Pop Culture Odds and Ends – R.I.P. Grantland edition



Last Friday I was minding my own business when some news came across Twitter that really bummed me out – ESPN was shutting down their sports and pop culture website Grantland. In retrospect the news wasn’t that shocking; Grantland founder Bill Simmons left the company under acrimonious circumstances and many of the top editors and writers at Grantland had already abandoned ship. It was unlikely that ESPN was going to cultivate a website that was so much a manifestation of the guy that they had just fired. But even though in my heart of hearts I knew Grantland’s days were already numbered, it didn’t make Friday’s announcement that Grantland was done effective immediately any easier.

Grantland was the type of website that I dreamed of working for. It was a one-stop shop for a plethora of great writers who wrote smart things about pop culture and sports. In essence, it would have been my dream job. Thanks to the talented people at Grantland, I discovered a lot of pop culture that I probably wouldn’t have necessarily taken the time to check out. The only reason that I binge watched – and loved – Mr. Robot was because Andy Greenwald and Chris Ryan gushed about it on their Hollywood Prospectus podcast. I went to the Museum of Play in Rochester because of a piece written by Rembert Browne. Half the fun of watching the first season of True Detective was hearing what the Girls in Hoodies podcast would have to say about it. I didn’t always agree with Wesley Morris’ movie reviews, but he always had something thoughtful to say. I got my blast of nostalgia reading David Shoemaker’s posts on the WWE. The Grantland pop culture podcasts, as a collective, got me through many a late night drive from my own pop culture adventures. And now they are all gone.

The people that worked at Grantland will find other jobs – many already have – and I will follow them in their future endeavors. But there was just something so great about having them all housed in one space, bouncing ideas and opinions off each other, in what seemed like a pretty great community. My iTunes feed seems so empty without the latest installments of their podcasts. So before we get to the pop culture roundup, I wanted to pour one out for my peeps at Grantland. Your work meant something to me, not only as a pop culture consumer, but as an aspiring pop culture blogger. Grantland will be missed.


And now….on to the pop culture roundup……




Time for some trailers……..

  • AMC’s Preacher:


  • Zac Efron and Robert DeNiro in Dirty Grandpa:


  • Charlie Kaufman’s Anomalisa:


  • The Wiz Live!:


  • Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie in By The Sea:


  • Spike Lee’s CHI-RAQ:


  • A final trailer for The Peanuts Movie:


  • Patricia Arquette and David Zayas in The Wannabe:


  • WEtv’s South of Hell:


  • Sally Field in Hello, My Name Is Doris:


  • Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Road Chip:


  • Over Your Dead Body:


  • James Franco and Seth Rogen in The Sound and the Fury:


  • Rise of the Tomb Raider:


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  • The Hocus Pocus kids also hung out:




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As always, we end with the mashups and supercuts…..

  • I cannot even begin the fathom what is going on with this Joe Jonas cover of Adele:


  • Sir David Attenborough narrates Adele’s video for “Hello”:


  • Bond villains love to laugh


  • All 24 Bond theme songs in under a minute:


  • The Inside Out emotions react to the new Star Wars trailer:


  • An “Is that all you’ve got?” supercut:


  • Cats in film:


  • Stephen Colbert and Allison Janney do a dramatic reading of “Hot Blooded”:


  • Josh Groban and Kelly Clarkson sing “All I Ask”:


  • A mashup of Justin Bieber and Drake:


  • President Obama sings “Thriller”:


  • And finally, Batman vs. Superman syncs up nicely with The Force Awakens:




Grantland’s Best Song of the Millennium Bracket

There are many reasons why I love the website Grantland; the brain child of ESPN’s Bill “the Sports Guy” Simmons, it brings together a lot of thoughtful and interesting contributors to write about the worlds of sports and pop culture. These are worlds that I like to spend a lot of time in, so I am frequently checking in on the blog to see the latest and greatest. I partially blame writer Alex Pappademas for my backslide into once again watching Keeping Up with the Kardashianshis recaps are so funny that I decided I had to see the ludicrousness that he was chronicling for myself. I am not proud of this. Andy Greenwald has become one of my favorite TV critics and I often borrow their stories or links for my pop culture roundups.

However, one of the main reasons that I love Grantland is their affinity for putting things into bracketed tournaments. Regular readers of my blog will recall that I love brackets. In my opinion, anything done in a bracket format is instantly more interesting. There’s just something about pitting two different things against each other that makes debating things more fun. I think the bracket format is half the reason that the NCAA men’s basketball tournament is so popular. The bracket simply serves as a great organizational tool to determine what is the “best.” Grantland has done brackets for all sorts of things, from the greatest character on The Wire to the most hated college basketball player to the best soup (dubbed the “souper bowl”). These are my people.

Now, “best” is in quotation marks because obviously a lot of this stuff is subjective; when you take brackets out of actual sports competition, it all becomes based on people’s opinion and most popular often trumps truly the best (whatever that means – it would vary person to person). So while it is awesome when the thing you prefer or love advances in this type of pop culture tournament, you kind of have to take that victory with a grain of salt. We’re not finding definitive answers here. Except that Omar is the greatest character on The Wire. That right there is gospel.

So when Grantland unveiled their latest bracket – The Battle for the Best Song of the Millennium – I was naturally intrigued. If I am being honest, I have probably been following the ups and downs of this bracket more than the unfolding crisis in Syria. I may be a terrible citizen, but I’m a great pop culture connoisseur.


Now music has never been one of my strengths; I listen to a lot of music, but I tend to like what I like which doesn’t always match up with critical acclaim, popular opinion or actual quality. I always have to laugh when I play the “worst songs” category on SongPop, since I personally like 99% of the songs that they seem to think everyone accepts as terrible. Except Nickleback – I’m with you people on them. I was way more into music back in high school and college, simply because I had a lot more free time back then. Sadly, my heyday of musical knowledge predates the beginning of the millennium by a few years; this is actually the era of music that I am the weakest on. Between the proliferation of music sharing and just the internet generally along with the fact that graduate school and working just didn’t leave a lot of leisure time, a lot of music that happened from 2000 on that I’m just not that up on. There just was too much to keep track of. I wasn’t completely oblivious and I’m definitely more aware of new bands today than I was five years ago, but it’s still a dark period for me. I’m a lot more confident of my knowledge of the 80s and 90s and probably even the 70s.

I am really terrible with song titles, so at first glance I was surprised at how many of these songs I didn’t know. However, some Google exploration resulted in the paring down of the number of songs that were completely unfamiliar to me. Still, it was a reminder that I had fallen behind for a decade or so, especially in the world of rap and hip hop (which I used to be pretty up on back in the day). Being aware of the existence of T.I. and Lil Wayne apparently did not translate to me actually knowing any of their songs.

Still, even if this musical era isn’t in my wheelhouse doesn’t mean that I wasn’t curious and didn’t have opinions. The Grantland bracket wound up playing out like this:


I wouldn’t have predicted their ultimate winner – Outkast’s “Hey Ya” – at the beginning of this process, but after giving it some thought it does kind of make sense. There were a lot of tough choices in their brackets and there were what I would consider some upsets. I think that there were some VERY big omissions. But when your final four includes “Hey Yeah,” Adele’s “Rolling in the Deep,” Kanye and Jay z’s “Ni**s in Paris” and The Killer’s “Mr. Brightside”…….


I have to say, as I pursued their list, it was fairly representative of the last 13 years of music. Their brackets featured more diversity than I would have expected and crossed many genres. These people had been paying way more attention to music than I had, so I have to defer to their opinions to some extent. That doesn’t mean, however, that I 100% agree with all their selections. While they certainly captured many of the songs that would have been in my bracket, some of my personal picks were not represented.

The songs in the Grantland bracket were the result of a collaborative process: each contributor came up with their slate of 25 songs released as singles from 2000 to 2013 and then the group voted on all the candidates. Apparently the discussions got pretty heated and it has been fun to listen to the contributors on their various podcasts bemoaning that their favorites didn’t make the cut.

So, taking all of this with a tremendous grain of salt, I humbly present what would have been my slate of candidates for song of the millennium (had anyone asked – and they didn’t). These are in no particular order and some may have been disqualified since I can’t guarantee that all of these were released as singles:

  1. Ignition – R. Kelly
  2. The Dog Days are Over – Florence + the Machine
  3. Oxford Comma – Vampire Weekend
  4. Power – Kanye West
  5. Bye Bye Bye – N’Sync (deal with it people)
  6. Seven Nation Army – The White Stripes
  7. Teenage Dream – Katy Perry
  8. Rehab – Amy Winehouse
  9. Rolling in the Deep – Adele
  10. Single Ladies – Beyoncé
  11. Lose Yourself – Eminem
  12. We Found Love – Rihanna, Calvin Harris
  13. Poker Face – Lady Gaga
  14. Cry Me a River – Justin Timberlake
  15. Toxic – Britney Spears
  16. Yeah! – Usher, Lil John, Ludicrous
  17. How to Save a Life – The Fray
  18. Hey Ya – Outkast
  19. Call Me Maybe – Carly Rae Jepsen
  20. Since U Been Gone – Kelly Clarkson
  21. All My Life – Foo Fighters
  22. Izzo – Jay Z
  23. New Slang – The Shins
  24. Your Body is a Wonderland – John Mayer
  25. Crazy – Gnarls Barkley

Of course, this list could change at the drop of a hat and I’m sure with some further deliberation I might swap out some songs for others. These aren’t necessarily my favorite songs of the last 13 years, but these are the songs that I think of when I think of this time period. I limited myself to one song per artist, which made for some difficult choices. I don’t know that all of them would have even received serious consideration – a lot of people hate “Your Body is a Wonderland” and John Mayer generally, but I am not one of those people – but I don’t think any of these are completely out of left field. The list is a little heavy on the pop, but otherwise a pretty solid snapshot of 2000-2013.

What songs would make your bracket? What songs did Grantland and I miss that you think deserve consideration? Sound off in the comments below

Pop Culture Status Report

What to do when your pop culture is too scattered and unfocused for one in depth blog post? That seems like the perfect time to do a little status report on what pop culture I’m currently consuming and how I feel about it. What am I loving? What has lost favor? What is boring me to tears?

  • Currently reading: Game of Thrones, Book One by George R.R. Martin

I started reading this book forever ago, but then I was enjoying the HBO program so much that I didn’t want to spoil what was coming next. The show has progressed far enough that it seemed like a good time to pick this back up and start over; it will be a good refresher on the characters and their backstories. And after reading the Gillian Flynn books (Gone Girl, Sharp Objects and Dark Places), I need a change of pace. The events in Game of Thrones can be just as awful as what happens in the Flynn books, but at least they aren’t so rooted in reality. Dragons aren’t real, right?

  • Currently cracking me up: Grantland’s “Captain’s Log”

Baseball isn’t really back until Grantland contributor Mark Lisanti starts writing his fictional account of what Derek Jeter’s journal entries would look like. You don’t have to a Yankee fan to appreciate them, but if you ARE a Yankee fan you will appreciate how spot on that they are. They are just ridiculous funny and extremely well done. I wish I had thought to write something like them.

  • Currently listening to: Joshua Radin, Underwater

I’m taking a break from my Justin Timberlake obsession to branch out and try new music. I’m sure my co-workers appreciate the change; I think they were a little tired of The 20/20 Experience. I’m in a singer/songwriter frame of mind currently and after a guest appearance on the season finale of Cougar Town, I’ve put Radin on heavy rotation. It’s soothing background music to have while I’m working – one of the occupational hazards of listening to so much Timberlake was fighting the urge to get up and dance in my office. No one wants to see that.

  • Currently over: The Following

I had my problems with Fox’s show The Following from the beginning, but it has gotten really terrible really quickly. I’m now more hate-watching the show than really even enjoying it, but since this is a short season and there really isn’t anything else on Monday nights I’ll see it through to the end. Plus I am kind of curious how they are going to resolve all this nonsense. When Kevin Bacon accidentally tweeted a spoiler for the international audience, I didn’t even remember that major plot point happening and I had JUST watched it.

  • Currently on the fence about: Revenge

I don’t know if it is the unpredictable scheduling of new episodes – ABC sees to bump this show a lot and show re-runs at odd times – or if it is just the overall muddle direction of season 2, but I am just not enjoying Revenge as much as I did last year. The Revenge plots have gotten really complicated and I just can’t be made to fully care about the Initiative or what they are up to. I don’t like the love interest that they have brought in for Emily and the fact that haven’t found a way to fill off Declan yet is frustrating. But the show can still deliver on occasion (a recent death of a character that I wasn’t necessarily all that fond of resonated far more than I anticipated) and Nolan is usually good for some fun quips), so I’m not completely over the show. I’m hoping that they can resolve some of the story lines I am less intrigued by and regroup for next season. An explosion that wipes out about 50% of the cast might not be the worst idea in the world.

  • Currently surprised by: Hannibal

Most of the new programs that NBC has trotted out recently have been horrific (Ready for Love, case in point) and the idea of yet another show that focuses on a serial killer, especially a serial killer that has been featured in books and several movies (and played by Anthony Hopkins to boot!), made me a bit skeptical of NBC’s new hour-long drama Hannibal. I tuned in last Thursday expecting to quickly lose interest, but was surprised to discover that Hannibal was extremely well done, creative and engrossing. I’m actually quite interested to see where they go with this show and am looking forward to this story being told. The acting is quite good – Mads Mikkelsen puts his own spin on Dr. Hannibal Lecter and brings something new and different to a character that is already familiar to many. I already gave the show a season pass on my DVR and no one is more surprised by that than me.

Things I’m looking forward to this weekend:

  • The Masters – I know a lot of people think that watching golf is boring, but I am not one of those people. I always try to watch each of the major tournaments and the Masters is my favorite of the bunch. Augusta National is so beautiful that it provides a picturesque backdrop for all the drama to unfold. And believe it or not, there is drama in a golf match. All eyes are on Tiger Woods as he attempts to move one step closer to being the competitor that he used to be. I’m pretty neutral on Tiger – I have my issues with him, though none of them have much to do with his extramarital activities – but it is always exciting to see an athlete try to recapture some of their former glory.
  • Saturday night I am going to see comedian Amy Schumer perform, which I am very excited for. She can be crass and isn’t for everyone, but I find her hilarious. She’s probably most famous for her participation in the Comedy Central roasts, but her stand up specials are a lot of fun. She also has a new show debuting on Comedy Central later this year. Should be a good time.
  • My DVR is already set for Louis CK’s new standup special that is airing on HBO Saturday night. He is my favorite comedian working today (sorry Seinfeld) and I have no doubt that this special will be just as  fantastic as his previous work. The guy is a comic genius and always has something interesting to say. My only regret is that I didn’t jump on the chance to see him live during this tour when opportunity presented itself.
  • Going back to the movies – believe it or not, I haven’t been to the movie theater in over 3 weeks, which is a lifetime for a person like me. Part of that was because I was away and part of that has been the dearth of free previews lately, but mostly I’ve just needed a break. There haven’t been any movies that I’ve been dying to see and I was going to the movies so often that the people who work there were starting to recognize me on sight. This weekend two movies come out that I am excited about – 42 and The Place Beyond the Pines – so I think it is time to make my triumphant return to the theater. I’ve missed the walnut brownies from The Spectrum.