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2014’s Inevitable Songs of the Summer: A Field Guide

I’ve gotten my first sunburn, sandal blisters, and fire ant bites of the year, which means that it’s officially summer. Those of you who aren’t suffering from the same seasonal ailments may be looking for other signs that summer is underway, and for that, I’d like to point you towards the endless articles debating which pop song is going to be everybody’s jam for the next few months. Seriously, there are so many. Google “2014 song of the summer” and go nuts.

Most of these articles pit various pop songs in a musical battle royale, where readers can cast votes and only one song will emerge with the hearts and minds of the people. Others are a little more egalitarian and just document a whole bunch of songs that will be part of the cultural zeitgeist this summer. I’ve decided to take a different approach this year. With only a very loose understanding of what a field guide is, I’m presenting a field guide of 6 of this year’s inevitable songs of the summer (and by “inevitable” I mean the songs you truly won’t be able to avoid if you live within 50 miles of other people). I hope you find my insights as useful as I convinced myself they were while writing them.

“Problem” by Ariana Grande feat. Iggy Azalea

 

Genre: catchy

Natural habitat: Already queued up on your little cousin’s phone (and your phone, who are you kidding?)

Wine pairing: Cabernet Sauvignon

Where to play it: The next time you’re ghostriding the whip… or sitting inside reading a book because you saw an article talking about the dangers of ghostriding

Additional notes: Normally I hit a maximum limit for the number of times I can listen to a song in the course of a day, but I haven’t hit that limit with “Problem” yet. Only time and incessant radio play over the course of the summer will tell, though.

“Turn Down for What” Lil’ John and DJ Snake

Genre: Trap

Natural habitat: The dingy, fire exit-less basement of a fraternity house

Wine pairing: No wine, just Four Loko

When to play it: Whenever you’re feeling nostalgic for LMFAO’s “Shots”

Additional notes: I managed to not hear this song or any references to it for quite a long time, but then I heard about 5 people use the phrase “turn down for what” in the course of one afternoon and did not approve. Also, the first time I heard the actual song was in the context of this adorable kitten video, which is the best way to hear it.

“Summer” by Calvin Harris

Genre: Electronic dance

Natural habitat: The yacht parties that I imagine are primarily attended by young professionals more financially stable than me… also sometimes found blasting in the cars of 16-year-old girls who haven’t found themselves yet

Wine pairing: Franzia (you can choose the box color)

When to play it: When you’ve exhausted all other options

Additional notes: I kind of feel like Calvin Harris is cheating by trying to win the Summer Song Battle with a song called “Summer”. It’s like when musicians get the audience to cheer by yelling out the name of the city they’re in, only Calvin Harris made it more universal by repeating the name of the season we’re all in. Points off for pandering, Harris.

“Am I Wrong” by Nico & Vinz

Genre: Norwegian pop (because yes, while the song sounds like it was inspired by a warmer climate, Nico & Vinz are from Norway)

Natural habitat: Backyard barbecues, your dad’s house when he puts on the “Adult Alternative” Sirius station to seem with it

Wine pairing: Vintage port

When to play it: The next time you want to get a drum circle going

Additional notes: Does anyone else feel like Shakira should have come in for a verse? Even just some “oh ohs” or “nay nana nay nana nay nana nays”?

“Sing” by Ed Sheeran

Genre: Justin Timberlake

Natural habitat: high school graduation parties, overly air-conditioned malls

Wine pairing: white sparkling wine

When to play it: when you’re ready to branch out from The 20/20 Experience, but not that ready

Additional notes: This upbeat, light-hearted song might seem strange in the context of Sheeran’s other two most well-known, coffee shop songs, “Lego House” and “The A-Team”. However, if you dig deeper on his first album, you’ll also find a bouncy song called “You Need Me, I Don’t Know You” that features the line, “They say I’m up and coming, like I’m f***ing in an elevator”, so maybe this new single isn’t so out of character.

“Fancy” by Iggy Azalea feat. Charli XCX

Genre: Electro-rap

Natural habitat: An iPhone placed inside of a cup in an attempt to make the speakers louder

Wine pairing: Riesling

Where to play it: The next time there’s an awkward silence on your girl’s night out

Additional notes: I tried really hard to resist Iggy Azalea at first, but I’ve given in. This is clearly her summer, and I’m completely fine with that.

Honorable Mention Songs of the Summer*:

“Hideaway” by Kiesza

“I Will Never Let You Down” by Rita Ora

“SuperLove” by Charli XCX

“Stay with Me” by Sam Smith

“Chandeleir” by Sia

“Rude” by MAGIC!

“Rather Be” by Clean Bandit feat. Jess Glynne

*because let’s face it, you’re going to be hearing a lot of these songs, too

Nightmare of the ‘90s, Vol. 2: 3 More Terrifying Pop Culture Touchstones

A while back, I wrote a cathartic post about 5 pop culture products of the ‘90s that absolutely terrified me. It felt good to get those fears out in the open, and at first I thought I could be done discussing my childhood pop culture trauma, but I recently realized that there were way more than 5 things that caused me to lose sleep as a kid. Here are 3 more of them.

The Secret of NIMH

This movie actually came out way back in ‘82, but I’m including it on this list because I’m pretty sure just about every kid who grew up in the ‘90s saw this at one time or another when it aired on every single children’s channel ever. The movie has all the ingredients of a great kid’s movie—a scrappy protagonist, talking animals, a bucolic country setting, an incredibly grating comic relief character…but then the writers and animators apparently decided that it was about time kids learned what fear really meant. To properly scare the bejeezus out of young viewers, they added elements like a rat that chases the protagonist with an electrified trident, another rat who looks like he’s trying out for the role of Possessed Dumbledore, and a demon owl who seems to have clawed and fluttered his way out of Pan’s Labyrinth.

This is the face of an owl that probably eats children in its spare time. Source: donbluth.wikia.com

 

On a side note, I also have negative associations with the book on which this movie is based, Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH. I read it almost entirely in one night on a summer vacation, after winning a hard-fought battle against my brother to claim the bed closest to the reading lamp in our cabin. I stayed up until the wee hours reading that book while simultaneously being bitten by hundreds of tiny ants who had, unbeknownst to me, called pre-dibs on that bed.

Legends of the Hidden Temple

 

Blurry footage of a temple guard clothes-lining a child who has clearly just seen her life flash before her eyes. Source: gameshows.wikia.com

Like many a child of the ‘90s, I grew up harboring a not-so-secret desire to be on the game show Legends of the Hidden Temple (or, failing that, it’s lesser cousin, Guts). Never mind that the show was no longer in production by the time I would have been old enough to assemble that damn silver monkey statue—I had temple dreams and I had them bad. I believed that I had just the right combination of athleticism and intelligence to breeze through the Moat Challenge and conquer the Steps of Knowledge; I even believed I could stay cool under the no-doubt immense pressure of the two-team Temple Games. The only thing holding me back was the final Temple Run.

For those who have managed to block the Temple Run from their memories, let me remind you: the challenge seemed to involve, at least to my young mind, one singled out, sacrificial child leaving the show’s sound stage in Orlando and traveling into a jungle hellscape, where they would have to clamber around the wreckage of a Mayan temple. The setting itself might not have been so bad, except for the temple guards. These were grown men dressed in Mayan costumes who sprung out of hiding spots (secret revolving doors, potted plants, vents that they passed through in silver liquid form, stuff like that) and “captured” contestants, who could only escape if they handed over a hard-won temple token. If the kid didn’t have a full token, they were removed from the game, presumably either to be taken to their parents or to their death (it was never clear which).

Those temple guards were always my hang-up, my fear of flying, and I’ll never forget how they crushed my dreams of appearing on Legends of the Hidden Temple.

Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark

 

Oh no, these aren’t the kinds of images that will stick in an impressionable young mind for years to come. Source: thetwistgossip.com

I was a pretty avid book connoisseur at my elementary school’s library, and I was a fan of some of the kids’ horror offerings (Goosebumps and Bailey School House Kids for the most part), but Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark was the one book in that library I wanted nothing to do with. It might as well have been that satanic book from the Evil Dead movies, emitting tortured groans and stirring up sudden lightning storms whenever a kid walked near it. It was sort of an act of defiant bravery if you were able to open that book and stare at its illustrations—which appear to be the black and white water colors of an artist committed to a Victorian asylum—for more than a couple seconds.

To this day, I’m not actually sure if I was ever able to pick up the book and open it myself, or if I just sort of glanced at it out of the corner of my eye while braver, more desensitized kids who were allowed to watch R-rated movies flipped through it. I did look back at some of the original artwork while I was writing this article, though, and it’s still terrifying. I do, however, disagree with the relatively recent decision to change the book’s artwork to something less nightmare-inducing, because modern kids deserve the same opportunities to have the shit scared out of them that I had when I was growing up.

Hopefully today’s parents will do the right thing and at the very least get their kids to watch timeless traumatizing classics, like Dark Crystal and Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.

If you have your own ‘90s pop culture moments that haunt you to this day, feel free to share them in the comments!

Music Video of the Week: “Hideaway” by Kiesza

I’m not quite sure why I’m calling this the music video of the week as it’s been floating around the Internet for a few months now, but it’s the music video of MY week, at least, and hopefully it’ll make you as happy as it makes me.

I think my happiness with this music video is based on 3 things:

  1. The full commitment to the ’90s in the music, costuming, and dancing (everyone starts doing the running man at one point!). I know trends are cyclical, and we’ve been getting a lot of ’80s synth pop in the last few years, and this is the next logical progression. I for one am ready for a ’90s revival, as long as we don’t go too overboard on the sexy sax (sorry, Kenny G).
  2. The generally great choreography. I’m not going to pretend I’m an expert on dance, but I have watched a lot of So You Think You Can Dance, and I know that I like watching people who are good at dancing.
  3. Kiesza. Just all of Kiesza. She’s got great energy, an amazing voice, and she’s also released a super soulful cover of Haddaway’s “What Is Love”, so in my mind that somehow makes her a triple threat. She’s apparently getting pretty big in the UK, so I hope she has similar success in the States.

Runner Up Video of the Week: “Fancy” by Iggy Azalea featuring Charli XCX

This one’s also been out for awhile, but I figured I couldn’t take about a ’90s resurrection without bringing up a video that plays loving tribute to “Clueless”, one of the greatest movies of the ’90s (fact).

 

Now Is a Good Time to Invest in These 3 TV Comedies

Source: Mashable

As we move into May, there are a lot of great TV shows to choose from… but a lot of those great shows are ones that you had to invest in a long time ago if you want to enjoy them now. Online streaming has obviously made it easier for people to binge-watch and get caught up, and I’m all for people marathoning shows that are part of the cultural zeitgeist, but I also know there are a lot of people out there who don’t feel like catching up with Mad Men while it’s entering its last season or getting into Game of Thrones now that it’s 4 seasons and 5,000 characters in.

For the more casual TV viewers, I’d like to offer up some safer but still rewarding investments: 3 comedies that you can watch now without making a huge time commitment or having to memorize 50 back stories.

Read the rest of this entry

Quiz: Which Victorian Bogeyman Are You?

1. What do you have an appetite for?

  1. Murder
  2. Mass hysteria
  3. Pies
  4. All of the above

2. You’ve got a night to yourself. You spend it:

  1. Lurking in the shadows
  2. Skulking in the shadows
  3. Shadowing other people’s shadows
  4. Seeing Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit

3. If you have a flaw—IF being a key word—it’s probably that you:

  1. Care too much
  2. Care too little
  3. Are too hard on yourself
  4. Can’t stop, won’t stop

4. You’re lost in the big city, a la Macauley Culkin in Home Alone 2. What do you do?

  1. Solicit ladies of the night for directions; waggle eyebrows
  2. Hardcore parcour; scale the tallest building so I can get my bearings
  3. Make the best of the situation and establish a local business (this is your home now)
  4. Use Google maps? Or is this supposed to be what I’d do in Victorian times?

5. Surprise Rorscach test! Pretend you’re looking at an ink blot (use your imagination, okay?). What does      it resemble?

  1. The dark hole where your heart should be
  2. Your hero, Batman
  3. Clumps of hair on a barber shop floor
  4. I can just say anything? Van Gogh’s “Starry Night”, I guess

6. If you could only eat one food for the rest of your life, it would be:

  1. Blood oranges. Or blood pudding. Blood something.
  2. Pop Rocks
  3. Hormel’s chill, high-sodium edition
  4. What?! Those are all horrible questions. I don’t understand what this quiz is supposed to reveal.

7. Your perfect date involves:

  1. Sparkling conversation, a carriage ride, a well-aged Cabernet
  2. Putt Putt, skinny dipping, Miller Light
  3. A home-cooked dinner, talking late into the night, a nice port
  4. Wait, isn’t this quiz about Victorian bogeyman? How is any of this relevant?

8. Let’s follow up with this date thing. If your first date goes well, what do you do for the second date?

  1. I don’t do second dates
  2. Something spontaneous
  3. Hesitate before calling, mumble something about having a good time and maybe going to a museum opening
  4. Dinner and a movie, I guess, but why does this matter?

9. You’re taking a quiz about Victorian bogeyman. How do you feel?

  1. Thrilled; I believe personality quizzes can reveal secrets buried deep inside ourselves
  2. Ecstatic; learning more about myself is my favorite activity
  3. Overjoyed; I’ve always wanted to know which Victorian villain I am
  4. Frustrated with the direction this quiz has gone

10. We’re almost done here. Last question, which is also the most important one. Which of these words most speaks to you?

  1. Verisimilitude
  2. Rapscallion
  3. Harbinger

Now On To the Results!

Mostly A’s: You’re Jack the Ripper

Congratulations—you’re one of history’s greatest monsters! You’re enigmatic and don’t often let people get close to you, but that’s only because you’re worried you’ll get hurt (or arrested and executed for all the horrific atrocities you’ve committed). You also have a tendency towards being a perfectionist, whether you’re wielding a sharpened knife or studying for that important midterm. You need to learn to let things go. Take a break from murdering, or studying, or whatever it is that’s been stressing you out.

Mostly B’s: Your Spring-Heeled Jack

Well bust my buttons, you’re that devilish specter that many a Londoner reported leaping about the city throughout the 19th century. You’re a kid at heart, and you find play much more important than work. You’re also an athlete, and you need an outlet for your energy or else you go a little crazy. Some people think there are times you should tone it down, like when you pulled that prank at the company Christmas party last year and it didn’t go over very well. Maybe find a better use for your energy, like hot yoga?

Mostly C’s: You’re Sweeney Todd

I say, you’re the spitting image of the demon barber of Fleet Street! You may have struggled with your original business, but you’ve gone on to become a role model for other entrepreneurs dreaming of a midlife career change. You’re a hard worker, and when you set your mind to something then by golly, you’ll achieve it (no matter how devious it is). You’re a textbook case of a self-made individual, but sometimes you take yourself a little too seriously, you know? Relax. Sit back and enjoy the meat pies while you can.

Mostly D’s: You’re Potpourri Charlie

You got Potpourri Charlie because you’re a little bit all over the place, aka you refused to participate in this quiz the way you were supposed to. I know, I know, you’re probably saying that you finished the stupid quiz and just answered ‘D’ a bunch, but you knew that wasn’t how it was supposed to go. You had the opportunity to learn more about Victorian history and—dare I say it—yourself, but you blew it, and now you get to be a non-descript Victorian bogeyman that I, the quizmaster, just made up. Buzzfeed would be ashamed of your quiz-taking attitude.

 

Literary Pro Wrestling Match-Up #1: Chain Austen vs. Edith Warhorse

Note: A while back I was trying to brainstorm article topics, but all I could come up with were literary-themed pro wrestling and/or roller derby names. I think I was sleep-deprived. This is the resulting post.

It’s a truth universally acknowledged that a single professional wrestler in position in the ring must be in want of a pummeling… by legendary Regency era firecracker Chain Austen.

Chain Austen isn’t interested in anything except her opponent’s punch and punchability, and this week she’ll be testing her mettle against defending Literary Pro Wrestling champ, Edith Warhorse.

Don’t let the defending champ’s affluent appearance fool you—this rough and tumble lady didn’t grow up in no age of innocence. Edith Warhorse honed her skills on the mean streets of New York, and she’s spent years perfecting her legendary roundhouse of mirth. This Friday, she’ll be doing her best to send Chain Austen back from whence she came—the English countryside.

It’s going to be more than just a comedy of manners when Chain Austen and Edith Warhorse go bonnet-to-bonnet in the ring. Chain Austen’s former adversary, F. Scott Fistgerald, has said, “Pointed, barbed, cutting to the core… and I’m not just talking about Chain Austen’s witty dialogue. She snuck hogwire and a dagger into the ring for our match. That woman will shank you.”

Meanwhile, Edith Warhorse’s notorious rival, Salman Crushdie, has said of his opponent, “She brings a crushing realism to the ring. And her dramatic irony, dear God. She makes you see how fucked up society is until you can’t even go on anymore. Plus she hit me with a chair when I wasn’t looking.”

So who will prevail—New York’s own 20th century Buccaneer of the British whirlwind who is prepared to Mansfield Park her opponent in the dirt? Tune in next Friday as Chain Austen and Edith Warhorse take it to the grindhouse.

4 Southern Gothic Books to Read Post-True Detective

As is my usual practice with popular TV shows, I hold out for a few months, then decide to watch the pilot just to see what all the fuss is about, then fall into an antisocial state of binge-watching that show for the next several days/weeks. The latest show to suck me into its orbit was True Detective, which thankfully only has one manageable 8 episode season so far. I didn’t think I’d like the show at first because I’m not usually a big fan of police procedurals, but I got on board when I realized that True Detective isn’t so much a crime-solving show as it is a Southern gothic novel in TV form.

Southern gothic, for those who don’t get as excited as me when it comes to defining genres, is a style of writing that typically follows flawed characters as they navigate through dark or sinister events in the American South. Sometimes there’s magic involved, often there’s a folklore element, and there’s almost always some kind of decay (of buildings, society, what have you). Basically, the Southern Gothic Wikipedia page should just have a giant picture of True Detective on it by now.

So for those who watched True Detective and discovered that they’ve been latent Southern Gothic fans this whole time, I’m going to throw out a few book recommendations. Important note: I’m not claiming to be an expert in the genre, and I’m not writing a “Best Southern Gothic Novels Ever” list. I’ll admit that I haven’t even read any novels by William Faulkner, which is a pretty big oversight on my part. However, I know what I like, and these are 4 books that have really stood out to me.

Wise Blood, Flannery O’Connor

Every time I picked up this book I sort of felt like I had a high fever and was suffering hallucinations, but in the best possible way. There’s just something so off-kilter about this novel, which features a blind preacher, an unpredictable teenage zookeeper, a man bent on sharing the gospel of anti-religion, and a teenage nymphomaniac, among other characters. Fans of True Detective will appreciate the themes of faith and illusion, and everyone should appreciate a particularly bizarre scene involving a gorilla costume.

Other Voices, Other Rooms, Truman Capote

I guess the obvious choice for a Truman Capote book on this list would be In Cold Blood, but truth be told, I enjoyed Other Voices, Other Rooms more. I think what appealed to me most was the setting of the derelict Mississippi mansion and the sensitivity with which Capote writes 13-year-old protagonist Joel Harrison Knox and the characters who surround him. While In Cold Blood is a “true crime” novel that takes a more journalistic tone, Other Voices, Other Rooms is partially autobiographical and gives the reader an interesting look at the author’s background. If the character development was what you liked best about True Detective, read this.

Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, John Berendt

I read this book when I was probably too young for it (12-year-old me learned a lot about drag queen culture in Savannah), but I still loved it. While it’s based on a true murder case, it reads like a novel and is so addicting that it shouldn’t take long to finish. Berendt paints such vivid pictures of the characters and the settings that I felt like I was a member of the Savannah, Georgia community by the end. If you liked the fleeting moments of humor that popped up amidst the darkness of True Detective (mostly stemming from Rust’s eccentricities) then you may enjoy the blending of light and dark in Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil.

Coiled in the Heart, Scott Elliott

Full disclosure: Scott Elliott was one of my English professors at Whitman College, so there may be some bias here, but I still think fans of True Detective will enjoy Coiled in the Heart. The novel follows Tobia Caldwell, a man who is haunted into adulthood by the fact that he caused a neighbor boy’s snakebite death when the two of them were young. To complicate matters further, Tobia is in love with that neighbor boy’s twin sister. The book is full of ghosts, fading Southern families, untamed nature, antebellum mansions—basically everything you could ask for in a Southern Gothic novel.

Bonus Book: Waterland, Graham Swift

I can’t officially call this book a “Southern Gothic” recommendation because it’s not set in the South—it’s set in the marshes of East Anglia. However, Waterland is one of my all-time favorite novels and features a lot of Southern Gothic elements, including a rural setting, a “cursed” family, and multiple doomed romances. Somehow, it manages not to be melodramatic. I don’t want to give too much of the plot away, so I’ll just say check it out while you’re waiting for another show to fill the True Detective void.

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