Here's what's new and interesting in entertainment and the arts:
- What's up with that cryptic video Taylor Swift just posted on social media?
- Gustavo Dudamel's tour with Venezuelan youth symphony canceled by President Maduro
- John Oliver urges conservatives to condemn Trump's Charlottesville response: 'Say his name'
- How about a statue of Missy Elliott instead of a Confederate monument?
- On day of solar eclipse, Bonnie Tyler is back in the spotlight with 'Total Eclipse of the Heart'
Hours before America was riveted by the eclipse on Monday morning, another star passed into L.A.’s orbit on Sunday night. Or, rather, a whole bunch of them did.
The South Korean pop-culture festival KCON is the year’s most authoritative gathering of K-Pop luminaries, and the pure shimmering optimism of the festival has made the concert more welcome than ever.
The weekend-long event drew a constellation of otherwise rarely seen acts to Staples Center. Sunday night’s set had a mix of bass-rattling hip-hop from NCT 127, high gloss boy-band dance moves from Astro and GOT7, and, in a culture defined by youthful devotion, a cameo from one of K-Pop's most veteran acclaimed singers, Kim Tae Woo.
Obviously, the mood is less than optimistic at the moment on the Korean peninsula. But if anything, K-Pop is the most reliable source for unfettered glee in pop music. It’s a world where existential threats almost never intrude. For one night at Staples Center, the K-Pop faithful could block out any bad vibes and revel in devotion.
K-Pop, once somewhat of an underground phenomenon in America, has now settled into an established, multicultural fan base in Los Angeles and across the country. KCON is its church, as the scene’s top acts only occasionally embark on their own headlining tours here. When they do, the crowds come in force.
Saturday’s set was a bit more of a showcase for K-Pop’s ascendant all-female groups -- Cosmic Girls and Girl’s Day, among them, alongside fixtures such as VIXX and members of Super Junior. On the fest-closing Sunday night, however, the boy bands took over and the mood was riotous.
The young singer-rapper Heize had an insouciant stage presence, and her old-school soul singing and '90s-era rap vibes connected the hyper-digital K-Pop world to a more analog era, as did the mixed-gender group Kard's soulful, sassy modern pop.
Wanna One’s upbeat, EDM-inflected tracks meshed with Astro’s cheeky, irresistibly fun productions. One of the best aspects of K-Pop is the fan-first attitude of the groups, and they made time for fun stunts such as mocking up T-shirts onstage and shooting them into the crowd.
NCT 127 was a bit more severe and commanding; their squiggly, bass-heavy hip-hop added gravity to a generally fizzy night, and it was a welcome dose of hard knocks. Kim Tae Woo, of the classic boy band g.o.d., was the night’s semi-surprise guest, and the KCON crowd was admirably eager for a backtrack into an older, less digitally saturated era of K-Pop.
Got7 rounded out the night with a vibrant, genre-skipping culmination of the night’s ear-splitting devotionals from the Staples crowd, offering a few hours when everything seemed right.
The Geffen Playhouse has a new artistic director: Matt Shakman, a veteran director with credits on the stage, in movies and on TV.
Audiences might not know they're already familiar with his work. He directed the fourth and fifth episodes of the current "Game of Thrones" season, “The Spoils of War” and “Eastwatch."
Shakman will work alongside Geffen Executive Director Gil Cates Jr., the Los Angeles theater announced Monday, starting Sept. 20 and getting down to business on its 2018-19 season.
In a statement Monday, Shakman called it "a dream come true to join such a vibrant cultural institution" and praised the Geffen for building a community that includes both artists and audiences.
"His passion for extraordinary storytelling, his strong relationships with artists in theater, film and television, and his commitment to fostering community will be immensely valuable as we continue to advance the mission of the theater," Cates Jr. said in the Geffen statement.
The theater said in February that Randall Armey, its longtime artistic director, would step down when his contract was up in August.
Shakman, who founded the Black Dahlia Theatre in 2001 and has been its artistic director, has directed plays for the Geffen in the past, including "Good People" in 2012, "Wait Until Dark" in 2013 and "Bad Jews" in 2015. His film "Cut Bank" premiered in 2015.
He'll continue to direct for film and TV while working at the Geffen.
Taylor Swift's social media cleanse didn't last long.
The "Blank Space" singer, who scrubbed all her accounts on Friday, returned Monday with a cryptic post on Twitter and Instagram featuring what appears to be an animated, metallic cat tail. (Others believe it to be a snake, but given the singer's feline fixation, we're going with cat.)
Swift left it at that, to the delight and deliberation of fans who believed it to be a tease to new music. The post comes just a week after Swift's victory in her groping case against former radio host David Mueller.
For the record, 1:28 p.m.: A previous version of this story said "1989" was released in 2015. It was released in 2014.
The president of Venezuela has canceled the four-city American tour of that country's National Youth Orchestra, which was to be conducted by Gustavo Dudamel.
"My dream to play with these wonderful young musicians cannot come true - this time. ... We will continue to play and to fight for a better Venezuela and a better world," the L.A. Philharmonic director, who hails from Venezuela, tweeted Monday.
The tour was to have included a Sept. 21 date at the Hollywood Bowl.
"The performance of the National Youth Orchestra of Venezuela, scheduled for September 17 at the Hollywood Bowl, has been cancelled. The original program of Café Tacvba, La Santa Cecilia and Mon Laferte is still confirmed," reps for the Hollywood Bowl said in a statement Monday.
On Friday, President Nicolas Maduro went on TV to criticize Dudamel for spending time in Spain and the U.S. while the crisis in Venezuela deepens.
“I hope God forgives you,” Maduro reportedly said Friday.
“Welcome to politics, Gustavo Dudamel. But act with ethics, and don’t let yourself be deceived into attacking the architects of this beautiful movement of young boys and girls,” Maduro said, referring to Dudamel’s association with El Sistema, a prominent Venezuelan musical education program.
The Youth Orchestra of L.A. is patterned after El Sistema. The National Youth Orchestra of Venezuela is a product of El Sistema. Dudamel has been creative director of Venezuela's Simón Bolívar Symphony Orchestra since 1999.
Over the weekend, as the Venezuelan congress on Saturday rejected what it called a government takeover, a source told The Times that Dudamel had been involved in talks that resulted in the release of violinist Wuilly Arteaga last week.
Arteaga has gained notoriety and a social media following for playing violin during violent street protests against the Venezuelan government.
Dudamel in May wrote a strongly worded Facebook post criticizing his home country's government. In July, he wrote similarly critical editorials that ran in the U.S. and in Spain.
"I urgently call on the President of the Republic and the national government to rectify and listen to the voice of the Venezuelan people. Times cannot be defined by the blood of our people. We owe our youth a hopeful world, a country where we can walk freely in dissent, in respect, in tolerance, in dialogue and in which dreams have room to build the Venezuela we all yearn for," Dudamel wrote.
"It is time to listen to the people: Enough is enough."
Update, 11:35 a.m.: This story was updated with a statement from the Hollywood Bowl.
Although some observers think Stephen K. Bannon's Friday ouster from the White House could be a turning point, John Oliver doesn't see it that way.
"The truly depressing thing about Steve Bannon’s departure is how unsatisfying it is," he said Sunday on "Last Week Tonight." "One panderer to white nationalists has left the White House, but the one he was working for is still very much there."
In case there was any doubt, he was referring to President Trump, who on Tuesday once again suggested an equivalence between the white nationalist protesters who gathered in Charlottesville, Va. last weekend and the counter-protesters who opposed them. One of the counter-protesters, 32-year-old Heather Heyer, was killed.
Oliver focused on the Republican politicians and conservative pundits, many of whom he claimed were eager to distance themselves from such overt displays of racism yet unwilling to condemn Trump by name.
"You can mention him; he’s not Voldemort," Oliver said.
"The problem with not mentioning him is that it suggests that he is somehow not a key part of the problem here,” he said.
According to "Last Week Tonight," only 54 of nearly 300 congressional Republicans specifically denounced Trump — or roughly 20%.
Commentators, such as Fox News host Melissa Francis, also got defensive about their refusal to disavow the president.
"If you’re getting emotionally overwhelmed and feeling judged for defending Trump in his Nazi-sympathizer phase, stop... doing it," Oliver said. "It’s that simple."
Inspired by the lyrics of Destiny's Child, Oliver urged Republicans to "say his name, say his name, go right onto Fox News, say, 'Donald, I condemn you, if you ain’t running game.'"
Watch the full segment here.
Rapper Missy "Misdemeanor" Elliott has some devout fans in her hometown working to take down white supremacy.
In the wake of the Charlottesville violence following the call to remove a statue of Robert E. Lee, a change.org petition is calling for the removal of a Confederate monument in Portsmouth, Va., in hopes of replacing it with a "new statue of a true Portsmouth native hero."
That hero would be the Grammy-winning artist who burst onto the rap scene two decades ago with her genre-bending music.
Currently, the Civil War monument at the intersection of Court and High streets memorializes figures representing the armed services mounted around a granite obelisk.
"Getting this statue put up will be a lot of work and you may ask yourself is it worth it? I say yes and ask you to join me in letting us work it. Together we can put white supremacy down, flip it and reverse it," Nathan Coflin's petition said, riffing on Elliott's "Work It" lyrics.
The 46-year-old MC (née Melissa Arnette Elliott) was born in the port city known for its naval shipyard.
"She rose to become a platinum recording artist with over 30 million albums sold. All this without even once owning a slave," Coflin said.
She rose to become a platinum recording artist with over 30-million albums sold. All this without even once owning a slave
As of Monday morning, the petition has been signed by upward of 22,000 supporters. Coflin will submit the petition to Portmouth Mayor John L. Rowe, Vice Mayor Paige Cherry and four City council members once it reaches 25,000 supporters.
"Missy is all of us," Coflin wrote. "Missy is everything the Confederacy was not."
Bonnie Tyler, who'll sing "Total Eclipse of the Heart" on a cruise ship during the total eclipse of the sun in a few hours, revealed a sort of secret about the iconic 1983 song Monday morning.
"To be honest, I do get a bit mixed up in the last verse," the 66-year-old Welsh singer told the "Today" gang from that cruise ship.
"Unlike the eclipse, which is going to last two minutes, 40 seconds, this song was originally almost eight minutes, and Jim Steinman, who wrote the song, had to chop it about to get the single version," Tyler confided.
"So I do two versions — I do the single version, and then when I'm doing live shows. I've got to remember the last verse."
Tyler noted enthusiastically on "Today" and CNN that she'll perform with DNCE, a band made up of Joe Jonas, Jack Lawless, Cole Whittle and JinJoo Lee.
The unofficial song of the 2017 eclipse is also a No. 1 karaoke song, she noted.
"'Total Eclipse of the Heart' is an evergreen song all year through, not just on eclipse. It's a powerful ballad and everybody loves to sing it," she told CNN's John Berman, who asked her for her favorite line.
"I need you more than ever / And if you only hold me tight / We'll be holding on forever," she sang, working it out dramatically, albeit in a not-quite-awake morning voice.
And yes, she did, with a laugh, note the morning voice herself.
Given the light subject matter on an overhyped morning, Tyler faced some silly questions — "How do you think a total eclipse of the heart differs from a total eclipse of the sun?" "Can you stare into a total eclipse of the heart without glasses?"
But the best one came from Matt Lauer.
"Since there hasn't been a total eclipse since 1979, were you thinking ahead?" he asked. "Years ago, did you say, well, wait a minute, 2017, the phone is going to ring off the hook?"
"What do you think? No," Tyler said with a laugh. "But it is, strangely enough."
I have hope. I'm a very hopeful, optimistic person. I smile every day, and I don't go around going, 'The sky is falling, the sky is falling.' If I do, I'll probably be thinking, 'The sky is falling. I hope I can see it -- that'll be such a trip.'
FROM THE ARCHIVES: Tankian is singing while Rome burns
Comedians, activists and entertainers took to Twitter en masse to pay their respects to the late Dick Gregory, not only for his comedic chops but also for his social activism (and seamless blending of the two).
"He was like Moses," tweeted comedian John Fugelsang. "He called the founding fathers 'thugs' before segueing to a Viagra bit. Never lost the edge. God bless Dick Gregory."
Patton Oswalt called him a "planet of a person whose gravitational effect on comedy can't be measured."
Comedians such as Margaret Cho and George Wallace mentioned the loss of comedy legend Jerry Lewis this morning.
"Dick Gregory and Jerry Lewis were two of the funniest, most legendary and prolific entertainers of our generation and I bow to their genius," Cho wrote on Twitter.
"Dick Gregory and Jerry Lewis in a 12 hour span?" tweeted Wallace. "That happens in threes. I'm rollin' up in bubble wrap and layin' on the floor & whatnot."
Some of comedy's most well-known personalities, in addition to stars as varied as Russell Simmons and Paula Abdul, took to Twitter today to pay respects to late comedy legend Jerry Lewis.
Robert De Niro issued a statement saying: "Jerry was a pioneer in comedy and film.... Even at 91, he didn't miss a beat ... or a punchline. You'll be missed."
"I am because he was," tweeted Jim Carrey. "The Dick Van Dyke Show" star Rose Marie Mazetta said he "was an angel to me."
And Whoopi Goldberg noted that the recent losses of Lewis and fellow comedy legend Dick Gregory were "a gain 4 heaven, but big loss for comedy."
Actor Sonny Landham, best known for his roles in the 1980s action movies "Predator," "48 Hrs." and "Lock Up," died Thursday from congestive heart failure in Lexington, Ky. He was 76.
Landham's sister Dawn Boehler confirmed his passing to the Associated Press.
Born in Canton, Ga., the 6-foot-4 actor and stuntman got his start in Hollywood in X-rated films before landing a small role in Walter Hill's 1979 street gang cult classic "The Warriors."
Hill cast him again two years later in "Southern Comfort," then gave him a meatier role in his 1982 action comedy "48 Hrs." Landham, who was part-Cherokee and part-Seminole, played Billy Bear, one of two outlaws on the run from a San Francisco detective and his reluctant convict accomplice, played respectively by Nick Nolte and "accomplice" Eddie Murphy.
Landham subsequently appeared in action films such as "Firewalker," "Action Jackson," and "Best of the Best 2," and menaced Sylvester Stallone in the prison drama "Lock Up."
Perhaps his best-known role was as the tracker Billy Sole in "Predator," opposite Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Frustrated by the lack of roles for Native American performers in Hollywood, Landham criticized the industry's lack of inclusion at the height of his acting career.
"I'm an actor who happens to be an Indian," he told United Press International in 1987. "Not an Indian trying to be an actor."
He would later follow Schwarzenegger into politics, waging unsuccessful campaigns as a Republican for governor of Kentucky and U.S. Senate. In 2008, Landham's anti-Arab comments lost him the Libertarian Party's backing for U.S. Senate.
"Sonny Landham was such a joy to work with on 'Predator,'" Schwarzenegger tweeted Friday. "So talented, so fun to be around. We'll miss him. My thoughts are with his family."
In most cases musical theater is 95% non-music. The music comes in, says "Hamilton" choreographer Andy Blankenbuehler, only when words are no longer strong enough to capture the emotion. But in "Hamilton" the beat never ends, which means the actors have a challenging job.
"I'm always talking to the cast saying you can't dance to the beat, you have to look like the beat," Blankenbuehler said Monday night in a conversation about the creation of "Hamilton."
"And in that way, it takes the common lessons that we go through every day -- life, death, falling in love -- by putting that beat underneath it, it rises everything up," he added. "So nothing is on the ground, everything is immediately heightened."
What did Randy Newman glean from rerecording his songs for a recent series of “Randy Newman Songbook” albums, in which he delivered his material solo with just his own accompaniment?
“One thing that struck me was the consistency,” Newman, 73, told an intimate invitation-only gathering Thursday night at the Village recording studio in West Los Angeles.
Many pop musicians, he noted as an ardent student of pop music history, deliver their best work in their 20s and 30s, and often struggle through the rest of their lives to match those youthful creative peaks.
“At least I haven’t gotten appreciably worse,” the Grammy- and Academy Award-winning film composer and songwriter said drolly, eliciting laughter from a couple dozen onlookers. “I think my stuff sounds like it’s from the same person. The things I was writing 50 years ago sound like the same person who’s writing today.”
Newman offered a few samples from his widely lauded “Dark Matter” album, which was released Aug. 4, which The Times' Mikael Wood described as “a masterful collection so rich with sonic detail that you almost hope he never gets around to making ‘The Randy Newman Songbook Vol. 4.’ ”
Newman opened with the album’s grandly ambitious first track, “The Great Debate,” which runs more than eight minutes, and which Newman said his label, Nonesuch, was reluctant to sequence as the new collection’s opening salvo.
“Where else are you going to put it?” he asked. “It’s like trying to hide an elephant.”
Besides, he said, “What have I got to lose? It’s not like I’m the Eagles.”
He also served up a good chunk of the much-discussed song “Putin,” which he again marveled at by saying, “Of course, he’s a terrible person, but it’s really not that critical of him.”
More laughs erupted when he reached the line referencing a widely publicized photo of Russia’s president going shirtless. “When he takes his shirt off/ He drives the ladies crazy/ When he takes his shirt off/ Makes me wanna be a lady.”
He also dipped back to reprise his 2008 song “A Few Words in Defense of Our Country,” a politically barbed number written with the George W. Bush administration in mind, which he said, “I never expected to be playing again. I thought that was the worst things would ever get.”
Taking a request from the Q&A sessions’s MC — KCRW host and music supervisor Gary Calamar — Newman concluded with “Louisiana 1927,” his song about flooding across that state in the early 20th century. It has become something of an anthem in Louisiana and has been recorded by artists including Aaron Neville, Marcia Ball, Jo-El Sonnier, Bill Wyman and John Boutte.
Newman is launching a late summer-fall tour on Aug. 24, in Jackson, Wyo., and will crisscross the U.S. through November. It will resume with a European leg starting Feb. 16 in Berlin, with additional stops in Scotland, England and Ireland. No L.A. dates have been set.
Here’s “The Great Debate,” which opens Newman’s new album.
The mystery of rocker Robert Plant's long-dark website home page has been resolved, and it has nothing to do with rumors of a Led Zeppelin reunion. Rather, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame singer and songwriter will release a new solo album, backed by his band of recent years, the Sensational Space Shifters.
"Carry Fire," due Oct. 13, will also feature several guests such as the Pretenders' Chrissie Hynde, Albanian cellist Redi Hasa and English viola-fiddle player Seth Lakeman.
In a statement accompanying the announcement of "Carry Fire," Plant said, "I respect and relish my past works, but each time I feel the lure and incentive to create new work. I must mix old with new.
"Consequently the whole impetus of the band has moved on its axis somewhat, the new sound and different space giving way to exciting and dramatic landscapes of mood, melody and instrumentation," he added.
The new album's opening track, "The May Queen," is available as an instant download if you pre-order the album.
Plant's previous release with the Space Shifters, 2014's "Lullaby and ... The Ceaseless Roar," made many music critics' year-end Top 10 lists, and also reached the Top 10 album rankings in the U.S., the United Kingdom and at least 10 other countries.
Plant has consistently distanced himself from fans clamoring for renewed activity with his former hard rock band, talk that was stimulated in recent weeks by a short message on his website: "Any time now..."
When that phrase was brought up during an interview with the BBC in June, Plant alluded to new music, but didn't entirely quell the Zeppelin talk when he said, "What else would there be but more new, beautiful adventures?"
Miley Cyrus is making good on her promise of returning to her country music roots with her latest single, "Younger Now."
The pop star and "Voice" judge released the titular track from her forthcoming album on Friday, along with a a retro-inspired music video that features a geriatric carnival, toddler mimes, a sock-hop and puppet show.
She's still Miley, after all.
The evolving singer teased to the release on Sunday, just after she dropped out of an appearance at the Teen Choice Awards.
While not quite as twangy as "Inspired," the soulful "Younger Now" talks of an awakening and change, of not being afraid of who she used to be.
"No one stays the same/ You know what goes up must come down/ Change is a thing you can count on/ I feel so much younger now," she croons.
It's the liberal 24-year-old's latest effort to win over (or perhaps win back?) country music fans and red-state residents, as promised in her June cover story for Billboard: "I don’t think those people are going to listen to me when I'm sitting there in nipple pasties, you know?" she told the mag.
For the cover of "Younger Now," the former "Hannah Montana" star traded in her signature accessory for an Elvis-inspired coif and rhinestone jumpsuit. Her styling also paid tribute to her godmother Dolly Parton, who will be featured on the album's "Rainbowland" track.
Cyrus' full album drops on Sept. 29.
Just how many Santa Monica Symphony musicians boycotted the recent concert with guest conductor Dennis Prager, the conservative radio host? Enough that orchestra Music Director Guido Lamell flew in a principal violist from Texas.
Lamell turned that into a joke about L.A. traffic: "Larry Wheeler came in from Houston to join the orchestra and got here faster than I did from Santa Monica," he said Wednesday night at the orchestra's summer fundraiser at Walt Disney Concert Hall.
A representative for the boycotting musicians said more than a dozen refused to play, citing Prager's past comments about gay people and Muslims, among others. The concert was a sellout, drawing Prager's fan base to Walt Disney Concert Hall.
Singer Robin Thicke and girlfriend April Love Geary have a baby on the way, the 22-year-old model announced on social media Thursday with a sonogram picture.
And here's the twist: "The due date is March 1st, Alan's birthday!" Geary said.
Alan, of course, would be Alan Thicke, Robin's father, who died suddenly in December at 69 from a ruptured aorta after collapsing on an ice rink. The couple, who made their first public appearance together at the Cannes Film Festival in May 2015, are "very excited" about the little one, she said.
Thicke, 40, already has a 7-year-old child with ex-wife Paula Patton, who filed for divorce from him in October 2014 after their separation earlier that year. They reached a deal in that split in March 2015 but have since sparred occasionally over custody of son Julian Fuego Thicke.
I guess I have kind of a purist view that is no longer practical, that I would rather have my work speak for me. ... But then I've always separated my public self from the private so I could have one. I don't feel I've owed my life to the public — a performance, yes, but my life, no.
FROM THE ARCHIVES: Down From the Mountain
History does not go easily onto Broadway, "Hamilton" director Thomas Kail said on Monday night during an hourlong conversation about the show's creation.
"We had this story of this man ... what we had to be really judicious about was that it wasn't just 'and then, and then, and then ... ' -- a series of events does not a musical make," Kail said.
But, he added, they also had an essential and archetypal story: "The thing that made him was the thing that would make him fall."
"As much as our show might nudge the form," Kail said, "it's an absolute love letter to everything we are made of."
I really want to say, to encourage all good, sane Americans, to treat these rallies this weekend like the opening of a thoughtful movie with two female leads. Don't show up. Let these morons scream into the empty air.