Intensities in Ten Suburbs

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One Year, 50 Pop Cultures: #15 – 11

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on January 26, 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 caught up on the last season of Monk yet.

Honestly, what would we have done last year without Taylor Swift? The artist behind 2009’s best-selling album (so close, Susan Boyle) was also quite possibly popular music’s most benevolent force last year, brightening Top 40 with her irrepressibly enthusiastic (and yet somehow, not even slightly irritating) persona and her seasoned-vet sense of songcraft. Swift’s greatest contribution to ’09 pop culture, however, was undoubtedly the music video for her biggest hit to date, “You Belong With Me”–a video which brought back about a dozen different classic archetypes and meshed them into a laughable cliche-fest that nonetheless felt like the purest and least ironic celebration of the music video medium to hit MTV in years.  The images are unforgettable–Taylor dancing around her bedroom a la Kirsten Dunst in Bring It On, Taylor answering about her prom attendance with the classic placard “no, studying,” and of course, Evil Taylor pulling up to the curb to steal Boy Next Door away from Good Taylor (“A combination of the two would be the hottest chick ever,” a friend of mine once not-entirely-inaccurately pointed out). It’s the first video in who knows how long that was iconic enough to actually deserve parodying. Say what you will about the state of contemporary mainstream country, but it’s the only genre that still seems to give a damn about legitimate narrative, and without that background, the YBWM video would probably have been a concert video, spliced with occasional footage of Taylor On the Road. And while we probably should be placing a call to the Anti-Nerd Defamation League about some of Ms. Swift’s geekier affectations here, given that she’s the most attractive and likable rep we’ve had in decades, we’ll let this one slide.

Breaking Bad went from “Oh right, that Weeds knockoff with the dad from Malcolm in the Middle” to “Holy shit, is this the best show on television right now?” in such a short period of time that I’m still reeling from it just a little bit. Yes, Mad Men was great this season, and its finale was an all-time classic, but what annoyingly few people seem to realize is that was only the runner-up in AMC’s MVP race last season. Breaking Bad trumps it in just about every area, from character to suspense to humor and even to cinematography (turns out New Mexico is kind of underrated as a cinematic vista). Bryan Cranston was fairly deserving of his second-straight Emmy win, but the show’s real revelation is Aaron Paul as Cranston’s tweaked-out partner-in-shadiness (and as later episodes made clear, surrogate son/nephew/redemption case), a character that seemed totally dismissible as caricature in early episodes, but has since come to be one of the funniest, most heart–and occasionally stomach–wrenching characters in prime-time drama. You’ve got another month or so to catch up on the last two seasons before the third one starts, and I can’t stress strongly enough just how crucial it is that you do so. Don and Betty aren’t going to be the talk of the water cooler forever.

Around the time that ShamWOW!Mania finally started to die down a little, here came Mr. Vince Offer back into our lives, slapping our troubles away with the Slap Chop. If ShamWOW! was Vince’s “More Than Words,” then Slap Chop was his “Hole Hearted”–perhaps not as universal or as innovative as the first hit, but with its own special brand of charm nonetheless. You just weren’t going to get lines like this anywhere else on late night infotainment. “I love pizza too, but once in a while, get the veggies in…at least throw it on top of the pizza.” “This tuna looks boring…stop having a boring tuna, stop having a boring life.” “The onion…this is making you cry, you’re making me cry. Life’s hard enough as it is, you don’t want to cry anymore.” And to hammer the point home that this is Vince’s one-man show, he besmirches the competition by literally throwing it away, then acting unfazed as it makes a huge crashing sound in the sink. Then, of course, came the dance remix, which wouldn’t have been terribly notable–YouTube was basically invented so idiots could post their dance remixes of weird commercials–except that the dance remix started actually getting played on TV instead of the original, honoring the ad’s sizable cult in a way that no other campaign would ever contemplate doing. With that pesky cokehead Billy Mays now finally out of the way, the path to greatness is unfettered, and there’s no reason why Vince Offer shouldn’t be on his way to inheriting the Best Pitchman Alive throne–as long as he can keep up the one-commercial-a-year pace, and possibly keep the hooker altercations to a minimum.

As nutty, roided-up and predisposed to violence as 2009’s other-most-prominent Ronnie was–more on him later–he was still no match for the one-man-circus that was and is Ron Artest. He was pretty batty whilst still in Houston, shaving the team’s “R” logo into his hair, making the poor decision of telling Kobe a thing or two about his cheap play under the basket during a key playoff game, telling reporters that he was used to physical play on the court because he once saw a friend get stabbed in the heart with a chair leg mid-game, and making such an unexpectedly adorable duo with Rockets big man Yao Ming that I’m still holding out for a sitcom. Once he signed with L.A., though, he took the opportunity to really let his freak flag fly, recording an ill-advised tribute single to Michael Jackson (and choosing his jersey number based on the number of weeks Thriller topped the US charts, the most high-profile and surreal example of chart nerddom in ’09 pop culture), admitting to formerly drinking Hennessy in the middle of ballgames, appearing in his boxers on Jimmy Kimmel Live, and missing several games due to falling down a set of stairs in his house on Christmas (no video there, unfortunately, but I bet the sound effects were great). It should say something that I have absolutely no opinion of Ron Artest as a basketball player–he shoots too many threes, I guess–because I don’t think there’s another athlete right now whose public persona so dwarfs whatever possible athletic accomplishment they could achieve. Keep on keeping on, Ronnie–and be sure to spend less time learning the Triangle offense than planning your upcoming cameo in Spiderman 4.

I didn’t write anything on IITS after Michael Jackson’s death because there was no point–our culture is as such these days that there’s nothing fresh I could have said about his life or death that hadn’t already been covered as extensively as possible within about an hour of his passing. But though the circumstances kind of sucked–although, really, it was nice to finally be talking about MJ for a reason that didn’t have to do with more permanent damage to his career, image and memory–I was happy to spend a couple weeks of my life where Michael Jackson’s music, and general love and affection for Michael Jackson’s music, was absolutely everywhere that I turned. So rather than give a long speech about his true meaning and his true impact, here’s a quick list, in no particular order of my ten favorite things about Michael Jackson’s music:

  • The chorus hook to “Somebody’s Watching Me.”
  • The echoing “DON’T THINK TWICE!” cries after the “Just remember to always think twice” line in “Billie Jean”
  • The “Ain’t-no-bo-dy’s-biz-ness-but-mine-oh-mine-babe” riffing at the end of “The Way You Make Me Feel.”
  • The completely fucked up video for “Torture.”
  • P! Y! T!”
  • The whistle bridge to “Rock With You.”
  • All of “Stranger in Moscow.”
  • The fan-cheering loop intro to “Dirty Diana.”
  • “Siddown, girl!…I think I LUV ya!!
  • The last shot of “Thriller.”
  • Honorable Mention: The a capella song in the last scene of The Jacksons: An American Dream

Hell of a life, MJ.

The List So Far (Readable in Chunks of Five Here):

50. Snuggie
49. The Yeah Yeah Yeahs
48. Milton Bradley
47. “Na Na Hey Hey Kiss ‘Em Goodbye”
46. The NBA’s “Where Will Amazing Happen This Year?” Campaign
45. “Need You Now”
44. Party Down
43. Cliff Lee
42. Mariah Carey vs. Eminem
41. Gathering of the Juggalos
40. Jay-Z
39. Sporcle
38. Important Things with Demetri Martin
37. Asher Roth
36. The Beatles: Rock Band
35. Michelle Beadle
34. Mall Cops
33. Sons of Anarchy
32. Pitbull
31. Dos Equis’s “The Most Interesting Man in the World” Campaign
30. Joel McHale
29. “She-Wolf”
28. Southland
27. Lil’ Wayne
26. AL Central Play-In Game
25. “It’s All About the Roosevelts, Baby”
24. “Day n Nite”
23. Michael Jordan’s Hall of Fame Speech
22. The Proposal Trailer
21. Drake
20. Kobe vs. LeBron
19. Christoph Waltz
18. Flo
17. Super Bowl XLIII
16. Jeremy Renner
15. “You Belong With Me” video
14. Breaking Bad
13. “Slap Chop”
12. Ron Artest
11. Michael Jackson

One Response to “One Year, 50 Pop Cultures: #15 – 11”

  1. MBI said

    “It’s the first video in who knows how long that was iconic enough to actually deserve parodying.”


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