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With new EP, Orville Peck proves he’s no One-Trick ‘Pony’

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Orville Peck queers country music even further on “Show Pony.” (Photo via Instagram)

The musician known as Orville Peck requires a lot of adjectives to describe.

Openly gay yet tantalizingly anonymous, he’s a Canadian singer-songwriter who hides his true identity behind both an evocative pseudonym and a fringed mask – an artistic choice made well before the advent of Covid-19. Yet despite all the symbolic barriers he throws between himself and his audience, he sings songs that are often almost painfully honest, pulling you in with his growling, resonant baritone before soaring to the velvety heights of an upper range that can make you fall in love – an effect only heightened by the built-in mystique of his stylish disguise.

His 2019 debut album, “Pony,” made him one of the buzziest new names in music. A collection of standout tracks, delivered in a resonant baritone that pulled you in before soaring into the velvet heights of an upper range capable of making you fall in love, it established his mythic persona – the mysterious country crooner with a bad-boy past and a broken heart – while establishing him as a unique musical talent capable of transcending not only his genre, but his queer identity as well.

Now, on his follow-up EP, “Show Pony,” Peck delivers a sextet of new tracks which double down on his considerable strengths. Featuring a more consistent “country” feel than its predecessor, which leaned hard into the twangy signature sound of its instantly iconic opening track (“Dead of Night”) but still took time for musical diversions like the Patti Smith-inspired “Buffalo Run” to allow for a show of versatility, it seems on the surface like a more traditional offering; but after listening to it even the first time through, this new mini-collection of songs quickly reveals that Peck, like some kind of cowboy provocateur, is bent on pushing boundaries even further this time around.

The first two songs, “Summertime” and “No Glory in the West” are thematically-similar country ballads that continue seamlessly in the singer’s familiar vein. In the first, Peck struggles for hope while lamenting the loss of long-gone past, while in the second he adopts a less upbeat pose as he catalogs the cold indignities of a dog-eat-dog world. Both songs feel uncannily apt to our own here-and-now, their contrasting emotional centers resonating deeply in a world of lockdowns, cancellations, social distancing, and constitutional crises; juxtaposed as they are here, they present a distinct look at the two sides of Orville Peck – the world-weary romantic and the jaded cynic – already displayed on his first album, but here revealed in stark relief, and engaged in a tug of war that reinforces and refines the singer’s reputation for capturing the nuance of loneliness.

With the remaining four tracks, Peck pulls in ever-more unexpected directions.

In “Kids,” another mournful lament, he finds consolation in the kind of long-term relationships that truly sustain us – those with the special people from our past with whom our connection can lift us up in trying times. It’s a refreshing message in a sea of popular music perennially focused on romantic love.

“Drive Me, Crazy,” Peck’s spin on the “trucker ballad,” reflects on the metaphoric lessons learned from a life on the road, subtly poking fun at the cliches and maudlin sentimentality of the sub-genre that inspired it while never losing a drop of his affecting sincerity. It saves its most powerful touch for the final playout, with a spoken outro in which a lonely driver reaches out for connection via CB radio to a fellow trucker whose eye caught his in the rearview mirror; it’s a relatable impulse, rendered remarkable – even shocking – by gender, and it turns the song into a profound acknowledgement of the added feelings of isolation that “otherness” can bring.

Even the EP’s most high-profile song, Peck’s duet with Shania Twain, challenges our expectations. Titled “Legends Never Die,” it’s a quintessential power anthem cut from the same cloth as so many classic collaborations between country artists in the past,. True to Peck’s style, the traditional gives way to his reinvention, transforming what usually comes with a presumption of romantic entanglement into a mutual celebration between two close friends who both know what it’s like to rise from the ashes – with any question of their relationship being soundly resolved by the accompanying video, which showcases a sequin-bedazzled Peck and a leopard-skinned Twain strutting and prancing together at a drive-in theatre full of queer patrons. The song is clearly the album’s bid for a hit – something Peck’s superstar collaborator can help deliver – and its infectious musicality, coupled with its affirming message of self-empowerment, would make it a deserving one.

It’s the final cut on “Show Pony,” however, that goes the deepest. Peck finishes out his mini-album with a disquieting and unforgettable cover of “Fancy,” the 1970 Bobbie Gentry song about a young girl groomed by her mother to become a sex worker as the only possible escape from a life of hopeless poverty. Composed as a feminist anthem at a time when feminism was a controversial stance (how little things change), the controversy it stirred only cemented its classic status, and a 1990 cover by Reba McIntire became iconic in its own right. Now, with Peck’s growling, masculine bass taking on the first-person narrative, it becomes an intersectional anthem for anyone whose “otherness” has caused them to suffer in the shadows of economic and cultural repression. When Peck delivers the lyric, “Starin’ back from the lookin’ glass / There stood a woman where a half-grown boy had stood,” it’s surely the most electrifying moment on “Show Pony,” reinventing the song not by altering its original message, but by expanding and amplifying it, and then leaving us to ponder it in silence as the album fades to silence.

Initially slated to drop earlier this summer, “Show Pony” was held back in deference to the protests over the murder of George Floyd, though the singles “Summertime” and “No Glory in the West” were both released in May. When the EP finally became available on Friday, August 14, it had become a hotly-anticipated event, and judging from the reaction of fans and critics alike, it seems the verdict is that it was well-worth the wait.

That’s a good thing for Orville Peck, not least because the artistic conceit of his mysterious persona could easily come to be seen as a gimmick if it failed to capture audiences a second time – not that there was much chance of that. Thanks to his talents as a singer and songwriter, Peck has already proven he has a lot more behind the mask than just a catchy concept, or even just a pretty face.

More than that, with “Show Pony,” he also proves that he is willing and able to use his spotlight to lift up a whole legion of intersecting identities, simply because of the one thing he has not kept secret – namely, his queerness – and that makes all the difference.

 

You can watch the video for “Legends Never Die” (featuring Shania Twain) below.

 

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Travel

July 4 travel woes in flight cancellations, record number Americans driving

A record number of Americans are expected to travel by car this upcoming July 4th holiday weekend, per the Triple A auto club

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Photo Credit: County of Los Angeles

LOS ANGELES – As the 4th of July weekend approaches, Americans getting underway to travel are facing heavy delays and cancellations amid staffing strains, weather, among other issues with U.S. air carriers.

On Friday according to tracking website FlightAware.com as of 7PM Pacific there were 27,544 total delays, domestic flight cancellations were 2,975 and international flight cancellations within, into, or out of the United States were 571.

(See the MiseryMap for a live visualization of flight delays.)

CNBC reported that consumer complaints are piling up. In April, the latest available data, the Transportation Department received 3,105 from travelers about U.S. airlines, up nearly 300% from April 2021, and at nearly double the rate during the same period last year.

The unprecedented number of airline cancelations and delays is causing travelers to choose to drive and fly. Delta, American Airlines and United are all trimming their schedules even further to accommodate staffing shortages, despite passenger levels hitting post-pandemic highs.

Airlines and the Federal Aviation Administration have sparred over who’s to blame. Airlines chalk up the disruptions to bad weather, their staffing shortages and staffing problems at the government’s air traffic control.

Yesterday, the FAA’s acting Administrator Billy Nolen and other top agency officials held a call with airline executives to discuss weekend planning, including the agency’s use of overtime to staff its facilities, traffic and routing plans, according to a person familiar with the meeting. The call was in addition to regular planning meetings with airlines.

U. S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg speaks with reporters on Zoom call about flight cancellations and expected delays this July 4th holiday weekend.

U. S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg: “It is time for the airline industry to deliver.”

Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg told reporters Friday that, “passengers have high expectations from an industry that we have supported with tens of billions of dollars in taxpayer funding through the pandemic to keep it up and running so that it can serve passengers. Now we need them to deliver.”

Concerned about flight cancellation trends, Buttigieg said he has spoken directly with airlines.

“Something I’ve asked them to do so that if you’re selling a ticket, you know you can back that up, that you have the staffing to do it,” he added.

A record number of Americans are expected to travel by car this upcoming July 4th holiday weekend, per a new report from the Triple A auto club.

Screenshot/NBC News

Just in time for that Fourth of July travel, gas prices are continuing to drop from their record high points of two weeks ago as the Energy Information Administration reports that gasoline stockpiles across the country have increased, according to the Auto Club’s Weekend Gas Watch.

Since Monday, the national average for a gallon of regular gasoline has decreased by four cents to $4.85.

Despite the highest 4th of July gas prices on record, 42 million Americans are driving this holiday.

Travelers Driving This 4th of July Weekend To Avoid Airport Chaos:

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Sports

Welsh Olympic distance swimmer Dan Jervis comes Out

Jervis, who placed 5th in distance swimming at the Olympics in Tokyo said he was inspired by Blackpool FC soccer player Jake Daniels

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Dan Jervis (Screenshot via British Swimming Livestream-archive)

NEATH, Talbot County Borough, Wales – In a recent interview with BBC Radio Cornwall, 26-year-old British Olympian distance swimmer Dan Jervis revealed that he had given considerable thought before announcing to the world that he is gay.

Jervis told the BBC’s LGBT Sport Podcast; “I was adjusting to everything else, just trying to fit in — until I thought, Just be you.”

Jervis, who placed 5th in distance swimming for the British team at the Olympic games in Tokyo, Japan, told the BBC he was inspired by 17-year-old Blackpool FC forward Jake Daniels, the professional soccer player who made history as only the second person in the past 30 years to acknowledge their sexual orientation publicly in that sport in the United Kingdom.

The swimmer also told the BBC it was important to be seen as a role model as he readies to compete in the upcoming Commonwealth Games. Jervis has previously competed winning a 1500m freestyle silver and bronze at the 2014 and 2018 Games in Glasgow, Scotland and Australia’s Gold Coast respectively.

“It took me 24 years to be who I am,” he said and added, “You know, we’re just before the Commonwealth Games and there are going to be kids and adults watching who will know that I’m like them, and that I’m proud of who I am.”

The Olympian reflected on his decision to announce he was gay: “For so long, I hated who I was – and you see it all the time, people who are dying over this. They hate themselves so much that they’re ending their lives.

“So if I can just be that someone people can look at and say, ‘yeah, they’re like me,’ then that’s good.”

Jervis then said he revealed his sexuality to a close friend when he was 24: “At that point, I’d never said the words out loud to myself.”

“I said to her: ‘I think I’m gay.’ I couldn’t even say: ‘I’m gay.’ I was basically punching the words out.

“She was quite shocked but great, and it was exactly the reaction I wanted. I’ve had all good reactions, and the way I’ve described it is I’m not going to change as a person.

“Everyone’s journey is different, but I think I’ve always known.

“It was something in the back of my mind, bugging me. I thought I was bisexual and had girlfriends that I loved – but it came to about three years ago where I knew I had to deal with this.

“It wasn’t affecting my swimming, but me as a human being. It sounds quite drastic, but I wasn’t enjoying my life. Yeah, I was smiling, but there was something missing to make me properly happy.

“I’m still the Dan you’ve always known. You just know something else about me now.”

The Commonwealth Games open in Birmingham, UK on July 28.

Listen: https://www.bbc.co.uk/sounds/play/p0chqfhn

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Online Culture

FCC asks Apple & Google to remove TikTok app from their stores

Its pattern of surreptitious data practices that are documented show TikTok is non-compliant with app store policies and practises

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Graphic by Molly Butler for Media Matters

WASHINGTON – In a series of tweets Tuesday, Federal Communications Commissioner Brendan Carr disclosed a letter sent to both Apple and Google’s parent company Alphabet asking the two tech giants to remove TikTok from their app stores over his concerns that user data from the wildly popular social media platform is disclosed and used by bad actors in China.

In his letter dated June 24 to Apple CEO Tim Cook and Alphabet CEO Sundar Pichai, Carr noted that because of its pattern of surreptitious data practices documented in reports and other sources, TikTok is non-compliant with the two companies’ app store policies and practises.

“TikTok is not what it appears to be on the surface. It is not just an app for sharing funny videos or meme. That’s the sheep’s clothing,” he said in the letter. “At its core, TikTok functions as a sophisticated surveillance tool that harvests extensive amounts of personal and sensitive data.”

Carr stated that if the companiest do not remove TikTok from their app stores, they should provide statements to him by July 8.

The statements should explain “the basis for your company’s conclusion that the surreptitious access of private and sensitive U.S. user data by persons located in Beijing, coupled with TikTok’s pattern of misleading representations and conduct, does not run afoul of any of your app store policies,” he said.

Carr was appointed by former President Trump in 2018 to a five-year term with the FCC.

In March of this year, California Attorney General Rob Bonta announced a nationwide investigation into TikTok for promoting its social media platform to children and young adults while its use is associated with physical and mental health harms to youth.

The investigation will look into the harms using TikTok can cause to young users and what TikTok knew about those harms. The investigation focuses, among other things, on the techniques utilized by TikTok to boost young user engagement, including strategies or efforts to increase the duration of time spent on the platform and frequency of engagement with the platform.

TikTok’s computer algorithms pushing video content to users can promote eating disorders and even self-harm and suicide to young viewers. Texas opened an investigation into TikTok’s alleged violations of children’s privacy and facilitation of human trafficking last month.

TikTok has said it focuses on age-appropriate experiences, noting that some features, such as direct messaging, are not available to younger users. The company says it has tools in place, such as screen-time management, to help young people and parents moderate how long children spend on the app and what they see, the Associated Press reported.

“We care deeply about building an experience that helps to protect and support the well-being of our community, and appreciate that the state attorneys general are focusing on the safety of younger users,” the company said. “We look forward to providing information on the many safety and privacy protections we have for teens.”

TikTok has also had a problematic relationship with the LGBTQ+ community. Recently The Washington Post confirmed that the ‘Libs of TikTok,’ an influential anti-LGBTQ account regularly targets LGBTQ individuals and their allies for harassment from its more than 640,000 Twitter followers while serving as a veritable wire service for Fox News and the rest of the right-wing media to push anti-LGBTQ smears.

Libs of TikTok regularly targets individual teachers and their workplaces – releasing their personal information that includes school and individual names as well as social media accounts, and leading its audience to harass the schools on social media.

A year ago, an investigation by Media Matters found that TikTok’s “For You” page recommendation algorithm circulated videos promoting hate and violence targeting the LGBTQ community during Pride Month, while the company celebrated the month with its #ForYourPride campaign. 

Numerous LGBTQ+ content creators have shared stories with the Blade about TikTok’s seemingly arbitrary algorithms that target otherwise benign content that is not listed outside of the platform’s polices and removed the content. In many cases restoring the posts after appeals or in the worst case scenarios banning the users.

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