After months of build-up and publicity, Taylor Swift’s sixth studio album finally arrived on Friday. Will Gompertz was Ready For It.
We know Taylor Swift is shamelessly light-fingered when it comes to appropriating her musical influences. It’s one of her gifts, to take the best of the rest and make it her own.
She’s at it again on Reputation, so much so you could turn the listening of it into a parlour game this Christmas, playing spot the riff or reference.
The sharp-eared might think they can discern a Madonna inflection, a Lorde chord, or a Lily Allen phrase. Maybe even a Yazoo beat, a Billy Joel build, or Eminem’s syntax. Right Said Fred is in there for sure, as is – possibly – a nod to Laurie Anderson’s O Superman.
There are literary references too. Charles Dickens, F Scott Fitzgerald and – perhaps unknowingly – Kurt Vonnegut, all make fleeting appearances.
Swift and her producers Shellback, Max Martin and Jack Antonoff have blended them all together like masterchefs, serving up an album of perfectly formed, clinically produced, contemporary pop songs.
Catchy hooks, sing-a-long choruses, and an electro-synth driven dynamism underpin an album, which unusually and impressively, is greater than the sum of its parts.
All the songs are good – if simple. Some are great, such as Gorgeous.
But taken as a piece, as a cycle of songs that tell an overarching story of a singer-songwriter growing up, getting wise, and taking control of her life, it bears comparison to Adele’s 21 as a coming of age album by an artist giving full vent to her talents.
It’s still all about boys, of course. But there’s a refreshing bite to her lyrics. “I don’t regret it one bit because he had it coming,” she sings in her revenge song I Did Something Bad.
And, “I don’t like your little games… no, I don’t like you,” in the multi-persona Look What You Made Me Do, in which she announces the “old Taylor is dead”.
That’s not true. The old Taylor is alive and kicking.
She might drink a bit more, and swear occasionally, but a vulnerability remains, which is poignantly evident in Delicate, where she describes that tricky (delicate) time at the beginning of a new love affair where you don’t want to blow it by seeming to be overly keen. “Is it cool that I said that? / Is it chill that you’re in my head?”
Swift prides herself on her writing. She has said in the past that she sees herself as a lyrist first and singer second. And she is handy with a pen, but Bob Dylan she is not.
The clichés that crop up here and there jar, such as: “Why do you have to rain on my parade?” in the otherwise joyously caustic This is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things.
And the opening line of I Did Something Bad, which is: “I never trust a narcissist but they love me,” is delivered without any noticeable sense of irony.
So, there’s room to develop a sense of humour in Swift’s new provocatively arch incarnation.
But her voice is strong and textured, although too often concealed behind a veil of production. When it’s let loose, most noticeably in the stripped back New Year’s Day – the album’s final track – you hear a singer who can communicate feeling and thought with touching depth and sincerity.
Reputation, like Taylor Swift, is a product of its time. It’s an overtly commercial, well-targeted, highly professional piece of pop art.
And in that context, like one of those big shiny abstract sculptures that adorn cities around the world, it fits perfectly into our globalised landscape.
Why does Taylor Swift write so many one-note melodies?
Why Right Said Fred credited on Look What You Made Me Do
“He had a very dark presence and a dark charisma.”
Actress Hayley Atwell is talking about disgraced movie mogul Harvey Weinstein, whom she has met twice at public events. She counts herself “incredibly lucky” at never having been left alone with him.
“I don’t think he’s a sex addict – I think he’s a predator,” she says. “He harassed women and therefore he should be punished in the highest way the law offers.”
The 35-year-old, best known for her role as Peggy Carter in the Captain America films, also wants to set the record straight about being labelled a “fat pig” by Weinstein.
A story recently surfaced that the powerful producer told her over lunch, during the 2007 filming of Brideshead Revisited, that she looked like a “fat pig” on screen and ordered her to lose weight.
Her co-star, Emma Thompson, then allegedly reprimanded Weinstein telling him he was a misogynist and a bully, threatening to quit the film.
Atwell says that’s not the way things happened.
“I was asked how I would feel, given I’ve got a curvy body, about losing weight – because 1920s flapper girls did not look like that,” she explains.
“It was put to me in a delicate way, very discreetly, very subtly – by someone not related in any way to Harvey Weinstein.
“But the question was enough to anger Emma [Thompson] who said to me very clearly: ‘You are a very good actor. You are not a model. This is a very dangerous path if you start to succumb to the wishes of Hollywood to make you look a certain way. If they ask you again, not only will I walk off the set but I’ll take this issue to the press.’
“She was extraordinary about it.”
The actress, who is starring in a new BBC adaptation of Howards End, says she was “upset” about the term “fat pig” suddenly being bandied around in relation to her.
“No one has spoken to me rudely about my weight, ever,” she says. “And in fact, one of the least interesting things about any of the work I’ve done is how much I weigh.
“I find it another way of controlling women.”
‘You normalise it’
Atwell says she can’t remember having directly experienced sexual harassment at work.
But says she “can see that it happens”, adding she has “instinctively had a feeling of it” when she walks into a room of powerful men.
“I’ve been groped in the street a number of times. I’ve received lots of sexually explicit messages on Instagram and had drunk men at bars coming up to me. You normalise it.”
The actress views the allegations from women across various industries in the wake of the Harvey Weinstein scandal as an “exciting opportunity”.
“There is something quite extraordinary that’s happening now,” she says. “Everyone is talking about it and everyone’s addressing it.
“I think certainly people who have harassed women in the past are probably shaking in their boots because they are expecting to be exposed at any time.
“And that in itself is a potentially very exciting opportunity now to create a much, much safer working environment, especially for the next generation of young women coming up.”
Atwell adds it’s also about “teaching young women not to just accept it as the norm anymore – because that norm is changing.”
Atwell is starring in a new BBC adaptation of EM Forster’s Howards End, as the vivacious and headstrong Margaret Schlegel in turn-of-the-century Britain.
The four-part series is a colourful, vibrant portrayal of Edwardian society. The characters are dressed in bright reds and blues – rather than the muted colours you might typically see in a period drama.
Margaret and Helen Schlegel (Phillipa Couthard) feel modern and relatable – they really move around the screen, literally running around. The sisters speak over each other and squabble, as well as console each other, as families today would.
‘Humour and wit’
Atwell says they wanted to dispel the idea of women back then being “stiff-mannered” and “austere”.
She puts this misconception down to the fact that photographs took so long to take that everyone had to freeze.
“We managed to find an archive of action shots of Edwardian women,” Atwell explains. “They’re blurry but you can see them striding down the street – skirts swaying in the breeze, books and cigarettes in hand, laughing and knocking their heads back.
“They spoke like we do, they had movement, they had energy, they had a great sense of humour and wit.”
Equality of the sexes comes up as a strong theme in the series, with the Schlegel sisters striving for a more equal society. This is in direct opposition to matriarch Ruth Wilcox, who claims it’s best to “leave action and discussion to men”.
Despite this, it’s Mrs Wilcox who has the power in her family.
Atwell sees feminism both in Howards End and the here and now as a complex and contradictory matter.
Asked whether she classes herself as a feminist, she hesitates before vehemently declaring: “I am!”
“But I have to be clear about what my definition of feminism is,” she adds. “And feminism to me is not women, women, women – it’s equality between the sexes.”
Asked about whether she has experienced the negative effects of gender pay disparity, she muses: “I wouldn’t be surprised if I had been and not known it at the time.
“Before, I was too scared to find out. It’s not nice to find out you’ve been played or undermined or considered your contribution worth less because of your sex.”
It’s this pay gap, she decides, which is crucial to the overall attitude towards women in society.
“That then trickles down into social interaction, into how men and women can normalise the undermining of women, the stereotype of being a bimbo, of body-shaming women to still believe that they’re not enough until they are a size zero.”
It’s all part of a bigger picture where women are “still patronised and condescended to and spoken down to”, she believes.
So what’s the solution? Well, not “stamping feet and hating men” says Atwell, which she deems “childish, immature and reductive.”
Atwell says it’s about the “calling out of abuse of power when people see it”, and realising “it’s no longer acceptable to do certain things in the work place.”
It’s also having multi-faceted female roles on screen.
“I’d certainly love to see the women I come across in everyday life being better represented,” says Atwell.
And it’s the strong-willed, dynamic Margaret Schlegel roles in life which Atwell says influence younger generations of women to think “oh, that’s what I could do! Oh, that’s the part I could take!”
It’s unclear if she means in real life or on the screen. Then again, she could mean both.
Howards End begins on BBC One at 21:00 GMT on Sunday 12 November.
Othello is one of Shakespeare’s greatest roles – and next year, there will be a female Othello for the first time in a major modern British theatre.
Golda Rosheuvel will play the jealous Venetian army general at the Liverpool Everyman from April to July.
The production will tackle themes of gender and homophobia – with Othello in a gay relationship with Desdemona – as well as jealousy, race and power.
Director Gemma Bodinetz said that would make it “more alive” for modern crowds.
Othello, who’s known as The Moor, secretly marries a senator’s daughter and is the victim of a scheming revenge plot by Iago, a white soldier.
“I’m trying to get to the root of the electricity that the original audience would have felt about the dare of this play,” Bodinetz said.
“It began to feel quite electric for me that this woman was going to be in charge of so many men and so much testosterone.”
In her interpretation, Bodinetz said the “stress and strain and neurosis” of being a female general in a male-dominated army would have been playing on Othello for some time.
“The stress of being as good as a man felt very alive at the moment, actually,” the director said. “And sometimes I’ve felt it myself as a woman in a position of some authority.
“Not quite an army. There are always times I want to make sure nobody’s ever finding me wanting because of my gender, let alone my race – I don’t have to fight that particular battle.
“For me, it was really [about] cranking up the stakes for Othello and the neurotic environment in which she operates, in the most masculine of all worlds.”
Rosheuvel is an accomplished Shakespearean performer and no stranger to playing male parts – earlier this year, she was Mercutio in Romeo and Juliet at Shakespeare’s Globe. She was also Agnes in the 2016 film Lady Macbeth.
There have been no major productions with female Othellos in recent times, but they were not unknown in the 19th Century.
At the Queen’s Theatre in London in 1833, a Mrs Selby “enacted the part of the valiant Moor to the satisfaction of a numerous audience”, according to the London Courier and Evening Gazette.
And in 1856, Miss Percy Knowles “won golden opinions from all sorts of people” for her performance in the title role at the Royal Soho Theatre, The Times reported.
The new Liverpool production will be one of four shows in the second season of the Everyman’s revived repertory company.
Bodinetz was named best director at the UK Theatre Awards for successfully relaunching the rep company earlier this year.
The other productions in the 2018 season will be A Clockwork Orange, Paint Your Wagon and The Big I Am, a reworking of Peer Gynt by Liverpool playwright Robert Farquhar.
Reality TV – it’s got a reputation for being full of talentless, fame-hungry young people who want to make a quick buck rather than build a career.
But 2017 may be seen as the year that changed all that, thanks to the unexpected stars of shows like Love Island and The Only Way is Essex.
Feminism, mental health and positive body image are some of the big talking points that dominated this year’s reality shows and got the nation talking.
So as we slip on our sparkly dresses and head to ITV’s Gala in London, we take with us the question – did reality TV just become more intelligent?
The moment when bomb disposal expert Camilla Thurlow turned to business director Jonny Mitchell and asked the question “Shouldn’t we all be feminists? Surely you believe in equality?” may sound like an excerpt from a particularly heated debated on Woman’s Hour, but no, it happened in a villa in Ibiza, televised live on ITV2.
Thurlow, who has worked in Cambodia and Zimbabwe, ended a long stint in Afghanistan to take part in the show as a way of overcoming her “social barriers”.
She became an instant hit with viewers because of the way she handled herself on screen, using it as a platform to express her views on the Mediterranean refugee crisis and feminism, after she decided to stop dating Mitchell on the show after he told her he felt emasculated by women who wanted to pay their share on dates.
“I hope I’ve done justice to what is a very important topic,” Thurlow tells the BBC.
“Equality, fairness and justice are the things that are most important to me, so I wanted to know I’d respected the feminist movement. I hope I’ve helped people have that discussion.”
Thurlow and her now-boyfriend Jamie Jewitt were the runners up on this year’s Love Island. Calvin Klein model Jewitt also used his public profile for good by hosting a TED Talk on social media and how it affects the self esteem of young people.
“You get a good following going on a show like that, it gave me the opportunity to do the things I’ve always wanted. That wasn’t a post-Love Island decision, it’s just the way I wanted to do things in the first place. My TED talk came from spending years in the advertising industry,” he tells us.
Fellow star of the show Chris Hughes shares similar sentiments to Jewitt and uses his profile, which includes nearly two million Instagram followers, to talk about male mental health.
He carefully orchestrated a stunt online, which saw him pretend that water infused with his tears was going on sale in Topman.
It turned out to be part of a campaign for World Mental Health Day, in which he encouraged men to talk about their feelings at a time when male suicide is such a prevalent issue in the UK.
“I suffer from anxiety myself and the stunt was portraying the message that men should not bottle up their emotions and should speak out.
“So many don’t speak up and I want to encourage people to get the help they need and bring down the suicide rate in men across the UK, Hughes tells the BBC.
Barber Kem Cetinay and dancer Amber Davies were this year’s winners of Love Island, which brought in the biggest number of viewers ITV2 has ever had.
What was it that made it so successful? The pair think it’s because viewers could relate to what the Islanders were going through and became emotionally attached.
“There were heart-aching times for us in the villa and viewers developed a relationship with us,” Davies says.
“Me and Amber had so many ups and downs and people invested time in us. You want to see something real because everyone can relate,” Cetinay adds.
The prize for winning the show was £50,000, but you’d be naive for thinking its stars are in it for just the love.
Like any reality show, there is serious money to be made from advertising, club appearances and clothing collections, which were all on offer to Love Island contestants once they left the villa.
This new breed of stars likes to be more picky about what they choose to work on and Cetinay is one of them – he says he wants to have a proper career and has always had aspirations of creating his own haircare brand.
“People automatically assume you [want to make quick money]. I’m so passionate about my work, Amber’s the same and I love it. We’re always thinking what can we do next,” he says.
This is shared by fellow Love Island finalist, Olivia Attwood, who has created a fashion line for online retailer In the Style and expresses how building a brand is more important than making money for a short period of time.
“I’m being selective and thinking about the long-term plan. I’ve turned down deals that are tempting because of the money – my focus is staying in the industry long term rather than exhausting everything now.”
Someone who knows the importance of using reality TV as a platform for her businesses is The Only Way is Essex’s Lauren Pope, who is not only a DJ, but one of the show’s most successful entrepreneurs as owner of hair extension brand Hair Rehab London.
“I think being on TV opens you up to a bigger audience you never would have had without it. It just puts you on a platform where people know you exist and someone setting up a business without that backing may struggle,” she tells us.
Being a positive role model to women watching the show is also something she prioritises, along with co-star Chloe Sims, who regularly opens up about the struggle of being a single parent on the show.
“I wouldn’t have a salon if it wasn’t for TOWIE, but I think the success comes from us being normal people,” Sims adds.
“As a group of girls we all represent strong women on the show, especially me and Lauren as we don’t take crap from anyone and I think that’s a good message to give to people.”
“My proudest moment was when I invested in a leaf-blower,” she tells BBC News.
“I take great care of my garden, and I think there are moments in life when you realise you’re an adult, and one of those is when you buy your first leaf-blower from Argos.”
Successful leaf maintenance aside, Dotty (whose real name is Ashley Charles), has every reason to be in a good mood.
Last month’s radio listening figures (or Rajars, as they’re known in the industry), showed that the 1Xtra breakfast show she fronts now reaches 390,000 people every week – making her the most successful morning host in the station’s history.
“The Rajars were great news, it’s always an incredible vote of confidence to see statistically, in an industry-recognised metric system, that you’re doing well,” she says.
“But I think if you allow the praise to define you, then you’ll ultimately allow the criticism to diminish you.
“So I try not to focus too much on the Rajars. As incredible as the figures have been, I try to just make sure it’s business as usual.”
The 29-year-old is speaking to BBC News ahead of Thursday evening’s Student Radio Awards, which recognise upcoming broadcasting talent.
(Winning best male at the ceremony in 2006 put Greg James on Radio 1′s radar and led to a daytime presenting job.)
Dotty says her advice to anyone keen to get into radio presenting “would be to not try and emulate any broadcasters that have come before you”.
“I think there are some greats,” she says. “Terry Wogan was an incredible broadcaster. Scott Mills, if you ever want to learn how to be absolutely slick on radio, is a great example.
“But I think the most important thing about being a new broadcaster is you can learn from those people that have come before you, but you should always try to find your voice, and work out exactly where you fit in this growing industry.”
She goes on: “For me, when I first started on radio, I wasn’t trying to be like any other presenter. I wanted to be the anti-presenter.
“So where your traditional presenter would say, ‘wasn’t that a brilliant song’, I’d rather be the person that says, ‘well, that song is six out of 10′ – you know, just be honest. And I thought maybe my thing can be that I’m honest, and say what people are thinking.”
The formula seems to be working – as her breakfast show has just been extended to four hours, and now starts at 6am.
“When Blue Planet II ended on Sunday, it was bedtime,” she says of her new early starts.
“Before, I might have another half hour. But the new start time means I have to go to sleep slightly earlier, I can’t stay up past 9.30 at all.”
But on the plus side, she’s turned into a morning person.
“If you’d asked me a year ago, I would’ve said it’s dreadful waking up early,” she says.
“But I’ve been doing the 1Xtra breakfast show for just over a year now and I’ve really found my groove in that time. I used to be a bit of a night owl, but now I’m as perky as you like, so I can’t complain about the early mornings at all.”
Her year on the breakfast show has seen her interview so many high-profile figures that she struggles to pick just one highlight.
“Ooh, that’s a tough one,” she laughs. “Might be Denzel Washington. He’s certainly up there.
“It was incredible to speak to Ellen as well, she was a great interview.”
In her answer, Ellen said: “I don’t wake up in the morning and go, ‘I’m gay, let’s go’,” – before Dotty brilliantly cut in, joking: “I do. Every day, in the mirror.”
Now that Dotty has a more public platform, does she feel any such responsibility to the LGBT community herself?
“For me, what I’m particularly proud of is that I’m able to be a voice or a face that people may not have readily had when I was growing up,” she says.
“There wasn’t anyone really that I could look to and say, ‘that’s a person like me on the TV’, so for me the responsibility is in hopefully being a great role model to those people that didn’t necessarily have one from my walk of life.”
This weekend, Dotty will be co-hosting 1Xtra Live, which will see Bryson Tiller, J Hus, Donae’o and Stefflon Don take to the stage in Manchester.
Until 2012, it could easily have been A.Dot herself performing at such an event – she was a rapper before getting into radio.
But she says: “I haven’t done music for four years now, so for me I wake up every day and I’m a broadcaster, and I get to be a music fan again.
“When you’re making music, you’re very much in your own bubble, you’re having your studio sessions, and you’re focused on your music and your sound.
“Being a musician for all of those years made me the best version of a broadcaster that I can be, so I look at that as the prelude to where I am now.”
1Xtra Live will be broadcast live on BBC Radio 1, 1Xtra and Asian Network from 20:30-23:00 GMT on 11 November, and will be available on 1Xtra’s website and the BBC iPlayer.
Backstage at the BBC’s studios in Elstree, Sam Smith is wandering around in a silk kimono and ruby red stilettos.
“Babe, I don’t understand,” he complains down his phone. “They’re letting Fearne [Cotton] wear heels, so why can’t I wear heels?”
Don’t worry, he’s not gone full Mariah. It’s all in aid of a sketch for his TV special, Sam Smith at the BBC, which airs on Thursday.
In real life, the singer tries his best to remain humble.
“I don’t ask for puppies in my dressing room,” he laughs.
“But sometimes – and I’m really embarrassed about this – when they’re doing my make-up before I go onstage, people do up my laces for me.
“I hate it. I feel like a diva. A diva or a three-year-old.”
Still, there was a time after the phenomenal success of Smith’s debut album, In The Lonely Hour, when his head was turned by fame.
He was hanging out with Beyonce and Justin Timberlake at Taylor Swift’s 25th birthday party, and jetting off to Mexico for the world premiere of Spectre, the Bond film for which he wrote the Oscar-winning theme.
“I did get a bit… I wouldn’t say big-headed, but I was living in that scene way too much, and I needed to be brought back down to earth,” he says bashfully.
“There was one time when I wore a new pair of pants every day and threw all the old ones away. I got obsessed with wearing different pants every night.
“But that only lasted a month,” he says with a huge peal of laughter. “I rewear all my pants all the time now.”
Smith, it has to be said, is not the sad, fragile young man he’s often portrayed to be. Yes, his emotions run close to the surface, but he’s also funny, forthright and supremely ambitious.
“I want to play Wembley Stadium one day,” he declares, the suggestion being it’s inevitable, not some distant dream.
We speak on the day his second album, The Thrill Of It All, is released. Smith has just come back from a signing at HMV in Oxford Street, where he wasn’t mobbed so much as sobbed.
“The stories people were telling me: Oh my God! I was trying not to cry the whole time.”
“I forget sometimes just how intense the music is.”
The ‘dangerous’ second album
Smith’s second album has a lot to live up to. Its predecessor was the fastest-selling debut by a British male solo artist in US chart history; making the 25-year-old a four-time Grammy winner, with four UK number one singles and an Oscar to boot.
In interviews, he’s described the new album as “dangerous” – a description that seems at odds with its accessible, soul-searching ballads. So what did he mean?
“For me, it was dangerous because I couldn’t hear these songs on the radio,” he explains. “Just because of the climate of pop music right now. I don’t think my music fits that well.”
He’s wrong, of course. The album went silver in the space of three days, and it’s comfortably winning the race to be this week’s number one – on both sides of the Atlantic.
“The reception has been incredible. I’m just so shocked,” the star says.
Settling down in his record company’s boardroom, surrounded by his own gold discs, Smith delved into the album’s key tracks, revealing some of the secrets behind his latest love songs.
Too Good At Goodbyes
The album’s first track is also its first single; a gospel-inspired ballad in which Smith pushes his lover away to avoid getting his heart broken.
Key lyric: “I’m never gonna let you close to me / Even though you mean the most to me / ‘Cause every time I open up, it hurts.”
Sam says: “The relationship this song is about was kind of tumultuous. It ended a few times… but by the last time, I knew I’d be OK because I had a plan in place.
“That’s what the song is saying: Every time you’re hurting me, I’m crying less. I know I’m going to be OK because I’ve become too good at this now. I’ve done it before.
“So I’m actually not that good at goodbyes. I’m the worst! But I was trying to convince myself in this song.”
Sam tells the story of a boy in Mississippi coming out to his father. It was partly inspired by criticism that Smith didn’t use gender-specific pronouns like “he” and “him” on his first album.
Key lyric: “Don’t you try and tell me that God doesn’t care for us / It is him I love, it is him I love.”
Sam says: “I had an amazing coming out experience and I forgot, maybe, how tough it is for some people.
“But after the first album I realised I have a responsibility as a gay pop artist. It’s important for me to be a voice and hopefully inspire some young children that are living in the outskirts and have no way in.
“I’m a little bit nervous, I’m not going to lie, about singing Him in certain parts of America. But on the other hand, I can’t wait. I want to sing Him in Mississippi more than anything.”
Baby, You Make Me Crazy
Backed by Amy Winehouse’s old band, The Dap Kings, Sam sings about heading out on the town to shake his ex “out of my system”.
Key lyric: “I’m gonna have to call my sisters / Be around the ones who listen / Anything to drown you out tonight.”
Sam says: “That’s about the day I got dumped. I was sitting with my best friend and my sisters in the garden on the day it happened. He dumped me over the phone and I remember walking back into the house and saying, ‘It’s over’.
“And they just said to me: ‘Let’s forget about it for one night. Let’s go out and get absolutely blotto drunk and dance and try to forget about it all for one night – then tomorrow we can wake up and deal with it.”
The Thrill of It All
One of the best vocal performances on the album, the title track is a simple piano-and-strings ballad that finds Smith musing on the perils of fame.
Key lyric: “I regret that I told the world / That you were with me.”
Sam says: “I was in a relationship when I released In The Lonely Hour and I posted pictures of us on Instagram. I very quickly learned a lesson: I don’t want to be famous in that way. I just felt embarrassed.
“When the relationship ended, I was like, ‘Wow, I really messed that up by putting pressure on it when I shouldn’t have’.
“I’m in a relationship now [with 13 Reasons Why star Brandon Flynn] and people taking pictures and talking about [us] scares me. But it’s important to not avoid speaking about it because it adds more drama. It gives people a reason to dig.”
One Last Song
The whole of In The Lonely Hour was about a married man who Smith had an unrequited crush on. He’s left that far behind – but not before writing one final tribute.
Key lyric: “I know you don’t want to talk to me, so this is what I will do / Maybe you’re listening, so here’s one last song for you.”
Sam says: “Towards the end of the writing process, he started to slip back into my mind. But the song wasn’t about longing for him – I was just remembering my relationships and summing up the similarities between him and the guy who this record’s about.
“I think when you sing about love, you’re singing about every love you’ve ever had. Not just always about one person.
“So this is just like a final love song to him. He’s done so much for me, and he’s such an amazing person. I miss him.”
Sam Smith’s album is out now. His TV special, Sam Smith at the BBC, will be broadcast on Thursday at 20:00 GMT on BBC One.
Spacey’s career has nosedived since the first allegation of sexual advances were made by actor Anthony Rapp on 30 October.
US network Netflix has axed further production of Mr Spacey’s House of Cards drama, the International Academy of Television Arts and Sciences announced it would no longer give the actor a special Emmy award, and his agent and publicist dropped him as a client.
Rapp accused Spacey of trying to seduce him when he was aged 14.
In response to Mr Rapp’s claims, Mr Spacey said he had no memory of the incident and offered an apology.
Since then several others have come forward accusing him of predatory behaviour, including a woman who said Spacey had sexually assaulted her 18-year-old son last year.
Spacey’s representatives say he is seeking unspecified treatment.
Netflix’s hit show Stranger Things returned last week, bringing back its cast of monster-fighting kids.
They’ve had a lot of attention since the show started last year – not all of it welcome.
A furore has erupted after some of the young stars were sexualised in the press and social media, while others have experienced the glare of fame in everyday life.
As a result, one of the cast’s older stars came out to defend them, asking the media and public to respect how young they are.
Shannon Purser, who plays Barb in the series, responded to one Twitter user who criticised her co-star Finn Wolfhard after the 14-year-old failed to stop for photos outside his hotel and was branded “rude” by the user.
The model later apologised, saying in a statement to Teen Vogue that it was “never my intention (nor has it ever been) to sexualise a minor in any way shape or form”.
Purser’s comments from the weekend sparked a wider debate about the show’s young actors are portrayed.
One of the show’s teen stars, 13-year-old Millie Bobby Brown, has been listed as one of the reasons TV is “sexier than ever” by W magazine, among a group of much older actors including Nicole Kidman and James Franco.
If proof were needed that good friendships withstand the passage of time, look no further than actors Hugh Grant and Hugh Bonneville.
Almost 20 years after they starred together in Notting Hill, the two Hughs have reunited for the new Paddington movie – and both say the mutual affection hasn’t waned.
“When I first saw Bonneville, I threw him to the floor and tried to kiss him, which is what we used to do,” says Grant, who plays the film’s villain (Nicole Kidman’s role in the first film), washed-up actor Phoenix Buchanan.
“But he’s so old now, he put his back out. It cost us a couple of days filming.”
Given that Grant, 57, is four years Bonneville’s senior, there’s a whiff of a wind-up in the air.
It’s compounded by this curveball anecdote: “And he still does embroidery between takes.
“It’s charming. But he makes God-awful things. No idea what they’re for.”
Still, friendship and acceptance are of course central to Michael Bond’s Paddington stories – and director Paul King’s films.
At the heart of every tale, our ursine Peruvian hero struggles to navigate his way through a confusing world seemingly designed to trip him up. But he persists in seeing the best in everything and everyone.
“It was very touching for us and caused a bit of reflection,” says the actor, who returns as Mr Brown, head of Paddington’s surrogate family.
“We doubled our thoughts, efforts and wishes that this second film would do him justice.”
He adds that Bond’s wife Sue and daughter Karen have given the final cut their blessing.
This follow-up to King’s 2014 hit is as charming, funny and inventive as before – perhaps even more so.
Paddington is on a mission. He desperately wants a very special and expensive pop-up book of London for his beloved Aunt Lucy’s 100th birthday.
He takes to odd-jobbing to earn the pennies. Hairdressing is a disaster. Window cleaning proves ultimately to be a better bet.
But all falls apart when the book is stolen – by the dastardly cash-strapped Phoenix. Poor Paddington ends up in the frame and serving 10 years behind bars.
In this movie we see more of the Browns’ neighbours, played by some of the best British acting talent – including Joanna Lumley, Richard Ayoade, Dame Eileen Atkins, Jessica Hynes and Tom Conti.
“Everyone pops up,” says Bonneville. “I think Paul King went through his entire address book and they all wanted to join us.”
But as one of the film’s leads, newcomer Grant does more than just pop in and (with apologies to Paddington) he pretty much steals the show.
Phoenix is a glorious send-up of the stereotypical self-obsessed actor (with a touch of Grant’s self-mocking thrown in). Once famous and rich. Now over-the-hill and broke, yet hell-bent on making a comeback. (Get the tongue-in-cheek name.)
“I rejoiced in lampooning the crazy psychosis of every actor,” says Grant. “The incredible narcissism, self-love and insecurity. Deep down, that’s all acting is.
“I’ve always been equivocal about acting to say the least and I still am. It’s torture really. The insecurity is unbearable. The fear of failing.
“Even Ben Whishaw [who voices Paddington] asked which part of the job I enjoyed. I said, ‘None of it really,’ and he said, ‘No, nor me!’”
But there is huge fun to be had by both Grant and the audience as Phoenix adopts a range of zany disguises.
And where Bonneville dressed up as a cleaning lady in Paddington 1, it’s Grant’s turn to take on the female clothes – as a nun.
And, boy, did Grant enjoy it – or is that a wind-up bell we hear again?
“Loved it – I used to do a lot at my all-boys school where I took the girl parts in plays,” says Grant.
“I was a late developer, with the least beard, quite pretty and with the right kind of eyelashes.
“I was particularly good as Brigitta Von Trapp in The Sound of Music.”
Grant’s career seems to be undergoing a bit of renaissance (Phoenix again, but this time true). After the oft-berated rom-coms, then a range of minor roles, it was 2016′s Florence Foster Jenkins that marked a turnaround.
The wider range of roles is one of the few benefits of age, says Grant.
“You stop being offered the romantic leads. They’re difficult to do without being dull or naff. So when you start getting offered roles that are more nuanced and with darker notes and more colour, it’s a relief.”
Age is an issue for Bonneville too. Onscreen, Mr Brown is going through a mid-life crisis. Off-screen, Bonneville says he knows how his character feels.
“He believes his life is falling apart, he’s missed out on a promotion, he’s unfit and going grey and he turns to an extreme form of yoga as a remedy.
“I can certainly relate to some of that. Not the yoga, but the rest – tick, tick, tick!”
After six years of Downton Abbey, three years of sitcoms W1A and Rev and films including the recent Breathe, Bonneville is never far from the public’s psyche. It’s something the actor knows all too well.
“I’ve deliberately had a very quiet year as I was getting sick of seeing myself around,” says Bonneville. “Downton was wonderful but we were all aware of being in everyone’s faces so it’s nice just to be quiet.”
It’s easy to get distracted by her celebrity, but Taylor Swift is a once-in-a-generation songwriter.
From the very beginning, she’s displayed a knack for melody and storytelling that most artists never master.
Take, for example, her first US number one, Our Song.
Written for a high school talent show, it’s a fairly typical tale of teenage romance until the final lines: “I grabbed a pen / And an old napkin / And I wrote down our song.”
That’s smart, self-assured songwriting for someone who wasn’t old enough to vote. Notably, the lyrics insert the musician directly into the narrative – something she developed into a tried and tested trope.
But Our Song also establishes another of Taylor’s trademarks: The one-note melody.
These static vocal lines, where she sings at one pitch for a sustained period, crop up on all of her her albums – and increase in frequency when she switches lanes from country to pop.
You can hear it on all four songs she’s released ahead of her new record, Reputation, which comes out this Friday. It’s most apparent on the lead single, Look What You Made Me Do, where the entire chorus is delivered in a sinister monotone.
But it’s less of a cop-out than you might think, and here’s why.
Taylor Swift’s career is built on being accessible. She might have 10 Grammy awards, but she recently invited loyal fans to an album playback at her oceanfront mansion in Rhode Island. In 2008, when she was 18 years old, she accompanied another fan, Whit Wright, to his prom in Alabama. She regularly delivers handwritten notes and gift packages to her Instagram followers.
Repetitive melodies that centre around a single note are part of that appeal. They emphasise her relatability by mimicking the cadence of speech.
It helps that her lyrics are effortlessly conversational and vernacular. “We are never, ever getting back together” is a clumsy song title but it makes perfect sense in Taylor’s brand of teen-speak. The impression is that you’re hanging out with a friend, chatting about boys (and it’s almost always about boys).
Taylor uses the device most often in verses, shifting the chords beneath her voice to give the melody a sense of movement, in the same way that moving a light around the room casts different shadows.
When the chorus soars up the musical scale, it’s like a rush of energy. The emotional highs become even higher. And, as I am not the first to point out, she has a flair for melodrama.
Taylor didn’t invent these one-note melodies, of course. Gregorian chant, one of the earliest recorded forms of Western music, was predominantly monotone.
“A lot of that had to do with understanding the text – because this is religious text and they want people to understand the words that they’re singing,” said musicologist Scott Interrante in a podcast on the phenomenon of one-note melodies.
“That’s important to think about in our modern pop songs,” he added. “It might have a lot to do with the words”.
Let’s scrub out the word “might”. Taylor really, really wants us to pay attention to her lyrics.
“I wouldn’t be a singer if I weren’t a songwriter,” she told Billboard in 2014. “I have no interest in singing someone else’s words.”
If you believe the tabloids, she spends most of her time warbling about famous ex-boyfriends and feuds with fellow pop stars – but if you pay attention, Swift’s catalogue is full of deft lyrical minutiae.
In fact, she has the rare ability to tell a whole story in the space of a sentence:
“She wears short skirts / I wear t-shirts / She’s cheer captain / And I’m on the bleachers” (You Belong With Me)
“We’re dancing round the kitchen in the refrigerator light” (All Too Well)
“Darling, I’m a nightmare dressed like a daydream” (Blank Space)
“Remember when you hit the brakes too soon? / Twenty stitches in a hospital room” (Out Of The Woods)
That last one is particularly interesting. The car accident was real, and Taylor sings the (one-note) melody with uncommon urgency over a turbulent backing track.
“I put it in the song knowing it was an evocative lyric,” she told NPR in 2014. “And it was almost like this very strange, subtle clue to the media that they don’t know everything that happened in that relationship, and they don’t know everything that happens in my life, and I can have something really major and traumatic happen to me and they don’t know about it.”
The target here is Kanye West, who stage-crashed her acceptance speech at the 2009 MTV Video Music Awards and has dogged her career ever since.
“I don’t like your wicked games,” she spits, “The role you made me play / Of the fool / No, I don’t like you.”
Her delivery is clipped and defensive. The conversational tone is replaced by a threat. (Incidentally, that’s probably why the song took such a battering in the media: Bitter Taylor isn’t as appealing as unlucky-in-love-but-shaking-it-off Taylor.)
Another of Taylor’s key traits is to shout key lines for emphasis: “We never go OUT OF STYLE”; “Are we in the clear yet, IN THE CLEAR YET? GOOD!”; “All you had to do was STAY (STAY) STAY (STAY)”.
Again, she’s using rhetorical tricks to drive home her point – and by doing so, she’s taking her place in the pop pantheon.
Songwriters like John Lennon and Morrissey, who place equal emphasis on their lyrics, also tend to utilise one-note melodies. And then there’s rap, whose rhythmic ebb and flow exerts an increasingly strong gravitational pull on pop writers.
None of this is to suggest that Taylor is incapable of writing a melody. Of her new tracks, the love song Gorgeous is both the most heartfelt and the most traditionally “songy”.
But her masterpiece is a song called Ronan – a little-known charity single, released in 2012. It was written about Ronan Thompson, a four-year-old boy who died of a rare form of cancer.
After reading a blog written by the boy’s mother, Maya Thompson, Taylor turned her words into a song: “I remember your bare feet, down the hallway / I remember your little laugh / Race cars on the kitchen floor, plastic dinosaurs / I love you to the moon and back.”
In other hands, it could have been saccharine and exploitative. It isn’t. Taylor’s delicate delivery, and the sorrowful contours of her melody are simply devastating.
If you ever had any doubts, Ronan settles it: Taylor Swift is anything but a one-note pop star.