Investing in Employees Adds No Value to Your Company–Technically. 7 Strategies to Make Sure it Pays Off

It’s never been more apparent that dollars invested in the development of employees and a positive company culture pay off big for companies, large and small. Indeed, smart entrepreneurs know that engaged employees are their company’s most important asset. Yet, human capital is not represented on the balance sheet. In fact, employees aren’t technically assets at all. Rather, dollars expended for salaries, benefits, employee development, etc. are simply considered a necessary expense.

“Traditional methods of accounting don’t appreciate (pun intended) expenditures on our workforce as necessary contributions to creating and sustaining value in our businesses,” says Laura Queen, Founder and CEO of the human capital advisory firm, 29Bison. A ridiculous reality, given today’s evidence of the impact of an ongoing investment in a company’s workforce. Actions such as professional and personal development, retaining and promoting talent, improving the employees’ work experience, and fostering greater levels of trust and transparency can all be linked to tangible economic impacts.

Leaders are calling for a change to recognize the return on investment in human capital.  Blackrock CEO, Larry Fink, took a strong position in his 2018 Letter to CEO’sto champion the idea that people and profits go hand-in-hand. No doubt, a growing number of today’s leaders agree with Fink’s stance.

“Our financial reporting and traditional economic calculus need to catch up to this mindset,” says Queen. As such, she is taking a rather creative step to generate more awareness around the topic. Leading a collaborative effort beginning in the Philadelphia area, Queen has brought together a diverse group of professionals to bring these ideas and financial formulas to life. Experts in the areas of human capital, finance, and valuation, have partnered with business-minded artists to produce a unique event in form of a live play. The play, inspired by author Dave Bookbinder’s The New ROI: Return on Individuals, demonstrates that the key to generating substantial and sustainable increases in the value of your business lies in the intangible assets. In other words, the human capital that is not even reflected on your balance sheet. 

Even if you can’t attend the play, you can benefit from a well-plotted plan. “Investment in your people pays off for your bottom-line,” says Queen. “In an economy where finding talent is becoming more difficult by the day, paying attention to increasing organizational value through your employees is imperative.”

Whether or not your accountant struggles with where to put this asset on your financial reporting, Queen offers these suggestions to begin this shift in your company. It’s certain to be reflected on the bottom-line.

1. Create metrics.

Establish, measure, and manage a set of human capital metrics that align with your organization’s unique objectives. Partner with accountants and advisors to build a comprehensive framework for metrics reporting.

2. Be intentional about the culture you’d like to create.

Can you answer the questions, “Why does my organization exist? Why do we get up every morning?  What do I want our work environment to feel like?”

3. Be clear and communicate.

Set clear expectations and measures of success and tie them to each employee’s performance objectives.  Frequently remind everyone of what you expect of them.

4. Foster employee/employer relationships.

Develop strong relationships with your employees. Ask about what interests and inspires them. Know when they do their best work, and where they are interested in taking their careers.

5. Build trust and be transparent.

Step into difficult conversations, be honest and forthright with each other, hold each other accountable, and invite feedback so you can both grow.

6. Invest in your people.

Find ways to build their confidence and give them the tools to learn skills for the next evolution of your business and their careers.

7. Create a Succession Plan.

A succession plan helps with a smoother transition when employees at all levels resign or leave the company for any reason. Identify and develop future leaders at your company to prepare for all contingencies. A succession planning process can also help you to identify gaps and weaknesses within the company, so you know where to focus your future recruitment efforts.

No matter what your balance sheet says, continued investment in your employees will always pay off. Engaged, happy, loyal employees do better work. It’s as simple as that.

The 10 Most Googled People of 2018 (Who'd You Look Up?)

There’s perhaps no better log of what’s on your mind than your browser search history. (Who hasn’t deleted their search history on a shared computer?)

It stands to reason, then, that getting a window into our collective psyche is as simple as perusing Google’s list of most-searched terms of the year. Google recently released The Year In Search–a comprehensive breakdown of everything we searched for this year, organized by category.

So what was on our minds in 2018? When it comes to people, these individuals were. Don’t worry–if you don’t know one … I Googled it for you:

10. Cardi B

American rapper whose standout hits include Bodak Yellow and this year’s breakout, I Like It, which currently has 674M streams on Spotify and counting. 

9. Stormy Daniels

Her legal name is Stephanie Clifford, and she is an American stripper, porn star, and director who got into a legal battle with Trump and his lawyer Michael Cohen this year. Trump and company paid Daniels $130,000 to stay quiet about an affair she says had with Trump in 2006.

8. Hailey Baldwin

Daughter of Stephen Baldwin, she’s a model and TV personality who married Justin Bieber this year. While legally married, the couple has yet to stage a large-scale wedding with family and friends.

7. Brett Kavanaugh

A polarizing figure, Kavanaugh was appointed to the Supreme Court this year following what some described as an excruciating and exhausting battle for confirmation. Multiple allegations of sexual misconduct were levied against him. 

6. Jair Bolsonaro

Bolsonaro was elected president of Brazil in October, 2018. A very right-wing figure, many have compared him to Trump.

5. Khloé Kardashian

Younger sister of Kim Kardashian, Khloe nearly broke the internet this year when she had her baby girl, True Thompson, in April 2018.

4. Logan Paul

On December 31, 2017, controversial vlogger Paul uploaded a YouTube video showing the corpse of a suicide victim. The video gained 6.3M views within 24 hours, sparked outrage on many fronts, and almost cost Paul his YouTube channel. Paul has since been reinstated on the platform and contributed $1M to suicide prevention agencies.

3. Sylvester Stallone

Stallone did not die this past year, but a lot of people feared otherwise. In February, popular searches included “Sylvester Stallone dead 2018” and “Did sylvester stallone die.” The countries where the hoax was passed around the most? South Africa, Ghana, and Bolivia (the U.S. came in 22nd on the list of Stallone searches).

2. Demi Lovato

A Grammy-nominated musical artist, Lovato was hospitalized this year for a suspected overdose. “I have always been transparent about my journey with addiction,” Lovato said on social media. “What I’ve learned is that this illness is not something that disappears or fades with time. It is something I must continue to overcome and have not done yet. I will keep fighting.”

1. Meghan Markle

Markle married Prince Harry in a royal wedding this year, the guest list of which included Serena Williams, George Clooney, Oprah, Elton John, and the Spice Girls.

This Evening of Food Theater Goes Beyond Inspiring Innovation. It's a Master Class in the Art of Possibility

Entrepreneurs and other creators want to innovate, to create meaningful new things that people love. Once in a while someone delivers at an extraordinary level, devoting themselves to expressing themselves so personally and authentically that they inspire us to seek greatness in ourselves to share.

I was fortunate enough to experience such a leap forward–unexpectedly and contrary to my expectations, as I’ll explain. I’m not a restaurant critic, nor a musician, but an evening at an innovative dining establishment in Culver City, California, has me convinced that its proprietor, Jordan Kahn, may be a Mozart of food. Stay with me. 

My goal is not to praise Kahn or his establishment, Vespertine, whose name is derived from the Latin vesper, “of the evening” or “evening star.” Few readers will be able to experience Vespertine in person. As a teacher and writer on leadership and initiative, I’m compelled by my experience to share how, even in a field such as fine dining, combed over for novelty for generations, even centuries, dimensions of new possibility are available.

Envisioning the Scope

If you lived in the time of Bach, could you have imagined a Mozart opera or Beethoven symphony? Very few could. It took Mozart and Beethoven to create them. 

To say that the later musicians added new dimensions to music takes nothing from Bach as an artist. I love the Brandenburg Concertos and always will, but Mozart’s operas involve many more instruments, many more performers of different types (singers, players of instruments, a conductor), architectural design, ornate sets, wardrobes of clothing, and the contributions of teams of people, many geniuses themselves, who devote careers to deliver a complete, comprehensive work–performers, architects, financiers, carpenters, and others.

Every great artist cares about every detail, but Mozart added dimension and scope of type of details to care for. Earlier generations could not likely have envisioned the scope.

The Paris Opera House and New York’s Lincoln Center are not just other buildings to play music in and seeing an opera in a great opera house is not just hearing some music. It’s an event. An evening at a world-class opera or symphony will affect you for years, maybe the rest of your life. I remember operas I saw in decades ago. The experience begins months before an evening’s performance, before buying the ticket. You learn about the event, its history, the artists. You see how it fits into your life. You accommodate it.

It unfolds in countless ways beyond “just” the music: How you arrive at the venue, walk up the entry stairs, interact with other patrons, are greeted and directed by staff, applaud, and so on.

Mozart’s operas required vision and execution beyond Bach’s and his contemporaries’. We can’t compare Bach to Mozart as artists–each is unique–but we’re glad Mozart did what he did. No one wants music to stagnate with later composers fiddling around the edges of what Bach nearly perfected.

Experiencing Added Dimensions

Kahn’s Vespertine is a Mozart opera amid Bachs in the culinary arts.

To say you ate dinner at Vespertine implies a regular restaurant experience, which it isn’t. An evening at Verpertine involves more dimensions, evolving in space, time, color, sound, and more. It involves the whole building. You actively move from room to room and floor to floor, unpuzzling food you remember seeing prepared as you passed the kitchen an hour or two before. The architect’s voice matters. The manufacturer of the bowls and the land from which its materials were mined matters.

Every great chef pays attention to every detail. Kahn added dimensions and scope of type of detail. The experience begins months before, with research and figuring out how to fit it into your life, figuring out what to expect from articles like this one. It unfolds in countless ways beyond “just” the food, and stays with you for a lifetime.

Composition in the Culinary Arts

I’ve long marveled how the same elements–color, shape, line, form, rhythm, melody, and composition, for example–apply in different arts with parallel meanings. A novel or poem contains rhythm as a song does. Composition involves space in painting, time in music, and multiple dimensions in sculpture, yet we recognize the same underlying meaning of composition.

Before Vespertine, I hadn’t noticed culinary artists using all those elements. Composition might mean how the chef arranged food on a plate or designed a room and matching menu. At Vespertine, it involves more. It uses elements I’m not aware of chefs using, as Mozart expanded beyond the limits of his time.

One early hint in my evening: When making reservations, I mentioned that I was staying within walking distance and could meet my companion at Vespertine. They suggested we arrive by car together–the valet and greeter receiving us would be part of the experience. They were, as was the space where we waited outside, the temperature of the furniture we sat on that chilly evening, the sight lines to Vespertine the building (the restaurant uses the entire several-story building, which reveals itself throughout the evening), the scents, the garden, the first tastes of the evening, how we entered the building, and how we came to expect the evening to unfold.

The night unfolded in distinct scenes and acts, using elements in time and space, with rhythm and melody, of color, form, shape, and composition. Kahn told a story beyond what I thought a restaurant could.

The Evening Begins

I’m risking florid language because of how my evening began, when I was predisposed to dislike the experience. As a New Yorker, I learned of Kahn and Vespertine while researching food and sustainability panelists at an industry event in Greenwich Village a few months before.

Online, I read Kahn’s interviews in which he said he transformed food so you couldn’t tell where it came from. I prefer my food minimally processed, to show off the vegetables, fruits, grains, legumes, and all the ingredients for their innate beauty and taste. I’ve been known to describe processing or covering food with salt, sugar, and fat with such as “assaulting” or “molesting” it.

I found the videos on the site over the top. I didn’t see the point of talking about the building in interviews so much. I could go on, but I wasn’t that interested in seeing more.

Things changed at the food and sustainability event. Each panelist talked about revenue models, funding sources, and other business first, taste second. Kahn wasn’t a panelist. He came on after and prepared food, interactively, describing each ingredient’s origin, its place in nature, its role in sustainability, his experiments to learn it, how and why he processed each as he did, the point of his combining them, and other parts of his craft. His presentation struck me as more honest than rehearsed, from the heart as much as from the hands and head.

Experiencing the ingredients transformed–yes, processed, but the opposite of assaulted–after knowing why, then tasting the results revealed a different purpose to the processing, based in caring and personal expression. The result told a story in flavors and textures over time of tart, sour, sweet, crunch, chewy, oil, crisp, and so on. He didn’t process to cover, hide, or assault, but, in my view, to express his appreciation for the plants, fungi, and microorganisms that went into a simple dish.

I felt I experienced art amid businesspeople. Since I knew I would visit L.A. a few months later, I began looking into an evening there. The place seats only 22 people per evening.

The Evening

The actual experience began with a lunch at Kahn’s casual restaurant across the street, Destroyer, whose layout is more mainstream, though its open kitchen allowed me to see Kahn and his team at work and to speak briefly. Vespertine, the building, was visible, but mysterious. What was the relationship between its style and the food that Kahn’s videos and interviews described?

About 24 hours later, my companion picked me up from around the corner, and we arrived. After the aforementioned welcome, the staff walked us in, told us to take the elevator up, to where Kahn greeted us, standing before another open kitchen, or area of food preparation, because it didn’t look like a kitchen. What his team was preparing, I couldn’t guess from looking. He walked us up more stairs, giving more view of the floor.

A staff member sat us at a bench. The staff alternated between bringing us food, giving us space, serving neighbors, explaining what was in the food, and answering questions. The descriptions created as much mystery as they answered. The dishes, utensils, and napkins were various shades of black, their textures various shades of earth. There was rhythm between the architectural design and clothing, between seeing the food prepared an hour before its presentation, and between the periods of sitting and walking to new rooms.

There was line, shape, color, and form also in time and space, not merely physical lines of the tables or walls, but of the experience. Every restaurant composes the food on the plate. Vespertine’s composed our countless and various interactions–walking, talking, eating, listening, overhearing, climbing, descending, entering, exiting, and so on–into a composed, curated, orchestrated evening.

Each dish was a character in its scene, with a back story giving it depth, development to carry me forward, relationships with every other character, and plot twists to keep me interested. How the giant kelp was served related to the spruce about 10 courses later. The split cone from which emerged a hidden garden (I can’t explain it better) resonated with the open sphere I spelunked to find submerged treats beneath subterranean pools of frankly I don’t know what.

Every dish was presented simply, yet became complex as you broke it open, cracked the surface, sought the ingredients the server mentioned, and otherwise solved what Kahn and his team riddled for you. Initial discoveries yielded new mysteries, which yielded delights, wonderment, and fun. Each scene stood on its own while arising from the scene before and propelling to the next. That is, each dish, absent the rest of the Vespertine experience, was delicious, harmonious, and the equal of any dish I’ve had at any ordinary restaurant, as each Mozart song would stand on its own.

It would be a mistake to think the food, wine, and service dominated the evening. On the contrary, despite the artistry, it prompted and supported meaningful reflections and conversation. Great art adds to, not distracts from life and relationships. For all its artistry, Vespertine didn’t overpower but nourished.

Over a dozen courses later–a story with many plot twists–we left, amid curtain calls of tastes, scents, and staff members as we traversed and explored the outdoor garden nearby which we entered.

I received an email reminding me of some of the evening’s players: giant kelp, sea lettuce, burnt onion, black currant, salsify, abalone mushrooms, concord grape, tradescantia (a wildflower), rose apple, almond, radish, yam, smoked soy, salted plum, leek, rose, begonia, pumpkin, guava, sunchoke, lovage, parsnip, juniper…that’s about half the list.

I’m writing these words six weeks after the event. The writer in me felt challenged to communicate the experience authentically and accurately, and it took this long to digest.

General Electric: My Best Stock Pick For 2019

General Electric (GE) has been the worst performer in my portfolio this year, by far. Nonetheless, I am optimistic that 2019 will be a much better year for the industrial company, and I believe investor pessimism with respect to GE has seen its low in 2018. General Electric is my top rebound bet for 2019 that could produce high risk-adjusted returns for investors. Though GE could test its most recent lows, the risk/reward remains very attractive as long as General Electric is out-of-favor.

A Year In Review

It was a devastating year for General Electric: The company continuously disappointed investors throughout 2018 with poor earnings, the announcement of an SEC investigation with respect to the company’s insurance reserves, a scrapped dividend, and the appointment of yet another Chief Executive Officer. To top things off, General Electric has so far failed to restructure its ailing power business which is in a prolonged slump. Adding insult to injury, General Electric’s stock got booted from the Dow Jones Industrial Average earlier this year, too.

On the back of such developments, General Electric’s share price slumped 58.3 percent this year, making it the worst performing investment for a lot of investors.

Testing New Lows?

Market volatility roared back in the fourth quarter with a vengeance. On the back of deteriorating investor appetite and decreasing investor confidence in the U.S. economy, stocks have corrected sharply to the downside since October. General Electric’s shares, for instance, dropped to a devastating 52-week and multi-year low @$6.66. Two years ago, GE traded at ~$30.

Though GE is now longer oversold, and managed to bounce back up to $8 in December, shares could very well test this year’s lows in case investor sentiment takes another hit. Should GE fall through its latest lows, this would point to more downside for GE’s stock over the short haul.

Source: StockCharts

GE In 2019

General Electric will focus on three major businesses going forward: Aviation, Power and Renewables, which will make up GE’s new core business.

The power business, which brought in ~$35 billion in revenues in 2017, will be the center of investors’ attention in 2019. GE took a $22 billion impairment charge in its power division in the third quarter of 2018, and investors will closely monitor management’s progress with respect to the restructuring. Should GE’s new management be able to turn things around in light of a weak gas turbine market (and in the absence of a U.S. recession), investor sentiment could gradually recover and improve prospects for share price appreciation.

In any case, General Electric will not be the same company in the future that it is now. General Electric will execute on its strategic actions plan in 2019 that calls for a healthcare spinoff and the divestiture of its stake in Baker Hughes, an oil field services company General Electric bought in 2016.

Here’s GE strategic action plan:

Source: General Electric

There are also more asset sales in the cards for 2019. General Electric has loosely guided for $20 billion in asset sales, and the company could step its divestiture game up next year in order to shed underperforming businesses and raise cash. Together with the dividend, General Electric could potentially invest billions of dollars in new growth initiatives in sectors such as aviation, digital and renewable technologies. In 2018, for instance, General Electric sold its rail business to Wabtec in a $11.1 billion deal and agreed to sell its Distributed Power Business to private equity company Advent International for $3.25 billion.

Valuation

General Electric is dirt cheap, and has a very attractive risk/reward, in my opinion. Though downside risks exist with respect to both the U.S. economy and General Electric’s ability to restructure its power business, GE’s shares are priced for disaster, selling for less than nine times next year’s estimated earnings.

Chart

GE PE Ratio (Forward 1y) data by YCharts

General Electric has widely underperformed its peers in the sector, Honeywell International (HON) and 3M Company (MMM), especially since October.

Here’s how GE compares against its industrial peers in the sector in terms of forward P/E-ratio. GE’s earnings multiple today is about half the earnings multiple of its closest peers.

Chart

GE PE Ratio (Forward 1y) data by YCharts

Risk Factors Investors Need To Consider

There are three major risk factors that could affect the investment thesis negatively:

1. General Electric fails to turn around its power division, and, as a result, cash flow and margin problems continue to weigh on GE’s financial performance and investor sentiment in 2019;

2. A U.S. recession (should it manifest itself) could hit GE’s cyclical industrial businesses, such as aviation and oil & gas, hard;

3. Should GE’s stock price fall below the most recent low at $6.66, more downside looms over the short haul.

Your Takeaway

General Electric is taking massive action right now, and there are reasons to be optimistic and give management time to execute on its turnaround plan. Management is super focused on driving this restructuring home, and will leave no stone unturned to show improved capital efficiency going forward.

Honestly, I can’t see how things could get much worse from here, and GE’s shares are already priced for disaster. So much bad news is already baked into General Electric’s valuation that the industrial company can almost only surprise to the upside in 2019.

GE remains widely out-of-favor, which points to huge recovery potential next year as investor sentiment could gradually shift if GE’s financial performance improves. I am prepared to add to my long position if GE drops below the latest low at $6.66. GE is my top stock pick for 2019.

Disclosure: I am/we are long GE. I wrote this article myself, and it expresses my own opinions. I am not receiving compensation for it (other than from Seeking Alpha). I have no business relationship with any company whose stock is mentioned in this article.

From Meghan Markle to Mega Millions, These Were 2018’s Top Google Searches

Google Trends “Year in Search 2018” is out. And if this year’s version of the annual list proves anything, it’s that people are really obsessed with their eyelashes. Arranged by topics, the list’s “beauty questions” top five list gets straight to it: three of the top five searches were lash-focused, including “How to apply magnetic lashes,” “What is a lash lift,” and “How to remove individual eyelashes.”

But blink that thought away and there’s lots more to see. There was one really big winner on the search front: World Cup. It took the top spot in both overall searches and “news” searches. Whether you call it football (correct) or soccer (oh, fellow Americans!), the game behind World Cup is a frequent top search on Google Trends.

When it came to hope for a better financial future, searches got a bit more old school (and desperate) with “Mega Millions” claiming the third spot in the “News” category, “How to play Mega Millions” grabbing third place in the “How to” category, and “Mega Millions Results” taking seventeenths in overall searches. New money (or, really, new new money) played a role too—though it seems searchers were more confused by it than in search of it. First place in the “What is…?” category was claimed by “What is Bitcoin.” In 2017, the currency showed up in fifth place on the “How to” list, as in “How to buy Bitcoin.”

Unfortunately, death by suicide or drug overdose played a major role on this year’s list. Places three to five on overall searches were, in order, Mac Miller, a musician who died from a drug overdose, designer Kate Spade, who died by suicide, and chef/author/TV personality Anthony Bourdain, who also died by suicide.

On the entertainment front, the year’s big winner in movie search was Black Panther. The top musician slot went to Demi Lovato. And, phew, on the most-searched songs front, “Bohemian Rhapsody” beat “Baby Shark,” which came in third. With wedding watching its own form of entertainment for the search masses, “Royal Wedding” was the top weddings search while “Kat Von D Wedding” came in fourth. Fortnite was, not shockingly, the top search in the “Video Games” category.

Food is, as always, a much-searched category but 2018’s top five veered wildly between excess and food poisoning and restraint (and a serious need for comfort). “Unicorn cake” won the year followed by “romaine lettuce,” “CBD gummies,” “Keto pancakes,” and “Keto cheesecake.” Things were a little tastier on the Spanish-language recipes list where “receta de chocoflan” and “Chimichurri receta” came in numbers two and three.

Politics showed up in rather interesting ways on the list. Newly-appointed but much disputed Supreme Court justice Brett Kavanaugh took the third spot on the “People” list, beat out by singer Demi Lovato and the new royal, Meghan Markle. And the searches for “How to” included “How to vote” and “How to register to vote” in the top two spots. Top searches for politicians? Stacey Abrams in first, followed by Beto O’Rourke, Ted Cruz, Andrew Gillum, and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. (And if social media companies would think of searches as votes, they would want to take notice of the number five “How to”: “How to turn off automatic updates.”)

Of course, sending the year on its way can be a melancholy time for some people. So, as always, Google queued up some tear-inducing hope in its annual Year in Search video.

General Electric: Expect A Big 2019

To call 2018 a bad year for shareholders of General Electric (GE) would be a grave understatement. Throughout the year, the company has undergone expanded investigations by the government, shuffled top management, sold off various assets, and, on multiple occasions, revise down performance expectations before ultimately eliminating them for the foreseeable future. By practically all accounts, the industrial conglomerate has been hit harder, and in almost every way possible, more than it has ever been hit before in its more than 100-year history. Now, as 2019 approaches, the big question facing shareholders is “what’s next?” While it’s possible 2019 will bring with it even more pain than 2018 has, the more likely scenario is that the firm will use the New Year to restructure its operations (out of bankruptcy) and will, if all appropriate steps are taken, prepare for a turnaround that could bring to shareholders significant value.

Expect the breakup to occur

One thing that very few people will disagree with, I think, is that a breakup of General Electric must occur. The business has become so large that it is, from a management and capital allocation perspective, inefficient. When you have so many divisions, figuring out where and how to deploy limited capital can be hard, while as separate entities, the fact of the matter is that individual management teams can focus on their core operations. By breaking up, the firm will also, for the most part, rid itself of GE Capital, which is likely where any currently undisclosed problems probably reside.

As management indicated while John Flannery was still General Electric’s top dog, I fully expect the company to divest of itself its GE Healthcare segment in some way, shape, or form. Management has indicated that this will take place through an IPO, but it’s expected that shareholders might still retain some of the business, though all of this could change over time. We already know thanks to an announcement earlier this year that the firm is likely to continue winding down its ownership in Baker Hughes, a GE Company (BHGE), by selling off its stake in the firm, but a big question here might relate to timing. Since the end of September, shares of the oilfield services firm have plummeted 34.6%, so while the company has struck a deal for a sale of some of its stock, I suspect that additional sales will only happen following a recovery in unit price.

Following the spinoff of its Transportation segment into a commanding interest in Westinghouse Air Brake Technologies Corporation (WAB), also known as Wabtec, next year, I believe management will likely begin monetizing its interests there as well. Personally, I see monetizing both Wabtec and Baker Hughes further as a sizable mistake given the future outlook I have for both energy and transportation in the US, but the cash generated from these deals will allow management to reduce debt and/or to invest further into what operations are left.

One thing I would love to see transpire is the sale or spinning off of General Electric’s Power segment. At this time, the firm intends to separate that into two different sets of operations, which may be setting the stage to sell or spin off at least one of them. I see this new decision under CEO Culp as a sign that he understands Power is General Electric’s most significant problem at the moment, and since plans to retain power occurred while Flannery was still in charge, I have modest hope that management will divest of the segment or at least part of it.

Don’t expect a distribution hike

During its third quarter earnings release earlier this year, management made a significant change to General Electric’s dividend policy. They said that, effective this month, the company would only pay out $0.01 per share each quarter as a distribution, down from $0.12 per quarter previously. This decision, though controversial, will result in the firm’s annual distribution falling from $4.175 billion per year to just $347.925 million per year. While I would have loved to see it cut all the way to zero so that management would have even more cash to put toward debt reduction and investing in core assets, the savings seen are material regardless.

Investors hoping for the distribution to recover in the near future are, I think, engaging in wishful thinking. As of the end of its latest quarter, General Electric had cash, cash equivalents, restricted cash, and marketable securities worth $61.69 billion, which is a lot to work with, but it also had $114.97 billion worth of debt (inclusive of $2.70 billion of non-recourse debt). Admittedly, debt was down from the $134.59 billion the firm had at the end of its 2016 fiscal year, but as assets come off the books, debt also must be reduced. Some of this could be taken off by spinning off various assets (for instance, the firm could probably spin in the low tens of billions of dollars off with its Healthcare segment if it so decided), but it’s likely that a lot of the work toward reducing debt will be tied to asset sales and the cash that otherwise would have been allocated toward its quarterly dividends. Until management can reduce debt, it’s unlikely we’ll see a hike, and that probably won’t occur until, at the very best, late next year.

*Taken from Moody’s

Where does debt need to be in order for management to consider raising its distribution again? The short answer is that it’s anybody’s guess, but more likely than not, it’s by whatever amount would allow the firm’s credit rating to rise back into the As. As you can see in the image above, the firm’s credit rating, as calculated by Moody’s (MCO), used to be Aaa until it fell in 2009. Since then, the rating has fallen further and, today, the firm’s long-term debt rating is Baa1. This still places it in a category known as “investment grade,” as the image below illustrates, but the drop, even though it’s not on watch for a further downgrade at this time, will weigh on financing options until the situation can be improved.

*Taken from Moody’s

A lot of cost-cutting and wheeling-and-dealing

If General Electric is going to not only survive but thrive for the long haul, there’s no doubt the firm will need to cut costs. This is especially true if the company elects to keep its Power segment, but irrespective of it, certain corporate costs will need to be slashed as the firm works to spin off its assets. Although management has, in recent times, done well to push for cost cutting, when the company actually starts to break up, we will know whether, and to what extent, this is actually true. One strategy that could work quite well could be what the firm struck with Baker Hughes. As part of its share divestiture, the two companies have entered into a series of joint agreements that will keep their operations intertwined through things like guaranteed low pricing and joint buying of key assets. I suspect this kind of wheeling-and-dealing to continue as the conglomerate sells off more of itself.

Takeaway

Based on the data provided, it’s clear that 2018 has been awful for General Electric, but investors who are expecting more pain to follow through 2019 might be on the wrong side of the bet. If 2018 was the crash for the business, 2019 will likely be the start of a true recovery for the firm, especially if management can work to restructure the entity in the way that they should. Obviously, whether the firm is successful or not, investors should expect a tremendous amount of volatility during the process, but that could present opportunities to buy and sell at attractive prices for the emotionally-detached investor.

Disclosure: I/we have no positions in any stocks mentioned, and no plans to initiate any positions within the next 72 hours. I wrote this article myself, and it expresses my own opinions. I am not receiving compensation for it (other than from Seeking Alpha). I have no business relationship with any company whose stock is mentioned in this article.

Best TV Scenes (2018): 'Killing Eve,' 'Atlanta,' and More

Was there anything more all-consuming in 2018 than television? In addition to the ever-churning 24-hour news cycle, the streaming services all increased their output wildly, cranking out more shows than anyone could ever possibly watch. Cable networks, too, kept releasing incredibly original content. There was so much out there it was almost impossible to get through a good binge of The Great British Baking Show. (We found time.) But in the vast sands of Peak TV’s beachhead, where were the diamonds? No need to keep searching—we’ve got a few right here.

Homecoming Gets Ratioed

[embedded content]

Sam Esmail‘s Amazon adaptation of the popular podcast wasn’t notable simply because it lured Julia Roberts to episodic television, or because it surrounded her with a remarkable cast that included Stephan James and Bobby Cannavale. It made a mark because it let you know, in no uncertain terms, that you were watching something special. The writer-director is no stranger to visual flair, having made Mr. Robot look as skitteringly paranoid as it felt, but on Homecoming he shifted gears, using overhead shots and creative crops to enhance the sense that not everyone knew the whole story. And when Roberts’ Heidi Bergman finally visited the site of the mysterious Homecoming program where she’d worked years prior, and finally turned her head to look in just the right direction, her perspective at last fell into place and everything resolved—from the black-barred 4:3 world she’d been living in to a glorious, relieving 16:9. A variation of Vertigo‘s famous dolly zoom, it may not have been something you’d never seen, but it was certainly something you’d never appreciated quite so much. —Peter Rubin

Killing Eve Takes You to the Hole

[embedded content]

Was there a better single season of TV this year than BBC America’s Killing Eve? No, there was not. (See you in the comments!) But in a series that gave us an excellent game of cat-and-mouse between assassin Villanelle (Jodie Comer) and MI5 agent Eve (Sandra Oh), the greatest part was a single line delivery. Villanelle, surrendering herself to a Russian women’s prison in order to take out a former accomplice, has gotten one step closer to her prey but knows she needs to be sent to solitary confinement to complete the task. So she does what any self-respecting killer would: She shivs her cellmate. As the authorities close in on her, bloody and still bruised from a previous fight, she pulls the shank out, raises her hands in the air, and screams “Take me to the hoooole!” with an expression typically reserved for wide receivers who just scored an impossible touchdown. It sums up everything you need to know about Villanelle in one moment—her ruthlessness, her childlike glee at killing, her downright black sense of humor—and cemented Comer’s as one of the breakout performances of the year. —Angela Watercutter

Donald Glover Makes His Late-Night Breakthrough

[embedded content]

Before Atlanta, before Community, before anyone had heard of Childish Gambino, Donald Glover auditioned for Saturday Night Live. He was writing for 30 Rock at the time and doing sketch comedy, but fate (and, really, Lorne Michaels) decided that Studio 8H would remain Gloverless for the time being. Ten years later, fate reconsidered, and in May Glover pulled double duty as guest host and musical guest for one of the last episodes of the show’s 43rd season—and one of the best in years. Even setting aside the music performances (he performed “This Is America” for the first time, releasing the now-famous video on YouTube directly afterward), Glover showed that his assured stewardship of Atlanta was no fluke; he committed to one weirdo role after the other, from ’80s R&B sendup Razz P. Berry to Jurassic Park’s embattled/insane defense lawyer. But nothing reached quite so high as the digital short “Friendos,” in which Kenan Thompson and Chris Redd joined Glover to drag the tropes and machismo of Migos-style trap music into therapy. The result was a master class in parody, performance, and pacing, teasing an actual emotional arc out of what could have been an empty send-up. It was more than a skit—it was a skrrt skrrt. —P.R.

Sharp Objects Saves the Best For Last

[embedded content]

Sharp Objects is a show about the details: The moments of clarity, the things we remember (and how we remember them), the actual hidden words sprinkled throughout the show’s lush frames. But in an extremely deft move, it saved its best detail for the final seconds (if you don’t count the post-credits scene, that is). Camille Preaker (Amy Adams), thinking that her mother Adora (a stone-cold Patricia Clarkson) has rightfully gone to prison for the deaths of multiple young girls in Wind Gap, Missouri, settles into a new life with her sister Amma (Eliza Scanlen) in St. Louis. It’s there, in Amma’s room within the model of their mother’s Wind Gap house that Amma has been curating for years, that Camille sees what her younger sister has been using to recreate the elephant-tusk floor in the model’s parlor: human teeth. Specifically, the teeth of the girls Amma has killed. As the younger sister enters her room and sees what Camille has found, she near-whispers “Don’t tell mama.” It’s a moment both cruel and childlike and left fans of HBO’s miniseries dead in their tracks. —A.W.

Succession Becomes Everyone’s Number-One Boy

[embedded content]

I admit that when I first saw the promo spots for Jesse Armstrong’s HBO family-feud drama, my first reaction was fatigue: oh, hey, squabbling rich people, great. I must not have been the only one; Succession seemed to take everyone by surprise, a refreshing acid bath in a summer of sameness. Armstrong may be British, but his experience—co-creating the truly dark sitcom Peep Show and writing for Armando Iannucci’s scathing The Thick of It—translated perfectly, making the tale of an Rupert Murdoch-like aging paterfamilias and his preening progeny a little like Veep, just if everyone was both evil and competent. (Well, except Kieran Culkin’s Roman. And Tom Wamsgans. But Cousin Greg is coming around!) The race to inherit a media empire is a marathon, not a sprint—but even running from a traffic jam to a vote of no-confidence gets tough when there are so many knives waiting for you to turn your back. —P.R.

Atlanta Finds the Horror in Show Business

[embedded content]

TV’s most self-defined and self-propelled series has always expertly balanced on the edge of horror. Not outright horror a la Hereditary or Halloween, but the cruel, creeping horror of the everyday: of, say, being a washed-out, left-for-dead, past-his-prime singer trapped by the cage of the past. Before “Teddy Perkins”—the sixth and most terrifyingly unforgettable episode of Season 2—Donald Glover’s appetite for dark farce unraveled in purposefully uneven bouts. Though viewers had come to occasionally expect it, life for Earn (Glover), Paper Boi (Brian Tyree Henry), Van (Zazie Beetz) and Darius (Lakeith Stanfield) wasn’t a constant cycle of doom and dread. With the audacious “Teddy Perkins”, Glover and director Hiro Murai crystalized a tale so perversely dark and wonderfully disorienting into a 40-minute k-hole of showbiz horror that one will never look at ostrich eggs in quite the same manner again. As standalone episodes go, it was a nifty repackaging of genre expectations, a stylistic trick as much as it was a shock to the series’s instinctive movement. “Teddy Perkins” was Atlanta at its most deliciously unafraid: refusing, as always, to be made small by the constraints of the medium. —Jason Parham

Hugh Grant Gets Scandal-ous

[embedded content]

No ’90s-borne movie star has aged quite as impeccably as Hugh Grant, who not only starred as a egomaniacal thespian in this year’s wondrous Paddington 2, but also played an impeccably amoral politician in BBC’s crisp three-part mini-series A Very English Scandal (now streaming on Amazon Prime). Based on real-life events, Scandal casts Grant—his movie-star smile transformed into a polite smirk—as Jeremy Thorpe, a Member of Parliament who winds up having an affair with a desperate, rather daft drifter (an excellent, almost fawn-like Ben Whishaw). As Thorpe’s secret past threatens to become public, Grant’s confident and quietly scheming politico decides to have the young nuisance killed. What follows is a ripping, upscale bit of pulpy non-fiction, full of dim-witted goons, painfully oblivious spouses, and careerist government creeps—a little bit Coen brothers, a little bit Patricia Highsmith. And it’s all led by Grant, whose ambitious MP speechifies with confidence, yet whose expressions discreetly detail his many years of loneliness, sadness, and sacrifice. It’s his keep-calm-and-carry-on performance that allows Scandal to indulge in its sumptuous twists and turns, making for a very unmissable time. —Brian Raftery

Pose Celebrates Mothers’ Day

[embedded content]

Beyond being a story about 1980s New York ball culture and family, Pose is also a Cinderella tale: It literally begins with Blanca Evangelista (the enthralling Mj Rodriguez) being harassed by her sisters while her house mother, Elektra Abundance (Dominique Jackson), laughs in the wings. But while that trope necessitates that Blanca have her princess moment, it happens in a far different kind of fairy tale. Done with suffering abuse under Elektra’s roof, Blanca sets out to form a house of her own—adopting dancers Damon (Ryan Jamaal Swain) and Ricky (Dyllon Burnside), exotic dancer Angel (Indya Moore), and former foster kid (and sometimes drug dealer) Lil Papi (Angel Bismark Curiel). After nearly a year struggling to keep her family together—amid Papi’s drug dealing, Damon and Ricky’s relationship, and Angel’s affair with a married Trump employee—Blanca brings everyone home and defeats her rivals in the House of Abundance in the season’s final ball. She also, naturally, gets crowned Mother of the Year, a better crown than that given to any fairy tale princess. —A.W.

American Crime Story ‘Drive’s You to the Edge

[embedded content]

The trick of The Assassination of Gianni Versace—as well as its American Crime Story predecessor, The People v. O. J. Simpson—is that you already know the ending: Andrew Cunanan killed fashion icon Gianni Versace. What the show does is lay out the groundwork for his murder. And those moments, thanks to the Emmy-winning performance of Darren Criss as Cunanan, make for far more drama than the eventual outcome. Like, for example, the scene where Cunanan and his lover David Madson (a heartbreaking Cody Fern, who would go on to play the antichrist in showrunner Ryan Murphy’s American Horror Story this year) head to a bar on the road trip Andrew has forced them to go on. As they walk into the small watering hole, none other than Aimee Mann begins singing a cover of the Cars’ “Drive,” and a series of moments of resignation set in. David, attempting an escape through a busted out window in the bathroom, realizes he’ll never get away and that Andrew might very well kill him. (He does.) Andrew, listening to Mann croon “You can’t go on/thinking nothing’s wrong,” realizes David’s fear and his own fright at being left alone and steadily cries listening to Mann in an unbroken 90-second shot. Ryan Murphy shows, including Pose and Glee, are known for their musical moments, but this went far beyond song and dance and cut to the bone—and probably is the scene where Criss secured that Emmy. —A.W.

Queer Eye Comes Out Swinging

[embedded content]

Literally every episode of Netflix’s reboot of Queer Eye is a tear-jerker. (There’s a reason they advertised Season 2 with tissues.) However, the episode in Season 1 where AJ, a gay man living in Atlanta, comes out to his stepmother—”To Gay or Not Too Gay”—is the one that inspired the most reach-out-and-touch-someone levels of bawling amongst Queer Eye fans. And with good reason. The crux of the episode is that AJ has a good job, a cool (if messy) apartment, a sweet boyfriend, and good pals. He’s also in the closet when it comes to his family. His father passed away a few years prior and when he tells his dad everything he wanted to say via a letter he reads to his stepmom, well, the floodgates are opened. He chokes back sobs; she cries and hugs him; the audience, including the Fab Five, sit in damp-eyed awe. It’s wonderful and heartbreaking. It does, however, have a very happy ending: AJ and his boyfriend got married shortly after the episode aired. —A.W.

Forever Goes Bananas

[embedded content]

Amazon’s Forever is a weird show. Co-created by Master of None producer Alan Yang, it deals primarily in the deep, dark corners where relationships thrive and get dirty. Focused on the afterlives of June (Maya Rudolph) and Oscar (Fred Armisen), it peels back the layers of a failing relationship to unveil what really went wrong in the first place. As with many struggling couples, no one was really at fault—they were both just stuck. This all comes to a head in the first season finale when June and Oscar realize that they agree on one thing: Bananas are the perfect beach food. (They are self-contained, filling, come in a fairly sand-proof wrapper … you get the idea.) It is, as Vulture noted they, and the audience, realize “they are exactly strange enough for each other” and have perhaps their first honest conversation ever. It was often hard to figure out what Forever was building towards. The fact that it was this made it all the more perfect. —A.W.

Netflix Becomes Nanetteflix

[embedded content]

On Tuesday, June 19, seemingly out of nowhere, Netflix released Nanette. By itself, this wasn’t surprising; Netflix drops comedy specials willy-nilly all the time. But the performance from Hannah Gadsby—one hour and nine minutes of comedy, searing social commentary, and a little bit of art history—crashed the party with aplomb. By the following weekend, it was the one comedy special on the streaming service that no one could shut up about. With good reason. Gadsby’s brand of humor, which tackles the machinations of comedy, male privilege, and her own attack at the hands of a homophobe, had the kind of bite unseen in comedy in a long time. And for that, we’d like to express our gratitude to Gadsby through the metaphor of a clap. —A.W.


More Great WIRED Stories

Saving Your Retirement From A Stock Market Crash

Disclaimer: I am not a financial advisor. The advice given below is not a financial advice, even though my excitement might make it look like such. In fact, what follows below are just my thoughts, those of an ordinary person who works hard and tries to save and invest as sensibly as he can.


I received a call from a 59-year-old gentleman, a distant relative, yesterday. We have not met in the past two decades, so the sudden call was surprising. But it was not after the first minute of our talk when he asked, “I’ve heard from your aunt that you work in the stock market. I wanted to discuss my investments. Can you please help?”

“Hmmm… sure,” I said, almost sensing that he wanted to discuss his stock portfolio with me. But he started talking about his upcoming retirement – planned for 2019 – and about a plot of land sitting in his hometown waiting to build his retirement home next year.

He said he had been saving and investing as much money as he could for his retirement and for building this home. He had almost 90% of his money invested in stocks and equity funds, a lot of those bad decisions – and mis-selling by his advisor and broker – as I realized on knowing his portfolio. The stock market’s recent volatility – and especially in the banking and finance space, where my uncle is invested heavily – has made him lose around 30% of his portfolio value in a span of just a few weeks.

Now, this discussion is not about banking and finance stocks, how good/bad they are, and how quick/long they would take to recover. This discussion is about lessons from how my uncle’s retirement seems to have gotten compromised at least for another few years, thanks to the decline in his stock portfolio less than a year from his retirement, and how you may avoid a similar fate when you stare your own retirement on the face.

My uncle told me how the recent dip in his portfolio brought back some painful memories, like from 2008, when he had seen his retirement portfolio lose around 50% value. At the time, while he was more than a decade away from retiring, the decline in portfolio value was still a significant portion of his total family savings.

He now worries it will be harder to recover another big loss so close to retirement. “It’s impossible to try and time the market,” he told me. “To sit there and watch your investments fall apart is hard, but if you take it out and it goes up, that’s not good either. It’s hard!”

* * *

I am not a financial advisor, but when people ask me how much money they should invest in stocks versus other avenues like bonds and fixed deposits, etc., my response is consistent – “It depends on when you need the money.”

My general rule of thumb is that any money that you need in less than three years (maybe five years, if you so want) must be protected as far as the core capital is concerned. You are not seeking growth here but safety. And thus, this kind of money may be kept in liquid funds, fixed deposits, and some part cash. Don’t invest this money in the stock market, because if the tide turns for the worse during this period (like it had done for my uncle), your financial life and retirement may get compromised.

Any money you need between the third and fifth year from now may be invested in stocks/MFs versus bonds/FDs in a ratio of 50:50 (again, choose your own ratio based on your comfort levels).

This leaves us with money that is needed beyond the next five years. This may be invested fully in equities. History has proven that equity returns improve with an increase in holding periods. So, the probability is on your side when you invest your long-term money (needed beyond five years) in equities.

You may also divide this long-term money into two separate buckets. The first bucket could be the money you need between the fifth and tenth years of your retirement, say between 65 and 70 years of age (assuming you will retire at 60). This money could be invested in high-quality, well-diversified mutual funds or high-quality, stable businesses that provide not just the possibility of some growth but, more importantly, capital preservation.

As for the second bucket of your long-term money, which you will require beyond ten years from retirement, you can be more aggressive and invest that part in high-quality mid- and small-cap stocks and/or funds. Here, the risks you take will be higher than the first bucket, but the probability of growth is higher too. Just that you must ensure that you don’t buy businesses that may lose you capital permanently here too. This is a non-negotiable, even when you extend your investment horizon.

The idea of such allocation across buckets is that the more time you have before you need the money, the more aggressive your investment strategy. You may probably live another fifteen to twenty years or more after you retire, leaving you more than enough time to ride out not one, but multiple stock market crashes. So why not take advantage of the potential time on hand?

However, that’s not a mandatory thing. As Warren Buffett has said, “It’s insane to risk what you have for something you don’t need.”

* * *

Let’s move ahead from the allocation part to a bit about cash flows.

Having enough cash on hand to avoid withdrawing funds during severe market declines can be reassuring to people in or close to retirement. That means if you are three years away from retirement, a good rule of thumb will be to keep one year of expenses out of the market and then increase that for every year closer to retirement you get.

So, by the time you retire, you will have three years of expenses as cash in hand. Combining this with the allocation part mentioned above, keep this cash safe in liquid funds, fixed deposits, and some part cash.

I am assuming here that we don’t have a period of negative equity returns that extends beyond three years. So, with three years’ cash in hand and the market crashing around the time you retire, you don’t need to touch that money and can live off the cash. And replenish the three-year buffer every year.

(All that I have mentioned above assumes that active income stops coming in after you retire, which is true in most cases. But then, starting a part-time work or a second career that does not take a toll on your time and can be managed easily is a great idea. Just ensure that you don’t become a full-time investor.)

* * *

If you’ve still got more than a decade to go before you retire, you can follow the above-mentioned rules too. Both in terms of allocation and cash flows. Just that you can be more aggressive in terms of allocation to (high-quality) equities, as doing so would likely increase the long-term growth potential of your savings – which could increase your chances of achieving a secure retirement even more.

Also, save more, especially if you’ve been delaying it and effectively relying on market gains to compensate for your savings deficit in recent years. Markets have no obligations to carry your bidding.

When you save more, you create for yourself a buffer to deal with big declines in the stock market and your portfolio value and raise the chances of success back to where it was before the market setback.

The bottom line is this: You can’t predict when a bull market will stumble or know for certain how severe the ensuing bear market will be. No one can. But giving your retirement planning a stress test before the market slumps and thinking rationally about how to react will put you in a much better position to weather any crisis than making decisions on the fly while you’re under duress.

Hope this makes some sense.

Grande Arrival: The Year Digital Native Pop Stars Took Over

Within the first 24 hours that Ariana Grande’s music video for “thank u, next,” went live in late November, it broke the internet. Well, sort of. YouTube reported that comments on the video, an extended homage to rom-coms like Mean Girls, Legally Blonde, Bring It On, and 13 Going on 30, were delayed from posting—likely due to the record-setting 55.4 million views Grande garnered as she bopped from one re-enactment to the next. Grande’s response, though, wasn’t elation or even concern: it was a practiced online apathy so palpable you could almost see the eye roll.

The dispassionate tone continued over the next day. “true love might exist i was just hungry,” she tweeted at one point. No caps, no comma, no period. Barely a whiff of Emotional Sincerity, that deceptive fragrance sprayed by pop stars (and publicists) to dial online cacophony down to a mere murmur. What excitement she did express forced its way out through the proper social-media idioms: When Mark Hamill praised the video, she responded, “thanks, luke skywalker. i’m gonna go sob in a corner and watch all your movies again now. have a good one.”

But what did you expect? In 2018, the first generation of digitally native pop stars truly came of age—maneuvering across social platforms as comfortably as they do musical scales. Hayley Kiyoko shares a picture of her feet before trying to goose her video for “Girls Like Girls” over 100 million views. latest video. Singer Halsey calls herself “sad little bitch™,” then criticizes the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show for the company chairman’s recent comments about trans inclusion. And Grande’s semiotics are perfectly calibrated to match her followers’, from emoji to punctuation (or lack thereof). This is the online identity of a new class of female artists: savvy without being sentimental, sensitive but decidedly still cynical.

Someone at a party once told me that tweets are like texts you send to your best friend, only made public. They’re snippets that require little explanation, context, or—much to our own detriment—research. They don’t even need to be grammatically correct; punctuation is reserved for distant acquaintances and extended family.

Grande seizes on this, sprinkling her captions with deadpan language and using capitalization sparingly. All the song titles on her 2018 album Sweetener are lowercase. She spells “you” phonetically, hence “thank u, next,” which is either Grande pandering to our nostalgia for early 2000s SMS-based text or inviting us in—or maybe it’s both.

Related Stories

The effect is humorous, even warm. When Grande tells us she “sobs” over a praising tweet from 13 Going on 30 co-star Mark Ruffalo, it’s the online behavior of a real person versus yet another celebrity with a promotional agenda. (Even if it’s really kinda both.) For contrast, look at the way Taylor Swift or Blake Lively wiped their Instagram accounts clean, replacing their personal photos with posts foreshadowing their latest projects. Swift posted videos of a snake, a harbinger of the serpentine imagery in to her video for “Look What You Made Me Do.” The intent was to make something eerie and exciting, something fans and conspiracy theorists alike could wade in for hours (which they did). But mostly it fell flat, the silver penny in the background gleaming a bit too brightly.

In many ways, Grande is no different, teasing her followers with hazy countdowns to each new video. But it feels less like the work of a public-relations campaign than the excitement of a person who just wants people to see what she’s been working on. That spills over into her appearances on shows like Saturday Night Live or The Tonight Show With Jimmy Fallon, where she wrings laughs from her spot-on singing impersonations of Britney Spears’ nasal tone or Celine Dion’s soprano.

Or, most recently, the “thank u, next” video, an empowering bit of pastiche. Its genius isn’t just the movies Grande selects to reenact—the lot of which appeal to multiple generations of rom-com fans—but the moments within them. There’s the toothbrush exchange from Bring It On, Legally Blonde’s “bend and snap,” and the jingle bell rock performance in Mean Girls. In articulating the moments of camp and casting herself as the protagonist, Grande weaponizes them, effectively making herself the only heroine we’ll ever need. It’s Grande-ganda, subtly working in her own agenda within the context of something familiar.

[embedded content]

But even beyond the self-anointment by homage, the video acts as an exercise in subliminal messaging. There’s the Immigration and Refugee Law and Politics textbook Grande’s version of Legally Blonde’s Elle Woods reads on the Harvard lawn. The “Needy” t-shirt she wears as Mean Girls’ Regina George, which fans believe to be a clue for the title of Grande’s next album. The note to her ex-fiance, Pete Davidson, that Grande scrawls across a faux burn book (“sry i dipped”). These glimpses keep us watching more closely, desiring to better understand Grande The Enigma who somehow looks good in the myriad of personas she tries on (activist, ex-girlfriend, comedian, businesswoman), each one looking a bit like us.

Are we mistaking marketing for authenticity? Maybe. Grande is made that much more potent in her ability to sound just like her followers. She and her cohort have relinquished the role of the editor, passing their thoughts unfettered into the world with the same vulnerability that we might send a text to an ex without running it by a friend first.

That’s not to say an editor wouldn’t come in handy sometimes. Last week, Kanye West reignited his simmering feud with Canadian rapper Drake via prodigious tweetstorm. Ever the keen observer, Grande flipped the moment to tout her latest music–as well as a new song from friend and fellow superstar Miley Cyrus—by couching it as a reclamation of spotlight. “guys, i know there are grown men arguing online rn,” she wrote in her now-deleted tweet, “but miley and i [sic] dropping our beautiful, new songs tonight so if y’all could please jus behave for just like a few hours so the girls can shine that’d be so sick thank u.” Kanye accused Grande of taking advantage of his mental health to promote her single (a sentiment Davidson echoed, much to the chaos of the internet). The singer apologized for her initial tweet but denied any opportunism, tweeting, “regardless of how i feel about a situation, i can also care about their mental health.”

Grande is skilled in the art of the tactful apology, recognizing those mistakes that are actually hers—like a 2015 incident in which she licked a doughnut in a shop and said “I hate America”—and identifying those larger concerns that are often projected onto her as a public figure. Her delicate sidestepping shows that Grande is actually listening to what we’re saying. And, at the end of the day, whether on Twitter or IRL, don’t we just want to be heard?


More Great WIRED Stories

12 Best Xbox One Games (2019): Sidescrollers, Shooters, and More

After 2006’s macabre platformer Limbo proved to be one of the most enjoyable indie titles available for the Xbox 360, people wondered—OK, we wondered—if Danish studio Playdead could meet its own bar for the current generation. we shouldn’t have worried. Inside begins with the same gloomy monochrome that made Limbo so affecting, and adds a healthy dose of danger; it’s not just the treacherous environment you have to worry about as you navigate the world, but people and things that are actively looking to kill you. You will die, and you will die often. But when the game enters its final act, you’ll be treated with that rarest of gaming moments: a sincere “what the f*ck?” spectacle, a jaw-dropping hybrid of body horror and slapstick that you’ll feel, fittingly enough, inside.