It’s been a whirlwind week for Lizzo. Following her first ever Coachella experience last weekend (which included twerking onstage alongside Janelle Monáe), the self-described “bop star” has spent this week before her second performance promoting the release of her third album Cuz I Love You, out now via Atlantic Records.
The mainstream breakout of the Minneapolis-bred artist in the last year has been exciting to watch for both fans and non-fans alike. With the release of her EP Coconut Oil in 2016, Lizzo began to leave behind many of the hip hop-rooted sounds that characterized her first two albums, and began the slow trajectory towards “bop star” status. Today, the release of her her major label debut Cuz I Love You completes her transformation into the R&B star that she’s always dreamt of being, and showcases her ability to jump between genres as easily as she can jump between singing, dancing, and playing the flute onstage.
Following the release of the celebratory lead single “Juice” in January, many fans wondered if the track indicated a total shift in her sound, and that she had abandoned the rap and R&B styles that first put her on the map five years ago. She later laid that speculation to rest with the release of “Tempo,” a trap-infused hip hop track with a guest appearance by none other than Missy Elliott. Now, with the release of Cuz I Love You, Lizzo shows the full spectrum of her artistry as she triumphantly declares her presence in the mainstream space, giving fans a little bit of everything as they watch her rocket to stardom in real time.
The album opens with the horn-heavy titular track that melds modern pop and R&B flavors with hints of the old-school soul of crooners like Nina Simone and Ella Fitzgerald. The subsequent stretch—”Like A Girl,” “Juice,” and “Soulmate“—each speak to a different form of self-love and empowerment that Lizzo has come to stand for, whether it be love for one’s femininity, one’s body, or one’s soul.
Sitting halfway through the tracklist, “Jerome” is a longing plea for a lost lover that harkens back to the sounds of mid-century doo-wop, complete with a laid back instrumental backing that’s eerily reminiscent of Schubert’s “Ave Maria.” Following Missy Elliott’s cameo on “Tempo,” Gucci Mane stops in to play with Lizzo on the funk-infused “Exactly How I Feel,” adding to his recent string of unexpected R&B features.
The empowering “Better In Color” speaks to Lizzo’s approach to love, while “Heaven Help Me” embodies the “church with a twerk” sound that she says is informed by her gospel singer past. The aptly titled “Lingerie” closes out the album, ensuring that the slinky after-hours feel of Midwest soul isn’t absent from Lizzo’s major label debut.
Following her second Coachella performance this Sunday, Lizzo kicks off her Cuz I Love You tour accompanied by R&B ingenue Tayla Parx. No word yet whether she’ll be taking her flute on the road, but for someone as full of surprises as Lizzo, it would be naïve to expect her not to.
Viewers flocked to Westeros for Sunday’s return of HBO’s hit series Game of Thrones, but one cliffhanger will remain unresolved even after the sixth and final episode concludes: What’s next for the network that redefined television?
HBO, known for creating such cultural touchstones as The Sopranos, Sex and the City and The Wire, faces an uncertain future with the end its blockbuster fantasy series. Its tanned and charismatic leader Richard Plepler announced in February that he would leave after nearly three decades as HBO’s sherpa. And the network, synonymous with bespoke programming, is under pressure from corporate parent AT&T to produce more shows with mass appeal, just as the curtain falls on its biggest series.
“I don’t know that there will be another Game of Thrones in terms of a water-cooler hit, but you can’t worry about where the next one is coming from,” says Casey Bloys, HBO’s president of programming. “You just do the next one.”
There is plenty of reason for concern. The landscape has changed greatly since HBO premiered Game of Thrones in 2011. Competition for eyeballs is far stiffer: 496 scripted series filled screens in 2018, up 86% from 2011. Rivals like Netflix and Amazon have entered HBO’s domain, producing movie-quality TV shows to attract and keep subscribers.
Netflix paid a queen’s fortune—a reported $130 million—for The Crown, the Emmy-nominated drama about the British royal family. Amazon spent an equally kingly sum, $107 million according to Reuters, on the second season of The Man in the High Castle, an alternate history of World War II in which Nazi Germany and Japan were victorious.
Bloys agreed much has changed in the eight years since King Robert Baratheon occupied the Iron Throne. In addition to the rising cost of programming, spurred by deep-pocketed streaming rivals, he says, networks like HBO are under mounting pressure to make decisions quickly and commit to a full series—or risk missing out on a hot property.
“If you don’t do it, it could get made somewhere else,” said Bloys. “Our advantage is the HBO brand and what that represents, how we treat talent, how we market a show.”
Bloys says HBO remains committed to preserving its identity as a haven for interesting, curated programming, in the face of fierce competition top talent and projects—and pressure from WarnerMedia CEO John Stankey to increase the number of hours viewers spend watching its shows.
HBO already has upped its hours of content to compete: 150 hours of scripted programming this year, 50% more than in 2017 and 2018.
“That increase has already happened,” says Bloys, a network veteran who shepherded such HBO comedies as Veep, Silicon Valley, Girls, Last Week Tonight with John Oliver and Insecure. With his promotion to programming president in 2016, Bloys assumed broader responsibilities.
This year’s slate suggests HBO still has enough cachet to attract top talent. The lineup includes His Dark Materials, an adaptation of Philip Pullman’s award-winning trilogy starring Logan breakout Dafne Keen, Atonement’s James McAvoy, and Lin-Manuel Miranda; a seconbd season of Big Little Lies with Reese Witherspoon, Nicole Kidman, Laura Dern and Meryl Streep; and the miniseries Catherine the Great starring Helen Mirren.
“None of the shows on the schedule in 2019, none are there just to fill hours. … They’re all from creators we think are great, they have something to say, they’re distinctive,” said Bloys. “We have the resources to do more, but we’re not lowering our standards to hit an hour count.”
Bloys now reports to former NBC Entertainment chairman Robert Greenblatt, who stepped into the newly created position of chairman of WarnerMedia Entertainment Group, with oversight of HBO and Turner entertainment.
WarnerMedia’s selection of a broadcast network executive signaled to the creative community its desire for more mainstream fare. Still, Greenblatt is known for his refined programming aesthetic: He produced Six Feet Under, one of HBO’s early hits. As president of entertainment at rival Showtime, he supervised such acclaimed shows as Dexter and Weeds. At NBC, Greenblatt led a revival with top-rated prime-time shows like This is Us.
Greenblatt and Bloys are charged with increasing the volume of shows as WarnerMedia prepares to launch a new streaming service later this year, which will draw content from Warner Bros. studio, HBO and Turner. HBO’s strategy has been to spend a long time developing a select few high-quality series that sweep awards shows, such as The Sopranos, Silicon Valley and Veep. Netflix’s tactic has instead been to churn out more frequent original content.
HBO doesn’t want to lose the millions of subscribers it’s gained since Game of Thrones began its reign. So executives are attempting to recreate the magic. There are currently four Game of Thrones-related projects in development, including one series starring Naomi Watts that will shoot its pilot in June, says Bloys.
“There’s no guarantee that the next Game of Thrones-themed series is going to be as successful as Game of Thrones,” said Paul Verna, principal analyst at media research company eMarketer. “In fact, it probably won’t be, but it doesn’t need to rise to the level of the original to continue sustaining the streaming service.”
HBO is betting that Game of Thrones with spin-offs that will keep eyes on HBO Go, the network’s streaming service. HBO currently has 142 million cable and streaming subscribers around the world, including 5 million streaming subscribers in the U.S. alone. That is dwarfed by Netflix’s 139 million subscribers.
It’s also expanding into genres of sci-fi and horror by signing up vaunted creators for new series, including J.J. Abrams, Joss Whedon and Jordan Peele.
And you can bet those deals will come with big budgets. HBO reportedly spent more than $10 million an episode on this final season of Game of Thrones. But it will need AT&T’s coffers to compete with Netflix’s expected $15 billion content budget this year.
“The good news is, people are coming to us saying, ‘Do what you do. Here’s money—go for it,’” says Bloys. “Our budgets increased a healthy amount.” He declined to specify exactly how much.
Bloys’ message to the talent community is unwavering. “We’re looking to do things with people we believe in that have something to say,” said Bloys. “We’re not afraid to spend money or take risks. We’re not looking to change the way we do business.”
Will HBO occupy the Iron Throne, in the face of challenges from ascendant rivals like Netflix and Amazon, and new entrants like Apple? That chapter hasn’t been written yet.
We may be finally arriving at the ultimate event of season 8 of Fortnite, the great excavation of Loot Lake. For weeks now, we have seen two “world events” happening. A helicopter landing at a dozen+ spots around the map, and three different dig sites where players have been asked to chip in and unearth a number of pits, hacking through lumps of dirt with hundreds of millions of HP.
Now, both of those events have combined. The Fortnite helicopter has landed at Loot Lake, and the entire area is now surrounded by a number of steamshovels that sure make it look like we are about to be asked to dig up the entire bottom of the lake.
This, of course, is the famed site of the cube explosion where Kevin disintegrated and became Cubehenge after an otherworldly butterfly cutscene. But we have seen the Cube dissolve into the expanse of an entire lake, back when this was a lake, so I don’t think it’s out of the question that we could see the return of the Cube in some way, which would link what we thought were two disparate storylines, the one started by the comet which led to the Visitor which led to the rocket which led to the Cube, and the one that began when the Ice King showed up with his floating fortress.
So far, all three dig sites have had different end results. The first one gave us a volcano vent. The second flooded the pit with lava. The third revealed a giant metal door in the floor. If we start digging up Loot Lake, it’s anyone’s guess what we could find there, although I have to believe that it probably has something to do with the arrival of Ruin, the Week 8 Discovery skin which we could uh, discovery somehow in this Loot Lake dig.
I’m not exactly sure how this will play out, but it seems like that at least a good chunk of Loot Lake will end up being filled by those breakable dirt patches that players will be asked to chop through. It has taken around a full day to dig out these other sites, so if Loot Lake becomes a much, much bigger site, maybe that could take…a full week of everyone working together? Possibly less, if it’s clear that this is “the big one” so more people could be encouraged to participate.
I am hesitant to bring up the eternal “we’re going to fight a world boss” theory, but…maybe? Fortnite players have expected some sort of world boss fight ever since this ability to track damage across all serves made its way into the game. And possibly even before that when we were seeing monster tracks on the ground as early as season 3. It is possible that we may dig up Ruin or a dragon or something and have to fight it at the end, but I have made this prediction a half dozen times now so I am hesitant to make it again. We’ll see, I guess.
Digging should commence in the next day or two. See you out there.