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Stormzy stopped Jay-Z rapping on an Ed Sheeran song

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Stormzy, Jay-Z and Ed Sheeran

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Stormzy, Jay-Z and Ed Sheeran were set to collaborate on a track earlier this year

Stormzy has revealed how he prevented Jay-Z from appearing on his song with Ed Sheeran, Take Me Back to London.

The US rapper wanted to appear on the track, but the grime star turned down his “number one hero inspiration” because he thought it was a bad fit.

“I felt proper bad because I was like, ‘You’re saying no to Jay-Z!'” he told ITV’s Jonathan Ross show.

“Jay-Z was super proud and super shocked and taken aback by the fact that this kid told him,” he added.

The song, which appears on Sheeran’s No. 6 Collaborations Project, went on to top the UK singles chart for five weeks in September and October.

It finds the two Glastonbury headliners reminiscing about their London days, “hitting raves” and ordering “packets of crisps with my pint”.

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Stormzy (right) will appear on the Jonathan Ross show with (L-R) Adam Kay, Andy Murray, Desiree Burch and Luke Evans

Jay-Z was in the studio as the track came together, Stormzy told Jonathan Ross in an interview that’s scheduled to air on Saturday [30 November].

“Before that I loved Take Me Back To London because I thought it was just going to be me and Ed,” he said, “and then Ed was like, ‘Jay is getting on it.’

“It blew my mind. Jay-Z is my number one hero inspiration.

“We got into the studio and we were writing for this song and then he just stops the music and he said, ‘Tell me about London, I need some inspiration.'”

Stormzy said he and his manager had a “powerful, beautiful” conversation, “talking about everything from black culture, community [to] music, his journey, my journey…

“It was the greatest conversation of my life.”

‘He couldn’t believe it’

Stormzy continued: “At the end he’s smiling, we were probably talking for an hour and he goes, ‘So what do you think of the song?’

“I was like, ‘I love this song but you being on the song changes everything’.

He went on: “‘If you didn’t ask me this, I would have just written my verse and we would have done it and I would have never questioned it, but now that you’ve asked me, no.’

“I was like, ‘I know how it goes, Mr Z. You are the most brilliant, busy man and I will probably never get this opportunity ever again but hand on my heart, I don’t think this is the right song for us. I don’t know why I’m saying this to you but this is not the song.'”

Describing Jay-Z’s astonished response, Stormzy said: “He fully understood [but] he couldn’t believe that I did it.”

But the session wasn’t a complete bust: Footage of Jay-Z and Stormzy’s conversation was used in the introductory video for Stormzy’s historic Glastonbury performance this summer.

The rapper recently announced his second album, Heavy Is The Head, will be released on 13 December. He has also revealed plans for an extensive, 55-date world tour in 2020, with shows scheduled in the UK, US, Canada, China, Korea, Australia, New Zealand, Nigeria and Ghana.

The Jonathan Ross Show will air on Saturday, 30 November at 22:10 on ITV.

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Dubs or subs? Parasite renews debate on how to watch foreign films

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South Korean director Bong Joon-ho

The South Korean dark comedy film Parasite had a historic awards season sweep – and in the process, reignited the debate over whether subtitles or dubbing is the best way to watch a movie that isn’t in your native language.

As director Bong Joon Ho accepted the first-ever best foreign language picture Golden Globe for a South Korean film, he said: “Once you overcome the one-inch tall barrier of subtitles, you will be introduced to so many more amazing films.”

Fast forward a month, and he was making history again, accepting the best picture award once more at the Oscars. Parasite’s Oscar win introduced it to a broad US audience – but not everyone was in favour of watching the award winner in its original language.

Dubbing takes the stress out of enjoying a foreign film, some argued, and performances are meant to be heard, not read. The angered response from subtitle fans ranged from accusations of racism to pointing out the needs of deaf viewers.

How you watch a foreign film is a clearly personal matter, tangled in pet peeves and accessibility. But as foreign flicks are gaining more screen time before American audiences, here’s a deeper dive into how we got here, and where the industry is headed.

In the early days of film, on-screen text was far from a “one-inch barrier” – it was the only way to express dialogue. Title cards were the precursor to subtitles, and they, too, were controversial in a way that mirrors the modern debate.

Stage actors would try to hide their work in silent film as many felt the lack of sound diminished the quality of the performance, Professor Marsha McKeever, academic director of New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts, told the BBC.

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Silent era film stars (from left) Mary Pickford, David Griffith, Charlie Chaplin and Douglas Fairbanks

But when conversations took place through cards instead of sound, adapting films to other languages was straightforward. As “movies” turned into “talkies”, subtitling emerged as a way to hold onto a lucrative foreign market.

It has since become the preferred way for film critics and connoisseurs to view foreign language features. NYU faculty, for example, would be unlikely to show a dub in class, the university’s graduate film department said.

For Prof McKeever, who is also a sound and picture editor, much of enjoying a movie boils down to what you hear.

“We react so emotionally to sound. That’s why films are scored, that’s why dialogue is important.”

If a dub has sub-par voice acting or doesn’t properly sync with what you see on screen, it can negatively affect your perception, Prof McKeever says. With subtitles, the audience both sees the original performance and hears the original emotion.

“Your brain is so used to hearing emotion in language that it will get the meaning behind the subtitle through the performance by the actor in the original language. You hear if they’re sad, if they’re happy.”

Regardless of what film purists say, however, dubbing is on the rise.

For that, you can blame Netflix.

In October, Netflix reported it had more subscribers outside the US – nearly 100 million – than domestically, where just over 60 million pay for the service.

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The streaming giant is driving the dubbing business by producing content around the world and localising it for a number of markets, says Jeff Howell, a vocal coach and director who works with Netflix.

To “localise” a production, the original studio hires professionals to analyse scenes and translate them to a new language.

Mr Howell has worked both as a vocal director and an “adapter” who works on casting and direction. “We spend quite a bit of time casting, sometimes we have to read-to-picture to make sure the voice sounds like it’s coming out of that mouth,” he says.

Dubbing has a bad reputation because, for years, it was badly done, he says – there was a lack of attention to detail to the voice acting and post-production processes.

But today, professionals are focusing on ways to make it better, carefully interpreting scripts and taking into consideration things like “lip flap” – when the mouth movement and dubbed-over voice do not sync up.

Dubbing defenders say that modern viewing habits make it superior to subtitles.

Mr Howell argues that dubbing is better for audiences as they increasingly view films and series on small, portable screens. “You can’t read subtitles on a phone or iPad, really,” he says.

And dubbing is easier on the brain. Getting information from a caption requires eye movements across a screen, cognitive input to interpret the words while also paying attention to the action on the screen.

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An educated US adult can do all three fluently, says Prof Charles Perfetti, a cognitive science professor at the University of Pittsburgh, but a less skilled reader will find it taxing.

For viewers with visual impairments, those cannot read or have conditions like dyslexia, dubbing is the only way they can enjoy media in non-native languages.

Outside the English-speaking world, dubbing has been less controversial. Much of Europe opts for dubbing in lieu of subtitles, though the latter is cheaper. Germany, Italy and France have dubbed foreign films since the 1930s – even as early critics blasted the process as “witchcraft” and an “amputation” of the original. China has also consistently dubbed films into Standard Mandarin.

Netflix’s dubbing efforts seem to be converting some Americans to the cause. Most US viewers preferred the dubbed versions of its most popular foreign shows, the streaming service told the New York Times.

As a dubbing director in this new streaming-heavy world, Mr Howell emphasises that he works to respect the original content – “to protect it”, not change it- though he admits some alterations are unavoidable.

“There are cultural nuances in language that we can’t possibly recreate,” he says. “We can have the greatest adaptation and it could line up almost perfectly but there are going to be subtle differences that don’t translate.

“It’s not 100% but I’d say we get as close as we possibly can, directing it in such a way that we’re protecting the creative integrity of the culture that created the material.”

And to be fair, alterations happen with subtitles too – language can be simplified to allow for quick reading in time with the action on screen.

Debates aside, outside of the streaming realm, foreign-language films still struggle to reach US markets.

As of 2020, only 12 have ever been released in more than 1,000 American theatres, according to data viewed by Quartz. Before Parasite, the last was Jet Li’s Fearless in 2006. When it debuted in October, the 2020 Best Picture Oscar winner was screened in only three theatres.

Yet, as its awards success has shown, a good film will captivate audiences no matter in what language. Subtitled films have rarely grossed over $100m (£77m), but Parasite has already surpassed $200m worldwide.

The biggest foreign language film to find success in the US to date is the Chinese drama Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, which grossed $128m in 2000 and won the Oscar and Golden Globe awards for best foreign language film.

“What it speaks to more than anything is we’re looking at filmmaking as the craft, not being bogged down in where it’s made and who is saying what in what language,” says Prof McKeever. “Is it a good story, is it done well, are we there emotionally with the actors?

“Regardless of language, that’s the heart of moviemaking.”



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Hip-hop’s iconic photos go on display

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The International Center of Photography in New York is showcasing photos of hip-hop’s greatest stars.

The ICP’s Vikki Tobak describes the exhibition as watching your favourite musical icons grow up in front of your eyes.

Included in the project is the photographer behind the famous image of The Notorious B.I.G wearing a crown.



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'Riverdance has been a part of my everyday life'

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It’s 25 years since Riverdance first burst onto screens during the 1994 Eurovision Song Contest.



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