Culture News

Will Smith Can Take Your "Entanglement" Jokes—But He Will Block You

In an exchange on Instagram regarding his wife Jada Pinkett Smith's prior relationship with August Alsina, Will Smith acknowledged that even trolls can be funny sometimes.

Will Smith has been the topic of a lot of malicious "comedy" lately, but fortunately he hasn't lost his sense of humor.

Since Will sat down with his wife Jada Pinkett Smith for an installment of her Facebook Watch show Red Table Talk earlier this month, people have been eager to crack jokes about Jada's use of the word "entanglement."

Previously, Jada had denied singer August Alsina's claim that the two had a prior relationship—and that Alsina had gotten Will's approval. But when Will and Jada decided to come clean about the complex nature and history of their marriage—which they have redefined as a life partnership—they did so in dramatic fashion for an audience of millions.

Finally, Jada Is At The Red Table Admitting To An 'Entanglement' With August Alsina! www.youtube.com

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Culture Feature

On Shane Dawson and What It Means to Be "Authentic" Online

The fallout of "Dramageddon 2.0" has called up questions about what it means to be "real" as an Internet celebrity.

2020 has been a rough year for Shane Dawson.

After more than a decade of making over-the-top sketches and self-serious "documentaries" on Youtube—growing a fanbase of millions who view him as their wacky friend—Dawson became embroiled in on-going drama between beauty vloggers Tati Westbrook, James Charles, and Jeffree Star.

In what's become known as "Dramageddon 2.0," Dawson is accused of manipulating that drama from behind the scenes in order to boost his own videos. And that drama has brought up the regrettable history of Dawson's racist and otherwise offensive "comedy."

This included the moment that brought him to the attention of Jaden Smith and Jada Pinkett Smithwhen Dawson pretended to be pleasuring himself to an image of then-11-year-old Willow Smith, while sexualizing the lyrics of her song "Whip My Hair."

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CULTURE

Gisele Bündchen, Pharrell Williams, and 10 Other Celebrities Fighting Climate Change

Billie Eilish, Jane Fonda, Leonardo DiCaprio, and more are all speaking out against the existential challenge of our time.

There's a lot of hypocrisy to many celebrities' purported support of climate change.

Much of their activism is just big talk, and many fail to use their wealth and power where it actually could make a difference, instead just showing their faces and airing their support for the climate movement when it's convenient, failing to spark legitimate large-scale change.

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MUSIC

Justin Bieber's "Intentions" Are Artificial Crap

Instead of vulnerability, Bieber continues to opt for looking cool instead

While "Yummy" was at first glance a moderately entertaining pop song, the latest releases to emerge from Bieber's upcoming album Changes are unbelievably plain.

"Get Me" which received a quiet release last week, barely made any commercial ripples, mostly because the song itself was as enjoyable as sugar-free white chocolate. A strong feature from Kehlani revived an otherwise lifeless song about how much Hailey "gets" him, but vapid lyrics like "you got me low-key nervous, it feels like we're on the same wave" dilute the song to almost unlistenable.

On Bieber's latest offering "Intentions," the platinum-selling singer treads on the mundane. "Shout-out to your mom and dad for makin' you, standin' ovation, they did a great job raisin' you," Bieber sings with as much "vulnerability" as an Instagram DM. The single's coinciding video–which finds Bieber loosely comparing his intentions of loving Hailey to an immigrant's intentions of escaping hardship and cultivating a better life in America– is such a stretch it borders on disrespectful. Oh, Quavo's also on it, but you would hardly be able to tell considering how miserable he sounds. "I'ma find me a ring and pray it's perfected fitted," he grumbles through autotune. Can someone tell Quavo that you can get rings re-sized? The video additionally spotlights the LA-based housing nonprofit Alexandria House, which is a nice touch, but the songs superficial themes trivialize the importance of the charity represented, and the house seems to merely serve as a set for a Bieber music video. While we're at it, can someone please get Bieber to shave?

www.youtube.com

From Bieber's cringe-worthy YouTube series Seasons to the superficiality of Changes' latest singles, Bieber seems to be more concerned with looking cool than being vulnerable. His marriage to Hailey has been tumultuous, and both parties have acknowledged that being married has been incredibly difficult and emotionally taxing. Bieber has plenty of authentic experiences to draw from and speak on, but instead he continues to choose the path of least resistance ( "When I create, you're my muse that kind of smile that makes the news,") and crank out vanilla commercial pop for tweens who still think girls and guys have Cooties. Changes is set to come out on Valentines Day.

FILM

The 5 Worst Movies of the Decade All Starred Will Smith

He's one of the most charismatic and entertaining people in Hollywood, so why does he keep making awful movies?

"I, Robot" (2004)

With a new year and a new decade approaching, the endless retrospectives cataloging all the most powerful and lasting works of cinema are piling up. But in looking back at how the art and industry of film making have evolved since 2010, I've found it more instructive to consider the worst films Hollywood has produced. Because, to badly paraphrase Tolstoy, while each good film of the last decade has been good in its own way, all the worst films have had one big factor in common: Will Smith.

After Earth, Collateral Beauty, Suicide Squad, Bright, and Gemini Man.

I doubt most people will agree with me that these five films are the absolute worst of the decade. That's a subjective measure, and there are obviously different metrics by which to measure the quality of a film. Purely in terms of box office failure, none of Will Smith's movies of the last decade can touch the disastrous US premiere of Playmobil: The Movie, which opened at 2,337 theaters on December 6, and made less than $700,000 its opening weekend. And if we focus purely on critical reception, there are dozens of worthy contenders, from The Snowman, to Slender Man, to The Bye Bye Man—actually, all the awful horror movies with titles that end in "man" probably deserve an article of their own.

What makes these five movies special is that they have everything going for them, and they still manage to be terrible. They have big budgets, major marketing pushes, respected writers, directors, and studios backing them, along with the immense, international star power of Will Smith—the star of Independence Day, and Men in Black; the lovable, charming, funny, handsome, and talented man named by Forbes in 2014 as "the most bankable star worldwide." The fact that all those elements can consistently come together to produce sloppy, dull, and incoherent movies poses a mystery. While other movies fail pathetically, movies like this fail on an epic scale. So what the hell keeps going wrong?

​"After Earth​" (2013) Rotten Tomatoes Score: 11%

Coming just one year after 2012's Men in Black 3­—which was generally well received—After Earth was hardly the first bad movie Will Smith ever made, but it was, according to Smith "the most painful failure" of his career. It was also the first in his current cold streak. Since that year, no movie that Smith has starred in has scored above the 60% "fresh" rating on Rotten Tomatoes. There are a number of factors that came into play for the production of After Earth that may have contributed to his current jinx.

For a start, he made the movie with M. Night Shyamalan, a man who takes himself so seriously, and is so certain of his own genius, that he continues to write his own movies even after 2006's Lady in the Water. Bringing in Will Smith for After Earth was part of a big studio effort to rehabilitate Shyamalan's deflated career, but perhaps it merely spread the curse that Shyamalan finally escaped with 2016's Split. Shyamalan and Smith wrote the screenplay together with a man named Gary Whitta, so it remains unclear who was ultimately responsible for naming Smith's character "Cypher Raige."

Another prominent factor that sets After Earth apart from most of Smith's movies is his co-star, Jaden Smith—reprising the father-son pairing you might recognize from The Pursuit of Happyness and, you know, real life. Will has expressed vocal, emphatic support for his children's creative endeavors, but After Earth came out at the height of Jaden's "eyes aren't real," white-batman-suit-at-Kim and Kanye's-wedding phase. If Jaden was trying to take an active role in the film's creation, it's possible that Will may have been too supportive. Whatever the cause, After Earth's slick sci-fi visuals couldn't prop up its flat characters and the dull, dragging pace. While the Smiths' performances didn't necessarily bring much to the movie, it's hard to see how much they could have brought to such self-serious material.

"Suicide Squad" (2016) Rotten Tomatoes Score: 27%

This is another case of Smith jumping on-board an existing curse. With the notable exception of Wonder Woman the DC movies have consistently failed to capture the spark of the Marvel Cinematic Empire. But Smith can be forgiven for not realizing this issue, as Batman Vs. Superman and the "Martha" debacle and the "Martha" debacle didn't shake out until well after Suicide Squad had wrapped production.

Still, it's hard to imagine a screenplay for this movie that could have enticed an actor to sign on. Will Smith's Deadshot is undoubtedly the most developed character, but the story is a mess of conflicting visions, with a wild excess of character introductions and either not enough or far too much of both brooding darkness and irreverent "humor". Director David Ayer and the studio seem to have been pulling in multiple directions, with the rest of the production struggling to hold itself together through reshoots and multiple competing cuts.

While 2015's iteration of Fantastic Four may have been a slightly more absurd mess of studio development, the blow in that case was cushioned by a storied history of awful Fantastic Four movies. Suicide Squad takes on the task of trashing its source material all on its own—and does a thorough job of it. The jokes are lame, the action nonsensical, and the attempts at heartfelt drama are clumsy and self-serious. Perhaps the movie's worst sin is the badly disjointed editing that only starts to make sense when you learn that it was done by a third-party firm known primarily for cutting together trailers

Despite all this, and the film's dismal critical reception, Suicide Squad actually performed pretty well at the box office—which is as damning an indictment of the movie-going public as I know.

"Collateral Beauty" (2016) Rotten Tomatoes Score: 14%

It's hard to know what to say about Collateral Beauty that it's trailer can't say more succinctly. Never has a teaser tried harder to convince you that a movie deserves an Oscar. The sweeping orchestral music, the cast of former nominees and winners making vague philosophical pronouncements in dire tones. The film's entire concept seems to follow the same ill-conceived Oscar-bate model—attempting to tap into the weighty challenges and lessons of life while bypassing the basic reality of human stories.

Instead of simply struggling with questions of mortality, of love, of the passage of time while navigating the course of real and difficult personal events, Will Smith's character, Howard Inlet—Howard Inlet—meets and interacts with the concepts of Death, Time, and Love—all of them actually actors hired by Inlet's business partners—all of whom lecture him into sorting his life out. "I'm Time. I'm a gift. And you're wasting me!" All of this while a private investigator follows their interactions in an elaborate plot to prove that Howard Inlet has lost his mind. And if you can follow that plot, you too have lost your mind.

The movie's self-serious tone cuts against the wild absurdity of its premise, and ends up continually reminding the viewer of how hard it's trying to be award-worthy. Trying and badly failing. Also, Edward Norton's character is named Whit Yardsham—Whit Yardsham—and it sends me into a Cypher Raige every time I think about it.

"Bright" (2017) Rotten Tomatoes Score: 28%

Bright was Netflix's first attempt at a big-budget blockbuster, and Will Smith's second attempt at making an awful movie with director David Ayer. After the baffling box-office success of Suicide Squad, I guess they decided not to mess with a formula that had churned out popular dreck once before. And Bright certainly would have been a commercial success—if the millions of viewers had actually paid for tickets. With 11 million viewers in its first three days, ticket sales would have paid off the movies budget almost immediately. Of course the fact that few if any of those viewers had to spend a penny of their money to see Bright does undermine that success a little bit. As do the generally terrible reviews.

The film's attempt to build a modern fantasy version of LA was sloppy and incoherent, with inconsistent rules that undermine its slapped-together plotting. There's a tired chosen-one prophecy, and a wand that is an all-powerful weapon, but also generally useless, and also the key to lazily fixing everything, and it's just generally one of the loudest, dumbest MacGuffins in cinematic history. Meanwhile, the movie tries hard to push a self-serious racial allegory, despite the fact that, early in the film, Will Smith casually smashes a creepy little humanoid out of the air and announces that "fairy lives don't matter today!" Just awful.

"Gemini Man" (2019) Rotten Tomatoes Score: 26%

Gemini Man is the spiritual successor to After Earth, in that it stars Will Smith and a younger version of Will Smith in an action-packed sci-fi scenario, and that it flopped hard. Released in multiple formats to showcase the cutting edge tech that went into its production, Gemini Man relied heavily on the draw of its expensive visuals, without much concern for its shoddy story. When a hitman goes rogue, his own clone is sent to kill him, but in the process, both Will Smiths must confront a crisis of identity and a self-serious philosophical and moral struggle that plays out self-seriously while they self-seriously try to kill each other in elaborate, self-serious chase sequences.

Have I given away the ending yet? All of these movies—even the ones that try to be goofy and fun—have a core of affected drama that asks the audience to take it all in like it contains some profound, life-changing message. But none of them do. They are all formulaic, studio messes with directors, writers, and "bankable" actors slotted in with an eye on indirect goals—something marketable, with a big box-office draw or a shot at winning an Oscar.

These movies exist less as attempts to tell stories than as elaborations of high-concept elevator pitches. And that can be fine. Men in Black and Independence Day were produced by similar studio processes, and those are classics. The differences is that at some point either the studios or Smith himself decided that it wasn't enough for these movies to be fun ways to help the audience turn off its collective brain. They had to really be saying something—to have an important message at their core. And the lowest-common-denominator Frankenstein process of rewriting, reworking, recasting, and focus-grouping is just not conducive to that goal. Instead of eye-opening, these attempts at serious messaging come across as preachy, flat, dull, and pretentious. Self-serious. They undermine the fun that these movies can otherwise deliver.

With all of that said, the live action Aladdin recently became Will Smith's best performing movie. Whatever else you can say about Smith's role as the genie, he certainly doesn't seem to have been trying to play it too seriously, and the movie wasn't half-bad. The upcoming Spies in Disguise, set for release on Christmas, likewise looks wholly playful and silly, and the early reviews are good. So maybe, with the decade coming to a close, Will Smith has finally escaped his self-serious slump, and gotten back to his lovable, goofy roots. Here's hoping.

No matter how you swing it, Willow Smith won't stay on the ground.

The first song on her newest album is appropriately called "Like a Bird." Beginning over delicately picked electric guitar, it layers her reverb-washed harmonies over an expansive bass-line. The product is heady, transcendent, and reminiscent of Kevin Abstract or maybe some of the moodier parts of Beyoncé's Lemonade, but ultimately, it's all uniquely Willow.

Image via Complex

Not so long ago, of course, Willow was being forced into an image that was very much not of her own devising. At ten years old, Will and Jada's precociously talented daughter found her way into the spotlight with the song "Whip My Hair."

What ensued, apparently, was a nightmare. "Whip My Hair" shot to success and topped 2010's charts, but with that success came the immense pressures of fame, and the Internet's cruelty. Co-signed by Jay-Z and poised for industry domination, Smith fell into a spiral of depression and self-harm. During this time, she fought bitterly with her father, who apparently was trying to pressure his children into the spotlight. For a while, she considered quitting music.

When she returned, it was on her own terms. In the interim after "Whip My Hair," Smith had found solace in spirituality and science, and those themes weave through all of her new music. 2015's ARDEPITHECUS was a sophisticated, futuristic work of experimental R&B, and it covered everything from evolution to climate change to her own confusion at the state of the world.

That album came out when Smith was 15. Many of its songs felt like teenage diary entries, smashed together with spiritual wisdom beyond its writer's years. Often, the combination worked, particularly on songs like "Marceline," which blends playful escapism and real social critique, with a cosmic thread running through it all. The same went for 2017's The First, which focused closely on the chaos of the teenage experience but also offered an unusually vast and poetic perspective on human life and the universe at large.

Willow - Marceline (Lyrics) www.youtube.com

Her newest self-titled album, Willow, contains fewer idiosyncrasies. It feels like the work of a mature artist, whose worldview has merged into a unified whole that's porous enough to contain multitudes. Musically, the album is smoother and dreamier than her previous work, buoyed by grainy guitar layers and echoing harmonies.

Lyrically, it's similar to her previous output, continuing to meld implicitly ordinary observations with spiritual, otherworldly themes. "I am human, I am woman," sings Willow, sounding like a space queen or a messiah—anything but an ordinary human. Throughout the album, she's in a constant state of becoming, from naturalist to futurist, lover to time traveler, lonely girl to enlightened woman.

She's also a resolute feminist, which is particularly apparent on the standout "PrettyGirlz," a song that initially appears to be about the beauty standards that women know too well. Willow doesn't stick to "love yourself" clichés, though; she does a 180 on them. Halfway through, the song becomes a love song about a pretty girl.

PrettyGirlz www.youtube.com

Willow is openly bisexual, and in a way, the song speaks to the complexity of the lesbian and bisexual femme experience. These relationships can often be complicated by existent beauty standards, but they can also transcend them entirely, opening up a space outside of heteronormative constructs.

At the end of the song, Willow bundles up these emotions and themes and washes them away in a rolling climax of synths and drums and furious guitar. The music speaks for itself, or Willow speaks through the music. Her message is clear: She's transcending expectations, soaring above it all.

Image via Wheretoget.it

Willow produced every song on the album, alongside Tyler Cole. It's decidedly experimental, combining gospel influences with dream pop and hip hop. Her brother Jaden brings rap to the table, delivering a verse on "U KNOW." On that song, Smith goes fully occult, singing, "Falling into memories of Anunnaki dreams / Falling over ley lines and sacred geometry." Then Jaden appears, his voice initially almost unrecognizable through a cloak of autotune. "U KNOW" is a song about finding patterns in the unfathomable, making constellations out of disparate stars. It's full of holes and empty spaces, and can feel like an imitation of depth—kind of like a tattered mandala tapestry on a dorm room wall—but it always manages to maintain its magic, like all of Willow's work. A lesser artist would be unable to elude corniness in the way she does, but there's something in Willow's voice that makes you believe her completely, even when she's singing about aliens or energetic flows.

The album closer, "Overthinking IT," is Willow at her most grounded. Over a guitar progression reminiscent of reggae and surf rock, she doubles back on the previous song's esoteric speculations, resolving to chill out and focus on what's important.

Of course, she never really touches the ground, and always keeps one foot in the door to the mystical dimensions. Clearly Willow cannot be confined. She might not achieve the mainstream success she could've if she'd continued on the "Whip My Hair" track—but she's creating high-quality, innovative work that stays true to her values. At 19, she's only just taking off, testing her wings. We'll be lucky if she decides to bring back some of whatever she finds above the clouds.