With so much music coming out all the time, great albums are bound to fall through the cracks. But that’s probably even more common for pop-leaning artists who are on indie labels, often eclipsed by the huge campaigns surrounding the massive pop stars, even if their music is just as good, if not better. Occupying this strange space between the ultra famous and more established indie stars can be tough for emerging artists — or career ones — who exist in the middle realm.
Luckily, it’s my job to keep a lookout for these albums that are bubbling just under the surface, and I’ve collected ten of them to get you through another month of staying indoors. Music is a great way to mark time, so maybe throw a couple of these records on this month to help make the days go by. There is an end in sight, and staying positively distracted with a good soundtrack is a good way to keep in a healthy frame of mind. Check out these records you might’ve missed below.
Anna Burch — If You’re Dreaming
It would be easy to describe the steady, peaceful pacing of Anna Burch’s second album, If You’re Dreaming as, well, dreamy. The twelve-track follow-up to her 2018 solo debut, Quit The Curse is a departure from the jangling, guitar-rock that put her on the map, pushing outward into slower and hypnotic tunes that are perfect for zoning out and stretching out. Written in part as a self-soothing exercise after many long months on the road and a series of tumultuous housing situations, these songs are beyond dreamy, they’re lullabies for a turbulent world. They’re more lucid than dreams, and better for it.
Half Waif — The Caretaker
Nandi Rose Plunkett’s exploration of loneliness and self-care unfolds on her surreal, swirling new album, The Caretaker, another strong entry — if not the strongest — into Half Waif‘s already formidable discography. Decamping from Brooklyn to live upstate on a rather remote estate, Nandi’s character of the caretaker is self-informed, but with enough room to bring the mesmerizing world of the country’s strange wildlife and mythology into play. This is an album full of such deft self-excavation that listeners might find themselves uncovering forgotten layers of themselves, too.
Jordana — Classical Notions Of Happiness
Initially released on Bandcamp as a collection of the early thoughts, feelings, and musical ideas of 19-year-old Jordana Nye, Classical Notions Of Happiness quickly caught the ear of the internet, and after co-signs from Anthony Fantano of The Needle Drop and Pitchfork, Nye landed herself a record deal with the New York-based label, Grand Jury. The label not only re-released Nye’s DIY demos, but incorporated three new tracks from the wunderkind, who is quickly outgrowing her dewy bedroom synths for some freewheeling psychedelic warbling on the album’s closer, “Crunch.” On Happiness, Nye contains multitudes, and listening to her expand feels almost like doing it yourself.
Shoffy — Flash
An Uproxx fav from 2018, LA-based producer Shoffy is back with another collection of electro-pop that undeniably grooves. His last release, Lenses, was a completely independent album, with no guests or features, but this year’s Flash includes a number of welcome — and surprising — guests. From emerging R&B singers like Sabrina Carpenter, who sings on two songs here, to the Soundcloud veteran producers RAC, the new voices and sounds help Shoffy build on his smart, sweet synth-pop sound.
Galantis — Church
Galantis is the kind of EDM group who can bring together everyone, from Dolly Parton to Passion Pit. The DJ duo of Christian Karlsson (of Miike Snow) and Linus Eklöw know how to craft the kind of epic dancefloor hit that can turn your living room into the club — at least until the end of the song. Throw this on for ultimate jams that are catchy and ebullient enough to make the outside world disappear, and make dance the universal language of recovery. Sometimes, all you need to survive the night is to dance till the drop hits.
Allie X — Cape God
Allie X is one of the unsung pop stars of our time, but she comes through like the world’s biggest star on her newest album, Cape God. With features like Mitski (!) and Troye Sivan, the Toronto-raised/LA-based singer/songwriter released her second studio album in February of this year, quietly building momentum off the gloomy pop bops like “Devil I Know.” Writing songs from the perspective of characters in the 2015 documentary, Heroin: Cape Cod, this sometimes dark, sometimes campy pop exploration is as weird as Lana, and as experimental as St. Vincent.
Caribou — Suddenly
Every record that Dan Snaith releases as Caribou seems to top the one before, and Suddenly was a welcome addition to the producer’s oeuvre. It’s hard to say anything tops his last record, Our Love, but maybe because it’s been six years since that one dropped, it makes Suddenly all the sweeter. No one can spin a single synth sound and a whisper-sung lyric into a soothing, soulful song like Snaith can, but the moments on this album that get jittery and weird are just as welcome, like when “Sunny’s Time” ventures into a strange jazz freakout. Standout track “Home” brings an old soul sample in alongside glitchy and comforting production that never veers off course or gets too heavy-handed, a feat only Snaith could pull off.
Caitlyn Smith — Supernova
Walking the tightrope between the folk/country and indie/pop worlds is harder than it looks, but Caitlyn Smith has pulled it off to great success on her latest album, Supernova. With fiery anthems like “Damn You For Breaking My Heart” and bleary, string-laden ballads like the title track, Smith showcases her work as an inventive, flexible songwriting who pens songs that supersede genre. Smith knows how to make songs smoke and let them burn, but she’s also an expert at barely stoking the embers, and letting a song’s heat catch flame at just right moment, as showcased on “I Can’t,” a brassy sigh of exasperation that I’ve been returning to during crises big and small.
Elliot Moss — A Change In Diet
Following up his impressive debut, Highspeeds in 2015, Elliot Moss has been racking up comparisons to the likes of Bon Iver and James Blake as one of the great emotion-driven songwriters who can convert those feelings into electronic production. Following up the shorter EP-length release Boomerang in 2017, his second full-length, A Change In Diet opens up his songwriting and production even farther into post-Yeezus territory. Falsetto vocals, slithering beats, and flickering synths make this a must-listen for rainy nights and long, grey days.
Torres — Silver Tongue
After splitting with her former label, 4AD, Mackenzie Scott quickly signed with the legendary North Carolina label Merge Records, and prepared a full departure from her 2017 release, Three Futures. This year’s Silver Tongue is best described by Scott herself: “I feel like I’ve lived an entire lifetime in the three years since recording Three Future. This new record documents the significant fruits, for better or worse, of some terrifically delusional pursuits.” While it might be more meandering and abstract than some of her past work, it’s a gorgeous, strangely dark reminder of what a songwriting force Scott has always been. Listen for mythic, dark-pop reflections on just about everything.
Some artists covered here are Warner Music artists. Uproxx is an independent subsidiary of Warner Music Group.
Before Fleabag was turned into an Emmy-winning show, it was an acclaimed one-woman show. That woman: No Time to Die co-writer, Killing Eve creator, and guinea pig enthusiast Phoebe Waller-Bridge, who returned to London’s West End for more performances in 2019. One of those productions was broadcast into theaters last year (theatres, for my Hot Priest-loving friends across the pond), but if you missed it, Fleabag Live is being released online to raise money for COVID-19 charities.
“I hope this filmed performance of Fleabag can help raise money while providing a little theatrical entertainment in these isolated times,” Waller-Bridge said. “Thank you to all our partners and to the creative team who have waived their royalties from this production to raise money for such vital causes in this unbelievably challenging situation. All money raised will support the people throughout our society who are fighting for us on the frontlines and those financially devastated by the crisis, including those in the theatre community. Thank you in advance to those who donate. Now go get into bed with Fleabag. It’s for charity.” Pretty sure she’s specifically talking to Obama there.
Fleabag Live premiered today in the UK and Ireland on Soho Theatre’s On Demand streaming site, and will hit Amazon Prime Video in the United States beginning Friday, April 10; it will run for two weeks. A 48-hour rental costs five bucks.
Queens-born Korean producer Yaeji unveiled her revved-up mixtape What We Drew last week. To celebrate her highly-anticipated release, Yaeji debuted an animated lyric video to the track “When I Grow Up” as a reflection on the themes of her early childhood.
Animated and directed by Luis Yang, the visual moves in alignment with Yaeji’s jarring synth beat. Each component of the animation somehow ties in with the theme of Yaeji’s mixtape. Dancing onions and flashing video game controllers float around the producer’s outlined alter-ego.
In a statement, Yaeji said the track is an acute reflection on her childhood: “‘WHEN I GROW UP’ is a song of two perspectives talking with each other. one is me from my childhood, wondering what it would be like when i become an adult. the other is me as an adult, breaking the truth to young me,” she said.
In a recent interview with Vice‘s Garage Magazine, Yaeji discussed her draw to visual art as a medium, which can be seen through her “When I Grow Up” video:
“I’ve always been way more comfortable with visual art for a very long period of my life,” she said. “I think the earliest memory I have is when I was four years old: I was painting a lot, and decided then that I would become a visual artist when I grew up, and I stayed pretty consistently on that path until college. I’m still really comforted by it. I would say my visual art making practice is really similar to music making in a lot of ways. I’m more of a process-based artist, and I’m really frantic and messy sometimes, and abstract and expressive. Often you have to just let it all out that way and then clean it up and organize it later, and understand the bigger picture of the messaging of it.”
WrestleMania 36 — all two nights and 16 matches of it — is officially in the books. While there were memorable moments throughout both broadcasts, nothing got the wrestling world talking as much as the Firefly Fun House match between Bray Wyatt and John Cena, in a rematch of their original encounter at WrestleMania 30. (Read Brandon Stroud’s incredibly in-depth analysis of the Firefly Fun House match here.)
While the WWE Universe is split as to whether or not they enjoyed it — or, heck, whether it was actually a match — those within the industry had pretty strong feelings about the segment and had no problem sharing them.
First up, let’s check in with some of the performers who actually shared the WrestleMania 36 card with Cena and Wyatt, including comments from Dolph Ziggler and WWE Hall Of Famer JBL:
Of course, plenty of WWE talent were not on the Mania card this year, due to injuries, travel bans or to minimize health risks. That didn’t stop everyone from Xavier Woods to Nia Jax and plenty more from weighing in on this one-of-a-kind match:
Now, sure, you might think that of course folks on the WWE payroll will have nice things to say about this match. But if we cast the net wider, we see that the combat-sports world in general — even someone who was parodied in the match andwas fired from the company six months ago — seemed to really dig what Wyatt and Cena created:
Thank you @WWENetwork@JohnCena and @WWEBrayWyatt for the NWO love tonight. Made a 60 year old man smile. If we had those two gentlemen wearing the colors I might be heading back to the ring in some capacity. Sorry but this is 4 real and 4 life.
I didn’t know if they could match what they did last night but they did. They topped it in my opinion. What a great match. Cena knows how to play the game man! Fiend is bigger monster than ever. This is why mania is about. @wwe@WWEBrayWyatt@JohnCena unbelievable
Welcome to the age of Quibi, or whatever exactly today marks as the debut of the new mobile streaming service. The era of Quibi, maybe? It’s hard to say. We’ll have to see if any of this actually works first. The whole project, started by Jeffrey Katzenberg and a slew of deep-pocketed Hollywood types with the kind of juice one needs to get big-name stars to sign on to a weird content experiment, is a delivery system for quick bites of entertainment, little chunks of 5-10 minutes that you can consume in pieces on your phone. That’s where the name Quibi comes from: Quick Bites. We’re all learning so much today.
There’s a lot to sort through already with more on the way very soon. Below, our slate of television experts attempts to sort through some of the best (and weirdest) offerings that Quibi dropped on its opening day, from a scripted fantasy series starring Sophie Turner to a cooking show that features flying food and a series of messes. It’s, again, a lot. We did out best. Quibi.
Murder House Flip
I’m generally not a fan of home renovation shows. Like, I have zero interest in watching the Property Brothers (who seem like nice enough guys, by the way) pretend to demolish and rebuild a whole house without even reloading a tool belt. Their smiles are too sparkly, their hair too perfect, and their vast renovation accomplishments feel too easy (especially since one of them usually wears a suit), you know? I, for one (and I know I’m not alone), would dig a grittier approach, and something that feels like only true elbow grease (and maybe an exorcist) could get the job done. Well, there’s no better way to grit things up than by finding out that a home near the beach is such a steal because someone once plopped eight bodies in the backyard. Granted, not all of the claims on this show might be real. I’m prepared to suspend some disbelief for the haunted house vibes that might be full of garbage, and trust, I will be giggling along with those scenes. Yet I still appreciate that Quibi’s fashioning a twisted hybrid of an HGTV-type house-hunting-and-renovation show with a faux-procedural bent that borders on self-parody. It’s so morbid, but both types of shows do deserve to be roasted, and there’s no better way to do that than by combining them. I can’t help but feel addicted already to these wild murder homes, even before the service has launched, so this series will be my first stop. — Kimberly Ricci
Just last month, the United Nations warned that the coronavirus pandemic could lead to food shortages around the globe. Already, in the United States, there are hours-long waits at food banks and countless restaurants have already shuttered, or will permanently close by the end of the month. Anyway, here’s Dishmantled, a show where “we blast a dish to smithereens,” as host Tituss Burgess explains, “to see if two blindfolded chefs can guess it, then make it.” Think: Nailed It or Chopped meets the sticky money booth from Matilda. OK, it’s not Dishmantled’s fault that it’s come out at the wrong time — although one could argue that there’s no good time for a food-waste show where someone says, “I tasted cheese off my shoe” — but if you squint, you can see the appeal. For one thing, Burgess, best known for playing Titus Andromedon on Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, is a treasure; also, guests include Dan Levy and Jane Krakowski, and the first three episodes are all under six-and-a-half minutes. But can I, in good conscience, recommend Dishmantled? (It will not surprise you to learn that this isn’t the only launch-day show with a pun for a title. Find the others!) Not really, no… but in the intro, Tituss asks, “Y’all ready to watch me blow some shit up?” while wearing a shirt and pants combo covered in popsicles. So, at the same time, yes, watch at least the first two episodes. — Josh Kurp
It’s hard to resist the urge to make a Game of Thrones-inspired joke after learning the premise of Sophie Turner’s segmented drama for Quibi, but we’re nothing if not professional here at Uproxx so I’ll ignore the fact that, once again, Turner is playing a tortured young woman struggling to survive in a subzero environment. I’ll even – with great, herculean effort, mind you – overlook the wolves that pop up midway through this artic adventure and instead lay out what works when it comes to this “movie” and what doesn’t. Corey Hawkins as the stereotypical nice guy who loses his sh*t when he realizes the only other survivor of his plane crash is a suicidal white girl with daddy issues? Works. Turner as a deeply troubled PTSD patient at a mental health retreat who plans to kill herself on her plane ride home? Works. Breaking this short story up into eight-minute long “episodes?” Doesn’t work. It’s the format that really lets this movie down mostly because entire installments must be filled with enough exposition and transitional material to make the more climactic moments make sense. If you can sit through them, you’ll discover a surprisingly thoughtful, at times action-packed, musing on the value of life and our capacity to endure hardship while holding onto hope. And wolves. There are wolves eventually. — Jessica Toomer
Flipped, not to be confused with Murder House Flip, stars Uproxx favorites Kaitlin Olson (It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia) and Will Forte (SNL) as a couple who quit their day jobs to become Chip and Joanna Gaines-type home renovation stars. They buy a foreclosed fixer-upper in the middle of nowhere, only to discover a wad of money in the wall. That’s when the cartel gets involved. Hijinks ensue, etc.
Of the half dozen or so Quibi shows I watched, Flipped was my favorite (even if the first three episodes, the ones screened to critics, feel like a chopped-up pilot). Forte and Olson have good comedic chemistry, Andy Garcia and Arturo Castro pop up in later episodes, and it’s just funny enough to make you want to continue watching. It’s a good watch while taking the bus to work, or waiting at the DMV. In that sense, it’s the ideal Quibi show: you’ll forget about it as soon as it’s over, but it’s a decent enough way to kill 30 minutes. — JK
If anyone could follow in Judge Judy’s iconic Robert Clergerie heels, it’s Chrissy Teigen. The celebrity influencer and cookbook author has been keeping her husband’s ego in check for years – who knows what level of vanity EGOT winner John Legend could’ve ascended to if it weren’t for her? It’s Teigen’s signature brand of tough love that’s supposed to carry this reality remake and, for the most part, it works. Of course, episodes also hinge on the likability of the guests and how hot the tea they’re serving is. A gay couple arguing over a hideous sweatshirt just doesn’t hold the same appeal as a man suing his situationship partner for a car payment, but whether these are actors or real people with petty problems, Teigen’s charming enough to wade through the dramatics. And though she probably won’t like this, it’s her mom – who serves as courtroom bailiff – that’s the real MVP of the show. Their Grumpy Old Men schtick deserves all the minutes here. – JT
Jack Bauer vs. Steve Murphy, or at least, the guys who played those characters, feels like a guaranteed recipe for success. Hell, 24‘s longevity proves that folks love to see Kiefer Sutherland calling the shots, so he’s the perfect lawman type to lead a retooling of the 1993 remake (of the 1960s TV series) starring Tommy Lee Jones and Harrison Ford. As an update to Ford’s character, Boyd Holbrook (Narcos and Run All Night) is also a pretty spot-on casting choice, given his popularity with the Netflix crowd. And that’s the name of the game for Quibi, right? That’s why they’re furiously stacking the content right out of the gate, plus they’ve updated the alleged crime of the “fugitive” as a bombing of mass transit, so there’s the adrenaline-fueled nature that this bite-sized series needs. Done? Not quite. Yes, of course I’m excited to see Kiefer blazing down the street while brandishing a gun. There’s also no possible way that this series doesn’t reel in not only fans of action TV series but other genres, given that Kiefer’s career has included a little bit of everything, and his appeal spans several generations of viewers. I do wonder what future seasons could be like, though. Eventually, Holbrook’s character should be exonerated, so will they cycle through other fugitives? If that’s the case, they’ll have no choice but to cast someone like, say, Scoot McNairy. (Full disclosure: I just wanna see Scoot on Quibi, and he’d probably be down with this show.) — KR
Reese Witherspoon hosts this nature show about females members of the animal kingdom, from big cats of prey to ants and everything in between. Maybe not everything. That would defeat the purpose of “quick bites.” But a lot of things at least, all narrated by Reese, because do you even have a streaming platform if you don’t have a show with Reese Witherspoon in it or involved in it? I submit that you do not.
The only here is… do you want to watch stunning nature footage on a vertical video on your phone? I don’t know. I guess that’s the big question with Quibi so far, and in general. This feels like a show that would be best served by a very large screen and very high-definition, like your Planet Earths and Blue Planets and such. Maybe that’s just the way my brain is conditioned, though. I’ve been wrong before. A lot. File this one, as with most of these, under I Guess We’ll See. — Brian Grubb
Shape of Pasta
But soft, what light through yonder quarantine darkness breaks? It is the east, and this Quibi show about the forgotten art of pasta making, is the sun. Did I expect to fall in love with this series that follows a renowned California chef traveling to remote villages in Italy to hunt down nearly extinct forms of handmade noodles? Of course. It’s carbs, fresh tomato sauce, and finely grated cheese. I’m not some psychopath. But did I expect to be crying my eyes out at the end of each episode as Evan Funke formed deeply human connections with elderly women who served as his culinary sensei in this most momentous of reality food show quests? No, no I did not. And yet, what is the purpose of life, the reason for our existence if not to worship at the feet of the grain-enriched dough delicately carved into an array of miscellaneous shapes, drenched in olive oils, pestos, and tomato-based sauces and served to us by kindly old women we call “Nonnas”? Let’s use this pandemic to get back to the basics, to what’s truly important in life. Homemade noodles. — JT
Killing Zac Efron
The star of the High School Musical trilogy went on to play Ted freaking Bundy, which was bonkers enough to behold. Then he attempted to pull a Bear Grylls, but it seems like he went even more hardcore than the original? Efron was reportedly hospitalized after contracting an infection while navigating extreme circumstances during the making of this show. Whereas Grylls has been caught doing the hotel thing while pretending to entirely rough it in the wild. I’m not saying that Efron was a total daredevil, and maybe some of what transpires will be exaggerated, but the fact that he landed in the hospital says that he was taking the thing fairly seriously. That’s scary, of course, but I also respect the heck out of how Efron’s gamely stepping outside of the heartthrob box. He could have easily spent a decade the same way that Matthew McConaughey did: as a shirtless bro in countless consecutive romcoms and in real life. We all knew that McConaughey could act the hell out of serious drama roles (still with a comedic edge), and thank god he started doing that again, but just think of all that lost time? Efron probably doesn’t have the range of McConaughey, but let’s just see where he ends up in a decade. He might surprise us all, but for now, I’m tuning in to see him one-up all of the so-called survivalists on TV. — KR
I’ll admit I was hesitant to watch this Quibi reality series following Nicole Richie as she transforms from Hollywood socialite into an eco-conscious trap icon. When you’ve witnessed the awe-inspiring feats of reality TV circa Richie’s 2003 show The Simple Life, you naturally doubt that lightning can, in fact, strike twice. This series isn’t as much of a guilty pleasure as watching Richie stick her forearm up a cow’s rear and have a bleach-tossing meltdown in a bar was back then, but it’s still bizarre and funny and totally on-brand for the TV personality. Richie is determined to bring awareness to a variety of issues – from global warming to veganism to the underappreciated world of bee-keeping fashion – and she’s doing it with this lightly-scripted reality show that once again has her interacting with us normals, this time as Nikki Fre$h, a trap queen who delivers a banger at the end of each episode. Alexis Rose, stay sharp. — JT
Reno 911! has not premiered yet, in the most technical sense of the word, by which I mean it has not premiered at all. There is a trailer, though, which is all the excuse I need to discuss Reno 911! it turns out, so here goes that.
Reno 911! was a good and fun show that aired on Comedy Central for I want to say was 55 seasons. It was less than that. I know it was. But the marathons of it the network ran constantly made it feel like a bottomless pit of comedy. It had everything: alums of The State, stupid criminals, stupid police officers, and a format lifted from one of our greatest television shows ever, COPS. Also, the episodes were broken up into 5-10 minutes chunks that focused on each stupid crime, which actually makes it a natural fit for a platform that does this as its whole deal. I’m excited about this one. The only way I could be happier is if they also green light a new version of World’s Wildest Police Chases with Sheriff John Bunnell. Now that was a television program. — BG
Newly-minted Philadelphia pop-rockers 2nd Grade are as honest as they are sarcastic. Pulling members from popular indie groups like Free Cake For Every Creature, Remember Sports, and Friendship, 2nd Grade announce their debut album Hit To Hit with the earnest lead singles “Velodrome” and “My Bike.”
In a statement, vocalist Peter Gill explained the group’s driving mentality:
“In order to be honest, you almost have to make an effort to be funny at times in art. It almost can’t even hold together because it is so at odds with itself but it does in the end. It’s one group of musicians presenting all these different ideas and directions of songwriting and miraculously, it holds together. Some of the songs take that approach of a person who feels like they have to be taking up so much space and adopting this super-macho image. And then on the other side, some of the other songs present a vulnerability behind that and a lack of self-confidence. I definitely couldn’t have made an album as good without all the people involved and that is tied into the idea of some of these songs too. That you need the people around you. That’s one way I can see this whole thing now. I wanted to write a bunch of really catchy songs and at the end of the day that would have been enough for me, just to put out an album with a bunch of great pop songs that doesn’t have to have some sort of deeper meaning.”
Listen to “Velodrome” and “My Bike” above. Below, find 2nd Grade’s Hit To Hit cover art.
Hit To Hit is out 5/29 via Double Double Whammy. Pre-order it here.
HBO’s adaptation of Stephen King’s The Outsider turned out to be a ratings hit for the premium cable network. So, it’s a wise move that they engineered a wide open door for season two, with Holly Gibney’s fate left ambiguous and another possible El Cuco host in the mix. These wrinkles arrived courtesy of screenwriter Richard Price, who not only engineered a damn watchable take on a complex novel to adapt, but he also pointed the story beyond King’s original vision and chain of events.
Jason Bateman, who directed the first two episodes (and sporadically appeared as accused murderer Terry Maitland), recently spoke with Collider and confirmed that HBO’s definitely considering a second swing at El Cuco. Furthermore, Price is exploring some steps to get the story running again. Finally, some good news:
“I know that they’re talking about it and Richard Price is playing with some ideas and taking some first steps as to what that second year might and feel like. Obviously, it’s a complete free-ball because the first season exhausted 100% of [Stephen King’s] book, the IP. So, it’s really all up to him. I never like to step on the lawn of the writers. It’s something that I’ve always stuck with on Ozark. I leave Chris Mundy completely alone and I do my job as a director once I get the script. I chime in every once in a while and offer my opinion, but it’s always for the writer to take if they want and discard if they want.”
Hell yeah, that sounds like a promising update, even if there’s no actual confirmation from HBO yet. I think it will happen! Even horror icon Robert Englund couldn’t stop raving about this show, and the ratings eclipsed that of Watchmen and True Detective, so the public demands it. Of course, the public also wants to make sure that a followup is just as good as the first round, but if Price is in charge of the story, it’s in solid hands.
We probably shouldn’t expect Bateman to be too involved, however. Following the stunning ending to Ozark‘s third season, he’ll surely be in the thick of starring in and directing a fourth season of the Netflix show soon. He told Collider that he’d have loved to direct more of The Outsider, but it’s just impossible to do it all on both shows. Clearly, his work on the HBO show made for one heck of a launch, and the rest of the team took it from there.
As for Price, he previously suggested to IndieWire that HBO was open to a sophomore run: “There’s no such thing as a series that, if it does well, they’re not going to want a second season.” Again, this sounds like they’re inching toward an announcement, eventually, although things are obviously on hold in many places with the world’s current situation. Fingers crossed.
With the global pandemic’s continued spread, people across the world are staying inside to curb the virus’ infection rate. Many musicians have offered livestreams as a way to offer entertainment during quarantine. Now, the WHO, Global Citizen, and a number of popular musicians are teaming up for the livestream TV special One World: Together At Home. Hosted by Jimmy Kimmel, Jimmy Fallon, and Stephen Colbert, the special will air on every major TV network and feature performances by many big-name artists like Lizzo, Lady Gaga, and Billie Eilish.
Along with big pop icons, other artists on the roster include Paul McCartney, Elton John, Finneas, Stevie Wonder, John Legend, Chris Martin, Eddie Vedder, Kacey Musgraves, J Balvin, Keith Urban, Alanis Morissette, Lang Lang, Andrea Bocelli, Billie Joe Armstrong, Burna Boy, and Maluma.
Hugh Evans, co-founder and CEO of Global Citizen, said the broadcast will be, in part, a way to honor our healthcare workers: “As we honor and support the heroic efforts of community health workers, ‘One World: Together At Home’ aims to serve as a source of unity and encouragement in the global fight to end COVID-19,” Evans said in a statement. “Through music, entertainment and impact, the global live-cast will celebrate those who risk their own health to safeguard everyone else’s.”
Director-general of the WHO Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus echoed Evans’ statement: “The World Health Organization is committed to defeating the coronavirus pandemic with science and public health measures, and supporting the health workers who are on the frontlines of the response,” said Dr. Ghebreyesus. “We may have to be apart physically for a little while, but we can still come together virtually to enjoy great music. The ‘One World: Together at Home’ concert represents a powerful show of solidarity against a common threat.”
One World: Together At Home premieres 4/18 at 8 p.m. EST on all major networks.
Some of the artists covered here are Warner Music artists. Uproxx is an independent subsidiary of Warner Music Group.
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Here’s a special, one-match breakdown edition of the Best and Worst of WWE WrestleMania 36 (1.5 of 2) for April 5, 2020.
Why Must Fireflies Die So Young?
I’m not sure how to say this, exactly, but the Firefly Fun House match on night two of WrestleMania 36 was art. I’m not saying that to be twee, or to do a hacky “actually pro wrestling is an art form you philistines” thing. I truly believe it was art, because unlike some of even the best professional wrestling matches, it challenged me. It required a second viewing, and a frame-by-frame breakdown to understand it on the level upon which I believe it was intended to be understood. It contains complex character work, introspection, and a deep history lesson from WWE, a company we (and especially I) don’t give credit to or expect to present ANY of those things in its product.
I’m going to try to break it down here and make sense of it, both for you and for myself. Keep in mind that I could be completely off on all of this, but hey, it wouldn’t be the first time. Stick with me until we get to the end.
The match — short film, whatever — opens with John Cena entering into the weird, empty Performance Center. If you watched Smackdown, you know he’s more shaken by this than most. Characters that aren’t allowed to have “free will,” so to speak, just show up and do their entrance animations and still play to an empty crowd, because the people at home are watching and they want to put smiles on people’s faces. Cena, who has always walked a tightrope between being super serious and sarcastically self-aware, doesn’t know how to handle it. He left for Hollywood and came back to … this? What even is this?
On Smackdown, he realized his “talking to the camera man” bits were audible now. “Now they can hear us talking. Welcome everyone, to Smackdown … on FOX!” Here, he’s not just walking into an empty gym Smackdown … he’s entering into an empty gym WRESTLEMANIA. That’s got him shook already as a guy who has done WrestleMania entrances involving clone armies, gospel choirs, gangsters with Tommy Guns, Tokyo drifting sports cars, and marching bands. Plus, he’s going into something called a “Firefly Fun House Match,” only kayfabe 46-ish hours after being confronted by puppets and haunted by a teleporting guy running two concurrent monster gimmicks. Cena’s a good proxy for the audience here, because he doesn’t know what the shit’s going on either. He tries to do a sarcastic, “welcome to WrestleMania!” call — most famously attributed to Vince McMahon, which we’ll call back to later — and it’s immediately warped by Bray, in the Fun House.
This is where Bray finally sets the stage for what we’re about to see.
He reminds us that the Firefly Fun House is a place where Gods, monsters, angels, and demons are neighbors, and that the Fun House exposes your darkest urges and shows you who you really are. Bray: “Who are we really, and why do we do the things we do?” Think of it like Westworld, by way of Pee-wee’s Playhouse. The Firefly Fun House match is going to be a look who John Cena “really is,” as he faces his “most dangerous opponent.” Himself. Adventures of Link style.
Bray leaves through the “abandon hope all ye who exit here” door, which we’ve seen him enter from numerous times. That’s where we’re having the “match.” In a matter of moments Cena’s been involuntarily teleported there, and follows after Bray on the instructions of a naive, immortal rabbit puppet. There’s been a lot of conversation about how each puppet represents part of Bray’s psyche, and I’m pretty sure Ramblin’ Rabbit is his love of pro wrestling. It’s the smallest puppet, always being victimized by the others, who marks out for all the wrestlers he talks to and can’t seem to die, no matter how many times people try to kill him. It makes sense that a pure love for what they do will be the connective tissue here.
From here on in, the match becomes a meditation on Cena’s entire wrestling career, from beginning to end.
We begin with Cena’s creation. This is represented by Cena standing in a dark room, surrounded by nothingness, while a heart beats in the background. This is John before “John Cena.” His persona only exists in a dark void, waiting to be created. And who created him?
Vince McMahon, of course, represented not especially subtly by Wyatt’s money-eating “Boss” puppet. Puppet Vince launches into his declaration of “Ruthless Aggression” from the June 24, 2002, episode of Raw, where he overtly set the tone for the next 18 years of WWE’s top stars and heroes being defined by their willingness to be self-centered and violent to validate McMahon’s bizarre misunderstanding of and hapless attempts to recreate Stone Cold Steve Austin. Whoever steps up will have to give up themselves to become what Vince wants. “Do you have enough ruthless aggression to make the necessary sacrifices of mind, body, and soul, to be a success in this company? Show me, or you’re fired!”
Three days later, John Cena made his debut on Smackdown and declared that he, more than anyone, had Ruthless Aggression and was willing to do anything to prove it. He slapped an already legendary champion and Olympic gold medalist in the face to show it. He was everything Vince wanted, right out of the gate: handsome, stupid muscular, tall enough, heavy enough, inconsequentially aggressive and violent, and ready to pander to crowds with big declarative statements and hot pants he could change the color of to match their local sports teams. It didn’t work, though. In the Ruthless Aggression documentary series, he calls it the biggest mistake of his life.
In that same doc, Cena mentions that the character didn’t work and that WWE was already ready to just give up and let him go when his contract ran out in November. In the Firefly Fun House, this takes the form of Cena showing up in his rookie look, complete with the SMACKDOWN FIST that they’ve found and fished out of the archives. Cena does what he did back then; be hyped up, beautifully sculpted, and brutally confrontational despite not really knowing what to do yet, and not really having a character to speak of. He just keeps screaming “RUTHLESS AGGRESSION” and swinging wildly with missed slaps over and over, because that’s what he was told to do.
Bray rightfully asks him if this is what he wants to do with his life, and we get flashbacks of Cena as a little kid holding handmade belts to suggest that no, maybe it isn’t. He wanted to be a professional wrestler, you know? Not an awkward little action figure that Vince McMahon can use to punctuate his demands for unconscionable Alpha Male superiority and throw away when it doesn’t work like he wanted. But this is what he MUST do, because if he doesn’t make the “necessary sacrifices of mind, body, and soul” by completely losing himself in McMahon’s image of masculine perfection, he’ll lose his job. Which means that little kid who loved wrestling — John’s Ramblin’ Rabbit, so to speak — he’ll never even get the chance to live his dreams. This is the only game in town.
So wait, what IS McMahon’s image, exactly? For that, we have go back to the 1980s and Vince McMahon’s all-time shiniest show pony: Hulk Hogan.
As anyone who’s ever watched WWF or WWE programming knows, Vincent Kennedy McMahon has a predilection for enormous, abrasive, borderline immobile “body guys.” He wants you to look as good, sound as good, and DO as little as possible. Wyatt makes that differential clear. “That’s what being a stud is all about; having muscles, no matter what little talent you possess.”
If I’m putting this together right, I believe this is placed here to show that to succeed in WWE, Cena would have to emulate someone else. Vince McMahon’s assertion of Ruthless Aggression evokes an attempt at a new Stone Cold Steve Austin, a devil may care hell-raiser who kicks ass and lets God sort ’em out, but what he’s really asking for is another Hulk Hogan. Hogan was cruel. He was never a “good guy,” despite being a hero to children and crying fans. He was what Vince McMahon considered an Alpha Male. He was all about himself. He made himself look SO GOOD and be SO BIG and SO STRONG that even GIANTS couldn’t stop him. He was American exceptionalism. There’s a clear reason why Hogan’s notable enemies were either fat guys (King Kong Bundy, Andre, Akeem), foreign guys (Iron Sheik, Nikolai Volkoff), or arrogant smart guys who were nowhere as big or strong (Bobby Heenan, Randy Savage, Ric Flair).
To be this for Vince, Cena works out harder than anyone possibly could. He’s doing rapid-fire bicep curls and speaking in goofy 1980s promo lines to be literally anything other than himself, because the longer he’s doing this and the more of a product he becomes, the less he even knows what himself is. But he puts that emphasis on being a body guy until his arms give out and he “can’t do anything.” He tries to fight, but he can’t even lift his arms. I like to think this is symbolic of the prioritization of physical appearance and ego over skill and ability. Hogan could wrestle, but didn’t, because not wrestling worked. Cena got a reputation for “not being able to wrestle” because not wrestling worked better. He just did the five moves in a row and won. It worked in kayfabe, and it worked in ticket sales. People just wanna show up and clap at things they recognize. They don’t actually care how good at wrestling you are. “Wrestling isn’t wrestling,” right? It’s just a children’s show full of weird, screaming characters who keep hurting each other.
But I digress.
The other reason the “body guy” segment happens here, I believe, is because of how Cena’s always treated anyone who didn’t look as perfect as him like they were worthless. CM Punk wasn’t big and muscular enough. AJ Styles wasn’t big and muscular enough. Bray Wyatt, no matter how good of a wrestler and talker and character he is, gets lowered to the “overfed sex child of Wiz Khalifa and the WB frog.” You’re fat, and you look stupid. I’m muscular, and I look GREAT. Which makes me a HERO. I’m doing what’s RIGHT. I represent TRAINING and SAYING MY PRAYERS and EATING MY VITAMINS.
Bray, who might have not made this connection clear enough by showing up on Saturday Night’s Main Event behind the big blue cage and saying “brother” a bunch, brings all this home with the line: “Whatcha gonna do, brother, when you realize that Egomania has been running wild on you?”
Cena can’t stop, though. This is what he’s been told he’s supposed to do. But it’s October, and his contract’s up next month. He’s heard Rikishi and Rey Mysterio freestyling in the locker room, though, and he likes doing that, too. And there’s a Halloween episode of Smackdown coming up, so he decides to have a little fun and dress up like … well, he’s supposed to look like Vanilla Ice, but he looks more like Liberace. It catches on, and they decide to keep him on as a funny joke at the bottom of the card. The “Doctor of Thuganomics” is born.
Cena, unaware that Egomania has run wild on him, turns into a character that just says the meanest, most hateful, sexual, offensive shit to get a reaction. “If all I got is rapping, I’ll use it to my advantage.” He builds his legacy on insults, dick jokes, and ruthlessly aggressive gestures and move names (the “F-U,” a “fuck you” to Brock Lesnar; an STF called the “STFU,” as in “shut the fuck up;” the “Five Knuckle Shuffle,” a euphemism for masturbation, and so on) while slowly convincing himself that not only is he brilliant … he’s a hero. One of the most beautiful moments of this entire Firefly Fun House bit is stock sounds of children’s laughter responding to Cena making a boner joke they don’t get. That’s what the past 15 years of WWE was built on. Convincing kids that the best person was the one who could be the funniest, hurt you the most, and make you feel the worst.
On Smackdown, Cena made multiple jokes about how Bray Wyatt was a fat failure. Here, he raps that Bray is a, “slut for opportunity, blowing every chance,” and calls him Husky Harris — a chant that plagued Bray in the early days of his main roster character — to draw a direct line between the “real” Wyatt (a fat loser) and the characters he’s playing. It’s like when Cena called attention to the fact that Alberto Del Rio didn’t actually OWN all those cars, he just rented them, and wasn’t actually rich, this was just part of the show. Or when he made fun of people for working in other companies, didn’t make enough real-life money for the company, or even needing to write promo notes on their hands. Abject, popular cruelty. Cena seeks to hurt Wyatt personally for confronting him professionally, believing him to be entitled and ungrateful for the “chances he’s been given.” Because like anyone who struggled but then got rich and successful, Cena now believes HE succeeded ALL ON HIS OWN, and you’re weak if you can’t just do it too.
This is where things begin to turn. Wyatt points that he keeps working for opportunities and keeps having them taken away as John (the golden goose) gets unlimited, untouchable chances. He says what I and a lot of other people have been saying about John Cena’s character for more than a decade: “You’re not a hero, John. You’re a bully. You’re a horrible person. You take the weaknesses of others, and you turn them into jokes. You do anything for fame, John. Congratulations! You’re the man now, John! Poor lonely John Cena.”
In his career, Cena rode the popularity of his rapper to the point that it morphed into a troops loving, rah rah American hero who worked out, said his prayers, and ate his vitamins. He hated and destroyed everything that was a threat to his concepts of power, heroism, and self. They were also Vince McMahon’s, coincidentally. As Vince might say, “keep it up.” As time went on, the image of Cena’s character become more important and consequential than anything he was actually doing. Cena (the character, just to be clear) thought CM Punk was a fake hero of the people who was only in it for himself, because Cena was that. Punk told him he’d become a dynasty, the New York Yankees. Being hit with that sent Cena into a rage. Cena thought The Rock abandoned WWE to go make movies in Hollywood, because Cena wanted that. Rock told him he was a wannabe boot-licker, and Cena spent over a year trying to beat him up to prove him wrong. Cena went on a reality show and proposed to his girlfriend at WrestleMania because they’d be good PR beats, while he keeps getting older and older and realizing his entire personal life is interminably locked to his professional. His character doesn’t have any friends. He’s been mean to every friend he’s ever had. He’s buried a Boneyard full of people to protect his spot, and now he’s alone.
Or, as Bojack Horsemen might put it:
Wyatt, having been as honest and direct with Cena as a spooky kids show host whose body contains the spirit of a demonic shadow clown can be, tells Cena that this is his last chance to understand, and that the floor is his. It’s Cena’s “last chance” to get it, because if he doesn’t, they begin the endgame, and that’s where shit gets dark. Cena visibly considers what Bray’s saying, but only for a moment, before rejecting it. Instead of confronting himself psychologically and emotionally, John makes a deez nuts joke.
Because John Cena.
Enter: WrestleMania 30
At WrestleMania 30, Bray Wyatt was at the height of his career. He was wildly popular and critically acclaimed for the work he’d done in NXT and beyond. He was something special, rising up during a time when almost nothing felt special. “I was the color red in a world full of black and white,” he says. Pay attention, this comes back later.
John Cena had become everything he wanted. He was a dynasty. He proclaims to be a man of the people, but doesn’t listen when the people tell him they want something else. Look at the Nexus, for example. Look at him sauntering in to kill Rey Mysterio to win a WWE Championship moments after Rey’s already wrestled. Most importantly, look at WrestleMania 30, when Cena needed to put over this new character and make him, and just … didn’t. Cena just squashed the shit out of him. Most of us lost faith in Wyatt, and he spent the next few years in a weird downward spiral of unintelligible character work, bad matches, terrible ideas, a complete lack of confidence, and a number of angles aborted either because of circumstance, or because WWE just wanted out.
So here, Wyatt seeks to rewrite his own story by capitalizing on the recreation. He sets Cena up for Sister Abigal, but lets him free. “We both know that’s not enough to end it Superman. But this is.” At WrestleMania 30, there’s a moment where Cena has a chair, and Wyatt kneels in front of him with his arms out, begging him to “finish” him. Wyatt can’t beat Super Cena, so he’s going to go out swinging and at least affect some kind of permanent CHANGE in him. In real life, Cena just kept being Cena and won the match like it was nothing. He made some faces about it, but it didn’t register as any kind of sincere fear or effort, and the status quo was maintained. In the Fun House, Cena, out of hatred for all the truth he’s just had to sit through, chooses to rewrite this path and take the low road. He swings for the fences, but Wyatt disappears. Wyatt doesn’t need the pain. He needs to do what nobody else has been able to do before. He needs the satisfactions of that permanent change in John Cena.
John Cena did the unthinkable at WrestleMania 36. He turned heel. It was imaginary, so to speak, but he was presented with a clear argument suggesting he’s a terrible human being and instead of trying to fix those habits, he leaned into them. He wants to KILL Bray Wyatt for doing this. So to illustrate this, we go back to where it all began: Hulk Hogan.
In 1996, Hulk Hogan shocked the wrestling world by betraying WCW and forming the New World Order. Hogan had been a “good guy” for the entirety of his WWF and WCW careers, and him being evil was, at least at the time, a complete impossibility. For the longest time, folks like me have been saying that a Cena heel turn, especially late in his career and after he’s gone through so much, would be just as good. It never happened, because again, nothing, not the hand of God itself, could make John Cena change. He hasn’t even changed his t-shirt in his past several appearances. He’s just this goddamn version of John Cena forever.
In the Fun House, we visit an alternate timeline where Cena turns heel. He does the worst thing you can do in WWE’s mind, still, somehow: go to WCW. So we’re suddenly on an episode of WCW Monday Nitro with John in an nWo t-shirt, with an nWo hat, and an nWo towel. He’s wearing Hollywood Black and White, to make the allegory clear. Wyatt, who is “red in a world of black and white,” is wearing a Wolfpac shirt. I LOVE that touch. Elseworlds nWo Cena, destroyed from the bottom up by his internalized corruption and delusion, listens to Wyatt lovingly introduce him in the style of Eric Bischoff and just ruthlessly, aggressively beats him to death anyway. The Vince McMahon puppet, watching from the announce table with a Macho Man version of Mercy the Buzzard, declares this, “good shit.” Shorthand, at least to “smart” fans on the Internet, for WWE’s worst ideas.
As Cena beats Wyatt to death, he’s confronted by his greatest failures in quick little cutaways. These are, in order:
the “if Cena wins we riot” at ECW One Night Stand, which was the first recognized and most iconic expression of fan hatred for Cena’s character
Edge cashing in Money in the Bank on Cena at New Years Revolution 2006
the aftermath of his loss to Shawn Michaels in their legendary Raw match from April 23, 2007
losing the WWE Championship to Batista at Elimination Chamber 2010
losing to Miz at WrestleMania 27
CM Punk’s “kiss goodbye” to Vince McMahon at Money in the Bank 2011, which once again suggests that Cena’s failures are Vince’s
Cena being mopey on the ramp after his WrestleMania 28 loss to The Rock
losing the title unification match to Randy Orton at TLC 2013
getting murdered in spectacular fashion by Brock Lesnar at SummerSlam 2014
leaving his arm band in ring after losing to AJ Styles at SummerSlam 2016, which was when Cena started taking more and more time off for Hollywood obligations
putting over Roman Reigns at No Mercy 2017
losing to Undertaker in minutes at WrestleMania 34 after spending weeks goading him on
Cena turns back into himself, realizes he’s not a fictional heel — he’s the actual heel — as evidenced by him brutally assaulting Huskus the Pig Boy, the most childish and innocent representation of Bray’s psyche. The part of Bray that still represents “Husky Harris,” and being a young up-and-comer who doesn’t fit the WWE mold … being put in place by the personification of what Vince McMahon wants.
Wyatt played to Cena’s remaining humanity (now that he’s separated himself from the wrestling business and no longer serves a purpose in his role as Superman enforcer of the status quo), and manages to actually, finally, MAYBE affect true realization and change upon the John Cena character by convincing Cena that he’s a bad person, and all the things Wyatt said about him were true. Cena instantly loses the nWo shirt and the fantasy, and is just back to being 2020, normal John Cena again. He stares down at his hands, because shit, Bray was right. He really was. We all were. Cena started off with good intentions, lost himself somewhere along the way, got everything he ever asked for, and ended up here. Everybody loves him, but nobody likes him. Imagine only realizing who you really are when you’re 42 years old, at the end of the career you sacrificed your mind, body, and soul for. All you have is ruthless aggression. That’s your one trait.
You’re the heel.
This is when The Fiend is finally able to be “let in.” Cena is broken. The Fiend “squashes” him with no effort, and we realize that Cena’s declaration that he was going to put a stop the most over hyped, over privileged, and overrated talent in WWE wasn’t about Bray Wyatt. It was about John Cena. Bray Wyatt counts the pin for The Fiend, and John Cena literally disappears, his image and perception shattered. At the end of John’s career, you can’t see him.
Good joke. Everybody laugh. Roll on snare drum. Curtains.
The next thing we see is Titus O’Neil, making this face.
The Boneyard Match on night one of WrestleMania was a really enjoyable, cornball combination of WWE and action movie concepts, but the Firefly Fun House was, as advertised, unlike anything WWE has ever done. It was deliberate, and thoughtful, and meditative. It took a look at itself, not with glorification or snide parody, but with sincere, open eyes. It said something about the characters involved beyond how good or bad they are, and it might have just given a real, honest purpose to 18 years of John Cena. I didn’t even cover all the references, like the Bella Twins nod, and there’s still probably so much left to find and contextualize.
It wasn’t a “good match,” but it was essential to our understanding of the medium, and the promotion that anchors it.
That’s good shit, pal.
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