One Year, 50 Pop Cultures: #40 – #36
Posted by Andrew Unterberger on January 19, 2010
Over the next few weeks here at IITS (and if we’re not done by February 1st, feel free to cut off our RSS feed in whatever dramatic fashion you see fit), we’ll be counting down the 50 people, places and things that made pop culture a worthwhile place to be in 2009. Feel free to suggest, prognosticate and criticize in the comments section below or on our Twitter page, but fair warning–we still haven’t listened to all of Lines, Vines and Trying Times yet.
With all the talk about Brett Favre and Kurt Warner’s improbable excellence while approaching middle age, a similarly unlikely late-career surge went under-reported: How about having your first-ever #1 single at the age of 40? Believe it or not, Jay-Z had only topped the charts as a featured artist before last year’s undeniably majestic “Empire State of Mind” hit pole position, monopolizing radio for about two months and even (BOOOOOO) providing the official soundtrack to a World Series victory in the process. And that was Jay’s third single last year, with back-to-basics hits “Run This Town” and “D.O.A.” ramping up to it in impressively professional fashion. Sure, The Blueprint 3 probably could have been a little better, but despite his ceaseless attempts to prove himself above such petty concerns, it’s clear that Jay still very much cares what people think about him, about how he’s perceived in the streets, the clubs and the press, and about what kind of legacy he’s leaving behind. Just to still give that much of a shit at Jigga’s age is something of an accomplishment.
There had been a gaping void in my soul, ever since I graduated college and stopped playing on a regular trivia team. Trivia-focused discussion with friends is all well and good, but the true quiz junkie still needs to be coldly tested, strictly timed and judged, and then objectively evaluated. Thank the heavens for Sporcle.com, in that case, a site which has technically been around for years, but which didn’t come to national prominence (read: I didn’t hear of it) until this year. For the unconverted, the site offers generally you a category–say, Ridley Scott movies–and then tests your ability to name as many items as possible that fall under that category, sometimes with hints, sometimes without. Within a month of my using it, it had become the third website in my life (after IMDB and Wikipedia) that I became unable to imagine what my life used to be like without, a positively inextricable part of my daily routine. I’d wager I’ve taken about two dozen permutations on the “Name Every Good Basketball Player You Can Think Of” quiz theme, and all I can say is, bring on #25. Not only did it hook me, but I introduced a trivia-nut co-worker to it, and when I saw her still frantically buzzing through quizzes a few days later, she gave me one of those “How could you do this to me?” looks. All I could do was shrug, and point out that at least unlike most unbreakable addictions, this one was free, and only socially, not physically debilitating.
You knew that a sketch-based show from stand-up absurdist/dreamboat Demetri Martin was bound to be hit or miss–all you could do was hope for more hits than misses, or hits regularly breaking up stretches of misses, or hits that when they hit were good enough that they made up for the overwhelming number of misses. Point is, it was frequently rough sailing through Important Things with Demetri Martin, but there were moments of lithe, unmistakable hilarity that were basically peerless on any kind of television in 2009. Its joys were mostly ephemeral–trying to remember a favorite moment, the only thing I can think of is the classic “Cuteness vs. How Interested I Am in Hearing About How Intuitive Your Cat Is” graph from his Comedy Central standup special–but for a half-hour a week this spring, it was an absolute joy to come across in my DV-R lineup, as pleasant a televisual diversion as I found all year. A second season was granted and should be premiering in a few weeks–excellent news for those of us that still think that any joke is funnier delivered via giant easel, with acoustic musical accompaniment.
You didn’t need much of a pop culture degree to quickly size up Asher Roth for what he was–a surefire one-hit wonder that would always want to be taken more seriously than he invariably would be. Whether Roth realizes what a noble fate that is or not is uncertain, but I think his 2009 was still a thing of beauty–a temporary cause celebre who stuck around long enough to ingrain one song forever in the pop subconscious, start a bunch of predictable and mostly boring authenticity debates, and exit via a Cee-Lo featuring follow-up single with a silly-looking video. “I Love College” endured as one of the most lovable songs of the year, one whose occasionally awkward rhyme scheme and lapses in logic just added to its Stoned on a Sunday Morning charm. And if nothing else, Asher can take solace in the knowledge that he’s earned himself a lifetime pass to any kegger, pledge week or wake-and-bake session he should ever come across on a North American university campus again. I figure he still has about a half-decade to properly enjoy that before it becomes legitimately creepy.
As if we needed yet another testament to the greatness and endurance of The Beatles, now here they come again, allowing me to convince even more of my friends and acquaintances to give Rock Band a shot. Never had the Fab Four’s ability to transcend pop culture barriers been clearer to me–there were people I didn’t even know had any interest in music at all that were clamoring for the mic to try The Beatles: Rock Band out. I was more than game, considering the fine song selection (“Hey Bulldog”! “While My Guitar Gently Weeps”! All 7:47 of “I Want You (She’s So Heavy),” including the out-of-nowhere ending), the transfixing and occasionally downright disconcerting visuals (Stoned and Sgt. Pepper-decked John singing “Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds” is especially weird) and, of course, the harmonies (a completely new and highly welcome challenge added to the Rock Band skill set). Running through the entire setlist–in chronological order, of course–with my friends on the day of the game’s release was one of the most rewarding musical experiences of my 2009. And while I’ll probably buy Rock Band: Green Day upon its release, it’d be pretty naive of me to expect that this game works anywhere near as well with any band besides The Beatles.