Beyoncé’s ‘Homecoming’ Emmy snub is historic disrespect Let’s take a look into what made her Netflix concert film excellent

On Sunday, Fox will air the 71st Primetime Emmy Awards show at 8 p.m. EDT. But the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences’ credibility as an arbiter of excellence will face justified skepticism because Beyoncé went 0-for-6 at the Creative Arts Emmys last week.

She was nominated for her work on Homecoming, a documentary that captured her performance as the first black woman to headline the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival. And just as it was with 2016’s Lemonade, her previous visual album, America’s greatest living pop performer was royally snubbed.

For insight on how that snub might have been received, we can look to the self-titled album released at the end of 2013, which was accompanied not just with music videos but also documentary snippets that explained her mindset. One was about losing, and why she chose footage from her first professional loss — her childhood group, Girls Tyme, losing Star Search — to precede the grimiest, most boastful song on the album, “***Flawless.”

“I was only 9 years old, so at that time, you don’t actually realize that you could work superhard, and give everything you have, and lose. It was the best message for me,” Beyoncé explained. “When I put Ed McMahon introducing us as the ‘hip-hop-rapping Girls Tyme,’ it clicked something in my mind. I feel like something about the aggression of ‘Bow Down’ and the attitude of ‘***Flawless,’ — the reality is, sometimes you lose. And you’re never too good to lose and you’re never too big to lose. You’re never too smart to lose. It happens. And it happens when it needs to happen.”

The pop star’s shutout at the 2019 Creative Arts Emmys didn’t need to happen, but it did. And it’s completely reasonable that her team is having trouble embracing the outcome.

Beyoncé’s Netflix concert film Homecoming was nominated for six Emmys: outstanding directing for a variety special; outstanding variety special (prerecorded); outstanding costumes for variety, nonfiction or reality programming; outstanding music direction; outstanding production design for a variety special; and outstanding writing for a variety special.

Here’s what won:

  • Directing — Springsteen on Broadway
  • Variety special (prerecorded) — Carpool Karaoke: When Corden Met McCartney Live From Liverpool
  • Costumes — RuPaul’s Drag Race
  • Music direction — Fosse/Verdon
  • Production design — Rent
  • Writing — Hannah Gadsby: Nanette

The television academy’s decisions for music direction and variety special strike me as, at best, misinformed and, at worst, insulting. To understand why, let’s take a deeper look into what made Homecoming excellent, first with musical direction and then the show.

In crafting the musical arrangements for Homecoming, Beyoncé and music director Derek Dixie did something incredibly ambitious, something that requires an encyclopedic knowledge of black music and a broad imagination and acuity for music theory.

Beyoncé Knowles performs onstage during the 2018 Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival at the Empire Polo Field on April 21, 2018, in Indio, California.

Photo by Kevin Mazur/Getty Images for Coachella

What dominates Homecoming is a sustained nod to New Orleans. It extends past the tracks that originated on Lemonade, an exploration of Beyoncé’s Creole heritage. Dixie and Beyoncé didn’t just adapt her music for a marching band; they conducted a sonic archaeological dig and placed her within a continuum of black music. The orchestrations are reminiscent of the approach to pop music at Motown. Queen Bey’s hits benefit from the use of modern technology, which allows artists to take advantage of infinite possibilities. But they’re also written in a way that comes alive with a live band, an indication of top-notch songwriting and inspired orchestration.

See: the Homecoming arrangement of “Deja Vu,” which, after the first few measures of its bassline, drives into the song with horns that take a little from the funk of B.T. Express’ “Do It (T’il You’re Satisfied),” which is sampled on “Deja Vu,” and mixes it with strings more associated with Philadelphia soul.

When Beyoncé offers an assessment of the students’ abilities during an interlude, she’s not being hyperbolic. “The amount of swag is just limitless,” she says.

Ambitious ideas are one thing. Execution is another. And there is evidence that Beyoncé’s famously high standards were present in the show. The horn runs on “Say My Name,” for example, are exquisite — a blizzard of notes, played not by one person but a group. The greater the number of musicians attempting to play the same run in unison, the greater the likelihood that the sound will become muddied, which is why a classic choice for trumpet section battles at football games is “Flight of the Bumblebee.”

On “Say My Name,” those runs are clean, tight and distinguishable. But they are part of a bigger sonic and visual machine. Besides the horn runs, there are the vocal harmonies from Beyoncé and her Destiny’s Child mates, Kelly Rowland and Michelle Williams. Then add the percussive beats, separate from the drum line, that come from the steppers.

Everything has to happen in unison and is being performed in large part by college students. To attempt to do the whole thing not once but twice, and then stitch both performances together in postproduction, is, in a word, crazy.

When Beyoncé offers an assessment of the students’ abilities during an interlude, she’s not being hyperbolic. “The amount of swag is just limitless,” she says. “The things that these young people can do with their bodies and the music they can play and the drum rolls and haircuts and the bodies — it’s just not right. It’s just so much damn swag.”

Then there are the screaming trumpets that are integral to the sound of a historically black college or university (HBCU) band. If you’re listening to the Homecoming album, you can hear them in full force at about 1:37 into the first track, “Welcome,” and again in the last 40 or so seconds. Hitting those notes requires a skilled level of musicianship. Being able to hit them again and again over the course of a two-hour set, as Homecoming calls for, is harder because horn players have to retain their chops, or their embouchure, so that their facial muscles aren’t giving out before the performance is over.

These challenges are different from those faced by the music department of Fosse/Verdon, led by Alex Lacamoire, which won the Emmy for the first episode of the seven-part miniseries. Fosse/Verdon is about the personal and professional lives of dancer and actor Gwen Verdon and her creative and romantic partner director and choreographer Bob Fosse.

Lacamoire was charged with an assignment that was almost the reverse of what Dixie and Beyoncé were doing. He had to take highly recognizable songs across several different musicals, written by different composers, and aurally unify them, creating a soundtrack that feels like it’s a collection of songs from one musical called Fosse/Verdon.

Even though “Big Spender” is from Sweet Charity, and written by Cy Coleman and Dorothy Fields, and “Mein Herr” is a number from Cabaret, written by John Kander and Fred Ebb, Lacamoire’s arrangements make them sound like they belong in the same television show. In Lacamoire’s case, the artists unifying the collection are a dancer and a director, not a leading vocalist. The Music of Fosse/Verdon is from a variety of artists, from The Fandango Girls to Alysha Umphress to Bianca Marroquín. Creating and shaping that thematic continuity is not an easy feat.

Still, the recording sessions for Fosse/Verdon didn’t have to take place during a live concert in which the musicians are also performing choreography for two hours — without sheet music. The songs of Fosse/Verdon, which included “Cabaret,” “All That Jazz” and “We Both Reached for the Gun,” were originally written for musical theater. That doesn’t mean they aren’t difficult to play, but they were composed with the intention that a live orchestra would do so for eight shows a week on Broadway.

Listen to the Fosse/Verdon version of “All That Jazz,” the opening number of Chicago and one of the most iconic songs in musical theater history:

Sometimes songwriters will torture Broadway musicians with arrangements that test the limits of human endurance, but it’s usually vocalists who suffer. That’s what happened to Audra McDonald when she did Porgy and Bess on Broadway. Her teacher’s assistant at Juilliard described the role as “difficult” and a “voice-killer” because of the range it demanded and the frequency of the performances. In a 2012 Fresh Air interview with Terry Gross, McDonald spoke about the arduous task of singing “What You Want With Bess” eight times a week.

When Beyoncé took the stage in April 2018 at Coachella, the festival livestreamed the performance. In real time, the singer’s contemporaries marveled at what she’d accomplished.

Ambitious ideas are one thing. Execution is another. And, there is evidence that Beyoncé’s famously high standards were present in the show.

“How. in. The. Fuh. Did. She. Pull. That. Shiii. OFF!!!!??? It’s like 170 musicians onstage,” tweeted Questlove. “I mean the stage plotting. The patch chords. How many monitor boards were used??! Bandleading that s— woulda gave me anxiety. Hats off man. Jesus H Christ.”

If Questlove, who is about as experienced and virtuosic a bandleader as a person can be, declares that the job would have given him anxiety, that’s a good indication that what’s taking place onstage is extraordinary.

So why didn’t the television academy see it that way?

“It’s got everything to do with the voting membership, which skews much older, whiter, and more male than the industry or audience,” tweeted actor Rebecca Metz, who plays Tressa on the FX show Better Things. “The awards reflect their taste and viewing habits. I’m on a mission to recruit young, diverse members for this very reason.”

Let’s turn to the broader picture: What makes Homecoming uniquely great television? What Beyoncé accomplished in two performances at Coachella and with the Homecoming documentary is like a Broadway show. There’s singing, there’s dancing and there’s a story. Remember, the Emmy is not for the live performance itself but for the documentary. We’re asking specific questions here: How do Homecoming and Carpool Karaoke, which won the Emmy, function as pieces of television? What do they offer visually? What role does the music play in the delivery of a larger narrative?

Again, Beyoncé is operating in a space that’s not dissimilar from her competition. Corden, before becoming a late-night host, was an actor. He sings and dances, as evidenced by his stints hosting the Tony Awards. Both Corden and Beyoncé are invested in a type of musical theatricality. Corden is just more self-effacing about it.

“Carpool Karaoke,” Corden’s running gag on The Late Late Show, is reliably great. Corden has a magical capacity for disarming his guests. He offers a fun, anodyne form of celebrity schmoozing that isn’t weighted with self-serious pretension. It’s viral internet gold: Corden drives around with popular musical artists, sings their songs with them, and the whole thing is recorded. Past participants include rappers Migos, singer Adele and even then-first lady Michelle Obama, who rode with artist Missy Elliott.

Look at the episode of Carpool Karaoke that won the Emmy for best variety special (prerecorded) over Homecoming, in which Corden sings with Paul McCartney while driving around the Beatles’ hometown of Liverpool, England.

There’s some editing that takes place when Corden and McCartney are singing the “beep beep beep beeps” of “Drive My Car.” Clearly the show was able to get McCartney to do the bit at least twice, once in the passenger seat and then once as the driver, with both edited together.

Beyoncé does something similar in Homecoming, but she takes it to the extremes we have come to expect but perhaps do not appreciate. Homecoming editors Alexander Hammer and Andrew Morrow are responsible for a great cut that takes place about 6 minutes and 15 seconds into Homecoming, when the band, dancers and steppers are transitioning from “Crazy in Love” to Juvenile’s “Back That Azz Up.” First, the band is facing the cameras dressed in yellow. When Juvenile says, “Drop it,” the band members turn. Their backs are to the crowd, and everyone is in candy pink — which was the color of the uniforms for the second Coachella performance. The two were cut together, and the effect is almost supernatural. For that tiny bit of visual trickery to work, all 151 performers had to hit their marks at the same time, in the exact spots, for both performances, doing JaQuel Knight’s choreography.

That’s not for the Coachella audience — that’s just for television.

By the way, that choreography is informed by the history of New Orleans. While it’s identified in modern parlance as twerking, the moves go back to the days of segregated New Orleans, when black dancers performed in the city’s nightclubs that lined Rampart Street, such as the Dew Drop Inn and the Tick Tock Tavern. They performed something called “shake dancing,” one of the many descendants of the mixed-race social dance that took place at events known as quadrilles, held in 19th-century New Orleans ballrooms.

Shake dancing, as LaKisha Simmons explains in Crescent City Girls: The Lives of Young Black Women in Segregated New Orleans, was not just an illicit thrill. It was a rejection of respectability politics and of arbitrary definitions of propriety. It represented creativity and sexual freedom, two of the themes that pervade Beyoncé’s oeuvre. But it wasn’t seen in such generous terms by white writers documenting the culture of Rampart Street, or well-to-do blacks who avoided it. So putting the dance moves of these women onstage at Coachella and setting them off with sequins, discipline and precision becomes a way of honoring them and their labor.

In executing her Coachella set, Beyoncé elevated to an enormous stage an aspect of American culture that tends to be overlooked and misunderstood: the role of HBCUs in shaping pop culture. She used the marching band in Homecoming as both a bridge and a framing device to show how her own sound fits into the broader narrative of the African diaspora. She repeatedly demonstrated how the mélange of cultures in Louisiana, from the French whites to Afro-Caribbean residents to enslaved and free African Americans, influenced American culture.

“At least two centuries had passed since those unnamed slaves Thomas Nicholls observed had helped their mistresses in and out of their shoes, so that the white ladies could learn routines increasingly redolent of Africa, perhaps while their servants snuck away to try out some French steps of their own,” NPR music critic Ann Powers wrote in her 2017 book Good Booty: Love and Sex, Black & White, Body and Soul in American Music, making the connection between New Orleans quadrille balls and Beyoncé’s decision to appear in the music video for “Formation” as both a quadroon and a bounce dancer. “In that long span, countless dances had been danced, many identities blended and forced apart. The taboo baby had grown up and become a matriarch.”

She used the marching band in Homecoming as both a bridge and a framing device to show how her own sound fits into the broader narrative of the African diaspora.

Beyoncé was able to seamlessly and coherently weave together the words and cultural contributions of Nina Simone, James Weldon Johnson, Toni Morrison and others with contemporary figures such as Lil Yachty, Fast Life Yungstaz, Sister Nancy and O.T. Genasis. She pulled from the go-go sounds of Washington, D.C., the horn-heavy jazz of New Orleans, J Balvin’s “Mi Gente,” OutKast’s “SpottieOttieDopaliscious” and the music of her own husband, just to name a few, within an epic recounting of her 25-year repertoire. It was all valid, all valuable, all part of a vast quilt of what it means to be black, to be a woman, what it means to be American, to be human. And she was the vessel embodying all of it, from the militant self-love of Malcolm X to the regality of Nefertiti.

In that way, the work is euphoric, forward-looking and optimistic, even as it’s held together by the glue of the past.

The shows in which Verdon danced and Fosse directed and choreographed are in no danger of being overlooked. Chicago is the longest-running American musical in Broadway history. Certainly the legacy of the Beatles has been well-appreciated. These artists have been beatified with awards and decades of recognition.

But the musical and dance tradition that informs so much of American pop music, beyond Beyoncé’s, isn’t regarded with the same reverence for its innovation, its influence, its history. Instead, it remains marginalized as part of the African American story rather than the American story.

What a shame that American institutions such as the television academy still bypass recognition of the epic historical record and scholarship embedded within Beyoncé’s music because it is easier to see it in work that’s long been regarded as classic. This time it is they who have lost, not she.

Janet Jackson trained like a sprinter for her new show Her personal trainer reveals how the 53-year-old star got herself into Vegas shape

LAS VEGAS — As a wall of digital screens flashes the initials of one of the most consistent pop superstars of the last three decades, a crowd of 5,200 Janet Jackson fans waits for the metamorphosis to begin.

Flanked across a stage inside of the Park MGM Theater, 14 backup dancers – ranging in age, size, gender and race — fall into formation as Jackson begins the first notes of her new track, “Empty.” They begin to deliver the precise, coordinated steps, high shoulder movement and head shakes that Jackson has been bringing to arenas since her first Rhythm Nation World Tour in 1990.

“I look at her as an athlete. I have got to make sure that she is fit to do the show.”— Paulette Sybliss, Janet Jackson’s personal trainer

But this one is different. This brief residency in Vegas — celebrating the 30th anniversary of her game-changing album, Rhythm Nation 1814 — began in May and will finish up in the next 10 days. Titled Metamorphosis, it takes place in the most intimate space she’s ever appeared in as a solo act. Over the course of 100 minutes, Jackson — at 53 — will run through a setlist of 37 hits from the entirety of her career.

And she does it without missing a beat.

Not one, single, solitary beat.

We’ve known Janet Jackson the Pop Superstar almost as long as we’ve known ourselves. But now we’re meeting Janet Jackson, the high-functioning athlete.

“I am from a sprinter’s background, so I train her at that level, and it’s intense,” said 49-year-old Paulette Sybliss, Jackson’s personal trainer who is a former amateur sprinter and long jumper who ran in primary and secondary school in London. “It is 45 minutes of intensity, doing some drills that I know from my athletics background. She — as a 53-year-old woman — will take on many who are half her age, and put them to shame, to be quite honest with you. She does that a lot of the times in sessions with the dancers. I look at them, and they look at me, and I am like, ‘Yeah …’ ”


On April 6, 2016, Jackson announced to her fans via video that she was unexpectedly ending her Unbreakable tour, because she and her then-husband, business tycoon Wissam Al Mana, wanted to start a family. The two had secretly married in 2012, didn’t confirm it until 2013 and at 49, Jackson wanted to become a first-time mom. (The couple divorced in 2017.)

She promised she’d hit the stage again as soon as she could, telling fans in a video she posted on Twitter: “My husband and I are planning our family, so I’m going to have to delay the tour. Please, if you could try and understand that it’s important that I do this now. I have to rest up, doctor’s orders. But I have not forgotten about you. I will continue the tour as soon as I possibly can.”

Jackson’s high-impact touring shows have come like clockwork for decades — Rhythm Nation World Tour 1990; 1993-1995’s Janet World Tour; 1998-1999’s The Velvet Rope Tour; 2001-2002’s All For You Tour; 2008’s Rock Witchu Tour, 2011’s Number Ones, Up Close and Personal World Tour; 2015-2016’s Unbreakable World Tour and her most recent State of the World Tour, 2017-2019. Emphasis on the high impact. Once she shifts into the first 8-count of a complicated choreography, it doesn’t end until the show’s conclusion.

According to her trainer Paulette Sybliss, Janet Jackson’s ability to endure her grueling schedule is due to intense weight training.

Photo by Farrenton Grigsby/Getty Images for JJ

Her ability to endure that schedule — especially now — is due to intense weight training, said Sybliss.

“Predominantly, all of her sessions are based around some kind of weight training, as well as interval training. Sprinters do a lot of interval training, where you’re working really hard for maybe 30-45 seconds. When I mean hard, I mean your heart rate is at the highest, and then she will maybe take a rest at that period of time,” said Sybliss, who claims that at 13 she was once clocked as the fastest girl in London. “If you ever see sprinters’ training sessions, that’s how they train. It’s full-on intensity, you take a bit of a recovery. And then you go again.”

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APPRECIATION -Pt2 I am a working class gal from South London who is travelling the world with #Icon @janetjackson . I wake up everyday grateful,humble and determined to work harder in all aspects of my life. We live in a world where so many are takers, leeches, and are just plain greedy for other people's money .. People ask me often, how did I start working with Janet -It's a simple answer, I was busy working hard on my own business to be the best I could be and was discovered, there was no referral other than my work with my clients and on myself Nothing beats hard work and integrity. Keep your head down, stay focused, don't cause drama, don't try to f*CK others over( you'll always get found out, God doesn't like ugly ) Remember you never know who's in the background watching you .. Thank you Janet for the continued faith and love you show me. Vegas we are #READY #metamorphosis

A post shared by Paulette Sybliss (@paulettesybliss) on May 2, 2019 at 11:01am PDT

Sybliss said she uses Jamaican sprinter Merlene Ottey, who ran at a world-class level into her 50s — as an inspiration for Jackson’s training. She first began working with Jackson when Jackson’s son Eissa was 6 weeks old. They’d work out four times a week for 45 minutes to an hour. Back in 2017, the goal was to trim the pounds Jackson gained from pregnancy — she eventually dropped 70 pounds — and to build lean muscle for her forthcoming State of the World Tour.

“Once she had the baby, we were doing a solid five times a week, because time was not on our side. With her hectic schedule now, it may be three to four times, sometimes five times a week. I never take her into an hour. She doesn’t need it,” Sybliss said. She stops to chuckle before adding: “She probably wants me to finish after 30 minutes, it’s so intense.”


Jackson doesn’t take her first significant pause until she’s 16 songs in, after she’s been going at it for about an hour. This is when she tells the crowd she wants to slow it down before going into her slow ballad, “Come Back To Me,” from the Rhythm Nation 1814 album. She chases that with three more soft ballads. As she works through the final notes of “China Love,” from her 2001 All For You album, she looks out at the audience and breaks into a smile. Satisfied with the eruption of cheers, Jackson then looks over her shoulders at everyone backing her up, nods her head and jumps into an uptempo track from 1997’s The Velvet Rope, “Together Again,” a house-music tune that pays homage to a friend she lost to AIDS.

“I am from a sprinter’s background, so I train her at that level, and it’s intense.” — Sybliss on Jackson

Jumping alongside her dancers — much like she did in the summer of 1998 as she performed “Together Again” at NBA arenas across North America — Jackson’s stamina is impressive for a performer of any age. But for one who in her fifth decade? It’s mind-blowing.

What we’re seeing on stage is a better version of Jackson, even better Sybliss thinks, than what she saw as a fan in her 20s, dancing to “Control” and “Nasty.” Those same movements that Jackson performed next to Tina Landon, the former Laker Girl who choreographed the tours in 1993 and 1998, sometimes look even better now than they did when she debuted them.

Throughout the entire show, Paulette Sybliss has Janet Jackson drinking water with electrolytes. After the show, it’s about muscle recovery.

Photo by Farrenton Grigsby/Getty Images for JJ

“She is probably a lot fitter now,” Sybliss said. “Sometimes [I] have to pull her back from maybe doing too much. As we get older, we get injuries, but it’s not necessarily getting the injury, sometimes it takes longer to recover from the injuries as we get older.

“For women as well, as we get close to our 50s, and then there are changes that are coming on as well. It’s accommodating things like that, and saying that we may need to tail back on something like this, or push harder in this section of the show. At the end of the day, she is doing a lot of shows, so we don’t want her to get burnt out during the first few shows. If Janet’s ill, there’s no show. My job is not just to train her, it’s to make sure she’s recovering, she’s getting the right fluids, the right liquids during the show, and also post-show as well.”

Throughout the entire show, Sybliss has Jackson drinking water with electrolytes. “If you see Janet during a show, it’s so intense. We don’t just lose water, we lose salt as well. I need to make sure that during the show, that she’s getting hydrated and getting electrolytes, because the worst thing that can happen is that she cramps on stage.”


After the show, it’s all about muscle recovery. “I look at her as an athlete. I have got to make sure that she is fit to do the show. She might want to train with me the day after the show, I will say, ‘Well, you know, it’s a rest day tomorrow.’ ”

“Sometimes [I] have to pull her back from maybe doing too much. As we get older, we get injuries, but it’s not necessarily getting the injury, sometimes it takes longer to recover from the injuries as we get older.”

“She’s competitive,” Sybliss said. “She likes to push herself, and she knows that I will be able to push her. If it’s a new session, as challenging as it may be, I can see in her face the determination … ‘Well, OK, I’m going to show you I can do this.’”

Near the end of the show, Jackson tells the audience she first performed at an MGM casino in Vegas as a 7-year-old with her brother Michael and her sisters.

The show appears to end with the title track of Rhythm Nation 1814 — the album she’s celebrating the 30th anniversary of. But Jackson still has three more songs left in her: “Morning,” “Doesn’t Really Matter” and “Made For Now.” On that digital screen, she’s draped in a gold material, and you can hear her son Eissa off-screen.

“Now she’s a mother and she’s still working, and she’s in Vegas. She’s touring around the world,” Sybliss said. “It really is incredible.”

Natasha Hastings runs down the obstacles of being a pregnant Olympic hopeful 400-meter relay medalist hopes to go to Tokyo after she has her first child

As soon as Natasha Hastings, 32, learned she was pregnant, she began to wonder.

She pondered all the fraught physiological and cultural questions that undergird the modern motherhood industrial complex: How would her body change? Would her fiancé share equally in the work of round-the-clock baby care? What happens when she returns to her career — and would she even have a career to return to?

But she also had some custom asks: Would she ever run a quarter-mile in 52 seconds or less, again, and if so, how soon? What support would it take for her to make it to the Olympics one last time? And, crucially, would sponsors stick by her as she tries to make the trip?

Early this month, Hastings, a gold medalist in the 4×400-meter relay at the 2008 and 2016 Olympics, revealed on Instagram that she was 5½ months pregnant. She also announced her intention to return to world-class competition, saying, “I’m going to go to Tokyo! Win a couple more medals!”

Instagram Photo

Questions about balancing pregnancy and world-class athletics aren’t new. At the 1960 Rome Games, sprinter Wilma Rudolph won three gold medals 16 months after having a baby, although few knew it. But Hastings is part of a new visibility and debate about the physical capabilities of female athletes after motherhood, and what systems and protection — health, economic, child care — they need around them. They are conversations we’ve rarely had, around questions we’ve hardly asked.

Hastings has been running professionally for 12 years. But now, as she pursues her dream of sport and family, she’s about to cover new ground.


When she found out that she and her fiancé, former Pittsburgh Steelers cornerback William Gay, were expecting, Hastings remembers thinking, My God, what’s happening? She saw the excitement in his face, and he saw the dismay in hers. Yes, she wanted a baby, eventually. But she was just back from a knee injury, training for her outdoor season and hoping to compete in this year’s World Championships. They were planning to marry next year and, fingers crossed, she would qualify for the Olympics. For someone who’d been in communion with her body since she began running competitively at 10, the timing felt all wrong.

Natasha Hastings of the United States competes in the women’s 4×400-meter relay heats during Day 9 of the 16th IAAF World Athletics Championships London 2017 at the London Stadium.

Patrick Smith/Getty Images

“Track is my life, you know,” Hastings said. “My job relies on my physical abilities.” Everything she’s planned for the next phase of her life — building her 400M Diva cosmetic and beauty line, and her Natasha Hastings Foundation to advocate for women and girls in sports — was predicated on exiting track on her own terms. “I’m not the first woman who has thought about family versus career,” Hastings said. “But I don’t know any man who has to make that choice, you know?”

Hastings was worried her family might be disappointed in the timing. And she was especially worried about her sponsors, particularly Under Armour, which she’s been with since 2012.

“I took a while to share with my sponsors for fear of, just, I don’t know what this looks like, I don’t know how they’re going to take this.” She didn’t know “if I’d have a job at all. Or I shouldn’t say a job, but financial support to continue to train and go after the Olympics.”

While Under Armour continued to sponsor Hastings, her fears were understandable.

Middle-distance runner Alysia Montaño, a six-time USA Outdoor champion, competed in the 800-meter race at the 2014 U.S. Track and Field Championships while eight months pregnant. In a Mother’s Day editorial in The New York Times, Montaño wrote that female athletes are often forced into physically dangerous choices because companies such as Nike, which sponsored her, can suspend their contracts and health insurance when they get pregnant.

“I’m now entering a new world of mommyhood, and unfortunately our worst critics are other moms.” — Natasha Hastings

Athletes are always vulnerable to risk and injury that is often heightened during pregnancy. And they largely don’t get maternity leave. Some sports have responded to the challenges.

When Orlando Pride star Sydney Leroux posted pictures of her training while five months pregnant in March, her Twitter mentions included people worried about the health of her baby. But teammates and other female athletes rushed to offer their support.

Two members of the U.S. World Cup soccer team in 1999 had children. The 2015 U.S. World Cup team had three mothers, and a culture of inclusion has taken root in the sport, including paid maternity leave. Moms have been a part of the WNBA for more than 20 years and have a portion of their salaries and medical expenses covered through the league’s collective bargaining agreement.

A bobblehead of Phoenix Mercury All-Star DeWanna Bonner features her holding her twin baby girls.

But non-team sports often seem to think female athletes don’t, or at least shouldn’t, get pregnant at all.

The message from the culture has been that female athletes should retire to have children, said Amira Rose Davis, an assistant professor of history and gender studies at Penn State University.

“So we haven’t had a lot of cases that have been able to be visible role models, modeling what it looks like to be working moms within sports,” she said. Her own earliest memory of an athlete mother was fictional: Sanaa Lathan’s character in the 2000 movie Love & Basketball. But she calls this new era of visibility a chance to engage in granular conversations about child care, what breastfeeding looks like when you’re also pushing your body athletically and how to bring abdominal muscles and hips back to world-class form.

Davis cites Serena Williams, who almost died after giving birth to her daughter, Alexis Olympia Ohanian Jr., via emergency cesarean section in 2017. Her story highlighted the WTA’s lack of maternity leave policies. And her well-documented struggles, both emotional and physical, to return to competition opened a new front in motherhood conversations worldwide.

From left to right: U.S. women’s 4×400-meter relay team members Courtney Okolo, Natasha Hastings, Phyllis Francis and Allyson Felix celebrate their gold medals on the podium during athletics competitions at the Summer Olympics inside Olympic Stadium in Rio de Janeiro on Aug. 20, 2016.

AP Photo/Jae C. Hong

In track, Hastings is familiar with the history of sprinter Marion Jones, who failed to qualify for the 2004 Olympics after giving birth the year before. (She was also banned from the sport for two years and had her Olympic medals stripped after charges of doping.)

Sprinter Allyson Felix, whose six Olympic gold medals include the 2016 4×400-meter relay on a team that included Hastings, struggled with complications during her pregnancy last year and had to have an emergency C-section. Her daughter was hospitalized for a month, Felix testified at a recent congressional hearing on the crisis in maternal mortality. The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that black and American Indian/Alaska Native women are three times as likely to die from pregnancy-related causes as white women.

Like Hastings, Felix is also hoping to compete in Tokyo.

Along with Under Armour, Hastings’ sponsors — which include the New York Athletic Club, as well as cosmetic and feminine care products companies — congratulated her on her pregnancy and continued their sponsorship.

Hastings feels “blessed. … If there’s anything that can speak for me, it’s that I have been a resilient person and athlete and my back has been against the wall several times.” That resilience helped her get past her failure to make the 2012 Olympic team. It helped her overcome a hamstring pull before the 2016 Olympic trials. She’s relying on it now, including for all the difficult conversations about pregnancy that she wasn’t prepared for.


In deciding on child care post-baby, Hastings says she and her fiancé have had some pointed exchanges. Hastings is thinking about how she will balance the needs of an infant with her own need for speed. She can’t run if she doesn’t sleep. And in discussing her options with other women, including hiring a nanny, she’s found these mommy conversations can get thorny quick.

“I’m now entering a new world of mommyhood, and unfortunately our worst critics are other moms,” said Hastings. She’s finding her instinct to rely on their wisdom difficult to square with her own world-class ambitions. “I mean this with respect and honor, and I know that they’re coming from a good place and I know that I’m also, I am coming from a place of the unknown, right? But then there’s also this space of what I do that is unknown for them.” So there’s a disconnect “even in the conversation of a nanny, you know? It’s almost like, well, you’re less of a mom for having a nanny.”

She’s running toward her future, not just for the girls who come next but also for women right now who are watching her for clues about their own postpartum possibilities.

She’s always had to curate the people around her and the voices she allows in her space. “I’m in a small population of the world that thinks that what I go out and do every day is possible. I’ve lived up to a standard that to most is impossible without having a child in there, right?” Her career has always been hard. “I’m no fool to what I’m going up against,” she said. “I’m going up against probably the hardest challenge I’ve ever had to face in this sport.” But if she dwells on that, her race is already lost.

Hastings is trying to keep her second-most important athletic instrument — her spirit, her willpower, her determination to completely dust the women running next to her — honed and ready.

As to her body, she’s trusting her longtime coach to help with that. It’s been an adjustment for him as well.


Darryl Woodson of Training Ground Elite in Round Rock, Texas, has been working with Hastings for more than seven years. He’s never coached a pregnant athlete before, so this is new space for him as well.

When Hastings told him she wanted to get back to the Olympics, Woodson said, she was focused on whether things would change between them — if he would start to take her less seriously as an athlete.

He became disciplined about keeping their same routines early on.

Elite coaching is physical, he said, but it is also about keeping athletes in their right mind. “There’s a psychological situation for a person where they’re always feeling like, uh-oh, you’re giving up on me,” Woodson said. When athletes are injured, or have some other physical limitation, “if you make them more aware of it then it starts to bother them, and if you treat them normally then they get through it a lot better.”

Natasha Hastings celebrates winning the gold medal in the women’s 4×400-meter relay final at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro on Aug. 20, 2016.

AP Photo/Martin Meissner

As her pregnancy progressed, they made adjustments for her schedule and how Hastings was feeling. He takes cues from her, but he said her dedication to the work hasn’t wavered.

“I’m not a prenatal coach,” he said. She’s in consultation with her doctors, who say her body will let her know how much she can handle. “And that’s when we stop. Obviously, I have altered some of her workouts” to make sure they’re not overly demanding.

Typically, she’d be in the outdoor season now. She’d be doing flat-out runs over 400 meters to build strength and endurance and doing other anaerobic work. At six months pregnant, she’s not doing that, or weight training, running stairs or jumping hurdles.

She’s continuing to do 150-meter sprints. Normally, she would run it at about 16 or 17 seconds. She’s four or five seconds slower now, and she can get frustrated that she’s not hitting her pre-pregnancy marks.

“That’s where the pick-me-up comes from me, where it’s like, ‘Let’s look at the circumstances,’ ” Woodson said. “The numbers matter nothing at all if we’re not stopping training so that your body doesn’t need to get reintroduced to this next time.”

She’s actually working harder because she’s carrying more. Woodson is sensitive about using words such as weight. If she keeps her body trained, her times will rebound when she’s no longer pregnant.

“My job is to modify the program and get the same results or better and not put her under the same psychological stress,” Woodson said. His job is to listen and give her the best shot at what she says she wants. The baby is due in July, and he’s hoping she returns as soon as September but no later than October.

“We don’t know what we can and will be able to do. We just know psychologically, emotionally and spiritually what we want to do,” Woodson said. “We’ll keep pushing the same way as we always have been.”


On the track and off, Hastings wants to be a role model. Davis said it matters that she’s a black woman doing this work. This is not only because of the recent spotlight on black maternal health but also because “the tropes about black women’s femininity and sexuality within athletics have been so tied to ideas of their bodies.” Pregnancy pushes back at larger stereotypes about what is feminine, and what sport does to femininity.

“I didn’t get to this level by thinking it was impossible,” Hastings said. “I had to know and believe that it was possible, and that came with having a plan, putting the plan in place, being able to adjust here and there when you have to.” And that’s what she’s still doing.

She’s running toward her future, not just for the girls who come next but also for women right now who are watching her for clues about their own postpartum possibilities. She’s doing it for her athletic dreams of speed and glory. For her entrepreneurial dreams of reward and influence. For her dreams of black family and baby love. She focuses on that as she circles the track, chasing the person she’s always striving to be.

Motherhood is the guiding light in Los Angeles Sparks Candace Parker’s life ‘I like to say my daughter chose me’

Los Angeles Sparks champion Candace Parker and her daughter Lailaa will have to share her special day That’s because this year, Mother’s Day falls on May 14—Lailaa’s 9th birthday.

And Parker has a big surprise planned.

“Lailaa doesn’t know. See she’s a zoo person,” Parker told The Undefeated. “She loves animals. We have two dogs. We had a pig. So we’re going to San Diego. We’re going to do a little private tour of the zoo to meet some kangaroos and do all that stuff. She doesn’t know yet.”

Parker was a 22-year-old newlywed when she announced her pregnancy just after being named the 2008 WNBA Rookie of the Year award. Like dozens of other WNBA moms including Leslie, Tina Thompson, Sheryl Swoopes, the 6-foot-9 forward/center’s career continues to flourish.

“I like to say my daughter chose me, Parker said. “I feel like I’m lucky from that aspect that she’s in such an important part of my career.”

Basketball has given the mother and daughter the opportunity to travel the world together. “We’ll be sitting at dinner and she’ll say things like, ‘Mom do you remember in Dubai when we?…’ or ‘Mom do you remember my friend in Russia?’ She has memories of traveling. She has memories of winning a championship. She has memories of being at the Olympics so those are all things I feel fortunate to have shared with her and I wouldn’t have if I hadn’t had her at such a young age.”

Instagram Photo

“I have a really cool daughter and we love each other,” she said. “That’s my best friend. I know she’s growing up but I hope to continue to remain close with her because she’s a special kid.”

As for trying to find that elusive work/life balance? It’s been made a bit easier thanks to the Sparks’ organization.

“She’s able to go on all the trips, all the planes, all the buses, stay in my hotel rooms,” Parker said. “There has never been a problem.”


Parker credits Lailaa for one of her biggest life lessons. Even after a lifetime surrounded by friends and family, it was her daughter who changed and sharpened her outlook and awareness of the people and world around her.

“I didn’t realize becoming a mother would make me a better teammate, a better friend, a better basketball player, a better daughter. I’ve read somewhere and I think Obama said it — they’re like little heartbeats. They’re like your heart walking around outside your body. They’re running around, bumping into stuff and falling. You’re able to kind of live life again through them. It’s so special to be able to be a part of her life and to bring her along and to see how she grows and see how much she’s my personality twin it’s just amazing.”

The best piece of advice about motherhood Parker received is to “do as I do.”

“I think a lot of people come from the generation of do as I say and not as I do,” Parker said. “But everything I do my daughter is watching. And she listens to what I say but she really listens to what I do. There’s like ways for her to pull up stuff and see so I just want to make sure I’m doing what I’m telling her and what I’m showing her to do.”

There was one instance when Parker cried after a loss in a basketball game.

“We’d lost a big game and our season was over and a couple of months later she was playing soccer and she cried because she lost and I said, ‘We don’t cry when we lose,’ and she said. ‘But you did.’ It’s like every single day she’s watching what I’m doing.”

Parker’s blueprint of motherhood comes from her own mother, Natasha Parker.

“For my mom, I feel like I’m the most important thing – me and my brothers — just her support and her ability to always put us first. [Now] getting up with Lailaa in the morning before school and having a conversation, making sure that she’s taken care of and she knows that I care and that I’m able to talk to her and have that type of relationship,” are the lessons Lailee has learned from her own mom.


The first overall pick in the 2008 WNBA draft, Tennessee’s Parker led the Los Angeles Sparks to their third WNBA championship where she scored dominating 28 points a 12 rebounds in Game 5 against the Minnesota Lynx and took home the WNBA Finals MVP. No stranger to winning, Parker was the WNBA Most Valuable Player in 2008 and 2013, WNBA All-Star Game MVP (2013) and Olympic gold (2008, 2012).

Lailaa plays soccer. She also loves dance and participating in hip hop performances. For Parker, there are those gut wrenching times when work means missing those performance.

“The hardest part is now that she’s older is she has activities of her own, so it kills me to not be at everything,” Parker said. “With Facetime videos I’m able to see all her games, all her performances but it’s hard for me to not actually be present when she does everything.”

Laila also enjoys math science and the two create slime together on a regular basis.

“I think she’s going to, at some point, be a scientist,” Parker said. “She loves slime. She goes crazy over slime. We make slime. We color slime. We decorate slime.”

This Mother’s Day marks Parkers second year she’s honored other mothers through her #CPNomAMom campaign. Using social media (Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, she asked for nominations by mothers for other mom’s they thought deserve to be pampered. The lucky mom this year will win an Adidas prize pack and LA Sparks tickets to a home or road game!

“I think it’s really cool to recognize moms,” Parker said. “And it’s not just your mom, either. It’s recognizing other moms because really it is kind of a thinkless job. You don’t get paid for it and I feel like it’s the most important job in the world. I think it’s just another way to thank moms.”

Motherhood is the guiding light in Los Angeles Spark Candace Parker’s life ‘I like to say my daughter chose me’

Los Angeles Sparks champion Candace Parker and her daughter, Lailaa, will have to share her special day. That’s because this year, Mother’s Day falls on May 13 — Lailaa’s ninth birthday.

And Parker has a big surprise planned.

“Lailaa doesn’t know. See, she’s a zoo person,” Parker told The Undefeated. “She loves animals. We have two dogs. We had a pig. So we’re going to San Diego. We’re going to do a little private tour of the zoo to meet some kangaroos and do all that stuff. She doesn’t know yet.”

Parker was a 22-year-old newlywed when she announced her pregnancy just after being named the 2008 WNBA Rookie of the Year. Like dozens of other WNBA moms before her, including Lisa Leslie, Tina Thompson and Sheryl Swoopes, the 6-foot-9 forward/center’s career continues to flourish.

“I like to say my daughter chose me,” Parker said. “I feel like I’m lucky from that aspect that she’s in such an important part of my career.”

Basketball has given the mother and daughter the opportunity to travel the world together. “We’ll be sitting at dinner and she’ll say things like, ‘Mom, do you remember in Dubai when we?’ … or ‘Mom, do you remember my friend in Russia?’ She has memories of traveling. She has memories of winning a championship. She has memories of being at the Olympics. So those are all things I feel fortunate to have shared with her, and I wouldn’t have if I hadn’t had her at such a young age.”

Instagram Photo

“I have a really cool daughter, and we love each other,” Parker said. “That’s my best friend. I know she’s growing up, but I hope to continue to remain close with her because she’s a special kid.”

As for trying to find that elusive work/life balance? It’s been made a bit easier thanks to the Sparks organization.

“She’s able to go on all the trips, all the planes, all the buses, stay in my hotel rooms,” Parker said. “There has never been a problem.”


Parker credits Lailaa for one of her biggest life lessons. Even after a lifetime surrounded by friends and family, it was her daughter who changed and sharpened her outlook and awareness of the people and world around her.

“I didn’t realize becoming a mother would make me a better teammate, a better friend, a better basketball player, a better daughter. I’ve read somewhere, and I think Obama said it, they’re like little heartbeats. They’re like your heart walking around outside your body. They’re running around, bumping into stuff and falling. You’re able to kind of live life again through them. It’s so special to be able to be a part of her life and to bring her along and to see how she grows and see how much she’s my personality twin. It’s just amazing.”

The best piece of advice about motherhood Parker received is to “do as I do.”

“I think a lot of people come from the generation of do as I say and not as I do,” Parker said. “But everything I do my daughter is watching. And she listens to what I say, but she really listens to what I do. There’s like ways for her to pull up stuff and see, so I just want to make sure I’m doing what I’m telling her and what I’m showing her to do.”

There was one instance when Parker cried after a loss in a basketball game.

“We’d lost a big game and our season was over, and a couple of months later she was playing soccer and she cried because she lost, and I said, ‘We don’t cry when we lose.’ And she said, ‘But you did.’ It’s like every single day she’s watching what I’m doing.”

Parker’s blueprint of motherhood comes from her own mother, Natasha Parker.

“For my mom, I feel like I’m the most important thing, me and my brothers, just her support and her ability to always put us first. [Now] getting up with Lailaa in the morning before school and having a conversation, making sure that she’s taken care of and she knows that I care and that I’m able to talk to her and have that type of relationship” are the lessons Lailaa has learned from her own mom.


The first overall pick in the 2008 WNBA draft out of the University of Tennessee, Parker led the Los Angeles Sparks to their third WNBA championship, with a dominating 28 points and 12 rebounds in Game 5 against the Minnesota Lynx to take home the WNBA Finals MVP award. No stranger to winning, Parker was WNBA Most Valuable Player in 2008 and 2013, All-Star Game MVP (2013) and an Olympic gold medalist (2008, 2012).

Lailaa plays soccer. She also loves dance and participating in hip-hop performances. For Parker, there are those gut-wrenching times when work means missing those performances.

“The hardest part is now that she’s older is she has activities of her own, so it kills me to not be at everything,” Parker said. “With Facetime videos I’m able to see all her games, all her performances, but it’s hard for me to not actually be present when she does everything.”

Lailaa also enjoys math and science, and the two create slime together on a regular basis.

“I think she’s going to, at some point, be a scientist,” Parker said. “She loves slime. She goes crazy over slime. We make slime. We color slime. We decorate slime.”

This Mother’s Day marks Parker’s second year in which she’s honored other mothers through her #CPNomAMom campaign. Using social media (Facebook, Twitter and Instagram), she asked for nominations by mothers for other moms who they thought deserve to be pampered. The lucky mom this year will win an Adidas prize pack and Sparks tickets to a home or road game.

“I think it’s really cool to recognize moms,” Parker said. “And it’s not just your mom, either. It’s recognizing other moms because really it is kind of a thankless job. You don’t get paid for it, and I feel like it’s the most important job in the world. I think it’s just another way to thank moms.”

Celebrity docuseries are usually fluff. Not HBO’s ‘Being Serena.’ A life-threatening post-delivery scare gives series on Williams a far more serious tone

Whenever a celebrity agrees to a documentary, there’s always a question about how much we’re actually going to learn about the person. Answer: only what they want you to know.

These shows tend to fall along a spectrum. There are the VH1 or Lifetime series that are full of folks hoping to launch themselves off the B- or C-lists into actual celebrity. There are the series that pretend to be serious, even though they know good and well they’re not, such as Mariah Carey’s 2016-17 E! concert series, Mariah’s World. And then there’s Being Serena, HBO’s new docuseries following Serena Williams through the beginning of her pregnancy, childbirth and her postnatal return to professional tennis, which begins airing Wednesday at 10 p.m. EST. It is a celebrity docuseries, yes, but one with the imprimatur of HBO Sports.

The higher the profile of the subject, and the more involved the person is in the project, the more these films tend to be pretty exercises in hagiography. That doesn’t mean they’re without value, just that you shouldn’t expect to see truly unflattering bits. It’s why the most insightful documentaries about famous people usually don’t come until after they’re dead.

That said, Being Serena ends up offering more insight than most, given the athlete’s harrowing hospital experience after the birth of her daughter with Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian. Williams became a high-profile example of a problem affecting black mothers all over the country. Last year, ProPublica and NPR published a series examining high rates of maternal mortality in American women (it was a Pulitzer Prize finalist). One chapter was especially disturbing. “Nothing protects black women from dying in pregnancy and childbirth. Not education. Not income. Not even being an expert on racial disparities in health care,” the organizations reported.

Williams had blood clots in her lungs (known as pulmonary embolisms) and had to advocate for herself, asking for a CT scan with contrast to find them after first asking for an oxygen mask because she could not breathe. She knew what to ask for because Williams has a history with blood clots and she knew what an embolism felt like. And so what began as a TV project on a world-class athlete returning to the top of her game turned into a docuseries in which the best women’s tennis player ever confronted her own mortality.

“I almost died,” Williams says in the series. She wrote about the experience in an op-ed for CNN, connecting it with other, less famous, less wealthy black women.

Being Serena, executive produced by Michael Antinoro (Battle of the Network Stars, The Ashley Graham Project, Jim Rome on Showtime), can sometimes be overwrought. There’s a lot of B-roll of the camera panning through treetops. It’s got some tonal inconsistencies, which I think can be attributed to the fact that no one expected Williams’ labor and delivery experience to be so fraught. Williams had planned for a vaginal delivery but had an emergency cesarean section because her daughter, Alexis Olympia Ohanian Jr., was in distress.

What began as a TV project on a world-class athlete returning to the top of her game turned into a series in which the best women’s tennis player ever confronted her own mortality.

HBO provided the first two episodes for review, and they offer a glimpse into Williams and Ohanian’s relationship — they’re complete opposites, Williams says. There are tender moments of Richard Williams, Serena’s father, meeting his granddaughter for the first time. And we see Williams trying on wedding dresses and she and Ohanian installing her Australian Open trophy (the one she won while pregnant) in Olympia’s nursery. (The nursery is tricked out with a gorgeous rose gold crib, and I admit I found myself yelling at the TV, “No! Crib bumpers are dangerous! Get rid of those!”)

By the end of the second episode, Williams is out of bed and hitting balls on the tennis court. It’s an abrupt shift from watching her struggle to carry Olympia in her car seat across the driveway to her house. But Williams, by and large, is open about the fact that even for someone as healthy and fit as she is, childbirth can be dangerous and scary. It’s certainly a contradiction to the studied peacefulness of her Instagram feed from that time. Williams is mostly bedridden and in pain for six weeks after delivery, waiting for her C-section scar to heal and for the removal of a filter that doctors put in her body to prevent blood clots from reaching her heart.

When she finally does begin hitting again, she’s honest about the pain she’s feeling because her joints have expanded as part of pregnancy. She argues against current WTA rules that treat pregnant women like players returning from injury when it comes to determining tournament seeding. The current rules, she says, discourage women from having children during their playing years. That’s likely to become an issue if more women attain the career longevity that Williams, 36, has managed.

Being Serena has some unforced errors, sure, but its value lies in what it reveals to be a woman and a professional athlete right now. Williams is tender and nurturing, but she’s more than retained her competitive spirit. She’s unapologetic in her ambition, and for a country that still struggles to accept that in women, it’s a welcome contribution to the television landscape.

A new Drake song is landing tonight? A new album can’t be far behind Reading social media tea leaves to predict the musical release dates of albums from Beyonce, Jay-Z, Kanye and Drizzy

Those on the East Coast might not believe it, but warmer weather is approaching. That means day parties, cookouts, summer vacations — and a tsunami of Instagram Stories and photos with oceans of song lyric captions. It’s not like there’s a shortage of options. This year alone has already produced a plethora of releases from the likes of Kendrick Lamar, SZA, Jay Rock, Syd, 2 Chainz, Tinashe, Migos, Rae Sremmurd, Nipsey Hussle, Ty Dolla $ign, Wale, Arin Ray, Kehlani, Kali Uchis, Eric Bellinger, Tink, Future and DJ Esco, Phonte and others.

The list also includes Cardi B, the patron saint of badass ratchetness, whose anticipated debut, Invasion of Privacy, dropped Friday. Privacy, anchored by the Project Pat-inspired “Bickenhead,” is a collection of songs — past, present and future hits — that ensure Cardi will be one of the most talked-about people in culture for the second straight summer, and likely beyond.

Yet, hiding in plain sight is a game of cat-and-mouse being played by some of music’s most famous forces. While Barbz remain on the lookout for Nicki Minaj, Beyoncé and Jay-Z, as well as Kanye West and Drake, have all hinted at new music via obvious and not-so-obvious methods over the past several weeks. Although it’s impossible to determine exactly when any album will drop without insider-trading-type knowledge, it’s safe to surmise that music fans could be looking at an incredibly hot summer if (and when) the quartet pushes the button in the coming weeks and months.

Beyoncé and JAY-Z

Here are the four definites:

  1. Beyoncé’s headlining Coachella, which starts next weekend.
  2. Jay-Z is apparently growing his hair out — which, if you’ve followed him at any point over the past 15 years, you know is a dead giveaway that he’s in the studio. Either that or he received an advance screening of Atlanta’s “Barbershop” episode that shook him to his core.
  3. Jay-Z’s interview with David Letterman is a conversation starter — and puts us on notice with a big-look conversation that we’re stepping up to the blocks.
  4. Their On The Run 2 tour starts in June in the U.K. First U.S. date is in Cleveland, on July 25.

The couple celebrated their 10th wedding anniversary last week and have been photographed in Jamaica filming for their upcoming tour. Bey missed Coachella last year while she was pregnant, but now she’s reportedly rehearsing for 11 hours a day in a top-secret Los Angeles studio. Beyoncé could easily go onstage and perform from a setlist of greatest hits. But, like possibly no other performer on the planet, she understands the magnitude of the moment. Coachella is the official kickoff to festival season. What better way to throw gasoline on a fire of anticipation than with new music on the eve of her return to the stage? And if that were to happen, that means new music very soon. As in next week.

While it makes sense to throw out a loosie or two for Coachella, an entire pack of songs may be slightly further off. I don’t know Jay. I don’t know Bey. But what I do know is there is absolutely no chance ’03 Bonnie and Clyde span the globe with just their older work. Granted, that “older work” houses an embarrassment of riches. But somehow, that feels like settling. What if it’s 12-14 duets from music’s most famous couple? Or an OutKast-like, Speakerboxxx/The Love Below-type double album? All I know is something is dropping probably sooner than any of us realize. On TIDAL first, of course.

Kanye West

Of the superstars on this list, Kanye, quite fittingly, is the most difficult to predict. Regardless, the tea leaves from last month’s gathering of ’Ye, Kim, The-Dream, Nas, Travis Scott, KiD CuDi and several others at a Wyoming resort are enough to get the gossip engines running. And while the two just as easily could have discussed IKEA furniture or NBA MVP predictions, a sighting of Yeezy and Rick Rubin (executive producer of Yeezus and The Life of Pablo) is just another log for the fire.

Ever since his public meltdown in Sacramento and subsequent hospitalization two days later in 2016, Kanye’s been as quiet as he has at any point in his career. An eventual return brings no drought of topics to discuss — his brief kinship with Donald Trump, the birth of his third child, Jay-Z’s statements about him on 4:44 — and those barely scratch the surface. It’s not outside the realm of possibility for West to create a song detailing what it was like in the Kardashian household the day O.J. Simpson was released from prison. Pablo, as scattered as it was at times, was proof that West is still more than capable of producing a high-quality project.

Then there’s this: The last time Kanye went away amid the public’s ire — think 2009 after the Taylor Swift MTV VMA fiasco — and secluded himself in Hawaii, the self-imposed exile yielded magnificent results. If Kanye’s got another My Beautiful, Dark, Twisted Fantasy in him, then maybe we should’ve trusted the process all along. Keyword being “maybe,” because Kanye be trippin’ sometimes, ya know?

Drake

To quote the great Lester Freamon (and Jonathan Abrams), “All the pieces matter.” Follow the timeline:

  1. March 18, 2017 — Drake’s final proclamation on More Life I’ll be back 2018 to give you the summary — has since become the thesis of a yearlong wait.
  2. Jan. 19, 2018 — The sabbatical ends and said summary begins with the drop of Scary Hours. The EP contains the lyrically poignant “Diplomatic Immunity” and the undeniable anthem in “God’s Plan” (more on the latter, shortly).
  3. March 9, 2018 — With good friends James Harden and Chris Paul in Toronto for Raptors vs. Rockets (held on “Drake Night”), Aubrey confirms he’s working on the new album “for the city.”
  4. March 20, 2018 — Drake hops in the comments during producer (and frequent collaborator) Murda Beatz’s Instagram Live to confirm that the release of a new single is on the way.
  5. April 2018 — With speculation running rampant about a possible move to Adidas, Drake is spotted wearing the “Cream White” Yeezy Boost 350 V2. To some, that was all the confirmation needed that Drizzy’s Jordan Brand days were in the past. But this only lasted until he was photographed in Nikes a few days later at this week’s Celtics at Raptors game. And then again in Adidas on several Instagram posts. The point? Only a very few know what, if anything, is going on. And those parties aren’t saying anything. Chaos is bliss, in this case.
  6. April 1, 2018 — In typical Drake fashion, Drake uploads a photo of himself with the cryptic caption “You can see the album hours under my eyes.”
  7. April 2, 2018 — “God’s Plan” spends its 10th consecutive week at No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100. The distinction makes him the only male artist in history with two songs to stay atop Billboard’s charts for that long — 2016’s “One Dance” being the other.
  8. April 5, 2018 — Per the man himself, the single is on the way. That would be tonight.

“Have your party. But I’m coming,” Jon Caramanica of The New York Times said in January with regard to what Scary Hours represented. “I assume what he’s saying is the summer is mine.

A perfect storm appears to sit on the very near horizon. The NBA playoffs are about to begin. A much-needed musical furlough has made way for one of the most anticipated albums of the year — I been gone since like July / N—as actin’ like I died, Drake rapped on BlocBoy JB’s “Look Alive.” And the annual debate about who runs the summer will soon commence. Unlike last summer, Drake will be tossing his name in that hat — in search of reclaiming a crown he snatched two summers ago.

About the only thing to do now is keep an eye and ear open to whenever the next couple of OVO Sound Radios are, or Drake’s IG. Those always hold the key to unlocking Aubrey mysteries.

(**Walks away craning neck at Rihanna and Travis Scott**)

‘The Quad’ Season 2 finale recap: The end of an era GAMU students are ready to risk it all after not being taken seriously by the administration

Season 2, Episode 10 — The Quad: Fledgling

There’s good news and bad news that comes with the latest episode of The Quad.

The good news? The writers were able to create unique storylines filled with cliffhangers and enough drama to keep loyal followers coming back for more.

The bad news? This episode marks the season finale, and there’s no word whether BET’s nighttime drama will be renewed for a third season. But let’s jump into the highlights of this week’s episode, shall we?

After president Eva Fletcher caught her daughter being intimate with the man who helped tear her marriage apart, it was all-out war. Fletcher wouldn’t let Sydney out of the house, and the two stayed in the kitchen arguing until the sun came up. Finally Fletcher reveals to Sydney exactly why Jason is trouble. Sydney agrees to leave Jason alone but also disrespects her mother in the same breath. After receiving a slap to the face from Fletcher, Sydney makes it clear that she wants to have nothing to do with her mother. Their brief interactions throughout the rest of the episode remain cold.

During Fletcher’s battle with her own demons, she receives a call from her assistant, Chrystal, who lets her know dean Carlton Pettiway’s wife has died after suffering a heart attack. Fletcher visits but is blocked by Cecil Diamond, who is acting as Pettiway’s doorman. Meanwhile, Pettiway’s grief slowly begins to overtake him. After returning home from making funeral arrangements, Diamond pops by once again to check on Pettiway. Frustrated, Pettiway asks him to leave. The visitors had become overwhelming, and Pettiway makes it clear that he needs time alone to cope with the loss of his wife. Before Diamond can make it to the front door, Pettiway breaks down.

Back on campus, Cedric Hobbs receives a surprise visit from his mother, who has come to make decisions for him regarding Bronwyn’s pregnancy. After manipulating both kids, his mother talks Bronwyn into getting an abortion. When Hobbs meets Bronwyn at the clinic to talk her out of it, he learns that his mother told a few lies to get Bronwyn to the clinic, which makes Hobbs fight even harder to preserve the life of his unborn child.

Down the hall, BoJohn Folsom’s parents have come to pick him up. Although he says he wants to leave Georgia A&M, his heart is still with the school that gave him a second chance. His father, who has a tendency to be blunt and pretty racist, calls his son crazy and tells him that he’s stuck at “Colored U.” After a screaming match, Folsom’s mother calms him down and encourages him to pay coach Eugene Hardwick a visit. Folsom takes his mother’s advice, and Hardwick lets Folsom know he has already scheduled an appointment with a therapist. Thinking of his own trauma, Hardwick decides to call a psychologist to schedule an appointment for himself as well.

Through all of the personal plot twists, students are still unhappy with the merger. They know Fletcher has been working hard to preserve the school’s legacy. But it hasn’t been enough to keep investors from closing in on buildings and mergers from happening. As the battle becomes even uglier, Fletcher is given two options: resign or be fired. Not one to give up easily, Fletcher presses on until she’s notified via the school’s website that a decision has been made for her. Fletcher has been fired, and the merger is set to continue without her.

Fed up, the student body is set on being heard — by any means necessary. If GAMU can’t have Edward W. Smith Hall, then nobody will. Clad in all black and armed with lighter fluid and gasoline, members of the student body use Molotov cocktails to set the building ablaze.

Petitions have already started for season three. Hope a renewal means we’ll learn what happens to the future of GAMU.

‘The Quad’ recap, Episode 9: Tying up loose ends Eva Fletcher’s past threatens to ruin her family, while Eugene Hardwick struggles to keep his team together

Season 2, Episode 9 — The Quad: Holler If You Hear Me

With only one episode of The Quad left this season, the chaos at Georgia A&M University has fans hoping for a third season.

There are intertwining plotlines to keep a close eye on this episode, beginning with Eva and Sydney Fletcher’s complicated relationship. It seemed mother and daughter were working together to mend things, but Eva’s addiction to prescription painkillers is causing a new rift between the two. After an argument last week over the pills, which ended in mom taking her house keys from her daughter, Eva meets with Sydney in the dorm to return the keys. Although the two don’t apologize to each other, there’s an agreement to respect her mother’s house and each other.

Although Eva Fletcher solved one problem, a ton of others are waiting for her as she arrives at her office. Fletcher’s main focus is catching up with Flip Lawson, the man she alleges has stolen money from the school. She meets with Ella Grace Caldwell and updates her about the merger. She also lets her know how much she’s been fighting for the school, and Caldwell finally sees the care and passion Fletcher has for GAMU — or at least she pretends to. Caldwell backs away from the idea of overthrowing Fletcher when she learns of Lawson’s alleged embezzlement, which is a move Cecil Diamond and Carlton Pettiway predicted.

GAMU students have been through a lot in the past few months. Members of the student government association met with members of Atlanta State University’s student government association, but problems still remain between the two schools. Between the proposed merger and the university’s instability, looking forward to football season may be the best thing GAMU students have going at the moment. But for some players, there’s no peace on the field either.

With the spring game approaching, starting quarterback BoJohn Folsom still hasn’t been cleared to train with the team. Coach Eugene Hardwick has warned Folsom to take it easy after he was seriously injured during a fight, but Folsom isn’t trying to hear any of it: He’s been kicked out of the training room. Folsom and Tiesha still haven’t patched things up with their relationship either. In an act of desperation, Folsom suits up anyway and attempts to play in the spring game before being blocked by Hardwick. Hardwick has him forcibly removed from the field in front of fans, parents and, most importantly, his competition: Dwight Jenkins. Jenkins’ father, Lenny, uses the game as an example of the many reasons why GAMU isn’t good enough for his son. The two wind up leaving early, and so do Fletcher’s dreams of having Jenkins as the savior to bring positive attention and money back to GAMU.

After the game, Folsom’s downward spiral continues. He returns to his room, where an angry Tiesha and concerned Junior are waiting. Folsom lashes out at both before having a mental breakdown of sorts. Unnerved and still crying, Folsom calls his father and asks to be picked up from the school. When Hardwick arrives to speak to him, Folsom demands to be left alone. Hardwick, though concerned about Folsom, refuses to tolerate that behavior. He tells Fletcher that he wants Folsom off the team.

In the dorms, Cedric Hobbs is still reeling from the news of Bronwyn’s pregnancy. His best friend, Ebonie Weaver, isn’t speaking to him, and neither is Bronwyn. With no one else to turn to, Hobbs calls his mother to break the news to her. Once she finds out, she hangs up on him. With no one else left, Hobbs returns to his music.

Off campus, things are heating up between Sydney and Jason King. While Jason seeks to get revenge on Eva by dating her daughter, Sydney is falling for the guy she thinks may be the one. She’s vulnerable with Jason and feels comfortable enough to take him back to her mother’s house. They have wine and take things further than Sydney has allowed herself to go in a long time. The problem? Eva Fletcher has made her way home, where Coach Hardwick meets her so they can chat. They walk in to see Sydney and Jason in a rather compromising position, and Eva loses it. With Sydney not knowing the nature of Eva and Jason’s relationship, she turns on her mother and thinks the rage is stemming from the prescription pills. Their relationship has once again deteriorated because of misunderstandings and cover-ups.

It’ll take more than a season finale for these two to patch things up.

‘The Quad’ recap, season 2, episode 2: Has Eva Fletcher finally cracked under pressure? Half of GAMU is sick; the school is in debt and Eva Fletcher can’t escape her past demons

Season 2, episode 2: The Quad — The Interruption of Everything

We find Noni Williams outside of Cecil Diamond’s home, begging for him to let her back in the band the best way she knows how — through music. Williams is playing her heart out to attract her former mentor’s attention, but Diamond brushes right past her, gets in his car and blasts a tune of his own: Back Stabbers by The O’Jays. Touché, Cecil Diamond. Touché.

Back on campus, there’s a serious board meeting discussing the future of Georgia A&M University. Financial woes seem to increase for Eva Fletcher each week. Besides not being able to support the school, there’s the ghost of Terrence Berry quite literally haunting her. Fletcher finds herself with recurring nightmares of Berry following her around and demanding his family be paid settlement money owed from his death. Money is tight, and board members suggest asking Berry’s family for an extension while they sort through financial issues. It sets Fletcher off, and it’s the first time the audience (and board members) catch a glimpse of how deeply the Berry incident is affecting Fletcher.

Academically, the school seems to be on track with professors who actually care about their students — so much so that tough love is not being spared. Football player Junior (Miles Stroter) has learned the hard way after being kicked off of the team by head coach Eugene Hardwick due to poor grades. Feeling as if football is all he has, Junior looks to dean Carlton Pettiway (E. Roger Mitchell) for guidance, which eventually leads him back to the classroom of Ella Grace Caldwell (Jasmine Guy). After being asked if he could retake his final, Caldwell, in her caring yet no-nonsense fashion, delivers some sage advice to Junior that we should all be reminded of from time to time: “Start expecting a chance … Get ready, and stay ready.”

As Fletcher battles her personal demons, her daughter Sydney seems to be pushing past her own problems. During class, Sydney tells best friend Madison Kelly that she’s looking forward to hanging with Myles, her latest love interest. Kelly is happy that Sydney has moved on, but questions whether it’s too soon. Before their conversation could continue, class begins. Upon hearing there’s a quiz, Kelly tries to make a quick escape to the restroom after falling ill. Caldwell doesn’t buy that excuse, but quickly wishes she had as Kelly hurls into a wastebasket and onto Caldwell’s pumps.

Sydney helps her friend, but also questions what appears to be morning sickness. Possible pregnancy? Couldn’t be. Or could it?

Before viewers could finish pondering whether Kelly’s ex-boyfriend left her with a little more than heartbreak, the next scene takes us to the campus clinic filled with sick students. They can’t all be pregnant. We discover that it’s a norovirus, a severe (and contagious) stomach flu that causes vomiting, diarrhea and stomach pain. The virus seemingly swept the campus overnight, transforming healthy students into walking zombies. Flushed, dehydrated faces line the campus clinic and dorm halls. Fletcher, who sees Sydney at the clinic, requests that she go home until the bug is taken care of. The campus would need to be quarantined.

In the dorms, a familiar face is back! Ebonie Weaver (Erica Michelle) and best friend Cedric Hobbs are reunited and doing what they do best — rapping. Meanwhile, on the other side of campus, Fletcher is in over her head. The virus was possibly caused by malfunctioning freezers, which caused temperatures to drop and thaw the food. The old freezers would need to be replaced, but Fletcher knows the school can’t afford the $100,000 for new ones. The situation became so dire, a student was hospitalized after fainting. Not wanting to risk more bad publicity, Fletcher plans to ask Berry’s family for an extension.

And of course, that went about as great as, well, not great at all.

Berry’s mother still believes her son’s suicide is Sydney’s fault. Fletcher explodes and rips the bandages off of healing wounds by saying Berry raped Sydney. He should be the one apologizing from a jail cell. Fletcher’s emotions are raw, the nightmares continue, and it looks like she has finally reached her breaking point.

Off campus, Sydney is finally getting her groove back, and is excited about meeting up with love interest, Myles. As they Netflix and chilled, things began to heat up pretty quickly. But Sydney soon learns that she’s not as over her sexual assault as she previously thought. The closer Myles got, the more her suppressed memories of the assault began to resurface. She ended the night by asking Myles to take her home.

As the episode neared its close, Williams is back at Diamond’s house with the same approach, but a different tune. This time, Diamond opens his door to address the former band member. Williams explains why she turned the original music over to rival band director Clive Taylor, and — once again — apologizes for her actions. Stern, yet a bit more forgiving, Diamond informs Williams that he’ll think about letting her back in. After all, Diamond just found out that his cancer is in remission. If he can get a second chance at life, then maybe he can give Williams a second chance in the band.

A good guess is that Diamond may use Williams to turn the tables on Taylor. Something tells me this won’t be the last we see of this dangerous yet dynamic duo.