I have a confession to make: I really like pop music and I always have.
I’m not ashamed of this, per se—I have just seen a decline in quality in recent years, so my fandom has felt bittersweet. For me, saying that I like pop feels like saying that I like country music—I love Merle Haggard, Johnny Cash, Dolly Parton, Jason Isbell, Lillie Mae, Amanda Shires, Neko Case’s early records, etc, but the term “country” connotes the utter trash of Luke Bryan, Dierks Bentley, and the like. And heaven forbid anyone think I like that! I feel like listening to that music is like advertising that you voted for Trump. Maybe I’m being too harsh. Or…whatever. I’m a judgmental bitch.
Anyway, digression aside, there have been a few recent standouts in pop (other than everything Beyoncé and Rihanna do) that have (belatedly) caught my attention. While everyone is freaking out about Taylor Swift’s new (hilarious, awful) song, y’all are sleeping on these two (incredibly popular, shut up, Chelsea) albums! That’s right—I said albums. As in, complete, cohesive artworks, not a collection of singles with some filler thrown in (à la every pop album from the ’90s). Coincidentally, both of these albums came out on the same day! What?! May 12th was lit this year.
Let’s check ’em out!
Paramore, After Laughter
Hayley Williams is finally free, you guys! I always got a vibe that she was really cool and talented, but shackled to the “scene”. In the past few years, Paramore has been in transition from my guilty pleasure to a band that I have no qualms about supporting. I thought the self-titled album from 2013 was good, but it still had too many connecting threads to the pop-punk/whatever-it-is genre that Paramore came up out of. After Laughter is different. It’s catchy, fun, and bright, and owes little debt to the band’s “roots”. Quickly peruse Hayley Williams’ Instagram page and you’ll see Paramore assertively described as an “American genre-neutral band”. For a band aligned with a very specific genre, this is a bold-ass statement and I am here for it.
This is, imho, the only Paramore album that is listenable from start to finish with no eye-roll moments. These songs would make no sense at Warped Tour, for instance. Hayley’s even sporting a new lewk, with platinum blonde hair and her best fashion sense to date. And Hayley’s style isn’t the only noticeable aesthetic departure. Even the cover art and the press photos for After Laugher are elevated far beyond years past. Looks like Paramore is one of those extremely rare bands that has gotten better with each album.
This album is a joy to listen to. Put it on next time you’re in a bad mood, it’ll kick your doom-and-gloom’s ass.
Standout After Laughter moments: “No Friend” (feat. Aaron Weiss from mewithoutYou), “Tell Me How”, and the infectious lead single “Hard Times”
Harry Styles, Harry Styles
Disclaimer: I am 100 years old and therefore way too old to know anything about One Direction. I’m to old to know anything about the Jonas Brothers. I saw DNCE on the VMAs and I was like, “Oh, that kid looks familiar.” My boy-band obsessed days were 20 years ago and centered around *NSYNC and Backstreet Boys.
That being said, I don’t live under a rock, and I’ve heard a handful of 1D songs. They didn’t do a ton for me, which is why I didn’t have high hopes for Harry Styles’ solo album. That’s why his SNL performance blew me away. I’m not going to pretend that his album is changing the landscape of music or anything, but I have a ton of sudden respect for Styles. It seems like he wants to set himself apart as an artist, not just a cog in a manufactured boy band. (No shade, all of those groups are manufactured by producers or labels, it’s not an indictment).
“Sign of the Times”, the lead single, is downright soulful! I’m going to put my rose-colored glasses on and assume the title is a nod to Prince, of course. The album is tight from start to finish, and it has fun little moments sprinkled throughout (my personal fave is the intro to “Woman”: “Should we just search for romantic comedies on Netflix and see what we find?”). If this album had come out when I was a teenager, it would have totally been boning music. The kid’s got pipes. He’s also pretty easy on the eyes, but as he is younger than my little brother, I must abstain from attraction.
Standout Harry Styles moments: “Meet Me in the Hallway”, the rambunctious “Kiwi”, and “From the Dining Table”
I’m 100% buying both of these albums with real U.S. currency and you should too! What are you into these days?
P.S. I hate Lorde and you will never see her on my “Best Of” lists.
I am so mad about Twin Peaks: The Return, episode 8. It’s an hour of my life that I’ll never get back. After minute 2 of watching as the camera zoomed into an explosion, I turned to Twitter to amuse myself, but my husband freaked out so I was banned from my phone. For an hour. It was a struggle to stay awake. In fact, the second the credits started rolling, I walked out of the room without a word and went to bed, even though it was still pretty early.
Art-house cinema has its place. People are free to make whatever movies they want, as long as they’re not hurting children or animals. But it doesn’t belong on Showtime, plopped in the middle of an ongoing series, disrupting plot and punishing its audience. No matter what this fawning article has to say about it. Even the New York Times is against me.
I know David Lynch doesn’t give a fuck. It’s an admirable quality most of the time, because it allowed the original Twin Peaks to change the landscape of television forever. But this act of not-giving-a-fuck was aggressive. Thus far, the new series has been difficult to swallow—some moments have been undeniably incredible, but others have felt like dead-end tangents. Despite assurances from the cast that eventually, all of this will make sense, I have my sincere doubts that an hour detour into 1945 New Mexico is relevant to the goings-on of Twin Peaks, Washington’s residents. Enough with the fan theories. Bob’s origin story! Who’s the girl who swallowed the gross bug?
I’m glad that the new series is not a rehashing of the old. I’m glad that, so far, we’ve only had to see James for about ten seconds, in a scene that, like the entirety of episode 8, seems to have little to no bearing on anything else going on in the series. But episode 8 was condescending. The subtext of episode 8 was, “You are all mindless idiots who don’t know how to meaningfully consume texts, so I’m going to force you to stare at nothingness for an hour and be present with it.”
As someone working on her 2nd degree in literature, I’m far from an expert, but I’d say I’m pretty good at sussing out meaning in the media I consume. For instance, Master of None season 2 is undeniably influenced by art-house, and it is thoroughly enjoyable. There’s a 3 or so minute sequence when the camera rests on Aziz’s face in the back of an Uber—the subtle physical acting he does takes the audience on an emotional journey. The guy barely moves for 3 minutes, which in TV land is a painfully long time to linger on one shot, but it’s never boring.
Plot is secondary to any great work, but it is an important component of a television series. Even shows like Seinfeld, that were ostensibly about “nothing,” were still plotted episodically. I had faith that watching Coop navigate a purple planet for an excruciating 20 minutes would be relevant to the overall story. I had faith that two young people getting brutally murdered while watching a giant glass box would eventually make sense. But episode 8 was so remote from Twin Peaks that I genuinely don’t care if it makes sense with the rest of the story. For Lynch to justify this capsule episode in the larger context of Twin Peaks: The Return will be such an unnecessary stretch that it might damage the integrity of the series as a whole. There are other stories to be told.
In eight hours of this new series, we’ve heard Audrey Horne’s name once, watched the insufferable Dougie wander around Vegas for innumerable minutes, and had to roll our eyes through the worst plot device of all time, which is the new Sheriff Truman talking to the absent Sheriff Truman in one-sided telephone calls. (Michael Ontkean chose not to return for the series—why not just say he retired, died, or better yet, not address it at all and just have a new sheriff?) We’ve also gained some wonderful characters (Naomi Watts and Laura Dern are sensational, and Michael Cera provides, in my opinion, one of the best comic performances of all time) and followed the story along some interesting detours.
I was on board through episode 7, because I truly felt like the creator of the ingenious original series wanted to provide us with a new piece of art that didn’t rely on nostalgia, something that challenged us to make connections. Episode 8 was a giant middle finger to everyone who gives a shit about Twin Peaks. It was the work of someone who seems to have contempt for his audience. I’m going to keep watching, because now I feel I’ve made an immense investment in the series and it seems wasteful to abandon it now. But I’m approaching tonight’s episode with a healthy dose of skepticism.
It is my great hope that, at the end of the new series, this take will be proven sorely wrong. I hope to look back on this in a few months and laugh at my own ignorance. But I’m not holding my breath.
P.S. “The” Nine Inch Nails performance was very cool, although the placement in the episode was terrible.
Edit: I have read a recap of episode 9, and it looks like it’s going to be absolutely incredible. I’m looking forward to watching, I just hate that I have to look up recaps in advance now to make sure I won’t be subjected to visual torture.
Yeah, that’s right. Céline Dion is not the only thing I cherish about the nineties. But if I’m being 100% honest, most of what happened in the decade of my birth was trash. Kurt Cobain died. The OJ thing. The band Nickelback formed and rose to prominence. Hillary Clinton became such a household name that a bunch of millennial fuckboys decided to vote for Jill Stein in 2016. Et cetera.
For a lot of people around my age, it feels like the ’90s/early ’00s never ended. I mean, I watched the Spice Girls movie by choice in 2009. We’re still appropriating the fashion trends (even fucking scrunchies are back, I’m wearing one right now) and we still lose our goddamn minds every time we hear “…Baby One More Time”. I mean, Urban Outfitters has just been selling the outfits from the movie Clueless for the past ten years. People of every generation get stuck in their respective youths—play “Jessie’s Girl” in a room full of 50-year-old women and you’ll see what I mean—but it feels like this particular nostalgia has real lasting power. It might have something to do with the fact that this was the very last pre-Internet era. The Internet existed, sure, but not in our hands 24/7. We kept maps in the car. I remember when iPods were released and I needed to call a Voodoo priestess to revive me after I died of shock and amazement. I would never argue that this time in history was better (it wasn’t), but I will say that I had a much better attention span and had yet to be insulted by an anonymous Twitter egg, so, simpler times.
I digress. Now, when I say ’90s baby, I don’t necessarily mean that you were born in the ’90s. This playlist is geared towards those old enough to have vivid memories of Y2K and 9/11. ’85-’92 or thereabouts. My compatriots in culture. Growing up in this era afforded a very specific and pop cultural experience, one that, as much as we may have loved it, was pretty much trash. This is no “best of” list. But this is the shit that we can’t erase from our psyches, no matter how hard we try. Or at least, this is the shit that I can’t erase from my mind, and in the words of millennial superhero, Lana Del Rey, “God knows I tried.”
You thought it was going to be “Bye Bye Bye“, didn’t you? HA. “Bye Bye Bye” is a solid, beloved track, but which song is still a meme almost 20 years later? “It’s Gonna Be Me” motherfuckers! This song is so tight! I’ve listened to it twice today, in prep for this post, and let me tell you, ’90s pop songwriters did not eff around with song formulas. Bridges for days!
I have vivid memories of procuring the “No Strings Attached” album. I was in third grade at the time. It’s possible that we bought it at Bradlee’s. By the way, if you’re ever unsure of a person’s age, just bring up Bradlee’s. It’ll seal the deal.
It still bums be out the JC Chasez was supposed to be a frontman. Timberlake just dominated, and he has spent the last several years earning his fame. The 20/20 Experience took us all to church, and solidified JT’s position as a pop icon. “Cry Me A River” could have stood alone as an anthem, but I appreciate JT’s growth as an artist.
I will say that “This I Promise You” was written by Richard Marx. Unrelated to this post, but an absolutely invaluable piece of trivia. Ya welcome.
I DON’T THINK YOU CAN HANDLE THIS. No grade-schooler was ready for the line, “I don’t think you’re ready for this jelly”. Is “Bootylicious” the feminist response to “I Like Big Butts”? I don’t know! I do know that the guitar is sampled from “Edge of Seventeen” and that Stevie Nicks herself is in this video. Also, Michelle actually gets to sing in this one, and Kelly actually takes the lead! Also, the costumes, which I can only hope were designed by Ms. Tina, are sublime. They are transcendent. Fringe…bikinis?
The term “bootylicious” was conferred upon us by the illustrious Snoop Dogg ten years prior to the release of this DC track, but Beyoncé & co. are certainly responsible for popularizing the term.
To be fair, she cried for help. Folks my age remember the 2007 Britney meltdown, and the subsequent YouTube video. Britney’s trials and tribulations are even a running gag on the show Girlboss in the Year of our Lord 2017. Looking back, this song is so depressing! It’s basically Brit looking at her own life and being like, “Help! I’m so depressed! Success is not fulfilling!” But we didn’t even bat an eye at the “Everytime” video, and she legit kills herself in that one.
On a happier note, Britney looks stunning in this video, styled as an Old Hollywood starlet. Even the chord progression of the song is a clear homage to doo-wop, which is a cute and thoughtful detail. Let she who did not want to sit on a sparkly star and throw glitter cast the first stone.
“U Remind Me” almost took top billing here, but “U Got It Bad” has a permanent spot in my heart and mind. This is one sultry-ass ballad. When I think about the (Boston) radio station, JAMN 94.5, this immediately comes to mind. Usher has the smoothest voice in the game—I’d listen to him sing the phone book.
Also, if you can actually believe this shit, this song was dethroned as #1 on the Hot 100 by that Nickelback song. You know the one.
P.S. Chili from TLC is in the music video, so this probably belongs in the Smithsonian as an example of peak human achievement.
Yaaasss, bitches, the fake Russian lesbian song! For many of us, this music video may have acted as a sexual awakening of sorts. The controversy surrounding it was so beyond trife. I can’t even imagine such nonsense happening today, but again, this is before we even had marriage equality in Massachusetts. Any queer content was a big deal back then—remember Ellen & Anne Heche?!
Moral of the story: they weren’t lesbians, they’ve since dismissed the whole thing as “silly” (ugh, very progressive, guys), and they’re probably to blame for the Madonna/XTina/Britney MTV awards fiasco and the song “I Kissed A Girl”. “All The Things She Said”, however, though repetitive, is actually pretty friggin’ catchy.
P.S. Now I think that, somewhere in here, there’s a TrumpRussia/pee tape joke to be made but I’m not quite there yet. I’ll report back.
Continuing right along with our theme of LGBT-tinged pop singles, y’all know what’s next! “Beautiful”, baby! She won a goddamn GLAAD media award for the video! Linda Perry, of 4 Non Blondes fame, wrote this gem, whose vid was more inclusive 15 years ago than certain Disney movies that are trying to be on trend in twenty-seventeen.
This video features a kiss between two men, a girl suffering from anorexia, and a closeted trans* woman, among others. It’s still mostly white people (2002, smh), but when this aired, it was radical. It affected me personally—I was pretty young, so I was seeing some of those people for the first time. This video probably opened those narratives and told those stories for the first time to a lot of folks. I’ve long felt that XTina doesn’t get the credit she deserves for taking this risk with her image. For a while, this was the wokest thing we had, for better of for worse.
Like I said, growing up in the late nineties/ early ’00s was a very specific and bizarre time. So, we grew up with a country band performing our “Landslide”, as opposed to the O.G. or Billy Corgan versions. I am a Fleetwood Mac devotee, but I’m also 25 years old, so I learned these lyrics from Natalie Maines, not Stevie Nicks. This song also dropped at the height of my TRL-watching, so I have seen this video, which features a heavily pregnant Emily Robison playing lap steel (?!), about 150,000 times.
Is it just me, or does this song actively suck? I remember loving it at the time, but now I hear it and I’m borderline horrified that this is all it took to top the charts in the year 2000. I mean, Tom DeLonge’s voice alone could serve as a suicide note. There’s not enough nostalgia in the world to justify this (and blink’s entire catalog) as good music.
Okay, so, back story: this was hugely popular when I was in the sixth grade, and as a little prude warrior, I took great offense to the line, “I’m into having sex / I ain’t into making love” as I felt it was disrespectful to women. Rap music doesn’t have the best reputation re: misogyny, but if I could go back in time and shut myself up, I would. Hearing this song floods me with happiness. It’s so dramatic. The video is like some CIA action-movie homage. Also, Eminem discovered 50 Cent? What?
In a lot of ways, this track feels like an 80s rap set to truly stellar (eye-rolls for days @ the orchestra hits) early-00s production. The lyrics are deliciously cheesy. This song was #1 on the charts for nine weeks and its most memorable line is, “Yo, shawty, it’s your birthday.” And,I reiterate, the orchestra hits are just…sublime. Anthemic.
This song is a trash anthem and I love it! I was NINE when this song was popular. NINE. It is 50 Shades of Cray that any of us were allowed to listen to this. Shout-out to radio-edited lyrics that mystified the line “bangin’ on the bathroom floor” for years!
I truly feel that nothing says more about a person than his or her taste in music. It’s constantly evolving (unless you’re stuck in rut listening to the same shit you listened to in high school *cough* Motley Crue fans *cough*). Music is so personal and emotional—revealing your taste can be a very vulnerable experience. Luckily for you all, I’m not that shy about it.
The backstory: my computer got hacked recently, and in my effort to fix it, I needed to locate my proof of purchase (i.e. the Best Buy receipt from early 2013). Back in those days, I was still living with my dad, so I carted my ass back to my childhood home to search through the few belongings I’d left behind. Long story short, I found it and my computer is fine, but in the process, I noticed that I’d basically been hoarding the entire early ’00s in my bedroom closet. I went back the next day to rifle through everything, and boy did I find some gems! Lots of embarrassing diaries, my binder from AP European History, a copy of The Hobbit in Russian! I also found a truckload of CDs I’d burned, some of which were mixes. I had to check them out!
The following is the actual tracklisting to a mix CD I just found, made circa 2005 (age 14). *very Jean Valjean voice* WHO AM I?
This mix starts off with some very of-the-era cuts. It was December 19, 2005! At least four of these songs came out that year. But the rest of it? Why the fuck would I put a song from Willy Wonka on a mix CD? The orchestral piece makes sense—that’s what my middle school orchestra played at competition earlier that year—but the rest of it is mind-boggling. No 14-year-old should be jamming to “Smoke Two Joints” and “I Know What Boys Like”. And there is no way in hell I ever actually liked that Marilyn Manson cover.
The second mix CD I found is labeled “Ultimate Wedding Playlist”. I got married eleven years after this CD was created, and only one of these songs played at our wedding.
So, aside from the fact that some of these songs are depressing and deeply inappropriate to play at a wedding, this is also basically a rip-off of the “Our Little Corner of the World” Gilmore Girls soundtrack that came out in 2002. I trashed the 2nd CD after I wrote down the tracklisting (it was badly scratched), but I’m keeping the other. You never know when you’re going to need to bring the house down with some Hole deep-cuts.
What embarrassing nonsense did you listen to in early high school?
*I have no idea, by the way, if that Pernice Brothers video is real, but it’s great. And that song is still great.
If you have met me, or read anything I’ve ever written, or picked up on my psychic energy, you know that I love Beyoncé. She’s the HBIC of our entire cultural landscape, which is actually really major. It’s so important that a powerful woman of color is making daring artistic choices and subsequently gaining the respect and admiration of even the most unlikely people.
She hasn’t ended sexism or racism or anything, she’s a human woman, but she is an exceptional role model to girls—she is an avowed feminist and activist, and she embraces and celebrates her sexuality without shame. She is a mother, a distraction and sacrifice for many, yet has released her best and most gripping work since her daughter was born. Motherhood, for Bey, is one of the many facets of femininity, and she glorifies it without being exclusionary. She’s got the whole world breathlessly awaiting the birth of her twins, so let’s celebrate the mother of all icons!
Aside from being our generation’s biggest icon, she’s a musical artist. A singer, songwriter, and producer that has more hit songs than you can shake a stick at (that’s a phrase, right?) It’s not just her image that is valuable. She’s got songs! Six solo albums worth of glorious songs! A lot of people have only begun to truly appreciate Queen Bey in the past few years, more for her persona than for her actual talent, which is a damn shame. She has been out here on her own since 2003, making our lives better with her art. I present to you Beyoncé’s six albums, in order of the quality of the songwriting on each. This was not easy, but we live in the age of listicles and all must be ranked. Here they are, in order from great to greatest.
Released on her 25th birthday, B’Day is Beyoncé’s second solo effort, best known for spawning the hit single “Irreplaceable“. This is the reason that everyone spent the entirety of 2007 saying “to the left, to the left”. This album was released before I became a Bey-votee, but I would hardly be the aficionado I claim to be if I did not revisit her early works.
I don’t have much to say about B’Day, apart from that it is musically pretty unremarkable. Apart from “Irreplaceable”, it doesn’t have any stand-out tracks. Even the two songs featuring Jay-Z are forgettable. The lyrics, however, are all about female empowerment, laying the foundation for her later work. Solange also has some writing credits on this album!
One thing worth noting is that, apparently, every song on this album has a music video, which indicates that, even seven years before she stealth-dropped the movie/album Beyoncé, visual representation was a priority.
This is Beyoncé’s debut solo album, y’all! She came out the gate spitting venom. “Crazy in Love (feat. Jay-Z)” is an enduring banger and “Naughty Girl“, which samples Donna Summer’s “Love to Love You Baby”, is one of her sexiest tracks to date. This album, as a whole, is hardly a musical revelation, but it certainly proved that Bey’s career would be just fine without the other ladies of Destiny’s Child. “Baby Boy” notably features Sean Paul, as all songs did in the year 2003. That was currency back then.
Much like B’Day above, Dangerously in Love was merely sowing the seeds that would bloom Beyoncé into the iconic matriarch she is today.
P.S. Fuckin’ shout-out to “Stole” by Kelly Rowland. I mean no disrespect to the alumnae of Destiny’s Child.
I Am…Sasha Fierce (2008)
I Am…Sasha Fierce is, in my opinion, Beyoncé’s first cohesive album. Like the first two albums, Sasha Fierce spawned a ton of hits, but for the first time, the album was more than a vehicle for singles. The concept was that the double album’s second side would represent the perspective of Beyoncé’s alter ego, Sasha Fierce, an edgier stage version of the wholesome image of Beyoncé. If I remember my pop culture history correctly, this is when people really started paying attention to Beyoncé as an artist, rather than just a pop star. Of course she was already an A-list celebrity, but 2008 is when the veil of mystique that she still wears was cast upon her. Earlier in the year, she married Jay-Z, and his influence no doubt led her to be more selective about her musical projects.
As the individual songs go, this album is a heavy-hitter. “If I Were A Boy” is not only a great track that picks up the girl power theme in a big way, the title also employs the subjunctive tense properly, which never, ever happens in songs. Sasha Fierce also notably contains what may be Beyoncé’s best song, “Halo“. And then, of course, there’s the pièce de résistance, “Single Ladies“, the music video that launched a thousand parodies. Shout out to Ms. Tina’s Deréon jeans! This video is what caused the Kanye Interruption heard ’round the world! No prior moment in Bey’s career so solidified her status as a cult leader an icon.
Also, in case you were wondering, a diva is a female version of a hustler.
‘Twas in this era that we truly began to understand the cultural import of Queen Bey. SNL may have put it best in “The Beygency“. She had revealed years prior that she basically doesn’t need the media when she released the first photos of Blue Ivy on her own site. Then in December 2013, she blessed us with a surprise album that, SURPRISE AGAIN, was also a movie.
*very Stefon voice* This album has everything. Bey was not fucking around with this album. It opens with “Pretty Hurts“, penned by Sia—a scathing condemnation of damaging societal beauty standards. “***Flawless” features Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche’s TED Talk. This is the era in which Bey performed at awards shows in front of giant neon signs reading “FEMINIST”. Do not underestimate how important it was for a famous woman of color to declare herself a feminist—feminism is for everyone. It is inclusive and intersectional.
I very nearly placed I Am…Sasha Fierce in this spot, but Beyoncé broke the internet and changed the world. Maybe I’ll listen to “Halo” more often than “Blow“, but I’ll always acknowledge the awesome power of Bey’s 2013 sexual revolution.
The only, I mean the only, reason that this album did not take the top spot is the intro to the song “Party”, which features Kanye West rapping: You a bad girl / And your friends bad too / We got the swag sauce / She drippin’ Swagu. The rest of the song is actually great—it features André 3000, for chrissakes—but that Swagu line is so cheesy that I can’t endorse it and must bump the incredible, sensational 4 to second place.
The highlights of this album are, in my opinion, “Countdown” and “I Care” which is a stunning track that features some of Bey’s best vocals to date. She sings along with the guitar solo. It is chilling. Also, can we fucking talk about Frank Ocean’s writing and vocal contribution to “I Miss You”? If you can tolerate crappy-quality YouTube vids, there are quite a few of him performing the song alone, which melt me.
4 is just an incredible album. Every single track is a musical goldmine and I will love each one ’til the end of time.
P.S. I just re-watched the pregnancy-reveal video and cried when Kanye hugs Jay.
P.P.S. The official video for “Party” features J. Cole instead of André and in my opinion, this constitutes a war crime.
Are you surprised, though? Know what surprises me? That Adele won a Grammy for Best Album over Lemonade. That’s institutional racism at work, friends. Beyoncé, despite jumping genres at a break-neck speed, is trapped in the less-respected “Urban Contemporary” category. SMDH @ the Academy forever. And I ain’t sorry.
Lemonade began its journey into our collective consciousness when Bey dropped the “Formation” video prior to her performance at the 2016 Super Bowl. It set the world ablaze, gave us all the best catchphrase of all time (“I got hot sauce in my bag”), and inspired one of my favorite SNL Digital Shorts, “The Day Beyoncé Turned Black“, which skewers the criticism she faced over the controversial video.
Then, in the springtime, the season of rebirth, we were blessed with Lemonade. I will come out and say that I do not care if it is merely a performance piece and she and Jay were 100% fine the whole time. I don’t even care if the Solange elevator moment was unrelated. All I care about is that my queen collaborated with Jack White, Kendrick, James Blake, and The Weeknd to bring us this sensational vision.
P.S. In the time since I started this post, the new season of Kimmy Schmidt dropped, and with it an incomparable “Hold Up” parody by the incredible Tituss Burgess. They also riffed on “Sorry” and “All Night“. I will not rest until Tituss and Bey sing together IRL.
P.P.S. The album also inspired this fabulous video, back when there was still light in the world and we almost had a competent president.
P.P.P.S. Lemonade was released on HBO and Tidal, so not all of the mini-movies are available on YouTube. You can watch the pirate versions, of course, or you could just buy the fucking album.
So, there you have it. Enough Beyoncé #content to have you in a YouTube k-hole for half a day.
63 Grammy nominations, 22 wins, 6 solo albums, 3 children, 1 Beyoncé.
Oy. I have a lot of feelings about this, and though I’m hardly the first person to air grievances on the Internet, I’m going to talk about them anyway. Here there be spoilers.
Girlboss is Kay Cannon’s Netflix adaptation of Nasty Gal founder Sophia Amoruso’s 2014 memoir of the same name (stylized #GIRLBOSS). I read the book as soon as it came out, despite not having previously shopped the Nasty Gal site, because it seemed like a kickass Cinderella story whose beginning mirrored my own life: I was broke, underemployed and still without a degree, and I had a rabid interest in clothing and fashion. The memoir, which is interspersed with prescriptive pieces that seek to serve as feminist #inspo, tells an evocative tale. It’s Drake’s “Started from the Bottom” and now, we truly are, here.
But that was 3 years ago. The timing of the Girlboss series in 2017 seems…inopportune, to say the least. Nasty Gal has filed for bankruptcy, has been sold to retailer Boohoo, and Ms. Amoruso no longer has a stake in the company. Nasty Gal has been slammed for unfair practices and policies affecting pregnant employees. If we are supposed to see the series, like the memoir, as an inspiring rags-to-riches tale, the real-life context muddies the narrative.
Structurally, the show is a bit of a nightmare. The series is supposed to span 2 years, from Nasty Gal’s conception to the launch of the website, but there are few demarcations of time passing until the eleventh episode, set during Christmas 2007. Sophia spends the capsule episode jet-setting around the Mid-West, confronting her online nemesis and reconnecting with her dysfunctional estranged mother. The lack of through-lines in the story makes it difficult to appropriately empathize with the characters. When Shane (SPOILER) cheats on Sophia, the audience sees the shady indiscretion in the context of a monogam-ish hook-up, as opposed to a betrayal of a two-year long committed relationship.
Criminally underused is the brilliant Alphonso McAuley as Dax, who is the only truly interesting, three-dimensional character the show boasts. He is a hardworking, career-focused young black man putting himself through business school, yet is constantly put down by the rest of the cast. When he and his girlfriend, Annie, discuss the seriousness of their relationship, Dax appears plagued by issues of race (Annie is white, his parents don’t approve). This moment is moving, but feels completely out of place with the rest of the narrative—it is later completely abandoned.
For a show ostensibly about a burgeoning business and its ruthless founder, Girlboss is (tenuously) woven together by the relationships between characters it portrays. Sophia’s relationship to authority figures (her parents, her boss Rick, shop owner Mobias), and her relationship with her best friend, Annie, are all deeply fraught, and the series shows little growth in Sophia’s character until the very last episodes, where she pulls an about-face that gives the audience emotional whiplash. When her nemesis, Gail, owner of vintage Ebay store, Remembrances, calls Sophia a “garbage person,” the series feebly attempts to transform Sophia from heinous narcissist to sympathetic wunderkind, stunted by her mother’s abandonment, in the episode’s remaining few minutes. Previous to this, the realest Sophia gets is with Rosie, the park bench-dwelling elderly lady who has the sense to slap Sophia in her self-important face after a cringe-worthy monologue. In structure, in pacing, in writing, the show is just not very good. Too many aha moments, too much exposition in the dialogue, too many heavy-handed “insights” into why Sophia is so damaged—all of which could have been explained away in a 2-minute wine-drinking montage set to Jonny Craig’s “Children of Divorce”.
According to the show’s lead actress, Britt Robertson, Girlboss‘s Sophia is supposed to be a hateable character, which, in most cases, is perfectly acceptable. I personally champion any medium that can portray a flawed, complicated woman as she is. Women are held to a shameful double-standard when it comes to likability, a topic that has sparked, I’m sure, thousands of thinkpieces as well as a particularly moving passage in Roxane Gay’s Bad Feminist. That Sophia is unlikable is not an issue—well-behaved women seldom make history, after all. But Sophia is not just unlikable—she is a narcissist who drags those around her down in order to buoy herself. She takes advantage of others without remorse at every turn. She speaks ill of her customers and disrespects her peers in the vintage resale community. She uses her manic-pixie-dream-girl-bullshit persona to hook the very sweet San Francisco-newbie, Shane, and then proceeds to be emotionally-withholding for two years until he cheats with a bandmate. I know that this a “real loose” retelling of the events surrounding Nasty Gal’s founding, but why choose a tale (and a person) like this to glorify with a television show? Not every story by, for, and about women is a feminist story.
After all of this, I’m somehow still left wondering: how can a show that features RuPaul Charles, Jim Rash, Norm Macdonald, Cole Escola, and Dean Norris not be good? Everybody knows RuPaul, of course, and Dean Norris notably portrayed Hank Schrader in every white man’s favorite show, Breaking Bad, but Cole Escola is a goddamn rising star that should be a household name by now. Apart from slaying on Twitter, he is killing it as the incomparable Matthew on Hulu’s Difficult People. Sure, he’s only in a couple of episodes of Girlboss, but he steals every single scene. This show has the raw materials to be amazing! This could have been a platform to turn a real-life trainwreck into compelling, must-see TV. It’s just a little off the rails.
The “cliffhangers” that will inevitably necessitate a second season are lukewarm at best: will Sophia and Shane get back together? Will the now sold-out Nasty Gal site be able to keep up with customer demand? Will the Vintage Fashion Forum continue to throw shade at Sophia via internet comments? These are the tenuous threads by which additional seasons will hang. And will I watch it? Of course I’ll fucking watch it. At the end of the day, Sophia & co.’s insufferableness is entertaining, and later seasons would allow for the exploration into the company’s downfall, something which might tickle the (many) Sophia-haters out there. But fair warning, dear reader, if you, unlike me, can’t stomach watching a thin, millennial white lady coast down the privilege highway to destination success, stop the next episode before it auto-plays.
If you didn’t already know, Dana Schwartz, writer for the Observer and parody Twitter powerhouse, released a YA novel last week called And We’re Off. As a rule, with the exception of a brief stint in my early 20s with The Hunger Games, I lost the bug for YA (young adult, to the non-literary among us) at least a decade ago. However, Dana’s writing is my favorite, and Universe bless Twitter for bringing her fresh perspective and undeniable wit into my life.
And We’re Off is a universally-relatable text about completely, fantastically un-relatable things; though I don’t know anyone who went on a fabulous EuroTrip at 18, much less one instigated by acceptance to a prestigious art program, who among us doesn’t have a fraught, tense relationship with a parent? Whose passions haven’t been tested and questioned? Who hasn’t anguished over crushes or second-guessed their abilities? Nora is all of us, which is part of what makes her tale so compelling—she is a reminder of the Tumblr-dwelling nerds we used to be (or still are), but a shining example of the feminist adult we hope to become. I mean, she slams Donnie Darko in front of a cute hipster boy at a pub—she is #goals.
Plot is, of course, secondary in any great tale, but And We’re Off certainly left me with some burning questions! Is it too meta to write fanfiction about a book that references fanfiction?
Will Nora get into RISD?
Will Nora finally be honest with Lena about sleeping with Nick?
Will Nora truly, finally realize that Nick is a dumpster fire of a person and move on?
Will Callum and Nora ever see each other again, or will Callum just become a EuroTrip anecdote?
Are there actually cute teen boys out there who read and reread the works of the Oxford Fantasists?
Is Nora talented enough to make it as an artist or should she heed Alice’s practical warning?
Would Nora have gotten into the Deece without Robert’s letter of recommendation?
Will Nora ever pronounce Áine properly?
Will Nora ever learn and retain the Californian boy’s name? #whiteboyfacialblindness
Can Ophelia in Paradise be real, and if so, can I have a drawing of Drarry?
Will Nora realize that cartooning is real art, and that she can have a viable, amazing career by leaning on her strengths?
Will Valentine Neverwoods be the next Katniss Everdeen? Just kidding—she already is!
Will Maeve get out of Donegal Town and take the art world by storm?
Will Nora seek out her British author biological father?
Will Nora’s father’s marriage to the math teacher work out? I mean, peach and mint green as wedding colors can’t bode well for the union.
Will Nora and Alice’s relationship repair and go on to fill the void left in our hearts by Lorelai and Rory Gilmore?
Will Alice sue her firm for wrongful termination (because frankly that shit seems like ageism to me)? Actually, fuck that. Will Alice start her own firm and bury them?
Can Alice and Evelyn please be the late-in-life lesbian power couple that we all deserve?
Where can I buy a print of The Reader and the Watcher?