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While You Were Out: Taylor Swift Takes the World By Storm, and More

11_7 WYWO

“While You Were Out” is a Friday feature of short notes and commentary from the week. Whether it’s something you’d discuss at the water cooler or at happy hour, you’ll find it on our grid, together with our opinion as to whether it’s praiseworthy or cringeworthy. We’re pleased to bring you the Verily editors’ quick takes on the happenings of this week!

Taylor Everywhere!

Taylor Swift's move from country darling to pop princess has won her an even greater prize: music industry savior. 1989 has officially become the only single-artist album of 2014 to hit platinum status, and the biggest selling album in its opening week since Eminem’s 2002 The Eminem Show. (If you want a reminder of just how long ago that was, check out Taylor’s amazing Instagram nod to where she was in 2002.) Taylor’s particular mix of carefully constructed public image and disarmingly charming and honest music has won over not only consumers but critics as well, with outlets ranging from TheNew York Times to Rolling Stone to NPR praising her latest sound. I’ve been a fan since her teen country days of “Tim McGraw” and “Our Song,” and while I was unsure how I would react to her ditching of country music (a move poked at during Wednesday’s CMA Awards), Taylor is still Taylor, whether singing along to a banjo and acoustic guitar or bopping around to synthesizers and drum kits. Her songs are still catchy and relatable, and they are still delivered in her signature chatty and emotionally transparent style. Thank goodness. Road trip belting and shower singing are safe!

Success on such a large scale will always invite ridicule and criticism, with the latest round focusing on Taylor’s move to New York and subsequent appointment as the first New York Global Welcome Ambassador. As a six-year resident (I acknowledge that I am not allowed to call myself a New Yorker until I’ve been here 10 years), I understand the silliness of having a newbie with a $20 million penthouse explain to me what a bodega is, but come on, people. She’s fun! She’s perky! She carries adorable cats around and emerges from the gym looking flawless! Get on board! Yes, the “haters gonna hate hate hate hate hate,” but at least acknowledge the good she is doing. “Welcome to New York” may be my least favorite song on 1989 (sorry Tay, sometimes the lights ARE too bright), but in my opinion, her announcement that all proceeds from the song will go to NYC public schools makes up for its obvious flaws.

—Monica Weigel

Benedict Cumberbatch Is Engaged

It's a bad year for imaginary relationships with dapper celebrities. Brad Pitt finally got his act together and married Angelina Jolie, George Clooney totally married up when he exchanged vows with barrister Amal Alamuddin, and then came perhaps the toughest blow of all—this week Benedict Cumberbatch, the oddly attractive Sherlock Holmes, Star Trek villian, adorably awkward dancer, and upcoming Richard III, announced his engagement to Sophie Hunter in a fittingly old-fashioned way. The Internet had a minor eruption when it was made clear that the private star (did anyone even know he was dating?) was the very same B. Cumberbatch that was featured in a marriage notice in the London Times. At least we can all take comfort that the lucky lady in question well deserves him, being a celebrated theater director. Congratulations, Benedict!

—Monica Weigel

Jessica Biel and Justin Timberlake Are Expecting!

Actress Jessica Biel and singer Justin Timberlake are expecting their first child! Biel, who has been married to Timberlake for two years, beautifully described married life to Ellen DeGeneres after her honeymoon in 2012: "It's weird because it feels like almost nothing has changed, yet something that you can't really describe, or something that isn't tangible, has changed…It just feels incredible.” Now, here come the tangible changes!

—Mary Rose Somarriba

More Christmas Musical Madness

If the 2012 movie version of Les Miserables taught the movie industry anything, it was that taking a gamble on producing a film adaptation of an obsessed-over musical (complete with A-list actors who nobody knew could sing, beautiful cinematography, and a Christmas Day release date) is completely worth it. Disney's movie version of Into the Woods, a cult favorite among Stephen Sondheim musical fans, has been creating waves since it was announced, and the latest trailer release only amped up the excitement. Meryl Streep gets a second chance at musical fame (being the only worthwhile part of the movie version of Mamma Mia), Chris Pine gets to prove he's not just a pretty face (ironic considering he's cast as Prince Charming), Johnny Depp gets another excuse to wear strange makeup, and we all get a chance to sing along to amazing music and enjoy a wonderful take on our favorite fairy tales. Just don't sing along in the theater, OK? Nobody likes that person.

—Monica Weigel

Orson Welles Returns?

Is an Orson Welles film not completely edited by Orson Welles really an Orson Welles film? The celebrated actor, director, and writer is perhaps best known for The War of the Worlds radio drama and the film Citizen Kane but was equally notorious for fighting for sole creative vision on his projects, resulting in relatively few full-length features for an artist so highly celebrated. Nevertheless, classic film buffs took notice when TheNew York Times recently reported that a Los Angeles production company has purchased the rights to The Other Side of the Wind, which Welles shot in 1971 and continued editing until his death in 1985. According to reports, director Peter Bogdanovich, who acted in the film, will help edit the existing footage before its release on the centennial of Welle's birth next year. Exciting news for sure, but if Welles is paying attention in the afterlife, I can only imagine his signature intense glare forming in reaction to someone else having final say on his work.

—Monica Weigel

Unfolding a Real-life Mystery

If you haven't been following the new podcast "Serial" from the creators of This American Life, I'm a little jealous. Because that means you can binge-listen to the first seven episodes. Each week the podcast’s host and executive producer Sarah Koenig investigates a single element of the murder of a Baltimore high school student Hae Min Lee on January 13, 1999. Lee’s ex-boyfriend Adnan Sayed was convicted of the murder and has been in prison for nearly 15 years. But he steadfastly maintains his innocence. It’s not that Koenig is sure that Sayed is innocent. She dedicates an entire episode to building a case against him that had me pretty nearly convinced. But she's also not sure the case is as clear cut as prosecutors made it out to be 15 years ago—and she infects listeners with her doubt. Sure, the podcast makes us ask questions about how we draw conclusions about historical events and judgments of people—that’s all well and good—but, please, Sarah Koenig, just tell me who killed Hae Min Lee.

—Meghan Duke

Lupita Nyong'o Keeps it Real

In Glamours cover story this month, we learn Twelve Years a Slave Oscar-winning actress Lupita Nyong’o likes to initiate spontaneous silly walks, Monty Python-style, and keep close with pre-fame family and friends to maintain her “sense of self.” She also offers a strong critique of media standards of beauty ("the voices from the television are usually much louder than the voices of your parents”), but not without suggesting a new definition: “My mother taught me that there are more valuable ways to achieve beauty than just through your external features. She was focused on compassion and respect, and those are the things that ended up translating to me as beauty….To rely on the way you look is empty. You're a pretty face—and then what? Your value is in yourself; the other stuff will come and go. We don't get to pick the genes we want. There's room in this world for beauty to be diverse.” Too true.

—Mary Rose Somarriba

Kerry Washington Didn't Exactly Wake Up Like That

Kerry Washington admits what most of us knew all along: Those “makeup-free” magazine covers aren’t exactly makeup-free after all. She clarifies that her recent Allure cover is a no-makeup look, but she is in fact wearing some makeup to help her look so flawless. “I'm going to be honest because I think it's unfair when we tell women they should look like something that's not real,” she tells The View. Kudos to Kerry for her honesty. Now if only magazines would say that upfront.

—Maggie Niemiec

Victoria’s Secret Correction

After Victoria's Secret’s damaging “Perfect Body” campaign, the lingerie store silently corrected the wording on their website ad to read “A Body for Everybody.” Same picture; opposite messaging. While it’s good to see the backlash was heard by the VS execs, the “Perfect Body” message is still what’s on display in store displays and print ads—and still what reads most loudly since the company hasn’t explicitly acknowledged the error of their ways.

—Mary Rose Somarriba

The Secret History of Wonder Woman

A recent book purports to tell the secret history of Wonder Woman. Author Jill Lepore tells how Moulton Marston, the male creator of the most famous female action figure, has a little-known feminist past. A professor at Harvard, Marston married his college sweetheart before later starting a relationship with one of his students, who happened to be niece of famed birth control advocate Margaret Sanger. They all ended up living together and each woman bore him two children. Maybe it’s just me, but I don’t see how this has anything to do with women’s empowerment. Unconventional, sure. Feminist? Ask Stephen Colbert.

—Mary Rose Somarriba

Really, Dr. Phil?

In other cringeworthy TV interviews, Dr. Phil bombed a question on the Conan O’Brien Show about the recent celebrity photo-hacking scandal. “Why do they post them?” he said, suggesting the stars intentionally upload their most attractive images to “the cloud” hoping for public attention. Was it just filler commentary to set up Conan’s subsequent “leaked” fake nude photo of Dr. Phil on screen? It doesn’t matter. By suggesting the violations against Jennifer Lawrence and other female celebs were not only their fault but intentional on their part, Dr. Phil reveals not only insensitivity but ignorance. Maybe he should have read Verily’s coverage on the subject (here and here) before opening his mouth.

—Mary Rose Somarriba

Tinder Founder is a Sexual Harasser. Why Am I Not Surprised?

In the wake of a recent sexual harassment suit, Tinder CEO and co-founder, 27-year-old Sean Rad, has been demoted. This comes after former executive and co-founder Whitney Wolfe sued Tinder in July. She alleged that both Rad and Chief Marketing Officer (and ex-boyfriend) Justin Mateen verbally abused and harassed her. According to Forbes, Tinder’s parent company “was not about to watch its potential new cash machine get derailed by more amateur mistakes.” Amateur mistakes is an understatement. If Tinder expects females to continue using the app, they better make some changes to their frat boy company culture.

—Maggie Niemiec

How To Be Sexy, If You Have a PhD

Thank you, Delicious Sexywear, for considering a female PhD recipient among your Halloween costume material this year. The sexified outfit sold at Amazon, complete with cap and diploma, failed to impress real women with PhDs, however. “When I left my nursing job for graduate school, I was so distressed,” one writes. “I mean what was I going to wear? There were plenty of sexy nurse costumes that I could wear to honor my accomplishments in that profession, but after I attained my PhD there was something missing. I was better educated, but not sexy. Until now. Thank you, Delicious Costumes, for filling the void. You've given women like me who have worked our asses off earning our degrees a way to show our asses off, too.” Another adds, “Thank you for confirming that my training and education will help me to be appreciated for what I can really give back to society—great legs and tight buns!”

—Mary Rose Somarriba

Lena Dunham’s Strange Passages

Lena Dunham has cancelled part of her European book tour after some news outlets highlighted passages in Not That Kind of Girl where she describes childhood activities that include touching her sister’s vagina and bribing her for cuddle time. She has since apologized for publishing what could have been triggers for readers and for jokingly calling her actions like those of a “sexual predator.”

So was it sexual abuse or childish exploration? Why did Dunham share these bizarre stories in her book? Was it quoted out of context? Dunham’s words might be red flags if described in a therapy session, but then again so would much of what’s in her book, so it’s hard to say. Elsewhere in the book she describes growing up watching her mother frequently pose naked in the mirror for a tripod camera. “It’s the images of my mother that fascinate me,” she writes. “The flash of fear in her eye—or is it longing? The feverish need to reveal who she really is, as much to herself as anybody.” Dunham’s artist father Carroll Dunham—famous for artwork featuring spread-legged nudes that have been called "vulgar beyond belief”—sometimes joined her mom’s photo shoots.

When reading Dunham’s book, you get the idea that sex is both huge (and worthy of several pages) and meaningless. It’s almost an overdose of blasé sexual discussion, much like her TV show Girls. In such a world, it is hard to know where to draw a line.

Brittany Maynard Ends Her Life

Cancer patient Brittany Maynard, who received headlines for becoming a public advocate of assisted suicide, chose to end her life this week. If you haven’t yet, be sure to read “Death with Dignity?” by Verily’s own Sophie Caldecott.