Hit ‘pause’ on binge-watching your favourite series to make way for this inspiring tale of friendship, activism and adventure.
You’d be forgiven if you were led to believe that Okja would be a light-hearted affair from the film’s opening sequence – with CEO Lucy Mirando’s (Tilda Swinton) restrained humour and quirky dialogue. But deception quickly unfolds, as you realise that the shrewd but narcissistic businesswoman has cruel intentions for her 10-year pet project of genetically-modified pigs, disguised in an environmentally-friendly package.
The biggest victim of deception however, is our protagonist Mija (Seo-Hyun Ahn) who is introduced to us in her countryside home in present-day South Korea, where she spends her days with her best friend Okja – an endearing hybrid of a pig, dog and hippo she’s raised her whole life. But the world she’s known for a decade crumbles in a flash, when famed TV host and presenter Dr. Johnny Wilcox (Jake Gyllenhaal) arrives to document Okja’s “homecoming” for Mirando’s Super Pig Competition master plan. It’s too late by the time the betrayal is realised, which sends Mija on a fearless, hell-bent journey to save her friend from becoming literal dead meat.
What follows is a gripping East-meets-West adventure, where our young heroine is lost in translation across borders. Scenes are well-balanced between Lucy Mirando’s conniving intentions of manipulating Mija to her favour, and the latter’s tug-of-war against the corporation. But the film’s most enlightening and emotional moments are those focussed on the inhumane meat trade, that tug relentlessly at your heartstrings and may even make you reconsider your dietary habits.
Its strong storyline is further supported by solid turns from familiar Hollywood faces. Lily Collins, Paul Dano and Steven Yeun form the trio leading the Animal Liberation Front (ALF), that’s looking to put a stop to Mirando’s animal abuse and mirroring Mija’s end goal of rescuing Okja. Possibly the only somewhat weak link is Jake Gyllenhaal’s impression of a washed-up television personality clinging on to his fading fame, instead coming off as convoluted and exaggerated. On the contrary, Tilda Swinton continues to strengthen her niche for off-kilter roles, shining as the extravagant Cruella de Vil-esque villainess and almost singlehandedly steals the show.
Okja’s standout factor remains its clear and powerful message, one that should resonate with audiences both young and old. By the time the movie draws to its explosive, nail-biting finale, you may even realise that the real enemy is not even the self-serving Lucy Mirando after all, but us humans instead. And perhaps thats what director and writer Bong Joon-ho aims to achieve and ultimately succeeds with – a thought-provoking social narration on our actions and how they should be re-evaluated.
Okja is available on Netflix from Wednesday, June 28.
It’s been a busy year for Benjamin and Narelle Kheng, the dynamic sibling duo and 1/2 of our favourite local pop quartet, The Sam Willows. They have been dabbling in a multitude of solo pursuits outside of TSW – stage productions, TV shows, commercial deals… the list goes on. While they certainly deserve their turn in the spotlight, there’s no doubt that they are better together as they stage their much-anticipated return to the local music scene with their EDM-infused earworm ‘Keep Me Jealous’.
Ahead of their album release, we caught up with the siblings for a short chat about their upcoming sophomore record, the concept behind their latest single and what they envy about each other.
Hi guys! Let’s talk a bit about your upcoming album – when can we expect the release?
B: We want to know too (laughs).
N: It’s not exactly complete yet – the structure is there but we are still fine-tuning a lot of stuff. When we started working on this album, we went in with the intention of writing as many pieces as we could and every track has its own unique flavour. We wanted to delay [the album] a little longer ’cause we wanted to push out the singles and let people listen to each track on its own first, then the entire album comes along. Till then, the content will be dropping continuously throughout.
How was it like working with The Chainsmokers’ songwriter, Fredrik Häggstam, for the new record?
N: We worked with him for a little bit on Take Heart. He came in as a filler and we got to know him. He’s a young guy and we got along well, so we decided to seek him out for this album and he very kindly agreed.
B: At that point, we had no idea Fredrik wrote for The Chainsmokers. He’s also written for quite a number of K-pop acts. It was an entirely new experience writing with ’em – the Swedes are indeed a different breed!
Since all of you participated in writing for the album, how was the entire process like?
N: We spent a whole week in Sydney last year, just coming in and writing songs every single day. And it was a great bonding session for us because we’ve been so busy lately that we hardly even get to sit down in a room together back home. It was a fantastic trip – we wrote around ten songs. (B: But only one ended up on the album!)
B: The thing about commercial pop acts is that a lot of them don’t get to take charge of their music, so they simply get a team of writers to do the work and they just have to perform the song as it is. For us, we transitioned from an indie band to this – but we didn’t want to give up the creative streak in us. We think it’s really important to guard our own works, even if it’s a commercial – whether it’s playing a part in the video or having a say on the concept – and it’s something we would never lose.
What’s the story behind your newest single ‘Keep Me Jealous’?
N: Basically, it’s the first song we wrote for our album so we decided to start off with the topic of love because we got hooked on this idea revolving around jealousy. In the song, we tried to spin it in a more positive light – you know, it’s good to keep your partner jealous so you can maintain a healthy degree of tension in your relationship, but the problem is that there’s a very fine line and if you tip far in, it’s easy to get lost in the downward spiral of mental games and everything just turns into rubble.
What’s one thing you guys are jealous about each other?
B: I’d say the split between [Narelle and I] is quite decent. For example, I’m not a mathematical or logical person, but Narelle is very good at it.
N: But I always get the best rooms…
B: Yeah, what’s up with that? My room’s like half the size of hers!
B: Both of us are pretty envious of Jon’s brain – he’s the guy that cracks the whip and has an awesome business sense.
N: I’ve never met anyone with more willpower than Sandra. When she wants something, she gets it. She’s well diversified in many aspects – like when it comes to music, she knows what melodies work and what doesn’t, even though it delves very far into a certain genre. At the end of the day, when we say the Willows are like a family, we really mean it because it’s the same as how you would know all the good and bad points of your sibling. You can be jealous, but you still love them no matter what.
What’s next for The Sam Willows?
B: We’ve got a few shows planned for June and then it’s going to be quite a long break for us as a group. After which we’re going to film our next music video, travel for a bit, do a couple more festivals in August, and then we’re all gonna focus on our own projects, before coming back together.
Can fans expect another concert anytime soon?
B: Heck yeah! Well, the pipeline is probably next year but we’re already in the midst of planning it. For our last concert, we started work on it really late so we only had a few months to scramble for music directors, set pieces and everything. We want to deliver a really good show this time.
Looks like it’s gonna be a long ride till the full album drops – till then, continue to #SupportLocal and keep on streaming ‘Keep Me Jealous’!
When a music act sells out their debut concert even before releasing their full-length album, you know you’ve got yourself a band worthy of attention. Enter LANY – an indie-pop trio with dashes of alt-rock and R&B influences hailing from Los Angeles and New York, hence their acronymic name. Ahead of their maiden gig here courtesy of Secret Sounds Asia, we caught up with lead singer Paul Klein.
Hi Paul! Where are you guys currently and what’re you up to?
Not much. I’m just chilling at the beach in Malibu.
Are you singing a little bit of Miley Cyrus while you’re there?
(Laughs) No I’m not. I was listening to Frank Ocean before this!
The album comes out June 30th, which is really soon. What have you guys been doing to prepare yourself for this moment?
We haven’t really prepared ourselves. We haven’t even really had time to sit down and think about what it’s gonna feel like when the album comes out. We’ve just been working so hard. The lead up to the album… there’s just a lot of stuff to plan. We’ve been busy being home, off tour for now. We’re trying to set up pop up shops in a few cities around the world; at places where we can meet people and celebrate the album with them. You only release a debut album one time in your life. I’m not quite sure how it’s gonna feel.
What’s one distinctive difference from the music on the upcoming album, as compared to the songs from your previous EPs?
There’s nothing too different – I feel like that wouldn’t make much sense, for us to come out with our first album sounding completely different than what we’ve put out previously. I do think we’ve grown as songwriters, musicians and producers, and I think that these songs on the album are the best songs we’ve ever written. What you know of LANY – what it sounds and feels like – is exactly what the album is.
You guys were recently in Singapore. What’s one memorable takeaway you had from that trip? Any interesting experiences?
That we can’t chew gum in Singapore – that’s crazy! We never really played [a show] in Singapore, we were just there mostly for meetings. But we had a few fans at the hotel lobby and that was really cool. When we got off the plane and got into a van, we heard ‘ILYSB’ on the radio and I thought it was a joke or something! It was really cool to hear our song on the radio immediately when we landed. We’re so excited to come over; it’s a real honour to be able to go all the way to Singapore and the rest of Asia and be able to play for fans.
Is there anything you’re looking forward to trying or experiencing in particular on your return trip to Asia in August?
I personally love Asian food, or at least what I know of Asian food. I’m really excited to just kind of dive into the culture of Singapore, and we’ll be in Japan, Taiwan, Thailand… these are places that I’ve never been to. I’ve only kind of seen [them] in magazines and movies so I’m looking forward to all of it, really.
Not sure if you guys have heard, but the show sold out in a week! How does that feel for you?
It feels really cool! I can’t tell you guys how excited we are. We don’t even know what our fans look like, you know? To just see the faces of people who listen to us and love us and support us – that’ll be a real special moment.
What can fans expect from your full-length debut concert?
Normally at LANY shows, everyone sings along to every word, so that’s really fun. The songs are also way bigger live – they’re louder and more energetic.
Is there a particular song you guys are most excited to perform live on tour?
We haven’t gone to rehearsals yet, so I can’t [quite have an] answer for that. But there’s a song called ‘Super Far’ that I think is gonna be really big, so that’s gonna be fun to play live I’m sure. I think ‘Flowers on the Floor’ and ‘Purple Teeth’ will be really fun [to play] as well.
The ‘Good Girls’ video is coming out real soon as well. What’s the story behind that song and the video?
‘Good Girls’ is about dealing with disappointment and unmet expectations. In that moment [writing it], I felt pretty let down by my relationship, and how it was going. And I was really self-aware – I knew that things weren’t going to be perfect but I really thought that it would be better than [how it was going]. It’s also a plea for that person you’re in love with to change their mind and to come back home to give it one more shot, even though they wronged you.
I don’t want to give away too much about the ‘Good Girls’ video. It’s mainly… a lot of it is performance, a lot of me walking around Hollywood singing to the camera. But there’s a twist at the end that I’m really excited for people to see. It’s coming out next week.
Your album artwork features a simple design of a rose. What special meaning does the rose have to the band?
I think from almost the very beginning of LANY, flowers and plants have always been a part of the aesthetic. For me personally, I’ve always [liked] taking photos in front of flowers, and ‘Paul in front of plants’ became a thing on Instagram. I mean, if you go back to our I Loved You EP, there’s flowers in the sink [on the cover art] and the Make Out EP has bougainvillea. People also started bringing roses to our shows and threw them all over the stage. It just became obvious that flowers and LANY go together.
LANY has shared the stage with the likes of Halsey to John Mayer. Are there moments where you guys are still like “I can’t believe this is happening”? What’s the craziest thing about all this for you guys?
I guess [opening for] John Mayer would probably be “the one”. Just knowing that this little band that I’m in, that works so hard to write all the best songs we possibly could, be recognised by my childhood hero – that’s a crazy moment. Those seven nights with John Mayer were the best seven nights of my life.
LANY performs a sold out show at the *SCAPE Ground Theatre on August 10th. Their self-titled debut album is available on June 30th.
Well-worth the four-year wait since her gloriously moody debut, Lorde’s sophomore success Melodrama continues to prove her mettle as one of today’s most important pop stars.
In 2013, 17-year-old Lorde confessed on ‘Team’ that she was “kind of over getting told to throw her hands up in the air” – an unabashed scoff at party emphases that heavily littered the charts. Had the song been in any way lacklustre, her profound dissonance to the mainstream might have easily backfired on the Kiwi teen. But ‘Team’, along with the #1 hit ‘Royals’, were pure pop gems, both instrumental for her emergence as a serious force in the industry, with the latter even scoring her two Grammy wins in 2014. On top of her musical dominance, her goth-influenced style, eccentric dance moves and enigmatic persona ironically made her the unintentional and alternative ‘cool kid’ – a running label she commented on throughout her debut album Pure Heroine.
Years later, Lorde has made her graceful, yet steady return to the pop landscape she once conquered, picking up where she left it off with the relentless ‘Green Light’. “She thinks you love the beach, you’re such a damn liar”, she snarls about an ex-lover on the album opener. It’s crystal clear that previous uncertainties that come with being a teenager are long gone, instead replaced with a reinforced self-assuredness expressed by a young woman on the brink of adulthood. Attribute the personal growth to the possible guidance through fame via her friendship with Taylor Swift, or the mastery production of Bleachers-frontman Jack Antonoff, but every vocal delivery and heartfelt lyric is undeniably, uniquely Lorde.
Other than the by-now-familiar key change in ‘Green Light’, there’s starkly delightful surprises to be found at every corner of Melodrama elsewhere. From the spoken word chorus of ‘The Louvre’ to the trumpets on ‘Sober’, Lorde details every single moment of the album with careful precision to make them work seamlessly. “I’ll be your quiet afternoon crush, be your violent overnight rush”, she fearlessly sings on the album’s chirpiest tune ‘Supercut’, over a piano hook and scattering, electronic beats that would make eve Swedish pop-maestro Robyn envious.
Navigating through heartbreak, scorn and then self-discovery, it’s by the time the closing track rolls around that Melodrama comes full circle; where Lorde embraces acceptance on ‘Perfect Places’. “What the f— are perfect places, anyway?”, she rhetorically shrugs – questioning the very state of yearning she had put herself through in the album’s previous tracks, alongside playing observant to the similar tribulations youths face.
It’s rare to witness young artists not only match the success of their debut, but best it as well – and as far as this album goes, Lorde takes the sound of its predecessor and moulds it into near-perfection. Once guarded and awkward in public appearances, Melodrama is a heroic way for Lorde to re-introduce audiences to the evolved artistry she’s honing (and perfecting) today, which should easily make this a contender for Album Of The Year.
Besides the weather obviously heating up these couple of months, summer marks the arrival of dessert-indulging, frequent hangs with the besties and new outdoor adventures. We’ve put together a list of tracks you ought to have on your Spotify playlist. Time to hit the ‘Play’ button!
Halsey – ‘Strangers’ (Feat. Lauren Jauregui)
Alt-pop megastar-in-the-making, Halsey delivers an ode to fleeting romance with a welcomed assistance courtesy of Fifth Harmony’s Lauren Jaurequi on ‘Strangers’, off the #1 album Hopeless Fountain Kingdom. Their distinctive, raspy tones mesh well together, trading verses over a pulsating beat throughout. It’s a modern day love song that breaks barriers, and one that looks set to catapult these two budding talents to new heights of fame.
The xx – ‘I Dare You’
For summer nights, put on The xx’s ‘I Dare You’ to capture the essence of youth succinctly in under four minutes. Romy and Oliver trade lines about both the excitement and heartbreak of falling in reckless, passionate love – perfect for looking back on an old relationship or fanning the flames of a new crush. Fingers crossed the band puts this on their setlist at their upcoming Indoor Stadium gig on 25 July!
Phoenix – ‘J-Boy’
You can always count on French band Phoenix to come through with summery indie anthems a la previous successes ‘1901’ and ‘Entertainment’, and their reign continues with Ti Amo‘s first single ‘J-Boy’. Featuring mesmerising synths and explosive guitars in true Phoenix fashion, the track bursts with hands-in-the-air jubilance that would light up the mood of any party.
Camila Cabello – ‘Crying in the Club’
Fifth Harmony’s ex-member traded in twerk-ready girl-group bops for the searing dance floor filler ‘Crying In The Club’ as her first single, and it’s certainly paid off. The self-empowering number might bear resemblances to Sia, but Camila takes charge with her honest delivery and personal message. And with lyrics like “Let the music warm your body like the heat of a thousand fires”, is there a song that is any more summer-appropriate?
Terror Jr – ‘Appreciation’
Not much is known about pop trio Terror Jr, even after they burst onto the scene after ‘3 Strikes’ was featured on Kylie Jenner’s lip gloss commercial, sparking rumours that she was the anonymous lead vocalist of the indie outfit – but that was quickly debunked. Famous family connections or not, there’s no denying the catchiness and clever lyrics of the group’s discography, which includes 2016’s Bop City and Bop City 2: TerroRising, released just last week. One clear standout is ‘Appreciation’, an electropop thumper about showing gratitude to a lover. The terror has clearly risen, and we couldn’t be more excited.
Lorde – ‘Sober’
“Will you sway with me? Go astray with me?”, Lorde asks on the eclectic ‘Sober’, and how could we say no? The seductive, captivating song is touted to be the second single lifted off her sophomore album Melodrama, and there’s no reason why it shouldn’t be. Produced by Bleachers frontman and frequent collaborator Jack Antonoff, he scatters hushed whispers and trumpet horns to make this another instant Lorde classic.
G-Dragon – ‘SUPER STAR’
You don’t need a USB port to listen to G-Dragons triumphant new album Kwon Ji Yong, and its highlight ‘SUPER STAR’. The rapper’s signature swag compliments the bouncy instrumental fervently, with him in search of somebody to love – something we doubt he’s lacking.
The Killers – ‘The Man’
Every summer playlist needs a soaring rock song, and who else but The Killers to fill that void thoroughly. Our Las Vegas rock gods make their overdue comeback with ‘The Man”, where charming lead singer Brandon Flowers declares he’s the titular character fronted by groovy bass, disco funk and a backing choir – and we don’t disagree. The glam-rock track is a sign of greater things to come from the band in the form of their upcoming album Wonderful Wonderful, due out later this year.