A giant soapbox

In the wake of extensive debate earlier this year, the pressure is on for Jay-Z at Glastonbury this weekend: detractors questioned the rapper's suitability to headline the Pyramid Stage this Saturday, which Jay-Z and others responded to by pointing out the thinly-veiled racism behind many of the comments. But he isn't the only artist hitting back at whinging festival-goers: the New York Times reports that Kanye West recently posted a response on his website to audience members at the Bonnaroo festival in Tennessee, who booed him when he moved his performance back several hours so that it was dark enough to properly display his light show. Frustrated at waiting so long, the Bonnaroo audience reportedly scrawled anti-West graffiti and made makeshift placards, including the somewhat incongruous 'Kanye hates hippies!'. In a tone that sounds more hurt than vitriolic, West wrote in response:"call me...arrogant, conceited, narcissistic...BUT NEVER SAY I DIDN'T GIVE MY ALL!"

Elsewhere, the film director Pedro Almodóvar hit back at a piece in the Guardian that stated his dominance of Spanish cinema had hindered other Spanish films' chances with British audiences, writing "it is deeply unfair, and also rather silly, to blame me for an absence of Spanish films at UK cinemas", adding "please, ask British distributors why they aren't buying Spanish films." Guardian online film editor Catherine Shoard apologised for the misunderstanding the earlier article had caused, and stated "the only crime I believe the article accused Mr Almodóvar of was excellence."

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The latest work of art to fill Trafalgar Square's Fourth Plinth was revealed this week to be a giant soapbox, on which members of the public can do or say what they like for exactly one hour. The project, created by sculptor Antony Gormley, will begin next spring, and those who wish to participate will be able to apply online. Admittedly, the online applicants will be "vetted" before being assigned their hour on the stand, but the team behind the project have argued that this is simply to avoid speakers who would incited racial hatred or violence. The announcement of Gormley's project was met with the predictable criticisms that all proposals for the Fourth Plinth seem to face: one poster on the Times website snapped "we should leave the empty plinth vacuous as a tribute to the current state of British art"

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For a man whose career has so far largely entailed designing marble bathroom suites, Florence-based architect David Fisher seemed very confident that his skyscraper to be built in Dubai was structurally sound. His rotating tower will apparently involve individual floors spinning around a central core, offering each room a complete 360 degree view over a period of time. Although undeniably an innovative work of art, many have expressed their doubts as to whether Dubai needs any more lavish residential skyscrapers - while others expressed concerns over the fact that, according to Qatar Living, the rotation of most of the rooms will be controlled by the artist's laptop.

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Harry Styles: What can three blank Instagram posts tell us about music promotion?

Do the One Direction star’s latest posts tell us about the future of music promotion in the social media age - or take us back to a bygone era?

Yesterday, Harry Styles posted three identical, captionless blank images to Instagram. He offered no explanation on any other social network, and left no clue via location serves or tagged accounts as to what the pictures might mean. There was nothing about any of the individual images that suggested they might have significance beyond their surface existence.

And, predictably, they brought in over a million likes – and thousands of Styles fans decoding them with the forensic dedication of the cast of Silent Witness.

Of course, the Instagrams are deliberately provocative in their vagueness. They reminded me of Robert Rauschenberg’s three-panelled White Painting (1951), or Robert Ryman’s Untitled, three square blank canvases that hang in the Pompidou Centre. The composer John Cage claimed that the significance of Rauschenberg’s White Paintings lay in their status as receptive surfaces that respond to the world around them. The significance of Styles’s Instagrams arguably, too, only gain cultural relevance as his audience engages with them.

So what did fans make of the cryptic posts? Some posited a modelling career announcement would follow, others theorised that it was a nod to a Taylor Swift song “Blank Space”, and that the former couple would soon confirm they were back together. Still more thought this suggested an oncoming solo album launch.

You can understand why a solo album launch would be on the tip of most fans’ tongues. Instagram has become a popular platform for the cryptic musical announcement — In April, Beyoncé teased Lemonade’s world premiere with a short Instagram video – keeping her face, and the significance behind the title Lemonade, hidden.

Creating a void is often seen as the ultimate way to tease fans and whet appetites. In June last year, The 1975 temporarily deleted their Instagram, a key platform in building the band’s grungy, black and white brand, in the lead up to the announcement of their second album, which involved a shift in aesthetic to pastel pinks and bright neons.

The Weekend wiped his, too, just last week – ahead of the release of his new single “Starboy”. Blank Instagrams are popular across the network. Jaden Smith has posted hundreds of them, seemingly with no wider philosophical point behind them, though he did tweet in April last year, “Instagram Is A BlackHole Of Time And Energy.”

The motive behind Harry’s blank posts perhaps seems somewhat anticlimactic – an interview with magazine Another Man, and three covers, with three different hairstyles, to go along with it. But presumably the interview coincides with the promotion of something new – hopefully, something other than his new film Dunkirk and the latest update on his beloved tresses. In fact, those blank Instagrams could lead to a surprisingly traditional form of celebrity announcement – one that surfaces to the world via the print press.

Anna Leszkiewicz is a pop culture writer at the New Statesman.