Culture Feature

Demi Lovato's Sexual Trauma, and the Christian Purity Movement

In a new docuseries, Demi Lovato recalls how a teenage "purity" pledge added a dimension of shame to her experience of sexual assault.

Content warning: Discussions of sexual assault, disordered eating, self harm, and addiction.

Back in 2008, a group of young Disney stars represented what was intended to be a new model of fame.

While the cliche of child stars was that they are quickly corrupted — drawn into the dark side of the entertainment industry, with exposure sex and drugs from a young age — these young singers and actors were supposed to be different.

They were going to hold onto their innocence as long as they could. They had made pledges.

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Aldo Chacon / Red Bull Content Pool

The last thing Jordin Sparks did before California was thrust into quarantine was craft a new EP.

At the Red Bull Studios in Los Angeles, Sparks arrived in mid-February for a collaborative three-day workshop called the Red Bull Studio Sessions. The goal was to create an EP's worth of music in three days with local songwriters Jordyn Dodd, P Wright, Rami Jrade, and Sad Alex. Sparks, who after her season six win on American Idol, became a Grammy-nominated platinum-selling artist, mentioned that she wanted the EP to focus on her family and in turn was fed compelling instrumentals and melodies by the songwriting quartet. While Sparks was undoubtedly the glue that held the effort together, her fellow collaborators played a big hand in the development of her new EP, including songwriting.

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MUSIC

"Slime & B" Would Be Better Without Chris Brown

Brown's stench is overpowering, and Thugger is nowhere to be found

Late last night, Young Thug tweeted proudly that he had recorded all his verses for Slime & B in one day.

But the Chris Brown collaboration is largely devoid of Thugger's signature crooning. Like a poorly balanced diet, Slime & B offers no breathing room from the melodic trap sounds of Chris Brown's Indigo, which in turn causes Thugger to sound like a feature on his own work. Meanwhile, Brown's stench is overpowering. His obnoxious club R&B feels more hollow and disconnected than ever before given the current climate. "I'm too lit, she f*cked up, we wish that we could get undrunk," he raps on the tepid, Thugger-less "Undrunk." Brown handles almost every hook, tackles multiple verses at a time and while Young Thug makes appearances, bloated and unnecessary guest features inevitably overshadow his contributions.

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Music Features

Corinne Bailey Rae Was Ahead of Her Time

On this day in 2006, "Put Your Records On" had taken over the world. What happened to Corinne Bailey Rae?

A soft-spoken singer-songwriter named Corinne Bailey Rae was geared up to take over the world.

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Her self-titled debut, which is now certified triple platinum, had just unexpectedly debuted at #1 all over the UK, making her only the fourth female British act to have her breakout album debut at number one. The album has since sold over four million copies. "Put Your Records On," a bubbly and wholesome neo-soul track about simply enjoying music, had begun to dominate adult contemporary radio all around the world and propel a new sub-genre into the American mainstream. In the states, Rae was grouped in with demure singer-songwriters like Colbie Calliat, A Fine Frenzy, and Ingrid Michaelson, but she towered above her contemporaries in terms of talent and authenticity and has since experienced monumental success. So why does it feel like many people consider her a one-hit wonder?

Rae went on to be nominated for three Grammy awards in 2007, among other highly-esteemed accolades, and at just 27 years old she garnered comparisons to Stevie Wonder and Sade. "For people put off by pop-diva excess, she offers a different kind of escapist fantasy:" wrote The New York Times. "A polished, confident woman who can endure disappointment without ruffling her Peter Pan collar."

But at the other end of the radio dial, hyper-sexualized club tracks like Lil Jon's "Snap Yo Fingers," Maroon 5's "Makes Me Wonder," and Justin Timberlake's "SexyBack" consumed the likes of VH1, MTV, and middle school dances. The niche of virtuous soul-pop was short-lived, and all the aforementioned artists above faded into relative obscurity, Rae included.

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But Rae's disappearance wasn't due to a lack of demand, but rather to personal tragedy. When the singer's husband passed away from an accidental overdose in 2008, Rae took time to grieve and reflect, and she returned in 2010 with a mesmerizing sophomore LP (after lowkey winning a Grammy in 2008 for her work on River: The Joni Letters.) The Sea was quickly nominated for the Mercury Prize and became a critical darling while being a slight commercial fumble. The Sea was nothing like its predecessor: It swapped out silky smooth pop-diddlies for antagonistic piano chords and off-putting strums of electric guitar. It resonates with the complications of grief in a raw and, at times, profound way, but the drastic change in sound decimated her first week sales, as she sold only 22,914 copies its first week.

In the states, mainstream listeners barely offered a glance. It debuted surprisingly well on the charts, but Rae had undoubtedly distanced herself from fame and didn't push for radio play. Over a decade later, it's clear The Sea's density was severely underappreciated. Its richness is comparable to any of 2020's groundbreaking acts. "Are You Here" carries the same poetic angst of early day Snail Mail, while "Closer" is asking for an Ari Lennox feature. "The Sea is a remarkable accomplishment," wrote LA Times. "The Sea is an honest, uncensored album," praised Independent. "Rae has made an album she'll have trouble bettering," raved The Guardian.

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Her psychedelic 2016 album, The Heart Speaks In Whispers, attained similar praise for its kaleidoscopic sound. She collaborated with Moses Sumney, who was relatively unknown at the time but is now having quite a moment, and Rae drew inspiration from Kamasi Washington, Flying Lotus, and Thundercat for the project. As a result, tracks like "Been To The Moon" and "Green Aphrodisiac" fit snug within the budding subgenre of alternative jazz. NPR additionally named it one of their "30 favorite albums of the year so far." "It makes for a fascinating listen, one filled with catharsis and inspiration," wrote Pitchfork. "Her light permeates this record, leaving a shining example of strength and perseverance."

As fiercely independent women begin to distance themselves from the over-sexualized stereotypes of early-aughts pop music, let's pay homage to the woman who did that many years ago, and who was–and still is–a powerhouse badass far ahead of her time.

Dominic Lawson

Press Photo

UK artist Dominic Lawson introduces the music video for "Wrap," while he finishes his debut EP.

Explaining how the visual for "Wrap" came about, Dominic Lawson says, "I knew I wanted the video for 'Wrap' to be all performance. We shot the video in Manchester, using R&B go-go dancers, Beyonce's 'Dance 4 U' music video, and '90's streetwear fashion, as reference points for the choreography, minimalist set design and silhouette visual shots." Josh Wharmby's sexy choreography and Lawson's R&B/soul-flavored voice infuses the video with sensuality.

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MUSIC

Brent Faiyaz's New Album Is Haunting and Mildly Concerning

The singer's sophomore LP is a candid reflection on how elusive happiness can be.

Vulnerability has remained Brent Faiyaz's greatest asset, and on F*ck The World, there is no shortage of it.

The budding R&B crooner who modestly sang about how things could always get worse ("As long as I pay rent/ I don't even whine 'bout my paycheck") has since garnered a relative amount of fame, partially thanks to big-name co-signs from Drake, Tyler, the Creator and the self-proclaimed "King of R&B," Jacquees. So now, he has a different kind of problem. "Spent like ten thousand, twenty thousand, thirty thousand, forty thousand," he lists off on "Clouded," before going on to describe how he had sex with a girl in his bedroom closet cause he "doesn't give a f*ck about it."

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But vanity doesn't sit well with Faiyaz; after all, this is a guy who penned a song titled "First World Problems/Nobody Carez," and he finds it hard to indulge in the perks of fame without feeling guilty. "Do you know what makes this world go round?" he asks on opener "Skyline." The answer remains elusive, as his question appears genuine.


It's ironic that in Faiyaz's most disconnected personal moments he's able to put forth his most coherent artistic work. "Been Away" is vibrant and alive, and "F*ck The World" is the equivalent to lighting a joint on a dreary Sunday afternoon. Faiyaz's penmanship is at its best when the clutter is cleared away. Minor flexes like "Took a trip to London just to hear how they talk" ring loud and clear, and questions like "Who can I love when they tell me I can't love myself?" are poetic when Faiyaz asks them.

Faiyaz remains as candid as ever, and his moments of braggadocio are minor shrugs, as the singer admits none of it makes him happy. "I've been down, but I hope to make it out" he sings on the outro. Whether there's a light at the end of this tunnel has yet to be seen. Brent Fayiaz kinda thought fame was the answer. "I can't help but feel like I don't give a f*ck," he sings. "Might just take this sh*t and blow it up."