Intensities in Ten Suburbs

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One Year, 50 Pop Cultures: Intro & #50-46

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on January 16, 2010

All right, so I probably couldn’t let the 2009 year-end festivities pass by completely without doing some kind of big best-of celebration. Unfortunately, due to burnout over my last recently-finished Top 100 article and my struggles in coming up with a solid core of 100 for this one, I’d put off doing it to basically the last possible minute. But as I was telling my friend recently, year-end festivities work like birthdays–you get up to a full month afterwards to properly celebrate, after which point the statute of limitations is most certainly up and you just gotta wait until next year. So I figure I have until February 1st to make good on this one, and nobody can really give me shit for it until I pass that sell-by date. Plus, admit it–you’ve got an unfillable void in your soul from the last big list being over, don’t you? I know, I know. It’s OK.

However, unlike last year, I just couldn’t make it to 100 this time around. Mostly, I blame it on missing out on this year’s crop of movies–I never got around to my late-year cineplex sweep, and I’ve seen maybe 15 all year, at least one of which was the completely useless Public Enemies. So to make up for it in a top 100, it’d be a lot of just listing pop songs I liked a little bit. No need to stretch things to a weak 100, though, when I can just hammer it out with an across-the-board strong Top 50, which actually gives me a slim chance of finishing this bad boy on deadline in the process, right? I knew you’d understand.

That said, I did still come up with a 100 items that were vaguely list-worthy, so in alphabetical order, here’s the list of 50 things that didn’t quite make the cut, with the appropriate YouTube Links:

Birthday Sex
Black Eyed Peas
Blogging? I LOVE Blogging!
The Book of Basketball
Mark Buehrle’s Perfect Game
Gerard Butler
Patrick Chewing
Combination Pizza Hut and Taco Bell
DJ Hero
Jon Gosselin
Memphis Grizzlies
Halls Refresh
Neil Patrick Harris Hosting the Emmys
I’m in Miami Bitch
I’m On a Boat
Ken Jeong
Jim & Pam’s Wedding
Elizabeth Lambert
Artie Lange on the Joe Buck Show
Letterman’s Blackmail Monologue
“Love Drunk”
Mad Men Season Finale
MLB Network
The Money You Could Be Saving With GEICO
My Girls
The New Moon Soundtrack
Party in the USA
Passion Pit
Pitt Panthers
Nate Robinson
Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Concert
Mickey Rourke’s Acceptance Speech at the Spirit Awards
JaMarcus Russell
New Orleans Saints
Sexy Bitch
Shaq vs. Roethlisberger
Star Trek

Tik Tok
True Blood
Turn My Swag On
Voltaggio Brothers
The Watchmen
You Know When It’s Real…
You’re a Jerk

Not a bad start, right? Now, five more that actually made the list:

I’m not here to argue about the merits between the Snuggie and its arguably slighted progenitor, the Slanket. Truth told, I haven’t actually tried either yet, and given my real-life experiences with the ShamWOW! after picking one of them up in Walgreen’s, I can’t say I’m too jazzed to try one (especially since, as the item’s Wikipedia page used to point out, it’s basically just a bathrobe turned backwards). But damn, was that commercial a sensation. More than any other artistic medium, the infomercial is one we want to remain stuck in the past, to evidence absolutely no cultural shift–whether they be artistic or technological–from the last 20 years, and the Snuggie ads brilliantly (and unselfconsciously) appears as gloriously time-stamped as a Richard Marx music video. Before you knew it, Ellen was trying it on, Weezer was shilling their own brand, and some idiot radio hosts were creating SNL parody odes to it.  Add in that its even nuttier follow-up ad was easily the most high-profile cultural reference to the Silver Convention in at least 30 years, and the Snuggie was definitely one of the most benevolent forces in late-night TV last year.

There might not have been another band this decade that I underestimated more than the Yeah Yeah Yeahs.  Sure, “Maps” was nice, but they were just another of those early-00s New York bands that was always more hype than substance, and ten years from now we’d remember Karen O. more for her fashion choices than her songs. Wrong on all accounts, as one listen to their scorching, glitterfied 2009 single “Zero” proved, and which further listens to their excellent ’09 full-length It’s Blitz! continued to hammer home. They might not have another crossover hit in them, but they’ve grown enough over the years to show themselves a band above such time and place, and one who deserves to be followed as closely as anyone in the decade to come. Extra points to Miss O. as well for her extracirricular work with ex-boyfriend Spike Jonze on the Where the Wild Things soundtrack, marking one of the handful of times in pop history that a successful adult musician has made kiddie-specific music (even including the kids themselves, as on single “All is Love“) without coming off as patronizing or downright idiotic.

And you know, I thought they caught themselves a bargain at the time. The Chicago Cubs signed the prodigious but historically difficult Milton Bradley to a three-year, $30 million contract in the off-season to provide them a little left-handed pop in the middle of the lineup, in perpetual search for that final piece of the puzzle to get them back to the World Series. By the end of the year, the Cubs had missed the playoffs entirely and Milton was the town’s biggest goat since Steve Bartman. But you know what, let’s be honest: None of us were really looking forward to another season of “Is this finally the year???” Cub talk, another will-they-or-won’t-they tease that would eventually end in another city-wide burst of hemming and hawing about how it was never actually going to happen. If we could send in a dirty bomb like Bradley to hit well under expectations, feud with manager Lou Piniella, throw fly balls into the stands with two outs, call the media racist for criticising him and generally ensure that this was year 101 in the Cubs’ championship drought, then, well, we all owe Uncle Milt a bit of gratitude, don’t we?

(My personal favorite memory from Bradley’s first and last season at Wrigley: On April 16, the Cubs were facing the Cardinals at home. Milton had hit very badly to begin his season, and had missed the team’s first couple home games with injury, but now was up as a pinch-hitter with the two rivals tied at 4-4 in the bottom of the sixth, and with men on second and third. With the crowd roaring behind him, all Milton needed was a single in his Wrigley Field debut to endear himself to Chi-town for the rest of the season. Not only did he strike out looking, he found the call so objectionable that he argued with the umpire and was instantly tossed. The Cubs lost the game 7-4, and Milton Bradley quickly crushed any misconceptions the fans may have had about how his season in Chicago was going to go).

If you’re a one-hit-wonder who hasn’t come up with a hit, or any other reason to be in the national spotlight, for 40 years, you’d have to consider yourself pretty lucky to be referenced or sampled in a hit song these days. Imagine the gratitude that 60s rock group Steam must have felt when their oldies standard “Na Na Hey Hey Kiss ‘Em Goodbye” helped create the basis for not one, not two, but three hit singles this year. (Well, if they had actually existed and not just been a concoction of songwriters and studio musicians, but, you know.) Kristinia DeBarge got the ball rolling with her above-average kissoff jam “Goodbye,” which used the song’s hook for its chorus, then Jay-Z quickly chimed in by using it for the badass intro to his “D.O.A. (Death of Autotune)” diatribe, and then Wale willingly completed the trifecta by using it for the background hook to his breakout single “Chillin’.” How to explain the surfeit of Steam love to be found in 2009? More end-of-decade attempts at closure, perhaps? Who knows, but if we’re making requests for 2010’s 40-year-old one-hit-wonder of choice, then I’d say either Ides of March’s “Vehicle” or Jaggerz’s “The Rapper,” please.

The beauty, lyricism and majesty of basketball can be severely underrated at times–understandable for any sport that relies so heavily on Dick Vitale and 2 Unlimited, I suppose. But funny thing how when you slow something down to quarter-speed, scale it to black-and-white and put dramatic piano plunking underneath (Ludovico Einaudi’s “Fly,” for the curious), the sport’s inner grace becomes clear as day for all to behold. That’s what we had to get us pumped for the NBA post-season last year, in the form of the “Where Will Amazing Happen This Year” ads. Kobe hitting the dagger  against the Suns in ’06. Baron Davis getting nasty on Andrei Kirilenko in ’07. Tim Duncan hitting the most improbable of threes against the Suns in ’08. (As always, poor Suns). Not only did it succeed in getting our blood up for the playoffs, it set the bar so impossibly high that even LeBron’s buzzer-beating three against the Magic in the Eastern finals was just kind of eh by comparison. The NBA: Where spine-tinglingly epic commercial ad campaigns happen.

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