Long Stories Short
- Renowned conductor Simon Rattle said the chair of Arts Council England, Nicolas Serota, “has no idea how the music business operates.”
- LVMH chief Bernard Arnault confirmed that Sidney Toledano, revered veteran boss of its fashion group, will step down.
- A hit song featuring AI-generated versions of Drake and The Weeknd was removed from streaming services after being played 600,000 times on Spotify.
by Liz Moseley
WaterTok, TikTok’s latest food trend for flavoured water “recipes” has racked up 134 million views and got dentists and nutritionists worried.
So what? From homespun and hearty to disgusting and downright weird, the negative impact of #foodtiktok – 148 billion views and counting – on the mental and physical health of the platform’s 1.05 billion monthly active users could be far worse than that of a disappointing pasta dish.
Food fads. TikTok has been the global driver of food trends since lockdown. The cost of living crisis has only exacerbated its influence now that cooking (and entertaining) at home is de rigueur by necessity. In 2020, of over 5,000 cookery books released in the UK only 48 sold more than 5,000 copies. By the end of March that year, the #dalgonacoffee trend had over 100 million views from people looking for a bougie caffeine hit to wash down their banana bread. See also:
- Cloud bread, a baked puff made of whisked egg whites, sugar and cornstarch.
- Million dollar spaghetti, basically lasagne but with spaghetti instead of pasta sheets.
- The butter board, which is butter on a board.
The opposite of the Good Housekeeping Institute, famed for rigorously testing recipes before publication, anyone can be a chef on TikTok. 2021’s viral #fetapasta – 1.3 billion views so far – is notoriously watery. Students at the University of Greenwich all but burnt their flat down in February attempting the “cheese toastie in a toaster” trend.
Everyone’s so creative! Set aside your dinner – and an hour – before looking at @tanaradoublechocolate, whose metier is incredulous commentary over the worst culinary offenders on food TikTok. It’s not all dystopian and gross – the pocket-size cooking on @tinykitchentm is joyfully pointless but the mesmerising miniature felt food by @andrea.animates really takes the biscuit.
Water lot of effort. Meanwhile on watertok, Tonya Spanglo (@takingmylifebackat42) is a big deal. She has over 800,000 followers lapping up tempting water recipes such as Tiger’s Blood Snow Cone, Fuzzy Navel and Grandma’s Salad. Her profile boasts weight loss of 220lb and features a promotional deal with Skinny Mixes Syrups which promises to help you “hit your daily water goals” with its range of zero-calorie, zero-sugar, zero-carb flavourings.
Hydration is good, surely? It is, but behind watertok’s fun facade is a not-too-subtle pseudo-healthy living and weight loss ethos. Adding synthetic syrups and powders to water effectively brews bespoke diet pop that can strip tooth enamel and cause decay, just like the branded stuff can if you drink too much of it. Darker still, it’s always implicit and sometimes explicit on watertok that swigging litres of Unicorn Candy water can offset your appetite for actual food. The bright colours, kooky names and saccharine flavours whiff of youth targeting by stealth.
28 per cent of TikTok’s users are under 18. The Center for Countering Digital Hate (CCDH) published research in December 2022 that found content related to eating disorders was served within eight minutes of a teen account being created, and videos about body image and mental health were recommended to teens every 39 seconds. Spanglo says she never advocates drinking flavoured water instead of eating but “water loading can be a harmful behaviour for people who are in treatment for eating disorders – if people are unwell that kind of messaging can be harmful,” said Edward Emond, Deputy Director of Services for the UK’s eating disorder charity, Beat.
There is currently no effective UK legislation that prohibits social media companies from targeting vulnerable people with diet content, although campaigners are calling for it. But even if there was, it’s unlikely that watertok would count. Most platforms don’t allow “pro-ana” content and provide tools that allow users to block certain hashtags and companies. “The tools aren’t infallible”, says Emond. “Social media companies must do everything they can to quickly identify and remove eating disorder content, as well as signposting users to eating disorder support, to protect those affected by these serious mental illnesses.”
Watertok is nobody’s and everybody’s problem. Content that is fun, useful and interesting to some can be triggering and potentially damaging to others. And no amount of legislation can fix that.
(News in brief)
The king and the kickboxer
Royals are known for their sense of duty, but this can hardly be said for Mohammed VI, Morocco’s billionaire king, who likes to play hooky: he spent over half of last year out of the country. An extraordinary Economist piece lays much of the blame at the feet of his best pal, a UFC fighter and convicted criminal called Abu Azaitar. The kickboxer and his two brothers reportedly have free rein of the palace, use military jets and decide who sees the king. Morocco’s unenthusiastic ruler has always been a wildcard, with a penchant for sports cars and nightclubs. But with the Moroccan economy in poor shape, his friendship with the Azaitars irks some of his subjects who need their executive and legislative lodestar. Morocco’s elite are particularly miffed – the Economist suggests they are planting unsavoury stories about the Azaitars in the Moroccan press. The fight is on.
Jerry Roscoe has tamed warlords, resolved conflicts in Bosnia, wrestled with Nasa over wrongful deaths in the space shuttle project and persuaded governments to clean up lethal contamination. This week the Philadelphia-based super mediator completed, he told CNN, “one of the more challenging cases” – the pre-trial settlement between Fox News and Dominion Voting Systems. On Sunday he was minding his own business on a river cruise to Bucharest as a 70th birthday treat. He spent Monday on back to back Zoom calls and by midday Tuesday he had a deal – Fox would pay $787.5 million to settle Dominion’s $1.6 billion claim, denying the world the spectacle of watching Rupert Murdoch testify. Fox can afford to pay that kind of money but its rival Newsmax, Dominion’s next target, can’t. That’s not Jerry Roscoe’s problem. Where there is hatred, he brings love. Where there is discord, he brings union.
Who is… India Amarteifio
Oof, it’s getting hot in here (again)
Stand by for bodice-ripping: Queen Charlotte is ready to ascend the throne. Sex Education’s India Amarteifio is the hot new star of Queen Charlotte: A Bridgerton Story, the Netflix prequel series that follows the titular monarch in her pre-Lady Whistledown era through her at first unwelcome but then sizzling romance with King George. The 21 year-old from south west London told British Vogue when she first saw Bridgerton she was “completely overwhelmed by all these people who looked like me in period dress. I thought, ‘I want to be a part of this.’” Unlike Bridgerton, this spin off has been written by Shonda Rhimes, TV’s highest-paid and arguably most successful producer (Grey’s Anatomy, Scandal, Bridgerton and more). Rhimes gave Amarteifio carte blanche to “create my own Charlotte. As a teenager, she’s very inquisitive and headstrong. She knows herself but she’s also not afraid to falter.” Good job. As the trailer to the series starting 4 May warns: “Your marriage is the business of this country – it cannot go wrong.”
It tickled us
Martha Stewart’s career-long devotion to domesticity knows no bounds. This week, she revealed a solution to an age-old conundrum: where does one store one’s wicker basket collection? The answer, of course, is in a dedicated barn. But basket-barn maintenance is no easy feat. After gifting her 1.8 million Instagram followers an insight into the two-day process of replacing the cedar shingle roof, Martha shared two comprehensive blog posts covering the need for “good cross ventilation” and “a back up waterproof membrane”. Lack of the latter had forced her to return all the baskets to their quarters ahead of a forecasted rain shower. We hate it when that happens. For other celebrity sanctuaries, see Paris Hilton’s 300-square foot, Spanish-style dog mansion, and Kylie Jenner’s daughter’s palatial two-storey playhouse.
It touched us
We danced while they bombed
Six hundred people crowded into a nightclub in Lviv on Tuesday to hear TVORCHI, the Nigerian-Ukrainian pop duo representing Ukraine at Eurovision 2023 perform their song Heart of Steel. Frontman Jeffrey (Jimoh Kehinde) and DJ and producer Andrii Hutsuliak wrote their track as Ukrainian fighters were besieged inside the Azovstal steel works in Mariupol last year. “It’s about strong people who keep a good attitude in a negative situation,” said Hutsuliak, whose set came to an end in time for Lviv’s midnight curfew. “For us, it is important that our country can win against the occupiers who came to our land. And if we win Eurovision, we would appreciate that too.”
Thank you and farewell
The great train robbery
The Orient Express will no longer run through the UK. Instead, passengers will have to head to Paris to board the world’s most glamorous train. The Venice-Simplon-Orient Express, revived in 1982, offers guests art-deco decadence and, with tickets costing anywhere from £3,530 to £10,100 per person, luxury is king. Passengers used to be able to board in London, enjoy a glass of bubbly and breakfast before being transferred by coach (bit of a downer) from Kent to Calais, get back on the choo-choo in time for a four-course gourmet dinner. Agatha Christie couldn’t have envisaged the 14-hour post-Brexit snarl-ups in Dover or the looming biometric border controls requiring facial recognition and fingerprinting. Belmond – the company behind The Orient Express – has pulled the trigger on the UK branch rather than make its chi-chi customers feel like suspects.
Politically kicking ass
by Stephen Armstrong
There’s something joyously life-affirming about Nida Manzoor’s big screen debut Polite Society that combines the breakneck hijinks of Lock Stock, the screeching punk formality of Kill Bill, the domestic chaos of East Is East and sisterly bonds of Pride & Prejudice. It’s all wrapped up in a suburban teen drama that should, if there is any justice in the world, be the insane big screen debut of an enthralling new voice.
Manzoor’s C4 comedy We Are Lady Parts hinted at her ambition – in the series about an all-girl feminist Muslim punk band, she delighted in knowing salutes to Brief Encounter, the Coen brothers and Bollywood dance routines. But Polite Society’s explosive plot combines high-school conflict, slapstick espionage, high drama heist, beautifully executed martial arts action, sci-fi horror and deftly timed jokes with a hint of social commentary making it louder, faster and much, much bigger.
The plot is simple. Priya Kansara’s Ria Khan is a bolshy schoolgirl and martial artist-in-training who dreams of becoming a stunt woman. When her big sister Lena (Ritu Arya) drops out of art school and gets engaged, Ria believes she and her school friends must save her sister from the shackles of a hastily arranged marriage, deploying overly ambitious schemes and wild home invasions set against surfer music and highly formalised house-wrecking martial arts fights.
About two thirds of the way through, we realise this is the sad fantasy of a schoolgirl who’s going to miss her sister and her dreams. And then they discover the basement…
So what? Manzoor grew up loving the spectacle of action movies but feeling extremely left out due to her Muslim background. After the success of Lady Parts, some BFI funding and interest from Working Title and Universal, she pitched a mix of Jackie Chan movies, Bollywood movies and The Matrix mashed into a wild film about sisterhood “for my teenage self,” she explained. “South Asian characters are often relegated to shop owners and terrorists, token friends to the white leads. It meant everything to me to centre the film around a South Asian girl – who is flawed and funny and kicks ass.”
The numbers. The USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative reports that while Muslims make up 25 per cent of the world’s population, they are 1.1 per cent of characters in television series across the Western world.
The new representation. There’s a generation of young, diverse, often female writers and directors releasing genre films that aren’t protest films so much as territory claiming, including Raine Allen Miller’s recent rom com Rye Lane, this summer’s popcorn blockbuster Joy Ride directed by Crazy Rich Asians writer Adele Lim and musical comedy Praise This by What Men Want writer Tina Gordon.These are not worthy films about identity, although they’re using culture as a rich and hilarious backdrop. Instead, they’re big budget studio films aimed at an increasingly globalised audience. Hollywood isn’t financing these films to make a political statement. Hollywood does things to make a ton of cash.
Could you make it more miserable? Nida’s script was turned down by lots of executives saying Lena should be forced into her marriage and “there should be more misery in a story about brown people,” she recalls.
Could you make it more Muslim-y? “Many of the cast aren’t Muslim,” points out Sajid Varda, founder of UK Muslim Film and former Byker Grove star. “Muslims are still being offered roles as terrorists or being asked to write about honour killings. It’s great to have Nida heading this movie, but the pipeline is slow and young talent is getting turned back.”
Army of one. “There are artists who defy expectations, and there are artists who explode them”, said actor and rapper Riz Ahmed. “Nida Manzoor is the latter.”
(Reviews in brief)
Dead Ringers (Amazon Prime, streaming now)
Re-imagining David Cronenberg’s 1988 psychological horror film, Amazon’s new six-part limited series is no less disturbing than the original – but far more fun. Retaining the original characters’ names but swapping their gender, identical twins Beverly and Elliot Mantle (Rachel Weisz) work together as gynaecologists at a New York hospital. Elliot is the more hedonistic, outgoing of the sisters, while Beverly is more reserved – and their different visions for their clinic tease a clash further down the line.
The show regularly confronts the viewers with the ugly side of healthcare – one ethical dilemma presents itself to the sisters in the form of potential investor Rebecca (Jennifer Ehle), who dangles money made off the back of the opioid crisis in front of the Mantles (“She’s Satan fisting dollars out of corpses”). Playing the two lead roles in a TV series, especially ones which are so intertwined and reliant on the others’ performance, is no mean feat, but Weisz is a tour de force – chilling, funny and an expert at relaying the subtleties and nuances which make the twins so different and engaging.
#Panic by Luke Jennings (John Murray, 27 April)
Luke Jennings wrote Codename Villanelle that became Killing Eve – a thriller with a sort-of gay romance at its heart. Villanelle and Eve’s story descended into fatalism and despair thanks to the TV writers’ choices. Jennings ventured into Killing Eve fandoms and found devotees writing fanfiction about invented erotic trysts between his characters. In #Panic, he pays the fandoms back. Four members of a select chatroom for City Of Night – a thriller with a sort-of gay romance at its heart – are rescued from their impoverished lives in homophobic and transphobic towns when Chloe, make-up artist to the show’s star Alice Temple, enters the chat to ask for their help to save Alice. As the police, the Russian mafia and the ultra-right paramilitaries of the Legion hunt them all down, every fandom’s fantasy is fulfilled. It feels like a Netflix pitch, but it’s deftly written.
That You Not Dare To Forget, MEB (Legacy recordings, listen now)
Just in time for Jazz Appreciation Month, MEB (formerly known as Miles Electric Band) have released their much-anticipated debut album. As the name suggests, the group is made up of former Miles Davis Ensemble members. Their focus is on his repertoire, twisting modern flavours over Miles Davis classics. The answer, then, to the question of “what’s Miles without Miles” is: embrace eclectic. No two tracks are the same. There’s bass-line beautiful funk, spoken word and old school Atlanta-style rap (think: Killer Mike delivering punchy lyrics over a slow, consistent rhythm) over well-harmonised jazz chords. And while not every song is built for the non-fusion-jazz nerd, that’s what Miles would have wanted. One for the Bebop lover, one for the first-pressing Bitches Brew collector.
Shame Spiral (out now)
On Shame Spiral, former psychotherapist and current comedian Ely Kreimendahl interviews a “who’s-who” of millennial American comedians about their biggest moments of shame. It’s one part schadenfreude, one part relatability and two parts really funny. What makes it work is Kreimendahl’s gentle interviewing style combined with most comedians’ springing willingness to divulge their darkest moments for the masses. She never mocks them, but equally doesn’t push very deep into a place where shame gets brutish and sad. The end result is a hilarious and light dose of live, para-social trauma healing.
This week: tracks to get you in the mood for tomorrow’s UK-wide siren alert.
At a Tortoise pace
The house on the hill
In February, Sebastian Hervas-Jones, 24, jacked in his job as a Tortoise reporter, binned his smart phone and set off on a renovated narrowboat to spend 365 days discovering Britain.
This is week eight.
So I did pay that mysterious house on the hill a visit. I walked up through a small forest and stood staring up at the crumbling limestone walls. Through the frames where the windows used to be, I could see inside. Trees were growing and their roots held up the last remaining bits of brick floor that had not collapsed into the basement. I crouched and crawled down into the exposed underground space. Moldy Christmas decorations lay on the damp floor – a stark reminder that a family used to live here, and much of what they loved had been destroyed. The kitchen was more intact – cables dangled from the ceiling, and books, magazines, pots and pans were strewn around. Sunlight peeked in through the smashed windows, and for a moment it was quite beautiful. Horrible and broken and burned, and yet when touched by the light, beautiful…
You can read more of Seb’s letters “home” here.
for your diary
22 April – Over 260 independent record shops across the UK celebrate ‘Record Store Day’ with special vinyl releases, artist performances and more.
17-29 May – Charleston Book Festival returns with a 12-day lineup of talks, conversations and performances.. Readers of the Weekend Sensemaker can get 15% off full price tickets using the code TORT23 (not available for concessions and particular events).
23-27 May – Now in its 110th year, the RHS Chelsea Flower Show returns with gardens being judged for the first time on how eco-friendly they are.
3-6 May – Hampton Court Palace plays host to four nights of outdoor cinema with showings of Elvis, Moulin Rouge, Top Gun: Maverick and The Great Gatsby.
21 November – The Olivier award-winning production of My Neighbour Totoro returns to the London Barbican following a sold-out first run. Tickets are on sale now.
If you know someone you think would enjoy the Weekend Sensemaker, invite them to sign up here.
Editor: Jane Bruton
Contributions from Tomini Babs, Sophie Fenton, Xavier Greenwood, Dolly Martin, Steph Preston, Hannah Slattery, Sara Weissel and James Wilson
Photographs courtesy Getty Images, Liam Daniel/Netflix, Martha Stewart/Instagram, TVORCHI/Instagram, Belmond, Amazon Prime, Parisa Taghizadeh/Focus Features, Tom Pilston for Tortoise