Friday. 9/8/2019

The Monocle Minute

Opinion / Rob Bound

Viral attraction

This week we learnt that the charts still matter. Who knew? Well, a bedroom pop star from Atlanta, Georgia, stage-named Lil Nas X (although his real moniker, Montero Lamar Hill, would suit most aspiring artists) knew and made off with the silver. This week his “Old Town Road”’ marked its 18th week atop the Billboard Hot 100, a new all-time record beating Mariah Carey and Boz II Men’s “One Sweet Day” from 1995 to 1996 and Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee’s “Despacito” from 2017. Who cares? This week another 17.5 million listeners did, as do most of the international music industry.

“Old Town Road” has an intriguing history of small beginnings and promo wildfire, making it a test case for “the little song that could”, as well as pay dirt for record labels. Lil Nas X bought the song’s beat, itself a sample of a Nine Inch Nails riff, from YoungKio, a small-time Dutch producer, for $30, wrote the simple-but-deadly two-minute song around it and uploaded it to the “country” section of Soundcloud to avoid it getting lost in “hip-hop”. The country chart said it wasn’t country enough and so the artist appealed online to Billy Ray Cyrus to guest on the track. Country enough for ya? Well, sure thang. Cyrus, not so busy of late, donned a pink rhinestone suit, gamely strummed along and then it went bananas online, aided by remixes suited to specific markets – dance by Diplo, country-trap by Young Thug and Mason Ramsey, K-Pop courtesy of RM, lead singer of mega boyband BTS. All of which means that, in its various guises, it has scored nearly a billion listens. And Lil Nas X – a young, gay, black man dressed as a cowboy – means more than just money to his label and his 999 million fans. Power to his (for now) tasselled elbow.

Sport / China

Taking the leap

China is hoping to turn the page on its disastrous showing at the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang. Edging into sixteenth place in the rankings (just behind Belarus) won’t do when it hosts the games in Beijing in 2022. But with little in the way of homegrown winter-sports talent at home, the government is having to look further afield for instructors. This is why some 30 young athletes have been plucked from a martial-arts school in Yunnan province and sent to the Finnish town of Siilinjärvi to learn the art of ski jumping under the guidance of Mika Kojonkoski, a veteran of the sport. Will they learn to fly like the Finns before 2022? Find out by reading our report in The Summer Weekly, which is available here and on all good newsstands now.

Transport / Switzerland

Fast forward

Later this year Switzerland will take delivery of a high-speed train courtesy of Swiss manufacturer Stadler Rail. The Giruno – which means bird of prey in Switzerland’s fourth official language, Romansh – can travel at up to 250km/h and has been designed for comfort. It will initially ply the Basel-Milan line through the impressive new Gotthard Base Tunnel (the longest in the world) but could also soon connect with Frankfurt. Stadler Rail’s CEO Thomas Ahlburg, who took over from longtime former leader Peter Spuhler in January 2018, sat down with Monocle to talk about entering new markets, making trains better to work in and why his company is on a roll. Read more in The Monocle Summer Weekly – on newsstands now.

Security / Canada

Ears to the ground

Canada has been quietly deploying more spooks. According to a briefing from the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) to a parliamentary committee in 2018, additional spies have been dispatched to foreign countries in recent years. The briefing, obtained by the Toronto Star, doesn’t detail how many operatives are at large (that’s classified) but the move is part of the CSIS’s strategy to enhance its intelligence gathering. Unlike secret services in the US or UK, Canada’s spies have in the past focused mostly on threats to domestic security, with less attention paid to gathering foreign information, putting Ottawa at a disadvantage. With foreign meddling expected in October’s federal election, Canadians should be glad of a few extra operatives assigned to protect its interests.

Aviation / Tokyo

Making your ears pop?

Next year’s Tokyo Olympics appear on track to enable Japan to meet its target for tourists: the ambition is 40 million a year by 2020. To prepare for the games, Tokyo announced yesterday that new flight paths at Haneda Airport will open on 29 March, boosting the number of annual arrival and departure slots from 60,000 to 99,000. The routes will allow planes to climb and descend over the densely populated Tokyo wards of Shibuya, Shinjuku and Shinagawa for the first time. Though the transport ministry has drawn up measures to minimise noise – such as revising the angle of approach – municipalities want the state to do more to reduce disruption. Trials for the new routes will take place this month, giving Tokyo residents the chance to get used to the roar overhead.

M24 / Monocle on Design: Extra

Clear vision

A look at one of the design stories from The Monocle Summer Weekly newspaper as we trace the story of a French design icon found on table tops around the world – Duralex glassware.

Monocle Films / Venice

Venice Biennale: art of nationhood

In the second report from this year’s Venice Biennale, we head to the national pavilions to meet the artists and curators who are raising their countries’ profiles on the world stage.

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