of most-subscribed music artists on the platform. Eilish is signed to Interscope Records. She co-wrote “Bad Guy” with her brother Finneas O’Connell, who also produced the track.

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