TIME Books

Steamy Romance Novels Flush With Color

The cover artwork for Elle Kennedy's Colton's Deep Cover Harlequin

Interracial relationships are a hot new trend in love lit

“It wasn’t as though I started out to write a book about an interracial couple,” says Kristan Higgins, the bestselling romance-novel author. She just needed to conjure up the appropriate hunk, er, man for Colleen O’Rourke, the Irish-American heroine of her sizzling new book, Waiting on You. “As I was developing this character,” she says, “I was picturing him. He was tall, dark, handsome, and very romantic. Before I was really aware of it, I had him as Latino.” Lucas Campbell was born, and the pairing was combustible:

“So you’re here,” she said, “and I’m here, and obviously we’ll run into each other now and again.”
“You look good, Spaniard,” she said. “The years have been kind.”
His eyes smiled. His face didn’t move; it was like a magic trick or something, the way he could smile like that. Those dark, dark Latin eyes. Lucas never said too much, but his eyes did.”

Higgins’ casting is right in line with the zeitgeist. Devotees of romance fiction, predominantly female, are demanding that their favorite category be ethnically as diverse as the real world. One of the newest branches of the popular genre is interracial romance, which just a few decades ago would have been too hot to handle. After all, the first African-American romance imprint came on the scene less than 20 years ago. “Readers are able to say through social media and direct interaction, ‘I want to see myself in a romance,’ and not every romance reader is white,” says critic Sarah Wendell, author of Everything I Know about Love I Learned from Romance Novels.

Publishers are taking heed, as well they might: readers vote with their wallets. Romance fiction brought in a cool $1.4 billion in 2012, making Love Lit the largest sector of the U.S. book-buying market. Says Dianne Moggy, the heads of editorial series at Harlequin, the world’s largest romance publisher, “We have more and more authors and readers who have either African American backgrounds, Latino, Chinese, Indian in terms of Asia, South Pacific and certainly Native American.” As Moggy says proudly, “We’re just seeing reality reflected in our books.”

Covers have always been uniquely important in selling romance novels—witness the steamy “clinch covers” of passionately entwined lovers. The covers are also a social barometer. In the 1980s, some U.S. retailers refused to sell romance fiction with African Americans on the cover, much less interracial covers. The latter are now showing up with more frequency, though they are still considered too edgy by a few retailers.

“Most of the people I know who are writing interracials are African American,” says Beverly Jenkins, a trailblazing author who has written 30 African-American historical romances. She cites such like-minded authors as Kimberly Kaye Terry, Michelle Monkou, Sienna Mynx and Yvette Hines. So why are these writers so attuned to love that crosses ethnic barriers? “I think because love is love and romance writers, we pride ourselves on writing stories that resonate with our readers,” Jenkins says. “And if you look at the changing demographics of the United States, there are a whole lot of mixed marriages out there.”

The latest Census figures bear her out. Interracial married couple households grew by 28% from 2000 to 2010, to an all-time high. One of every 10 married couples in the US identified themselves as mixed race or multi-ethnic. More than four in 10 Americans say that that is a change for the better, according to a Pew Research Center study last year. This change in social acceptance has come at blinding speed; it was only in 1967 that the Supreme Court found laws prohibiting interracial marriages unconstitutional.

There are people who are still not anxious to hear this message. As recently as last winter, a Super Bowl TV ad for Cheerios that featured a family with a black father and a white mother evoked an ugly response from some viewers, followed by a supportive public counter response. But the company doubled down this year with an ad showing the same family; this time, the mother was pregnant.

No one knows more about how times have changed than bestselling romance author Kimberly Kaye Terry. Ten years ago, when she wrote her first book, an interracial novel, she had an editor at a big publishing house tell her, “I love it, but can you make the characters the same race? Pick a race, any race, but make them the same.” But Terry stuck to her guns, and has since written over 20 interracial romance novels for major publishers. “That’s what I do, and my readers love it,” she says with pride. But, she is quick to add, “the focus is absolutely never on the race. That’s not sexy. Let it be about anything but the color of their skin, because to me, that’s archaic thinking. We do not live in the ’50s.”

TIME Books

Scarlett Johansson Sues French Author Over Novel About Woman Who Looks Like Scarlett Johansson

Scarlett Johansson
Scarlett Johansson at a press conference for Captain America: The Winter Soldier in Beijing on Mar. 24, 2014. Mandy Wang / AFP / Getty Images

Johansson's name is used in a French novel — and she's not happy about it

The novel’s title — La première chose qu’on regard — translates roughly as “The first thing we look at.” In this case, that first thing is that the heroine looks like Scarlett Johansson. In fact, she looks so much like the actress that, when the story’s male lead (who looks like Ryan Gosling) first meets her, he thinks he’s looking at Johansson herself.

That bit of description is causing trouble for the popular French author Grégoire Delacourt, who wrote the book, as well as his publisher. The actress has sued them for €50,000 in damages, and to stop the sale of adaptation rights of the book. According to Le Figaro, a French paper that has been tracking the story since it began months ago, the hearing was scheduled to take place today, May 14, in Paris. Her lawyer, Vincent Toledano, told Le Figaro that the book constituted fraudulent exploitation of her name and image in order to further the commercial promotion of the book.

The drama began last June, at which point Delacourt told Le Figaro that he chose to include Johansson in his novel because she worked as a stand-in for today’s archetype of female beauty, and that using her name allowed him to make a statement about the way modern romantic fantasies are affected by the pervasiveness of celebrity culture. But, he stressed, his heroine was decidedly not meant to actually be Scarlett Johansson. (Delacourt also told the newspaper that he thought the actress had probably not read the book, which has not been translated into English.)

To American readers, the case may seem an unlikely one: in the U.S., protections for authors in such a case are fairly strong, according to Lloyd Jassin, a New York lawyer who works with intellectual property, publishing and entertainment law. There are two fairly distinct areas of law that are relevant to Johansson’s claim: the right of publicity (the right to control the use of your name or image) and libel. In order to have a libel claim, the material in question has to be false and damaging, a high standard to meet for a public figure. The right of publicity, which Jassin describes as valuable but limited, applies when the person’s name is used for commercial reasons. If the publisher of La première chose qu’on regard were implying in advertisements that Johansson endorsed the book, that would be one thing; to refer to her in a way that’s related to the plot is a different matter.

“In the U.S., [a novel] would not be considered a commercial use,” Jassin says. “Here, we have the First Amendment and the First Amendment doesn’t look at most books as commercial uses or commercial propositions. If her name or likeness is relevant, literarily, if there’s significance and literary merit to using her name between the covers, the First Amendment steps in.”

In France, however, things are different; presumably Johansson wouldn’t have brought the case if she didn’t think she had a chance of winning, and such an idea is not as far-fetched as it would be in the U.S. In Europe, Jassin says, personality rights are taken “much more seriously.” As Le Figaro has noted, French courts have typically been lenient with novelists who have been sued, but some recent cases have deviated from that pattern, finding that uses of real people as characters have constituted invasions of privacy. (This case is different, as Johansson is not a character in the book, but the area of law is related.) The right to privacy is protected by the French Civil Code, and past cases in France have upheld the rights of even celebrities to protest the unauthorized use of her image. However, a Parisian court also found in 2005 that the use of a celebrity’s image to illustrate what something was talking about rather than to imply an endorsement, even when that something made money for its creators, was fine.

As for Delacourt, no matter how the case turns out, it’s already clear that his novel hasn’t been received the way he expected: in explaining why he used her name in the first place, the author also joked to Le Figaro that he thought the actress’ reaction to the book would be to send him flowers.

TIME Television

Arrow Co-Creator Marc Guggenheim on Tonight’s Season 2 Finale

Seeing Red
Stephen Amell as "The Arrow" Katie Yu—The CW

The popular CW superhero drama concludes its second season tonight. TIME talks to one of the men in charge about what to expect in the finale, where the show goes from here and how Arrow fits in the DC Comics universe

This month’s upfronts season has ushered in the rise of the superhero era on television. From Gotham to The Flash to Agent Carter, broadcast networks are nearly as keen to bring masked heroes to TV as studios have been to bring them to the big screen. For now, however, the king of the genre is CW’s Arrow, which wraps up its second season tonight. Once again, Oliver Queen (Stephen Amell) must save Starling City while facing a seemingly unconquerable foe, this time in the form of friend-turned-nemesis Slade Wilson (Manu Bennett).

TIME spoke with co-creator Marc Guggenheim about what to expect in tonight’s finale, whether we might see any more shocking resurrections and where Arrow goes from here:

TIME: Were there different sorts of things you wanted to accomplish with Season 2 compared with Season 1?

Marc Guggenheim: Yeah, great question. Well, our goal, you know, sort of on a meta-level was our goal is to top ourselves from season 1. I think that’s probably fairly obvious, or that’s an obvious call that I think any second season show should have. We went in, we knew we wanted to tell a very concrete story with respect to Oliver making a journey from vigilante to hero. And we knew we wanted to center the evolution around this idea of him giving up killing as a means of accomplishing his ends. So we knew we had that sort of core dynamic to play with. The other thing we sort of wanted to accomplish was we wanted to focus the storytelling a little bit. You know, in 1, we were still figuring out a lot of things with the show, and we sort of felt that there were times where certain characters would get siloed off in their own stories, and those stories wouldn’t feel connected to the main narrative. You know, we have a big ensemble. We have a large group of characters and to a certain extent you’re always going to have to have some of these sort of adjunct stories, just to move plot forward. But one of the things we decided to do in season 2, and I’m reasonably happy with the way it worked out, was even when you have those adjunct stories, they either spin off from or eventually connect to the main plot of the episode. So the adjunct stories don’t feel as siloed off as they did back in season 1. And that was very important to us going in.

TIME: At the end of last season, obviously the two big deaths — or so it appeared — were Tommy and Malcolm. Was it hard letting those characters go, and did you know at the time that you were going to be bringing Malcolm back?

Guggenheim: Well, it was easier to let John Barrowman go only insofar as we didn’t have him under contract, and he’s a busy guy. So our attitude with John has always been, you know, we love having him on the show for as much as we can have him on the show. It was very difficult with respect to Colin [Donnell] because Colin was a series regular on the show, you know, had sort of signed on for the long haul as it were, and is just an incredibly nice guy to boot. So it was a difficult and painful decision for us. We didn’t know at the outset that we were going to kill Tommy off. That was something that really we only came to realize around Episode 18 of Season 1, you know, very late in the season. As we started to sort of plot out our end game in greater detail for Season 1, we came to realize that if we were going to sort of honor these themes of sacrifice that we had set up with the pilot and then we had threaded throughout season on, someone needed to make a sacrifice, and we thought about which character’s death would actually impact the most number of the remaining characters. And when we sort of did the math on it, we realized that Tommy, his death really touches everybody. And that would not have been the case if we had picked a different character. So that was sort of an unfortunate realization on our part. It’s just a weird thing creatively to be a show-runner and decide to write a character out because you basically feel like you’re firing someone because there is an actor and they are getting paid to do this job and then they’re not going to be paid anymore. And you feel like you’re firing someone even though you’re not firing them for doing a bad job. You’re ending the position because you feel like it’s of the greatest creative benefit to the show.

TIME: Was that a similar sort of process for Susanna Thompson’s character or was that something you knew was going to happen early on?

Guggenheim: No, actually with Susanna’s character it was very, very similar to the point where we didn’t know originally where Moira’s story was going to take her. You know, that was sort of premised on, A, partially realizing the importance her death would have to Oliver’s season-long arc; and also the reluctance on our part to give Moira another secret. You know, we sort of felt like we had — Moira functions best or functioned best when the audience loves and hates her. And part of her appeal is when she’s got a secret to keep. And in Season 1, she was part of this grand, overarcing conspiracy, and that was cool and mysterious. And then in Season 2, we had given her the secret of knowing Thea’s true parentage. And we didn’t want to come into Season 3 and be like, “Oh, now she’s got this secret!” It just starts to strain credulity a little bit, and we felt we owed Moira better than that.

TIME: Obviously Tommy’s death had a big impact on Oliver heading into this season. Can we expect Moira’s death to have an impact of similar magnitude?

Guggenheim: No, I think one of the things that I think the show does well is it honors the dead very well. You know, in Season 1 when everyone thought Sara was dead, you know, we kept Sara alive. She was present in a lot of scenes, even though the character was someone everyone thought was dead. You know, certainly Tommy resonated throughout Season 2. I fully expect Moira to resonate throughout Season 3. You know, she’ll resonate in a different way than Tommy or Sara did. That’s very much the point. But the idea is that these characters are gone, but they’re never forgotten.

TIME: Right. And is there any sense or is there any chance that we could see Tommy or Moira return in the way that Sara and Malcolm have? Or have you pretty much closed the book on the two of them?

Guggenheim: I would say — you know, you learn never to say never. But I think if they were to return in the way Sara and Malcolm have, it would — they’re very different kinds of characters. You know, Malcolm and Sara sort of traffic in a more heightened world than Tommy and Moira did, and I think their spontaneous resurrection would feel wrong. I think in part also because of the way in which — the other distinction is Malcolm, but certainly Sara, died in a way that left open the possibility of her not being dead, whereas, you know, not by design, but both Tommy and Moira died with sharp objects through their torsos. It’s very hard to sort of buy that back.

TIME: Was bringing Sara back something that you always knew you were going to do ?

Guggenheim: That was part of the design of the series from day one. It’s actually in the original series document that we had sent to the studio network right after we finished the pilot. And it was something that we always thought if we get to Season 2, this is a story we’ll tell. And we were very fortunate to get to Season 2.

Cate Cameron—The CW

TIME: At this point, basically all of the major characters except for Detective Lance and Thea know Oliver’s secret identity. Do you ever worry that too many people know, and how do you go about maintaining that balance of those who do and don’t know?

Guggenheim: Right. Sometimes it seems like all of Starling City knows. And it’s funny. We’re aware of the internet, and we’re aware of Twitter and we’re aware of people having an opinion that, “Oh, too many people know” and even sort of wrote a nod to that in Episode 2.12, you know, where Roy asks “How many people know your secret?” and Oliver just says, “Too many.” You know, that said, that was sort of me not quite speaking my mind because the truth of the matter is that we tend — we always gravitate towards what gives us more story, not less, and what is more interesting, not less. And at the end of the day, a character finding out Oliver’s secret and going forward knowing his secret tends to be more interesting than them not knowing. And if you actually look at like the Chris Nolan Batman movies, a whole host of people knew that Bruce Wayne was Batman: Alfred did, Lucius Fox did, Rachel did. You know, it is sort of part and parcel of the world. But that will be something that will remain fluid of the duration of the series as people come in and out of Oliver’s life and discover or don’t discover his alter ego.

TIME: Is there anyone that you feel like it’s crucial that they not know his identity?

Guggenheim: You know, that’s a great question. It’s funny. Even when I think that there is like a sacred cow topic, that opinion gets changed. One of the things that I think we’ve learned as we go through writing and producing the show is that the show can go in a lot of — the show is constantly surprising us in terms of the directions it can go in. And as a result it’s very hard to say, “Well, this will never happen” because we’re not the first audience, but we’re the first people who need to be surprised. And sometimes the unthinkable is the most interesting story.

TIME: Shifting gears a bit, there were a lot of reports out there that indicated that the Barry Allen character was going to get its own backdoor pilot in one of the later episodes this season, and obviously that’s not quite how things ended up working out. Was it problematic at all for you all to have to change gears on the fly?

Guggenheim: It’s a great question. The only, quote/unquote, problem that it caused for us was we didn’t have a director slotted for the episode because David Nutter who was directing The Flash pilot and who did direct The Flash pilot, he was supposed to be the director of Episode 20, the backdoor pilot. The great thing about that is, you know, what could have been a real disaster, because, you know, coming very — that decision came pretty late in the season, and we didn’t have a director for an episode. But as luck would have it, we ended up getting a guy named Doug Aaroniokoski to direct Episode 20. And he did a phenomenal job. I mean, he quickly became one of our favorite directors by just doing such terrific, terrific work on that episode. So sometimes even the unexpected can lead to something that really helps improve the overall series.

TIME: How far out do you have the show mapped at the moment? Is it mostly a season-by-season thing?

Guggenheim: We tend to do it season by season. We’re right now in the middle of sort of a four-week boot camp where we figure out the entire season in broad strokes. But we also can help ourselves. We have ideas that we go, “Okay, we can’t do this now because the pieces aren’t in place, but in Season 4 we can do X, Y or Z, and Season 5 we do X, Y or Z. For example, the ending of the Season 2 finale is something that we had in mind ever since the pilot. So I would say it’s kind of like looking down a long road. We have am great clarity of vision with respect to the season that’s right in front of us, but we can also glimpse ahead and sort of see what Seasons 4 and 5 and beyond look like.

TIME: Have you been given any sort of sense of what sort of role the Arrow might play in the larger sort of DC comic universe, whether films or other television shows. Is that something that people have spoken with you about?

Guggenheim: No. [Laughs] No. The one thing I can say with certainty is I will be among the last to know.

TIME: Obviously The Flash story sort of originated within your series. Is there any potential for crossover?

Guggenheim: I think there’s absolute potential for it. I’m a huge fan of The Six Million Dollar Man and I love the episodes where they would cross over with The Bionic Woman. So again, I would never say never. We’ve been so sort of deep into the planning process of Season 3 in terms of the story that we’re telling vis-a-vis Arrow that we haven’t yet gotten to the question of, “Okay are we going to cross over with Flash? How are we going to do it?” et cetera, et cetera. I imagine that time will come because it would be a lot of fun, but we haven’t done it yet.

TIME: There are rumors that another DC Series, Gotham,might only have 13 episodes a season. Is it tough to fill a full 23-episode order every year or is that an amount that you prefer?

Guggenheim: 23 is hard. I’m not going to lie to you. It’s brutal. And yes, every time I hear about a shortened order for a show I get very jealous. It’s funny. I will say, apart from jealousy, my thought process doesn’t extend beyond that because at the end of the day, the network orders the number of episodes they want. And truth be told, I would be very happy to at this point settle for 22 episodes versus 23. At least that way I could get a little bit of a vacation. But again, that decision also gets made way above my head. There are so many — I will say like day in, day out when you’re running a show like this, there are so many decisions that have to get made, you’re actually quite grateful for the decisions you’re not responsible for. So there are plenty of things that are out of my hands, and the number of episodes is certainly one of them.

TIME: And are there any other shows out there that you really enjoy or take some sort of inspiration from?

Guggenheim: Oh, yeah, definitely. Let’s see, we reference Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel quite a bit in the writers room, the way those seasons are constructed has been a strong point of inspiration for us. The X-Files. Andrew Kreisberg who runs the show with me is a huge Dr. Who fan and is constantly talking about that show in the room. Let’s see, what else? In terms of current shows, we talk a lot about like Breaking Bad and Walking Dead in the way they sort of construct their story arcs. I’m a huge fan of the TV show, Wiseguy and I’m very fond of the way that show portrayed its villains in a way that made you occasionally sympathetic to their cause, in addition to — you know, that was really in my mind the first show that actually had multi-episode arcs and bringing things to a satisfying conclusion, as well as a morally conflicted protagonist. But it’s like we always begin the day talking about what shows people have watched the night before. We’re huge fans of Game of Thrones for example, Orphan Black. And even though those shows don’t necessarily correlate directly with Arrow, I’m a very big believer that writers are the product of their inspirations. You do think a lot about what shows you’re gravitating towards. I would also probably be remiss If I didn’t list Lost just as a great example of a show with a nonlinear structure and mythology and great character moments. You know, that’s an influence on Arrow, as well.

Cate Cameron—The CW

TIME: Tonight’s finale looks like it will once again require Oliver to save Starling City, albeit from a very different kind of threat than the one he faced last year. Are there any particular differences that you focused on while constructing the episode?

Guggenheim: You know, it’s interesting because on the one hand, you think, okay, well in both finales Oliver’s punching a guy, and in both finales, the city is in flames. And yet at the same time I would say that the Season 1 finale and the Season 2 finales are so remarkably different on a lot of different levels. And you’re correct to point out that one of them is that Malcolm is a very different character than Slade, that for one thing with Slade it’s personal. These are two guys who have years of history together, and it completely changes the dramatic nature of those fights. One thing, just to quickly digress, one thing we discovered very early on in the show is it didn’t matter how amazing the stunt sequences were and how incredible the action was: If we didn’t care about what was going on it didn’t matter. And again, like in both finales, Oliver’s punching a guy. But the guy’s he’s punching or the guy who is punching him, those two men could not be more different. And it’s in that difference that the — you know, we’re telling two completely different stories. So part of it’s just the personal connection he has with Slade. But part of it also is that in Season 1 he was able to defeat Malcolm by essentially killing him, even though we subsequently learn that that death didn’t take, Oliver stabbed Malcolm with the intention of ending his life. And in Season 2, the big dilemma for Oliver is, you know, is he willing to break his vow against killing in order to stop Slade’s reign of terror. So there’s a moral dilemma at the center of the second season finale that wasn’t present in the first season finale.

TIME: On a slightly more micro scale, should we expect more of the Anatoli and Bratva backstory to come back into play in the future?

Guggenheim: Well, I will say this: We know that Oliver has to get the Bratva tattoo in some way because he has that on his chest. And David Nykl, who plays Anatoli, is such a phenomenal actor. We will definitely see him again. I can’t say whether or not that will be in the flashback or the present day, but we do have a tendency to write for the actors who we love. And David is really, really terrific as Anatoli. So you haven’t seen the last of him.

TIME: Do you have a personal favorite character to write for or personal favorite episode of the show?

Guggenheim: Hm. Oh, good question. You know, it’s hard to pick a personal favorite because they’re sort of like children and you tend to love the youngest. So right now I’m really enjoying the second season finale, but that just sounds really self-serving. I will say I’m particularly proud of Episode 20, which was when Moira was killed. And it’s funny. I would say that Felicity is probably the easiest to write because she’s fast-talking and witting and probably closest to my personal voice. At the same time, I’ve really — in a way I never expected to because both these men are so — both these characters are so taciturn and not talky. But I’ve really come to enjoy writing the Oliver-Diggle relationship. When we first started working on the show, Andrew, Greg and I, we all write these sort of very witty, verbose characters, like sort of all of our characters are like Felicity. And we had to change our writing style to write the pilot of Arrow, you know, particularly Oliver. We had to change sort of how we wrote as writers because Oliver Queen is not a quippy guy. And we always say like he’s not even a very self-aware guy. And it’s been an interesting journey as a writer for me to work on a show where literally the protagonist is — his voice exists outside of my wheelhouse as a writer and yet I really — I’ve come to enjoy writing him a great deal.

TIME: What sort of influence do Stephen [Amell] or David [Ramsey] or Paul [Blackthorne] have in the development of their characters or what their characters say?

Guggenheim: You know, I will say like with each individual episode, and the actors all have different ways of communicating with me and Andrew, the actors will sort of make their feelings known about, “I don’t think I’d say this,” or “Can I say that instead?” And, you know, sometimes it’s a phone call, sometimes email, sometimes a text, you know. Like I said, everyone’s got their own sort of process. And then with respect to sort of all the cast members, the way it’s evolved is we’ll — sometimes we’ll get on the phone because we shoot in Vancouver and the writers are in Los Angeles, but I would say that the stuff that I really cherish is when we’re up on the set and during lighting breaks we’re just talking with David, Stephen, all the cast, about their characters. And sometimes it’s us just telling them, “Oh, this is what’s coming up for you.” Other times they’re saying, “Oh, you know, it would be a lot of fun if we — if this, this, or this happened.” And I personally find that I get a lot of ideas just from having those discussions. So their input is just very organic. It’s not like, “Hey, I really want to do this.” I will say this: We have the most selfless cast in television. No one’s saying, “You know what I really want to do? I really want to —” Like Diggle, Dave Ramsey didn’t say, “You know what? I want to have a whole episode centered around me,” you know? And we did that twice this year. We did this in 2-06 and 2-16. And that’s an actor who sometimes he only has to say like “Think about this, Oliver.” And he always does it with a smile on his face. That’s the thing. We have such a big ensemble. Everyone is so selfless. They know that they are sometimes going to be at center stage and other times they’re going to be very deep in the background because that’s the only way you can tell a story with such a large ensemble. And everyone does it without a complaint. They do it happily. They do it with pride in the show. Like Colton Haynes — God bless him — he showed up to the table read for Episode 2-20 even though — and Roy’s obviously all over that episode. But he shows up for the table read even though he didn’t have a single line of dialogue. So everyone on the cast — and Stephen sets the tone — everyone on the cast is just incredibly selfless. They’re all team plays and they’re all — you know, no one’s going “Me, me, me.” They’re all going, you know, “What can I do to help the team win?”

The season finale of Arrow airs tonight at 8 p.m. EST on the CW.

TIME Music

REVIEW: Coldplay Makes Tragic Magic on New Album Ghost Stories

MilaBlueWingF 2
Atlantic Records

It's a smaller, softer Coldplay — for better or for worse

Coldplay became the biggest rock band in the world just as the very concept began to seem antiquated. Like a mass-market retailer nicking fashion trends and looks from high-end designers and runway shows, Chris Martin and company rose to prominence by distilling the sounds of their ancestors and critically feted contemporaries into hyper-melodic, stadium-sized anthems. On their first two albums, Parachutes and A Rush of Blood to the Head, they sanded down the arty, oft-angular rock of U2, David Bowie, and Radiohead, rendering it gentler and more easily listenable; songs like “Yellow” and “The Scientist” found traction amongst the great middle and were assimilated into the pop canon almost immediately. That sound was taken to its logical extent on X&Y, an ambitious but bloated document that found the band sprinkling their compositions with string arrangements and electronic flecks.

So with no room left to expand, Coldplay enlisted legendary producer Brian Eno to help broaden and refine their sound. The result was 2008’s Viva La Vida or Death and All His Friends, an eclectic, relatively succinct collection of pop songs complete with digressions into shoegaze, Afro-pop, and crunching rock. Three years later, Mylo Xyloto found the band steering even further into pop-friendly terrain, cribbing from kinetic and heartsick indie bands in equal measure for a concept record about love at the end of the world. As their sound evolved, they remained anchors of the music industry, even as more straightforward strains of pop and hip-hop became indisputably dominant in a commercial sense; their sales remained strong, even as many of their peers struggled to keep pace.

It’s good to remember that history when considering the band’s sixth studio album, Ghost Stories, which finds them once again employing the sonic approach they have perfected, albeit with different source material. Much of the album sounds like Coldplay’s take on an acclaimed vein of gentle, emotionally vulnerable music that explores the overlapping realms of rock, R&B, and electronic sounds: the woodsy, warped hymns of Bon Iver, James Blake’s throbbing confessionals, the muted pillow talk of the xx. There is one major outlier, a pounding quasi-EDM collaboration with the popular producer Avicii; it reeks of pandering. (A team-up with Timbaland, “True Love,” fares a little better.) The frosty, meandering “Midnight” bears this influence most heavily, twisting Martin’s signature nimble, soft falsetto through a vocoder and layering it like dead leaves left on a forest floor, but there are lesser signs scattered throughout the album: the simple beat-driven intro that kicks off “Magic,” the skittering percussion that drives the weepy “True Love,” the haunted choir behind “Another’s Arms.” Martin’s vocals mostly pair well with this new, adjusted direction, but the heightened focus on groove and piano-based melody marginalizes the typically dependable contributions of lead guitarist Jonny Buckland; gleaming six-string hooks of the sort that anchored the best songs on the band’s first few albums are few and far between here.

But for all the sonic shifts that take place on Ghost Stories, the album’s greatest break from Coldplay’s tradition is lyrical. Never one to shy away from a platitude or a vague, potentially universal statement about life and love, Martin’s recent “conscious uncoupling” from his wife, the actress Gwyneth Paltrow, has inspired his rawest, most personal writing to date. The set of lines that opens “Another’s Arms” neatly encapsulates the album’s pained, stingingly detailed tone: “Late night watching TV, used to be you here beside me / Used to be your arms around me, your body on my body.” Every song on the album seems to pack at least one comparable couplet; Martin can’t help but chronicle his despair and regret, lament their shared failure, or glance fondly at the magic he and Paltrow once shared. The loss of grandeur that seeps through Ghost Stories — the lack of scale, the smallness — begins to make sense in this context: as Martin has shrunk his lyrical universe from the broadly applicable to the cringe-inducingly personal, the band’s compositions have shrunk in turn.

While the dissolution of Martin’s marriage makes for undeniably compelling lyrical fodder, his personal experience may be writing checks his songwriting expertise can’t cash: his veering between cliché and uncomfortable detail never quite hits the mark when it comes to adequately realizing his feelings. It’s only when his voice, and the melodies that make up Ghost Stories, are able to bear the emotional weight, that the album achieves the resonance that made its predecessors world-beating hits.

TIME Gadgets

Here’s Why George R.R. Martin Types ‘Game of Thrones’ on an Ancient DOS Computer

The bestselling fantasy novelist writes on a processor that's about as old as Tywin Lannister looks

George R.R. Martin’s word processor is so old, he probably found it in a heap of trash in Winterfell.

The bestselling author writes all of his fantasy novels on an ancient word processor that many of us may be too young to remember: WordStar 4.0, running on the operating system MS-DOS.

George R.R. Martin explained to Conan O’Brien that he has two separate computers: one for Internet browsing, email, filing his taxes and the like. The other is for writing tome after tome of his “A Song of Ice and Fire” series, and he’s very happy with his old processor, thanks very much.

“Well, I actually like it. It does everything I want a word processing program to do, and it doesn’t do anything else,” Martin said. “I don’t want any help. I hate some of these modern systems where you type a lower case letter and it becomes a capital. I don’t want a capital! If I’d wanted a capital, I would have typed a capital. I know how to work a shift key!”

Martin mentioned that WordStar is also blissfully free of spellcheck, which would likely be unhelpful with names like Daenerys Targaryen and Petyr Baelish.

DOS, a family of operating systems first released in 1981, had a command-line interface that required users to enter orders rather than open programs on a desktop. WordStar was first released in the late 1970s.

TIME Television

ABC’s New Show Selfie Looks Even Worse Than We Could Have Imagined

Or maybe just watch Doctor Who instead

The first trailer for ABC’s new sitcom Selfie is here and, well, it could be worse.

The show, which is slated to debut this fall on ABC, is by Suburgatory creator Emily Kapnek and stars the talented John Cho and Karen Gillan, but the result of all that talent falls very flat. While the show is called Selfie, don’t expect any Louis CK-style introspection or assessment — instead it’s basically MTVs Awkward with a My Fair Lady twist. Watch the first trailer above.

MORE:ABC Marks Modern Family Finale By Paying for New York Weddings

MORE: Louie Checks His Privilege

TIME Music

Lana Del Rey Announces Ultraviolence Release Date, Reveals Album Cover

Lana Del Rey, Ultraviolence
Lana Del Rey, Ultraviolence Interscope/Polydor UK

Ultraviolence comes out June 17 and features the lead single "West Coast"

Lana Del Rey described herself as a “gangsta Nancy Sinatra” when she first twirled her way into Internet infamy in 2011, but the newly unveiled album cover for her upcoming album, Ultraviolence, is the first of the singer’s releases to actually resemble a classic rap album.

In addition to the artwork, the “Video Games” singer announced a release date — Ultraviolence drops June 17 — and confirmed its tracklist, which features the very Lana-sounding titles “Sad Girl,” “Pretty When You Cry” and “F—d My Way Up to the Top,” which is sure to be a gem. Take a listen to the album’s hazy first single, “West Coast,” here.

TIME Music

Justin Timberlake Pays Tribute to Michael Jackson in “Love Never Felt So Good” Video: Watch

The 2014 reimagining of the decades-old song is a highlight off Michael Jackson's recent posthumous release, Xscape

A posthumous Michael Jackson album that tasks today’s top beatsmiths with bringing the King of Pop into the 21st century could easily have ended in disaster, as such ambitious projects often do. But the newly released Xscape largely avoids that fate thanks to songs like the Justin Timberlake-assisted “Love Never Felt So Good,” an update of an old 1983 cut.

The track hits the “Get Lucky” disco-revival sweet spot by blending Jackson’s signature styles with Timberlake’s polished The 20/20 Experience sound, though the Timberlake-Jackson ratio leans more toward 60/40. The accompanying music video, which premiered today, celebrates the successful collaboration in the most appropriate way: a dance tribute.

TIME movies

REVIEW: The Real Scandal Around Grace of Monaco: It’s Not Very Good

David Koskas—Weinstein Company

The most contentious film at Cannes stars Nicole Kidman as Grace Kelly, but this biopic was botched badly

Don’t expect to see Prince Albert II at Cannes tonight. The Monaco monarch, who often visits the world’s largest film festival (which is situated just 40 miles from his French Riviera principality), has condemned Cannes’s opening-night attraction. To Albert, Grace of Monaco is a slur on his parents Prince Rainier III and Grace Kelly, played in the film by Tim Roth and Nicole Kidman. “It recounts one rewritten and needlessly glamorised page in the history of Monaco and its family,” read a statement from the royal family last year, “with both major historical inaccuracies and a series of purely fictional scenes.”

Olivier Dahan’s biopic also vexed another longtime Cannes potentate: Harvey Weinstein, co-chairman of the Weinstein Co., who has declined to release the director’s European cut in the U.S. Dahan, whose La Vie en Rose (La môme in France) won Marion Cotillard a 2008 Best Actress Oscar for her role as Edith Piaf, has called the Weinstein cut of Grace of Monacocatastrophic” and “a pile of shit.” (No mincing words here.) The battle of the stubborn filmmaker and the world’s most powerful and contentious distributor — with the Oscar-winning Kidman in the middle — could create a succès de scandale at the festival’s opening ceremony.

If only the movie were as theatrically tense as the vibes around it. Often silly but never vivacious, Grace of Monaco fails as both a stately drama of the BBC provenance and an entertainingly trashy tell-all. Arash Amel’s screenplay is replete with international politics (Charles de Gaulle blockades Monaco as a tax haven for the wealthy French) and palace intrigue (someone on the inside connives with the French President), but the film is short on both insight and juice. If it works at all, it is because of Kidman’s commitment to a gilded-cage princess who feels stranded from her roots in Philadelphia, New York City and Hollywood and rejected by the principality’s aristocrats and commoners.

(READ: TIME’s 1962 coverage of France’s Monaco blockade by subscribing to TIME)

Grace Kelly had a regal bearing long before she married into the Grimaldi clan. The daughter of a Philly bricklayer whose construction company made him a multimillionaire, Grace sported perfect features, a carefully groomed mid-Atlantic accent and the slim sensuality that made her Alfred Hitchcock’s favorite cool blonde in Dial M for Murder, Rear Window and To Catch a Thief. In 1954 she shot the airy thriller Thief on the Riviera. In 1955 she went to Cannes to promote The Country Girl — for which she would win a Best Actress Oscar — and met Prince Rainier. Within a year she was Princess Grace of Monaco.

Hitchcock (Roger Ashton-Griffiths) shows up in Grace of Monaco to offer the princess the title role of the frigid kleptomaniac Marnie; her consideration of a return to Hollywood throws the principality into a tizzy. (If her grace ever saw the botched movie that Hitchcock eventually made, with Tippi Hedren as Marnie, she’d have realized that saying no was the best revenge.) This marks the third film in two years to fictionalize Hitchcock’s imperious persona. After Anthony Hopkins in Hitchcock (about the making of Psycho) and Toby Jones in The Girl (Hedren in The Birds), both Hitchcock and the rest of us deserve a break from impersonators of the master of suspense.

(READ: Was Hitchcock Psycho?)

As portrayed here, the princess desperately needs a director. Surrounded by celebrities at ease in their power — Aristotle Onassis (Robert Lindsay) boasts about his genitals, while his mistress Maria Callas (Paz Vega) plays the Euro-glam-dame game — Grace feels confined in isolation and the drudge duties of a hereditary ruler’s wife. She takes council from a worldly priest (Frank Langella), but even he can’t write an appealing script for the rest of her life.

Five years into her reign, she apparently has learned neither the language nor the history of her new land. Only when a professional tutor (Derek Jacobi) plays Henry Higgins to Grace’s Eliza Doolittle, teaching her pronunciation, comportment and the expression of subtly different regal moods, does she take to the royal role she has been cast in since she left the movies. By the end, she feels secure in performing as a European princess and, the movie suggests, averting the French crisis by charming de Gaulle (André Penvern) with her big speech at a Red Cross dinner.

For some movie lovers, the ideal casting for the 32-year-old Grace would have been the 38-year-old Charlize Theron, who radiates a golden-girl elegance and athleticism similar to Kelly’s — not Kidman, who is 46 and pale and grave. It turns out that Kidman makes sense, since the chores of monarchy have diminished this Grace’s glow and Kidman is an ace at conveying primal weariness.

Her performance alludes to two other grand ladies with prominent husbands. Kidman speaks not in Grace Kelly’s confident soprano but in the girlish whisper of Jacqueline Kennedy (later Jackie Onassis), and she carries herself with the outsider status of Lady Diana, whose warmth and popularity far outshone that of the British family she married into. The actress is up to the challenge of Dahan’s long takes and remorseless closeups, shedding tears at the drop of a palace slight and making the job of princess seem like a life sentence.

(READ: Corliss on Nicole Kidman in Rabbit Hole)

At today’s press conference, when asked about the royal family’s comments, Kidman said, “I feel sad, because I think the film has no malice toward the family, particularly toward Grace or Rainier … I still have respect, and I want them to know the performance was done with love.” If Albert and his clan were to view the film, she added, “they would see affection for both their parents.” She also proclaimed her kinship to Grace. “I obviously didn’t marry a prince. Well, I am married to a prince. A country prince,” she said, referring to country-music star Keith Urban.

And Dahan was all sweet conciliation in his remarks about which cut of the film would play in the U.S. when the Weinstein Co. eventually releases it. “There are no disputes,” the director said. Even a movie commoner knows that the most regal form of international diplomacy is honeyed tact over the naked truth.

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