One Year, 100 Pop Cultures: #20 – 11
Posted by Andrew Unterberger on January 29, 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.
The unlikeliest extended comeback of the 21st century somehow continued to gain momentum through 2008, as Neil Patrick Harris continued to play the same sort of stock character that he’d been developing since his comeback five years earlier, but started to diversify the mediums in which it was presented. There was the movie (Harold and Kumar Escape from Gunatanamo Bay, where he reprised the role that re-started it all) and the TV show (another solid year’s work on the most consistent sitcom on TV, How I Met Your Mother), both of which were to be expected. In ’08, though, NPH also started popping up in commercials as well, his chuckle-worthy “I used to be a doctor for pretend” ads for Old Spice helping the deoderant get some love earlier on our list. More pressingly, though, he graduated into the viral video market as well, as he got the title role in Joss Whedon’s well-worth-the-streaming mini-scifimusicom web series, Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog (Named Time Magazine’s #15 invention of 2008!) Aother year or so on this level, and Neil Patrick will officially cease to be “that Doogie Howser guy”–instead, Doogie Howser M.D. will become “that show that Neil Patrick Harris was on before he got really big.”
The extended stay of “With You” near the top of the charts at the beginning of the year had me worried for young Chris–the song was all right but unexemplary, the undecooked, post-“Irreplaceable” Stargate number disappointing after making his name on unabashed club crossovers like “Run It!” and “Kiss Kiss.” But in fact, this turned out to be Chris’s best year thusfar, proving with the glistening, panoramic smash “Forever” that he can carry a huge (and huge-sounding) hit all on his lonesome–one that forecasted the majority of the rest of the synth-heavy and dancefloor-friendly R&B hits that were to come in 2008. And then he started spreading the wealth–singing the hooks for Lil’ Mama’s “Shawty Get Loose” and Ludacris’s “What Them Girls Like,” providing a ready and willing duet partner for Jordin Sparks on “No Air,” and even getting to do a guest verse on David Banner’s cruelly underrated “Get Like Me.” Of course, Chris’s greatest contribution to pop music in 2008 might’ve been with his pen, not his voice, as he handed off one of the best and biggest hits of the year to his girlfriend. But more on that to come in the top ten…
Season four was where Weeds went from being a fun show that benefited greatly from a lack of summertime competition to something fairly close to a must-watch. The season started off on tricky ground–a relocation out of Agrestic, where the suburban satire was getting real tired anyway, and a dump of cast members like Mahelia, Conrad, and (for most of the season anyway) Dean and Sanjay, as Nancy moved out of dealing and into trafficking. It was a risk that ended up paying off, as Guillermo more than picked up Conrad’s slack, Albert Brooks had a fantastic early-season run as the unsentimental patriarch of the Botwin clan, and corrupt political figure Esteban made things really interesting towards the end. But more importantly, season four got to the core of what it’s become clear that Weeds is really about: A world in which just about everything is a compromise of some sort, and in which nobody that should know the answers (parents, businesspeople, authority figures) has any more of an idea about what to do than anybody else (kids, criminals, general social miscreants). It also contained maybe the most heart-rending scene to appear on TV in 2008, when Nancy, in the season finale, drives to meet Esteban, knowing she very well might not come back, and orders a birthday gift basket for Silas, with a personalized card. That Mary Louise-Parker’s attempt to put four seasons’ worth of pride, guilt, shame and love into a greeting card message for her son couldn’t get her an Emmy…well, at least Bryan Cranston left happy.
When I first heard Snoop Dogg’s “Sensual Seduction” at the end of 2007, I thought “How cute, he stole the T-Pain AutoTune gimmick!” Never in my wildest dreams would I have guessed that one year later, “Sensual Seduction” would no longer sound gimmicky, but rather, just like what pop music sounded like in 2008. Who could have possibly seen this coming? Who listened to “I’m in Luv (Wit a Stripper)” and thought to themselves “This guy right here, he’s gonna be the future of Top 40.” But in 2008, not only was Snoop biting his AutoTune style, so was Chris Brown, Kanye West, Lil’ Wayne, and just about anyone else that could be considered a trendsetter or tastemaker in modern R&B or Hip-Hop. Of course, it’s not like Faheem Rasheed Najm just sat back and watched his minions do his bidding in 2008, as the man still managed to find his way to eight top 40 hits in ’08–five guest appearances (Lil’ Mama’s “Shawty Get Loose,” Ludacris’s “One More Drink,” Lil’ Wayne’s “Got Money,” 2 Pistols’ “She Got It” and Rick Ross’s “The Boss”) and three of his own (“Can’t Believe It,” “Freeze” and “Chopped N Skrewed”), making sure you never forgot who the pitch-perfect OG was. T-Pain’s takeover of the pop charts might have been a hostile one to some, but I, for one, welcome our new dreadlocked robot overlord.
He ain’t pretty no more. Mickey Rourke’s second life has made it unbelievably hard to believe there was ever a time when this guy could’ve starred in an erotic drama with Kim Bassinger, but hey, he wasn’t ever going to get much Oscar buzz for movies lilke Angel Heart. And as anyone who saw his initial rebirth in Sin City as a square-jawed, scar-ridden gladiator could have predicted, Randy “The Ram” Robinson was the part that Rourke was (eventually) born to play. Some of it might’ve been a little contrived–the scenes with his estranged daughter and his hardass boss especially–but Rourke always made it feel natural, dripping with such humanity in every scene that previously iconic ring warriors–Palance, Stallone, DeNiro–seem like positive lightweights by comparison. The match scenes were the movie’s highlights, of course–hilarious, riveting and extremely gruesome courtside-views of a primarily degrading but still bizarrely balletic and dignified practice (with the “USE HIS LEG!” chants being the unsung movie quote of the year). Just as good, though, are his courtship scenes with the still-stunning Marisa Tomei, especially watching the two wax nostalgic to the sound of Ratt’s “Round and Round,” concluding simultaneously “That Cobain pussy had to go and ruin everything…The 90s sucked.”
Wow, talk about an idea that was ahead of its time. Depending on how you look at it, the Microsoft SeinGate ads were either a colossal waste of time and money (Seinfeld don’t come cheap these days) or the most innovative short films since the days of Derek Jarman, and no surprise, but count me in the latter camp. The main thing I still don’t get about these ads is why Microsoft had enough faith in the general public to think that they’d embrace a series of ads in which two extremely famous people banter about shower shoes, swap inside jokes and tangentially allude they’re supposed to be endorsing only when and if they felt like doing so. Nevertheless, the abstraction of these ads waas practically mind-expanding, and the intricacies of some of the exchanges (the look on Seinfeld’s face after Gates’s “Leather” still slays me every time) were immaculate in their orchestration. Most surprising was the chemistry between the two–apparently occupying the same rarefied social and (relative) economic strata makes for great comedic timing. Of course, it couldn’t last, and the series was junked in favor of a bunch of the feel-good, all-inclusive, highly safe “I’m a PC” ads. Cute, Microsoft, but no churro.
In 2008, Kobe tried to make the people love him, and it very nearly worked. Four years after his infamous rape trial, as well as his last trip to the finals, he had finally stopped hounding management and trying to fight his way out of LA, largely thanks to the emergence of Andrew Bynum and the arrival of Pau Gasol–the first decent running mates he’d had since Caron Butler got shipped out for Kwame Brown. As a real team finally started to come together around Bryant, he could finally cool his jets a little, passing the ball more, saying all the right things about teamwork and post-season goals to the media, and actually managing to smile semi-sincerely on occasion. He was rewarded with his first-ever MVP, a consensus deeming of Greatest Player on the Planet status, and a trip to the finals for his efforts. But rather than capturing his first Shaq-less title and bringing himself into Greatest of All-Time discussions, Kobe largely floundered in the playoffs, eventually letting cracks seep through his new team-oriented, family-friendly persona (the expression on his face as Pau Gasol failed to react properly to one of his leading, no-look passes was among the season’s most indelible moments) and getting shut down in the humiliating, deciding game six. Personally, I think maybe it’s for the best–it’s Kobe’s always-looming dark side that makes him an infintely more fascinating presence than a physically superior, Student Body President type like LeBron, and it’d be a shame to see that part of him be completely sublimated.
How many times do I need to say it? Best show on television.
As a college student living in Brooklyn, M.I.A.’s “Paper Planes”–maybe the biggest New York hipster party anthem since Peaches’ “Fuck the Pain Away”–seemed like it was fairly unavoidable in 2007. And then came 2008. Pineapple Express got the ball rolling, its action-packed but obviously cult-friendly backdrop providing the perfect launching pad for the song towards more mainstream commercial fortunes, and I was overjoyed to start hearing the song on pop radio and seeing the single creep up the top 40 (eventually peaking in the top five). But “Paper Planes” turned out to be the gift that just kept giving in ’08, also appearing (in DFA remix form) in Hancock and (in both remix and original form) in Slumdog Millionaire, as well as providing the chorus hook for the would-be posse cut “Swagga Like Us,” making the basis one of the year’s most undeniable beats (and adding yet another credit to the 2008 resumes of at least a couple individuals on this list). It’s unlikely that M.I.A. will ever reach this kind of crossover success again in the States–though somehow, I doubt that she’s sweating it too much either way–but her legacy as a one-hit wonder will indeed go down as a proud, and rather fruitful one.
There was no shortage of heroes to be found on the 2008 Phillies–Cole Hamels for his playoff prowess, Brad Lidge for his ridiculous save streak, Ryan Howard for his 48 homers, Jimmy Rollins for his last-minute, season-saving defense, and Chase Utley for his all-star first-half and opportune post-series cursing, to name just a few. But no one meant more to me on this team than Jamie Moyer, the sure-handed 45/46-year-old who flummoxed young lineups and provided the steadiness the team needed when Brett Myers decided to suck for the summer and the Phils’ offense never felt like spotting Hamels more than a couple runs per game. Meanwhile, he became the oldest player in the league, notched a victory against the last team he needed to have one win over every club in the bigs, got mocked in The Onion (“Jamie Moyer Change-Up Arrives at Home Plate After Long Journey“) and was responsible for the funniest moment of the whole season, when he knocked over umpire Randy Marsh while hauling his way to second base (he would eventually score, just the 20th run of his 20-year career). When the Phils got the series–their first in 28 years–no one seemed to deserve it more than Philly-native Jamie, who was not only the team’s only player who was a fan of the Phils during their last Series, but one of the few who was out of diapers by that point. Some may balk at the two-year deal the Phils gave Grampy Moyer at the end of the season, but I just know he’s gonna make it till 50. He better, too, for his sake–Jamie’s got seven kids to put through college.