These Are A Few Of My Favorite Things – 2016 Edition

intro

I didn’t think we’d make it, but 2016 is almost in the rearview mirror. This has been a weird year in a lot of ways, including the world of pop culture. While there were definitely things that I really loved this year, I feel like overall this was an off year for the entertainment industry in general and the film industry in particular. I didn’t go to the movies nearly as much this year as I have in the past, partially because the offerings were not that great. Of course, I’m just embarking on the end of the year movie binge when a lot of the best films are released, but overall there were a lot of clunkers. Television shined more brightly again this year, a trend that I hope continues. I went to fewer concerts in 2016, partially because of a reallocation of financial resources, but also because at this point I’ve seen almost everyone that I really want to see. I had an uptick in going to the theater in 2016 and I traveled more, perhaps a prolonged effect of having spent the end of 2015 and the beginning of 2016 cooped up at home with a broken ankle and its recovery.

So without further ado, here are my favorite pop culture items from 2016. As always, they come with the caveat that these aren’t necessarily the best selections for the year; even I can’t see/listen to/read everything, so my selections are limited to those things that I’ve actually experienced and enjoyed.

Television

Atlanta

maxresdefault

I wasn’t even going to do an end of the year roundup this year since I felt like this was an off year, but I felt compelled to do so simply to tell people how freaking great FX’s new series Atlanta was. This show, my friends, is the real deal and deserves all the accolades that critics have heaped upon it. The series is the brainchild of Donald Glover and while I certainly knew that he was talented thanks to his role on Community and his musical career as Childish Gambino, I had no idea that he was capable of a show like this. Atlanta is a breath of fresh air and perfectly balances being both thoughtful and absurd. The show follows Earn (Glover) as he attempts to help his cousin Alfred aka “Paper Boi” (Brian Tyree Henry) cash in on his minor success in the Atlanta rap world. This cast is so ridiculously talented that while Glover is probably the well-known cast member, the show is confident enough to focus entire episodes on the supporting characters, including Earn’s on-again, off-again girlfriend Vanessa (Zazie Beetz) and Alfred’s wonderfully weird pal Darius (Keith Stanfield). This is one of the few series that deals with the realities of living paycheck to paycheck and I appreciate the diverse viewpoint; some of the ideas on Atlanta have been addressed on other shows, but Glover and company provide a new perspective. I was in on this show from the pilot, but what completely sold me was an early episode where in this universe Justin Bieber is a young black man. This is presented without overt comment or explanation and while it is silly, it is silly it is also thought provoking. I love, love, love this show and can’t wait until its second season.

 

O.J.: Made In America

large_3nyt5nidxxmngfklxq2xmb9hcun

The biggest debate over this five part ESPN mini-series is whether this should be considered a television event or a movie. Otherwise it is generally accepted that this look at the 1995 O.J. Simpson murder trial and the context for its controversial verdict is riveting and exceptional. I wrote about it at length when it debuted, but if you haven’t gotten around to watching it yet, I strong recommend it. Really good stuff.

 

American Crime Story: The People vs. O.J. Simpson

american-crime-story-the-people-v-oj-simpson-marcia-marcia-marcia-one

Further proof that 2016 was an odd year is the fact that O.J. Simpson has something of a moment this year. Not only was his trial examined in depth in the mini-series O.J.: Made In America, but it was also the subject of Ryan Murphy’s latest anthology series American Crime Story. The acting in American Crime Story is off the charts fantastic; there is a reason that they cleaned up at the Emmy Awards this year. Even though I lived through the O.J. Simpson trial, American Crime Story was must-see TV for me this year and is a wonderful companion to O.J.: Made in America. Sterling K. Brown and Sarah Paulson become Chris Darden and Marcia Clark, respectively.

 

Westworld

westworld-2-800x387

 I will admit that I am not quite as enamored with this show as a lot of people that I know, but it makes the list because it was fun to have a watercooler show that let the viewer at home hypothesize on what was going to happen next. I hadn’t realized that I missed the fan theory aspect of shows like Lost until Westworld returned and while I definitely think that the show has some flaws (like focusing too much on the mysteries over character or plot development), it was nice to know that this was a show that was going to spark discussions. You can read more about my thoughts on the Westworld pilot here.

 

The Night Of

the_night_of_still_h_2016

HBO’s long gestating crime drama finally debuted in 2016 and it was instantly captivating. You couldn’t look away from the talented performances of John Turturro and Riz Ahmed and while there were some narrative missteps – especially related to the character of Chandra – I was excited to tune in every Sunday night at see how the story would unfold. I’m not sure that The Night Of totally broke through the cultural zeitgeist as I predicted, but it certainly made for some interesting viewing.

 

Horace and Pete

horace-and-pete-review

Louis CK is always full of interesting surprises and his out-of-nowhere debut of Horace and Pete was no exception. Closer to a stage show than a TV series, Louis CK brought together a dream cast to tell the heartbreaking and hilarious story of Horace, Pete, and their family bar. This is so well done from beginning to end and it worth watching just for Laurie Metcalf’s mesmerizing performance in episode 3. She is a gift to us all. I wrote about the series previously here. The series is now available on Hulu, so you have no excuse for not watching.

 

Stranger Things

stranger-things-1-1200x605

Like the rest of the world, I was completely charmed by this wonderful Netflix series. It doesn’t hurt that it channels plenty of nostalgia for the movies of my childhood, but Stranger Things works even if you don’t have the same 80s point of reference. The casting director deserves some sort of medal for assembling such a stellar cast of young actors; it’s hard enough to get one good kid in a movie, let alone a whole bunch of them. I’m both excited and a little trepidatious for the second season; the first season was great but it was also an unknown quality. I’ll be interested to see how the series fares under the pressure of expectations. Read my thought about the series here.

Honorable mention to returning shows Game of Thrones, Mr. Robot, and Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, which all had great seasons.

Movies

The Nice Guys

the-nice-guys

This was an unexpected treat; you don’t necessarily think that Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling are going to be a great comedic team, but here we are. Not enough people saw this movie so sadly I don’t think it will get a sequel, but it was an enjoyable ride. Check out my full review here.

 

Captain America: Civil War

d0b27807-14bd-434a-9e8b-9eeb4550705b

I’m always a sucker for a Marvel movie and the Captain America films are among the best that Marvel has done. Civil War did a nice job of both giving loyal viewers payoff from watching all the previous films as well as a relatively seamless introduction of a bunch of new characters; I am now way more excited about the forthcoming Black Panther and Spider-Man reboot than I was previously. Read my full review here.

 

Deadpool

This is the movie that won me back over to liking Ryan Reynolds again. It’s nice to have a fun superhero movie again; I knew basically nothing about Deadpool prior to the movie, but this was a delightful and dirty trip. Finally a rated-R superhero film. It’s about time. This is probably the most fun that I had at the theater in 2016. My full review can be found here.

 

The Hateful Eight

the-hateful-8-poster

Yeah, technically this movie was released in 2015, but I reviewed in 2016 so I’m counting it. It’s always a good year when Quentin Tarantino has a new movie. Violent and challenging, The Hateful Eight is a welcome addition to the Tarantino canon. My full review can be found here.

 

La La Land

LLL d 29 _5194.NEF

LLL d 29 _5194.NEF

Look for a full review next week

 

Music

Lemonade – Beyoncé

rs_640x360-160423184431-lemonade-6_07_02_pm_-_6_07_07_pm-2016-4-23

This is easily my album of the year, not just because it is full of phenomenal songs and has a compelling visual component, but because no other album dominated the culture quite like Lemonade. In the weeks after its release, everyone was talking about Lemonade; I walked down the streets of NYC and every outdoor café I passed, people were analyzing the songs and debating who “Becky with the good hair” might actually be. In my mind, Beyoncé can do no wrong, but Lemonade may be her most triumphant work yet. Socially aware, raw, and damn catchy – Lemonade has it all.

This pretty much sums up 2016

This pretty much sums up 2016

 

Adele – Madison Square Garden

adele-2-618x352

I turned 40 this year, which sucked on many levels, not the least because while I spent the last three years celebrating other people’s 40th birthdays, no one planned much of anything for mine. But if one thing can soften the blow of not getting a party, it’s seeing Adele live and in concert. Seeing Adele wasn’t even on my bucket list because I didn’t even know if the opportunity to see her would ever arise. I dared not to dream that big. But thanks to my friend Kristin, it happened. And it totally lived up to expectations. It was a magical evening. She doesn’t plan to tour again any time soon, but if the chance to see Adele presents itself, you must take it. Read my post about the concert here.

 

Garth Brooks – DCU Center

garth

I’ve wanted to see Garth Brooks forever; despite being a casual country music fan at best, I’ve always like Garth Brooks’ songs and have long heard that he’s great in concert. I missed in him 2015, but managed to make it happen in 2016. He was great and the show was a lot of fun. No one can quite crank out the hits like Garth. Read my post about the concert here.

Odds and Ends

In the Dark podcast

dcc300-20160909-in-the-dark-feature

My true crime obsession showed no signs of letting up in 2016 and one of my better finds to scratch that particular itch was the podcast In the Dark. What I particularly liked about the case that was examined in the podcast was that it wasn’t unsolved; instead of focusing on trying who committed a crime or in exonerating a person who was wrongfully imprisoned, In the Dark could instead focus on the process and why it took so long for the case to finally be closed. What they uncover is disturbing and probably all too common – failure to follow basic police procedure and tunnel vision. Well researched and thoughtful, I looked forward to each weekly installment. Read my post about the podcast here.

 

Hamilton

01hamilton-master768

I was lucky enough to see Hamilton for a second time this year and it was just as good the second time around. Read my review here.

 

Museum of Ice Cream

I don’t know what people were more of jealous of me for this year – seeing Hamilton again, seeing Adele, or visiting the museum of ice cream. It was a fun day that didn’t totally live up to the hype, but swimming in a pool of sprinkles is easily a highlight of the year. Read about the trip here.

 

Biden Memes

5xdmkk6r

The 2016 election seemed to last forever and showed just how divided our country has become. But one of the best things to come out of the election was the proliferation of memes celebrating the friendship of Vice President Joe Biden and President Barack Obama. Regardless of your political affiliation, these memes were funny. “Uncle Joe” has always been a source of comedic relief, but never have we needed that so badly as we did this year.

15095005_1020885011370204_8056755327864821010_n

Now it’s your turn – what were your favorite pop culture things in 2016? Share with the class in the comments section. Happy New Year!

Garth Brooks with Trisha Yearwood – DCU Center (Worcester, MA), 2.27.16

2016-02-27 20.27.04

I really have no idea when I started to like Garth Brooks, but I assume that it happened sometime in college. I had a pretty hardline “no country” music policy back in my high school days that was more about the perception of country music than the music itself. Back then in upstate New York, it was pretty easy to avoid country music as it was much less mainstream and poppy than it is today. Just skip the one country channel on the radio and you could pretty easily live a country-music free lifestyle if you chose to do so. I really hadn’t even given country music a chance, but had quickly dismissed it as not for me.

I wouldn’t say that I became a country music fan in college, but I certainly softened my stance on the genre during those four years. My freshman year roommate was a fan, so I heard more Reba McEntire and Wynonna Judd in that first year than I’d probably heard in my whole life combined. In the late 90s the lines between pop music and country music began to blur as the sound of country evolved – it was less twangy and more and more country music acts were crossing over on the charts. One of the artists that was at the foray of this shift in country music was Garth Brooks. “Friends in Low Places” was a mainstay of my college experience as it was in regular rotation at one of the bars we frequented and was probably my first exposure to Brooks; it’s a great song particularly after you’ve had a few beers and everyone loved singing the line “Think I’ll slip on down to the Oasis” as that was the name of a particularly dodgy motor inn in Oneonta at the time. That song proved to be my gateway drug to Garth Brooks particularly and country music generally. When a fellow non-country music fan told me that he’d seen Garth Brooks in concert and that it was honestly one of the best shows that he’d ever been to, I decided then and there that was something I also had to experience. It just took me nearly 20 years to make that happen.

Of course, part of the reason that it took so long to see Garth Brooks was that he essentially retired from touring for 14 years in order to spend more time with his children. It’s kind of hard to see someone when there are no opportunities to do so. I assumed that he would probably go back out on the road eventually, but that wasn’t a given – perhaps his bewildering “Chris Gaines” experiment really was the end of the road for him. When he announced in 2014 that he was releasing a new album and a worldwide tour I was excited, but also a little frustrated as none of the shows were particularly close to me and all involved traveling in the winter. I didn’t want to buy tickets to a show in Boston and then have to worry about driving there in a snowstorm in order to attend (which was fortuitous as a major storm did hit New England that weekend). When a second leg of tour dates were announced for early 2016, the same concerns applied so I didn’t buy tickets to the show in Worcester. I then promptly forgot about it until I saw a tweet from the DCU Center about Garth coming the week of the concerts. Since the weather was looking to be clear, on a lark I decided to see if there were any tickets available. The only seats that they had left were single seats, but that wasn’t a deal breaker. I recruited my friend Kristin to go with me and perhaps the promise of her not having to actually sit with me during the show was enough to make her agree. So with less than 24 hours to go before show time, an impromptu road trip was planned.

When we arrived at the DCU Center, one of the first things that we noticed was how diverse the crowd was. While there weren’t a ton of people of color in attendance, there seemed to be a pretty wide spectrum in the age and socioeconomic background of the fans. There were a lot of families – many kids had signs saying that this was their first concert – and while there were plenty of people in cowboy hats and boots, there were also plenty of people wearing t-shirts for rock bands. I guess this is a testament to Garth Brooks’ crossover appeal; I wasn’t the only person there that probably would have been out of place at a Luke Bryan or Jason Aldean concert.

There were also plenty of people in attendance who don’t go to concerts regularly, since I heard some people in my section complaining that the show didn’t begin shortly after the stated start time on the ticket. As a concert pro, I knew that if the “start time” said 7 pm that it was unlikely that Brooks would step out on the stage until closer to 8:30 pm (he came on at 8:25; this isn’t my first rodeo). Singer/songwriter Karyn Rochelle was the opening act and though I wasn’t familiar with her, she was very good. She wrote a bunch of hits for Trisha Yearwood and Kellie Pickler ad she also serves as a backup singer for Garth. She appeased a restless audience for a while, but the crowd was ready to see their headliner.

When Garth Brooks finally took the stage, the arena erupted in perhaps one of the biggest ovations that I’ve ever seen. The DCU Center isn’t a particularly large venue, but the roar of the crowd was intense and never really let up. Brooks hadn’t played in Worcester in 19 years and these people were ready for him. It was very cool to witness.

Brooks responded in kind by bringing a whole lot of energy. He definitely is a performer and he was running and jumping all over the stage from beginning to end. I got a little nervous with some of his jumping around, given my recent streak of injuries, but he seemed to be having an absolute ball. The show had more the vibe of a rock concert than I had expected; perhaps this is just my ignorance of country music concerts, but I had anticipated it being a little more mellow and less of an audio/visual component. That certainly wasn’t the case with Garth Brooks; things occasionally slowed down for the ballads, but then things got ramped right back up again. That dude must have been exhausted afterward.

I was also impressed with the audience interaction; throughout the night, the audience was called on numerous times to sing the chorus of songs and it sounded really cool. I could occasionally participate, but since there were some songs where I didn’t know the correct lyrics I got to just sick back and take it all in. Perhaps it was the smaller venue or the enthusiasm of the fans, but it really, really worked.

Brooks knows what the people wants and said as much at the beginning of the show – he’d be focusing on his hits and less on the material from his new album. He did a few songs that I didn’t know, since my working knowledge of Brooks is mostly from his Greatest Hits double album, but for the majority of the time he was on stage he cranked out the tunes that even a casual fan like me would know. He was actually flying though his hits so quickly that I wondered what exactly he was holding back for an encore.

2016-02-27 20.35.14

About halfway through the show, Trisha Yearwood came out to duet with Brooks on “In Another’s Eyes.” Yearwood than stayed on stage to do a few of her songs. I wasn’t too excited about her addition on the bill simply because I didn’t think I actually knew any Trisha Yearwood songs, but that turned out to be an erroneous assumption on my part. I’d forgotten that she had also sang “How Do I Live” – I’m more familiar with the LeAnn Rimes version – and I knew “She’s In Love With The Boy” even if I didn’t know that she sang it. So while I was expecting her portion of the show to be boring to me, I quite enjoyed it. It was just the right length – long enough to give Garth a break but short enough to not disrupt the flow of the show. For me, her presence was a nice bonus to the experience.

For the “encores,” Brooks mixed it up a little and played songs that people requested by holding up homemade signs. These tended to be songs that I was less familiar with and while he didn’t play the entirety of the songs that were requested, I did like everything that I heard. These weren’t deep cuts, but songs from his albums that mostly were not released as singles. He then also did some covers, which I always appreciate since it adds a little spontaneity to the concert experience and gives you something beyond what you would hear if you just sat home listening to the album. Brooks covered songs that I really like – Billy Joel’s “Piano Man,” Bob Seger’s “Night Moves” and Don McLean’s “American Pie” – so I really enjoyed hearing a new twist on songs that I am already really familiar with. He ended things with an enthusiastic rendition of “Standing Outside the Fire” and after nearly 2.5 hours of music, the show was over. I left the arena more than satisfied and it’s the most fun that I’ve had a show in a while. It’s always nice when an artist lives up to expectations and Garth Brooks did that in spades. I can cross that off the old bucket list with a smile on my face.

At this point, I think I am officially running out of people that I want to see perform live. I knocked out four that were on my list last year – U2, Jack White, the Rolling Stones and Foo Fighters – and in 2016 I’ll get to cross Garth Brooks and Adele off as well. I’ve been to so many concerts that I may have exhausted my wish list. I’m fortunate that almost all of my “bucket list” concerts have been really great experiences. Garth Brooks was definitely worth the wait.

Your Cheating Heart

?????????

A few months ago, I was helping some friends of mine put together a playlist for their wedding reception. I may have some questionable taste in music, but I also know and own a lot of music and they wanted to tap into that reservoir of free tunes. There were a few of us bouncing off song ideas, when someone suggested Whitney Houston’s “Saving All My Love For You.” Everyone agreed that they liked the song and it might have made the playlist, until I spoke up to remind everyone that if you listen to the lyrics that it is a song that is about having an affair and that it might not really be appropriate at a wedding. Everyone was shocked; they had no idea that’s what the song was about. I am a lyrics person more than a music person, so I tend to pay more attention to the words than other people:

A few stolen moments is all that we share
You’ve got your family, and they need you there
Though I’ve tried to resist, being last on your list
But no other man’s gonna do
So I’m saving all my love for you

Needless to say, that song was vetoed.

This anecdote popped into my head in the last week, as I’ve been listening to The Guardians of the Galaxy soundtrack on repeat; there is so much cheesy 70s goodness on there that I can hardly stand it. One of the songs is “Escape (the Piña Colada song)” by Rupert Holmes, a song that I have always really liked but that has also really bothered me, since it is essentially about two people deciding to cheat on each other. They respond to each other’s personal ads and have a good laugh about it in the song, which I am pretty sure is NOT how most people would react to such a situation. Hidden behind such a catchy hook is a song that is really kind of sad; not only were both participants in this relationship pretty OK with the idea of infidelity, but they really don’t even seem to know each other very well. I’m happy every time that I hear the song, but in the back of my head this debate wages on during every listen.

This got me thinking about the staggering number of songs that I really like that are about cheating; I’m really not sure what that says about me as a person. I guess it makes sense that there are a number of songs that deal with the topic, since there are so many passionate feelings involved. The songs about infidelity are varied – some are from the viewpoint of the cheater, some are about the cheatee and a smaller number are from the perspective of the other man or woman. The emotional component is varied as well – some are confessional, some are tearful and a fair number are confrontational. There are even a handful that are proud or bragging about what they have done. While I’ve never cheated on my significant other, I’ve known people that filled all three roles in a love triangle and these songs do a pretty good job of capturing the entire spectrum of emotions associated with having an affair.

 

“Run to You” – Bryan Adams

 

She says her love for me could never die
But that’d change if she ever found out about you and I

 

“Tempted” – Squeeze

 

Tempted by the fruit of another
Tempted but the truth is discovered
What’s been going on
Now that you have gone

 

“If That’s Your Boyfriend (He Wasn’t Last Night)” – Meshell Ndegeocello

 

You can call me wrong and say that I ain’t right
But if that’s your boyfriend
He wasn’t last night

 

“Before He Cheats” – Carrie Underwood

 

I might’ve saved a little trouble for the next girl,
’cause the next time that he cheats…
Oh, you know it won’t be on me!

 

“Creep” – TLC

 

So I creep yeah
Just keep it on the down low
Said nobody is supposed 2 know

 

“Say My Name” – Destiny’s Child

 

Say my name, say my name
If no one is around you,
Say baby I love you
If you ain’t runnin’ game

 

“Follow Me” – Uncle Kracker

 

I’m not worried ’bout the ring you wear
Cuz as long as no one knows than nobody can care
You’re feelin’ guilty and I’m well aware
But you don’t look ashamed and baby I’m not scared

 

“Cry Me a River” – Justin Timberlake

 

You don’t have to say, what you did,
I already know, I found out from him
Now there’s just no chance, for you and me, there’ll never be
And don’t it make you sad about it

 

“O.P.P.” – Naughty By Nature

 

Have you ever known a brother who have another like ah girl or wife
And you just had to stop and just ‘cos he look just as nice
You looked at him, he looked at you and you knew right away
That he had someone but he was gonna be yours anyway

 

“Lovin’, Touchin’, Squeezin’” –Journey

 

When I’m alone all by myself
You’re out with someone else
Lovin’, touchin’, squeezin’ each other

 

“You Lie” – The Band Perry

 

That ain’t my perfume
I bet she had a curfew
You told me you were out with the boys and baby I believed you
So why you lookin’ so nervous
You know you’re gonna deserve this

 

“Lyin Eyes” – The Eagles

 

So she tells him she must go out for the evening
To comfort an old friend who’s feelin’ down
But he knows where she’s goin’ as she’s leavin’
She is headed for the cheatin’ side of town

 

“Thunder Rolls” – Garth Brooks

 

But on the wind and rain
A strange new perfume blows
And the lightnin’ flashes in her eyes
And he knows that she knows

 

“Your Love” – The Ourfield

I didn’t immediately recognize that this was a song about cheating, but it’s right there in the opening line: “Josie’s on a vacation far away, come around and talk it over.”

 

Stay the night but keep it undercover
I just wanna use your love tonight, whoa
I don’t wanna lose your love tonight

 

“Just a Friend” – Biz Markie

 

So I came to her room and opened the door
Oh, snap! Guess what I saw?
A fella tongue-kissin’ my girl in the mouth,
I was so in shock my heart went down south
So please listen to the message that I say
Don’t ever talk to a girl who says she just has a friend

 

Now it’s your turn – what are you favorite songs about infidelity? Sound off in the comments below.