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Welcome back to The Daily’s Sunday culture edition, in which one Atlantic writer reveals what’s keeping them entertained. Today’s special guest is Vann R. Newkirk II, a senior editor and the host of the podcasts Floodlines and Holy Week.
Vann is spending time with Sampha’s new album, about the starts and stops of healing; marveling at the storytelling in The Love Songs of W. E. B. Du Bois; and sneaking off to build his son’s Legos while he’s asleep.
First, here are three Sunday reads from The Atlantic:
The Culture Survey: Vann R. Newkirk II
A musical artist who means a lot to me: I have to give a shout-out to Sampha, whose new album, Lahai, has been playing nonstop around here. I’m a major Sampha fan, and his previous album, Process, was a meditation on grief, prompted by his mother’s death. That album was important to me in processing my own mother’s death, in 2020. His new joint is about the starts and stops of healing after that kind of rupture, and is tethered to the experience of becoming a father. Towing around a 6-year-old son and a 3-year-old daughter, I find this album just as affecting and personal.
An actor I would watch in anything: If Brian Tyree Henry is in it, I’m there. Also, Jesse Plemons.
Best novel I’ve recently read, and the best work of nonfiction: It’s been two years since I first read Honorée Fanonne Jeffers’s The Love Songs of W. E. B. Du Bois, and although I have piles and piles of unread books waiting for me, I decided to revisit the book this summer. I found it just as wonderful as the first time I read it. As a Black southerner myself, I don’t know if I’ve ever read a book that’s so true to my own family experiences and so full of intricately written characters. Jeffers’s depiction of the Black southern family experience would itself be worth the price of the book, but she also connects that story to the saga of Indigenous, Black, and white forebears and their own trials and dramas. I’ll probably reread the book again sometime soon.
On the nonfiction front, I just finished Chad L. Williams’s The Wounded World, which explores W. E. B. Du Bois’s ill-fated attempt to write a history of Black troops in World War I, and how that conflict radically changed him and his thinking. I enjoyed it purely on a prose level, but the meticulous historical work also helps the reader understand, through Du Bois, how the making of the modern world changed the global discourse around race and class in society. [Related: Writing in the ruins]
A quiet song that I love, and a loud song that I love: For a quiet song, I absolutely adore the version of “Stardust” on John Coltrane’s 1963 album of the same name. It’s a glass of cognac and fuzzy slippers. There’s texture in Coltrane’s sax. You just feel sophisticated listening to it.
The first song that comes to mind when I even think of “loud songs” is “Infinity Guitars,” by Sleigh Bells. Obviously, Sleigh Bells is a noise band, so this is kind of their thing, but “Infinity Guitars” is where it all comes together for me. The drums are infectious.
The last museum or gallery show that I loved: The ongoing Afrofuturism exhibit at the National Museum of African American History and Culture, in D.C., is amazing. It’s got such a wide lens on the makings of Afrofuturism, and it’s visually stunning.
A favorite story I’ve read in The Atlantic: If you are reading this and somehow haven’t read my colleague Jenisha Watts’s “Jenisha From Kentucky,” our October cover story, please do that immediately. I was privileged to be able to talk with Jenisha often as she decided to start writing her own story, and that experience has been one of the great honors of my life. Jenisha is a marvel of a writer and an editor and a colleague, and she marshaled everything into a masterpiece that I think every single person should read.
My favorite way of wasting time on my phone: Working.
Something delightful introduced to me by a kid in my life: I should say “reintroduced” here, but my 6-year-old son, Benjamin, is really into Legos, and he’s helped me rekindle my love for them. There’s nothing better than settling in and working on a set with him—or sneaking off when he’s asleep to work on it myself.
The Week Ahead
- The Vulnerables, Sigrid Nunez’s new novel, a zany lockdown tale about how the present affects the way we understand our past (on sale Tuesday)
- David Fincher’s The Killer, a darkly funny look at a cold-blooded murderer’s tedious daily routine (in theaters Friday)
- The fourth season of For All Mankind, which imagines an alternate history in which the space race never ended (premieres on Apple TV+ Friday)
Jungkook of BTS Is Chasing His Pop-Star Dream
By Lenika Cruz
When my video call with Jungkook begins, he has the look of someone roused too early from a good sleep. On camera, the youngest member of the South Korean pop group BTS is wearing a black zip-up, hood pulled over his head in a way that suggests he’d enjoy a nap—a little surprising, given his reputation among fans as an indefatigable “energizer bunny.” We’re less than two weeks away from the release of his first solo album, Golden, and his days are packed with dance practices, rehearsals, video shoots, interviews with overseas press. The exhausting demands of promotion aren’t new to him—he’s been with BTS for more than a decade, racking up best-selling albums, Billboard Hot 100 No. 1s, sold-out stadium concerts, and world records. But this is Jungkook’s first time releasing a full record on his own, and it happens to all be in English.
At first, Jungkook felt conflicted about this. “I was thinking, Is it okay for a Korean to not release Korean songs at all?” the 26-year-old singer told me through an interpreter, from his entertainment company’s office in Seoul. BTS achieved global popularity while making music almost entirely in their native language, with the exception of a few English-language hits such as “Dynamite” and “Butter.” At the same time, the whole point of his solo effort was to challenge himself—and exclusively singing in English seemed like one good way to do that.
Read the full article.
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Katherine Hu contributed to this newsletter.
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