One Year, 100 Pop Cultures: #40 – 31
Posted by Andrew Unterberger on January 22, 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.
It’s entirely possible that best baseball game I watched in all of 2008 was the one that wasn’t even supposed to mean anything–the 15-inning showdown that was the 2008 All-Star Game. When remembering the All-Star break this year, most people fixated on Josh Hamilton’s Herculean performance in the Home Run Derby (which was arguably the second-most overrated story in sports this year, and he ended up losing anyway), but give me the early-inning dominance of Cliff Lee and Ben Sheets, Aaron Cook pitching out of a bases-loaded jam in extra innings, and Dan Uggla doing everything in his power to submarine his own team (his three strikeouts and just as many errors earning him the all-too-rare Golden Sombrero). Every inning I prayed the NL could hang one measley run on the board so that Brad Lidge could come in to shut the door like he did all season in the bottom of the inning–naturally, after warming up and then cooling down for abotu twelve hours straight, he was totally useless by the time Clint Hurdle had no choice but to throw him out there, giving possibly his worst effort of the season to date and earning the L. Nonetheless, for those who claim that the All-Star Game is nothing but a meaningless exhibition and shouldn’t hold sway over anything, the ridiculous intensity of this game was a pretty solid counter-argument.
To me, the comeback of LOST in 2008 was only slightly less surprising than that of Darius Rucker–I had long since left it for dead, bored with the compounding mysteries, the irritating supporting cast and the disbelief-suspending flashbacks. To that end, the fourth season of LOST took the all-too-rare measure of isolating its issues and dealing with them. It answered some questions, although certainly not too many, and stopped creating pointless new mysteries. It eliminated some annoying minor characters (like Ben’s simpering daughter) and brought in an all-star cast of That Guys (Ken Leung, Jeff Fahey, Jeremy Davies) for added support. But most importantly, it replaced the ridiculous flashbacks with tantalizing flash-fowards, in which we got to see Hurley plagued by ghosts of the past, Sayid re-embrace his more mercenarial qualities, Ben turning out to actually be kind of bad-ass, and Jack blast a copy of Doolittle while driving drunk. It’s really true that you don’t realize how much you miss LOST when it’s not on, but now that it’s back, it’s good to know that the show is in the best form it’s had for years.
He’s become such an integral part of the team since joining the Suns a year ago that it’s hard to remember how mindblowing a trade Phoenix shipping Shawn Marion ot Miami to bring in the Big Cactus was when it happened. We didn’t have a clue how Shaq was supposed to fit in to a team that had heretofore played at a pace it seemed like the out-of-shape 36-year-old wouldn’t even have been able to endure for an entire quarter, but boy were we excited to find out–especially after his high-octane debut performance against the Lakers that February (which, as it always does, ended up with the Suns losing). Of course, that was only the jumping-off point for what was an extremely evenful year for O’Neal, including his unforgettable dive into the court-level seats at the US Airways center (and his team’s petrified response when he looked like he was going to attempt a repeat performance a few games later), his “Welcome to the NBA” flagrant on Pistons up-and-comer Rodney Stuckey, and his ongoing and often hilarious feud with notorious Shaq-Haqqer Gregg Popovich. Best of all, of course, was the rap freestyle he (unkowingly) released dissing a certain ex-teammate of his after his team’s collapse in the finals, including such classic lines as “I love ’em, don’t leave ’em / Got a vasectomy, now I can’t breed ’em” and “I’m a horse / Kobe rat me out, that’s why I’m gettin’ divorced,” and featuring the immortal refrain “KOBE, TELL ME HOW MY ASS TASTE?!?” Good to have you back, big guy.
I heard they broke up. Did they break up? The Wikipedia page doesn’t say anything. They didn’t really break up, did they?
A few years ago, Jay-Z’s power was so great that he could break a new artist just by taking on a sort of curatory role on one of their singles, and now that baton has been passed to Kanye. His guest verse on “American Boy” is fairly rote, but by appearing on the song at all, it gave americans an excuse to listen to a song that by any right should’ve been a megahit anyway. Estelle, known to US interneters only through her UK rap hit “1980” from a few years prior, burned up the international charts with “American Boy” in late ’07, but it took till nearly this summer for the song to crash on American shores, but it was well worth the wait–a breezy, catchy tune centered around a classic concept (Ask the Beach Boys, Steve Miller or Huey Lewis and the News–listing a bunch of locations = guaranteed chartbuster), with classy production, and–of course–a classy black-and-white video. Unsurprisingly, Estelle’s follow-up (the underrated “No Substitute Love”) went absolutely nowhere in the States, and Estelle seems to be on the fast track to “that chick from the Kanye video” status. Still, she can look back fondly on a run that netted her a whole bunch of Grammy nods, more lame parodies (“Canadian Boy,” yikes) and even a bizarre organ cover that gets played during Lakers games.
Clint Eastwood is practically guaranteed a Best Actor nod for his performance in 2008’s Gran Torino, but while I’m sure that Clint is highly deserving of some sort of commemoration for his star performance (as well as his direction, production, and even his musical contribution), I’m also fairly certain that an Oscar nomination isn’t it. Frankly, I tip my hat to anyone who can manage to take Gran Torino seriously enough to ponder the movie’s Oscar worthiness, or the sociological implications of the story, or the significance the role plays in Clint’s career arc. Personally, I’m too busy cringing over the Hmong cast’s horrific supporting performances (I wondered why it seemed like nobody in the movie could act, until I found out that most of the cast consisted of non-actors–makes sense), and doubling over with laughter at Clint’s Grumpiest Old Men performance. Watching the Man With No Name hurl every racial epiphet in the book at anyone within earshot and seethe with pure malice at the insolence of all who besot him with their presence (especially the scene where his kid tries to suggest he join a rest home, and he growls like a mountain lion that hasn’t been fed in three weeks) made for the most essential comedic viewing of 2008. The movie saves the best for last, though, as the credit sequence includes the unparallelled sound of Clint crooning the titutlar theme song (over music by son Jake!), which really must be heard to be believed.
It started out innocuous enough, until they became the four words–eight if you count the “It’s c-c-c-catchin’ on!!“–that got stuck in your head worse than a Roxette song. Subway had never been much of a powerhouse on the commercial front before , and in fact, their most prominent campaigns (if you don’t count the fake-spot in Happy Gilmore) all featured the supremely grating Jared Fogle, who had been palling it up recently with dorky sports stars like Michael Strahan and Ryan Howard. But true to their promise, the “FIVE DOLLAR FOOT-LOOOONG!!!” jingle quickly began to c-c-c-catch on the general public, until the commercials had no choice but to update the second part of the song (“It’s g-g-g-growin’ stroong!!!“) The song’s juggernaut-like gathering of momentum was increasingly belied by the ads, which started to feature a Godzilla-ish monster, and then showed random citizens catching the song’s fever, “Walk Like an Egyptian”-style, demonstrating that the show could only be resisted for so long. But truth told, the song had an ominous feel to it form the get go–sez composer Jimmy Harned: “”The chord structure does imply something dark […] On the word long, [the guitar part] goes down from a C to an A-flat, which is kind of a weird place. It’s definitely not a poppy, happy place.”
One of the more unexpected success stories of 2008, MGMT converged on the alt-rock landscape as a bunch of nutty, smelly kids that didn’t understand why Bonnaroo couldn’t last the whole year. Luckily, they had a couple really, really good songs to go with the super-psychedelic videos, the ridiculous album title and the narcotic-baiting band name. “Time to Pretend” came first, and was one of the best breakout singles in recent memory, its bubbling intro giving way to that stunning synth hook and a tune so panoramic and visceral that it was destined to be used to prop up shows like 90210 and movies like SexDrive to make them seem about a hundred times more exciting than they actually were. “Electric Feel” was even better, falling into a little funky-falsetto subgenre with Spoon’s “I Turn My Camera On” and My Morning Jacket’s “Evil Urges” that proves that indie bands discovering Prince can never be anything but a good thing. And now “Kids,” whose riff is so simple and addictive that it makes the previous two seem subtle and intimate by comparison, is actually crossing over to modern rock radio. The fact that none of the other songs on Oracular Spectacular even pass for listenable doesn’t give me great hope that we’ll be seeing these guys on many lists to come, but damned if ’08 wasn’t improved immeasurably by the existence of those three.
I remember the first time I saw Kenny George–a Sportscenter highlight of UNC-Asheville against lord knows who, where neither of the teams involved interested me enough to quite turn my head fully to watch. But out of the corner of my eye, I could see a man moving down the court that was clearly unlike all the others–Kenny George, the hugest man to have ever lived. Truth told, he was only 7’7″, 7’8″, not that much taller than Yao Ming. But combined with a stocky build and some freakishly long arms, he looked like a normal human being that simply had his top-right hand corner clicked and dragged to about 133%. His physique turned out to be as much of a curse as a gift, as it meant he was unable to get up and down the court at the same speed as everyone else, and meant he couldn’t play the minutes of a star player. Still, it was a joy to watch clips of UNC-Asheville devising the perfect in-bounds play–just throwing up to Kenny under the basket (well out of the reach of any other player on the court), who with his incredible wingspan didn’t even have to jump to dunk the ball (largely contributing to his NCAA-leading 70.6 FG%). Regrettably, 2008 looks like the only year the world will blessed with the sight of such moments, as George had his foot partly amputated after suffering a staph infection.
Amidst all-time low ratings and perpetually sagging credibility, the Grammys reached a new apex with their awarding of the Album of the Year at the 2008 ceremonies. Most thought the award would go to oene of the night’s previous winners, Kanye West or Amy Winehouse. Some feared it would go to the Foo Fighters. Many were surprised that Vince Gill had even released an album that year. But no one seriously thought that the statue would go to Herbie Hancock’s Joni Mitchell covers album, whose very concept sounded like a bad joke and whose nomination screamed Lifetime Achievement like Meryl Streep getting an Oscar nod for Music of the Heart. In fact, no one seemed to expect a win less than Herbie himself, as when he was indeed called as the winner, his look was that of a student who had zoned off in the middle of class and was now getting called on to give his opinion on the symbolism of The Scarlet Letter, a mixture of surprise and panic that made it pretty clear that Herb hadn’t exactly been practicing his acceptance speech. So hilariously damaging was Hancock’s win to the Grammys’ already precarious situation that they had no choice but to actually nominate some good shit for Album of the Year this year, including Lil’ Wayne, Coldplay, Radiohead and even Ne-Yo. But don’t worry–they still stuffed Alison Krauss and Robert Plant as a sleeper in there, just in case the Grammy Powers That Be decide they don’t want to return to any sort of relevancy just yet.