The 3 L’s of pop culture: Lil Nas x, LeBron James, and Levar Burton

Originally published on Sumner Newscow on July 30, 2021

Happy Friday. 2021 has already been a remarkable year for pop music and it’s clear that we’re on the cusp of the next wave of pop stars. And after getting (unfairly) booted from country music, one of the young artists cementing their names on that list is Lil Nas x.

Lil Nas x’s long-awaited single, Industry Baby, dropped early this week and it’s a well-coordinated attack on the critics who deride him as a one-hit-wonder. Before we talk about the song, let’s be clear: Lil Nas x hasn’t been a one-hit-wonder in years. Let’s look at the evidence:

  • Old Town Road, his first major release, redefined the entire (terrible) genre of pop-country and still holds the record for most time at the #1 spot on the Billboard top 100 list. It also earned him two Grammys
  • His second single, Panini, lost a step musically, but still reached #5 on Billboard and NPR titled their review of it: “Lil Nas x proves he’s not a one-hit-wonder”
  • Need I mention the lead single from his next album, Montero (Call me by your name), that had the entire country watching, whether in concern or enjoyment (I recommend the latter).
  • Lil Nas x followed the megahit with a deeply personal slow jam, Sun Goes Down, about his experience in the closet in high school. It also teed up the theme of his upcoming album about coming out and being a pop star.

Yet, even with four solid hits to his name, critics still claim that Lamar Montero Hill is simply the horse-song guy.

Industry Baby is about to live in the No. 1 spot for the next two or three months, however, so those same detractors should take Lil Nas x’s chorus to heart:

“You was never really rootin’ for me anyway
When I’m back up at the top I wanna hear you say
‘He don’t run from nothin’, dawg”

The song itself is incredible. It’s produced by Kanye West and Take a Daytrip, the same duo Lamar Hill collaborated with for five songs, including Call me by your name and Panini. The writing doesn’t simply take a backseat to the production, however. You need only to look at the first verse to know that, but I can’t publish any of those lyrics here.

But, as usual, when it comes to Lil Nas x, marketing is the real highlight of this record.

Back in March, the rapper/pop star created a few dozen pairs of “satan shoes” to promote the release of his new single. The shoes looked great and sold out in under a minute, but their real purpose was to create controversy and drum up free advertising for his album.

And, as most right-wing talking heads are, the outrage was overblown and immediate and lawsuits started rolling in (sorry, he probably won’t spend a dime to the assailants).

The video for Industry Baby is about Lil Nas x’s fictional incarceration (including a hilarious prelude) in the wake of the shoe controversy and his inevitable escape. Since Lil Nas x is gay and well aware that conservatives will decry his music no matter what he does, he decided to continue trolling.

Rather than pole slide to hell or give the devil a lap dance, this time Lil Nas x simply danced around (pretending to be) naked with other men (gasp!).

Could you see anything more promiscuous than a music video from 2001? No. Were there any visual sexual scenes? Of course, not. Was there any real nudity in the whole video? Yes, actually, but it was a woman’s butt that no one seems to mention when calling this video scandalous.

If the public outcry against this song was actually “for the kids” or about “sexually explicit content” the same people would get just as upset about any pop or rap music video in the last two decades. This is, and always was, about homophobia.

If you don’t think so, I invite you to tell on yourself in the comments below.

If you want something you should actually be upset about, however, look no further than Space Jam – A New Legacy (playing this weekend at the Wellington Regent).

This movie, led by my generation’s Michael Jordan, LeBron James, is more than just a terrible tile, however. It’s a chance for HBO Max to show off its extensive catalog of movies and TV shows.

The whole film played like a commercial where LeBron and friends visited the worlds (conveniently owned on one streaming platform for $12.99 a month) inhabited by Harry Potter, Game of Thrones, and King Kong. An occasional shout-out to a different book/TV show is fine, but Space Jam II beats the viewer over the head with it.

You can’t even watch the basketball game without noticing people from Clockwork Orange and other terrible characters to reference in a kids’ movie in the background. It can’t be overstated how much intellectual product placement is shoved in this cash grab.

The plot itself is pretty standard for Space Jam. Don Cheadle is an evil AI (horribly named Al G. Rhythm) who wants LeBron to play him for the fate of millions of people. Pair that with some funny Looney Toons and a B plot about accepting your kid and all their interests and you have yourself a movie.

Lebron, for his part, also put way more effort into his acting than Jordan ever could. Michael got the better movie, however, so we’ll call it a draw.

Finally, there’s a leading heir-apparent to the massive hole left by Alex Trebek on the set of America’s best game show, Jeopardy!.

Trebek died in November of last year and never retired, nor gave the show a chance to look for a successor despite knowing he had a short time left. This meant that the show had to string together a series of guest hosts, instead of employing a new permanent one.

Some have been decent like Anderson Cooper and Savannah Guthrie. Some have been…not so good, to put it lightly, like Aaron Rodgers and Dr. Oz. But all of that is over because we found the perfect man for the job in Levar Burton.

The Roots and Reading Rainbow star is a lifelong fan of the show and has been publicly campaigning for the job for over a decade. I can speak from experience (Reading Rainbow videos in elementary) when I say Burton has always held a scholarly and authoritative demeanor on the screen.

His run as host ends today, but if you don’t catch him live, recent Jeopardy! episodes are notoriously hard to stream so you may have to sign up for a Hulu+Live TV account.

When I was a kid, Levar Burton told me to “take a look inside a book,” but now I hope to hear him more often reading answers on TV’s best game.

Meme of the week

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