After a year full of tears, Ariana Grande comes out on top
By MESFIN FEKADU
AP Music Writer
Friday, December 7
NEW YORK (AP) — Ariana Grande capped off a successful year as a pop star — but a trying one as a maturing young woman — at the 13th annual Billboard Women in Music event, where she was named Woman of the Year.
The 25-year-old singer was teary-eyed at times during her acceptance speech as she reflected on her year, which included the end of her relationship with comedian-actor Pete Davidson and the death of her former boyfriend, the rapper Mac Miller. Last year, a bombing at her concert in Manchester, England killed 22 people.
“I want to say that I find it interesting that this has been one of the best years in my career and like the worst of my life,” she told the audience in New York City at Pier 36 on Thursday. “I feel like a lot of people would look at someone in my position right now, I guess, like Woman of the Year, an artist that could be at her peak … and think, ‘She’s really got her (stuff) together. She’s really on it. She’s got it all.’ And I do, but as far as my personal life goes, I really have no idea what the (expletive) I am doing.”
“It’s been a very conflicting one,” she added. “I just want to say if you’re someone out there who has no idea what this next chapter is going to bring, you’re not alone in that.”
Grande’s successful year included another No. 1 album with “Sweetener” as well as multiple hits, from “No Tears Left to Cry” to “God Is a Woman” to “Breathin.” She sang “Thank U, Next” — her first No. 1 smash on Billboard’s Hot 100 chart — in front of the audience including Alicia Keys, Dua Lipa, music executives and honorees like Cyndi Lauper and Janelle Monae.
Patti LaBelle praised Grande for her strong vocal ability before handing her the award, and the night was full of similar moments as women uplifted one another.
Country singer Kacey Musgraves kicked off the event with a soft performance and won the Innovator Award. Monae, who came out as pansexual this year, received the Trailblazer Award and said a fan recently told her that listening to her album, “Dirty Computer,” encouraged her to come out to her family.
“I think moments like those, they remind you no matter what’s going in your life, how bad you feel, that by us walking in our truths, it can sometimes give the next person the courage to walk in theirs,” Monae said.
British singer Ellie Goulding hosted the two-our event, where Lauper was given the Icon Award and was honored by Emmy-nominated performer Tituss Burgess, who wonderfully sang “True Colors.” R&B singer SZA, who was the most nominated woman at this year’s Grammy Awards, received the Rule Breaker Award, while pop singer Hayley Kiyoko performed her upbeat song “Curious” and earned the Rising Star Award.
“I’m going to be crying this whole time. This is my first time getting an award onstage,” Kiyoko said as the audience got out of their seats to cheer her on. “I’m trying to be professional.”
Lamar leads Grammy noms, where women make a comeback
By MESFIN FEKADU
AP Music Writer
Friday, December 7
NEW YORK (AP) — The music of “Black Panther,” with Kendrick Lamar in its starring role, officially owns the 2019 Grammy Awards, where women are heavily represented in the major four categories following a year where their presence was barely felt.
The Recording Academy announced Friday that Lamar is the top contender with eight nominations, including seven for his musical companion to the Marvel Studios juggernaut starring Chadwick Boseman and Michael B. Jordan. “Black Panther: The Album, Music From and Inspired By” is up for album of the year, a category where women make up five of the eight nominees. Cardi B, Kacey Musgraves, Janelle Monae, H.E.R. and Brandi Carlile also are up for the top prize, along with Drake and Post Malone.
The upcoming Grammys is the first where the academy extended its top four categories from five nominees to eight.
The “Panther” nomination would give Lamar a chance to win album of the year after losing three times. His most recent loss was in February when his critically acclaimed “DAMN” fell short to Bruno Mars’ “24K Magic,” though Lamar’s project would go on to win a Pulitzer Prize for music two months later, making him the first non-classical or jazz artist to win the prestigious honor.
Lamar’s Top 10 hit, the SZA-assisted “All the Stars,” is nominated for both record and song of the year (a songwriter’s award). Five other songs scored nominations in both categories, including Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper’s “Shallow” from “A Star Is Born”; Childish Gambino’s “This Is America”; Drake’s “God’s Plan”; Zedd, Maren Morris and Grey’s “The Middle”; and Carlile’s “The Joke.”
Ella Mai’s “Boo’d Up” and Shawn Mendes’ “In My Blood” earned song of the year nods, while Post Malone’s “Rockstar” and Cardi B’s “I Like It,” featuring Bad Bunny and J Balvin, round out the nominees for record of the year.
Following Lamar, Drake — the year’s most successful artist — earned seven nominations. Though nominated for album of the year, he was surprisingly shut out of best rap album, where his rival Pusha T earned a nomination.
Drake’s frequent collaborator, producer Boi-1Da, earned six nods, as did Carlile, who also scored nominations in the American Roots category.
Cardi B, Gaga, H.E.R., Morris, Gambino, producer Sounwave and engineer Mike Bozzi scored five nominations each.
The nominees for the 2019 Grammys mark a departure from this year’s show, where women were underrepresented in the top four categories. Of the eight best new artist nominees, six are women, including H.E.R., Chloe x Halle, Dua Lipa, Margo Price, Bebe Rexha and Jorja Smith. Rock band Greta Van Fleet and country singer Luke Combs also earned nominations.
Recording Academy CEO Neil Portnow was criticized earlier this year at the Grammys when he said women need to “step up” when asked about the lack of women in the top categories, which he later acknowledged was a “poor choice of words.” It forced the academy to launch a new task force focused on inclusion and diversity; Portnow also announced he would be leaving the academy in 2019.
“In any given year there could be more folks from one area or one gender or one genre or one ethnicity that are making recordings and being successful with them than in another year. So, in many ways we’re just a reflection of that,” Portnow said in an interview with The Associated Press. “This year clearly there were many women not only making music but making great music and making music that resonates with our peer voters in terms of excellence, and so that certainly is at the forefront.”
Another milestone for women is in the non-classical producer of the year category, where songwriting extraordinaire Linda Perry earned a nomination. She’s just the seventh woman ever nominated for prize and first since 2004.
“Linda represents what we hope becomes the norm, which is the elimination of gender bias in producing and engineering in our industry,” Portnow said.
Perry will compete with Pharrell Williams, Boi-1Da, Larry Klein and Kanye West, the only nomination he earned.
Taylor Swift, a two-time album of the year winner, also only earned one nomination — her “reputation” album is up best pop vocal album. Justin Timberlake, whose “Man of the Woods” albums flopped earlier this year, picked up a nod for “Say Something,” his collaboration with Chris Stapleton.
Beyonce and Jay-Z, billed as The Carters, as well Ariana Grande, didn’t earn any of the big nominations. The Carters earned two nods in the R&B category along with best music video, while Grande picked up two nods in pop.
Artists who were completely snubbed include Carrie Underwood, Sam Smith, Migos, Kane Brown, Nicki Minaj, XXXTentacion and Juice WRLD, whose “Lucid Dreams” was one of the year’s biggest hits.
Some acts scored their first nominations ever, including Florida Georgia Line, whose megahit “Meant to Be” with Rexha is up best country duo/group performance. Camila Cabello, Malone, Mendes, Dan + Shay and DJ Mustard are also first-time nominees.
Gaga, who earned acting and music Golden Globe nominations Thursday, picked up four Grammy nominations for “Shallow,” while “Joanne” is up for best pop solo performance. The soundtrack for “A Star Is Born” was released after Grammy eligibility, though “Shallow” was released in time and also earned Cooper two nominations.
Other famous faces outside of music to earn nominations include Tiffany Haddish and former U.S. president Jimmy Carter, both up for best spoken word album. Dave Chappelle, Chris Rock, Fred Armisen, Jim Gaffigan and Patton Oswalt are up for best comedy album.
Mac Miller, who died in September, earned a nomination for best rap album with “Swimming.” Chris Cornell, who died last year, is up for best rock performance with “When Bad Does Good.”
Demi Lovato, who relapsed after six years of sobriety and was hospitalized for an overdose in July, earned a nomination for best pop duo/group performance for “Fall In Line,” her duet with Christina Aguilera.
Those who earned four nominations are Musgraves, Malone, PJ Morton, Dave Cobb, Ludwig Goransson, Noah Shebib and SZA, who earned a Golden Globe nomination alongside Lamar for “All the Stars” on Thursday.
Lamar has won 12 Grammys throughout his career. Though seven of his eight nominations come from “Black Panther,” he also earned a nod for co-writing Jay Rock’s “Win,” up for best rap song.
The 2019 Grammys will hand out awards in its 84 categories live from the Staples Center in Los Angeles on Feb. 10, 2019.
Shameik Moore slings webs as 1st biracial Spider-Man in film
By JONATHAN LANDRUM Jr.
AP Entertainment Writer
Monday, December 10
LOS ANGELES (AP) — A journal entry penned when Shameik Moore was a teenager laid out one of his dreams — to play Spider-Man on the big screen. That dream is now partially realized with Moore serving as the voice of the webslinger in the new animated film, “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse .”
Moore plays Miles Morales, a biracial Brooklyn teen who gains an array of superpowers after being bitten by a radioactive spider. Morales melds his superpowers, including enhanced hearing, wall-crawling and camouflage abilities — while putting his own stamp on the character. Gone are Peter’s Parker’s blue-and-red outfits, replaced by a red-and-black version and a cool pair of sneakers.
Moore’s ambition was to be the face of Spider-Man in a live-action film, something he still hopes will happen. But for now, he’s happy to serve as Morales’ voice in “Into the Spider-Verse,” which is in theaters Friday and has already drawn rave reviews.
“The story now is coming out through me. So with great power, comes great responsibility,” he said, referencing an oft-repeated line from the Spider-verse of film and comics. “It’s a black Spider-Man and he looks like me.
“It’s a new time in Hollywood,” said Moore, who is 23 and of Jamaican descent. “Not only are we in live-action superhero movies, but they are animating us now,” he said. “I’m honored to be the first black Spider-Man (in a film).”
“Into the Spider-Verse” last week was nominated by the Golden Globes for best animated film, and has generated some Oscar buzz that could lead to a superhero showdown with “Incredibles 2” and “Ralph Breaks the Internet.” It boasts a 99 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes and has drawn rave reviews for its visual style and deftly managing of a storyline that features six distinct versions of Spider-Man. The multiple Spideys team up to thwart a plot by Marvel supervillain Kingpin, who hatches a plan to wreak havoc across multiple realities.
Moore almost had a divergent path to becoming Spider-Man. He first auditioned to play the webslinger years ago with other multiracial candidates, but the role of Spider-Man and his alter-ego Peter Parker ultimately went to Tom Holland, who made his debut in “Captain America: Civil War,” anchored the stand-alone film “Spider-Man: Homecoming” and had a key role in “Avengers: Infinity War.”
The actor’s fascination with Morales started after seeing Donald Glover voice the character on Disney’s “Ultimate Spider-Man” a few years ago. The character was introduced in comic books in 2011 after President Barack Obama and Glover, inspired by Morales’ creation, sported Spider-Man pajamas on a different TV show.
Moore recalled how director Rick Famuyiwa, who cast him in the 2015 film “Dope,” considered him to play Morales in a live-action film, but he said those plans were scrapped after “somebody in power got switched around” and decided to make it an animated film.
Producers of “Spider-Verse” said they went the animation route because computer graphic illustrators could mimic comic book movements better. With the process of blending CGI and hand-drawn animation, it took three years to develop “Into the Spider-Verse.”
“Our animation is so exaggerated that the best stuntman in world couldn’t do it,” said Chris Miller, who co-produced the film with Phil Lord, one of its co-writers. The filmmaking duo is known for “21 Jump Street” and “The Lego Movie.” ”At least in this film, he can move the same way as the comics. If anything, this doesn’t box out a live-action Miles movie. It actually brings more awareness to it.”
Moore says he hopes it happens sooner than later.
“I’m very physical. I don’t need the mask to do flips,” he said. “I won’t need a stunt double. … But if they take like six, seven years, I’ll be older and won’t be able to play it.”
Regardless of awards or box offices success, “Spider-Verse” cast members believe the film will inspire audiences. The movie explores Morales’ biracial culture and upbringing of the character that swings around the city wearing Air Jordan sneakers.
“I can’t imagine if I was a kid and there was a black or brown Spider-Man, I would have been so excited,” said Oscar-winning actor Mahershala Ali, who is the voice of Morales’ uncle Aaron Davis aka Prowler. “This opens doors for a different generation to sort of believe in different possibilities. There’s a generation that came into the world knowing Barack Obama was their president, and never thought it was strange or a huge feat. Hopefully, this can be the same.”
Brian Tyree Henry, who plays Morales’ police officer father Jefferson Davis, called the film “necessary.” He said he and Ali’s characters showed the importance of having strong men in the teen’s life.
“I teared up sometimes. It made me think about my upbringing,” said Henry, who stars in “Atlanta” and “If Beale Street Could Talk.” ”My father is still alive and in my life. … The number of black men who (Morales) had in his life were actually there for him, guiding him. I love that the Marvel Universe is giving that representation a face, a name and giving it a superpower.”
If “Spider-Verse” is successful, more films could follow.
“I think the studios would be very excited to make more of these,” said Peter Ramsey, co-director with Rodney Rothman and Bob Persichetti. “Right now, it still has to come out and allow the audience to fall in love with it. There’s so much potential.”
Follow AP Entertainment Writer Jonathan Landrum Jr. on Twitter: http://twitter.com/MrLandrum31
Brands born on the internet embrace physical stores
By ANNE D’INNOCENZIO
AP Retail Writer
Tuesday, December 11
SHORT HILLS, N.J. (AP) — Online retailers are getting physical.
A growing number of brands born on the internet are now opening brick-and-mortar stores and moving into the suburban malls once considered doomed as more Americans shopped online.
But they’re taking it even further by doubling-down on the tactile experience. Online mattress retailer Casper, for instance, is opening stores that allow customers to book naps and test out mattresses before buying. Indochino — the online tailor — decided to borrow from the old Savile Row model where customers can be measured face-to-face for custom suits.
“Online brands have embraced clicks-to-bricks,” said Faith Hope Consolo, chairman of Prudential Douglas Elliman’s retail division. “Shoppers love to touch, interact and try on in person and malls are upping the ante by offering immersive experiences that are exciting and memorable.”
The store openings mark a major shift for formerly online-only brands that just a few years ago believed they didn’t need a physical presence to generate robust sales growth.
Digital natives are now finding that the cost of acquiring new customers online is soaring as competition for eyeballs has increased the cost of online ads on Google and other platforms. At the same time, opening a store has become more affordable as higher mall vacancies have prompted landlords to offer flexible leases and other perks. It can be 10 times more expensive to acquire a new customer online as it is with a physical store, said Jim Ward, who heads up recruiting for online brands for mall owner CBL.
There are now roughly 600 stores across the country from these online natives, according to Green Street Advisors, a real estate research firm. Bonobos, which now has 60 stores and sells men’s clothing, plans to have 100 by 2020. Online eyewear retailer Warby Parker, which opened its first store in 2013, will have nearly 100 stores by year-end.
Others are following suit. Casper plans to have about 200 stores in the next two to three years, up from the current 20. And Fabletics, an active sportswear brand co-founded by celebrity Kate Hudson, aims to quadruple the number to 100.
For a brand that’s less than 10 years old, new store openings mean a 45 percent increase on average in online traffic, says a recent survey by International Council of Shopping Centers.
But not every mall is benefiting from the shift by online retailers. Digital brands are clustering in top-tier shopping centers, driving an increasingly large gap between the poshest of malls and those struggling to fill vacancies. While many online brands are planting stores in tourist destinations around New York and Los Angeles, they’re also launching stores in Oklahoma City and Birmingham, Alabama.
“We’re not considering anything outside of the premiere malls,” Dave Gilboa, co-founder and co-CEO of Warby Parker.
The physical stores often provide a level of convenience that the web lacks.
At the upscale Mall at Short Hills in New Jersey, pre-dental college student Calev Glick, 20, stopped by Indochino on a recent Friday to get measured for a suit for synagogue. He considers himself an “Amazon guy” because he doesn’t have much time to go out shopping.
“At a traditional department store, you kind of hope it fits,” Glick said. “Here, I am getting all the help I need. I am going to be here two hours and I’m going to get it shipped to my house.”
Digital natives still account for a tiny fraction of overall mall tenants, yet they could soon have a “material” effect on mall revenues, says Bill Taubman, chief operating officer of mall operator and owner Taubman Centers.
Ron Harries, head of retail for Fabletics, said that opening physical stores wasn’t in the company’s original plan in late 2014, but it realized that a physical location could acquire customers more efficiently.
“This gives you an opportunity to reach customers who are not shopping online,” Harries said.
In fact, Fabletics enjoys a two-and-a-half times increase in revenue from its most active customers within a 30-mile radius of a Fabletics store. Customers who live near a store are more likely to return an online purchase at that store, Harries said. That creates more opportunity for an extra sale. The sportswear company also electronically tags items in its stores and tracks what went in and out of the fitting room so it can learn which items shoppers were most likely to try-on but not purchase.
Online retailers are also finding that they can provide a fuller, more immersive set of customer services at physical stores than they could on web browsers.
At Indochino, customers first get measured by a stylist. Then they inspect 200 different fabrics in suits and select different styles before having it shipped for free two to three weeks after purchase. The price of a suit is about $400 to $500, and any extra tailoring is free of charge.
“We want customers to feel that they created a one-of-a-kind garment that they can’t get anywhere else,” said Drew Green, CEO of Indochino, noting he’s pulling customers once loyal to a traditional brand at the mall. “I believe we are providing a disruptive, alternative experience.”
Follow Anne D’Innocenzio: http://twitter.com/ADInnocenzio