The wisdom of 50 Cent

Prince Charles and rapper 50 Cent offer us valuable insights, while confused audiences spurn Sweeney

A notable controversy has emerged this week after BAFTA pulled out of a screening of a documentary about disability, financed and directed by disabled British filmmaker Richard Butchins. The film was due to be shown at BAFTA’s Piccadilly headquarters as part of a joint event with X’08, Europe’s largest disability festival. Mr Butchins shot the documentary one-handed and the film features disabled people touring the US as a carnival or burlesque. The director of X’08, Peter Kincaid, said that the film “illustrates how disabled artists are claiming their identity in a more assertive way that can be uncomfortable for some people in the nondisabled world.” BAFTA’s Head of Events, Corinna Downing, is said to have told Mr Butchins that the film was “too demanding” for audiences and “created too many questions.” As an alternative, BAFTA is said to have suggested a screening of Hollywood comedy Lars and the Real Girl, a film with an able-bodied cast about a delusional man who falls in love with a blow-up doll.

Woolworths has withdrawn its “Lolita” bed range for girls, which had been on sale through its website. The decision comes after parents expressed concern about the appropriateness of a children’s bed named after the 20th century’s most famous sexually precocious heroine. The Lolita bed was aimed at girls around 6 years old. A spokesman from Woolworths said: “What seems to have happened is the staff who run the website had never heard of Lolita, and to be honest no one else here had either. We had to look it up on Wikipedia. But we certainly know who she is now.”

Tim Burton’s Sweeney Todd debuted at Number 1 on its opening weekend in UK box offices, a surprising and exciting result for a musical. But how many of the punters stayed to watch the whole thing? There have been widespread reports of audience members walking out of screenings, having bought their tickets not realising that the film was, in fact, a musical.

Nearly 25 years after his famous “carbuncle” speech, Prince Charles has again decried modern skyscrapers – but this time to less seismic effect. “The general public has become far more design-savvy, which means people are better placed to judge what he is saying”, said Sundand Prasad, president of the Royal Institute of British Architects. “I don't think he will get the same reflexive obedience this time." The more muted reaction this time around might also be a measure of the changing status of the Royal Family, and changing tastes in architecture.

From cityscapes to soundscapes: Uncut magazine have produced a musical “map” of Britain, using music sales figures to work out who is listening to what, and where. A pdf of the map is available here. According to the study, music gets faster the further north you go; and while jazz dominates in the West Country, heavy metal rules in the North East. There were also some eclectic regional mixtures: in the South Coast, Eurodisco and world pop are combined through the influence of the area’s international residents and visitors. In Northern Ireland, in contrast, country music and handbag house are combined: no explanation was given for this.

With all these shifting cultural markers and areas of contention, it is good to know that guidance is at hand. The platinum-selling rapper Kanye West has authored a self-help book and released a preview of it on his blog. Kanye recently overtook hiphop star 50 Cent in a highly-publicised rivalry. Extracts from Kanye’s book, entitled Thank You and You’re Welcome!, include aphorisms such as: “When you’re so focussed on what you don’t have …You won’t have!” and “Get use to getting used … To use is necessary. And if you can’t be used, you’re useless.” One can only look forward to 50’s response.

Harry Styles. Photo: Getty
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How podcasts are reviving the excitement of listening to the pop charts

Unbreak My Chart and Song Exploder are two music programmes that provide nostalgia and innovation in equal measure.

“The world as we know it is over. The apo­calypse is nigh, and he is risen.” Although these words came through my headphones over the Easter weekend, they had very little to do with Jesus Christ. Fraser McAlpine, who with Laura Snapes hosts the new pop music podcast Unbreak My Chart, was talking about a very different kind of messiah: Harry Styles, formerly of the boy band One Direction, who has arrived with his debut solo single just in time to save the British charts from becoming an eternal playlist of Ed Sheeran’s back-catalogue.

Unbreak My Chart is based on a somewhat nostalgic premise. It claims to be “the podcast that tapes the Top Ten and then talks about it at school the next day”. For those of us who used to do just that, this show takes us straight back to Sunday afternoons, squatting on the floor with a cassette player, finger hovering over the Record button as that tell-tale jingle teased the announcement of a new number one.

As pop critics, Snapes and McAlpine have plenty of background information and anecdotes to augment their rundown of the week’s chart. If only all playground debates about music had been so well informed. They also move the show beyond a mere list, debating the merits of including figures for music streamed online as well as physical and digital sales in the chart (this innovation is partly responsible for what they call “the Sheeran singularity” of recent weeks). The hosts also discuss charts from other countries such as Australia and Brazil.

Podcasts are injecting much-needed innovation into music broadcasting. Away from the scheduled airwaves of old-style radio, new formats are emerging. In the US, for instance, Song Exploder, which has just passed its hundredth episode, invites artists to “explode” a single piece of their own music, taking apart the layers of vocal soundtrack, instrumentation and beats to show the creative process behind it all. The calm tones of the show’s host, Hrishikesh Hirway, and its high production values help to make it a very intimate listening experience. For a few minutes, it is possible to believe that the guests – Solange, Norah Jones, U2, Iggy Pop, Carly Rae Jepsen et al – are talking and singing only for you. 

Caroline Crampton is assistant editor of the New Statesman. She writes a weekly podcast column.

This article first appeared in the 20 April 2017 issue of the New Statesman, May's gamble

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