It's December, and 'tis the season for year-end lists, best-of playlists, and of course, DJ Earworm's annual United State of Pop mash-up. If you want a quick answer to "what it all meant," it's hard to do better than Earworm's five-minute time capsules of the pop sphere. Last year, I talked to the San Francisco-based DJ (a.k.a. Jordan Roseman) about the process of curating and melding 12 months of the best (and worst) of mainstream music, and how 2012 was overall more melodic and optimistic than the apocalypse pop of 2010 and 2011. But this year, the clouds rolled back in: "It's a little darker-themed, I think," he told Billboard.
The Velvet Underground, "I’m Not a Young Man Anymore"
This never-before-released VU track is off the upcoming Lou Reed and John Cale–curated 45th-anniversary re-release of White Light/White Heat, and was recorded in 1967 at the Gymnasium in New York City. OK, now let's all go reread Laurie Anderson's beautiful farewell to Lou and have a good cry.
I have a big family, which means that on Thanksgiving, a lot of people show up with food, hangrily wait for everyone to arrive, say grace, eat other people's food, become immobile for a few hours, and then make a few plates and leave. It's the best. Somewhere between the arrivals and the comas, however, all the conversations happen. Some are discussions that stem from something on television, some are side conversations, and occasionally there are those amazing moments when it seems as if someone's been waiting all year just to bring something up. And when that happens, all you can do is sit back and watch it unfold.
It's pretty magical, watching conversations go from one topic to another, often struggling to find the line that got the family from A to B to C. As I've gotten older, however, I've enjoyed throwing out a few curveballs in addition to observing, just to see how my family responds to the topics, be they political, sports, music, movies, Tyler Perry, whatever.
But sometimes it's awkward to start these conversations if they don't happen organically. It's not the most natural thing to just stand up and yell over the football game, "BUT WHAT OF KIM'S LACK OF NIPPLES IN THAT “BOUND 2” VIDEO, DO Y'ALL WANT TO TALK ABOUT THAT?"
That's a bit much.
But that doesn't mean you shouldn't talk about it. Because let it be known that tomorrow my family and I are watching that video together and then talking about it. Forever.
So that's my Thanksgiving game plan. And the following are nine ways I'm considering making pop culture segues on Thanksgiving.
The American Music Awards have gone down for four decades now. Four decades! That's a remarkable run for an event that, let's be honest, we all totally forget exists unless we're within 36 hours on either side of its broadcast. Which is to say this: The AMAs were on last night. Were they any good? Were they any good? They were the American Music Awards!
Taylor Swift won Artist of the Year (here's your full list of winners), but the night was actually carried by Timberlake. He got to run up for a bunch of awards early on, and each time was game enough to offer us his best Studio 8H shtick: correctly complimenting the cuteness of Rihanna's mother (more on that later); making consciously dumb "I can't believe I won this award, whatever this award is!" faces; in general carrying the correct amount of playful, respectable disdain for every single thing happening. (Let's give him points for bantering with Sarah Silverman, too, even though the sentence "This is the first time I have ever been racially profiled by a white lady" actually makes no sense. Bro bro, white people are usually the ones doing the racial profiling.) But JT's greatest accomplishment popped up early: It came during Pitbull's opening monologue's Olympic-level inanity, and it was making this face for a good 43 seconds.
Arcade Fire's "Afterlife" video starts with a sad single papa feeding his sons supper. It moves to bedtime, then all over the place, beautiful and melancholy throughout its black-and-white journey. Emily Kai Bock, who's worked with Grimes and Grizzly Bear, wrote and directed the clip.
I have a theory that the harder Miley Cyrus is working to create controversy with her performances, the more she's trying to distract us from digging into her personal life too deeply. Just before announcing her split from fiancé Liam Hemsworth, she created the distraction to end all distractions with her VMAs performance; after four days of nonstop twerk chatter, she took back the mic with an interview for Rolling Stone that involved foot tattoos and skydiving. She's masterful at exploiting herself. She anticipates a need — not just for showmanship, or for supplying Gaga-esque wardrobe talking points, but for personal, confessional details that don't fuel gossip, because they are gossip. I think this is why Cyrus sparked a doobie at the MTV EMAs last night in Amsterdam during her acceptance speech, after having earlier emerged from a spaceship.
This is how country singer Jake Owen responded after Pretty Little Liars actress Lucy Hale announced her upcoming country album onstage at the 2013 Country Music Awards in Nashville. It was a startling, cultlike moment, one that was in keeping with the tone of the CMAs, the biggest night in country music.
I tuned in to the CMAs with a knowledge of the genre just about comparable to its sports cousin NASCAR (I'm familiar with the big names, but not a single detail beyond that), so I didn't really know what to expect from the three-hour show. For one, I certainly wasn't expecting to watch it for three hours, and furthermore was not expecting to be captivated for the entire time.
But that's what happens when you start out with a blackface joke.
Uh-oh, weirdos! It's Halloween! Does this news take you by surprise? Double uh-oh! I take it, then, that you haven't spent the last two weeks driving to every last secondhand store in your town, zombie dead-eyed, searching for that one elusive lapel-less pewter grey jacket that will really bring your Sloan Sabbith getup together, waiting in a line out the door at Goodwill while checking your bank account on the phone and suddenly being thrown into torturous doubt over truths you had taken for granted your whole life, so it's clear you don't understand everything that is wonderful about this cursed devil's holiday. And it's clear you could use some guidance so you don't show up at the lame house party your friends finally drag you to dressed as a mere civilian who hasn't read a blog all year.
Kerry Washington Is Pregnant: "For the past several months, the Scandal It girl, 36, has been relying on a seamstress to help her conceal a huge secret: Multiple sources tell Us she and NFL Pro husband Nnamdi Asomugha are expecting!" A friend says Kerry is "about four months along," and just like her secret engagement and wedding, she has no plans to publicize the pregnancy. How will Scandal deal with the pregnancy? Either by writing it in or choosing to "just work around it."
Did Gwyneth Paltrow Cheat on Chris Martin? Paltrow asked friends not to participate in an upcoming Vanity Fair story about her. Now we know why. "Vanity Fair is looking into an alleged affair that the movie star, who's been married to Coldplay singer Chris Martin since 2003, may have had with Miami billionaire Jeff Soffer." She thought it would remain a secret forever. Who is Soffer? Well, he's a "real estate developer worth $1 billion" who lucked into acquiring his father's successful real estate business. He and Gwyn must have had so much to talk about! Like benefiting from nepotism! He's now married to Elle Macpherson. "Gwyneth prides herself on presenting this image that she has the perfect life — that she's a domestic goddess with a talented husband and exceptional kids who has everything under control. Now she's caught up in a scandal." SCANDAL! It's all viral promo for Scandal. "Not only did Jeff, 45, fly the Iron Man actress to Miami" for the opening of his Fontainebleau hotel, "she stayed at his $14 million mansion in nearby Indian Creek." The adulterers "never went out in public. But they did attend parties at private homes and would hold hands around friends." Hold hands! Paltrow has mysteriously alluded to the nontraditional nature of her relationship with Martin several times. "I never say 'Where are you? You should be home by now.' I never place demands on him because I think he's a really talented man, and he's putting something good into the world." Girl. Paltrow's rep said, "Gwyneth and Jeff did not have an affair. They have been friends for many, many years."
One fun thing about the epic pop stan wars of Q4 2013 has been how every time a new single drops into the arena, everyone has to reevaluate the existing standings. Miley Cyrus got an early lead with "We Can't Stop," which gave her an entire summer free from major pop star competition to build anticipation for Bangerz. In mid-August, Katy Perry premiered "Roar," her first single from Prism, the follow-up to record-breaking smash album Teenage Dream. Reviews of "Roar" were extremely mixed, but it shot to the top of the charts immediately. "Roar" and "We Can't Stop" were both unexpectedly mid-tempo, perhaps a reaction to EDM oversaturation over the course of the last year, but some pop fans still clamored for more aggressively beat-driven songs. Two days after "Roar" leaked, Lady Gaga leaked her own new single "Applause."
Gaga had been talking a huge game about her album Artpop for months, so it was with a lot of fanfare that "Applause" hit the Internet, where it fizzled without any warning. "Applause," with its Kurt Weill theatricality and general "that weird lady's doing it again" vibe, spawned a thousand think pieces speculating about whether Gaga's hot streak was over for good. Meanwhile, the safe and cozy "Roar," which is the pop song equivalent of hot milk with honey, shot up through the ranks and easily elephant-stomped "Applause."
After what felt like centuries in Kardashian time, Kim Kardashian quickly whipped her body into Instagram-worthy shape and then celebrated by posting a klassic Kim mirror selfie. The photo is an off-kilter Dutch angle shot, not to imply horror but to try to make it seem casual, as if Kim had not been standing barefoot in front of a shoji screen room divider snapping away nonstop until she had the perfect shot. The chosen pic is quintessential Kim Kardashian; ass and chest torqued unnaturally toward the mirror in a superheroine pose, gazing not toward the viewer but at the all-important smartphone screen. It was Kim's way of signaling to the world that she has returned to reclaim her throne as the selfie queen. Technology made it possible, but she made it into a career.
You know when you feel like you've got a pretty good fake accent down, then you meet someone who has that real accent and you're all sweaty and terrified because you know you're a sham and they're going to rip you apart as soon as you say half a sentence? Fred Armisen does the exact opposite of that in this Funny or Die clip, sitting down with the Clash's Paul Simonon and Mick Jones in character as Ian Rubbish, a punk-obsessed Brit and stylistic plagiarist. The gents wind up in a spontaneous jam sesh, because "that's what punk's all about, innit? Not planning nuffink."
It was a chilly fall evening in Toluca Lake, and the air of Miley Cyrus's mansion was perfumed by a lump of wasabi in an empty sushi container. Miley reclined against the torso of a warm, cozy bear-person and reached into her giant mailbag. She removed an envelope from Sufjan Stevens, received a grammar lesson, then read the final passage aloud: "Girl, you work it like Mike Tyson. Miley, I love you because you’re the Queen, grammatically and anatomically speaking. And you’re the hottest cake in the pan. Don’t ever grow old. Live brightly before your fire fades into total darkness. XXOO Sufjan." There was peace in the San Fernando Valley that night, because finally someone had written the open letter to Miley Cyrus that should end all future unanswered correspondence. She, like the recipients of open letters that preceded her, had read plenty of complaints about her behavior and had received harshly administered advice. Many had expressed serious concern for her well-being and her future, but this was the first to correct her verb use and call her a hotcake in the same paragraph.
Open letters are appealing for debating high-stakes issues because it's nice to argue with someone at length without them physically present and able to interrupt you. Braver than sub-tweets and more eyeball-catching than regular old blog posts, they're highly confrontational, and because they're posted publicly, they demand an equally confrontational response from their target or a larger audience. Sinead O'Connor continues to fire off missives to Miley that have gained her plenty of responses, many of them supportive and positive, but the real hallmark of an open letter is that it can't become chain mail. It has to be powerful enough to stand on its own (even when addressing a toddler or a larva burrowed in one's butt). An open letter demands to be signed with a mic drop.
We may not all have seen Gravity yet (it was a very busy weekend!) but the Girls in Hoodies are all-in on American Horror Story: Coven, the third series of Ryan Murphy and Brian Falchuk's horror anthology franchise. There's just something about Jessica Lange's dance interludes that transcend the genre, and we all agree it's exciting to have another virtually all-female cast on TV.
Tess and Molly then recap their adventure seeing John Mayer at the Hollywood Bowl and the friends and memories they made to last a lifetime. We then move on to Fiona Apple's Portland hecklers and the "concern trolling" phenomenon that runs so rampant in pop culture, including but not limited to the Miley Cyrus and Sinead O'Connor feud. Between Amanda Bynes tweets and Terry Richardson photos hoots, it's been a hard week to stay Team Miley, and one of us may have jumped ship.