More stories

  • in

    Why ‘The Golden Bachelor’ Terrifies Me

    Television celebrates older people — but only for seeming like sexy young ones.In the first episode of ABC’s “The Golden Bachelor” — the new 60-plus addition to the decades-old “Bachelor” franchise — Gerry Turner, 72, puts in his hearing aids, dons a tuxedo and cries within the first three minutes of airtime. Gerry, our Golden Bachelor, has been widowed for six years. His wife, Toni, died suddenly, of an infection, and in describing her passing he cannot contain his grief. We see photos of their lives together, from young marrieds to parents, from middle-aged partners to retirees enjoying themselves on a boat. Gerry is uncommonly slim and good-looking and seems to have been so throughout these various life stages. Toni, whose age is not specified, ages less magically. Her waist and eyeglasses thicken, as these things tend to. Clearly these changes did not dampen Gerry’s adoration. The type of tears he sheds on camera over her passing reveal what looks like a deep and enduring love — the thing every contestant on the set of “The Golden Bachelor” is now competing to find with him.Like the original, “The Golden Bachelor” presents around two dozen women, all vying for lasting happiness through marriage to a single, eligible catch. Other than the fact that contestants range in age from 60 to 75, the formula is familiar. Like “The Bachelor,” the season aims to end with a proposal. Like “The Bachelor,” most action takes place in a mansion full of bunk beds. Like “The Bachelor,” the contestants are typically lithe, sexy and hyperactive; some wear stilettos to breakfast, along with tube tops and hot pants and all manner of plunging décolletage; there are boobs everywhere, often huge ones. As the contestants emerge from their limousines, one by one, near the start of the first episode, making grand entrances with their mermaid hair and Pilates abs and buns of steel and snatched cheekbones and pneumatic-looking lips, often all over Gerry within minutes, a truth seems to dawn on the septuagenarian widower: Older women are not what they used to be. They are nothing at all like what they used to be. As if to underline this point, one of the contestants emerges from her limo with curler-set gray hair, baggy dress and walker — only to rip the whole kit off, fling the walker onto the paving stones and reveal her true self. This is Leslie, a 64-year-old dancer and former aerobics champion in a tiny lace corseted minidress. Leslie looks about 40 and acts even younger. The show, of course, is fun to watch. Many of the women are beautiful and spirited and accomplished. Gerry seems like a lovely man. Still, there is something here that sends a chill down my spine. The show has received glowing coverage from predictable corners (USA Today) and scored huge ratings for ABC. But is any of this actually good? For older people? Or even for younger people? I mean, this is “The Bachelor,” a mainstay of reality TV — a certain amount of desperation and superficiality is built into the DNA of the genre. But plunging older people into this context and then valorizing them because, perhaps with some nipping and tucking, they can just about fit? This feels more like a denigration of aging. Some of these people have been on Earth for 75 years. Here is an opportunity for them to demonstrate that life, comfortingly, has many chapters — that there is always change and that this change is not only natural, but good. Instead, we get a tight-and-toned show in which success involves being able to repeat Chapter 3 for as long as possible. This version of freedom has nothing to do with wisdom or respite, with taking stock or giving back or the hard-won succor of age. It is about working extremely hard to remain the same as you were when you were younger (or maybe even more fabulously youthy), especially if that youthful you was wont to grind barelegged to “Don’t Stop Believin’” in a tinsel handkerchief dress.A state of nubile teenagehood already coats the age spectrum, from 8-year-olds with gel nails on Snapchat to middle-aged dads in hoodies on longboards. Now it is creeping ever further up the life span. Martha Stewart expanded from her cardigans and sheet-pan suppers to moue on TikTok and chitchat on talk shows about how she should date Pete Davidson. Madonna accuses critics of ageism as she rids her face and body of signs of time, to the point of looking like a different person. The idea of not aging is not only normalized but treated as an accomplishment. No surprise, then, that one “Golden Bachelor” contestant shows up on a motorcycle or that another, age 70, flashes Gerry her “birthday suit” upon meeting him or that everyone stays up all night dancing in skyscraper heels, apparently bunion- and sciatica-free. Other than the odd passing remark about “ear candy” (code for hearing aids) or taking the bed nearest to the bathroom, this show — sold as a showcase for how fabulous and free growing old can be, and how “it’s never too late” to find love — actually negates aging, erases lateness. More than 10,000 baby boomers turn 65 in America every day; by 2034, there will be more Americans over age 65 than children. What we are being told is that they will be vital and relevant mostly insofar as they have maintained arms like Jessica Biel and off-the-chart libidos.A couple of weeks ago, I watched a few episodes of the 1980s sitcom “The Golden Girls” with my daughters. Like any other woman of 50 who knows how old those mostly gray-haired characters were supposed to be — at the start of the series, Blanche, Dorothy and Rose were in their early 50s — I experienced some cognitive dissonance. “Do they seem like they are the same age as me?” I asked my 11-year-old. No, she said. They seemed “more comfortable, like grandmothers used to.”Odd, but true: The kind of aging depicted on “The Golden Bachelor” is itchy and awkward. We hear a contestant say it’s nice to see older women enjoy how they feel in their skin; we hear contestants say they are breaking stereotypes of what it means to be old. But what good is that when those stereotypes are instantly replaced with “Girls Gone Wild” stereotypes about what it means to still be young? In Episode 1, after most of the contestants have sashayed into the mansion, another woman emerges. She is 84. She is wearing a nice blouse and forgiving trousers and flat shoes, like a normal person in her 80s. She says she is Jimmy Kimmel’s aunt — Aunt Chippy, as featured on his show — and she just wanted to meet Gerry, as she was sure he was lying about his age. The gag is that she is not really in the game, because she is old. Sitting with the other women in the mansion, she says: “I don’t belong here. Those ladies are really something. Look at this one. I’m in the wrong place.” She is later caught napping; at least one person here is comfortable with where she finds herself.But of course, Chippy leaves the set. I imagine her going home, making coffee, putting her feet up and calling a grandkid or an old friend to talk about the truly weird day she had, and how — thank God — she doesn’t need to be like that anymore, with the hair and the boobs and the sex. Because she was already young once, and even then it was exhausting, and now? She can’t even imagine.Source photographs for illustration above: Brian Bowen Smith/ABC; Ricky Middlesworth/ABC; Rosemary Calvert/Getty Images; Jonathan Knowles/Getty Images. More

  • in

    As Movie Theaters Embrace Swift, One Showcases Her Exes

    In addition to “Taylor Swift: The Eras Tour,” a Milwaukee theater is programming films that feature some of her starry boyfriends.Like movie theaters across the country that are facing the fallout of an actors’ strike and the shift to streaming, the Oriental Theater in Milwaukee was quite pleased to have Taylor Swift’s concert film coming to its screens.But “Taylor Swift: The Eras Tour,” which has been a box office rainmaker, comes with an unconventional stipulation: Theaters may only show it Thursdays through Sundays, said Cara Ogburn, the artistic director of Milwaukee Film, which runs the Oriental Theater.So what to do, she wondered, on the other three days of the week?“What if we show all Jake Gyllenhaal movies,” Ogburn suggested offhandedly, initially as a joke. “True counterprogramming.”The idea quickly expanded. The team’s resident Swiftie assured leadership that the theater would not be canceled for a lineup based on the pop star’s famous exes. Then staff members selected qualifying films that also had Halloween-adjacent themes.Starting next week, the three-screen art-house theater will show the original “Twilight” (Taylor Lautner, a.k.a. the werewolf Jacob Black), “Dunkirk” (Harry Styles, a.k.a. One Direction heartthrob turned nondescript World War II soldier), “Crimson Peak” (Tom Hiddleston, a.k.a. a pre-Loki baronet) and, yes, a lot of Gyllenhaal.There’s “Zodiac” on Tuesday.“Enemy” plays on Oct. 29, followed the next night by “Nocturnal Animals.”Then, on Halloween, comes “Donnie Darko.”It may be true that Swift’s songbook is only “minimally about romantic love,” as Taffy Brodesser-Akner recently observed in The New York Times Magazine. But Swift is well aware of the way she has been caricatured for having, as she puts it in “Blank Space,” a long list of ex-lovers who will say she is insane.“We were surprised to discover how many boyfriends she has had who have been in movies,” Ogburn said of Swift, who was connected to Lautner in 2009, Gyllenhaal in 2010, Styles in 2012 and Hiddleston in 2016. (Recently, she has been seen with the N.F.L. player Travis Kelce.)“Then we whittled it down to — what is a good movie?” Ogburn said. Finally, she said, the team had to consider what films it could actually get the rights to show.Independent movie theaters that show more than blockbusters often target specific fan bases. In the same month that the Oriental Theater has organized and branded “The Exes Tour,” it is hosting the Milwaukee Muslim Film Festival and showing older horror favorites and current Oscar contenders like Martin Scorsese’s “Killers of the Flower Moon.”But the most vocal crowds are expected for Swift’s concert film, which in many places has become a glitter-filled, Eras-inspired mega event. She has encouraged viewers to treat the outings like the many concerts that captivated fans this year, urging the exchange of friendship bracelets and dancing to the songs that Swifties know by heart.The desire for packed theaters and a concertlike atmosphere might help explain the unique scheduling requirements for “Taylor Swift: The Eras Tour,” which collected nearly $93 million domestically in its first weekend. It also has standardized symbolic ticket prices: $19.89 for general admission and $13.13 for everyone else.Ogburn, whose team created a special drink menu for the movie’s run (red wine, for instance, became simply “Red”), said she had not fielded complaints about movie theater etiquette. “We’re kind of into enthusiastic moviegoing,” she said. “A little applauding like you’re at a concert is nothing we can’t handle.”She did wonder whether there would be a less kind reaction to “Donnie Darko,” a 2001 cult classic in which Gyllenhaal’s disturbed character encounters a life-size rabbit.“Will we get Swifties booing?” she asked. More

  • in

    ‘Too Young for Me!’: A Senior Center Watches ‘The Golden Bachelor’

    The commentary was sharp and the drinks were virgin at a watch party for the new dating show featuring singles between 60 and 75.After Zumba class wrapped up at the Oakland Senior Center on Friday, regulars gathered around a projector screen with mocktails and plates piled with cheese and crackers to watch the premiere of “The Golden Bachelor,” the reality franchise’s latest spin on its dating show formula.“I haven’t been a bachelor in 55 and a half years,” said John Nicolaysen, 88, one of the two dozen viewers gathered in this leafy New Jersey suburb. He wore his age proudly on a baseball cap: “Est. 1935.”The new show features daters in their 60s and 70s, centering on a mild-mannered 72-year-old man from Indiana named Gerry Turner, who is looking for love again after his wife died several years ago. Eager to generate buzz around the spinoff, ABC has helped to facilitate watch parties at retirement homes around the country, targeting a television audience — people over 60 — that has effectively become the core constituency for broadcast networks.This watch party, however, was homegrown.“I just fell in love with his laugh — and his blue eyes,” one senior center visitor said of Gerry Turner, 72, the show’s star. Craig Sjodin/ABCAs the center’s director, Arielle Preciado, arranged chairs for the incoming audience, she recalled the disapproval of some regulars when she screened a movie about 20-somethings falling in love. “Everybody was like, ‘No one wants to watch our grandchildren getting together!’” Preciado said.So when chatter about “The Golden Bachelor” reached her social media feeds, Preciado decided to organize a viewing in Oakland, where members of the Greatest Generation flocked to after World War II. The senior center now sees a few hundred visitors a week, offering exercise classes and free activities such as Mahjong and knitting.After attending the morning Zumba class on Friday, three girlfriends who met at the senior center more than a decade ago returned to the building for the 2 p.m. “Golden Bachelor” screening. (The premiere aired on ABC the previous night.)Their take on Turner, whose bronzed image has been plastered across billboards, buses and commercial breaks for weeks?“He’s too young for me!” Joanne Craw, 78, said.“Well, he’s right up my alley,” her friend Toni Pflugh, 68, replied. “Except I have a husband.”“I do, too,” their friend Chris Lill, 73, said, joking, “but we’re ready for a change after 50 years.”A scene of Turner putting in hearing aids was a relatable moment for some viewers.Krista Schlueter for The New York TimesPflugh, once a devoted “Bachelor” viewer who fell out of the habit after getting tired of what she considered a lack of realism, hoped that this version would be different.As a beaming Turner greeted a cast of hopefuls in the premiere episode, the senior center crowd tittered at attention-getting strategies like riding up to the Bachelor Mansion on a motorcycle, groaning at the franchise’s wink-wink, nudge-nudge innuendo.The group of friends offered guesses on which women had “had work done,” while others simply watched silently. The room broke into gasps and cheers when one of the contestants shared that she was from Teaneck, N.J., a short drive down the highway.“She’s only 60, she’s a baby!” Pflugh called out as one contestant stepped out of a limo in a shimmering golden gown.“I need alcohol,” cut in Craw as she ventured out to the snack table.(She was joking: The senior center does not serve alcohol, so the best Craw could do was an “Orchard Spritzer,” a mixture of pear juice and sparkling white grape juice.)The watch party’s refreshments were nonalcoholic.Krista Schlueter for The New York TimesAs the episode concluded with a preview of a season of flirtation, heartbreak and a heavy dose of messaging around aging and female empowerment, the reviews trickled in.“Not my cup of tea,” Nicolaysen said, though he found seeing Turner putting on hearing aids while getting ready relatable. He was certain his wife would ask him to turn it off at home.“I think reality TV is the downfall of civilization,” offered Vicki Wyan, 69, as her group of friends debated how “real” this reality show actually is.Linda Arns, 78, was far more charmed. “I just fell in love with his laugh — and his blue eyes,” she said of Turner.It was an innocent crush: Arns has been with her husband for more than 50 years. But she offered Turner some advice in case he decided to be married again: “Love is blind, but marriage is an eye-opener,” she said.“I think reality TV is the downfall of civilization,” said Vicki Wyan, 69.Krista Schlueter for The New York TimesABC’s efforts to capture audiences are off to a decent start, with 4.4 million viewers watching the show the day it premiered, according to data from Nielsen.Not all of the singles at Oakland Senior Center bought its message, though. Sure, a “second chance at love” is good for some people, but what if their era of dating is simply over?“I couldn’t do it again; I had the best, so I really couldn’t do it again,” said Ann Bernhard, 84, who has been visiting the senior center since shortly after her husband died more than 20 years ago.Another widow, Marilu Irizarry, 78, was also thoroughly uninterested in joining the population of older single women searching for love — either on television or in real life.“I don’t know,” she said, looking around at the other women sitting at her table. “Maybe just a good friendship.”John Koblin More

  • in

    On ‘Golden Bachelor,’ Looking for Love and a Pickleball Partner

    The latest “Bachelor” spinoff stars singles who are 60 and older, a largely ignored demographic in the ever-growing world of dating shows.Drivers in Los Angeles heading north on La Cienega Boulevard these days might notice a bronzed gentleman smiling down at them from billboards poised on either side of the street.He is Gerry Turner, an Indiana retiree who used to work in the food distribution industry. But as one of the billboards explains, those were not the qualifications that led to his becoming the star of the newest “Bachelor” spinoff.“He’s hot. He’s sexy. He’s 72.”The appraisal was taken from a recent headline about Turner, who as the first “Golden Bachelor” is the center of a new spin on the franchise that features singles 60 and older.“This is certainly the first time in a ‘Bachelor’ campaign that we used a quote from AARP in our billboards,” said Shannon Ryan, who oversees the show’s marketing.That “The Bachelor” is trying a slight variation on a tested formula is no revelation. The show’s myriad spinoffs have included “The Bachelorette,” “Bachelor in Paradise,” “The Bachelor” in Canada, “The Bachelor” in wintry weather, “The Bachelor” with a cash prize, and “The Bachelor” featuring people who work in the music industry.But in all of those variations on the theme, most of the eligible singles have been young, fresh-faced 20- or 30-somethings looking to marry for the first time. In “The Golden Bachelor,” which premieres on Thursday, the nearly two dozen women vying for Turner’s attention are between 60 and 75 and include divorcées, widows, mothers and grandmothers.Sitting in the show’s Mediterranean-style mansion in Agoura Hills, Calif., last month, a few hours before an evening of filming began, Bennett Graebner, one of the showrunners, recalled the new cast’s giddy introduction to the lavish home, with its infinity pool and Jacuzzis that look out onto the tree-dotted hills.At first, he said, the contestants’ reactions were similar to the ones he has seen over his 15 years as a producer for “The Bachelor.”“They ran around and looked at their bedrooms and yelled off the balcony, and we said, ‘OK, this feels like “The Bachelor,”’” Graebner said. “And they came down to the kitchen and had mimosas and they were doing toasts, and we said, ‘OK, this feels like “The Bachelor.”’”“And then,” he went on, “one woman said, ‘Let’s toast to Social Security!’”He hadn’t heard that one before.With “The Golden Bachelor,” ABC is recognizing that a core segment of its audience — the network’s median viewer age is 64 — has thus far been largely ignored in the ever-growing array of dating shows. (The median age drops to 42 for ABC shows streaming on Hulu.)In recent years, some programs have experimented with older participants, though not on this level and not with much success.In Netflix’s “Dating Around,” Leonard, a 70-year-old private investigator, became a fan favorite.NetflixIn “Dating Around,” Netflix’s first original dating series, which had its debut the year before “Love Is Blind” became a global phenomenon, the fan favorite was Leonard, a 70-year-old private investigator. On his dinner dates, he reminisced about doing LSD in his younger years and danced the Lindy Hop with one woman on the sidewalk.Last year, executive producers behind the popular dating show “Love Island” introduced a new show called “My Mom, Your Dad” on HBO Max, in which college-age adults watched their parents dating each other from a secret viewing room. The show didn’t last long, but an adaptation in Britain called “My Mum, Your Dad” just had its finale.And then there’s “MILF Manor” on TLC, in which eight mothers in their 40s, 50s and 60s found themselves at a Mexican hotel in a dating pool that consisted of their adult sons.Howard Lee, the president of TLC, said that “MILF Manor” intrigued the network because of its age bracket, which stuck out from the deluge of dating show pitches he gets featuring people in their 20s and 30s.“For the first time, this was a series that didn’t go in that direction,” he said. “MILF Manor” had a viral moment on social media — partly driven by its similarity to a “30 Rock” gag — but it is not yet clear whether it will get a second season.With “The Golden Bachelor,” in which the participants are as young as 60, the idea is getting its tryout in an altogether different league. After more than two decades, “The Bachelor” franchise remains a reality juggernaut, and “The Golden Bachelor” will be one of ABC’s biggest releases this fall, in part because of the network’s narrowed list of offerings during the Hollywood writers’ and actors’ strikes.If “The Golden Bachelor” succeeds, expect more opportunities to arise for senior singles to look for love on television.The showrunners said a broader cultural shift toward embracing, rather than hiding, aging helped pave the way for this show.“Martha Stewart is on the cover of Sports Illustrated at 80 or so years old,” said Jason Ehrlich, one of three “Golden Bachelor” showrunners. “John Stamos was posting photos of himself in the shower nude for his 60th birthday. There seems to be a moment where there’s an appetite for this.”“Bachelor” producers have been talking about a show like this for about a decade. Their efforts to make it a reality started in earnest in 2019, and they began circulating ads to recruit “seniors looking for love” in 2020. But Covid-19 put the idea on hold. (“This is not the show to make in the middle of a pandemic,” Graebner said.)In “My Mom, Your Dad,” college-age adults watched from a secret viewing room as their parents go on dates with one another.MaxWhen the producers returned to the concept earlier this year, they rediscovered Turner’s audition tape. In it he explains that he is ready to find another partner after losing his wife of 43 years, whom he met in high school, to a sudden infection.In an interview, Turner, a father and grandfather, said he is “very, very grateful, not just for myself but for people my age, that this show has been developed and it has come to reality.”The women of “The Golden Bachelor” brought into the mansion a certain self-assured humor that comes with age, the show’s producers said. For example, the cast debated for days whether it was Susan’s meatballs or Edith’s guacamole that gave the house gas. And in Thursday’s premiere episode, when one of the women steps out of the limousine and greets Turner she opens with one thing they both have in common: hearing aids.The women’s fun facts include that Christina’s first concert was the Beatles in 1964 and that Kathy is “OBSESSED” with Christmas. Several of the participants, including Turner, share an enthusiasm for pickleball. And some of the women also have long careers behind them; Marina, 60, has three master’s degrees.“When we cast for the other shows, some of the younger kids come to us and they have a feeling that they need to present a version of themselves that we want to see,” said Claire Freeland, the third “Golden Bachelor” showrunner. “These women were just themselves from the jump.”When dating shows have included older people in the past, it has often been as a kind of gimmick. The original “Dating Game,” which premiered in 1965, once brought on Kathryn Minner, an actress who was known for playing the “little old lady” characters on TV, movies and, most famously, in an ad campaign for Dodge vehicles.“The Bachelor” has always been fond of puns and stunts, and the golden edition is likely to have plenty of age-related bits. In the mansion, there is a supply of Werther’s Originals — just like in your grandmother’s living room — and the show’s promo introducing the female contestants includes footage of a woman cleaning her glasses and another slipping on pantyhose, to the tune of “Believe” by Cher.But the producers have tried to let the age-related humor be driven by the participants themselves.“We’re never laughing at them, but we are certainly laughing with them,” Ehrlich said. He said he studied the sitcom “The Golden Girls” to find interesting conversation topics to pull out if things get dull.The showrunners insist that this is not just a show for the older viewers of “The Bachelor,” about 43 percent of whom are 55 and older, according to a 2020 YouGov poll.They think “The Golden Bachelor” has the potential to bring generations together to watch a more-wholesome version of the franchise. They also hope that a different kind of cast can entice lapsed “Bachelor” fans back into the fold and bring in new audiences who might have turned their noses up at the brand before now.The ads, for example, won’t have the typical reality show snippets of screaming-and-crying dramatics, opting instead for more uplifting messaging, said Ryan, the president of marketing for Disney Entertainment Television, which includes ABC.Even Eileen Zurbriggen, a feminist social psychologist who has argued in her research that dating TV shows like “The Bachelor” are actively harming young viewers’ capacity to start healthy relationships, in part by strengthening the perception of dating as a kind of game, said she saw potential for the show to work against gender clichés.“It is refreshing, in a culture that is still so youth obsessed, to see older women presented as interested in sex and still sexually desirable,” Zurbriggen said.April Jayne, who appeared on the dating show “MILF Manor,” said a cultural shift around aging has allowed her to embrace being 61 in her career rather than hide it.TLCApril Jayne, an actress, singer and fitness trainer who was one of the contestants on “MILF Manor,” said she spent much of her acting career hiding her age. Now at 61, she is seeing more work opportunities than ever before since her reality TV appearance.“Once you hit middle age, it does not mean you’re washed up,” Jayne said, though she noted that the 40-year age gap between her and the young man she was dating on the show was perhaps a bit too large.By the way, she added, if ABC happens to be casting for a “Golden Bachelorette,” she is interested and available.Callie Holtermann contributed reporting. More

  • in

    How Hip-Hop Changed the English Language Forever

    In 50 years, rap transformed the English language, bringing the Black vernacular’s vibrancy to the world. “Dave, the dope fiend shootin’ dope.” — Slick Rick, “Children’s Story” (1988) “Dopeman, dopeman!” — N.W.A, “Dope Man” (1987) Did you ghost me? 👻 Read 10:28 PM Homer Simpson going ghost. We unpacked five words — dope, woke, cake, […] More

  • in

    Olivia Rodrigo’s ‘Vampire’ Takes a Note From Taylor Swift

    The pop singer’s new single dismantles a former paramour who was entranced by fame, borrowing a tactic from Swift’s career-shifting “Dear John.”On “Drivers License,” one of the great singles of the 2020s, Olivia Rodrigo has been played for a fool by an ex, but the song — pulsing, parched, destitute — remains centered in her pathos. She may have been abandoned, but the person who did the damage is still an object of, if not exactly affection, then obsession: “I still hear your voice in the traffic/We’re laughing/Over all the noise.” At the song’s conclusion, she is alone, and lonely.That was the Rodrigo from two and a half years ago, when she was reintroducing herself to the world as a human after a stretch as a Disney actress automaton. The Olivia Rodrigo who appears on “Vampire,” the first single from her forthcoming second album, has now lived through some things. Her sweetness has curdled.“Vampire” is nervy and anxious, a tripartite study in defiance that begins with Elton John-esque piano balladry à la “Drivers License” — a head fake in the direction of naïveté.But Rodrigo knows better now, or at least knows more: Rapid stardom has both bolstered and cloistered her. “I loved you truly,” she sings, deadpan, then almost cackles the next line, “You gotta laugh at the stupidity.” The song continues in this vein, through a boisterous up-tempo midsection and a rowdy, theatrical conclusion. Her subject matter — romantic disappointment, being left in the lurch — is the same, but the stakes are much greater now.“I used to think I was smart/But you made me look so naïve,” she sings. It is the sort of insider-outsider awareness that can only come from being both the object and the subject at once — powerful enough to author your own story, vulnerable enough to fall prey to someone else’s wiles.It is, in short, Rodrigo’s “Dear John.”Over a decade after its release, “Dear John” remains one of the most powerful songs in Taylor Swift’s catalog, and also among the most idiosyncratic. Purportedly about a dismal romantic engagement with John Mayer, it is produced in the style of Mayer, dressed liberally with blues guitar noodling.Lyrically, it’s not only astute, it’s vicious. Swift begins with a similar unjaundiced shrug — “Well, maybe it’s me/And my blind optimism to blame” — then goes on to surgically, savagely disassemble her foe: “You are an expert at sorry and keeping lines blurry/Never impressed by me acing your tests.”“Dear John” appeared on “Speak Now,” Swift’s third album, released when she was 20. It wasn’t a single, but it was one of a pair of songs on the album — the other was “Mean,” about a fierce critic of her artistry — in which Swift began creatively and publicly reckoning with the public version of herself. Her earlier songwriting felt winningly insular, almost provocatively emotionally intimate. But “Dear John” announced Swift as a bolder and riskier performer and songwriter, one unafraid of using stardom as her ink, and who understood that the celebrity most people knew provided as much fodder as her inner life.Rodrigo is 20 now, and “Guts,” due in September, will be her second album. And while “Drivers License” and its fallout became tabloid fodder, the public narrative wasn’t encoded into the song itself.“Vampire” changes that. Rodrigo’s target here is someone attempting to be glamorous, or perhaps glamour itself: “Look at you, cool guy, you got it/I see the parties and the diamonds sometimes when I close my eyes/Six months of torture you sold as some forbidden paradise.”Perhaps the song is about the Los Angeles nightlife fixture Zack Bia, one of Rodrigo’s rumored partners — if so, the structural shift from the first to second part might be pointed — that’s when the music becomes coffeehouse EDM, possibly a veiled allusion to Bia’s emergent career as a producer and D.J., and an echo of the Mayer-ian blues-pop Swift channeled on “Dear John.”The relationship itself, Rodrigo learns, is a transaction, too. “The way you sold me for parts/As you sunk your teeth into me,” she yowls, before anointing her ex with the coldest moniker imaginable: “fame [expletive].” That insult usually begins with “star” rather than “fame,” but Rodrigo knows that the condition of fame is far more toxic than any one person, and that someone who craves it is perhaps uninterested in personhood at all.On “Drivers License,” Rodrigo still saw the other woman as an enemy, or source of tension, but now on “Vampire,” she understands what the lines of allegiance truly are, marking an emergent feminist streak. Here, she finds kinship with her ex’s other partners, and lambastes herself for thinking she ever was the exception: “Every girl I ever talked to told me you were bad, bad news/You called them crazy, God, I hate the way I called ’em crazy too.”There’s an echo here of Swift’s realization on “Dear John” that she, too, is closer kin to the other aggrieved women than to her ex: “You’ll add my name to your long list of traitors who don’t understand/And I look back in regret how I ignored when they said/‘Run as fast as you can.’”After sweeping past it for most of her career, Swift has just begun revisiting this moment — last month, she played “Dear John” live for the first time in over 11 years, at one of the Minneapolis stops of her Eras Tour. That’s likely because Swift’s rerecording of “Speak Now,” part of her ongoing early album reclamation project, is being released this week.But she also used the moment to both reflect on her maturation, and to urge her devoted, sometimes ferocious fans not to live in, or dwell on, her past.“I’m 33 years old. I don’t care about anything that happened to me when I was 19 except the songs I wrote and the memories we made together,” she said from the stage. “So what I’m trying to tell you is, I’m not putting this album out so you should feel the need to defend me on the internet against someone you think I might have written a song about 14 billion years ago.”When Swift began reporting on her own fame on “Dear John,” it had the secondary effect of activating phalanxes of fans who went to war on her behalf, too. But over the course of the past decade, something interesting happened: The battle became theirs more than hers. They hold on to her wrongs with pitbull-like grip, ensuring, in a way, that Swift can’t fully grow up.So if “Dear John” is a creative guidepost for “Vampire,” this cautionary note offers a suggestion of what might come from it: a call to arms, a hardening of your outer shell, a conflagration that burns long after you light the match and walk away. More

  • in

    ‘The Ultimatum: Queer Love’ Is a TV Rarity With Familiar Drama

    Netflix’s latest dating reality show hit, which wrapped up on Wednesday, broke ground by focusing exclusively on queer and nonbinary couples.The finale of Netflix’s latest dating show hit, “The Ultimatum: Queer Love,” arrived on Wednesday after weeks of partner swapping that amounted to a milestone in romantic reality television: The first of the genre’s marriage contests that focused exclusively on queer couples.Like its predecessor, “The Ultimatum: Marry or Move On,” from last year, “The Ultimatum: Queer Love,” which premiered in May, follows couples who don’t agree about their future together (one wants to get engaged; the other is not ready). So they agree to split up and live with new partners for a few weeks in front of the cameras. After meeting, dating and committing to a “trial wife,” the original couples reunite to live together as married, also for a few weeks. Then, after eight episodes worth of soul-searching, they must decide whether to get engaged, end the relationship or leave with their “trial wife” — the “ultimatum” of the title.“I feel like we’re at a lesbian club, and all our exes are here,” a castmate named Tiff Der joked in the first episode, sitting by the compound’s firepit surrounded by Der’s partner-turned-ex (for the purposes of the show), Mildred Woody, and the eight other contestants they each went on short dates with that day.In the same scene, another contestant, Vanessa Papa, suggests the cast all have a “polyamorous orgy,” drawing head shakes and nervous laughter from the others. By that point, Papa was interested in both Lexi Goldberg and Rae Cheung-Sutton while her ex, Xander Boger, was hitting it off with someone else’s former partner nearby.Same-sex marriage became federally recognized eight years ago, and it’s taken that long for L.G.B.T.Q. people to get their own dating show focused on love and commitment — though a number of queer-inclusive reality shows have demonstrated an appetite for such series. In earlier such shows, like the bisexual-themed competition “A Shot at Love With Tila Tequila” (2007) and the all-pansexual season of MTV’s “Are You The One?” (2019), the focus was on the competition, not on lifelong commitment. In “Queer Love,” which wrapped up Wednesday with a final episode and reunion special, the only prize is the clarity gained from such an experiment, the first in which men are not potential partners.“The Ultimatum: Marry or Move On” hadn’t aired yet when the cast of the spinoff began filming, so the five couples who appeared in “Queer Love” had little sense of how the show would unfold. All they had to go on was the track record of the show’s production company, Kinetic Content, which is also behind the Netflix reality hit “Love is Blind,” as well as the long-running “Married at First Sight,” on Lifetime in recent years.In many ways, “Queer Love” is reminiscent of any other marriage reality show — their struggles and triumphs with their partners (trial and otherwise) are not unlike those experienced by “Love Is Blind” competitors after they emerge from their pods and pair off. Commitment angst and the allure of potential new partners are reliable generators of the interpersonal drama that reality producers crave, no matter the makeup of the couples involved.“It was a real accurate representation of who I am and how I navigate the world,” said Mal Wright, left, with Yoly Rojas in “The Ultimatum: Queer Love.”Netflix
    Der and Woody had been in a breakup-makeup-breakup cycle for almost two years, Der said, when they were approached by a casting producer about participating in “Queer Love.”“I actually said no at first because I’m like, ‘Actually, we’re in a really bad spot right now, so I don’t think so, I’m sorry,’” Der said in an interview. “And then she goes, ‘No, actually that’s what we’re looking for.’”Goldberg said she was approached at just the right time in her relationship with her partner, Cheung-Sutton. “It was kind of this question of, do you have a relationship where one person is questioning or dragging their feet?” she said.As universal as relationship frustrations can be, “Queer Love” also captures the specific ways queer women and nonbinary people relate to one another — for example, spending time with one another’s exes, whether intentional or not, is common in such a small community. For straight viewers, the show serves as a kind of voyeuristic microcosm; for queer ones, it provides a more relatable analog to the messy behavior of heterosexual dating shows like “The Bachelor” or “Love Is Blind.”Cast members, who ranged in age from 25 to 42 when they filmed, said they were encouraged by the production’s general queer competency — several crew members on set were L.G.B.T.Q., including the director of photography — but some noted blind spots. Yoly Rojas, a first-generation Venezuelan immigrant, said she was excited to be “a brown Latina femme on television,” but she was disappointed that her partner, Mal Wright, was the only Black person in the cast.“I don’t think that’s a fair representation of the community,” Rojas said. “It just felt still a little bit whiter than what I would’ve liked.”Wright initially was concerned about being portrayed as an aggressor — a common TV fate for butch and more masculine-of-center women or nonbinary people. “I didn’t want to be portrayed in a way that wasn’t true to me,” Wright said.But after watching the full season, Wright, who uses they/them pronouns, felt reassured: “There was no angry trope that got attached to me,” they said. “So it was a real accurate representation of who I am and how I navigate the world.”One of the show’s stranger moves — and probably its most controversial one — was its choice of host. Nick and Vanessa Lachey co-host both “Love is Blind” and “The Ultimatum: Marry or Move On,” but for “Queer Love,” Netflix brought in the actress JoAnna Garcia Swisher, a star of its show “Sweet Magnolias.” When Garcia Swisher is revealed as the host in the first episode, the cast appears surprised. It is Papa who finally pops the question: “Are you queer?”“I just wanted to know,” Papa, a fan of Garcia Swisher’s recurring role on her favorite show, “Freaks and Geeks,” said in an interview. “But she’s not, which is also great because now you have this mix of a queer cast and then this religious married-to-a-man host, so it’s like two worlds converging.”Other cast members were confused by the choice.“It took me a minute to warm up with Joanna because I didn’t get it,” Rojas said. “There’s no correlation to anything gay or to anything queer — like, it made no sense. But she’s a really sweet person, as understanding as one can be as a straight woman. She did her best.”Chris Coelen, an executive producer of the show, said Garcia Swisher had the most important quality for a host: curiosity. “Is JoAnna queer?” he said. “No, she’s not. Does she need to be to do a good job on show? I don’t think so.”The show puzzled some cast members and viewers by hiring a straight host, JoAnna Garcia Swisher.NetflixViewers of the show called out the strangeness of the hosting choice on social media. But overall “Queer Love” has been well-received and highly memed — praised by writers and viewers for giving queer women and nonbinary people a chance to see their own relationships reflected on an enormous platform like Netflix.“It’s all pretty standard reality show stuff,” Emma Specter wrote in Vogue. “But I wonder what it would have meant for me to watch 10 queer people date, break up, cry, have fun and drink disgusting-looking cocktails out of weird chrome glasses on TV in high school, when there were approximately zero out queer people in my actual life.”For the “Queer Love” cast, their appearances on the show came with a feeling of responsibility to not embarrass communities that historically have been ignored or misrepresented on TV. Goldberg, the youngest castmate, said the weight of the contestants displaying themselves in such a public way was palpable from their first group gathering.“It was kind of this unspoken thing,” Goldberg said. “Not that the stakes were higher, but that the importance of being good representatives was something we should consider day in and day out.”“But it doesn’t mean we don’t get to have relationships and feel and cry and deal with problems the way they arise,” Goldberg continued. “It just meant we do have to remember that this is important, and that there will be a lot of people that watch this and that look to this as a sense of normalcy in queer relationships that maybe they just never knew before.”Coelen, the executive producer, hopes “Queer Love,” in both its relatability and specificity, “lowers barriers between people in some way.”“Because people are people,” he continued. “And, like the ‌cliché, love is love, you know?” More

  • in

    ‘Indian Matchmaking,’ It’s Time to Break Up

    The Netflix dating show claims that tradition can find love where modernity has failed. But all it does is reinforce age-old prejudices.“In India we don’t say ‘arranged marriage.’ There is ‘marriage’ and then ‘love marriage.’” Of all the platitudes — and she spouts a lot of them — issued forth by Sima Taparia, the self-anointed top matchmaker of Mumbai and breakout star of Netflix’s “Indian Matchmaking,” none land more true than this one. It’s not as if finding husbands and wives for unpaired offspring hasn’t been a fixation of anxious parents across centuries and civilizations, even if in Europe and the United States, love may have finally entered the chat and stayed long enough to become unexceptional. But for older generations in India, parents’ finding spouses for their children has been the norm for so long that the idea of those same adult children’s marrying for “love” is still alien enough for it to occupy an entirely separate category — now a reality-TV show.“Indian Matchmaking,” whose third season premiered on April 21, follows the immaculately coifed, highlighted and bejeweled Taparia as she steamrolls through the lives of unhappily single men and women of Indian origin mostly living in America. She promises to find them the spouses of their dreams, as long as they don’t dream for too much. The cast varies (with some fan favorites and villains occasionally brought back) but most are seemingly well-off young people, urbane and cosmopolitan, who run their own businesses and attend boutique workout classes. This season’s standouts include an emergency-room doctor named Vikash, whose god complex extends to referring to himself in the third person as Vivacious Vikash and performing solo dances to Hindi songs at his friends’ weddings (and allowing video of himself doing so to be broadcast on the show); he wants a tall Hindi-speaking girl because he’s really attached to Indian “culture.” There’s Bobby, the over-energetic teacher who performs a math-themed rap that ends with him snarling “mathematics, boiii” at the screen. Arti from Miami lists weekly visits to Costco as her hobby.The activities that these aspirant matchees choose for the dates they go on (wine tastings, yoga with baby goats) are straight out of gentrified Williamsburg. Interspersed in between these scenes are cameos from their stony-faced parents, astrologers dispensing sex advice, face readers, tarot-card readers and Taparia’s own peremptory admonishments reminding them that they’re never getting everything they want in a partner, so they better start lowering their expectations now.She promises to find them the spouses of their dreams, as long as they don’t dream for too much.That she has not yet made a single match resulting in marriage over the course of two seasons and 16 episodes has deterred neither Taparia herself nor the makers of the show from continuing this Sisyphean journey into a third. She is not one to suffer from impostor syndrome or even, apparently, introspection, so her matchmaking methodology remains resolutely unchanged. The only big departure this time around is the expansion of her hunting grounds to Britain, where she commences her reign of terror in London by telling a 35-year-old divorcee named Priya that she “should not be so much picky.”To people like me, who grew up in this third-party matchmaking milieu, Sima Taparia or Sima Aunty (a nickname she gives herself) is just that — an aunty, an archetype we’ve known and avoided all our lives: the obnoxious and overbearing relative, neighbor or acquaintance with zero sense of boundaries. But to the global audiences who eagerly lapped up “Indian Matchmaking” during the early months of the pandemic, Taparia was a delightful novelty, in one moment tossing bon mots of conjugal wisdom with the serenity of an all-knowing sibyl (“You will only get 60 to 70 percent of what you want; you will never get 100 percent”) and in the next moment ordering a female client to get rid of her “high standards” with the brusqueness of a guidance counselor breaking it to an overzealous student that they’re not getting into Harvard.In India, the business of parents seeking brides and grooms for their children is a cruel and cutthroat one, having originated as a way to preserve caste endogamy.Throughout history, the coming together of two people in matrimony (holy or otherwise) has never been just about the union itself — it is the broader institution that reveals the deepest anxieties (financial, religious or racial) undergirding a society. “Indian Matchmaking” bills itself as just any other show about the caprices of trying to find love in a hostile world. It is predicated on the idea that seeking the help of someone as quaintly old-fashioned as a matchmaker is superior to the travails of dating online, where one must undergo far worse indignities like being ghosted or breadcrumbed. Here, at least, relationship expectations are mutual, and after all, what is a “biodata” (a curiously-named document Taparia uses in her practice) if not the same exaggerated dating-app profile but in résumé form and with fewer wince-inducing mentions about loving tacos and pizza.But in India, the business of parents seeking brides and grooms for their children is a cruel and cutthroat one, having originated as a way to preserve caste endogamy, and it continues to be fraught with violence from every side, a reality that is at odds with the show’s portrayal of the process as a decorous, civilized exchange that takes place over tea and manners. The most pernicious aspects are hidden behind a flimsy veneer of fabricated gentility, apparent in the many euphemistic phrases in which Taparia, the singles she is matching and their parents communicate. The show’s title itself reads like an awkward, faux-anthropological translation, when in reality, the Indian here in “Indian Matchmaking” is merely a stand-in for outrageously wealthy, landed upper-caste Hindus (with an exception here and there).Caste, one of the most malicious forces still dictating India’s social fabric, is gingerly intimated by low-voiced mumblings of “same community.” Openly declaring that you want to marry someone filthy rich would be uncouth, so the words “good family, good upbringing” are uttered frequently. Women cannot afford to be “picky.” Women have to be “flexible.” They must also learn how to “compromise.” My personal favorite of these, though, is “adjust,” one of the hardest-working euphemisms in Indian English, whose meaning linguistically can range from the squeezed addition of a third backside on a bus seat meant to fit only two, to a man’s parents’ demanding that the girl foredoomed to marry their son give up her professional career to pursue full-time daughter-in-law activities. Curiously enough, the men are spared the brunt of such exhortations.“In marriage, every desire becomes a decision,” remarked Susan Sontag in 1956, a strikingly trenchant line that I recalled when watching the show’s participants being quizzed about their “criteria” for a potential spouse. Initially, they start out reciting millennial-speak straight out of the 2012 twee-internet era: the desire for someone “kind” with a “sense of humor.” But upon further prodding, out come tumbling the real demands, the decisions that display that their modernity hasn’t yet overcome the inherited prejudices that govern this entire phenomenon. Costco-obsessed Arti cannot help mentioning that her father would have really, really, really loved for her to marry someone from her “community.” Vivacious Vikash, meanwhile, for all his insistence on Indian “culture,” forgot to specify that he wanted a Hindi-speaking girl from America (a “same community” of its own) and not the “very Indian” woman with the Indian accent that Sima Aunty found for him.Source photographs: NetflixIva Dixit is a staff editor at the magazine. Her previous articles include an appreciation of eating raw red onions and an exploration into the continued popularity of “Emily in Paris.” More