One Year, 100 Pop Cultures: #70 – 61
Posted by Andrew Unterberger on January 16, 2009
You know 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 we can move into an ‘09 mindstate by Groundhog Day at the latest.
A couple of my friends and I saw a showing recently of Of All the Things, a doc about forgotten songwriter/producer Dennis Lambert, the man behind such beloved classics as Tavares’s “It Only Takes a Minute,” Starship’s “We Built This City” and Player’s “Baby Come Back.” There was a Q&A with Dennis himself afterwards, and the only thing I could think to ask him about was the use of one of his defining anthems in the recent series of Swiffer ads, in which a lonely and dejected mop tries to re-court a customer lost to the lure of the Swiff, with “Baby Come Back” blaring in the background. They were all so ridiculous and cheesy (“You have a telegram from a Mr….Mop?”), but they were utterly irresistible, even more so the more ambitious they got (like when the mop enlists a mariachi band to play the song)–not to mention that the Player song itself is always revelatory in any context. After years of enduring their Devo-aping “Swiff It” series, I never would’ve thought that a Swiffer ad campaign could win my heart, but I was very happy in 2008 to be proven wrong.
Every year, the mainstream alternative crowd (oxymoronic, I know) seems to throw the indie crowd a bone by allowing one of their chosen sons a legitimate crossover hit. To be honest, most of the time it’s a more deserving recipient than the pressingly mediocre Kings of Leon, but a great single is a great single, and “Sex on Fire” is very, very close to that. Assisted, like so many before them, by a gorgeously evocative Sophie Muller video, “Sex on Fire” employed a brilliant, coruscating guitar riff and soaring bass line to such maximum effect that the song only needed four words in the song to be comprehensible–“THIS SEX IS ON FIIIIIIIRE!!!!!“–to achieve the proper feeling of grandeur. It doesn’t mean much, and it’s doubtful to propel the bands to much greater heights, but it’s still preferable to Saving Abel’s “Addicted” most days of the week.
Who could’ve imagined, when Akon broke into the national scene with “Locked Up” almost five years ago, that he would become one of the biggest constants in pop music for the rest of the decade? A year after appearing on an extremely impressive seven top 40 hits (including providing the “OOOOH-OOOH….WEEEEE-OOOOH!!!!“s on “The Sweet Escape” and getting Bone Thugs n Harmony back in the top ten for the first time in a decade), Akon took it easy this year, only gracing five hits this year (as well as Nelly’s #42 hit, “Body on Me”). Nonetheless, those five hits included his smash-necessitating hook to Kardinal Offishal’s “Dangerous” (“noooo-tice youuuuu….no-ti-cin’ meee-eeeeee….“) as well as his own 2008 buzzer beater of a chart-buster, the insanely addictive “Right Now (Na Na Na Na),” whose biggest days might still be ahead of it. I don’t see him slowing down much in 2009, and really, who would ever want him to?
For TV obsessives such as myself, often times a movie’s preview–if it’s one that’s shown a hundred times a week for months before the movie is released–makes such a strong impression that you hope you never have to actually see the movie and ruin it for yourself. 21 was such a preview in 2008, looking utterly absurd–the combination of the cast being way too attractive for a real-life story about math nerds, and the thriller-ish boombast obviously being inserted into a likely relatively inert story making for a wonderful thirty-second encapsulation of a movie I’d never see in the theaters. Best of all, it gave us two classic trailer quotes, along the lines of “YOU HAVE SOMETHING THEY WANT!!!” from classic movie preview Enemy of the State–professor Kevin Spacey shooting down the nerd chick’s “dude, I lost count” quip with a withering “DON’T CALL ME DUDE!” and casino thug Lawrence Fishburne incredulously questioning the ringleader, “YOU THINK YOU CAN BEAT THE SYSTEM?!?!?” Ooooh, chills.
After having the most ubiquitous song of 2007 and my personal choice for single of the year, Soulja Boy was no doubt looking forward to continuing to lay the groundwork for a long, fruitful and important musical career in 2008. To this end, he released “Yahhh!” an absolutely perplexing and thoroughly hilarious song showing his fury at those less fortunate than him attempting to steal his shine (and advising those in similar situations to deal with such people by yelling at them mid-sentence) which peaked at #48 on the pop charts. This would be the first of many Soulja Boy-related singles to chart outside the top 40 in 2008, including “Donk” (#121), “Gucci Bandana” (#104), “Bird Walk” (#102), “Kiss Me Thru the Phone” (#71), and of course, “Soulja Boy Tellem” (#108), as well as Savage’s “Swing” (#45) and Bow Wow’s “Marco Polo” (#66). The fact that you have, in all likelihood, never heard of a single one of these songs should make clear what Soulja Boy’s greatest contribution to pop music was in 2008–getting the fuck out of the way.
If ever a football team was destined to go 4-11-1, it would have to have been the 2008 Cincinatti Bengals. This would have been pretty obvious under almost any set of circumstances, but the utter lunacy that befell the team during the off-season left no doubt to the matter whatsoever. Their quarterback broke his nose in a pre-season game. Their star wide receiver got his last name legally changed to an incorrect spanish translation of his jersey number, and claimed that he (as well as several other people from his neighborhood) could easily outswim Michael Phelps. Then he got injured, forcing their management to take another chance–their third or so–on troubled wideout Chris Henry, despite his dozen or so run-ins with the law during his previous tenure with the team, and despite the fact that just a month earlier, coach Marvin Lewis swore that Cincy fans had seen the last of the ne’er-do-well. So dramatic was their off-season that it even followed the team members after they moved on to other teams, as evidenced by ex-Bengal Rudi Johnson getting his luggage stolen by then-fellow Lions running back Tatum Bell (“It was an honest mistake” claimed Bell, who was released for the team and became a cell phone salesman shortly thereafter). Amazingly, their cursed season was still not terrible enough to make them the dogs of the AFC North, as thir inspired lunacy managed to outshine the straight-up terror of the Cleveland Browns’ 4-12 record.
Released simultaneously in the late fall, “If I Were a Boy” and “Single Ladies (Put a Ring On It)” pretty much left Beyonce’s bases covered. IIWAB was her go-for-the-gold Grammy bait, the kind of grand Alicia Keys or “Beautiful”-era Christina ballad that will no doubt become an Idol perennial for years to follow, with the benefit of a self-consciously classy video (complete with plot twist!) and a provocative, distinctly mature subject matter and presentation. Most people, however, seemed to prefer “Single Ladies,” her significantly more upbeat variation on her regular “You did me wrong, sort of, but I’m too fabulous to care and won’t think of you again in my whole life once this song is over” theme, with a similarly classy vid (is there such a thing as a non-classy black and white video?), apparently based on a Fosse-choreographed dance routine performed on Ed Sullivan in the late 60s. Both songs had their flaws–“If I Were a Boy” was minorly sexist and majorly overblown, and I was never really sold on the bizarrely dark tone the beat to “Single Ladies” took on the chorus. But even if neither was quite perfect, between the two of them, “If I Were a Boy” and “Single Ladies (Put a Ring On It)” comprised an absolute classic.
This is what the non-major sports are all about–capturing your attention absolutely for a few hours, and then disappearing from your radar completely for another three months. I had never seriously watched a major golf event before the Monday when golf deity Tiger Woods played against tour scrub Rocco Mediate in an eighteen-hole playoff for the US Open championship, but like most other days this summer, I didn’t have much to do that day and I had probably just seen the Sopranos ep getting re-ran on A&E, so I figured, why not. Sure enough, it was one of the best matches of any sport I watched all year–a hobbled Woods struggling to keep pace with the shooting star play of Mediate, who played with a casual, “I’m just as surprised as you guys are” flair that belied the fact that you could see that deep down, he knew that this was his once chance at golf immortality and was damned if he was going to let some cripple get the best of him. Of course, Tiger hit a couple big shots late in the back nine, and eventually claimed the title, relegating Mediate to footnote status, another stepping stone on Woods’s journey to Greatest of All-Time territory. Nonetheless, for his one gloriously lazy, unemployed afternoon in my life as the Manning to Woods’s Brady, his sweatered scruffiness will be burned into my subconscious for all time.
I still can’t believe how lucky I was to stumble across this.
Yo ho ho and a cup of black tea. Apparently piracy on the high seas is alive and well, as proven by the most surreal subplot to a very eventful 2008 news year. Like Lil’ Wayne, the Somali pirates had been on the scene well before this year, but it was in 2008 that they truly broke out on the international scene. So prolific and wide-reaching was the pirates’ larceny in 2008 that they even made a Wikipedia page dedicated to breaking down not only every ship hijacked by the pirates, but the ransom demanded for it and whether or not it was received. In this age of global terrorism and biological warfare, the petty thievery of these pirates packed the same kind of DIY, near-antiquated charm of the Tampa Bay Rays’ AL pennant run–that sort of low-budget, grassroots infamy that seems like it should be totally impossible in this day and age. Nonetheless, the Somali pirates show no sigs of slowing down in 2009, as according to the Wiki, four hijacking occurences have already been recorded in this young calendar year. Let’s see people flock to those ridiculous fucking Johnny Depp movies now, huh? (Thanks to my dad for keeping me up to date on this ongoing story–he was so infatuated with the facts and intricacies that when he would regale my brother and I with the facts of the story, my mom would bury her heads in her hand after giving an “I can’t believe he’s talking about the Somali Pirates AGAIN” eye-roll of frustration)