(Some of) My favorite pop culture everythings of 2017
Okay, so warning — this is long. I think I spent about a week or so on it, but it was actually pretty fun to assemble.
No numbers, or any particular order. Mostly, this is a list of things that I relished in 2017, things that made me double-take, that stuck with me, that I keep revisiting and have some words left over for.
I’d like to make a dedicated effort to write more in 2018 — maybe for publication, definitely for myself. I’m thinking of this as a list of things I wish I’d had the time or energy or space to write about in the past year.
Hopefully, this exercise will also be a reminder to slow down and live in my own thoughts every once in a while — I’m at a place in my life where I should be valuing my own voice a bit more, both as a creative person and as a human being. For all my fellow writers and overthinkers out there, I wish you the same. Cheers all, and Happy New Year.
The Baby Driver soundtrack, playing in the back of my head: Okay, so a bit of a cheat. Starting with something I actually have written about, but cannot praise enough — here’s to the playlist, quite possibly my favorite medium. When words fail you, make an elaborate list of songs instead. Play it loudly and cathartically as you fall in love, or rob a bank, or run away from a deliciously campy Jon Hamm, out for blood.
Timothée Chalamet in Lady Bird playing every guy I was ever infatuated with in high school: Nowhere have I seen such an accurate depiction of the privileged, half-baked intellectual with middling talent, coasting through life with the unearned confidence of a wealthy white boy with great hair and a perfect smirk. He’s a musician. He reads books. He wears all black and doesn’t believe in money. (Literally, this is a line in the movie, that he actually says.) Ugh, my heart. When he first appeared in the film, playing the bass guitar with his band at a high school party, I forgot how to breathe.
“Particula” as intercontinental sunshine: Major Lazer only released one (1) good song this year, but it was — and remains — a great one. (The key was handing the reins over to his collaborators on the track, all four hailing from different parts of Africa and bringing essential new sounds to Lazer’s usual buzzy electronic edge.)
Distilled summertime, from lazy beachside walks to cool, open-air dance floors at sunset, charged with possibility. That’s “Particula.”
Cary Elwes’ The Princess Bride tour: This summer, in the midst of a particularly heavy week, I impulsively bought tickets to a screening of the 1987 classic The Princess Bride. Do you know who else buys tickets to a screening of the 1987 classic The Princess Bride, thirty years after its release? People who weep at the words, “As you wish.” People charmed by Andre the Giant’s rhyming games, who have a soft spot for short Sicilians with lisps, and who understand the grave significance of a man with six fingers. People who quote every damn line, earnest and straight-faced, and laugh at every cue. It was beautiful. Cary Elwes (who played Wesley) was also there, talking about a book he wrote, but that part was superfluous.
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Lipstick application as therapy: The next person to call my expenditures at Sephora “irresponsible” will be blocked. One of the few things that could ever bring me back from the brink is the total focus of leaning into a mirror, carefully painting my lips a bright, screaming red. Some say it’s too bright, or inappropriate, or giving in to social pressure. But I reclaim the idea of “beauty” on my own terms, thank you very much.
I, for one, am so appreciative of the rise of the beauty blog, the Insta tutorial, and the outward embrace of beauty as creativity this year. Confidence takes different forms; I choose Kat Von D’s “Outlaw” as mine.
Jane The Virgin, like family: This season, Jane navigated love and grief, loss and family, heartbreak and hope. It echoed beats familiar to any devout television viewer, but what’s made Jane so revelatory is how this story is so often told through Jane’s relationships with the women in her life. Female friendships and family bonds are easy to take for granted, both in scripted entertainment and in reality. But this show — this show depends on those relationships; it’s built on them, and it boldly and lovingly celebrates them. Even more so than telenovelas and romance, sisterhood is in Jane’s DNA.
How simple, how special, how powerful of an idea this is. So it is only fitting that this show played in the background of some of my most important female relationships this year. We cried and laughed and grew with Jane, and so we did with each other.
Late night confidence boosts to “Bodak Yellow”: A memory: I’m sitting in the passenger seat of my hometown friend’s car, sunroof open to let in the South Texas breeze, thick with summertime smog. The three of us crammed inside, we don’t know where we’re going. But we’ve got a full tank and an aux cord and each other, and that’s enough.
Speeding through sleepy suburb streets, ripping through the silence with Cardi on loop. You can’t f*ck with me, even if you wanted to. Dizzy thinking about our futures — wide open like the inky San Antonio night sky, spilling with potential. We’re unstoppable.
Jason Concepcion’s Binge Watch finale monologue in celebration of fantasy: Jason Concepcion is a sports writer for The Ringer, but he’s also one of my favorite self-professed geeks on the Internet. (I do not really care about sports at all, but I still try to read Jason on sports, because he writes about something like the NBA so thoughtfully, with as much genuine enthusiasm as when he writes about, say, Game of Thrones.)
This year, Jason and Ringer editor Mallory Rubin undertook a somewhat masochistic deep dive into GOT for their debut podcast Binge Watch. It was a fun pod ride, but my favorite part came at the very end — when Jason stepped up on his soapbox and read a lovely, heartfelt ode to fantasy, honoring the genre’s ability to turn even the darkest realities into something loaded with hope and potential.
The novelty of The Last Jedi rekindling my love for fandom: Look, I was just looking for some fun and explosions with my favorite rebel scum, okay? But then… we got so much more. Yes, it turns out my love for TLJ is real and true and not really even that obligatory — this movie, Reader, is Good. And that’s mostly because my dude Rian Johnson finally allowed the franchise’s next great character to flourish. Kylo Ren is a villain for our time: an overly powerful white man fueled by self-loathing who denounces the past in favor of his own vision. A man who throws a straight-up temper tantrum when a woman who is his equal (or better?) in strength and ability rejects him, after having the audacity to imagine a future that looks different than his.
And I don’t think I’ll ever forget the overwhelming vindication I felt when our Jedi Rey finally rejected him — when it would’ve been so easy to say yes. Even when what she craves most is a connection, someone to understand and relieve her of her crippling loneliness, she says no. Because Rey recognizes what Kylo Ren offers — something resembling compassion, but with conditions — is actually much more dangerous than nothing at all. Because she recognizes her own value and potential. This, in a major blockbuster in the Year of our Lord 2017. I am still stunned.
Hasan Minhaj’s Homecoming King as the hard reboot stand-up needs: This special’s greatest strength is its most obvious: Hasan himself, and the history he brings up on stage with him. Homecoming King centers on Hasan’s experience as a brown Muslim child of immigrants growing up in white American suburbia, and it has as many novel, touching, prickly insights as it has jokes. Say it loud for those in the back: really, truly, how often is this story critically explored at open mic? Hasan’s talent (besides being very, very funny) is his ability to force new perspective between laughs. He represents an exciting, uncharted future for stand-up, one as groundbreaking as this special.
Jia Tolentino’s clear-eyed empathy for victims of sexual abuse: I am usually quite thankful for Jia’s words, but this year I found them especially vital. Never was this as obvious as a few weeks into the Harvey Weinstein scandal, when she mapped out the thorny reality of existing in a society that frequently values power over fundamental human respect.
When we acknowledge our victimhood at the hands of powerful men, women are often gaslit into playing a cruel game of mental hangman — eliminating all fault beyond ourselves. Framing our virtues as weaknesses. Listening, exhausted, to whispers of “lesser evils” and enduring threats to our futures. Ultimately siphoning our labor and pain back into the same power structures that failed us, even as we watch them brutalize and fail others, because we are slowly convinced there is no way to win on our own terms. We often forget that the game is rigged, that the rule book is written for the benefit of the powerful, that it’s been like this from the start. Jia assessing these truths for us was painful, necessary, and cathartic as hell.
Listen to "The King of Tears" Season 2 Episode 6 of The Revisionist History Podcast with Malcolm Gladwell.revisionisthistory.com
Listen to "McDonald's Broke My Heart" Season 2 Episode 9 of The Revisionist History Podcast with Malcolm Gladwell.revisionisthistory.com
Malcolm Gladwell’s “Revisionist History” living up to its name: This is one of my favorite commute podcasts (high praise), and I think what pushed it so far up the list was the one-two punch of season two’s “McDonald’s Broke My Heart” and “The King of Tears”. I did not think I needed a deep dive into my favorite 2 AM drunchies food, the iconic McDonald’s french fry. Nor did I think I really cared about the winding history of country music, which I denounced as soon as I learned how to change the radio station from Y100 (“San Antonio’s new country leader”) to… anything else.
But I was wrong, and this is a rare instance where I’m really, really glad I was. Praise Malcolm Gladwell for asking these questions, since they made for some of the year’s finest audio storytelling.
The importance of detail of Disney-Pixar’s Coco: Something else I’ve written about before. But I still can’t shake the little things. When Miguel squares his shoulders and plays the guitar with such sweet, stumbling accuracy, my heart aches.
“XO Tour Llif3” leading the emo resurgence: I heard this song a lot this summer — a dark, existentialist contrast against the hot Texas sunshine. As an enduring poptimist, I was thrown off at first. But my MCR-loving instincts, once buried in my early teenage past, quickly recognized “XO Tour Llife” for what it is. Uzi was one of many who revitalized emo music in 2017, solidifying the genre’s enduring legacy — and proving that our bleeding hearts aren’t going anywhere.
Charlize Theron (and her wardrobe) as a tour de force in Atomic Blonde: Living in New York City mid-winter has me fantasizing about beautiful outerwear, including every single perfect coat in this film. I don’t even remember what happened in Atomic Blonde besides the fact that Charlize always dressed well and always held her own in a fight (doing most of her own stunts, too)— but her personification of strength and femininity was certainly memorable enough, and more than enough for me.
Good Person™ Lin-Manuel Miranda defying the Internet’s worst impulses, cradling us all in the crook of his elbow: I feel confident asserting that Lin-Manuel Miranda is Good, which says quite a bit since I only know of his character and actions from his Twitter account, really. But in an era when the Internet is a trash fire, bringing out the worst in us all, he somehow rises above the fray.
I suspect Lin must have racked up record levels of sleep debt this year, but ’twas not in vain. His use of star power was equal parts urgent and wholesome, tirelessly making sure that any eyes on him meant there were eyes on Puerto Rico, which still struggles to recover from Hurricane Maria’s devastation. His feed is also the best place to go to for a genuine, empowering pep talk which, if you can imagine, is something of an outlier online. Maybe more people should attempt to detoxify, and follow his lead— a worthwhile goal to set in 2018, I’d think.
Anyway: keep doing you, Lin. And thanks.
Obviously, I could not get to everything I cared about this year — this is just a small sample of the things I loved, and the things that floated to the top of my mind as I wrote this. There is an obvious chronological bias, as well as the bias of whatever I saw or read before I started writing, as well as a million other factors.
However, some honorable mentions go to:
- BoJack Horseman, s4 for its brutal and creative honesty in depicting the ebb and flow of mental illness, and for introducing the radical notion of finding optimism at rock bottom;
- The Big Sick for beautifully exemplifying the often difficult, often fulfilling relationships children can have with their parents — and elegantly arguing that many times, it’s both;
- The Shape of Water for its keen understanding of fantasy, not only as a genre but as a far more intimate notion — as the places and people we craft in our minds, the ones that become tangible enough to us that the line between imagination and reality begins to blur;
- Vagabon’s Infinite Worlds for exposing how indie rock, as a genre, a lifestyle and an institution, went through some growing pains in 2017 — while proving that its future is undoubtedly female;
- D’Arcy Carden as Janet/Bad Janet in The Good Place for being MVP in a cast and crew crammed with winners, each cleverly redefining the role of the TV sitcom in the streaming era — all while handily keeping up with the most bingable of content as one of the best shows on air in 2017;
- Real celebrities Chris Evans and Jenny Slate for being real people really in love — their relationship is punctuated by flirting on podcasts, referring to “primary colors” as a character trait, and giggling at giant dogs being adorable, and it brought me tremendous joy this year;
- Spider-Man: Homecoming for rediscovering the joy of being super in its charming leading man and a John Hughes coming-of-age script retrofitted for our superpowered age;
- and Shawn Mendes’ “There’s Nothing Holdin’ Me Back” for being a total banger (sorry, nothing more profound to say here, the song’s just a jam).
Reader, if you’ve made it all the way down here — first off, wow, you’re great, and thanks for making it through all my thought soup above. Second, I’d also love to hear your thoughts on the pop culture year that was 2017. Get in touch, let me know, and my best wishes for your 2018. ✨