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In defense of Brad Paisley and LL Cool J's 'Accidental Racist'
Credit: Invision/AP

In defense of Brad Paisley and LL Cool J's 'Accidental Racist'

What Paisley told me about the song

Do intentions matter? As controversy swirls around Brad Paisley and LL Cool J’s “Accidental Racist,” a song on Paisley’s new album, “Wheelhouse,” out today, the criticism is coming fast and furious.

To be sure, from a musical standpoint, the song is reductive and somewhat naive...and that’s just Paisley’s part. Don’t get me started on LL Cool J’s rap, which I will delve into more later. But if you can get past the awkwardness and clunkiness, the song raises some interesting issues that we like to pretend don’t exist, but still do.

I spent some time with Paisley recently for a cover story for the current issue of Country Weekly magazine.  We talked at considerable length about “Accidental Racist.” He said he didn’t write the song to be “provocative,” but that he also didn’t want to pull any punches. He’d been accused of being racist once when he’d worn a music act's t-shirt with a Confederate flag on it, and that had served as a wake-up call for him.

In our conversation, it was clear he had spent a great deal of time thinking about race relations in the south and studying the Civil War. This wasn’t a song he wrote casually or without great care. He wanted the song to make people think and to continue a dialogue that he felt had been reopened by movies like “Lincoln” and “Django Unchained.”

As a fellow southerner (Paisley is from West Virginia, but now lives in Nashville and I was born and raised in North Carolina), there are parts of his lyrics that resonate with me. When I lived in Chicago and New York, I often met people who assumed I was prejudiced simply because I had a southern accent or who made other presumptions about me because I was from south of the Mason-Dixon.  While I find some of Paisley’s lyrics overly simplistic, I can relate to some of what he brings up. I am so proud to be Southern, but the slavery issue will never be something that I can ignore as part of the South’s tragic past (even though neither one of my parents were Southern). It’s one of the most glaring examples of being on the wrong side of history that anyone can imagine. Paisley isn’t trying to excuse it or rationalize it away in any way, shape or form in “Accidental Racist.” He's trying to understand why it haunts us so much 150 years later and how we can move on.

On the other hand, LL Cool J’s rap just feels dunderheaded and it sinks the song. There are a few good points: when he brings up feeling a distrust of someone in a white cowboy hat, I can understand that, but the part I can’t wrap my head around is LL Cool J’s equating any of the prejudices that blacks may have against whites as in any way even remotely comparable to slavery. When I first heard,  “If you don’t judge my gold chains, I’ll forget my iron chains,” my jaw may have literally dropped to the floor. Almost as bad is “If you don’t judge my doo-rag, I won’t judge your red flag” and “The past is the past, do you, feel me?” I understand the intention is to move ahead and try to focus on common ground rather than focus past differences, but his part just doesn’t work.


Paisley wrote his words and LL Cool J wrote his own, but since it’s Paisley’s record, the buck ultimately has to stop with him and I find myself wishing he’d challenged LL Cool J a little bit more to think about what he was saying there. By no means is Paisley’s part perfect, but I wonder if there would be such an outcry if the song only featured Paisley’s honest, earnest questioning about how to reconcile his heritage.

In the broader arc of Paisley’s career,  there’s a point that not a lot of the pundits who are piling on him right now have brought up. If you’ve followed Paisley over the past dozen years, you know his heart is pure, when it comes to these kinds of questions.  To be sure, he’s not clinging to his shotgun, declaring that “A Country Boy Can Survive” like Hank Williams Jr. He’s a  post-modern southerner, proud of where he’s from, but very well aware of its unforgivably flawed past.

He’s shown us so many different sides. There’s the comedic Paisley who pokes fun of the internet on “Online” or rednecks with “Camouflage.” There’s the guitar wiz Paisley, who is awe inspiring with his combination of dexterity, speed, and clarity. Then there’s the Paisley that interests me the most: the Paisley that wants to make us, and all country fans, think and stretch our minds a little bit. Sometimes it’s done subtly and other times, more obviously.

On 2009’s  “American Saturday Night,” verse after verse details what we consider a typical evening out in the United States without ever thinking about how much of our culture came from other places. It’s a reminder that we are a melting pot and that we, as a nation, drew the best from the immigrants who came here and made them our own. Find me one other country song that makes that point, as subtle as it may be.

Paisley wrote 2009’s  “Welcome To the Future,” another song that explicitly mentions race, after Obama’s election. The song, one of his best, mentions a black friend who had a cross burned on his yard after asking out the (presumably white) homecoming queen, as well as references Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King and how progress comes and we should all embrace it.  Paisley played the songs at Obama’s Inaugural Ball in January.

Even on his most recent No. 1, “Wheelhouse’s” “Southern Comfort Zone,” he talks about the wonders of travel and how it opens up one’s world. This is not your typical country artist who is content to sit on the front porch.

He’d probably blanch at my use of this word, but in my mind, Paisley is one of the few artists who consistently gets mainstream country radio play, who has a progressive streak.

For his part, Paisley took to Twitter last night and today to respond to the criticism: “...I hope the album rocks you,soothes you,raises questions,answers,evokes feelings, all the way through until  [closing track] 'Officially Alive'” and added, I imagine about the controversy, “'Cause I wouldn't change a thing. This is a record meant to be FAR from easy listening. But fun. Like life. Have a ball, ya'll. love- brad.” Today, he added “This is what I love about albums. Especially country albums. So many different topics can be explored.So So many conversations can start here..”

That’s my hope too. It’s fine, and quite frankly, very understandable not to like the song simply because, as one website claimed, it’s horrible. But to dismiss it out of hand seems to squander an opportunity to continue the conversation that is very real and that needs to be ongoing.

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<p>&quot;Paramore&quot;</p>

"Paramore"

Credit: Fueled By Ramen

Album Review: Paramore, 'Paramore'

Self-titled set has the band right where you want them

Especially when it comes to music made by women, rock bands are frequently described in terms of their infancy or when they're all-grown-up. Rarely is there an album that so perfectly encapsulates the in-between, the space where Paramore now occupies with the release of their self-titled set out this week.

Prior to recording, two of the band's founding members were gone; the group took on deft hired gun Justin Meldal-Johnsen in the studio to round out the rhythm section; and with that, the band embraced the "alt"-ness of alt-rock and let no genre border hinder them.
 
The result, for one, furthermore firms up Hayley Williams as one of modern pop music's more daring vocalists, unafraid of the big notes, brilliant with the small, and yet still excited to introduce sarcasm and fun into her own emotional narratives. And for anyone who's seen Paramore live, she's a damn superstar, with seemingly no need for filters or autotune on her raw abilities.
 
Instrumentally, the band experiments with girl-group backing vocals, travel guitars, glockespiels, hell, even a triangle in one breath, and then lunge into shoegaze like "Future" or '90s ska and new-wave for "Now" or the fearless power-pop of "Daydreaming." Treacly but endlessly catchy "Hate to See Your Heart Break" that, given different backing, would have Carrie Underwood clawing for the rights.
 
But this is all interlaced with the band's space-bound rock and peepholes of pop-punk, their bread and butter, yielding "Part II (Flame)," coy new single "Still Into You" and rock 'n' roller "Ankle Biters."
 
"Some of us have to grow up sometimes / And so if I have to I'm gonna leave you behind..." Williams sings in kiss-off and break-out "Grow Up. "I don't want your pity / So don't feel sad for me / I got a love I would die for and a song to sing / Maybe we're both just living out our dream." She alludes to, again, moving on and re-establishing professional and romantic ideals in "Daydreaming" and oozes self-awareness of her own maturation (and lack thereof) in a trio of ukelele-led Interludes.
 
But even in these moments of epic, arena-filling, teeth rattling rockers, Paramore gets a little ahead of itself. "Ain't It Fun" certainly sounds fun, hopping from an '80s adult-rock groove to Pink anthem to honest-to-God gospel. But why gospel? The band does it because it can. This doesn't seem to further any other goal then find a new way to sing the chorus, an impulsive way to prove to listeners they're capable of copping a style that's outside their wheelhouse. Same goes for the interludes, the whopping 8-minute "Future," the endless chorus vamps, the 17-song tracklist, a couple overly eager synth-lines, the 62 minutes of playtime. Length and idiosyncratic hiccups don't make "Paramore" a better album, but they seem like they have something to prove. Not a deal-breaker -- and certainly not to their fans -- but some annoyance nonetheless.
 
However, they're still growing up. Paramore is fully becoming the band they're intended to be. This substantial album is the best stepping stone so far to get them there.

 

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<p>'Beetlejuice' played as a straight-up horror film for my kids... and they loved it.</p>

'Beetlejuice' played as a straight-up horror film for my kids... and they loved it.

Credit: Warner Bros.

Film Nerd 2.0 Fest continues with 'Beetlejuice,' Indiana Jones, and some Apes

Some scares, some laughs, and some big surprises on the fest's first full day

 At the end of the day, as I turned out the lights in the bedroom shared by Toshi, age seven, and Allen, age five, when I asked them to vote for which of the four films they saw during the day was their favorite, they answered quickly, not even hesitating.

"'Beetlejuice,'" said Allen.

"'Harvey,'" said Toshi.

And keep in mind, this was the day they saw their first ever Indiana Jones movie. I'm as surprised as you are.

The first full day of the Film Nerd 2.0 Spring Break Film Festival started with a 10:00 AM screening of "Beetlejuice." The boys have seen the work of Tim Burton in no particular order. At this point, they've seen "Frankenweenie" (both versions), "Edward Scissorhands," "Pee Wee's Big Adventure," and Toshi has seen "Mars Attacks!" They know Tim Burton as a brand name, and they went with me to the LACMA exhibit on Burton's work. "Beetlejuice" has been a film they've been asking about for a while, and I figured they were ready to appreciate the mix of humor and horror that the film navigates.

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<p>Would Sony really create a &quot;Breaking Bad&quot;&nbsp;spin-off with Bob Odenkirk as Saul Goodman?</p>

Would Sony really create a "Breaking Bad" spin-off with Bob Odenkirk as Saul Goodman?

Credit: AMC

Better call Saul: Do we want a 'Breaking Bad' spin-off?

What happens when fifth bananas get their own shows?

It was a running gag in this season's "Justified" reviews that I wanted FX to create a web series around Jere Burns' Kentucky wiseguy character in which Wynn Duffy reacted to surprising things. A few days ago, a reader named Jason McNamara actually came up with the perfect premise and title: "Wynnipeg," a shameless rip-off of the Steve Van Zandt Netflix series "Lilyhammer," in which Wynn stays in Canada and teaches the locals how we do things south of the 49th parallel.

Little did I know that a "Wynnipeg"-esque spin-off of a current great drama was potentially going to be a real thing. Today, Deadline is reporting(*) that Sony is exploring the idea of creating a "Breaking Bad" spin-off centered around Bob Odenkirk as Saul Goodman, created by Vince Gilligan and veteran "Breaking Bad" writer Peter Gould, who wrote season 2's "Better Call Saul." The show would be a comedy, though potentially an hour-long one.

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With 'To the Wonder' on the way, the top 10 performances in Terrence Malick films

With 'To the Wonder' on the way, the top 10 performances in Terrence Malick films

Rarely viewed as an 'actor's director,' Malick has nevertheless brought out some great work

This article first appeared in part at InContention.com on May 24, 2011. It seemed like a good time to re-purpose it for new readers here at HitFix with the release of "To the Wonder" on the horizon.

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<p>Jack&nbsp;Black in &quot;The&nbsp;School of Rock&quot;</p>

Jack Black in "The School of Rock"

Credit: Paramount

Andrew Lloyd Webber will raise his goblet of rock with 'School of Rock' stage adaptation

He recently revealed he's acquired the rights to Richard Linklater's 2003 comedy

Richard Linklater's "The School of Rock" was one of the best films of 2003. That opinion seemed odd to many at the time -- it's one of the handful of latter year declarations I've made that just didn't go down easily for some -- but I stand by it. It's a brilliant screenplay with a top notch movie star performance and it's a thematically resonant piece of work.

Apparently legendary musical theatre impresario Andrew Lloyd Webber is of a similar mind, as he's snatched up the stage rights to the 2003 comedy. The news apparently came via CBC radio as Webber said he was very excited to tackle the project.

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<p>A scene from &quot;La Grande Bellezza.&quot;</p>

A scene from "La Grande Bellezza."

Credit: Medusa Film

Another Cannes taster in first look at Paolo Sorrentino's 'La Grande Bellezza'

Trailer promises a new stylistic direction from the Italian virtuoso

Slowly but surely, the trailers for this year's (probable) Cannes selections are trickling in: we had "The Bling Ring" recently, "Only God Forgives" last week, "The Past" over the weekend and "Behind the Candelabra" yesterday. Today's Cannes taster isn't quite as eagerly anticipated, but it's for a film that is very likely to be in Competition: Italian auteur Paolo Sorrentino's "La Grande Bellazza."

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Avril Lavigne's new song: 'Here's To Never Growing Up': Review

Avril Lavigne's new song: 'Here's To Never Growing Up': Review

Watch the fan-made lyric video

Avril Lavigne’s new single, “Here’s To Never Growing Up” may reference Radiohead in its first line, but the act it most recalls is Ke$ha. The sing-songy track, built around a big, kick-drum stomp, sounds like a cross between the “Tik-Tok” singer and the arena hands-in-the-air, acoustic-guitar-strumming, simple-minded tunes crafted by Nickelback’s leader, Chad Kroeger, who just happens to be a co-writer on the song and Lavigne’s fiance. Throw in a little dose of "Girlfriend's" attitude and call it a day.

With lines like “we’ll be running down the street yelling  kiss my HEY/We’ll be like, 'yeah, whatever,' we’re still living like that,” the song is an aptly-titled salute to staying forever young (so much so that one cover of the single features Lavigne holding a teddy bear).

Lavigne has always had an annoyingly mannered delivery, but it reaches new heights on “Growing Up,”  “boom” sounds like “bim,” and when she sings, “This is who we are,” you’ll swear you fell into a vat of  Ke$ha’s “We R Who We R.”

[More after the jump...]

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<p>Freddie Highmore and Vera Farmiga in &quot;Bates Motel.&quot;</p>

Freddie Highmore and Vera Farmiga in "Bates Motel."

Credit: A&E

Review: 'Bates Motel' - 'Trust Me'

Norman gets to know Deputy Shelby, and an incriminating piece of evidence turns up

A review of last night's "Bates Motel" coming up just as soon as I think you're pretty like an old woman...

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"The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills"

 "The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills"

Credit: Bravo

Were secrets revealed in 'The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills' reunion?

Did this clip-heavy reunion deliver the goods?

While this is technically a piece of the multi-part reunion for this season of "The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills," this mish-mash is half clip job, half reunion and mostly a mess. Jumping from past to present, battle to battle and from silly to unspeakably sad, this one is sure to hurt your head. And even though this is the "Secrets Revealed" episode, there weren't so many secrets. But there are a few takeaways from this episode, and none of them revolve around Alexia learning to drive. So you can fast forward through that insanely boring segment. You're welcome. 

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<p>Pitbull and Tim McGraw perform at ACM&nbsp;Presents:&nbsp;Tim McGraw's Superstar Summer Night in Las Vegas Monday night.</p>

Pitbull and Tim McGraw perform at ACM Presents: Tim McGraw's Superstar Summer Night in Las Vegas Monday night.

Credit: Ap Photo/Al Powers

We take you to the taping of Tim McGraw's upcoming TV special

Get the scoop weeks before you can see it on TV

LAS VEGAS - For the past four years, the Academy of Country Music has taken advantage of having a flotilla of country artists in Las Vegas for the annual ACM Awards to tape a special the following night that airs several weeks later.

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<p>Valorie Curry of &quot;The Following&quot;</p>

Valorie Curry of "The Following"

Credit: Barbara Nitke/FOX

Recap: 'The Following' - 'The Curse'

A familiar face returns, the FBI gets closer and Claire confronts Emma

To quote "The Curse": "???????????????????????????"

 
In all seriousness, "The Curse" is one of "The Following"'s better episodes, but I have to agree with Claire -- Joe's writing is atrocious. If it weren't for that little aside in tonight's episode, I'd question the writers' decision to include the manuscript. Well, okay. I question it anyway. But I question it a little less now that I know at least Claire hates Joe's work, too.
 
"The Curse" is clearly one of the few episodes in "The Following's" arc that was planned out right from the start -- I feel like we've been waiting for this episode for weeks now, slogging through a few filler episodes that crammed in a kink club and a few more dead women for no clear reason. By comparison to those catastrophes "The Curse" is downright masterful -- thematically consistent and even compelling, at times. For once, it feels like things are happening -- plot devices that seem to push forward the creepiness, rather than continue treading water with empty horror and needless gore.
 
Nothing is very creepy, of course. But the episode is playing with a few of the major characters' morality, revealing some of the tension between good and evil that drives the characters forward. I'm not convinced that a morality tale is really the best way to move forward a suspenseful plot, but it provides an avenue for the killers to get inside our heads, with their twisted logic. It also gives the killers to get a chance inside Ryan Hardy's head, who is our Everyman stand-in, more or less.
 
The terrible book Joe is writing is his attempt to finish the chapter of the story with Ryan Hardy. But dude, Joe is stuck. He has writer's block. Murderer-writer's block. Because Ryan, his main character, is a dark, twisted personality whose motivations are very difficult to determine, apparently. I really did like how this storyline ended up, but I have to call shenanigans on the idea that Ryan is all that difficult to figure out. Joe already knows about his survivor's guilt, and he has all kinds of intelligence from Molly, the nurse that sleeps with Ryan.
 
According to the exposition, though, Joe is unraveling. Along with the writers' block, his followers are not as reliable as they were when they started out. Roderick is a wildcard, motivated by… something… to be randomly murderous and vicious; and as the FBI inches closer to finding the cult, Roderick's weaknesses as a manager and the cult's (obvious) vulnerability as a target are becoming more important. Joe's not in a very good mood much of the time lately, and that apparently leads him to do something drastic -- to go out in public himself to lock down the leak. (I have to say, the subplot this week about how exactly the FBI gets into the same space as the killers is very hard to follow. There's a lot of running around in abandoned hallways, but more than that, I can't tell you. Fortunately, it doesn't matter much.)
 
The climax of "The Curse" is two separate but simultaneous confrontations -- Jacob with Agent Parker, and Joe with Ryan, over a gagged and bound Agent Weston. It's the type of showdown we've seen on television before, but I liked that both conversations are mini-dramas themselves, where each character is trying to manipulate the other. Ryan's trying to draw out Joe to protect Mike, and Joe is trying to goad Ryan into admitting more details of his particular version of survivor's guilt. Parker is trying to wheedle some humanity out of Jacob, and Jacob is trying to convince her that she's in real danger.
 
"The Following" wants to be a show that plays with morality. It's not subtle enough to get into the nuances of life and death, good and evil -- but what it lacks in subtlety it makes up for with shlocky exposition and sound effects, which you know, can work if you're in the right mindset. I didn't love the flashback to Ryan's father's death, but I like knowing that he killed a guy with heroin as a teenager, because that's kind of interesting. My problem is that it's hard to get into this morally gray area when the "bad" characters who you are supposed to be interested in and sympathetic to act like they are unhinged, alien, or psychotic. This isn't a war between good and evil, this is a battle between the clinically insane and the slightly less crazy.  If "The Following" can sort out who its evil characters are supposed to be, it might have a shot at getting coherent before the end of the season.
 
This is most obvious with Joe, who is the most inconsistently written character on the show. He's by turns calculating, genius, ruthless, sympathetic, and loving. I think the idea is that because James Purefoy is a recognized actor, those hiccups will work themselves out. But lately it seems like Joe is just a random series of traits strung together. Who would have guessed that the misogynist murderer from the pilot would be writing a really bad book as a way to carry out his nefarious plan? It doesn't make a lot of sense, does it?
 
Still, I'm taking a feather from David Sims at The A.V. Club and trying to keep a sense of humor in mind. Because as the season draws to a close, the ridiculous elements of "The Following" are getting more and more hilarious. Random, overwrought hooking up between Joe and Emma? Yes! Fistfight between Emma and Claire because Emma wants to be "friends"? Excellent! Jacob tearfully calling his dad? Awesome! Roderick wearing his uniform all the time for no reason? Why not?! The laughs just keep coming.
 
Odds and Ends:
 
*** Is it just me, or is Agent Weston way unstable after coming out of the hospital?
 
*** Agent Parker is still the only character who feels real and relatable to me. And even she has some hilarious lines in this episode, like "I once got hit in the face with a bat and it hurt, dude, it hurt." Okay, that wasn't a real quote. But you get the idea.
 
*** I hear a heroin overdose is not such a bad way to die.
 
What do you think? Are Ryan and Joe both motivated by death? And if so, do you care?
 
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