Willie Nelson and South by Southwest are spiritually linked in so many ways, it seems like he could have—and maybe should have—been the festival’s keynote speaker every year. Yet somehow Willie got the invitation just once, in 1992—only to miss the opportunity, in classic Willie fashion, by rolling in too late from a gig the night before. Willie made up for his absence that year with a surprise free concert at Austin’s Auditorium Shores—and meanwhile, folk singer Michelle Shocked filled in for his address with a rambling, still-infamous speech about blackface. But in the nearly three decades since, SXSW still hasn’t received its long-overdue benediction from the man who’s most synonymous with the Austin festival’s original spirit, long before stages shaped like giant vending machines were but a glimmer in the eyes of Doritos executives.
It feels like a bit of a homecoming, then, to have Nelson on board as the 2021 keynote speaker, in a year in which SXSW has been forced to rediscover itself. With no sign of slowing from the pandemic that spurred the fest’s first-ever cancellation last March, SXSW 2021 will be a much smaller, entirely virtual affair, with all conferences, music showcases, and film screenings taking place online from March 16 through 21. It’s a dramatically scaled-back program that, in a way, harks back to SXSW’s humble roots—albeit minus the chance that your friend at the door can just sneak you in. With that rethinking comes a recentering of the festival’s Texas identity, not only via Willie’s keynote but through an opening night premiere of Dallas singer Demi Lovato’s new documentary, Dancing With the Devil, as well as a spotlight conversation between Austin FC co-owner Matthew McConaughey and Major League Soccer commissioner Don Garber. These are strange times, but SXSW is muddling through by sticking close to home, just like the rest of us.
Megan Thee Stallion’s Love & Hip Hop Audition Confirms She Knew Exactly Who She Was
Few coped with last year’s tribulations as did Megan Thee Stallion, arguably the only person on earth for whom 2020 was, on the whole, not too shabby. Who could have ever predicted that the Houston rapper would spend the year shattering so many streaming and awards records, slaying Saturday Night Live, gracing the cover of Time, and generally dominating our culture—unless, of course, they were Megan Thee Stallion? As revealed by VH1 this week, Megan always knew exactly where she was headed. In a never-before-seen audition tape for Love & Hip-Hop, Megan arrived fully formed in 2013 with her Tina Snow and H-Town Hottie alter egos intact, along with her unapologetic swagger as “the best female rapper that’s poppin’ off right now.” In a particularly prophetic statement, she asserts, “Megan Thee Stallion is just gonna become that household name”—either a testament to her incredible confidence and relentless ambition, or a hint at some sort of oracular power. Is there anything else on that tape that might prove useful? Maybe 2013 Megan had some thoughts on politics, or lottery numbers.
Everyone Knows the World Is Real. What Owen Wilson’s Bliss Presupposes Is: What if It Isn’t?
What if this world we live in is just a sophisticated simulation, a cold and desaturated illusion in which we’re forced to struggle through drab, oppressive lives dreamed up by technology, and no one has ever heard of The Matrix? This seems to be the basic premise of Amazon’s upcoming Bliss, which stars Dallas’s own Owen Wilson as a guy who’s delivered from his gray, enervating existence by the human red pill that is Salma Hayek. The just-released trailer plays like a rom-com by way of Inception, with Hayek showing Wilson that his cruel and ugly urban surroundings are just a mirage, created solely to make Wilson appreciate the posh, palatial villa lifestyle he enjoys in the real world. And that’s probably but one of the film’s many “wow”-inducing twists, especially seeing as Bill Nye the Science Guy turns up to cast doubt on whether any of this actually makes sense. Bliss arrives February 5 on Amazon Prime—or what if it doesn’t? (It does.)
Selena Gomez Teases Spanish Album and Second Season of Selena + Chef
While your own pandemic hobbies likely never got past that first sourdough starter, Selena Gomez’s quarantine-inspired cooking show, Selena + Chef, is already entering its second season on HBO Max, with another roster of celebrity chefs set to virtually join the Grand Prairie singer in her ongoing culinary adventures. In this just-released preview for the new episodes dropping January 21, Gomez is seen struggling with overcooked salmon and noncooperative electric beaters, and at one point she even starts a small grease fire. But, as always, she’s doing it for charity (and her dad’s burgeoning social media fame), and she even manages to pull off some decent-looking mole.
After all, everything worth doing right takes dedication and time—something Gomez reinforced this week when she hinted that her first-ever Spanish-language album could be on the way, a mere ten years after it was first announced. In the meantime, Gomez definitely released “De Una Vez,” her first Spanish-language song since 2018’s “Taki Taki”; it debuted Thursday night amid a flurry of excitement and visits to Google Translate.
— Selena Gomez (@selenagomez) January 14, 2021
Dallas Boy Nick Jonas to Star in Jersey Boys
He was born in Dallas and his family spent some time in Westlake, so Texas gets to lay claim to Nick Jonas—even if the singer spent most of his formative years in New Jersey. Now Deadline reports that Jonas will explore the other side of his dual citizenship by taking the lead in Broadway’s hit Jersey Boys, assuming the role of Frankie Valli for a livestream of the musical about the Four Seasons’ rocky road to rock-ish fame. It’s a part with some obvious significance for Jonas, who, like Valli, found early stardom in a boy band in which he immediately became the focal point, before breaking out with his own successful solo career. Jonas is similarly known for his powerful falsetto, a common result of drinking that New Jersey water.
Walker Reboot Casts Corpus Christi Actress
We’re still a week out from seeing how San Antonio native Jared Padalecki has rebooted Walker, Texas Ranger for a newer, sadder generation, but the CW series is already firming up some of its Texas bona fides. Deadline reports that Corpus Christi actress Rebekah Graf has joined the cast as Crystal, a character described as “a bright-eyed, wild and charming woman, the type who married an unhinged criminal because he promised her an exciting life.” Presumably Crystal will find reason to regret those life choices after a run-in with Padalecki’s Walker, and hopefully he can help her turn her life around, right after he finishes thinking about his dead wife.
Did Post Malone Get a New Tattoo?
In what can only be considered a dark omen for the year to come, no: Post Malone entered 2021 as a blank slate (save for his 77 or so extant tattoos). It’s a new decade for the Grapevine rapper, as it is for all of us—although few of you can say we’re starting it as one of the previous decade’s most-streamed artists, unless you happen to be Drake, Eminem, or Ariana Grande. Malone’s legacy as the second-most-streamed artist of the 2010s is an impressive feat that won’t be easily bested or duplicated in the 2020s, which seems like all the more reason to commemorate it by, say, having his grand total of 18.9 billion streams inked across his chest, with each of the zeroes rendered to look like caricatures of the other nine artists on the list.
This Week in Matthew McConaughey
The first couple of these 52 weeks in Matthew McConaughey have been relatively beset by red lights, at least in comparison to those blown intersections of 2020—an inevitable downslope, perhaps, given all the incredible highs he enjoyed while incredibly high. Chief among the disappointments is that McConaughey’s much-anticipated return to television this year is now scuttled, with the actor dropping out of the FX series Redeemer, a drama that would have reunited him with True Detective creator Nic Pizzolatto. McConaughey hasn’t commented publicly on his exit from the show, in which he would have played a disgraced minister turned security guard who’s on the hunt for a missing woman in Texas. But adding insult to injury, Netflix just picked up a TV version of The Lincoln Lawyer, and someone else is starring in that. So it seems our screens will remain bereft of McConaughey for the foreseeable future in 2021, save for torso-up talk-show guest spots.
Of course, there’s a chance even those may be slowing down, both out of a natural fatigue and potentially from the growing controversy that’s begun circulating around McConaughey’s repeated criticism of Hollywood “illiberals.” The most recent of these came with an appearance on Jordan Peterson’s podcast, where the actor joined the polarizing psychologist and cultural critic for another damning discussion of political correctness, “cancel culture,” and the like, including a section in which the two came to the apparent defense of disgraced comic Louis C.K. The Daily Beast summed up the simmering backlash with the inflammatory headline, “Matthew McConaughey Keeps Flirting With Alt-Right Darlings”—something of an oversimplification, if not an outright misrepresentation. But it does summarize the general discomfort some have been feeling toward McConaughey of late, as he affably preaches his vision of a centrist utopia that, unfortunately, mostly involves condemning leftists.
Still, maybe McConaughey’s recent heel turn and his dropping out of TV projects are both related to his newly revealed dream career of becoming a professional wrestler. The avid WWE fan recently hinted on Maria Menounos’s Better Together podcast that he might someday get in the ring himself, saying cryptically, “I’ll say not too much ’cause as you know, can’t say too much about these things. But it is something that interests me.” McConaughey revealed that he even has a history of crashing wrestling events, having been kicked out of Shreveport’s Hirsch Memorial Coliseum back in the eighties for pelting Skandor Akbar with tomatoes and “spitting a loogie on King Kong Bundy.” So he clearly has the gumption—and, as he reminded us this week, he’s also got the gimmick, having shared a throwback photo to his reign as Little Mr. Texas, the child pageant that, as he often discussed during his Greenlights junket, McConaughey’s mother had him convinced for some 43 years that he’d won. And who wouldn’t want to see Big Mr. Texas come take another shot at claiming the crown during WWE Raw? Of all the potential directions this year in McConaughey could take, it’s probably the least risky.