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What we're listening to: The Tortured Poets Department and Eternal Sunshine

In this installment of what we're listening to, Reviews Editor Cherlynn Low dives into new releases from Taylor Swift and Ariana Grande, and explores what music means to us when songs are consumed more like books and journal entries.

Cherlynn Low, Deputy Editor, Reviews

April 19 should have been declared a global holiday. It was, after all, the release day of Taylor Swift’s highly anticipated album, The Tortured Poets Department (TTPD). How could we be expected to work on this most hyped of Fridays, when there were lyrics to overanalyze and melodies to emo-walk to?

Taylor Swift - The Tortured Poets Department

I’ll admit: I hate myself a bit for the eagerness with which I hit play on albums like TTPD and Ariana Grande’s Eternal Sunshine (ES). Both musicians had recently left long-term relationships and got together with new beaus, amid rabid press coverage and relentless speculation on Reddit. I usually prefer to hear from the people involved instead of reading tabloid articles based on what “friends close to” said, and for Swift and Grande, songs are usually as close as we’ll get to primary sources. 

I saw these albums as opportunities to get their takes on what went down. Granted, it’s always wise to take their words with generous helpings of salt, the same way therapists tend to remember that their patients’ retelling of stories can be skewed or unreliable.

Both Grande and Swift have made their lives the subject of their music for years, and they often have an air of defensiveness. Titles like “Look What You Made Me Do” and “Yes, and?” make me think of people who blame others or don’t care about the consequences of their actions. Even songs like Swift’s “Anti-Hero” from her last album and Grande’s “Thank U, Next” seem at first glance to be about taking accountability, but really continue the theme of dodging real responsibility.

I’m not sure if music has always been rooted in scrutinizing the artist’s life, but it certainly seems to have become more popular in recent years. The level of interest and analysis around things as simple as word choice or order has probably never been as high, either. It’s also worth considering that these two much-hyped albums were released within two months of each other. Granted, Swift’s new music has only been out for about 40 hours, and there are 31 whole songs spanning a full 65 minutes and 8 seconds, so I will need to listen to it a few more times for it all to sink in.

Grande’s album, which dropped last month, was scrutinized by fans and critics alike. It was released shortly after her divorce from Dalton Gomez and her budding relationship (reportedly) with fellow Wicked cast member Ethan Slater.

When I first played through ES, I was mostly underwhelmed and annoyed. There was, as expected, no accountability for what her actions did to the mother of a newborn and a lot of romanticizing of her latest man. But even on just my second listening, I knew I had a few favorite tracks. Other Engadget staff members agree with me: ES is a solid album with quite a few bangers. 

Ariana Grande - Eternal Sunshine

I may not endorse Grande’s behavior — and no one asked me to — but damn, I can’t help liking her music. And it’s probably because I’m hooked on the melodies and production, not the lyrical content.

Swift, on the other hand, seems more of an aspiring wordsmith. Much has been said about her lyrical abilities, and I have no desire to retread those waters. I’ll just say that as an occasional aspiring poet myself, I have to admire the laissez faire approach of rhyming “department” with “apartment.”

I’m more intrigued by what seems to me like the priority of a song’s words over its tune and sound. Like Billboard states, TTPD’s title alone “calls even more attention to her lyricism than usual.”

Swift’s music has always felt like journal entries meant for the public, chock-full of inside references, Easter eggs and thinly veiled digs at former lovers. Her earlier works were therefore highly relatable for scores of teenagers around the world. But as her success ballooned, so has she grown out of touch with the average person, and her songs have consequently become more like glimpses into a life that mere mortals can only dream about. While her pieces continue to feel like blogs or Tumblr posts, Swift controls the narrative by carefully orchestrating not just synths, guitars and lyrics, but also pap walks and delicately timed public appearances.

Unlike Grande, who has mostly avoided appearing with Slater at high-profile events and also hasn’t hidden as many Easter eggs in her songs, Swift has not been afraid to show off and show up for her new partner. She’s not publicity-averse; she seems to anticipate and almost courts it.

With the general strategy around TTPD, like announcing it at the Grammy’s and slow teases of lyrics and cover art, it certainly seems like these days, the billionaire with a private jet problem is more focused on her myth and financial value than the art of songwriting.

Swift surprised everyone at 2AM on April 19 by releasing a whole 15 more songs alongside the initial 16 people were expecting for TTPD. This meant that anyone who pre-ordered the original album would miss out on basically an entire second album worth of tracks and need to spend more. The Swift team also made several versions of the physical album available, like collectors’ editions — all blatant cash grabs designed to maximize revenue.

Grande is guilty of this too, making so many different iterations of “Yes, and?” when that single was released in what seemed like an attempt to place the song at the top of streaming charts. ES also has different versions of cover art for fans to spend their hard-earned money on.

Here’s the thing. Do I care deeply about either of these albums? Nope. Did I eagerly listen to them, hoping to glean insight on their seemingly messy and chaotic relationships? Yes. But despite Swift’s marketing and positioning herself as a poet — and TTPD offering more of a look at her fling with Matty Healy from The 1975 — I realized I just didn’t quite like her album musically. In fact, my favorite Swift songs like “Wildest Dreams” and “Delicate” are beautiful symphonies of atmospheric synths and instrumentation.

Maybe I’m just learning that I care more about music than lyrics. Or maybe I think good songs are a combination of the two and should speak for themselves without having to rely on hype, gossip and marketing tactics. To be fair, that’s true of all art, whether it’s film, photography or poetry. And while the irony of my being sucked into playing TTPD and ES due to the promise of learning about their lives isn’t lost on me, I guess I just wish I could listen to music (and read books and watch movies) without having to worry or be so concerned about the creator’s choices and actions. But in 2024 (and beyond), that seems no longer feasible.

This article originally appeared on Engadget at https://www.engadget.com/what-were-listening-to-the-tortured-poets-department-and-eternal-sunshine-150035421.html?src=rss

Rebel Moon Part 2 review: A slow-mo sci-fi slog

Rebel Moon: Part 2 - The Scargiver is an empty feast. It's a relentless onslaught of explosions, sci-fi tropes and meaningless exposition that amounts to nothing. And yet somehow it's still better than the first film in Zack Snyder's wannabe sci-fi epic franchise for Netflix, Rebel Moon: Part 1 - A Child of Fire. (What do these titles really mean? Who cares.) 

With all of the dull table-setting complete, Snyder is able to let his true talents soar in Rebel Moon: Part 2 by delivering endless battles filled with slow-motion action and heroic poses. It looks cool, I just wish it added up to something. Anything.

Spoilers ahead for Rebel Moon: Part 2.

If you somehow missed the first Rebel Moon film, the basic setup is that it's Star Wars meets The Seven Samurai. Sofia Boutella stars as Kora, a former elite soldier of an evil empire who is hiding out in an all-too idyllic farming village, just planting and harvesting her days away. When a group of military baddies kills the chief of the village and starts threatening a young girl, Kora goes on a murdering spree (in defense!), leaving the community open to a retaliatory attack. 

She spends the first movie recruiting potential warriors to defend the village, including a fallen gladiator (Djimoun Hounsou) and a bad-ass swordswoman (Doona Bae). (Their names are Titus and Nemesis, respectively, but those don't really matter because the characters are paper thin.)

Full disclosure: I tried writing a review for the first Rebel Moon and just gave up in disgust. It was a shockingly boring epic, so much so that it took me several days to watch without falling asleep. By the end, I was only left with a feeling of dread, knowing that there was still another two hours of Rebel Moon ahead of me.

It's somewhat empty praise, but at least I didn't fall asleep during The Scargiver. Mostly, that's due to the film actually having a sense of momentum and a lot more action. You can turn off your brain and enjoy the pretty pictures, much like you could for Snyder's Sucker Punch, Justice League and Watchmen adaptation. He's more a stylist than a natural storyteller, but occasionally Snyder's visuals, such as a baffling montage of our heroes harvesting wheat, can be almost poetic.

Netflix

It's just a shame that I didn't care much about the film's characters or any aspect of its story. James Gunn's Guardian's of the Galaxy trilogy made us fall in love with a band of misfits and screwups, with storylines that directly led to their personal and emotional growth. The crew in Rebel Moon, instead, feel like cardboard cutouts from better movies, and the overall plot feels forced (there's even setup for another film by the end). 

Hounsou tries to sell the pathos of Titus with his eyes, but he can only do so much. And while Bae's warrior woman exudes cool (and has a very compelling flashback), she's mostly wasted when the action really heats up. Then there's Jimmy, a robot voiced by Anthony Hopkins, who is briefly introduced in the first film and pops up for a few minutes here to kick butt. Why? It doesn't matter. Somehow that character is also important enough to serve as the narrator for both Rebel Moon films (but really it seems Snyder just wanted Hopkins' voice adding gravitas).

Perhaps the only real saving grace for Rebel Moon: Part 2, much like the first film, is Ed Skrein as the villainous Atticus Noble. As a sadistic baddie, he's really nothing new, but Skrein's heightened scenery chomping makes the character interesting to watch. Where Darth Vader exudes a calm sense of dread, Skrein's Noble is entertainingly chaotic, like the Joker crossed with Christoph Waltz's Hans Landa from Inglorious Basterds. He just has a lot of fun being bad — that's something!

Given how popular the first film was (according to Snyder and Netflix, anyway), we'll likely see more Rebel Moon down the line. Snyder previously said he'd like to do a six-hour director's cut of both films, and he recently told Radio Times that he'd like to stretch the Rebel Moon series out to four or six films. Somehow, that just feels like a threat. 

This article originally appeared on Engadget at https://www.engadget.com/rebel-moon-part-2-review-a-slow-mo-sci-fi-slog-195505911.html?src=rss

Ryan Gosling and Miller/Lord’s Project Hail Mary could be the sci-fi event of 2026

Do you like rip-roaring science fiction books? Do you like movies? Then you are in for a treat in, well, two years. Amazon MGM Studios just set a release date of March 20, 2026 for Project Hail Mary, according to Deadline. It’s based on the Andy Weir novel of the same name, which was one of our favorite books of the past few years, so color us excited.

The film stars honorary SNL cast member Ryan Gosling and will be directed by Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, the duo behind The Lego Movie and, allegedly, most of the good parts of Solo: A Star Wars Story. Lord also wrote a little-known movie called Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse.

The script was penned by Drew Goddard, who cut his teeth on TV shows like Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Lost before moving onto features. He directed Cabin in the Woods, which is somehow both iconic and underrated at the same time. If the name Andy Weir sounds familiar, it’s because he wrote a book called The Martian, which inspired the Matt Damon film. Incidentally, Goddard also wrote that script.

This summary of Project Hail Mary, clearly written by an AI, just gets more and more wild as you continue reading: https://t.co/XeuITzFVBG

— Andy Weir (@andyweirauthor) March 10, 2024

I’ve read the book and loved it. It’s more fantastical than The Martian, but still filled with the same science-based solutions to massive life-or-death problems. This time, the entire Earth is on the chopping block, instead of one lone astronaut. It’s also pretty dang funny, just like The Martian, so Lord and Miller are a good match to direct. The pair also signed on to direct an adaptation of another Weir novel, Artemis, but that project looks to have stalled.

Or course, a lot can happen in two years. Here’s to hoping our humble little society keeps clunking along so we can chomp down some popcorn in 2026. Speaking of, that year will also see the release of The Mandalorian & Grogu, the Rey Skywalker film, the sequel to The Super Mario Bros. Movie, Toy Story 5, The Batman Part II and, reportedly, Avengers: The Kang Dynasty

This article originally appeared on Engadget at https://www.engadget.com/ryan-gosling-and-millerlords-project-hail-mary-could-be-the-sci-fi-event-of-2026-174440164.html?src=rss

The Morning After: The bill to ban TikTok is barreling ahead.

The bill that could ban TikTok in the United States inches closer to becoming law. The legislation passed the House of Representatives last month, then had to face the Senate — and opposition from a few prominent lawmakers. The House is to vote on a package of bills this weekend, which includes a slightly revised version of the TikTok bill. In the latest version, ByteDance would have up to 12 months to divest TikTok, instead of the six months initially pitched.

That change alone was apparently key to winning support from some skeptical members of the Senate, including Sen. Maria Cantwell, chair of the Senate Commerce Committee. What will happen if the bill passes into law? TikTok (and potentially other apps “controlled by a foreign adversary”) would face a ban in US app stores if it declined to sell to a new owner.

— Mat Smith

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Apple says it was ordered to remove WhatsApp and Threads from China App Store

Chinese regulators cited national security concerns.

… and in what you might believe is something of a tit-for-tat move for blocking TikTok, Apple has pulled WhatsApp and Threads from the Chinese App Store. The country’s internet regulator says the removal was required and justified on national security grounds. Apple is always willing to comply, lest it harm relations with one of its largest markets.

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Taylor Swift is joining Threads

At the exact same time as her new album drops.

Taylor Swift has a new album out. Taylor Swift has a new album out.

Taylor Swift has a new album out. Taylor Swift has a new album out.

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Analogue Duo review

A second chance for an underappreciated console.

Tim Stevens for Engadget

Analogue’s latest retro console takes us to the multimedia era with the Duo: a love letter to one of Japan’s most beloved (but niche) consoles, the TurboGrafx-16. It’s a deep cut from a brand that has made its name reviving the most obscure hardware from gaming history. But, as much as you can emulate all of these titles on pretty much any device you have laying around, there’s something different about running it from the original media.

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Netflix is done telling us how many people use Netflix

There’s no penalty for secrecy if you’re a streaming company.

Netflix has always been secretive about how much of its near-limitless library of content is being watched at any given time. Now, the company has said it will even stop disclosing how many subscribers it has to prevent giving Wall Street another stick with which to beat it. Instead, it’ll only drop data when it’s good PR, like crossing the 300-million subscriber threshold, and stick telling everyone how much money it’s making.

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This article originally appeared on Engadget at https://www.engadget.com/the-morning-after-the-bill-to-ban-tiktok-is-barreling-ahead-111531373.html?src=rss

Fallout has already scored a green light for a second season

Amazon's live adaptation of Fallout was so well-received, the fourth main game in the franchise had a resurgence in sales almost a decade after it was released. If you were ever worried about its fate despite the success it enjoyed, you can rest easy, for now: Amazon has already renewed the show for a second season, mere days after the first one debuted. The Fallout universe is set in a post-apocalyptic world, decades after a nuclear war decimated the planet. Ella Purnell plays Lucy in the series, a vault dweller who was forced to go to the surface to rescue her father.

Walton Goggins seems to be a hit with audiences as the Ghoul, a radioactive noseless bounty-hunting corpse. We called him an "enlightened choice" for the role in our review and found this to be his most engaging performance yet. As a whole, we liked Fallout almost as much as we liked the TV adaptation of the The Last of Us. It features fantastic visuals with detailed sets and costumes that stay true to the source materials, and it has a story that flows well and doesn't feel like it's struggling to juggle several different plotlines. The game is also violent and gory, though, and it's not really for the faint of heart. 

The show is one of Amazon's projects under executive producers Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy, the creators of Westworld, who Prime Video signed back in 2019. "We can’t wait to blow up the world all over again," Nolan and Joy said, indicating that they'll be back for the next season, though Amazon has yet to announce when it will begin production or if it has a timeline for the project.

This article originally appeared on Engadget at https://www.engadget.com/fallout-has-already-scored-a-green-light-for-a-second-season-103013664.html?src=rss

Baldur's Gate 3 developer confirms it won't make the sequel

The developer behind the popular, award-winning and slightly bawdy Baldur's Gate 3 confirmed that it won't be doing Baldur's Gate 4 — but it does have other irons in the fire. 

 "We won't be introducing any major new narrative content to the story of Baldur's Gate 3 (BG3) or its origin characters and companions, nor will we be making expansions or Baldur’s Gate 4," Larian Studio wrote in a community update on Steam. "We’re currently working on two new projects and we couldn’t be more excited about what the future has in store."

Larian promised more news about the new games "later down the line," but did give a hint about the style. "Know that even as our focus turns to these new games, the sensibilities that brought you Baldur’s Gate 3 are alive and well here at the Larian castle. I don’t know if we’re going to pull it off, but looking at our narrative, visual and gameplay plans, I think what we’re working on now will be our best work ever."

Baldur's Gate 3 has been praised for its breadth, character development, puzzles, combat, D&D fidelity and, of course, intimate relationships. It sold around 15 million copies, far exceeding the expectations of the studio, while pretty much sweeping game accolades over the last year. Namely, it took game of the year prizes at The Game Awards, The Steam Awards, D.I.C.E. awards, Streamer Awards, Hugo Awards, GLAAD Media Awards and others.

Director Swen Vincke previously revealed that the studio dropped plans for BG3 DLC and a sequel, partly due to constraints imposed by the Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition mechanics. Still, there's no question of a sequel for the Hasbro-owned property. "We've done our job. It's a story with a beginning, a middle and an end. So let's pass the torch to another studio to pick up this incredible legacy," he added. 

This article originally appeared on Engadget at https://www.engadget.com/baldurs-gate-3-developer-confirms-it-wont-make-the-sequel-091930642.html?src=rss

Surprise: Taylor Swift is joining Threads at the exact same time as her new album drop

With the Eras Tour still under way and The Tortured Poets Department dropping today, you can't shake off Taylor Swift these days. She's everywhere — in the news, on streaming services and on social media, which now includes Threads. Taylor's Threads account, and her first post, are going live around midnight. And if you're one of the first people to share her post, you'll get a custom badge based on her new album's artwork that you can display on your Threads profile. 

Meta has been dropping hints and releasing easter eggs for Swifties over the past week as part of a countdown for her album release today. You may have even seen its call to pre-follow Swift on Threads, along with the shimmer effect that's been showing up on conversations on the social network with Taylor-related hashtags. Celebratory hearts pop up when you like relevant posts, as well. 

On Instagram, you'll be able to change the background in your DMs with one that's inspired by TPD's artwork. The company told Engadget that the countdown on Taylor's Instagram profile will also reset, and you can apparently expect yet another surprise in-app experience to go live at 2AM ET. 

This article originally appeared on Engadget at https://www.engadget.com/surprise-taylor-swift-is-joining-threads-on-the-day-her-new-album-drops-040026147.html?src=rss

Netflix is done telling us how many people use Netflix

Netflix will stop disclosing the number of people who signed up for its service, as well as the revenue it generates from each subscriber from next year, the company announced on Thursday. It will focus, instead, on highlighting revenue growth and the amount of time spent on its platform.

“In our early days, when we had little revenue or profit, membership growth was a strong indicator of our future potential,” the company said in a letter to shareholders. “But now we’re generating very substantial profit and free cash flow.”

Netflix revealed that the service added 9.33 million subscribers over the last few months, bringing the total number of paying households worldwide to nearly 270 million. Despite its decision to stop reporting user numbers each quarter, Netflix said that the company will “announce major subscriber milestones as we cross them,” which means we’ll probably hear about it when it crosses 300 million.

Netflix estimates that more than half a billion people around the world watch TV shows and movies through its service, an audience it is now figuring out how to squeeze even more money out of through new pricing tiers, a crackdown on password-sharing, and showing ads. Over the last few years, it has also steadily added games like the Grand Theft Auto trilogy, Hades, Dead Cells, Braid, and more, to its catalog.

Subscriber metrics are an important signal to Wall Street because they show how quickly a company is growing. But Netflix’s move to stop reporting these is something that we’ve seen from other companies before. In February, Meta announced that it would no longer break out the number of daily and monthly Facebook users each quarter but only reveal how many people collectively used Facebook, WhatsApp, Messenger, and Instagram. In 2018, Apple, too, stopped reporting the number of iPhones, iPads, and Macs it sold each quarter, choosing to focus, instead, on how much money it made in each category.

This article originally appeared on Engadget at https://www.engadget.com/netflix-is-done-telling-us-how-many-people-use-netflix-215149971.html?src=rss

Netflix will stop tossing coins to The Witcher after season five

Netflix has renewed The Witcher for a fifth season, but the company says that will bring the series to an end. The final season will be shot back-to-back with the fourth season, which has just started production. The two seasons will cover the events of the last three books in the series: Baptism of Fire, The Tower of the Swallow and Lady of the Lake. The show is a direct adaptation of Andrzej Sapkowski’s novels, but it does occasionally take inspiration from CD Projekt Red's game adaptations (and vice versa).

The fourth season will mark a significant change for The Witcher, as Liam Hemsworth is replacing Henry Cavill in the lead role. This time around, Geralt of Rivia will find a new family in the Hanza, who will help him track down Yennefer and Ciri after the trio is separated. New cast members who are joining for the fourth season include Laurence Fishburne, Sharlto Copley and James Purefoy.

This article originally appeared on Engadget at https://www.engadget.com/netflix-will-stop-tossing-coins-to-the-witcher-after-season-five-171500284.html?src=rss

Cities: Skylines 2's embarrassed developers are giving away beachfront property for free

Cities: Skylines 2 developer Colossal Order is unlisting and refunding purchases of its controversial Beach Properties asset pack less than a month after its release. It’s also significantly delaying the game's future DLC and console port.

Beach Properties was the first paid DLC for Cities: Skylines 2, and has an “Overwhelmingly Negative” rating on Steam, with just 4 percent of user reviews marked as positive. In a note announcing the reverse of course, Colossal Order CEO Mariina Hallikainen said the company had let its community down. 

“We thought we could make up for the shortcomings of the game in a timeframe that was unrealistic, and rushed out a DLC that should not have been published in its current form," Hallikainen said. "For all this, we are truly sorry.”

The asset pack itself worked as advertised, adding a number of zoneable waterfront-style properties to the game, but it was definitely thin for the $9.99 asking price. Most will admit, though, that the content itself wasn’t the problem: The DLC was largely derided because it was released at a time when players were waiting on patches for the base game. Cities: Skylines 2 was released in a poorly optimized state in October 2023, and although it’s in better shape now, many in the community feel there are fundamental issues with the simulation, and there is still work to be done to make the game run better. Mod support — perhaps the reason that the original Cities: Skylines had such a long lifespan — was also slow to arrive, and is still only in beta, with no support for custom assets.

In an FAQ accompanying the announcement, Colossal Order explains how the refund and compensation program will work. Essentially, if you bought the DLC separately, you should be able to get a refund. Those who redeemed a code as part of the game's Deluxe or Ultimate editions will not. Instead, compensation will come in the form of creator asset packs and radio stations which Colossal Order says will "total around $39.99 in added value." The beachfront properties will be added to the base game, free of charge, for all players.

To call Cities: Skylines 2’s launch messy would be kind. Since the game’s release on PC last October, developer Colossal Order has burned through the goodwill it built up over a near-decade of the original game’s lifespan. Things came to a head in late January, when many of the community's loudest and most respected voices broke rank to talk openly about the game's issues.

Another casualty of today's announcement is the game's console release. Cities: Skylines 2 was supposed to launch simultaneously on PC and console, but the PS5 and Xbox versions were pushed back to spring 2024 weeks before release. It has been clear for some time that revised date was not going to happen, and Colossal Order confirmed it's now hoping to have the console ports ready for October.

The final piece of bad news is that Bridges & Ports — the first expansion pack that will go beyond assets — is going to be further delayed to Q1 2025 to allow the developers to "focus on additional free patches and game updates in the coming months." The expansion pack was supposed to be released in Q2 2024, and is included in the game's Ultimate Edition.

This article originally appeared on Engadget at https://www.engadget.com/cities-skylines-2s-embarrassed-developers-are-giving-away-beachfront-property-for-free-170042260.html?src=rss