Welcome to our annual Hot List — our tour of the most exciting corners of pop culture, where the weirdest and freshest ideas are coming from. We check out the voices that are giving us reason to get excited about the future — the musicians, the filmmakers, the activists. If anyone sums up the current state of hotness, it’s our feature story heroine Cardi B — as the great woman herself would say in “Bodak Yellow,” only the real can relate.
But Cardi is our lead story here because she’s a lot more than just the year’s most thrilling pop rebel. She’s a philosopher who understands that in a year like 2017, a year jam-packed with dread and terror and minute-by-minute insanity, a year that keeps bombarding you with reasons to give up and hide away and tune out, realness is resistance. The stars of our Hot Issue tap into that realness — it’s there in the healing powers of Wim Hof, it’s there in the hard-ass comedy of Tiffany Haddish, it’s there in the deceptively smooth Swedish grooves of Northern Electronics. It means young musicians like Lukas Nelson or Portugal. The Man looking for innovative ways to build on the past. It means hearing new resonance in elder voices from back in the day, whether that means Michael McDonald or Freddie Mercury or the indestructible Britney Spears. In 2017, hotness is not just a matter of how you sound or how you move or what you build. It’s about how you envision the future. And as Cardi would say, it means walking boldly into that future, even if that means walking in bloody shoes. Walk on.
By Christopher R. Weingarten, Erik Hedegaard, Mark Binelli, Tessa Stuart, Elias Leight, Brittany Spanos, Suzy Exposito, David Fear, Alex Morris, Kory Grow, Jenn Pelly, Logan Hill, Patrick Doyle, Joe Levy, Rob Sheffield, Tre Johnson, Brian Crecente, Zoe Cormier, Jonny Nail.
Hot Breakout: Cardi B
Cardi B has just had the best year of her life: she was signed to a major label, took the top spot on the charts from Taylor Swift with her single “Bodak Yellow,” met the likes of Beyoncé and Rihanna and even got engaged to her superstar boyfriend, Offset of the Migos. This is, of course, all after the Bronx-born former stripper built a grassroots fandom on Instagram with her hilarious videos and became a breakout star on the VH1 reality show Love & Hip-Hop. The rising star is currently working on her debut, full-length album — which follow two well-received, independently released mixtapes — and was the feature story in the recent Hot List issue of Rolling Stone. B.S.
Hot Roots: Lukas Nelson
Lukas Nelson remembers how anxious he felt when he had to call his father, Willie Nelson, to say he was dropping out of college to go into the family business. “My dad said, ‘The best education you could get is being on the road,’ ” Lukas says. “He said, ‘I believe in you. Go ahead and do it.'”
It’s worked out. With classic blues-guitar chops and a voice that uncannily resembles his dad’s, Nelson has carved out his place as both a go-to guitarist and a frontman. Take the next few months alone: The 28-year-old is selling out clubs nightly, playing his excellent new LP, Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real, which ranges from roadhouse rock to Texas Hill Country folk. He just finished his third album backing Neil Young, who hired Nelson’s band to go on tour in 2015. And in 2018, Nelson will make his big screen debut, acting alongside Lady Gaga in a remake of A Star Is Born. He wrote several songs for the film and backs Gaga on many of them. “She’s an angel,” Nelson says. “She’s an amazing friend.”
Nelson grew up in Maui, Hawaii, but he often joined his dad on tour. By age 16, he was sitting in with Willie’s tourmate Bob Dylan, who was so impressed with Lukas’ guitar playing that he offered him a job in his band. “My mom wouldn’t let me go,” says Nelson.
One caveat of dropping out of school was that Nelson couldn’t get financial help from his parents. He lived out of his car, busking around California, and partied too hard.”I almost died,” he says. “I had this episode that involved pills and drinking, and I almost asphyxiated like Hendrix.” That was a turning point: Nelson started running seven miles a day and cleaned up his act, for the most part. “Well, I smoke a ton of weed,” he says. Nelson sees himself as a torchbearer for sounds far older than he is. “I don’t see a new Bruce Springsteen, or even a Tom Petty out there,” he says. “I think there is a craving for rock & roll somewhere.” His dad couldn’t be prouder: “I hear a lot of my licks coming back at me a lot better than they went out,” says Willie. P.D.
Hot Reinvention: Portugal. The Man
Portugal. The Man recently started selling a T-shirt on their website reading I Liked Portugal. The Man Before They Sold Out. It’s a jab at critics and old fans who have turned on the group since “Feel It Still,” its crazy-catchy Motown-indebted single, hit the Top Five. It’s rare enough for a rock band to have a pop smash in 2017; it’s even weirder that it happened to an arty midcareer band from Sarah Palin’s hometown. “I’m 36, I’m from fucking Wasilla, Alaska, and we’re right behind Taylor Swift right now,” says bassist Zachary Carothers. “What the hell?” Carothers and frontman John Gourley moved from Alaska to Portland, Oregon, in 2004, and spent a decade touring a brand of psych rock that earned them fans on the jam-band circuit, playing wild shows where they cover everyone from Weezer to Pantera. Seven years ago, they signed to Atlantic and recruited producer John Hill (Eminem, Florence + the Machine), then started moving away from meandering psychedelia and focusing on hooks. Hill helped them craft “Feel It Still,” which took shape when Gourley started singing a melody inspired by the Marvelettes’ “Please Mr. Postman.” “I had that line, ‘I’m a rebel just for kicks,’ for years,” he says. “The rest was me riffing on the spot.” The band knew it had something special, but never expected a pop hit. “They’re crafty songwriters, but it’s not always easy to hang your hat on a Portugal. The Man song,” said Bruce Warren, program director for Philadelphia’s WXPN. “This is a song we’re going to throw down for.” Now, Gourley is seeing fans far outside the band’s usual college demographic; recently, an elderly woman stopped his dad in Alaska while he was working. “She asked if he was related to me,” the singer says. “This older lady knows my music. That’s when it really hit me.” K.G.
Hot Protest: Hexing Trump
In 2015, a video called “Brujas Hex Trump” went viral on YouTube. The video follows witches cursing the then-presidential candidate, cackling at Trump Tower security guards and burning yellow yarn with cries of “Lose all your hair!” Since the election, occultists across the country have been gathering under each new moon to disarm the president with magic. (Even Lana Del Rey has professed to partaking in the spiritual interventions.) The rituals can take place anywhere at midnight, whether inside their homes, metaphysical shops, or in the wild. At a recent event in a Brooklyn bookstore, attendees read from Psalm 109 — “May there be none to extend kindness unto him” — and stuffed curses into Mason jars. “You don’t have to believe in what I do,” says 28-year-old Dakota Bracciale, who led the hex. “If you wronged me, I’m wronging you back.” S.E.
Hot Surprise Influence: Michael McDonald
Four decades after his ultra-smooth vocals on Doobie Brothers classics like “What a Fool Believes” made him an easy-listening staple and a rock-critic punching bag, Michael McDonald is having a renaissance. Credit the legendary Yacht Rock Web series of the mid-aughts with kick-starting his rediscovery; artists from Daft Punk to Solange have since taken cues from his sleek effervescence. “Dude is a saint,” says Kendrick Lamar pal/avant-soul artist Thundercat. Says McDonald, who just released Wide Open, his first album in 17 years, “It’s flattering.” E.L.
Hot Lost Cause: Privacy
When did the fear of Big Brother become the desperation for a double tap on our latest Instagram-post update? Once we feared that technology would be the death of privacy. These days we’re live streaming the wake. Ever-shrinking cameras are rapidly eliminating the undocumented life, whether it’s vanity-driven social-media broadcasters or politically minded activists determined to monitor overzealous police. Three years ago, Peter Austin Onruang’s company Wolfcom was supplying body cams to more than 500 police departments in the U.S. when he noticed something strange. “I began to see a consumer wave of people interested in our technology,” Onruang says. “There are roughly 750,000 law-enforcement officers throughout the country, so I’m only tapping into a tiny market.” So he altered some software and created a device called the Venture that can be worn as a body cam, put on the dash of a car or used as a baby monitor.
The thinking on privacy has changed quickly. Four years ago, the launch of Xbox One was hamstrung by the Kinect, a microphone and camera array housed in a plastic rectangle designed to sit atop your entertainment center, watching your body movements and listening for voice commands. The Kinect drew protests and was separated from the console. But Apple bought the company that helped develop it, and behind the seamless, buttonless front of the new iPhone X lies a bundle of intelligent cameras capable of face recognition so advanced that it can ID a person even if they put on a hat and sunglasses and grow a beard. It’s essentially the same technology found in the Kinect. And this time, no protests. Lines around the block instead. B.C.
Hot Comedy: Tiffany Haddish
Comedy has always been a coping mechanism for Tiffany Haddish, whose South Central L.A. childhood went from “pretty normal” to decidedly not so after her mother suffered brain damage in a car accident. Then nine, she was charged with taking care of her mom and four siblings, before the kids landed in foster care. By high school, Haddish was acting in plays, typically cast as “the maid or the monkey or something funny. My social worker was like, ‘You got two choices: You can go to Laugh Factory Comedy Camp or you can go to psychiatric therapy, because something is wrong with you, child.’ “
It was in the parking lot of the Laugh Factory in Hollywood a decade later that Kevin Hart noticed that Haddish was living out of her car, gave her $300 to get a hotel room, and told her to write out her life goals, which included “Find a place to live, work with Kevin Hart, and work with Jada Pinkett Smith.”
All of which Haddish has since managed to accomplish as her career has snowballed from bit TV parts to this summer’s Girls Trip. Her raunchy, riotous stand-up sets riff on race, class and shitting in an ex’s shoes, and she went viral after telling Jimmy Kimmel how she took Will Smith and Jada on a Louisiana swamp tour with tickets purchased via Groupon. As for wrapping up that wish list? “I’m not pregnant by Leonardo DiCaprio yet,” Haddish says. “But who knows what could happen.” A.M.
Hot Podcasts: True Crime, Real World Maths and More
From Trump’s America to homegrown DIY productions, the podcast landscape has never been more varied. Here’s five of our favourites:
Sum Of All Parts
Who knew numbers could be so enthralling? In the debut season of the Radio National podcast, Joel Werner (99% Invisible, Radiolab) dilutes the nerdiness of primes and square roots with stories of record producers tripping in India, how Aussie hackers piggybacked on the infancy of the Internet to gain access to NASA, and reverse-engineering the unexplainable first chords of the Beatles’ “Hard Day’s Night”.
Rising to the top of the crowded true crime pile, the Los Angeles Times series follows con artist “John” as he suckers a successful divorcée, Debra, into his deceitful world. Perfectly paced to capture the rising tension, the lie-by-lie account is narrated by her close-knit family, as they struggle to save the lovesick Debra.
Examining the rippling impact single moments have on everyday people’s lives, the first season of the Gimlet Media show was a seesaw of emotions, with episode topics ranging from the lasting psychological impact of high-school bullying to trying to get some lent CDs back from Moby. On the recently launched second run, Jonathan Goldstein (This American Life) again expertly balances humour and heartbreak, as lifelong friendships are disbanded after hearing a previous Heavyweight episode (oh, how meta) and a near death experience forces someone to completely reevaluate their purpose in life.
All My Friends Are In Bar Bands
Passionate local music nerd David James Young goes one-on-one with his music heroes on this charmingly lo-fi and criminally underrated podcast. Most recently, Young — who also co-hosts a series examining every Hottest 100 song ever — has gone beyond the title’s pub-punk confines, including chats with breakout star Amy Shark and revered outsider artist David Liebe Hart.
Pod Save America
Solving the problem of Tweeter-in-Chief Donald Trump’s control of the new world 24-second media cycle, a foursome of former Obama staffers cut through the crap on an in-depth, twice-weekly podcast that, while often taking us to the grim underside of the headlines, is delivered as a light-hearted, fast-paced round table discussion. J.N.
Hot Author: Shaun Prescott
An unpopular pub, countless petrol stations and a pair of rival shopping centres. While the unnamed New South Wales setting of Blue Mountains-based author Shaun Prescott’s debut novel might feature several recognisable regional touchstones, all is not right in The Town, as sinkholes suddenly appear on the main street and the fears of our anonymous narrator are confirmed: the town is disappearing. Beyond the book’s sci-fi blend of absurdity (a band performs continually for days) and mundanity (coffee at Michel’s Patisserie), Prescott says he aimed to tackle the larger theme of national identity: “There’s honestly not a great deal that’s positive about being an Australian, particularly a white one, and that was the kernel of the story for me.” J.N.
Hot Heroine: Britney Spears
Who reigns as the pop godmother of our times? It’s Britney, bitch. She hasn’t scored a real hit in years, but her staying power is bizarrely unstoppable — millennials idolize her, and she’s spent the past few years holding court at her Vegas show, where everyone from Beyoncé to Jay-Z on down has come to kiss the ring. We can feel Britney’s pain more than ever, because she helped invent the anxieties and tribulations of modern life. Back when social media barely existed in the mid-2000s, Britney epitomised all the ways it would become so (pardon the expression) toxic. She got slimed on every level, suffering through slut-shaming, body-shaming, “y’all”-shaming, mom-shaming, the works. Now that we’re all giving ourselves the paparazzi treatment with our phones — because putting your traumas out there is a part of “building your brand” — her problems have turned into our problems. At a time when our nation is in the depths of its full-blown Blackout meltdown — America in 2017 is less sane and stable than Britney in 2007 — we turn our lonely eyes to her. Because if our girl could dance out of the wreckage, there’s hope for us all. R.S.
Hot Actor: Jason Mitchell
“Jonathan banks wouldn’t say ‘nigger’ to my face,” says Jason Mitchell, laughing. The 30-year-old actor is referring to a scene in Mudbound, the upcoming period drama about two Southern families — one black, one white — in the 1940s. At one point, Mitchell’s character, a World War II veteran, refuses to leave a shop by the back door after being confronted by racists — including Banks. It turns out the Breaking Bad star was less than comfortable using the n-word on set. “I told him, ‘I’m ready to kick this scene’s ass!'” Mitchell recalls. “I gave him permission because it’s like, I gotta kick this up a whole other notch. Say it, and we’ll hug it out afterwards!” Banks gave in, and Mitchell’s reaction runs the scale from sorrow to rage. Mission accomplished.
Mudbound, which got a standing ovation at Sundance, could establish Mitchell as the closest thing to this generation’s Denzel Washington. It also caps off what’s been a two-year-long streak for the New Orleans native, from nabbing the part of Eazy-E in the N.W.A biopic Straight Outta Compton (“I thought, if I fuck this up, it’s ‘Don’t bother coming back to L.A.,'” he jokes) to a series of supporting roles in movies like Keanu, Kong: Skull Island and Detroit.
Mudbound director Dee Rees saw him in Compton and told her producers she had to have him. “He has a wisdom, a kind of behind-the-eyes quietude and a calm bravery on-screen,” she says. “When it was time for the doorway showdown, most actors would’ve gotten flustered. Jason moved through it with such grace and aplomb. He’s the real deal.”
The result is generating Oscar buzz for Mitchell, who’s already got more than enough work lined up for the next year — including a new Showtime series, The Chi, about life in Chicago’s South Side; a guys-weekend movie; and a drama about a prison inmate working with horses. “You know, my grandfather fought in the Korean War [not World War II], but Mudbound is really his story,” Mitchell says. “He’s 87, he’s been through some shit, and he’s never seen his life onscreen before. So the fact that I may get to walk down a red carpet with him and show him his story two generations later …” He tears up for a second. “That’s why I do this.” D.F.
Hot Actress: Grace Van Patten
Grace Van Patten’s dad will soon be seeing her boobs. “That’s what’s going on in my mind,” she says, staring out at the Manhattan skyline from the rooftop bar of a Brooklyn hotel, pursing her very pursable lips. “Grandma. Cousins. Uncles. They’re all gonna see my boobs!”
That’s because, a few days after our interview, Noah Baumbach’s latest feature, The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected), will be screened at the New York Film Festival. It’s Van Patten’s fifth film since the 20-year-old New Yorker graduated from LaGuardia High School (the school that inspired Fame), and the one likely to be her big breakout. Not because of the scenes in which her boobs are on display — framed as college freshman performance art that she shamelessly, charmingly shares with her onscreen family — but because she holds her own opposite Adam Sandler, who plays her dad (“He did remind me a lot of my dad”), and Dustin Hoffman, who plays her grandfather. “We were at a reading, and [Hoffman] walked in, and I said, ‘Hey, Grandpa!’ ” she recalls. “I was like, ‘Why did I say that? He’s gonna think I’m calling him old!'”
Van Patten’s own family might catch Baumbach’s eye. Her mom was a model and “biker chick” whose father owned one of the world’s largest Harley-Davidson dealerships. Her dad was a director on The Sopranos, where an eight-year-old Van Patten landed her first role (“I had a couple of lines”) before defecting to less artistic endeavors: “I was a tomboy, super into sports, in cargo shorts with baggy T-shirts.” Van Patten lives with her parents and two younger sisters. Never mind that she is on the brink of ubiquity, she still can’t have guys in her room. “My parents don’t let boys above the third floor,” she says. “But it’s fine. I don’t have the urge to, like, break free.” Or at least not quite like her characters do. She cringe-laughs. “I’m so nervous for my dad to see that.” A.M.
Hot Resurrection: Freddie Mercury
A biopic based on the epic life and over-the-top persona of Freddie Mercury has always seemed like a no-brainer. The only issue was finding an actor charismatic enough to fill the Queen singer’s tank top. But if the bootlegged footage of Bohemian Rhapsody (out next year) is any indication, that problem has been solved in the form of Mr. Robot star Rami Malek. “When we filmed the Live Aid scene, people who were [at the 1985 performance] got chills,” says director Bryan Singer, who worked on the project for 14 years before finding a plausible Mercury. “He’s really re-creating those legendary moments.” D.F.
Hot Pivot: ‘Mad’ Magazine
Maybe it was when they made Trump the leader of rap group Republican Enemy (It Takes a Moron With Billions…). Or when they cast Reince Priebus as a Wookie-deporting villain in a Star Wars parody. But operating under the cover of barf jokes, Mad has become America’s best political satire magazine, featuring Trump on six of its last nine covers — seven if you count the poop emoji. J.L.
Hot Playlist Strategy: Activism
Call it the Woke Playlist: On September 5th, as the Trump administration moved to end DACA, Spotify pushed out its No Moment for Silence playlist, with music and messages of support for Dreamers from Khalid, Demi Lovato, Camila Cabello and more. July’s I’m With the Banned playlist paired U.S. stars with artists from countries targeted by the travel ban, like Pusha T and Syrian MC Moh Flow. Expect more playlists like these. “With this administration,” says Jackie Jantos, Spotify’s vice president of creative and brand strategy, “we won’t run out of opportunities.” J.L.
Hot Band: Sheer Mag
Tina Halladay — powerhouse singer for the Philadelphia band Sheer Mag — recently received an awesome tribute. “My friend sent me a neon poster-board collage that a little girl made of me at Girls Rock Camp in Austin,” Halladay says. “I’m fuckin’ tearing up talking about it.” It’s no surprise that Sheer Mag can inspire such devotion in young fans; the band’s self-released debut, Need to Feel Your Love, is one of 2017’s best records, mixing steely protest jams and lovesick yearning (what Halladay calls “the intertwining of things that make you feel hopeless and things that give you hope”) into songs that combine punk spirit and Seventies hard-rock riffage.
The band began in late 2013, four roommates bashing out music on an 8-track machine. From the beginning, they’ve infused their retro sound with lyrics that take on sexism, gentrification and other forms of oppression. “Rock & roll has always been a white boy’s game,” says Halladay, who has a silhouette of Thin Lizzy’s Phil Lynott tattooed on her thigh. “But when I look out at a bunch of white dudes screaming our lyrics back at me, I hope it’s slowly chipping away at that toxic masculinity.” J.P.
Hot Nostalgia: The Early 2000s
You know things are bad when people are looking back fondly on the era of Paris Hilton. But longing for the early Bush years is everywhere right now — in fashion, music, TV and even politics. Here’s the evidence:
The post-9/11 era was a heyday for the escapism of teen soaps like Gossip Girl. Now, Riverdale, 13 Reasons Why and other shows are bringing that high school drama back — and adding dark new plot twists.
George W. Bush: Not So Bad?
The post-Trump descent into hell is forcing us to give Dubya a second look. Bush had liberals cheering after a recent speech in which he called bigotry a form of anti-American “blasphemy.” Not bad for a war criminal.
The Post-Punk Revival Revival
Great early-’00s postpunk bands like Interpol and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs are doing reunion tours, LCD Soundsystem put out one of 2017’s best LPs, and, like clockwork, word has it the Strokes are back in the studio.
The Golden Age of Tabloid Trash
Podcasts like Who? Weekly and the blog PopCultureDiedin2009 look back at a time when it was harder for famous people to control their images and Lindsay Lohan calling Paris Hilton a “cunt” was headline news.
Xtina Aguilera: Fashion Goddess
The crop tops, chokers and glitter Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera loved are now favored by Kendall Jenner and Gigi Hadid. Even trucker hats are making a comeback. God help us. B.S.
Hot Directors: Safdie Brothers
Josh and Benny Safdie had spent a decade making small-budget films with nonprofessional casts when they received an e-mail from Robert Pattinson in 2015. He had seen a still from Heaven Knows What, their low-fi drama about young junkies in New York, and wanted to work on whatever they did next. “We were weirded the fuck out,” says Benny, 31. Why, they wondered, was the ex-Twilight star cold-calling them? But when they met with Pattinson in Los Angeles, they quickly hit it off. Benny recalls, “Rob’s like, ‘I want to disappear. I want to just put everything out there.'”
The result, Good Time, a crime thriller in which Pattinson plays a bank robber who has to spring his brother (played by Benny) from jail or die trying, was nominated for the Palme d’Or at Cannes. It’s a change for the brothers, whose previous efforts favored shambling stories of people stuck in ruts over forward momentum and gunfights. “I wanted to do a genre movie,” says Josh, 33, “but one that still felt like the off-the-cuff things we do.” The Safdies, who grew up in New York before attending Boston University, have set their next film in their hometown’s Diamond District. Jonah Hill will star, with Martin Scorsese executive-producing. “We got financing before we got the star this time,” Josh says. “We finally got to the point where someone is willing to believe in our vision.” D.F.
Hot Superhero: Black Panther
“Don’t freeze,” a member of an African special forces unit advises her king, T’Challa, as he prepares to leap from a speeding jet into battle. With regal calm, he replies, “I never freeze.” (You can’t freeze if you’re subzero-cool.) He dons a black mask and drops from the sky as a car explodes beneath him. Screen time: 10 seconds. Time spent waiting to see that moment become a reality? A generation.
Much as this year belonged to Wonder Woman, next spring should belong to T’Challa. When Ryan Coogler’s Black Panther opens, a superhero (played by Chadwick Boseman) with unapologetic black swagger will finally have the cultural spotlight, 50 years after the character debuted in a Marvel comic. “I feel an incredible opportunity, and a responsibility,” says Coogler.
That feeling is familiar to Coogler, who directed 2015’s Rocky spinoff, Creed, which also remade expectations in a genre dominated by white-mail archetypes. “The question I’m trying to answer is, ‘What does it truly mean to be African?'” Coogler says. “The Marvel Universe has set itself in the real world as much as possible. What does it mean for T’Challa to move as a black man in a movie reality that tries to be a real world?” T.J.
Hot Relic: Pre-Trump Conspiracy Theories
Remember conspiracy theories? You know, the sinister secrets our government used to hide from us, back when we believed our government would bother to hide things? It already seems strange to recall the old-school conspiracy culture from the days before Trump. Chemtrails or FEMA camps or the Loch Ness Monster seem downright quaint compared to what this administration does in plain sight. Comeygate? There’s no secret tape. There’s Trump on network TV telling Lester Holt he fired the head of the FBI because of his Russia investigation. This White House gang makes vintage conspiracy theories look like basketball stats from the 1950s, when the NBA was full of slow white guys, or baseball records before the steroid era. People used to worry whether the moon landings were faked, just as they used to wonder if anyone would ever break Roger Maris’ home-run record. People were easier to impress back then.
These days, real life is a conspiracy theory. People used to get bent out of shape about rumors that Obama’s paperwork was out of order with regard to his birth certificate. But the loudest and angriest birther of them all is now the president — and when it comes to paperwork, he won’t even release his tax returns. This White House’s public shenanigans are so much crazier than anything people used to whisper about in hushed tones. Remember the shadowy plots of yesteryear? Did the CIA kill Bob Marley? Did the FBI kill Martin Luther King? Did the CIA, the FBI, the Cubans, the Bush family, the Secret Service, the New Orleans Mob, the Chicago Mob, the Rosicrucians and the 1962 Mets kill JFK? Does the Illuminati have a New World Order headquarters beneath the Denver airport? Is Paul dead? Is Tupac alive? Is Stevie Wonder blind or just faking it?
There used to be an element of fun in conspiracy hunting — a frisson of “The Truth Is Out There” bravado. Now the average citizen has enough trouble just trying to keep track of all the White House crimes we already know about, the ones nobody attempts to deny. That’s the root of conspiracy nostalgia: We used to believe the powers that be took us seriously enough to hide nefarious secrets. We Americans flattered ourselves that we were worth lying to. We were wrong about that. R.S.
Hot Anti-Bannon: Sleeping Giants
When Donald Trump named Steve Bannon his chief strategist last November, the backlash was immediate, overwhelming and — since the position didn’t require Senate confirmation — totally useless. But a mysterious organisation soon materialised on Twitter offering some hope: a way to take on Breitbart News, the right-wing site Bannon led. Sleeping Giants‘ instructions were simple: “1) look on Breitbart & take a screenshot of an ad; 2) tweet it to the advertiser with a polite note; 3) tag @slpng_giants.” Confronted publicly, those companies had to admit their brands were subsidising stories about the evils of feminism and the glorious heritage of the Confederate flag. Sleeping Giants conceals its operators’ identities, though it admits some have day jobs in marketing. Thanks to the company’s campaign, 3,318 advertisers have blacklisted Breitbart, and revenue per click has plummeted by half. “We don’t think bigotry should be profitable,” says a spokesman. T.S.
Hot Healer: The Iceman
Wim Hof has claimed 26 world records for his various feats, including the Guinness World Record for longest ice bath (1 hour, 52 minutes and 42 seconds), enabling him to rightfully be called “the Iceman.” Celebrities have helped take him and his far-out, revolutionary, health-restoring way of deep breathing, known as the Wim Hof Method (WHM), to the next level. He claims hold the secret to curing MS, arthritis, diabetes, fear, depression, anxiety, pain, PTSD, bipolar disorder, cancer, you name it, and nobody seems to care. But that’s not enough for him. He wants more. He wants to change the world. E.H.
Hot Digital Shaman: Wavepaths App
Last year, Brian Eno was working on computer-generated music — what he calls “self-evolving compositions” — when he was approached by Mendel Kaelen, a neuroscientist and LSD researcher. Kaelen suggested a novel use for Eno’s tech: an app to help guide people through therapeutic psychedelic trips. The result is Wavepaths (still in development), which auto-generates soothing, individualised soundtracks for LSD-aided therapy. (Eno, a self-described acid “non-experimenter,” made sure the music would also be satisfying if you weren’t high.) “Generative music doesn’t try to grab your attention,” says Eno. “The surprises are in what happens to the listener.” Z.C.
Hot Scandinavian Scene: Northern Electronics
Stockholm label Northern Electronics has developed a windfall of intriguing, moody and harsh electronic music: industrial dance (Varg), dubby bass (CA2+), snow-crunched ambient (Isorinne), deep techno (Acronym, Korridor) and noise (Vit Fana). “We don’t consider all these different parts. It’s the same vibe,” says Anthony Linnell, who runs the label along with Jonas Rönnberg, the man behind Varg. “It’s kind of boring here,” says Rönnberg, adding that Stockholm’s long, dark winters and short, bright summers drive creativity. “I tried to make an R&B album,” he recalls. “It doesn’t sound like one at all. It’s the same with Northern Electronics. No matter what you try to do, it’s more of a mindset than actual genres.” C.R.W.
Hot TV Revival: Literally Everything
Today’s rerun is the reboot. With 500-plus original scripted series scattered across a chaotic landscape of channels and streaming services, television producers have learned the wrong lessons from the film industry and are running for the safety of established franchises. New versions of old shows either on-air or in development include Will & Grace, American Idol, S.W.A.T., Dynasty, Miami Vice, TRL, MacGyver, The Munsters, Full House, Star Trek, Duck Tales, Charmed, Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, The Jetsons, The Gong Show, Love Connection and Fear Factor. Sure, Twin Peaks was bracingly weird, and no, a new Sabrina the Teenage Witch set in the next town over from Riverdale isn’t exactly going to hurt anyone. But at some point, we have to ask: What groundbreaking original work might we be missing out on because a generation’s best storytellers are essentially becoming cover bands? Not all nostalgia is harmless, as the phrase “Make America Great Again” demonstrates. Sometimes, to make room for something better, you’ve got to throw out the trash. L.H.
Hot Album Artist: Robert Beatty
People like to tell Robert Beatty that his cover art for Tame Impala’s Currents reminds them of specific experiences — usually involving DMT. “It’s weird,” says the in-demand Kentucky-based graphic designer. “I love psychedelic art, but I’ve never taken psychedelic drugs.” His digitally airbrushed style, inspired by experimental animation and advertising’s neon-cool absorption of psychedelia in the Seventies, is making album art epic again. Kesha recruited him to give Rainbow its otherworldly look. “I was trying not to make it too Boston or ELO,” he says. “But it’s kinda hard to put a spaceship on a record cover and not have it reference that.” C.R.W.