Mahershala Ali Thinks We Can Still Make This Country Great
Carvell Wallace | GQ
“In our interviews, I notice that Ali uses the phrase ‘fold into yourself’ a lot, the same phrase that came up in his SAG acceptance speech. It’s not until our last 10 minutes together that I ask him about it. Standing outside in downtown Los Angeles, now exposed to the stares of people who slow down when they pass, some trying surreptitiously to take pictures, he pauses before he answers ... ‘I think I identify with characters who have to make themselves smaller,’ he says. ‘Because that’s been my experience, as a large black man, to make people feel safer.’”

The Infinite Melodies of Young Thug
Judnick Mayard | The Fader
“His gift lies in his effortless capacity to glide between melodic crooner, sheer rap talent, and creative shapeshifter ... Thugga’s true talent is not just in what kind of music he can rap on but how he can flip almost anything to represent his singular existence. In this, Beautiful Thugger Girls becomes more than a country album: the music isn’t his master, instead he bends it to his will.”

When Fan Fiction and Reality Collide
Amanda Hess | The New York Times
“The mainstream entertainment world has an ambivalent relationship to the online fan-fiction enclaves that have built up around it, where fans seize control of characters or celebrities and subvert their narratives for their own ends. Media power players show great fascination in the stuff—particularly after the financial success of Fifty Shades of Grey, the BDSM-lite series that started as erotic Twilight fan fiction—even as they rib its literary amateurism and recoil at its sexual taboos.”

Mobb Deep’s Prodigy Is the Symbol of East Coast Rap
Keith Murphy | Vibe
“You would be hard pressed to find a more pronounced lyrical jump than Prodigy’s startling evolution from Mobb Deep’s uneven 1993 debut Juvenile Hell to their landmark 1995 breakthrough The Infamous. Within two years, he had transformed into a feared wordsmith who wrote one of the most memorable opening lines in hip-hop’s highly competitive canon.”

GLOW Is the Past and Future of Women’s Wrestling
Mairead Small Staid | The Ringer
“Despite GLOW’s rhinestone-encrusted shrug in the direction of verisimilitude, and despite its emphasis on campiness and comedy over athleticism, the show occupies a privileged place in the history of women’s wrestling. This is understandable: Something is better than nothing when it comes to women in the squared circle — even if ‘something’ has been, more often than not, cringingly awful.”

Why Stephen King Remains Hollywood’s Favorite Author
Charles Bramesco | The Guardian
“Pop culture’s most precious renewable resource, King stays impervious to the whims of hipness by creating work that can be retrofitted to any period’s ‘in’ sensibility. King is like Shakespeare in the malleability of his work, the ease with which primal themes that can be styled to match the dominant mode of a given era.”

What the Fargo Ending Says About the Show’s Policewomen
Jen Chaney | Vulture
“That conclusion invites the audience to decide whether the universe bends toward justice or injustice, a question that always hangs over the proceedings in Fargo. But I also think it raises another question, about what place a woman in law enforcement has in this Fargo world, and whether she can ever fully, without caveat, own and exercise her power.”

The Mastery of Arundhati Roy’s The Ministry of Utmost Happiness
Anita Felicelli | The Los Angeles Review of Books
“Identity is at the heart of The Ministry of Utmost Happiness. Not only India’s identity, or Kashmir’s identity, but also the identities of individual people, often those considered marginalized. However, it’s not identity as it is considered in public discourse—a fixed category, a biological mark or trait that can’t be altered from what it appears on the surface to be. In the novel, as in life, identity is an incredibly slippery thing, a human something that resists boundaries and artificial borders.”

When Video Games Were Playable Stories
Oliver Lee Bateman | The Paris Review
“If one assumes Skyrim is first and foremost a game qua game—an experience like Street Fighter that demands certain finely tuned skills to win—then this makes sense. But Skyrim, like Fallout 4 and the recent Mass Effect: Andromeda, is a pretty boneheaded game—it’s not especially demanding to navigate its world. The chief function of its lore, for the child I was and the person I am now, is as a cure for loneliness.”

Who Owns Black Pain?
Zadie Smith | Harper’s
“[Jordan] Peele has found a concrete metaphor for the ultimate unspoken fear: that to be oppressed is not so much to be hated as obscenely loved. Disgust and passion are intertwined. Our antipathies are simultaneously a record of our desires, our sublimated wishes, our deepest envies. The capacity to give birth or to make food from one’s body; perceived intellectual, physical, or sexual superiority; perceived intimacy with the natural world, animals, and plants; perceived self-sufficiency in a faith or in a community. There are few qualities in others that we cannot transform into a form of fear and loathing in ourselves.”