One Year, 100 Pop Cultures: #100 – 91
Posted by Andrew Unterberger on January 8, 2009
Hm, apparently my introductory post to this project got fucked up even more than I realized last night, but suffice to say, we couldn’t let 2008 pass here at IITS without some sort of commemorative list, and over the next few weeks, we’ll be counting down the 100 people, places and things that made pop culture an inhabitable space over the last 365 days. Music, movies, TV, commercials, sports, previews, internets, current events…anything and everything that made the year what it was. Ten at a time for as long as it takes, and hopefully I can move into an ’09 mindstate by Groundhog Day at the latest. Jumping in head first:
I was watching some of this on New Year’s Eve when my roommate had some friends visiting, and naturally, it was only a matter of time before it started: “Y’know, when they started, it was I Love the 70s and 80s, and now it’s about, like, yesterday.” I don’ t even try to fight it anymore, instead joining in with a comment that I was looking forward to I Love the Future (don’t count out the possibility, by the way). But whenever I try to watch some god-awful countdown Top 40 countdown on E! or Bravo and shudder too much to make it out of the 40s, I’m reminded that there’s still no channel out there that can put together a pop culture retrospective like VH1. And even if some of it was a little pointless (“OMG, I remember iPods too!) and some of it was a little ridiculous (did anyone ever give a fuck about Sharon Stone’s husband getting bit by a Komodo dragon?), and some of it was just kind of depressing (put a little effort into those shuffle picks, Moby!), there’s still barely anything I looked forward to on TV more this year.
There was only one video game I played seriously this year, and it certainly wasn’t Grand Theft Auto IV. But I can’t get enough of these commercials for it–they’re more exciting, intriguing and panoramic than 95% of the actual film previews I saw this year (especially considering the fact that back in the days I actually did play GTA, the only plot I was concerned with was how many people I could run over until they had to bring in the police helicopters to take me out). And the music–my god, the music. The Greeenskepers’ “Vagabond” was a good start, and then LCD Soundsystem’s “Time to Get Away” took it to the next level. But when they broke out the Godley & Creme for the third one, they won my heart forever. GTA V can’t come to theaters soon enough.
Apparently a whole lot of people were none too fond of this song, but I guess songs that sound like Cake covering Linkin Park aren’t bound to be for everyone. Me, I’m just a sucker for hit songs that don’t sound anything like hit songs, and an even bigger sucker for awkward, reach-greater-than-grasp white boy raps and music videos that treat Eminem’s “Mosh” like Peter Gabriel’s “Sledgehammer”. Besides, there wasn’t a more insidious chorus hook to be found in rock this year, complete with a bunch of different variations to keep things from getting boring (“writ[ing] a rhyme with no metronome” being my personal favorite). When “Handlebars” started to cross over, I thought it’d gain momentum up to achieving “Crazy”-style left-field success. Instead, the only people that seemed to remember it at the end of the year were those who thought it was the worst shit they ever heard. Maybe next time, Flobots.
I don’t watch too much hockey, but I caught the second period of this game late on a Sunday night when I was working mornings at Sirius, and it seemed like a pretty good game, and a possible elimination, so I figured I’d catch the rest of the game before I went to sleep. But at the end of three, the score was still tied, but I had gotten into it, so I decided to stay up a little later to catch the denouement. But neither team could put one past Evgeni Nabokov or Marty Turco, so it went to another OT. And then another. And then ANOTHER, but by then it was nearly 3:00 and I had long since checked out involuntarily. Nonetheless, it was an hour or two of the most intense, exciting and impressive hockey I had ever witnessed, filled with as many brilliant stops and close calls as I’d seen the whole season. It’s hard for me to follow hockey too closely, especially during basketball season, but one game like this a season is all I need to stay interested in the sport. (The Stars won, by the way, although I had to check that to be sure.)
Really, chart pop works the opposite way of Oscar contention–you wanna get your heavy hitters out there as early in the year as possible, and certainly no later than June. But apparently Lady GaGa and her people never picked up on that one, and so we really only got “Just Dance” in wintery November, with just a month to appreciate it before the calendar turned. It’s too bad, because there’s no doubt that a song this sinewy and sneakily addictive no doubt could’ve become one of the defining hits of the year, had it not been released at a time that damned it to year-‘tweener status for all time. Nonetheless, we can take solace in the fact that, contrary to the way it might sound, this was no fluky one-off, but rather the result of nearly two decades of musical prodigiousness (GaGa, nee Joanne Germanotta, could play the piano by ear since she was four, had been accepted to some super-exclusive NYU music program, and had even paid her dues on the underground NYC club scene, worrying that “Just Dance” would ruin her cred). Besides, I hear follow-up “Poker Face” is a megahit in Canada, and will no doubt hit our landscape soon enough–hopefully propelling her to greater heights on our 2009 list.
OK, so the plot was kind of nonsensical, it didn’t have a sex or gadget scene and the title was obscure even by Octopussy standards. I still kind of liked Quantum of Solace–reduced expectations, perhaps, or the fact that outside of a couple scenes, I never thought Casino Royale was really that much of a benchmark either. The chase scenes, which were plentiful, were just as gripping, the cinematography (meant to mimick the Ken Adams look of the 60s films) was often stunning, the theme song was…well, it was about as good as a Jack White and Alicia Keys duet should be, I suppose. Quality Bond girl in Olga Kurylenko, quality weasel villain in Mathieu Amalric–I know the common complaint about the movie was that it wasn’t as much “fun” as the classic Bonds, but I think Die Another Day had taken that aspect of the Bond legacy as far as it could go, and frankly, it was time for the franchise to start taking itself a little more seriously again. Next time, though, maybe throw a little more banter in there. And maybe a dramatic return from Denise Richards.
Every year needs a TV show that is uproariously hilarious for exactly ten minutes, and completely unwatchable the very second thereafter. In 2008, Hole in the Wall was undoubtedly that program, a show that took a dynamite concept–have people try to squeeze throw the titular gap, and end up getting smacked into a pit most of the time–and did absolutely nothing to embellish or dress it up. Yeah, they threw in some lame team concept, and let Brooke Burns add another entry to her truly breathtaking resume of mediocre game shows, but generally speaking, it’s just people getting creamed by this wall for a half an hour (God, it wasn’t a whole hour, was it?), and that’s about all you need. Mostly, you watched it for the look on peoples’ faces as they saw the hole they’d have to get into, and had that “HOW THE FUCK AM I SUPPOSED TO CONTORT MY BODY LIKE THAT OH GOD WHY AM I ON THIS SHOW?!?!?!?” expression before they scrambled for a few seconds and inevitably got plowed. And then at the commercial break, you changed the channel to VH1 Classic, never to return. What more could you ask for?
Obviously the mashup had gone out of vogue long before 2008, but I still tended to discover three or four good ones, by accident if nothing else, per year. This year, though, I’m not sure I heard any mashup, good or bad, besides “United State of Pop,” DJ Earworm’s mashup of Billboard’s Top 25 Songs of 2007. Using the #1 “Umbrella” as the song’s base, “United State” sped through pieces of everything from Plain White T’s to Avril Lavigne to MIMS (indeed, all three of which remind us just how long ago 2007 was already). It’s not always seamless, but like a slightly more thought out and significantly more focused version of Girl Talk, it’s bursting with the love and excitement of pop music, viewing everything on equal terms and celebrating the importance of the place that, for better or worse, these songs had in pop culture and in our lives for twelve months. The best part? DJ Earworm appears to be making an annual event out of it, already having released United State of Pop ’08 (a.k.a. “Viva La Pop“), which is arguably even better. Maybe in 2010 he can expand to the Top 50.
On the first night of the Olympics, and of the invasion of Georgia, CNN couldn’t help but keep focus on the other big story of the day–that recent presidential hopeful John Edwards had admitted to having had an affair with Rielle Hunter, a one-time filmmaker on the Edwards campaign. Naturally, Rielle followed in a proud tradition of markedly unattractive women as subjects of politicians’ sexual dalliances. But still, she couldn’t have been pleased that the one picture they kept showing of her on CNN was the one shown above, a supermarket parking lot mug shot that Nick Nolte would be proud to stick to his fridge. Puffy hair, pregnant belly, stupifying facial expression–yowzah. Though the image will undoubtedly go down as the one that most people will picture when they think of her, poor Rielle can take solace in the fact that by this time next year, no one’s really going to be thinking of her ever again. Unless they catch a replaying of Ricochet on the Sleuth network, of course. (Apparently she won $500 on an episode of Lingo once, too–$20 for any GSN junkies that can get me a copy of that).
Hot on the heels of the Hall of Fame “Hungry Like the Wolf” and “SAFE!…FROM ODOR!” campaigns of Ought Seven, Old Spice impressively managed to keep up the pace in 2008. They kicked things off with the surreal “Hair, or Body, or Both” series (my dad hated it, I thought it was pretty funny), ramped it up a little with the “I Used to Be a Doctor for Pretend” ad, and capped it all off with the future classic Swagger duo, showing early clips from the pre-Old Spice lives of LL Cool J and Brian Urlacher (himself coming off a dynamite ’07 with the Urlacher-Ortiz Vitamin Water Badmitton set), before they pronounce what players they’ve become as a result of the deoderant. (“Who’s laughing now? Heh…ME!“) The clips just got better with repeated viewings (as I didn’t realize until about the 20th time that the key to the Urlacher ad was how he just tosses the deoderant top clear across the room after popping it off) and with GEICO failing to really make any significant waves with their tired commercials this year, it might not be long before Old Spice takes over as the commercial dynasty of its time. And as if all that wasn’t enough, Old Spice has continued to make my armpits smell like sweet liberty for the countless year in a row. The scent that makes a difference, indeed.