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Culture cheat sheet: Mr. Rogers, The 1975, and more

Feb. 24, 2020
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Watch: A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood (2019, dir. Marielle Heller)

As someone who didn’t grow up with Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, this quaint and soft-spoken look at his impact on others was the perfect introduction. This isn’t a biopic of Rogers as much as it is a character study of the fictional Lloyd Vogel, who was based on Tom Junod—the writer behind the Esquire cover story that inspired the movie. And somehow this fact makes it better—with Rogers’ reputation of flipping the script and interviewing anyone who tries to interview him, the best way to get to know Mister Rogers is through his relationship with others.

Heller continues her string of masterfully crafted biographies, directing with the same heart as we saw in previous projects like The Diary of a Teenage Girl, based on Phoebe Glockner’s semi-autobiographical novel, and Can You Ever Forgive Me?, about celebrity-letter forger Lee Israel. She has the ability to capture a person’s essence holistically and translate it on screen; but being an actor’s director, her films’ greatest strengths are always the performances. Tom Hanks carries this whole movie and in every soft bit of dialogue infuses a visceral warmth, projecting an aura of empathy caught perfectly by Heller’s camera.

The storyline flows seamlessly from TV sets to the real world, showing how Mister Rogers’ compassion transcends the four corners of the screen. The film’s strongest point is consequently the first scene where Heller asserts her creative license: Rogers is trying to dissipate Vogel’s anger in a diner, and in a minute of silence the camera zeroes in on him and he looks directly at the camera, as if trying to make the audience’s anger disappear as well. (It works.)

I saw this film in the worst circumstance, which, abiding by Mister Rogers’ philosophy, is also probably the best circumstance. Watch when you’re in need of earth-shattering kindness—which is always. 

Listen: “The Birthday Party” by The 1975

No one hates the internet more than anyone whose very livelihood is fueled by it. Dubbed “millennials damaged by the Internet,” The 1975 continue their social media-themed introspection from 2018’s A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships with their latest single, “The Birthday Party.”

Prior to its release, the song was promoted through mindshower, a site the band released which endorsed a “digital detox.” This was fleshed out in the music video, where mindshower was introduced as a virtual rehabilitation center for an internet-addicted, animated Matty Healy. What followed was an onslaught of memes, old and new, some passing by so quickly you’d miss them if you blinked. 

The 1975 are notorious for being fatalistically self-aware, so their work always operates within a social consciousness that cannot be unstitched from its current social and cultural context. The video, jam-packed with references only understandable to someone who devotes their time to the hellhole that is the internet, mimics what frontman Healy feels about how we consume information online. “We just believe we should be able to deal with this much content and stay normal,” he told Dazed“Reality is chaos so if you create an algorithm that keeps you informed on as much of the chaos as possible from the second you get up to when you go to bed, I’m not surprised we think the world’s going to end.”

As for its title, Healy said: “I was gonna do a song that was like, ‘What it was like to be at a house party at 20, 25, and 29?’ But then I realized I don’t need to do it, I just need to do what it’s like now, because my career has been what it’s been like to be at a house party at 20, 25, and 29.” 

With a softer melody that calls back earlier songs like “By Your Side,” “The Birthday Party” contrasts the much louder singles that preceded it—albeit still possessing the touch of dystopia that’s informed much of the band’s recent offerings. After all, if you spend all that time on the internet, everything you do feels a little dystopian. 

Listen: “Butterflies” by CRAY

Bedroom pop finds its newest darling in CRAY, whose follow-up to her EP seasons change and so do i is a scary, romantic Valentine anthem about liking someone so much you want to bite their head off. Accompanied by a visual that looks like one of your Pinterest boards come alive, “Butterflies” is three minutes of pure earworm, fusing together the hook of pop and the danceability of electronic. According to her, “Writing ‘Butterflies’ was probably the most fun I’ve had in the studio in a long time. I feel like I’ve finally found my sound so it came pretty naturally for this record.”

CRAY amassed a following via her growing Twitch livestream in which she tests out DJ sets and original alt-pop music. In 2019 she performed at Lollapalooza, first on her own then in collaboration with gamer Ninja in a special gaming activation. She’ll be on tour with Swedish production duo NOTD throughout Europe next month. With her penchant for reinventing her sound and mixing genres, she’ll soon be making waves outside the indie scene—best to add her to your playlists now.