One Year, 100 Pop Cultures: #50 – 41
Posted by Andrew Unterberger on January 21, 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.
OK, so maybe the record didn’t mean all that much—statistically speaking, Francisco Rodriguez didn’t even have one of his best years on the mound, and lord knows Bobby Thigpen’s historic season didn’t exactly usher in an oncoming period of dominance for him. Still, K-Rod’s quest for glory with the all-time single-season saves record made for one of the more intriguing subplots of this MLB season, especially for those of us still up and looking for something exciting to watch at 1:00 AM on the East Coast. His fast-motion windup, sprawling delivery, and nutso post-save exhortations have never been anything short of riveting, and with the shining beacon of 57 (also his jersey number, as fate would have it) pointing the way, he became more exciting than ever. Best closer in the game? Probably not. Most entertaining? Undoubtedly. (Copied from my Sports4President.com blurb).
I’m done fighting it. Through my high school years I would have sworn to you that Coldplay were the definition of all that was evil in rock music–derivative, passionless hacks that stole the tunes and credit of bands that were far more deserving to be as globe-conquering as they would soon become. But gradually, more and more of their songs came to be undeniable to me–first the smothering mountaintop-majesty of “Yellow,” then the creepingly solemn singalong of “The Scientist,” and the shimmering immaculateness of “Talk,” until eventually I had to begrudgingly admit that Coldplay was not entirely worthless. And while there are still a number of piddlingly mediocre songs I’ll (hopefully) never bow to (“Trouble,” “In My Place,” the deplorable “Fix You”), Coldplay hit me with four more good ‘uns in ’08 (“Viva La Vida,” “Lost!,” “Violet Hill” and “Lovers of Japan”)–the biggest of which (the iPod-endorsed #1 hit “Vida”) arguably being the worst of the bunch. It’ll be extremely interesting to me to see whether time treats Coldplay as the decade’s U2 or merely its Tears for Fears, but at least now I won’t cry bloody murder at them being compared to either.
42 times–I counted. That’s how often the word “womanizer” is mentioned throughout the course of Britney Spears’s #1 hit of the same name (her first since “Baby One More Time,” if you can believe it), even though it feels like that number should be at least twice as high. Brit taught us all a valuable lesson about the power of repetition this year, drilling the song’s (admittedly ridiculous) point home with the brute force of a jackhammer, and giving us no choice but to listen up. And even though that Schaeffel-ish beat was used in 2008 by everybody from Katy Perry to Fall Out Boy, nobody used it quite as bluntly as producers The Oustyders, who surrounded it with enough zooming synths, disorienting vocal filters and blaring alarm sounds to make the song the aural equivalent of biting into a Guatemalan insanity pepper. Throw in the fact that she looked as good in the video as she has since maybe her “Sometimes” period–with a healthy dose of sidal nudity to boot–and it’d be one of the all-time great comeback singles if she hadn’t fucked it up by trying it with “Gimme More” two years earlier, with significantly lesser/skankier results.
I’m sorry, but doesn’t Sean Penn have an Oscar already? Of course, the win, for 2002’s laughably overrated Mystic River, was a highly undeserved one, but he still came down with the statue, no? Well, I guess he must have lost it, or swapped it for Dodgers NLCS tickets or something, because his performance as Harvey Milk in Milk is quite possibly the most Oscar-baiting performance in history. Run down the checklist with me:
- Real life figure (+5 AA points)
- Story relevant to today (+2 AA points)
- Weird hair style (+3 AA points)
- Uncharacteristic voice/accent (+3 AA points)
- Gives a whole bunch of dramatic speeches (+5 AA points)
- Cries (+2 AA points)
- Plays heavily against type (+10 AA points)
- Dies at the end (+4 AA points)
- Didn’t gain or lose any significant amount of weight (-25 AA points)
OK, well, ignoring that last one anyway, the performance is nothing less than a firm elbow to the nose of Academy voters, a positive force of nature guaranteed to net some Oscar hardware. And yet, unlike 95% of performances that fit these qualifications, Penn doesn’t suck. As a matter of fact, he’s absolutely perfect–a compelling, delightful, complicated and solidly inspirational performance, one that carries the movie’s occasional cringeworthiness and relatively weak supporting cast like LeBron James carried the ’07 Cavaliers. If he doesn’t come away with his second statue, it’ll only be because–as Bill Simmons and Cousin Sal noted in their latest podcast (see: #89)–he’ll be going against two similarly Academy-titillating performances, one of which is still to come on this list…
Anybody else starting to feel old? The first time it really dawned on me that I wasn’t going to be a part of youth culture forever was when High School Musical somehow became one of the biggest phenomenons of the entire decade without me having any clue what the fuck it was. And now, with the ascent of the Jonas Brothers and Miley Cyrus to the highest levels of the pop stratosphere, I really had no choice but to throw up my hands, buy a couple sweaters and start practicing my “Kids these days…” muttering. Helping me to get over the transition period, however, is the fact that in 2008, Miley, the Jonases and various other teens in their orbit were responsible for some of the most irresistible pop singles of the year. The Jonases came through with both the sticky-sweet “Lovebug” and the Maroon Five-aping “Burning Up” (even though the latter raises obvious questions about what kind of torture the subject of the song must be causing the Promise Ring-wearers), while Miley upped the ante with chart-burner “See You Again” and the surprisingly mature (and Natalie Imbruglia-esque) “7 Things”. Best of all, though, might’ve been Metro Station (who met on the set of Hannah Montana), pitching in with the instant slumber party anthem “Shake It” and the “Ocean Avenue” of 2008, “Seventeen Forever.” Hey, the kids might be all right after all.
In the first round of the 2008 NBA playoffs, the Dallas Mavericks were crushed by the New Orleans Hornets in five extremely unexciting games. And that’s when Josh Howard’s season really began. Midway through their playoff trouncing, Howard admitted on radio to being a pot smoker, a somewhat unsolicited confession that nonetheless drew more attention than he had for his entire underwhelming regular season. As the buzz (sic) from that died down in the off-season, Howard got busted for attempting 3 Fast 3 Furious in a 95 mph race on the mean streets of Winston-Salem. And for his final act of the summer, he was caught on a YouTube video refusing to sing the Star Spangled Banner, offering the immortal explanation, “I don’t even celebrate that shit. I’m black. Obama. Obama all that shit.” When the regular season finally rolled around again, Howard scored 15 points in the first quarter of their home debut, as if to say, “That’s right, motherfuckers–I still play basketball, too.” Sidelined recently with a sprained ankle, we can only hope he’s spending his time on the bench plotting his future extracurricular activities—next time, I’m guessing cow tipping is gonna be somehow involved. (Copied from my Sports4President blurb).
If we’re lucky, every year has one song that’s so unexpectedly good that you can’t help hesitating to admit it to yourself or anyone else. Given how Panic! At the Disco had broken through just a few years earlier on what is a surefire lock for the Ten Worst Singles of the Decade, and given how I had spent much time around then badmouthing them for doing so, I was a bit reluctant to give myself over to the joys of their neo-psych-pop mini-gem “Nine in the Afternoon,” until I talked about it with my friends and realized that they all quietly felt as confused and conflicted as I did. Of course, once the song showed up on Rock Band 2, it was a done deal–the song was officially the perkiest, most unrestrainedly joyous rock song of 2008 (even though the sudden shifts in time-signature make it a bitch to sing). And as if the song itself wasn’t enough, “Nine in the Afternoon” also performed the double duty of completely failing to cross over to the pop charts–the kids, they care not for the Zombies–dooming the band to what seems rather likely to be eventual one-hit wonder status, which seems only fair as retribution considering their past crimes against humanity. Goody goody gumdrops.
You gotta give it up for NBC–they really threw their weight behind My Own Worst Enemy, shilling for it with endless promo spots during their Olympics coverage, alongside ads for the ill-fated and downright despicable Kath & Kim. While it continues to amaze me that a network can so unreservedly give their support to a show that no human being could possibly take seriously (could they?) I’m certainly not complaining–these commercials promised My Own Worst Enemy to be an easy contender for Biggest Flop in TV History. I mean, c’mon–the symbolism the light and dark wardrobes, the unbelievably hokey narration (“Meet Edward…“), the fact that it starred CHRISTIAN FUCKING SLATER, or the fact that CHRISTIAN FUCKING SLATER WAS WALKING AWAY FROM A FUCKING BUILDING AS IT FUCKING EXPLODED. I was counting the days until the premiere, even considering Liveblogging it here on IITS. Then it somehow scored a 61 on Metacritic (A 61? Really?) and I completely lost interest. If you’ve ever seen an episode, let me know if it turned out, because I don’t think I could stand the heartbreak if I watched it and it ended up being decent.
The scary thing is that 2008 could probably be considered a down year for Kanye. He didn’t have any chart-topping singles, he didn’t make any bold pronouncements about himself or the future music (or both), he didn’t even piss anybody off on live TV. Still, even in a phone-in year, he managed to guest star on three top twenty hits (a couple of which you’ll hear from later on), perform the closing number at the VMAs, fuck up a paparazzi, start work on his own clothing line, and put together the package tour of the summer. Oh yeah, there was also 808s and Heartbreaks, an album which, while heavily flawed, showed how like Prince or Stevie Wonder before him, Kanye could always spread enough brilliance over his more experimental albums to make the cringeworthy moments bearable. “Love Lockdown” was great and all–unlike “Stronger,” it got better with repeated listens–but the real prize on the album is “Paranoid,” which is probably the most stunning thing that I heard in 2008 (and could very well be showing up on this thing next year if it blows up like it should).
Those four words: “Foreword by Gilbert Arenas”–were more or less guaranteed to make this any fan of sports and crackpot sociology’s obligatory Holiday stocking stuffer. But Agent Zero’s intro–in which he unashamedly cops to creating his around-the-back pre-free throw ritual so kids would copy him on the playground like they copied Rip Hamilton’s cross-dribble–was just one of of the many pleasures to be found in this tome, the hard cover debut of oft-inspired b-ball bloggers Free Darko. The book features bursting-off-the-page graphics illustrating how Rasheed Wallace plays better after getting a technical foul and diagramming the myriad meanings of Amar’e Stoudemire’s dozens of tattoos, which split page space with delicate prose poring over the grand significance of Kevin Garnett phasing out his low-post game in favor of the fadeaway jumper or what Tracy McGrady’s reliance on a good night’s sleep has to do with his inability to get out of the first round of the playoffs. Occasionally it stretches it a bit–I dunno if Ron Artest’s mood swings can really be tied to the waxing and waning of the moon, or if Gerald Wallace and Leandro Barbosa really deserve entire chapters devoted to them–but any book that features chapters called “Tim Duncan: American Gothic” and “LeBron James: Inland Empire,” as well as a player-by-player breakdown of the atrocity exhibition that was the 2000 NBA Draft, is guaranteed to be essential reading.