Duke Porn Star Belle Knox to Host The Sex Factor Reality Show

Belle Knox
Freshman Duke University student and porn star Belle Knox will be hosting a new reality show. Here she poses at a television studio in New York City on March 18, 2014. Dennis Van Tine—Geisler-Fotopres/AP

The Duke University student who made headlines when she claimed her adult movie career was "empowering" is set to host a web-based reality show that pits 16 first-time porn stars against each other for a $1 million prize

Porn star Belle Knox will be hosting a new web-based reality show called The Sex Factor.

Eight guys and eight girls will compete against each other for “porn stardom” and a cash prize of $1 million. None of the contestants have been filmed before.

Belle Knox, the Duke University student who made headlines after being outed as porn star earlier this year, will be hosting the show, while other famous adult movie actors — Tori Black, Lexi Belle, Keiran Lee and Remy LaCroix — have been recruited as judges.

Fans watching the show will be able to vote on challenges attempted, the contestants’ porn names as well as deciding the winner. The show will call for castings via Twitter to be held in California from May.

TIME Television

HBO’s Game of Thrones Gets Record Viewership

Game Of Thrones

About 6.6 million people tuned in on Sunday to watch the Season 4 premiere, making it HBO's largest audience since the screen fell dark on Tony Soprano over the dulcet tones of "Don't Stop Believin'" back in 2007. No wonder HBO Go crashed

There’s a good reason why Game of Thrones crashed HBO Go last night: an estimated 6.6 million viewers tuned in to watch the Season 4 premiere of the hit series, the largest audience the premium channel has received since The Sopranos ended in 2007.

Factor in the premiere’s two reruns, and a total of about 8.2 million people watched the show. The Season 4 audience also eclipsed the 4.4 million viewers who tuned in to Game of Thrones’ Season 3 premiere, Reuters reports.

Sunday’s record beat out the previous high of 5.5 million viewers who tuned in to the Season 3 finale. The war-centric fantasy is slowly becoming one of HBO’s most popular shows ever: according to a Vulture chart, the only show that received better ratings was The Sopranos.


TIME celebrities

Selena Gomez Stalker Charged with Felony

Che Cruz, 20, was reportedly arrested twice in one week for stalking the former Disney channel star

Singer and former Disney channel star Selena Gomez’s alleged stalker was charged with felony stalking and violating a court order to avoid the 21-year-old on Monday. Che Cruz was arrested twice last week for for harassing Gomez, according to the Associated Press, but was released from jail after his first arrest.

Just days after the 20-year-old was arrested and charged with unlawfully entering Gomez’s home. The singer and actor was reportedly home during the intrusion. Later, Cruz was released from jail despite being put on probation and sentenced to up to 45 days in jail. Yet, he was caught jumping a fence at her Calabasas home on Friday, just hours after his release.

This time, if he’s convicted, Cruz could face up to four years in prison.


TIME movies

Peter Mayhew to Return as Chewbacca in Star Wars Sequel


The "Chewy" originator, 69-year-old Peter Mayhew, will be one of several original cast members to return in the J.J. Abrams–directed Star Wars Episode VII, slated for release in December 2015. Others include Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher and Mark Hamill

Peter Mayhew will play Chewbacca in Episode VII, according to the Hollywood Reporter. The 69-year-old actor is set to return to his role as the iconic Wookie in the Star Wars sequel, which will hit theaters in December 2015.

Disney Studios chairman Alan Horn announced on April 2 that filming for the project had already begun, although neither Disney nor Lucasfilm has disclosed many details on the production other than saying that many of the cast members have already been selected.

Mayhew, who played Chewbacca starting in Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope in 1977, is just one of the original cast members who will reportedly be returning in the J.J. Abrams film. Harrison Ford, Mark Hamill and Carrie Fisher will also reportedly return. Episode VII will reportedly be set 30 years after the 1983 film Return of the Jedi.

[The Hollywood Reporter]

TIME Music

Bangerz Tour Review: Miley Cyrus Doesn’t Need So Many Cheap Tricks

Miley Cyrus In Concert - Bangerz Tour - Toronto, ON
George Pimentel—WireImage/Getty Images

The strange, surreal world of the controversial songbird's Bangerz tour

It’s unlikely that Miley Cyrus’ erstwhile best friend Lesley was in the crowd on Saturday night, as Cyrus played a sold-out crowd at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, but lots of the singer’s other friends were there — thousands of them, wearing crop-tops and taking selfies and screaming along to the music. “I could not be more thankful for better friends,” she said at one point to the crowd. “I don’t think I realized how much you love me until just now.”

Cyrus was mourning the recent death of her dog, Floyd; she cried through more than one song. While it was surreal to watch the singer, clad in black-and-white furry chaps, sob while clutching a 60-foot inflatable replicable of Floyd (with blue eyes that glowed eerily in the light) during a performance her 2010 single “Can’t Be Tamed,” there was also some great pathos in that spectacle, in the rawness of her grief. It felt like a tidy encapsulation of Miley Cyrus circa 2014: for all the sexual aggression and wild provocation, there’s something very sincere and terribly human about her.

That tension was on full display during Saturday’s show, which paired cheap thrills (during “Party In the U.S.A.”, she simulated fellatio on a man dressed as Abraham Lincoln) with impressive musicality. Well-chosen covers of Bob Dylan’s “Lonesome When You Go,” Dolly Parton’s “Jolene,” Coldplay’s “The Scientist” and Lana Del Rey’s “Summertime Sadness” shone more than most of her own material. Cyrus’ rich, dusky vocals are better suited to ballads like “The Climb” (which she did not perform) than to zany urban pop like “SMS (Bangerz),” but — just as all the exposed flesh serves to draw attention away from Cyrus’ vision as an artist — it can be hard to hear her over the gimmicky songs. On her purest love song from Bangerz, the lush “Adore You,” she turned the camera on the audience as couples in the crowd made out. It was a cheaper trick than the song deserved.

She’s still one of the most dynamic performers of her generation; the sets, costumes and visuals were often spectacular, surrealist and visually arresting. Even if the show also felt cluttered with too many distractions, it’s weird fun, and though looking past the parade of goofy vulgarity is taxing, Cyrus makes it worth the effort. Madonna was in the crowd, too, looking on with something resembling approval.

TIME movies

The Long and the Short of Mickey Rooney

Cher File Photos
Mickey Rooney received an Honorary Oscar in 1983 "in recognition of his 50 years of versatility in a variety of memorable film performances." Ron Galella—WireImage/Getty Images

The tiny dynamo, a vaudeville baby who became Hollywood's top star as Andy Hardy and kept making movies for 70 years more, is dead at 93

“You are the most precocious, overconfident, spoiled young man I’ve ever had the misfortune to meet,” says an exasperated Judy Garland early in the 1943 MGM musical Girl Crazy. And Mickey Rooney replies, “I think you’re cute too.”

Seventy-five years ago, moviegoers thought Rooney was the absolute cutest. As Andy Hardy in 15 MGM films, from the 1937 A Family Affair through the 1947 Love Laughs at Andy Hardy, he embodied the irrepressible spirit of the American teenager, talking himself into minor scrapes and falling in love with some new girl at least once a film. In his musicals with Garland, Rooney was the sparkplug for prodigious entrepreneurship — that era’s predecessor of the garage band, but with Gershwin tunes and an all-star cast. Working on the brash side of nice, the 5′ 2″ Rooney told fretful Americans that they could overcome the Depression, and the Nazi menace too, if they just caught some of his go-getter energy — if it could be like Mick.

In Hollywood’s Golden Age, when Clark Gable, Greta Garbo, James Cagney, Bette Davis and other immortals wrote their legends across the screen, the No. 1 box-office attractions were kids well below voting age: Shirley Temple for three years beginning in 1936 (when she was all of eight), immediately followed by Rooney for 1938-’41. Her movies lifted the Fox studio from bankruptcy; his were said to have earned some $3 billion, back when that was real money. Now, within two months of each other, those reigning stars are dead. Temple passed, at 85, on Feb. 10. Rooney died yesterday at 93. The most glamorous chapter of American movies is now officially over.

(READ: The moppet magnetism of Shirley Temple)

Movie stars often outlast the first flame of their appeal; they come and go. (Temple retired from feature films when she was 21.) But Rooney never went. Quite possibly the only actor to have appeared in movies for 10 consecutive decades, he headlined in more than 60 Mickey McGuire comedy shorts of the late-silent and early-sound period; rose from featured player to star in the 1930s; fell from hot-shot to has-been after the War; and simply refused to quit. The occasional miracle year — 1979, when he wowed Broadway in Sugar Babies and played a horse trainer in The Black Stallion (Oscar nomination for Supporting Actor) — might be surrounded by fallow decades of indifferent work in forgettable films and TV shows. But the Rooney engine, once gunned, could never be turned off. A month before his death, the Mick was shooting scenes for Night at the Museum 3.

This man, this eternal kid, said his lifelong mission was to make ‘em laugh. Yet many saw more. To Laurence Olivier, the preeminent classical actor of the 20th century, Rooney was the finest American performer. Cary Grant called him “the most talented man in the history of the movies.” Tennessee Williams said, “There’s only one great actor in the United States, and that is Mickey Rooney.” Gore Vidal, citing Williams’ testimonial on Turner Classic Movies in 2007, added his own praise: “He sings, he dances. He can make you weep, he can play tragedy, he can play comedy… He’s formidable. He can do anything, and effortlessly.”

Joseph Yule, Jr., did it from the start. In his 1991 autobiography Life Is Too Short, Rooney recounts that, at his birth on a kitchen table in Brooklyn on Sep 23, 1920, he was delivered by a Chinese doctor “who patted me on the bottom and said, ‘Okay, kid, you’ve been resting for nine months. Now get to work.'” That didn’t take long. The son of vaudevillian Joe Yule, a Scots immigrant, and dancer Nell Carter, whose folks were from England (no, Mickey Rooney wasn’t Irish), the future star made his debut at the age of 17 months on the stage of Chicago’s Haymarket Theater, where he stole the show singing “Sweet Rosie O’Grady.” From then on, Rooney recalled, “I always enjoyed the lights of the theater…. even now, when I open a refrigerator door, I feel like performing.”

(SEE: Mickey Rooney’s Early Life in Pictures)

Joe Sr., an alcoholic who referred to his son as “that goddamned kid,” split from Nell when the boy was three — a preview of Rooney’s own eight marriages, all of which concluded sourly. Nell took Joe Jr. to Hollywood, where the kid, first calling himself Mickey Yule, quickly found work starring as the street-sassy, cigar-chomping Mickey McGuire in kid comedies based on Fontaine Fox’s popular strip. (He legally adopted the McGuire name until Fox sued him.) Rooney also claimed that in 1928, when he met Walt Disney, the cartoonist said he would change the name of his mouse character from Mortimer to Mickey. Disney recalled it differently.

In 1934, the year the McGuire series ended, Rooney played the tough kid who would become Clark Gable in Manhattan Melodrama; and in 1935 he made his big movie into feature films. He got strong supporting roles with Will Rogers in The County Chairman and Jean Harlow in Reckless. He was the mouthy kid brother in the film of Eugene O’Neill’s Ah, Wilderness! Most impressively, he was Puck, bewitching mortals and cavorting like a kid Cagney, in producer Max Reinhardt’s all-star production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. (Cagney was in it too, as Bottom.) It is still among Rooney’s most daring and charming work.

MGM’s top child star at the time was Freddie Bartholomew, of the angelic face, curly hair and patrician disposition; Rooney played rough to Bartholomew’s smooth in Little Lord Fauntleroy, The Devil Is a Sissy, Captains Courageous and Lord Jeff. But MGM saw that this elfin pit bull of comic relief could be domesticated and put at the center of its family-friendly films — if only a wise parent was there, armed with moral lessons. The Hardy films, based on Aurania Rouverol’s play Skidding, instantly became the most popular and beloved series of its time.

Adhering to MGM boss Louis B, Mayer’s dewy vision of American family life, the Hardy films were set in an idyllic suburb called Carvel, with Lewis Stone and Fay Holden as Andy’s parents, Cecilia Parker as his sister and Ann Rutherford as his often overlooked girlfriend Polly. In nearly every episode, impulsive Andy would commit some breach of propriety, think himself a big shot in a small town and receive a gentle, third-act comeuppance from his father; the Judge’s study was Andy’s courtroom. Whether or not viewers subscribed to this fantasy, they enjoyed the view through the Hardys’ lace-curtain windows, and took delight in Andy’s flirtations with, over the years, Garland, Lana Turner, Kathryn Grayson, Donna Reed and Esther Williams, the young ladies who made the runt feel like a Romeo.

(READ: TIME’s tribute to the wet and wild life of Esther Williams)

Rooney considered himself no singer; he said he had “a voice like a bullfrog.” But MGM producer Arthur Freed saw promise in latching the Mick’s jackhammer verve to Garland’s little-girl sweetness and uniquely mature voice for a run of A-grade musicals based on Broadway hits. Maybe Rooney couldn’t sing a song, but he sure could sell it. And he had the Gentile chutzpah to exclaim to his pals, in Babes in Arms, “I’ve got an idea! I’m gonna write a show for us and put it on right here in Seaport!”

In transferring Babes in Arms from Broadway to Hollywood, Freed eliminated several Rodgers and Hart classics (“I Wish I Were in Love Again,” “My Funny Valentine,” “Johnny One-Note”) to make room for some songs he had written in his lyricist days; and for Strike Up the Band he jettisoned the Gershwin standards “Soon” and “I’ve Got a Crush on You.” But the mixings were still choice. Girl Crazy, the best of the bunch, has spiffy settings for George and Ira’s “Bidin’ My Time,” “Embraceable You,” “I Got Rhythm” and “But Not for Me.” A canny mixture of innocence and effervescence, the movies also live today as the record of two irreplaceable stars at the apogee of their appeal, before age and addiction made their lives so complicated. (And for Garland, tragic: she died in 1969 at 47.)

Rooney was wearing a dress — impersonating Carmen Miranda in Babes on Broadway — when he first spotted an 18-year-old MGM contract player, Ava Gardner, in the first blush of her ravishing beauty. Mickey instantly proposed and, after being advised that he could help her career, Ava accepted. Mayer, furious, forbade the marriage until Rooney threatened to leave MGM. As he wrote in Life Is Too Short, “It was an ideal honeymoon: sex and golf and sex and golf. Ideal, that is, for me. It never occurred to me to ask what Ava wanted.” For the 16 months of their marriage, Rooney went to the track or played drums with his friends, and of course worked on movies, while one of the world’s most gorgeous women waited alone at home.

In 1944, when MGM had exhausted its clout with the Army and Rooney was about to be drafted, he played the horse trainer in National Velvet opposite 12-year-old Elizabeth Taylor. Somehow, he never got around to marrying the grown-up Taylor, though she too would have eight weddings. Liz matured spectacularly, while Mickey remained the impish adolescent, but both couldn’t stop doing something they were bad at: living with other people. In the nearly half-century from Taylor’s first “I do” (to Nicky Hilton) to her final divorce (from Larry Fortensky), she was married for all but 13 of those years. Rooney, in the 72 years between his wedding to Gardner and his death, was unmarried, or between marriages, for just under eight years.

(READ: Our elegy to Elizabeth Taylor)

For the record, his post-Ava wives were beauty queen B.J. Baker in 1944, actress Martha Vickers in 1949 (he married Vickers the same day he divorced Baker), actress Elaine Devry in 1952, actress Barbara Thomason in 1958, Thomason’s friend Margaret Lane in 1966, Carolyn Hockett in 1969 and country singer Jan Chamberlin in 1978. All but two of these unions ended in divorce. Thomason, separated from Rooney at the time, was shot and killed by a former lover who then turned the gun on himself. Mickey’s 1978 marriage to Chamberlin, who took the name Jan Rooney and toured with him in a song-and-chat show about his life, lasted 35 years — seven years longer than his first seven stints combined — but they were legally separated at the time of his death. When asked if he would marry them all again, Rooney said, “Yes. I loved them all.” He just couldn’t live with them.

And when he returned from his Army service (entertaining the troops), he decided he didn’t want to live with MGM either. He started his own company and made a bunch of B-picture flops, bankrupting him. His star career was over at 25; in the postwar Hollywood landscape, heroes were streaked by guilt and doom, and the bumptious vaudevillian found few people who wanted to put on his kind of show. A believer in, and an example of, eternal adolescence, Rooney told TCM’s Robert Osborne, in a 1997 episode of Private Screenings, that “Actors and actresses are nothing but grown-up children playing make-believe.” Had he grown up during the war? Or had audiences simply grown tired of him?

Occasionally, Rooney found filmmakers who could mine the toxic elements in his manic personality. Rod Serling and director John Frankenheimer secured an Emmy Nomination for Rooney by casting him as a vaudeville veteran turned tyrant TV star in the 1957 Playhouse 90 drama The Comedian, as daring a challenge to his cheerful image as Andy Griffith’s Lonesome Rhodes was in the same year’s A Face in the Crowd. And in Don Siegel’s grim, taut Baby Face Nelson (1958), he’s the ’30s gangster with a machine-gun mean streak toward nearly everyone — except one bank teller, whom the killer spares because they are both short men. (Today’s essay theme: When Acting Is Autobiography.)

(READ: Andy Griffith as multimedia monster in A Face in the Crowd)

“Hey, I’m not an angel,” Rooney confessed to The Saturday Evening Post’s Pete Martin in 1958, “and certainly I’ve made a million mistakes, you know. And I hope I’m around long enough to make a million more.” He did. An attempt to restart his iconic character, in the 1958 Andy Hardy Comes Home, with the adult Andy returning to Carvel (and Mickey’s son Teddy as Andy Hardy Jr.), was a sad fizzle. Rooney’s typical movie projects over the next 20 years ranged from B-minus down to Z, for Albert Zugsmith’s nudie retelling of Genesis, The Private Lives of Adam and Eve. Even his upmarket appearances — like his buck-toothed Japanese photographer in Blake Edwards’ Breakfast at Tiffany’s — could induce cringes. Of the two decades of movies he made between Baby Face Nelson and The Black Stallion, Rooney wrote, “There were 29 in all, and most of them were crap.”

He needed the work, and the money, because, for decades after his early stardom, he kept spending — gambling — under the mistaken impression that he was still Mickey Rooney the golden boy. Even his big gigs in Las Vegas, where in the ’50s he could still command crowds, were occasions of sin. “I flew to Vegas to play a club date,” he wrote, “and lost $50,000 on the crap table.”

One of his rare wins came in 2011, under trying circumstances: he filed suit against his stepson, alleging that they had withheld medication and forced him to sign over his assets; the stepson eventually agreed that he owed Rooney $2.8 million. But most of his behavior had to be hard on his spouses, his other children and, in moments of reflection, himself. “I know Mickey Rooney,” he told Osborne. “I’ve had to live with him. It hasn’t been easy. But I won’t give up.”

(READ: The 1940 cover story on Mickey Rooney by subscribing to TIME)

Inexhaustible, and often exhausting, Rooney was less an actor than a showman. Movie acting is often called the art of reacting, of intimate underplaying. Such subtleties didn’t interest Rooney, who was always the clown, always on — perhaps the little man’s strategy to make a big impression. In one of his own post-MGM productions, the 1950 Army comedy Sound Off, he dances the hula, mugs shamelessly and, in a two-shot, gazes not at the other actor but straight into the camera, as if waiting to detect the cheers of the movie audience.

He heard them in his signal triumph, the 1979 Sugar Babies, a Broadway musical revue that rekindled the rowdy spirit of old burlesque. On opening night, he wrote in Life Is Too Short, “The applause lasted for 24 minutes …and during that ovation I cried with joy.” He repaid the customers by performing a comic striptease, “until I was down to my bright-red long johns, laughing a laugh that began when I was Puck” in A Midsummer Night’s Dream 44 years earlier. He stayed on Broadway for two-and-a-half years, then took Sugar Babies on the road for years more. A stage star at last, he could hear the rapture, feel the love that could never reach him on an MGM sound stage.

(READ: Theodore Kalem on Mickey Rooney in Sugar Babies)

The memory or the hope of that response sustained Rooney till the end. “Retire?” he wrote in 1991. “Sheee-it. I’ll always be leading the cheers for life…. Applause got me started, it kept me going through my bad days, and it keeps me going still.” After Sugar Babies, and between touring with his autobiographical show, he appeared in a hundred or so TV series and movies, including Eric the Viking, Babe: Pig in the City, Night at the Museum, The Muppets and 96 nobody ever heard of. He coped with illness and his family dramas. It wasn’t always fun being Mickey Rooney.

Yet the perennially precocious, overconfident, spoiled trouper wanted to go out smiling; Andy Hardy had one saved last snappy line about his diminutive stature. “And if anyone wonders what my dying wish will be, they can stop wondering,” he wrote at the end of his book. “That will be easy. ‘I’ll have a short bier.'”

TIME society

Hear the Los Angeles Philharmonic Play Through a 5.1 Earthquake

Now this is dedication to art

The Los Angeles Philharmonic was six minutes into a performance of Ravel’s Daphnis and Chloe on March 28 when a 5.1 earthquake shook Southern California. While lights flickered and patrons ran for the exits inside Walt Disney Concert Hall, the musicians played on.

(h/t: @JimmyOrr)

TIME Television

The Best TV Dads Ever

Bob Saget - Dirty Daddy Cover Art
It Books / HarperCollins

The Full House patriarch is in good company

For television viewers of a certain age, he’ll always be Danny Tanner, the dad from Full House. As a single father raising three daughters — well, four, if you count the fact that the youngest was played by both Olsen twins — with the help of his two friends, he taught the world that everywhere you look, there’s a face of somebody who needs you.

But he’s also a famously raunchy funnyman — and, in his new book, Dirty Daddy: The Chronicles of a Family Man Turned Filthy Comedian, he’s a little of both. In honor of the book’s April 8 release, TIME asked Saget to share his top five favorite dads in TV history. Here they are, in his own words:


Bill Cosby worked so hard yet effortlessly on The Cosby Show as Cliff Huxtable, always explaining to his kids why things were the way they were. Cliff’s parenting skills were what every father strives to be: a loving husband and amazing dad — with four children, who Cliff always strived to communicate with through honesty and humor. And — he was an obstetrician. You just can’t be a better idealized father than that on television. I wish life was like this.

This scene with Cliff and his son Theo about “regular people” sums up smart parenting in just a few minutes:


Louie is more realistic for me, being the father of three daughters. He has two, one less than me. I did the math. He loves his two daughters more than anything on this earth — to the point of obsessive hilarity. I can’t say anything else about him because everyone is aware of it.

I couldn’t get this scene out of my head since the first time I saw it — when he bought a doll for his daughter and it had no eyes:


Carroll O’Connor played a complex man. A man with a heart, who loved his daughter more than anything, except his wife Edith. He was one of my favorite television fathers because he was, in 1971, one of the most real representations of a real American working man that we had seen on television before. He obviously had many flaws: He was a profiling, small-minded man of few needs — his chair, his precious toilet time, and his demands as a man. But through all of this, he loved Gloria, his only child, with all his heart, though his own misgivings. And he wanted for Gloria to be happy — as long as she made the right choices from his point of view.

At 15 years old I had the good fortune of sitting in the studio audience at CBS Television City to watch a few tapings of All in the Family. It was watching the master class of acting and writing. Archie was a man we all loved, even though we didn’t always agree with or appreciate how he saw the world. Through it all had the biggest and softest heart for his daughter.

Here’s a scene where he meets his future son-in-law Mike for the first time:


It doesn’t need to be said, but Tony Soprano, through the brilliant James Gandolfini, again redefined a television father who would go to any lengths to keep his family together, even when it meant blowing up the other things in his life.

This scene with his daughter Meadow, early on in the series, showed the foundation of what Tony was about at his core.


Gerald is not seen a huge amount on South Park but his presence as the father of Kyle is significant. He may not always have good solutions for his life and raising of his children, but for whatever reason, he loves his wife Sheila, who, for some, is not always easy to take. This makes him a tolerant man. And the fact that Kyle is such a good boy with such a big heart. I am drawn to Gerald because he must have done something right. Even through his own denial, the man is a cheerleader for his family.

In this scene, Gerald listens to his sons’ advice and comes up with his own solution to help his family become more motivated and progressive.


TIME YouTube

Silicon Valley’s Entire First Episode Is Available on YouTube

The first episode of Silicon Valley, HBO’s new comedy about the tech industry, is currently available free on YouTube.

HBO posted the 30-minute Silicon Valley episode to its YouTube channel on Monday, which it also did for this season’s first episode of Girls. That way, people who don’t have a subscription to HBO GO–or their parents’ password–can catch a glimpse of the new series.

Many HBO GO users had trouble watching Sunday night’s season premiere of Game of Thrones as the site kept crashing due to a high volume of viewers. A similar situation occurred during the True Detective season finale.

HBO is a subsidiary of Time Warner, the parent company of TIME.

TIME Music

Ed Sheeran Teams Up With Pharrell for New Single “Sing”: Listen

Asylum Records

The acoustic crooner's latest effort has a little more funk — with Pharrell's help

British acoustic troubadour Ed Sheeran’s material, to date, has ranged from super-earnest (“The A-Team,” his collaborations with Taylor Swift) to cocked-hat-cocky (“You Need Me, I Don’t Need You,” or perhaps his cover with grime artist Devlin of “All Along the Watchtower.”) Either way, though, you usually know pretty much what you’re going to get: Jason Mraz rap over choppy (and chops-y) guitar, or the kind of balladry that’s made Sheeran an unexpected heartthrob to fans.

“Sing,” from Sheeran’s upcoming x (the follow-up to +), is more of a departure. It fits the times nicely: there’s some of fellow Brit Sam Smith in Sheeran’s rubbery falsetto, plus some of Robin Thicke’s ubiquitous “Blurred Lines” in the percussion. But Sheeran’s really got his heavy-breathing, hyper-flirtatious sights on another, older target: Justin Timberlake’s solo debut “Like I Love You.” Countless artists have died on that hill, from former boy banders trying to reinvent themselves in Timberlake’s image, to teen idols in protracted growth spurts, to Timberlake himself on parts of The 20/20 Experience. But Sheeran brings legit musicianship, not just branding, to the tune, and his vocal tics and the “Billie Jean” percussion suggest he might be looking back even further, to Michael Jackson’s imperial phase. Plenty of worse things to aspire to.

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