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Studio 360 with Kurt Andersen
The Peabody Award-winning Studio 360 with Kurt Andersen, from PRI and WNYC, is public radio's smart and surprising guide to what's happening in pop culture and the arts. Each week, Kurt Andersen introduces you to the people who are creating and shaping our culture. Life is busy, so let Studio 360 steer you to the must-see movie this weekend, the next book for your nightstand, or the song that will change your life.
Friday, November 21, 2014 12:00am
Alan Turing broke the Nazis’ Enigma code and helped win World War II for the Allies — and also invented modern computing; we’ll compare the legend of Turing to the reality. Mexico’s violent narcocorrido songs became a form of state propaganda. And the famous jazz musician Charles Mingus had a little-known sideline: cat trainer. Who knew?
Tuesday, November 18, 2014 8:00am
Boots became the internet’s favorite mystery late in 2013 when he was credited as a songwriter and producer on Beyoncé’s surprise self-titled album alongside super-producers like Timbaland, Pharrell, and Frank Ocean. But it was some guy named Boots who was credited with writing some of the album’s most personal songs: “Heaven”, about a miscarriage; “Blue” about Beyoncé’s daughter; and “Haunted," which maligns the music industry.
In no time, BuzzFeed, Pitchfork, Vogue, and just about everyone else took cracks at answering the question, “Who is Boots?” Reporters were calling his parents’ house in Florida, someone tried to sell photos of him, and Beyoncé fans started following him around Brooklyn. “To go from none of that to a lot of that, I didn’t take it well,” he says. Still, the 27-year-old has nothing but positive things to say about her. “The only reason she and I worked so well together is because something I had to say resonated very deeply with her,” he says. “It’s amazing that it happened.”
Jordy Asher started in Miami. He was in a string of rock bands before he and a girlfriend took a hard left turn towards indie-pop as Blonds. They broke up; Jordy moved to New York, became Boots. How he got from there to Beyoncé (and Jay Z’s label, Roc Nation) is still unknown, and Boots won’t be the first to discuss the matter. He’d prefer to talk about the future, beginning with the lead single from his upcoming album, “Mercy.”
Watch Boots play an acoustic version of “Mercy” on piano here.
Boots is sticking with his idiosyncratic indie methods. He replaces all the songs on his SoundCloud on a whim. He almost exclusively releases music without warning – no marketing or social media campaigns. And when he tours the country, as he is doing now with FKA Twigs, he prefers to get a rental and drive himself. The mystery of Boots has been solved, but he remains an enigma.
Watch Boots cover St. Vincent:
Watch Boots perform "Only" (new):
Friday, November 14, 2014 12:00am
Jon Stewart makes his directorial debut with the movie Rosewater. It’s no comedy — the movie is based on the experience of a journalist who appeared on The Daily Show, and then was arrested and tortured for it in Iran. Also, the man behind the band Bahamas may hail from the great white north, but he plays sunny folk-rock. And a look back to how Buck Owens stormed Carnegie Hall with the boot-stomping Bakersfield sound.
Friday, November 7, 2014 12:00am
The director of the mind-bending blockbuster Interstellar explains that despite his reputation for making convoluted movies, he just wants you be entertained. Comedian Harry Shearer needed all 25 years of experience on The Simpsons to play his latest role, Richard Nixon, without embellishment. And public health officials in the 1940s turned to an unlikely source of help in their fight against syphilis: Hank Williams.
Tuesday, November 4, 2014 8:00am
WARNING: Nearly everything Issa Rae does features profanity.
Issa Rae spent most of her youth feeling awkward, and she’s never gotten over it. The awkwardness started in Senegal, where her father was from, and continued once she moved to the suburbs of Washington, DC. “Coming from West Africa to Potomac, Maryland, was pretty jarring, and I just didn’t know how to be black,” she says. She felt like a token minority at school, and her older brothers would tease her, “‘You’re kind of a white girl, a Jewish girl.’” Then she went to a predominantly black school in Los Angeles and didn’t know how to fit in there.
Those awkward interactions were formative for Issa Rae – and they were gold. She channeled them into sketch comedy, uploading videos she made with her friends to YouTube. In 2011, the first episode of her web series The Misadventures of an Awkward Black Girl made her internet famous.
The videos don’t have the highest production values, but their authenticity struck a chord. Pharrell Williams’ i am OTHER YouTube channel picked up (and funded) the second season of the series. “He completely got it,” Rae says of Williams, who claimed the he himself was an awkward black guy. “He was extremely supportive of the vision and making sure that nothing was changed,” she says. That support, coupled with an actual budget, made for episodes that looked a lot better and got millions more views.
Her first experience with a TV network was at ABC, where she pitched I Hate LA Dudes with the help of producer Shonda Rhimes. “Working with them was amazing, but I felt like I was a pushover.” ABC passed on the idea, but she’s been developing a pilot with HBO; it would be the first series on the network starring an African-American woman. Non-Profit is about a directionless twenty-something who works for a non-profit by day and aspires to be a rapper by night – like a black perspective on Girls, you could say. Lena Dunham’s show was criticized for not including characters of color, but Rae isn’t judgmental about Girls. “Those are her friends, those are the stories that she knows. That’s authentic to her. What I want to see is just varying experiences, not just white people’s experiences. And I think that’s entirely possible. We had an era of it for a while [including Living Single and Fresh Prince], and then we didn’t.”
Rae is working to usher in that era, not just with her own shows. She launched ColorCreative.TV, a incubator of web series that produces pilots, “increasing opportunities for women and minority TV writers.” She’s also helped launch The Choir, a dramedy about rebuilding a dying congregation; Roomieloverfriends, a comedy about hooking up with your roommate; and First, a romantic saga about a young couple, Issa Rae isn’t just awkward anymore; she’s made herself a mogul of awkwardness.
And yet all this isn’t enough; Rae hasn’t even begun to working on her dream job. “I want to tour the world doing hood rat music with my friends.” Then she drops the most awkward verse in the history of rap.