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Recent Entertainment articles from Daily Dot

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    When faced with bullying, the YouTube generation does what it knows best: turns the camera on and documents their struggles. That’s the genesis for A Brave Heart, a documentary that follows Lizzie Velasquez, a woman with a rare congenital disease that, among other symptoms, restricts her ability to accumulate body fat. Because of her condition, Velasquez has faced constant bullying, both online and off.

    “[Lizzie] found this YouTube video years ago, and they had called her the world’s ugliest woman,” Justine Ezarik, better known as iJustine, told the Daily Dot. “It’s absolutely heartbreaking. But she took that and used that as inspiration to be a better person and to try and end cyberbulling.”

    The film, which had its world premiere at South by Southwest, follows Lizzie’s daily life and her quest to have her extremely rare disease finally diagnosed.

    “It’s her story, but she wants it to be everybody’s story,” explained Ezarik, who is an executive producer for the film.

    The pair connected where Ezarik says she makes most of her friends, online.

    “It all just happened because I commented on her Instagram,” she said. “She got excited because she watched my video, and then I got excited that she wrote back to me. I originally met her a couple of years ago in Austin because I was doing a panel. Two years later we’re here doing a panel together.”

    Ezarik says documentary filmmaking is a natural extension of the YouTuber style, where documenting life on video is second nature.

    “It’s interesting because what I think all of us YouTubers are sort of doing is making mini documentaries with everything we are doing,” she explained. “I’ve been filming and putting my life online from a long time ago. You want to tell the story and capture it however you can. Even in the film, there’s clips from her YouTube, there’s clips from her small camera, there’s clips from people filming her.”

    Meanwhile, Ezarik is stretching her creative wings into book writing, with her debut coming this summer.

    “There’s so many things I never really posted online,” explained Ezarik of the book’s content. I know people think, ‘Oh she posts everything.’ You don’t post everything at all; that’s crazy.”

    The book follows her life and the evolution of social media during her tenure on all the platforms.

    “I was always sort of nerdy and liked weird things and sort of I found my people on the Internet,” she said. “It’s kind of just letting everyone know that whatever it is that you like and whatever it is that you’re into, there’s other people out there. You just have to find them. I’ve been so lucky to find such amazing people out there that like the cool, crazy things that I do.”

    Screengrab via Daily Dot/YouTube

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    Empire, Fox’s new drama about a titular hip-hop entertainment company, has emerged as a breakout hit since its debut on Jan. 7. The recently-aired finale drew a whopping 17.62 rating, which blew away the other network TV programs that aired in primetime on the same night.

    Given Empire’s success, its streaming rights were a much-coveted entity, and Hulu has won the sweepstakes. The online video platform has struck a deal with Twentieth Century Fox through which it will exclusively stream the first season of Empire on its Hulu Plus service.

    Hulu has been streaming Empire episodes shortly after their TV airdates, but the new deal will bring the show to Hulu’s subscription-based on-demand platform in its entirety. Viewers who pay for the $7.99-per-month service will be able to follow Lucious Lyon (Terrence Howard) as he runs his company and navigates strife related to his personal life and health.

    Empire’s storylines and music continue to dominate the popular culture conversation each week,” said Hulu SVP and head of content Craig Erwich. “Since its premiere, the series has remained one of the top shows on Hulu, and we are ecstatic to be the exclusive streaming home to the biggest show of the year.”

    Hulu, which is partially owned by Fox, streams many of its parent company’s hit shows. Another program exclusive to the streaming platform is Fargo: The Coen Brothers adaptation debuted last year on FX to critical acclaim and award recognition.

    Financial terms of Hulu’s deal with Twentieth Century Fox were not disclosed.

    Screengrab via Hulu 

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    A group of YouTube beauty experts are adding a professional touch to their videos. Collective Digital Studio has launched a program with Smashbox through which style influencers will shoot at the latter company’s top-shelf studio space.

    Smashbox is a cosmetics company known for its studio, which serves as a location for major fashion shoots. Vanity Fair’s annual Hollywood Issue, for example, is photographed at Smashbox Studios. With the “Made at Smashbox” campaign, YouTube content creators will have the chance to utilize this space as well. Participants will gain access to Smashbox’s facilities, which will provide a high-quality backdrop for fashion, beauty, makeup, and style videos.

    Made at Smashbox has launched alongside some of the most popular and respected partners within the Collective DS network. James Chen, the creative director of the Wendy’s Lookbook channel, will also be the creative director of this program. Beauty experts who will join him include Weylie HoangLauren CurtisMeredith FosterMakeupgeektv, and Blair and Elle Fowler.

    “Innovation is part of the Smashbox DNA. For more than 20 years, Smashbox Studios has been the go-to destination for the world’s best photographers, stylists and makeup artists,” said Smashbox founder Davis Factor in a release. “We want to continue this tradition and empower the next generation of creative influencers.”

    Smashbox Studios is far from the only option for creators searching for shooting space, but style influencers would be hard-pressed to find a more professional setup. Signup details for the Made at Smashbox program can be found on its official website.

    Screengrab via Meredith Foster/YouTube 

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    Laying down a good beat is easy and a little bit addictive.

    At, a free drum machine makes it dead simple to experiment and produce some simple but surprisingly good music within a short time. Developer Jamie Thomson called it "the most advanced in-browser drum machine available."

    “I created this app with the intention that producers could compose and download drum patterns in a highly intuitive and accessible way,” Thomson told Synthtopia. 

    It's a nifty little tool that emulates five famous drum kits (most notably the TR-808) and allows for impressive customization and exporting. You can then use the beat in another, more advanced music program like Ableton. 

    Better yet, come back again and your beats and patterns are saved. 

    H/T Synthtopia | Image via HTML5 Drum Machine 

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    How many bad jokes can one man tell over seven years? Griffin Lewis is trying to find out.

    The L.A.-based comedian’s YouTube channel, the Daily Haha, has become the virtual stage for this ludicrous mission. And yes, he knows it’s ludicrous.

    “I guess I was thinking about all these people who make a living off YouTube,” Lewis said. “They have an idea or a gimmick they can upload every day, right? If you play video games you upload a video every day, or some people do react videos. They have a video that’s low-effort. … So that’s sort of where my mind was at, and I thought, ‘Oh, it’d be silly to do one of those popsicle-stick jokes every day.’ They’re so lame, who would ever be interested in that?”

    He started in January, and as of mid-March he’s blown past 50 videos. He says some of the jokes are literally from popsicle sticks or “lame puns” found in the “public domain of jokedom.” Others are jokes he’s thinking of on the spot. The structure is simple: a setup, a beat, and a punchline. And yes, the jokes are bad. After watching 10 of them, you’ll likely be mad at yourself. 

    This is part of the experiment, but Lewis also adds his own personal touch. In one clip, he goes deep on the history of the “cross the road” joke.

    He says a lot of the humor comes from his “incompetence to deliver on the premise, or my weird persona, which almost seems bored.”

    Most of the jokes thus far come in the form of title cards with unfortunate fonts, which only adds the cringeworthy nature of the project. Sometimes Lewis checks in with his own videos. Sometimes he takes his clips to the next level. He even created a terrible trailer for one his jokes.

    Of course, Lewis, an admitted fan of Adult Swim and Tim & Eric, does not appear to be a maniac; he’s not actually going to fill the world with lame jokes for seven years. That part was something he added “on the fly,” and it serves as its own meta joke.

    “That’s such an absurd and weirdly specific timeline,” he said. “I honestly don’t know where it’s going.

    “Most people luckily get the joke,” he continued. “But there are some people out there who actually like these popsicle-stick jokes, and they just kind of want to hear them straight. They don’t want me to add my funny twist to it; they just want me to tell the joke.”

    Yes, Lewis’s jokes come off like dad jokes, which are apparently having a moment. Twitter especially has allowed for weird, uncomfortable, absurd, 140-character humor to flourish. Jokes sometimes land with a thud, which makes them that much funnier. The Internet also houses the “longest joke in the world,” the punchline of which elicits a sigh so heavy it could probably be heard from space.

    The daily repetition of lame joke-telling has also taught Lewis about structure and delivery—and revealed the cold, hard truth about puns:

    “A pun really isn’t funny, is it? The more I think about it, there’s nothing really funny about taking a word and recognizing that it has another meaning. I guess it’s made me think about comedy in general and what is funny. I’ve always thought of comedy as being a subversion of expectations.”

    To that point, Lewis says he’s realized another cold, hard truth: that he has to wake up and tell a joke on the Internet every day. This adds yet another layer to the experiment, but he explains that once he gets into the process, he gets inspired. Yes, the visual of a man telling jokes until he’s a skeleton is very funny, but Lewis understands this has an expiration date.

    “I do think I’m just going to know when it’s time to end it,” he said. “It’ll just be obvious to me. … It doesn’t become novel until you’re visibly aging.”

    Illustration by Max Fleishman 

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    If you've ever wondered which movies mention booze, marijuana, and gambling the most, you're in luck. Project Know has compiled 30 years of Hollywood's most popular scripts (a total of 1,273), and broken them down by mentions of various vices. For a broad overview of psychoactive substances appearing in popular movies' scripts, they've provided this handy graph. 

    Surprisingly, methamphetamine seems to have hit its peak in 1984, but the study only searched for the terms "meth" and "methamphetamine," leaving out words like "ice," "crank," "speed," "crystal," and "bathtub coke," which means that it may have missed the drug's rise to fame over the last decade

    As the data shows, booze received quite a spike in 2007, which makes sense—that was the year Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg's Superbad was released, which takes the No. 1 spot for alcohol mentions in a film with a whopping 171 occurrences of booze-related words. (Leaving Las Vegas might take issue with that, but it's possible that film's script simply said, "Booze is in every single scene," and left it at that.)

    As far as marijuana goes, Rogen and Goldberg once again take the top spot, this time with their epic tale of reefer, Pineapple Express. Cheech and Chong's Up in Smoke came out in 1978, so it was unfortunately not included in this study. Blood and Wine is probably very happy to be included on any list that isn't titled "Biggest Flops Starring Jack Nicholson," and I have no clue what Asylum is. 
    As far as gambling goes, Casino takes the top spot, closely followed by Croupier, a fantastic film that's gone criminally unnoticed (you can help correct that—it's currently streaming on Netflix). Rounders didn't make the cut, which is probably explained by the fact that "cards" wasn't a word included in the study's methodology—whereas "poker" isn't said much in Rounders, "cards" appears 164,685,485 times in its script.

    The graphic for drugs and alcohol combined looks very similar to the alcohol-specific one, but the combo does allow Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas into the rankings. The film's source material would have likely taken the top spot, but the film itself is a lot more show than it is tell with its illicit substances, so it only nabs the No. 9 spot here.

    For a further look at the study, visit this page on Project Know's website. And if you're addicted to something mentioned on these graphs, their homepage offers a lot of info on getting that sorted out. 

    H/T Project Know| Photo via LEGAL Colorado Marijuana Grow/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

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    You didn’t need an algorithm to know Leon Bridges was going to be the breakout star of South by Southwest 2015.

    Tall, dark, and handsome, the 25-year-old soul singer came bearing a rags-to-riches narrative as tightly tailored as his dapper wardrobe: Just four months ago, he was washing dishes in Dallas when he was discovered by chance, quickly shuffled into the studio, and signed to Columbia Records. His stirring throwback ballad “Coming Home” lit up YouTube, and reviews of his initial string of live shows further cemented his standing as this year’s must-see act.

    There’s always one such artist to emerge from the hysteria of SXSW with the sort of buzz that directly leads to sold-out tours. But after that, it’s basically a crapshoot.

    Nearly 2,000 bands converge in Austin, Texas, for the annual music conference, loading amplifiers into every conceivable corner of the city: venues, garages, backyards, parking lots, and riverboats. Catching the perennial next big thing isn’t just a matter finding the proverbial needle in the haystack; it’s a five-day pinball of critics’ picks and cabs, of signals and noise.

    Given the behind-the-scenes rise of big data in the music industry, I reached out to two leaders in the field for some direction, asking who their algorithms were predicting for breakthrough success at SXSW.

    So does big data actually have good taste in music?

    Next Big Sound boasts a patented predictive algorithm that tracks everything from Spotify plays and YouTube views to interactions on Twitter and Wikipedia page views to evaluate artists’ growth rate and assess the likelihood of hitting the Billboard 200 chart in the near future. The service has been used by corporations like Pepsi to discover emerging talent, but its applications are practically limitless.

    By contrast, Musx, an Austin-based music discovery app, is more user-facing, allowing people  to seamlessly share and tag songs. Its algorithm, according to cofounder John Reardon, is a combination of “listens, comments, and ‘favorites’ that are weighted differently and factor in time,” with an emphasis on shares and reshares.

    So does big data actually have good taste in music? I spent last week trying to see as many of the recommendations as possible. The results were mixed—to say the least.  

    BØRNS (Musx)

    An Instagram post by Taylor Swift put BØRNS’ “Electric Love” on everyone’s radar, leading to a Hulu commercial and 600,000 views on YouTube. Singer Garrett Borns’ glam-rock grandeur might fill arenas—at least when opening for Swift—but it’s bogged down by generic sentiments (“paradise in your eyes”) and best in ringtone-length bytes. He gets a pass for his straight cover of “Benny and the Jets.”

    Rating: 6.2

    Big Data (Next Big Sound)

    As formulaic as the name implies. A self-described “paranoid electronic music project from the Internet,” led by producer Alan Wilkis with a rotating cast of guest contributors, Big Data’s flair for the obvious and dramatic is geotargeted for the YouTube masses (the video for “Dangerous” has 5.7 million views), but you get the feeling that Wilkis and company are performing more for the smartphones than the crowd.

    Rating: 4.3

    Freedom Fry(Musx)

    Utterly forgettable. The indie pop group’s “Shaky Ground (Hey Na Na Na)” has clocked 300,000 spins on SoundCloud, but despite being fronted by an actual couple—Parisian-born stylist Maria Seyrat and guitarist Bruce Driscoll—they lacked onstage chemistry.

    Rating: 3.4

    Joywave (Next Big Sound)

    See Big Data. Lead singer Daniel Armbruster actually takes lead on the former’s breakout, “Dangerous,” making the two an ideal tour pairing. Joywave leans more to contemporary Brit bands like Foals and Alt-J, but the end result’s the same.

    Rating: 5.7

    Broncho (Next Big Sound)

    Finally, something the machines and I can agree on. Broncho’s power-pop nugget “Class Historian” tilted scales after being picked up for Tinder Plus’s ad campaign and Imagine Dragons’ Tonight Show mixtape—to the tune of 2.5 million streams on Spotify. The Norman, Okla.-based band’s late-night set Wednesday proved the perfect pick-me-up, packing in one jittery power-pop nugget after another, with bottle-rocket adrenaline and basement party fervor. Tour additions Mandii Larsen and Penny Hill of Tulsa, Okla.’s Low Litas filled out the set with harmony and distortion in equal measure.

    Rating: 8.5

    Zella Day(Next Big Sound)

    One of the more blogged-about artists of the year, Zella Day has everything going for her: urban nomad appeal, 1.3 million spins on SoundCloud for her “East of Eden,” an upcoming EP for Hollywood Records, and GIFs aplenty for Tumblr. Oh, and she’s still in her teens. She’s been likened to a softer Lana Del Rey, but live, Day reminded me more of early Lykke Li, with bruised pop songs, cut like diamonds.

    Rating: 7.2

    Natalie Prass (Musx)

    By any reasonable measure, Natalie Prass’s Tuesday night set should’ve been a disaster—jet-lagged, a brand-new guitarist, no Wurlitzer, “getting dripped on by something”—but she’s clearly the type of performer who can roll with the punches. While I’m not as smitten with her self-titled debut as most, Prass has the spunk and doe-eyed sincerity to match her antiquated pop ballads. She’s basically a Disney character in a Kiss shirt.

    Rating: 6.9

    Leon Bridges (Musx)

    The hype followed Bridges everywhere he went last week. At Willie Nelson’s Heartbreaker Banquet—set on the country icon’s private ghost town on the outskirts of Austin, constructed for the filming of Red Headed Stranger—Bridges delivered a suave, tender set of retro soul that quickly won over both hippies and hipsters. 

    He’s got one foot in the church, the other in the bedroom, and his heart in New Orleans. 

    With a Mad Men-level of detail to historical footnotes, Bridges harkens back to the time when artists like Sam Cooke were moving from gospel to the mainstream, taking inspiration from the love lives of his parents and grandparents. He’s got one foot in the church (“Take Me to Your River”), the other in the bedroom (“Flower”), and his heart in New Orleans. He’s still finding himself onstage, with revealing moments of deer-in-the-headlights vulnerability, but that only made him more endearing. You can tell he’s barely scratched the surface of his potential.

    Rating: 9.2

    James Bay(Next Big Sound)

    The latest in a long line of London songwriters imported to entertain bored housewives. The 23-year-old has a remarkable voice but seemingly nothing to sing about. He performed last week on Jimmy Kimmel Live, and his single “Hold Back the River” has registered 12 million views on YouTube, but Friday night at St. David’s Historic Sanctuary, I fell asleep in my pew.


    Due to logistical issues, there were a number of recommended bands from both parties I wasn’t able to see, most notably Elliphant, Meg Mac, and Fetty Wap, but I caught enough to draw a few anecdotal conclusions.

    The idea behind these predictive data companies is that they help you get ahead of the curve, to find the glimmer of gold in the rubble. Judging by Next Big Sounds’ charts and SXSW recommendations, that’s not really the case, though. Most of the company’s suggested bands were either already established—the Dodos, for example, notched Pitchfork’s Best New Music tag in 2008—or signed to a major label, making them only a few late-night TV appearances away from mainstream success. In other words, Next Big Sound was not only playing with a stacked deck but betting after the cards had been dealt.

    The idea behind these predictive data companies is that they help you get ahead of the curve, to find the glimmer of gold in the rubble. 

    Even still, both Musx and Next Big Sound missed the mark a couple of times. Their models—while differing substantially on inputs—both rely heavily on virality to inform recommendations, latching onto breakout tracks and notable @mentions. That’s inevitably going to lead to a few one-hit casualties, since YouTube success doesn’t necessarily translate to the stage or the mainstream. Remember Carly Rae Jepsen, Kreayshawn, or Karmin? Exactly.

    In short, big data won’t champion the next Black Keys, but it will help select the next song for a (insert arbitrary car manufacturer) commercial.

    To be fair, I'm not Next Big Sound’s target audience. The bands that knocked me over last week—Lace Curtains’ bedhead soul, the industrial-strength post-punk of Viet Cong, and La Luz’s heatstroke surf-punk—won’t hit the Billboard charts anytime soon.

    Chicago guitarist Ryley Walker, for example, recast the British folk revival of the late 1960s—Pentangle, Nick Drake, Tim Buckley—like a scene from True Detective, a pastoral darkness lurking on the edge of town. His backing band played more like a jazz trio, nimble and responsive, lending considerable weight to Walker’s circuitous songwriting and near-scat vocal improvisations. His stunning cover of Van Morrison’s “Fair Play” proved his range Tuesday at the Mohawk, but it was his visceral closer “Sweet Satisfaction” that had me inadvertently holding my breath. 

    Likewise, Canada’s Lindi Ortega, the belle of the Heartbreaker Banquet, came off like Dolly Parton in mourning, dressed for a Southern funeral and with songs about whiskey and weed, cigarettes and truck stops.

    There's unquestionable value, however, to the data that Next Big Sound mines. Just look at the week-of stats offered for Zella Day. By examining her social mentions across a number of platforms, you can begin to quantify the value of SXSW, outside of traditional press clippings and showcase attendance.

    Those data points are tells, signaling “indications of intent or likely future purchase activity,” according to Next Big Sound CEO and cofounder Alex White.

    “The thesis of this company is that attention precedes monetization,” White told the Kernel last week. “Before you go to a concert, before you buy an album, you do a Google search or look up an artist on YouTube or Spotify.”

    Big data is going to continue to quietly shape the music industry from behind the digital curtain, informing everything from album singles to tour stops and artist signings. It’s certainly no coincidence that three of the bands listed (Big Data, Joywave, and Zella Day) all played Pandora’s Discovery Den on the same evening.

    Big data is going to continue to quietly shape the music industry from behind the digital curtain.

    But it’s going to take considerable time before these services will be able to cater to our personal tastes. Next Big Sounds’ “predictive success algorithm” is reminiscent of when Google patented PageRank in the late ’90s, as the number of websites grew exponentially. In weighing backlinks to determine a site’s relative importance, Google revolutionized online search by ranking query results by perceived importance. There’s similarly an endless amount of new music out there, and there are a number of critical data points that can help signal virality and artists to watch. But as consumers, we’re moving targets with changing expectations, and as with Google Search, there’s still not a great way to find something when we don’t already know exactly what it is.

    Oddly enough, Next Big Sound and Musx overlapped on only one suggestion: ASTR, whose cover of Drake’s “Hold On We’re Going Home” went viral last year. I’d planned to wrap up my week with the electro-R&B duo’s 1:20am set Saturday, but at that point I’d long grown tired of the experiment.

    The hype machine never sleeps, but I needed to.

    Photo of Leon Bridges by Doug Freeman

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    Jaw-dropping animation and storytelling aren’t confined to the big studios, although it doesn’t hurt to have some veterans of the system on your team.

    In just one minute and 50 seconds of stunning animation, you meet two captivating characters in the teaser for The Book of Mojo, a new animation project created by Alchemy Engine, a collective of ex-Pixar and Dreamworks animators, directors, and producers. The first is a 13-year-old witch named Creepy, a runaway who hopes magic is the path to reconnect with her estranged father. Her life collides with Mojo, a towering statue whose enchanted origins remain a mystery and a threat to both of them.

    This unlikely duo is at the centerpiece of The Book of Mojo, which has origins as self-published comic. After animating a CG teaser, the creative team was inspired to turn The Book of Mojo into a full-fledged short as a proof of concept for a longer version. 

    “Many of [the comic’s] viewers were not only excited by the premise, but also by the story’s female lead, a strong young person of color,” writes creator and director Everett Downing on the project's Indiegogopage. "As an African American father of two girls, imagery in the media is very important to me, and diversity is something I'm excited to address in a fun and entertaining way."

    To realize this vision, Alchemy Engine is turning to crowdfunding. The team is looking for $80,000 to fund the project, offering rewards like a digital download for $25 or a cameo in the final short for $5,000.

    In addition to Downing, the team includes creators who've worked on such projects as FrozenBig Hero 6, Toy Story 3, The Book of Life, Brave, Wall-E, Up, Ratatouille, and many others.  Collectively they describe themselves as huge fans of “Avatar: The Last Airbender, The Legend of Korra, Harry Potter and all things Joss Whedon.”

    “Everyone here at Alchemy Engine was feeling restricted by the limitations of big studio productions,” said Downing in a press release. “We wanted an outlet to share our true voices and our untouched ideas.”

    While the crew is currently far from their intended goal, they have until May 1 to make their animation dreams a reality.

    Screengrab via Everett Downing/Vimeo

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    Tinder’s not just for mindlessly swiping left anymore. If you want to see Jason Derulo’s new video, you have the slow that index finger down and swipe right.

    Yes, this is the brave new world of Tinder synergy (Tindergy?). The company is attempting to engage younger users (blatant ageism, be damned!) beyond the hookup, but not too far: The “Talk Dirty” singer’s new video for “Want to Want Me” is basically about… a hookup. Derulo also does upside-down crunches in a doorway as a woman takes a bath.

    Unfortunately, those looking to actually match with Derulo will be swiping in vain: He’s not actually on the service, even though he’s on the market. In an interview with Us Weekly, Derulo said he’d join if it wasn’t “so unpredictable.” He added: “I have my wingmen, my little cousins. They help me sift through the weirdos and find someone cool out of all the people I meet at clubs or events." 

    Yes, instead of weed carriers, Derulo has Tinder swipers. Enjoy your Monday!  

    Screengrab via Jason Derulo/YouTube 

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    If one program can tip the scales for a streaming network, AOL believes it has found its ringer in its new series, Connected.

    Connected is a reality show with a slight twist where the characters are the camera operators, capturing their daily lives and challenges. Compared to others in the genre, the 20-episode series amounts to a more nuanced and observed look at common issues that cut across racial, social, political, and economic boundaries. Based on a popular Israeli show, Mehubarim (loosely translated as “connected”), the concept has been licensed to programmers around the world, with AOL securing the U.S. rights. Award-winning filmmaker Morgan Spurlock serves as executive producer.

    The show is set to air as part of the AOL Originals slate on March 31, but Roku viewers will be offered a sneak peek of the pilot starting March 24.

    The handful of episodes that were offered for review are formatted much like your standard reality fare, but the action and dialogue from these six New Yorkers under the microscope is much more engaging and authentic than what you will find on Bravo, TLC, and other networks. To avoid any spoilers, the common thread that ties Susan Sarandon and her beau Jonathan Bricklin with interior designer Nina Ferrer-Mannino is tension. Whether it’s money, attempts to get pregnant, or dealing with the loss of a child, the anxiety—disguised as equal parts humor and fear—is palpable.

    It will take a few episodes to grok the mini personal dramas and distinguish one from the other, but you will leave each episode wanting to know what happens next. Unlink Netflix and other streaming networks, AOL does not subscribe to the binge-watching concept, and it plans to release four of the 20 episodes every two weeks.

    Dermot McCormack, head of AOL Video, brings a solid TV background to the longstanding online company, and he calls on that broadcast experience to direct AOL’s original content program. Much like networks that use a popular program to anchor an entire evening’s lineup, AOL believes Connected will provide that foundation.

    “It really takes a breakout show,” McCormack told the Daily Dot of AOL’s plans to turbocharge its video strategy. “I think that Connected could be that show because it brings attention and audience recognition.”

    “People will say, ‘AOL made that show,’ the same way House of Cards and Orange Is the New Black worked for Netflix and Transparent worked for Amazon,” he added.

    McCormack acknowledged that reality programs rarely stray from a simple formula that is more tabloid that storytelling. In the case of Connected, his direction was to think about the world of discarded selfies and focus on that path.

    “One of the directions we gave,” McCormack said, “is ‘when you feel like you want to turn the camera off, leave it on.’ We think about the selfie world we live in, and we only see the good side. No one takes a picture when their hair is a mess, and they’re tired. This is the other side of the selfie revolution.”

    Photo via AOL

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    The YouTube Music Awardsreturn today, and YouTube released a handful of exclusive music videos featuring YTMA artists to celebrate.

    The video platform decided not to go the live route this year. Instead, it announced the 50 winners earlier this year and then debuted 13 videos, some of the from YTMA winners, as part of the Tyler Oakley-hosted show’s lineup. Cahoots, Action Bronson, Ed Sheeran, Charli XCX, Kygo, FKA Twigs, Martin Garrix, Lindsey Stirling, Max, Migos, Megan Nicole, Shamir, and Nicky Jam represent a wide swath of YouTube fandom, from your parents’ fave Sheeran to boundary-pushers like FKA Twigs and Charli XCX.

    Speaking of which, FKA Twigs’s video for “Glass & Patron” looks very different than the one that debuted last fall. She appears pregnant in the first scene. Then she births what appear to be colorful scarves, which gives way to a fashion show, naturally.

    And if you’re not familiar with Shamir, it’s time to rectify that. “Call It Off” is about to be stuck in your head all day. (Also: It has puppets.)

    Watch the YTMA playlist below.

    You can watch all the videos here and here

    Screengrab via Shamir 326/YouTube  

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    YouTube may be celebrated as the only social media platform that rewards its creators with a piece of the advertising income pie, but at least one company thinks Web video is ready for a revenue revolution.

    “It’s tough to make a living off just advertising,” explained Jason Kilar, the former Hulu CEO and founder of Vessel, the new video subscription service aimed at the YouTube set. “That’s why in television you see the world change when cable got started in 1979. That’s when television really got to be interesting in terms of production values and the economics for creators. We think the same thing is going to happen for Web video.”

    Many digital video creators have long supplemented their ad-based income with brand deals and other income streams, but until now there hasn’t been a subscription-based service with their interests in mind. Vessel, which has been open to limited beta users since late January, goes live to anyone and everyone March 24. With the wider release comes a wider array of video content on the platform. Joining already established Vessel content creators like Rhett & Link and Connor Franta will be vlogger GloZell Green, gamer Mazzi Maz, Meredith Foster (Stilababe) from the beauty sphere, and science creator Veritasium, among many others. Collectively, Vessel’s content partners reach more than 200 million viewers across their platforms.

    “There is a long history of people caring about certain content,” Kilar said. “The key here is the word certain. What we’re hearing from consumers that there are next-generation creators that I’d argue they care more about … than a new sitcom on CBS. If we can deliver a service that gets them earlier access to the content they love and do it in a way that’s curated and delightful, that’s real value. We feel very strongly about it. Something would be wrong if the world didn’t feel otherwise, otherwise the business would already exist.”

    Subscriptions to the service cost $2.99 a month, substantially lower than subscriptions for other pay video services like Hulu or Netflix, but higher than the established price of zero on YouTube. As a special promotion, for the first 72 hours after Vessel’s launch, new subscribers will get a 12-month subscription free of charge, without even entering a credit card number.  

    While some content on the platform will not be exclusive to Vessel, instead debuting simultaneously on various platforms, much of it will have a window of exclusivity before it goes elsewhere.  To woo multichannel networks (MCNs) and content creators to the service, Vessel began offering lucrative contracts in November 2014. From the creator side, Kilar says in addition to the 165 channels already on the service, thousands of other creators have expressed interest in using the platform.

    “People that are applying to be on Vessel are simply trying to plug into this curated platform and this business opportunity,” he said. “If you typically make two to three dollars on the free, ad-supported Web, on Vessel you’re seeing north of $50. That’s the major appeal for pretty much everybody.”

    Additionally, the platform has both a paid subscription level and a free, ad-supported service for viewers. On the ad-supported side, NBCUniversal will make late-night clips from The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon and Late Night With Seth Meyers available the day after they air on TV. FOX Sports, Universal Sports, and What’s Trending will also have content on the free service.

    For now, Vessel reps aren’t releasing any stats on how content has been consumed during the beta, in part because the audience during that phase is unlike the one expected of the broader digital-video-consuming public. Now that the gates are open, it remains to be seen if audience will flock to a new platform for early access and a chance to support creators.

    Of course, Vessel isn’t the only video service hoping to take on or supplement YouTube viewing, nor is it the only way for fans to financially support their favorite artists, but it is so far the easiest, most glossy, and most far-reaching option. For less than a cup of coffee, fans can access a slick site, see videos early, and feel like they’re helping fund more than one of their favorite creators.

    Design-wise, Vessel is definitely a departure from YouTube or other video sites, with high-impact visuals dominating, including moments where video stills move akin to the images many might recognize from the Harry Potter films, which Kilar’s design team used as a direct inspiration.

    “We had a lot of conversations about the Harry Potter newspaper,” he explained. “You know in the movie where the images moved? That’s something we talked about quite a bit. We thought if you could do that in a way that wasn’t obtrusive, if you didn’t have the volume on, that would be cool. … We really took a complete, fresh piece of paper approach to it. We wanted to design something that we ourselves would love and adore.”

    From the advertising side, Kilar says 30 top-tier brands have already partnered with the site, and he attributes Vessel’s success both to the inroads he built over the past six years while with Hulu and a hunger for premium video content.

    “This part of our business is actually the one that is the most straightforward,” he said. “Once we demoed the service, they got it. All these people are consumers; they are consuming video on their mobile device, and they get it. There’s also been a tremendous absence of premium inventory that’s available for a top-tier advertiser. It’s been something where we have more demand than we have inventory.”

    As users begin to flow into the service over the next six months, Kilar says there are three areas he’s paying special attention to: the activity of fans on the service, the changing geography of the fan base with 40 different countries already represented during the beta, and an increase in creators signed up with the service.

    “The whole ambition of Vessel is creating a service for the creators of the future on the devices that matter most,” Kilar explained. “I’m just excited to serve these creators and have them up and running.”

    Illustration by Max Fleishman

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    You move to a new town, to a spooky new house. You hear noises and see unexplainable things, but your mom, your only ally, doesn’t believe you and starts acting strange herself. What do you do?

    That’s the premise of The Haunting of Sunshine Girl: Book One, a new paranormal YA novel that has YouTube roots. It all began as a shared idea between then-16-year-old Paige McKenzie; her mother, Mercedes Rose; and their business partner Nick Hagen, who had done some YouTube research to find the best topic to cover.

    “On YouTube, the number-two-searched thing was ‘ghost.’ ‘Lil Wayne’ was number one. All the ghost channels at the time were all 30-year-old men, or 40-year-old men. [Nick had] worked with my mom previously on another paranormal-type project. We kind of got together and hashed out a general process.”

    They came up with the idea of telling the story of a teen girl experiencing hauntings, helmed by McKenzie as the face and voice behind Sunshine.

    “It was weird,” McKenzie explained. “We put up three or four videos, and then went ‘OK, let’s see what happens.’ Our first 5 million views were totally organic. It’s not my grandma watching. It’s complete strangers; that’s why he have a large, significant number out of the United States. After 5 million views, we started telling people that we actually knew.”

    McKenzie was a total YouTube newbie when the channel launched in 2010, but she quickly adapted and learned what it takes to be a digital video success.

    “Between the three of us, we had eight or nine hours of watching YouTube,” she laughed. “I don’t know what we were thinking, but it worked! I kind of want to do a little bit of everything. Sunshine has been an eye-opener if nothing else. It’s really great to see I can do other stuff. I can act, but also I do all the camera work. I do the editing; I’m a director. It’s fun to put on different hats. Now with the author business, I have a lot of things I have the potential to do someday if I wanted to.”

    That’s right, 20-year-old McKenzie is also the voice behind the Sunshine Girl books, with the help of a coauthor. For her, collaboration seems natural. What doesn’t is the fact that with the written word, she can’t immediately get feedback from her tens of thousands of digital fans.

    “The main difference is you could just film something and put [finished videos] up on YouTube and get immediate response,” she said. “With a book, I know the editor says she liked this, but it’s not immediate response. That’s been weird.”

    While the first book is just hitting shelves today, there are already plans for a second book, coming in a year, and the series already has an option to head to the screen, thanks to the Weinstein Company.

    “I am signed on to star; I will be Sunshine,” McKenzie said. “I will be her since it’s 99.8 percent me… I do want to be involved in casting. I’d love to be able to pick out who plays my mother. It’ll be fun to see what happens.”

    For now, though, McKenzie is focused on the novels, which she feels fills a niche that’s missing in the literary landscape.

    “I don’t think that there was a lot of YA horror out there,” she explained. “There hasn’t been YA paranormal in that way. I feel like you have R.L. Stine when you’re younger, and when you’re old, you have Stephen King. But you don’t jump from Goosebumps to Stephen King, so I’m excited to see that play out.”

    Sunshine Girl does hit a spot that falls outside the current trends of young adult literature. It’s not postapocalyptic, and it’s not complete realism either. It’s somewhere in between. Yes, there’s some romance in the story, but without giving too much away, even the romantic elements play into the paranormal worry that pervades the book. The mystery is far more important that a girl wondering about her first kiss.

    “I love romance novels—I am a romantic—but you’re supposed to go from creepy thing to love triangles with sparkly vampires?” McKenzie questioned. “I don’t want to write a book that has a love triangle, because that’s happened a million times. Or three best friends, like Harry Potter. This is just really about Sunshine.”

    Screengrab via The Haunting of Sunshine Girl Network/YouTube | Remix by Max Fleishman

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    James Corden had some big shoes to fill on his first episode of CBS' The Late Late Show.

    Out of all of the potential candidates to take over for Craig Ferguson, the 36-year-old British actor, virtually unknown to most American audiences, seemed to be among the least likely—at least until you learn how he got the job in the first place.

    Corden's tale involves a Willy Wonka-esque contest for the funniest people in Hollywood, a talk-show-deprived Jay Leno as both the mentor and the villain, and training montages for how to be strong, funny, and an expert in pretending to care—all of them packed with cameos. It’s almost crazy enough for us to actually believe it.

    We'll also take inspirational Meryl Streep quoting Lady Gaga songs at us, please.

    Once Corden settled into his actual show—using a format that will apparently seat all of his guests on-stage with him at once—the host teamed up with Tom Hanks to reenact his entire film career. They hit the famous flicks as well as the more obscure ones, and Corden pointed out something very important: he didn't get Cloud Atlas either.

    Screengrab via The Late Late Show with James Corden/YouTube

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    An entire nation consumed by March Madness became obsessed with a crying Villanova piccolo player after the Wildcats’ loss to N.C. State on Saturday. But things are certainly looking up for her now.

    Villanova senior Roxanne Chalifoux has been making the media rounds ever since becoming a meme, and although her time playing for the school’s basketball team may be over this year, she got to play Villanova’s fight song one last time with an even bigger band: the Roots.

    She also got plenty of ice cream, swag, and Taylor Swift concert tickets from Jimmy Fallon, proving that winning a tournament might not always be the greatest outcome. And if anybody knows how to help heal heartbreak, it’s Taylor Swift.

    Screengrab via The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon/YouTube

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    Years of wonderingWill they or won't they?” are over: The X-Files is finally coming back to Fox. 

    In a press release, Fox CEOs Dana Walden and Gary Newman explained: “The X-Files was not only a seminal show for both the studio and the network, it was a worldwide phenomenon that shaped pop culture—yet remained a true gem for the legions of fans who embraced it from the beginning. Few shows on television have drawn such dedicated fans as The X-Files, and we’re ecstatic to give them the next thrilling chapter of Mulder and Scully they’ve been waiting for."

    Yes, Gillian Anderson and David Duchovny are also on board for the six-episode reboot of the ’90s sci-fi show. There were concerns that their schedules might not allow for their participation; perhaps this short run is accommodating those conflicts. 

    Creator Chris Carter added that after a 13-year hiatus, "The good news is the world has only gotten that much stranger, a perfect time to tell these six stories."

    Between this and the Twin Peaks reboot, it’s a good time to be a fan of ’90s cult weirdness. The show is scheduled to start production this summer. 

    H/T HitFix | Photo via Fox 

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    South by Southwest is a magical place where everyone can have an opinion and free speech is encouraged. But once you leave, the cold reality hits. One man found out the true meaning of oppression Monday, when he was allegedly kicked off a flight for wearing a Broad City shirt. 

    More specifically, student Daniel Podolsky's shirt said "Broad Fucking City," and this is apparently not in line with Southwest Airlines' policy. He was reportedly on a flight from Dallas to Chicago on Monday, but it was diverted to St. Louis because of inclement weather. He claims he went to the bathroom, and when he returned to the gate, the agent told him his shirt would not be allowed. Here's a photo of him wearing the shirt at Stubb's during SXSW. In a Facebook post, he claims this is how much was visible on the flight.  

    In an interview with St. Louis's Fox 2 (Podolsky allegedly reached out to them after being kicked off the flight), he says he was never given a chance to take his shirt off before the plane took off again: "It just happened so fast. Within 30 seconds the flight was gone. I mean I would have gladly done so.”

    However, video of an interaction with another Southwest employee on the plane shows Podolsky being quite stubborn about the issue. The employee asks if he can change his shirt ("Nope") or leave his jacket on ("Nope") or turn it inside out ("Nope"). He then cites his freedom of speech, and asks if they can "take a poll." (Nope.) 

    He also called out the agent he says originally complained. 

    Podolsky was reportedly finally able to board an evening flight—after changing his shirt. Ilana stands by his actions. 

    We've reached out to Southwest for comment and will update if and when we hear back. 

    Update 5:00pm CT, Mar. 24: A Southwest rep has emailed us an official response to the incident.

    We count on our Customers to use good judgment and exercise discretion when traveling. Our Employees are responsible for the comfort of everyone onboard a flight and our reports indicate that we had Customers express concern over a t-shirt which contained offensive language. While Southwest does not have a “dress code,” our Contract of Carriage allows us to refuse to transport a Customer whose clothing is lewd, obscene, or patently offensive. The Customer was not allowed to travel after being given several options, including putting his jacket back on or replacing the shirt. The Customer was accommodated on a Southwest flight later that same evening. I think the statement could end after offensive, since I mention that other stuff

    H/T BuzzFeed | Photo via Kevin Dooley/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

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    Picking the right filter is a crucial part of getting your Instagram post to that magical 11-like milestone, but for me at least, doing so usually entails just clicking on different ones until I get bored. To develop a better understanding of what filters are the best, I decided to study under some of the greatest Instagram masters: pop stars.

    Using a package developed for the programming language R by the great Pablo Barberá, I scraped the most recent 250 posts of the top 15 most-followed musicians on Instagram. Instagram is actually really good at making their data accessible, so each post comes with a lot of metadata (hey, if the NSA has it, why shouldn't everyone?), including which filter the post uses. 

    The first thing I noticed is that using a filter on every post is a serious faux pas. For every user in the sample, Normal was the number one filter, often by a large margin. I had to go pretty far down the list of most popular accounts to find someone for who this is not true; it turns out that Miranda Kerr and Paris Hilton are OBSESSED with Valencia. So I'm definitely going to use that one.

    While the top musicians used a large variety of filters, when you aggregate them, some definite patterns emerge. As you can see in the graphic (made beautiful by graphic designer Sam Chieng), the most popular filter overall is Mayfair, followed closely by Amaro, X-Pro II (which is the dumbest filter name other than "Toaster"), and yes, Valencia. Among the filters to be avoided are 1977, Gingham, Brooklyn (try hard much?), Dogpatch, and Maven. And the trenchant cultural observers at Broad City are right about Kelvin—don't use it.

    The filter use of the top five accounts is further broken down. As you can see, Queen Bey is the most-followed musician on Instagram, and she uses filters less than a quarter of the time; her favorite, too, is Valencia. Ariana Grande is the queen of the #nofilter crowd, while TSwift is a filter fanatic, using them in about two-thirds of posts and favoring Mayfair by a significant margin. The Biebs is also a Mayfair kind of guy, while his former sweetheart Selena Gomez prefers Slumber. 

    Photo via Adam Sundana/Flickr (CC BY SA 2.0)

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    Bill Murray and Jimmy Kimmel circled Earl Sweatshirt on their South by Southwest itineraries last week. The pair went out on the town during the annual music conference in Austin, Texas, with every intention to catch the 21-year-old Los Angeles rapper’s set. Murray kept calling him “Sweatshirt Joe.”

    Sweatshirt, born Thebe Neruda Kgositsile, was a no-show. But the prodigious talent—beneficiary of a five-year-strong hype cycle—can be excused for reportedly skipping one of the countless shows crammed onto his plate last week. If his new album I Don't Like Shit, I Don't Go Outside: An Album By Earl Sweatshirt is any indication, Sweatshirt is a massive introvert who hates handshaking industry strangers, especially after Columbia Records apparently botched his promotional release strategy.

    “How are you doing and what's your motive?” he asks sullenly on “Off Top.” He’s been a high-profile artist long enough to experience a parallel romantic relationship and see it crumble like his bounty of herbal nugs. His grandmother passed away, and he’s reverted to drinking white wine—a housewife essential—at home as a coping mechanism.

    But the despair facilitates and fuels Sweatshirt’s music. A member of controversial, misfit-kid supergroup Odd Future, Sweatshirt forfeited assistance from his clan’s production talents to unravel his feelings and lyrics over self-starter beats he crafted under the alias “randomblackdude.” Nine of the album’s 10 songs (dispensed over 30 minutes) are Sweatshirt originals, and the end result is as gloomy, anecdote-driven, and self-involved as an Elliott Smith record.

    He tinkers with sparsely arranged beats that kind of remind you of old RZA tracks—here’s a little piano sample and it’ll ping over a mushy drum conveyor belt. Between orchards of multisyllabic raps, the tapes run and the end result is a vibrant, digital age Petri dish layered with snippets of conversations and coughs. The actual rapping is technical enough to be fifth best of all time (like, ever) in terms of structure—at least according to a Finnish data-mining algorithm.

    During SXSW, I caught Sweatshirt at the makeshift Pandora House where he shared the stage with gregarious party guys like Fetty Wap, Rich Homie Quan, and Atlanta triple-threat crew Migos. That is, I showed up on time to catch the show only to stumble upon a one-in-one-out showcase wherein roughly 80 young fans stood outside filming the visible-from-the-street performance with phones.

    Sweatshirt was a hammer, mildly engaged and intentionally picking dense passages for call-and-response gimmicks. There’s a deadpan wit to his music: On “Inside,” Sweatshirt precedes a verse by ironically telling his producer (who, again, is Sweatshirt himself), “You crazy for this one.”

    Despite the reclusive stylings, nerdy treats, or thoughtful armchair tweets aimed at Taylor Swift, the album’s unplanned streaming arrival made it a mainstream Facebook trending topic Monday.

    Sweatshirt is one of the Internet’s truest rap icons. He’s of a generation that never lived offline, and his old-school frame of references are mid-aughts rap blogs like Nahright; Tumblr; and, as he admits during “Off Top,” the Motorola Razr. Beyond the circumstantial come up, Sweatshirt’s Web presence initially built his legend: He was discovered on Myspace toward the end of its dynasty. When early Odd Future rap videos went viral, his mom, UCLA law professor Cheryl Harris, sent him to a therapy center for at-risk boys in the Samoan capital of Apia. As Odd Future rose ranks, it’d perpetually rock winking “free Earl” gear. When rap fans finally heard Sweatshirt with his brethren on the 10-minute crew cut “Oldie” in early 2012, the kid was a man among boys on the mic.

    Yet Sweatshirt is textbook American teen burnout. Bored, isolated, and unwilling to cop to a searing need for human contact and validation. His dad split early and his mom is busy, making Sweatshirt an Internet-addicted rich kid who needs to pop Xanax before flights and smokes. “Find me some Indica, nuggets on my fingers and my shirt like they was chicken crumbs/Room spinnin’ finna yak if I don’t hit the blunt,” he raps on “AM // Radio.”

    I Don’t Go Outside is music for picturesque spring days—the kind you feel bad about spending in front of the laptop but do nonetheless. Sweatshirt realizes that even though he can’t go outside without “100 kids” flocking him, he might as well snap an Instagram with them because “they the reason that the traffic on the browser quick.”

    In 2013, I raved about Kanye West’s newfound knack for brevity: “A 10-song, 40-minute ride, Yeezus might be the best album of the on-demand Spotify age.” I Don’t Go Outside follows the same digestible formula but in practice the thing is velvet-cake rich. The aggressive minimalism leaves him nowhere to hide and Sweatshirt pours up one cutting throwaway line after another: “I’ve been trouble since I stumbled out that stroller,” his beats sound “like a gavel,” and he has “50s in my pocket falling out like fucking baby teeth.”

    What's centrally thrilling about Sweatshirt's success is the idea that an album phrased like a spiraling, fuming Facebook thread—that meditates on unpleasant human stillness for 30 minutes—can breakout in such resoundingly meritocratic fashion. The times call for a timesuck browser tab, but good luck getting any work done while I Don't Go Outside streams.

    Photo via Ell Watson/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

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    SeaWorld has had a tough time since the release of Blackfish, the documentary that exposed the theme park's mistreatment of captive killer whales.

    Taking pity on the ailing brand, kindhearted Conan O'Brien has put together an ad to help resuscitate SeaWorld's public image. It shows an orca whale roaming free and acting just like a wild orca whale should. Because that's what SeaWorld wants, right?

    Beautiful. Just beautiful.

    Photo via David R. Tribble/Wikimedia (CC BY 3.0)

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