On Sunday, HBO's Last Week Tonight With John Oliver invited English dance-pop group Right Said Fred onto the set to perform a special, anti-mass-murder version of their 1991 hit song "I'm Too Sexy."

Host John Oliver ended his latest episode with a segment on the brutality of Syrian president Bashar al-Assad's regime. Oliver also pointed out that the the dictator's iTunes downloads includes pop music by artists such as LMFAO and Right Said Fred. "So we're dealing with someone with the political instincts of a young Joseph Stalin, and the music tastes of a 14-year-old girl from Orange County named Tiffany," Oliver said.

In the interest of finding something Assad enjoys and turning it against him—as something of a protest song—Oliver brought out Right Said Fred (formed by brothers Fred and Richard Fairbrass) to play an anti-Assad cover of their hit track. Instead of the lyric, "I'm too sexy for my shirt," Assad gets, "You're too awful for this Earth," and lyrics asking him to "stop downloading our tracks." Richard, the lead vocalist, is also critical of Assad's appearance, and sings that he should be tried as a war criminal.

"We loved [this] idea," guitarist Fred Fairbrass tells Mother Jones. "They approached us about two weeks ago. It's actually very old-school to take a popular song and re-write the lyrics for a current subject matter. Blues artists and folk artists used to do that a lot. I think the result was very effective and a lot of fun."

Last Week Tonight's team of writers penned the new lyrics, which they then sent to the Brothers Fairbrass for approval. Here's the clip from Sunday's show:

As for Fred and Richard Fairbrass' interest in the humanitarian crisis, civil war, and mass slaughter in Syria, the brothers don't consider themselves experts on the topic, but have been following the news for the past three years. "The Assad regime is inhumane and tyrannical—the problem of course is the opposition don't seem much better," Fred says.

I asked Fred to further elaborate on Right Said Fred's politics. Here's his response:

We marched in London against the Iraq War. Last week we were in Copenhagen and joined the anti-Bilderberg protesters. We tend to get most of our news info from the alternative media like James Corbett, Media Monarchy, Democracy Now!, etc. etc. We are pro-privacy and pro-minimal state intervention.

Furthermore, Right Said Fred showed up at a gay rights march in Moscow in 2007 (where Richard was physically assaulted by an anti-gay counter-protester), and their official Twitter account recently issued a brief critique of President Obama and the Bowe Bergdahl deal.

And now, here's the original "I'm Too Sexy":

Jack White
Third Man/Columbia

He may be in his late thirties, but Jack White continues to display a callow, almost cartoonish exuberance on his second solo album. The same giddy energy that informed his tenure leading the White Stripes, when he often evoked the buoyant excesses of Led Zeppelin in a smaller format, is still present here, but the textures are more varied and satisfying. Flavored by tasty dollops of pedal steel, Hammond B3 organ, fiddle, synth and the like, the consistently engaging Lazaretto hopscotches eagerly from blues to country to hard rock, with White's arresting man-on-fire vocals always front and center. For all his obvious pleasure at being able to make a racket, however, there's also a strain of existential angst: "All the creatures have it hard now. Nothing but God is left to know. And why he left us all here hanging. With an illusion of a home," White sings on "Temporary Ground," suggesting bad times to come.

The scene set in the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam.

The post contains some spoilers.

The Fault in Our Stars is a smartly crafted, touching film about teenage love and teenage cancer. The movie has been widely described as this year's ultimate tearjerker: "Total emotional carnage—like having your head chopped off by a sword made of tears," GQ staff writer Zach Baron said. "The Fault in Our Stars is an industrial-strength teen romance that will make you question everything you think you know about life, appreciate everything you have but didn't appreciate before, and, unless you have no soul, cry like nobody's watching," ABC News' David Blaustein declared. "The film sets out to make you weep—not just sniffle or choke up a little, but sob until your nose runs and your face turns blotchy," the New York Times' A. O. Scott wrote. "It succeeds."

So, yeah, there appears to be a consensus that the film will make you cry while you're seated in a movie theater, surrounded by fellow sniffling patrons. Along with its various assaults on the tear ducts, The Fault in Our Stars also contains a bafflingly awkward (and arguably inappropriate) scene in which the two main characters make out in the same attic where Anne Frank hid from the Nazis.

Let's back up for a minute. The film, based on John Green's young-adult bestseller, tells the story of Hazel Grace Lancaster and Augustus Waters (played by Shailene Woodley and Ansel Elgort, both excellent), two lovebirds who found each other at a Jesus-heavy cancer support group. After their relationship starts to get serious, they travel to Amsterdam to meet Hazel's favorite author. The trip includes a visit to the Anne Frank House, the world-famous museum that preserves the building where Anne Frank, the young Jewish wartime diarist, hid with her family during the Holocaust. Shortly after Hazel and Augustus reach the House's attic (which features photos of the Jewish family members murdered by Nazi occupiers), they share their first kiss. A crowd of smiling tourists emphatically applaud the brief make-out session. Happy-sounding music plays.

Again, this scene is set in the attic where the Frank family would often go to get fresh air while trying to not get mass-murdered by Hitler.

Here's Shailene Woodley describing the kiss to the Daily Beast (emphasis mine):

Anne's story and Hazel's story are so synchronistic, in a way—the theme of how you don't have to live a long life to have a powerful and meaningful one—and Anne Frank had her first kiss in that house, and Hazel did, too. And then having the ability to film there and the history of what those walls held was powerful in those scenes. Hazel's thinking, "This might be the last time in my life I'm here, and if I have to die going up these stairs, I'll die going up these stairs." She's also thinking, "If Anne Frank did it, I can do it."

Fair enough. Maybe. But they're still making out in the Anne Frank House, which is at least a couple notches more problematic than making out during a screening of Schindler's List. The scene has already weirded-out some in the press. "The Anne Frank House? Are you kidding me?" GQ associate editor Mark Byrne said. LA Weekly's Stephanie Zacharek called the kiss, "highly dubious."

At the very least, it doesn't seem as though the folks at the real-life Anne Frank House are offended by this. In the special-thanks section of the film's end credits, the Anne Frank House gets the first shout-out for their cooperation. And though the cast and crew were on-location in the summer of 2013 for shots of the museum's exterior and entrance, a spokeswoman for the Anne Frank House told me that the parts of the sequence set inside the building were filmed at a replica elsewhere. "We have not seen the film, so we cannot express any opinion on it," Annemarie Bekker, at the House's communications department, said. "In the book [the kiss in the attic] is a moving and sensitively handled scene." Bekker also said that the Anne Frank House was not involved in the production, but that they did give the cast and writer a guided tour, and allowed them to film outside.

Anyway, it's not like the kiss tanks the rest of the movie. The Fault in Our Stars is a well-acted, genuinely moving experience that also happens to include a strange moment of Holocaust-associated lip-locking.

Now here's the trailer:

This post has been updated.

Famous singer-songwriter Lana Del Rey has a weird quote about "feminism" (and space exploration, I think) in the latest Fader cover story. Digest it here:

For me, the issue of feminism is just not an interesting concept. I'm more interested in, you know, SpaceX and Tesla, what's going to happen with our intergalactic possibilities. Whenever people bring up feminism, I'm like, god. I'm just not really that interested…My idea of a true feminist is a woman who feels free enough to do whatever she wants.


The 27-year-old singer joins a chorus of female celebrities, including actress Shailene Woodley, who distance themselves from feminism, or from describing themselves as feminists. This is strange to hear (whether the famous person is female or male), simply because your average dictionary is very straightforward about the definition of the term "feminism." It is as follows:

The belief that men and women should have equal rights and opportunities.

It's really that simple: Words have meanings. Maybe too many of us have, over the years, conflated the word "feminist" with "extreme, radical, militant, War-On-Men-waging individual?" I dunno. Anyway, Ann Friedman explains this general topic better than I ever could, and you should read her piece here.

(H/t Matt Zeitlin)

Last year, CNET's Dan Ackerman tweeted a photo of the restroom lines at Apple's Worldwide Developers Conference in San Francisco.


The message: Silicon Valley is mostly men.

Today was the WWDC 2014 keynote and Ackerman revisited the scene.

Behold: Some ladies! Not many though. In fact, basically none. Silicon Valley's very real woman problem remains.

We will not be happy until these lines are equal in length.

Ela Stiles
Ela Stiles

Julianna Barwick
Dead Oceans


It's hard to imagine a more refreshing listen than these two short, sweet EPs, both of which find inventive women manipulating the unadorned human voice in intriguing ways. Australian Ela Stiles' seven-song, 17-minute outing blends layers of warm a cappella singing in shifting combinations to evoke an earthy hybrid of medieval and futuristic. The centerpiece is the gently unsettling "Drone Transitions," an 11-minute single vocal drone that’s eerily hypnotic.

Meanwhile, the ever-ethereal American Julianna Barwick partners with Dogfish Head Craft Brewery for the four-song, 16-minute Rosabi, adding sounds from the brewing process to her mesmerizing vocal loops. Continuing the hazy approach of her captivating albums Nepenthe and The Magic Place, Barwick's dreamy textures are soothing and curiously stimulating at once, offering the perfect respite from daily stress.


"Key to the Highway"

From Dave and Phil Alvin's Common Ground: Dave Alvin + Phil Alvin Play and Sing the Songs of Big Bill Broonzy


Liner notes: On their first joint studio album since the '80s, the once-estranged Blasters siblings uncork a spiffy country-blues rendition of Bill Broonzy's best-known song, also covered by Derek and the Dominos.

Behind the music: Born Lee Conley Bradley, Broonzy (who died in 1958) has been cited as an influence by the Kinks' Ray Davies. Muddy Waters cut an entire album of his tunes.

Check it out if you like: Modern blues crusaders Gary Clark Jr., Alvin Youngblood Hart, and North Mississippi Allstars.

This review originally appeared in the May/June 2014 issue of Mother Jones.