A Considered Look at Every Inductee to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Part 4

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is a place that I find, as an institution, vexing. The actual, physical hall of fame – the pyramidal building on the lake in Cleveland – is pretty cool, but it is spoken and thought of often as an intangible – as a sort of arbitrating body on the worthiness of the body of rock musicians. My thought, for many years upon surveying lists 1 and the like was to think that they have about a fifty percent success rate for getting it anything like right.

But what if it doesn’t? Previously I listened to and considered each of the best-selling albums of all time, and learned that they were considerably more of a mixed bag than I had thought 2. So what if the inductees to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame are the same sort of deal?

And so it’s time to dive in and take a look at what the nominees and their enshrinement actually are.

Click the links for Part 1,Part 2, and Part 3 of this series.

Class of 1990

Hank Ballard

WHO HE IS: He’s a real early rock and roll dude from Detroit. He wrote “The Twist.”

WHY HE’S HERE: The class of 1990 is not one of the R&RHOF’s more explicable classes. I guess they felt they had to get every early rock and roll guy in there? I have no idea, honestly.

AND…?: I suppose there’s nothing wrong with his music, as such. “The Twist” is a pretty good song, although his isn’t even if the version that got super-famous 3, and that’s about it, except for his early stake on the claim of “first.”


Bobby Darin

WHO HE IS: If your memory works like mine, he’s the guy that sang the song from Sesame Street with the elephant. If your memory does not work this way, please be assured that watching this baby elephant get a bath is basically the best way to enjoy Bobby Darin’s music, which aged poorly.

WHY HE’S HERE: Well, he was super-famous, and also people that like him love him, even to this day 4. It’s also hard for me not to think that, because his success is tied to Ahmet Ertegun (he was one of Atlantic’s first huge successes), it improved his chances in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

AND…?: There’s not really much else to say. He was a good singer, made a bunch of hits, people liked them. If they sound a bit like museum pieces now, then that’s probably not any fault of his. “Mack the Knife” is still pretty great. This is probably also the place to mention that his original songwriting partner was Don Kirshner, of Rock Concert fame.


The Four Seasons

WHO THEY ARE: This is another vocal group built around a constant (Frankie Valli) 5 and whatever hired-guns are available to sing. They were popular for a long time.

WHY THEY’RE HERE: Well, they exist historically as a way to say that the Beach Boys were not the only American band to be famous during the British Invasion, which is technically correct. And they are very much like a zero-ideas version of the Beach Boys 6.

AND…?: Sometimes the fact that a band was popular is not ascribable to their ability, but rather to their circumstance. It happens a lot, and it’s something that the R&RHOF folks would do better to keep in mind while they’re casting around for people to throw into the mix. I do happen to say this the year that Bon Jovi got inducted. Isn’t that an odd coincidence? 7


Four Tops

WHO THEY ARE: The men who brought Holland-Dozier-Holland songs to life in all their velvety, buttery glory.

WHY THEY’RE HERE: Leaving aside my usual grumblings about R&B not actually being rock and roll (which you can see in all sorts of places previously), since by 1990 we have firmly established that the nominating body doesn’t care, they’re here because they were the primary mouthpieces for Holland-Dozier-Holland (see below) during the songwriting team’s time on Motown. During this period they were the greatest act on Motown records, and if they failed to reach those heights in subsequent years, well, so did almost everyone else, so there’s no crime there. If that’s not enough, they also sang backup on other vocal groups’ Motown singles 8.

AND…?: They were versatile, capable, looked great onstage, and each of them could sing the lights out of a place. “Reach Out (I’ll Be There)” is a triumph of not only R&B, but human songwriting and performance 9. “Sugar Pie, Honey Bunch” and “Baby I Need Your Loving” are nearly as good. They were phenomenal, genuinely.

RIGHTFULLY INDUCTED: with the genre problem caveat established, yes, they deserve to be there.

The Kinks

WHO THEY ARE: One of the last two British Invasion bands (see below for the other) to be inducted.

WHY THEY’RE HERE: They were great, and effectively bridged early-sixties garage rock with late-sixties psychedelia, and covered an enormous amount of ground in between. They may also have been the first band to say “fuck” on a record 10, which is its own kind of rock and roll legacy separate from much of the other stuff.

AND…?: Oh, The Kinks were great. They were at times tremendoulsy great, and they wrote some songs that are beyond incredible. There are some interesting parallels with The Who, one of which being that The Kinks’ albums were almost never as useful or cohesive as their singles, with a couple of exceptions, but they were as great as you’d want when they were great, and that’s enough for me.


The Platters

WHO THEY ARE: One of the first successful black vocal groups, and another early-fifties crossover-type act.

WHY THEY’RE HERE: I would imagine some combination of an inclusive spirit and a dogged determination to get every fucking fifties vocal group ever to exist into the goddamn building.

AND…?: They’re fine. They’re really nothing special. I would feel better about this if their music were more noteworthy, but honestly. They’re just….not that big a deal.

RIGHTFULLY INDUCTED: Probably not, in all honesty.

Simon & Garfunkel

WHO THEY ARE: I mean, it’s right there in the name of the act, right? Paul & Art! Art & Paul!

WHY THEY’RE HERE: They had a tonne of hits, they continued to be a massive sellout touring presence long after their initial breakup, and people love them to the point of head-crushing obsession.

AND…?: I have come, late in my life, to quite like Simon & Garfunkel’s music. That doesn’t have much bearing on their actual quality, but it is a thing. They were good for rock-tinged folk musicians. I don’t know that I could mount a convincing argument that they were rock and roll on any musical basis, but their music had a rock and roll inflection, certainly, and they worked in a rock band’s mien, so I guess it’s close enough. At least they’re better-suited for this than The Platters.


The Who

WHO THEY ARE: The other of the last two remaining major British invasion bands (see above)

WHY THEY’RE HERE: They had hits for a long time, they made a bunch of stylistic changes to keep themselves vital, and they were generally the sort of thing you look for in rock stars. More importantly to the evolution of rock and roll, they pioneered a kind of “brutalist maximalism” in their sound, paving the way for increasingly heavier and more aggressive bands. Most hard rock-derived forms of rock music start, more-or-less, with The Who.

AND…?: Despite a crippling inconsistency that would run through their entire career, the high points of The Who’s output are ridiculously high. Like, nigh-untouchable high. They only managed to put their talent to work in the service of an actually-good record every once in a while, but they managed it over a very long period of time, and the best work, stripped to its essence, is everything you could want in a rock band.


Charlie Christian

WHO HE IS: A guy who helped move jazz from the swing era into the bop era, and a really impressive guitar player.

WHY HE’S HERE: He was one of the first people 11 to play the guitar as a lead instrument, rather than as another part of the rhythm section. 

AND…?: I think that the “early influences” section of the HOF takes something of too long a view, and I think it comes up every time. Charlie Christian, as a guitar player, has something more of a claim than most of these jazz guys, but he still made music decades before anyone was considering rock and roll, and is actually more accurately described as an influence to the early influences. But of course that isn’t how we do things here, and I suppose there isn’t an argument against him other than the general restructuring stuff.


Louis Armstrong

WHO HE IS: The gravelly-voiced trumpeter of “What a Wonderful World” fame.

WHY HE’S HERE: While his music has fuck-all to do with even the earliest forms of rock and roll, and I suppose the argument can be made that Louis Armstrong, as one of America’s first musical celebrities, helped create a kind of template for the “rock star,” which is something.

AND…?: The celebrity angle is pretty much the only argument that can exist, as nothing about his music or the way he plays would have made any real contribution to rock and roll in any meaningful sense. He was famous, though.


Ma Rainey

WHO SHE IS: Louis Armstrongs sometimes-partner, and a surprisingly (for the time) frequently-recorded blues vocalist.

WHY SHE’S HERE: The Armstrong association? The aforementioned inclusionist spirit? Who knows, honestly.

AND…?: Much like with Louis Armstrong, the problem isn’t that her music is bad or whatever, it’s that it genuinely has nothing to do with rock and roll. It’s too early to have even been an influence on rock and roll. It was, like Armstrong or Christian, an influence to the influences. It’s silly.


Gerry Goffin & Carole King

WHO THEY ARE: In addition to them writing some of the most irritating songs known to man (“Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow,” “The Loco-Motion”, etc.), they also wrote the horrorshow that is “He Hit Me (It Felt Like a Kiss)”

WHY THEY’RE HERE: Because there was a period in the nineties when Brill Building songwriters were revered, and Carole King has been a part of the record-selling industry’s hype machine for a long time, and this all comes together here.

AND…?: My own personal tastes aside, these songs (and the Brill Building approach in general) have nothing to do with rock and roll, and I see no reason for their inclusion.



WHO THEY ARE: The songwriters mentioned above in the entry for the Four Tops.

WHY THEY’RE HERE: Because they’re great and wrote great songs.

AND…?: Great great great great great.


Class of 1991

LaVern Baker

WHO SHE IS: A fifties R&B singer. You might know “Tweedle Dee,” but most of her actual hits aren’t particularly well known these days.

WHY SHE’S HERE: See, because I’m going to keep beating this horse until it is completely disintegrated, I think that she would be a good inclusion as an early influence: she was popular in the run-up to rock and roll, and delivered her music in a style that had an effect on the way that rock and roll performers played. Perfect early influence material. Instead we end up talking about people who performed twenty years before she did.

AND…?: Pretty good music with a direct effect on rock and roll music. Seems like a pretty good candidate, even if I may never be used to the stupid distinctions they make up there.


The Byrds

WHO THEY ARE: The harmonizing folk-rockers most well-known for covering Bob Dylan.

WHY THEY’RE HERE: Because in addition to pioneering folk rock, they are also widely credited with inventing country-rock 12. They had a relentless approach to their own sound, and they also helped pioneer the acrimonious “I will never talk to that guy again” breakup, as well as the odds-defying Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Induction Reunion.

AND…?: Personally, I love the Byrds, but even with that aside, they did all that stuff above plus launched the rock institution that is David Crosby (a double inductee), so I’d say their place is pretty assured.


John Lee Hooker

WHO HE IS: The old guy who sings the song in the street before the Ray Charles song in Blues Brothers.

WHY HE’S HERE: He was a hugely influential, completely original performer. His effect on rock and roll (and much subsequent popular music) was to make the rhetorical point that it can always be stripped down further. Fewer instruments, fewer chords, fewer notes in each chord, fewer words. He constructed music out of as little as possible, and then tried to make it even less, forever winnowing down to get to whatever was only essential, and leaving everything else out.

AND…?: Hearing John Lee Hooker play the blues makes a bunch of other blues musicians sound silly. Nearly every blues musician, in fact. In his stripped-down, just-the-facts approach, he got closer than anyone could to figuring out how to express purely what the blues are out there trying to express. It’s not rock and roll 13, but at this point that’s the only quibble there is.


The Impressions

WHO THEY ARE: A fifties R&B group that is notable primarily for including Curtis Mayfield.

WHY THEY’RE HERE: They did have their own hits, and Curtis Mayfield was later inducted on his own (in 1999), so honestly I have no idea.

AND…?: I guess it was important to get every single fifties R&B vocal group in there, for whatever reason.


Wilson Pickett

WHO HE IS: He’s the guy that wrote and performed “Land of 1,000 Dances” and “Mustang Sally,” among other things. He’s among those that bridge the gap between R&B and Rock and Roll.

WHY HE’S HERE: Well, in addition to the “who he is” bit, he was an aggresive, intense singer whose vocal delivery had a huge impact on the way R&B and Rock and Roll were both sung. But primarily it’s going to be “he wrote a whole bunch of songs that everyone knows” at the top of the list.

AND….?: They’re great songs, he was a great singer. No complaints here.


Jimmy Reed

WHO HE IS: A Chicago blues guy of some distinction.

WHY HE’S HERE: I guess because every blues guitar player from Chicago must be included? I dunno, man. Jimmy Reed was a pretty good player, and Elvis sure did like him, but I don’t really think there’s much more to his case than that.

AND…?: That’s pretty much the long and short of it. There are people that really like Jimmy Reed, and obviously there are enough of them to get him in, but I definitely don’t think they have a good reason.


Ike & Tina Turner

WHO THEY ARE: Another bridge from R&B to early rock and roll. Even if you don’t any of their songs (which are largely great), you probably are familiar with the nature of the marriage (which was largely hellish and terrible, entirely because of Ike).

WHY THEY’RE HERE: If you believe Nick Tosches, Ike Turner (DBA Jackie Brenston) wrote the first rock and roll song, but did the bulk of his memorable work with his then-wife. It was great work that did a lot to popularize a particularly wild strain of R&B that would lead directly to rock and roll.

AND…?: Well, their music is fantastic, even if Ike Turner is one of the most problematic figures 14 currently in the R&RHOF. I suppose the separation is appropriate, and maybe even necessary, but man was he a dirtbag.


Howlin’ Wolf

WHO HE IS: A Chicago blues guy who is infinitely more worthy of induction than Jimmy Reed.

WHY HE’S HERE: He’s here on the strength of his incredible voice. He is genuinely one of the most intense singers ever to walk the Earth, and a lot of rock singers strove to be him. Very few of them ever really succeeded.

AND…?: He was great. Great singer, made great records. There’s a genuine actual early influence here in the early influences category!


Dave Bartholomew

WHO HE IS: a long-running musician who managed to record as both a dixieland jazz player and a jump blues player, which is some impressive range.

WHY HE’S HERE: He’s inducted as a non-performer, so I presume it’s for his skills as a songwriter and bandleader, which is fair.

AND…?: He was a better songwriter (you probably know the Fats Domino songs he wrote) than player, that’s for sure.


Ralph Bass

WHO HE IS: A talent scout who worked with Savoy, King and Chess before eventually finishing out at MCA.

WHY HE’S HERE: In addition to having something of a production career, he was instrumental in helping “race records” break the color barrier.

AND…?: I think that’s enough, frankly.


  1.  also the centerpiece of the museum itself, for those that have never been there, is a very long video encapsulating each inducted class, with clips of performances by most of them and things like that, and is generally a pretty cool thing to behold. 
  2.  although they did, as you can read here and going back from there, skew toward “pretty bad” 
  3.  That’s Chubby Checker’s, which is also much better 
  4.  he may be in the running for “longest-running rabid cult of fans” 
  5.  although his 50/50 partner in the group is erstwhile member Bob Gaudio, who no longer tours with them. 
  6.  which, if you see previously in this series, you can take to mean that they are pretty awful, given that it’s not like I’ve got a tonne of great things to say about the Beach Boys, either. They were better than The Four Seasons at a walk, though. 
  7.  No, no it is not. 
  8.  that’s them on The Supremes’ “Run Run Run”.  
  9.  and, trivially, their lead singer, Levi Stubbs, inspired the actual greatest song ever written, Billy Bragg’s “Levi Stubbs’ Tears”. The apostrophe is, of course, wrong, but that’s how it’s punctuated on the album and also it really is the greatest song ever written. That’s not hyperbole or for ironic effect. Seriously. Go listen to it.   
  10.  The “OH NOOOOO” overdub that is part of the vocal track is an attempt to hear what is, quite clearly, Dave Davies telling Ray Davies to “fuck off.” This is also pretty indicative of their highly-entertaining relationship. 
  11.  he is sometimes cited as being the first, but firsts are hard to prove. 
  12.  Once again, “first”s are tricky, and they most certainly didn’t invent it, but Sweetheart of the Rodeo – which doubles as their best album – is still a high watermark for the genre. 
  13.  add another one to the pile of “these people should be the early influencers, not prewar jazz musicians” 
  14.  His behavior was pretty heinous, so the fact that he’s only one of the most problematic figures says something about the state of problematic figures enshrined in the hall of fame. 

The Comeback Trail: Andrew WK – You Are Not Alone

The one thing that can definitely be said for Andrew W.K. is that, even though it almost certainly was not meant to go down like this, he’s done an admirable job of keeping up with things.

I Get Wet was a singular achievement in…something. In the recent past it has been reappraised by many into the accomplishment that it is: a gloriously dumb, dumbly glorious record, in which one out of every five words seems to be “party,” and whose delivery seems to be predicated on making sure that the other four out of five words don’t even matter. Nasty, brutish and short, the record makes up for the shortcomings that would seem to be inherent in a record with exactly one idea by stuffing it full of sounds. I Get Wet created a sort of brain-dead “wall of sound”, but whereas Phil Spector was piling instruments on top of one another until all that was clearly audible was the singer and the drummer, Andrew W.K. was trying to bury even that, until the remaining elements were the aforementioned bellowed utterances of “party”. It sounds, for all that, like a no-budget shoegaze record that somebody tried to clean up digitally, only the person trying to clean it up also didn’t know what they were doing, and just turned everything up. I mean that as a compliment.
I Get Wet had hits, and made Andrew W.K. something of a celebrity, a thing that he was good at being. He’s still on tv fairly often, where you can see his considerable charm and erudition on display. The contrast was, in the early days, a more interesting part of his public face. On the one hand, the record cover features him gushing blood out of his nose  1, the music sounds like all of the dumbest parts of heavy metal with a heavy digital sheen laid on it, but this guy appears to be normal and well-adjusted.

His celebrity stayed around, but his music mostly didn’t. I Get Wet’s follow-up, The Wolf, isn’t a patch on its predecessor. I Get Wet was recorded by W.K.’s then-live band, and is thus the product of a band acting as a band 2. The Wolf was a one-man job: W.K. played all of the instruments himself, and the result is significantly less forceful. It sounds like an Andrew W.K. cover band that decided to write some originals.

After The Wolf, things get weird. There is a lot of speculation one can achieve by googling, but very little is actually known about the facts of this matter. Andrew W.K. was sued by an unspecified person claiming that the person who was doing business as Andrew W.K. The theories (and there are a bunch), are a widely variegated set of ideas, ranging from “Dave Grohl did it all” to “Andrew W.K. is an actor who replaced the musician” to “there never was an Andrew W.K. in the first place.” There was some legal business – Andrew W.K. was prevented from releasing music for a long time because of legal issues, which could have been label troubles, but also could have been something else – and the whole thing was somehow brought to a resolution when he renamed his label Steev Mike, a name he had (allegedly, or, if you prefer, “allegedly”) used to produce I Get Wet 3. Whatever your read on the theories themselves – and they get pretty extensive, and are entertaining enough to warrant an idle search if you’re bored – the upshot is that there was no new Andrew W.K. music for a long time.  

While he was unable to release music, he became a spoken-word person. The “party” focus was retconned into being a philosophy, and he began touring the country and our nation’s television sets talking about the importance of positivity and making everything a party. Now, his music was always pointedly positivity-focused, so it’s not like I’m insisting there’s some kind of leap here, but I invite the reader to go listen to I Get Wet again and try to figure out a “philosophy”. If you manage to, congratulations, you are better at this than I am. The upshot is, W.K. stayed in the public eye by completely changing the things he did, while massaging his approach into the new (for him) medium. He wrote advice columns (and other columns), and he generally shifted his career into one of being a public positive-guy, and not really a musician so much.

Eventually, nine years ago, some things started to drip out. There was a weird mixtape thing of his productions for the Skyscraper record, and then there was an album of solo piano compositions 4. He had dabbled in other production as well – producing a record for Lee “Scratch” Perry, among other things, such as being one of the Boredoms’ 77 drummers for their 07/07/07 performance – but things seemed to have turned. And then, a couple of years later, an EP emerged with a handful of new songs on it. At that point, W.K. promised that he was making a new album.

And now here we are, and that new album has arrived. It is, in its way, really only the third “proper” Andrew WK record 5. The fifteen years that have intervened have provided a lot of of Andrew W.K., but this is, for all meaningful purposes, really still just the follow-up to The Wolf.

At the end of the whole thing, that’s pretty much what it sounds like: the follow-up to The Wolf. To his credit, W.K.’s time outside of the music does not seem to have stopped his approach – and, without spoiling too much, it is actually better than The Wolf. For starters, it has other musicians on it, which appears to abet the performances. The songs are generally good (although there are too many of them), and if the lyrics are a little different than they would be, well, it’s been seventeen years, I suppose some things are bound to change.


The problems with You Are Not Alone can be easily divided into several small problems, and one big one. The small problems are that it sounds busy. Where I Get Wet sounded enormous and impenetrable – a rolling dynamo of party energy – YANA is just stuffed full. The parts that aren’t overwhelming are the spoken-word bits, which are fine for spoken-word bits in the middle of an album, but aren’t really necessary. They add to the album’s already-long runtime – the effect of the whole thing, in terms of both the sound and the time of the record, is that it could all be trimmed. Less time, fewer instruments, fewer words, fewer thoughts.


And that brings us to the big problem: it’s not I Get Wet. Oh, it’s all well and good to applaud personal growth, and certainly Andrew W.K. can’t be accused of not meaning what he says and applies his time to. But he’s already made the definitive statement about Andrew W.K., and while You Are Not Alone is an improvement on the changes he made with The Wolf, it still falls short of the brief, lean, efficient I Get Wet as a way of delivering his message. This is the sort of problem that lots of artists who manage to get their “thing” exactly right once face, and I suppose I can’t begrudge him for continuing on in the face of it – indeed, to do any less would be to deny his very persona – I can say that I don’t know that it’s essential for anyone who isn’t already a die-hard Andrew W.K. fan.

  1.  an effect allegedly achieved by smashing his face with a brick prior to taking the picture, and supplementing the resulting carnage with some animal blood. Which earns full points for commitment, and also for being super-gross. 
  2.  albeit with a squillion overdubs 
  3.  the whole thing looks, to me, like someone who was trying to make public entertainment out of what would otherwise be a really dumb and common record-selling industry story: a guy makes a record that sells, changes the way he sounds and it doesn’t sell, and his label holds him hostage for his material, so he spends years unable to do anything. As far as the other stuff is concerned, I take the Gawker stance that he clearly just, y’know, shaved. 
  4.  For all that, he really is a compelling piano player. 
  5.  in addition to the material above there is also a Japan-only record of songs from Gundam, which does actually sound pretty cool, but I’ve never heard it.   

The 2018 iHeartRadio Music Awards

In 2014, ClearChannel Communications, having received upwards of a decade of more-or-less constant negative press, rebranded their radio efforts as iHeartMedia, while changing basically nothing else. Nothing else, that is, except that they decided part of the shiny new face they were putting on their brand was to add a television awards show.

The first couple of these awards were broadcast by NBC, who was then also in the business of flailing around trying to find something that people might watch. After two years of the American public saying “that is not the thing we want to watch,” the awards were shunted off to basic cable. So the thing to keep in mind is: this is an awards show that couldn’t even pull in NBC numbers. Hence, I didn’t write about them.

This year, however, I’ve decided to get in there and take a look. Spoiler alert: they are really bad!

Some notes are that several of these awards have already been given out, which is something. Also they are giving something called an “Icon Award” to Bon Jovi (which is, at least, timely, as it is ahead of their Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction). Also an “Innovator Award” to Chance the Rapper and the baffling-to-the-point-of-rage “Fangirls Award” to Camila Cabello, about which I choose to have nothing to say.

I sure do have a bunch to say about the rest of this, however, so here we go.

Best Remix

On the one hand, only one of these remixes was an enormous, world-spanning, everything-conquering hit. On the other hand, only one of these songs is actually any good. This is pretty handy, because it means that I don’t have to spend much time talking about bloodpop 1. So is it the completely-unavoidable “Despacito” remix that forced us all to continue thinking about Justin Bieber, or is the less-unavoidable and much better “Homemade Dynamite” which manages to be pretty good despite involving Post Malone? I think the answer to the question is embedded in the question, quite frankly.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Lorde, Khalid, Post Malone, & SZA – “Homemade Dynamite”

Best Solo Breakout

I mean, I understand that the popular usage of “Breakout” makes this category title appropriate, but I still think it’s a little dramatic for the situation. I mean, they all just made shitty records, it’s not like they did anything more challenging or destructive. Also, it’s four members of One Direction and one member of Fifth Harmony. That’s about it. Oh, and Harry Styles’ record genuinely has a couple of songs on it that I like, even if it feels like his “solo breakout” was longer than a year ago?


Best Boy Band

So Why Don’t We was formed of people who had already failed to set the public on fire with their pop music stylings. That goes some way to explain why their music is so boring. PrettyMuch were assembled by Simon Cowell, which I wasn’t aware was a thing that was still happening. I don’t think it’s helping. In Real Life is the work product of the show Boy Band, which was notable for a judging panel that consisted of the least-interesting member of two different pre-fab vocal groups 2, plus Timbaland (?). CNCO were also formed on a reality competition show, and that is the only thing that seems noteworthy about them. AJR and The Vamps seem like odd choices for inclusion in this category, although I guess they can’t have objected. AJR record their unbelievably stupid music in their own living room, and The Vamps were plucked from YouTube cover-band obscurity. But hey, since neither of them would win in any category anyway, what’s the point in quibbling? BTS is a genuine phenomenon, and even if though their music doesn’t really do anything for me, I’m not blind to what it is they’re doing, and I think it’s fine.


Cutest Musician’s Pet

This is, and I’m not kidding, the greatest category in the history of awards shows. All of these dudes are winners, quite frankly. Even leaving aside that I’m not a dog person as such, and that the cat in this competition (Taylor Swift’s) is 1) fucking adorable and 2) named Olivia Benson, which is a great name for a cat, there is actually a better animal here. Despite being half chihuahua, Ariana Grande’s dog Toulouse is a very handsome gentleman who has what might actually be the greatest name I’ve ever heard for a dog, like, ever. So way to go Ariana Grande. Your scream-singing gives me panic attacks, but I’m into your dog.


Social Star Award

It is interesting to see the way that awards shows try to fit in the world. For example, the established, less-thirsty awards shows can suggest their own hashtags and whatnot to people who are interested in interacting with them on social media, because their relationship with social media is as a target – they know that people are going to talk about them already, and they don’t have to do any weird shit to get there. The iHeart Music awards, however, are a flailing, terrible idea of an awards show, so they have to cosy up to the social media folks so they can get some traction on snapchat or instagram or – and I honestly have no idea – they’re expecting to get this traction. It’s interesting mostly because it’s 1) nakedly grasping and 2) an example of a company whose primary business format – broadcast radio – trying to make friends with one of the things that is actively killing them. Thus it is that they nominated a whole mess of these people, in the hopes of targeting as many followers as possible. That said, I am An Old, and I do not know much about who most of these people are, so I am using, as my barometer for the appropriateness of the nomination, the presence of a Wikipedia page 3 . That leaves us with only three to consider, at least as far as the “star” aspect is concerned. Since the other half of the category name 4. Anitta is a Brazilian pop star, and while I’m sure that lends itself to social media success, she’s still a pop star on social media, not a social star. Jojo Siwa got her start on Dance Moms, so even if her primary avenue of fame these days is social, I still can’t in good conscience endorse anything that’s ever come from that dumpster fire. That leaves Gabbie Hanna, who is as famous as anyone in this category, and is also famous entirely for her YouTube videos, and who thus fulfills both parts of the category. And now I don’t have to think about any of this anymore.


Best Music Video

Given these nominees, I can’t tell if iHeart Radio is just choosing at random from the people that they couldn’t slot into any other category, but still wanted to invite to the proceedings 5, or if they’re trying to de-legitimze the hold that YouTube has on the way people listen to music casually by making it look like even the “best” music videos are boring garbage, but this category is full of boring garbage. I believe my stock answer for music awards shows in the current year or whatever has been to go with the Ed Sheeran video for “Shape of You”, which features Ed Sheeran getting punched and is therefore satisfying for at least a small portion of its runtime, but I do actually kind of like that Harry Styles video, so why not celebrate something instead of complaining about something else? Positivity, it’s not just for ions!

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Harry Styles, “Sign of the Times”

Best Fan Army

When they nominated people who are not actually pop stars in the social media category, it’s to get the not-actual-pop-stars to promote the event and their own potential award receiving. But in this case they’re nominating the fans of various and sundry other actual pop stars, and the idea is (presumably) to get those fans to also galvanize on social media, thus giving the iHeart awards some more social media clout. I have no confidence that this will work for them, but at least they’re doing it transparently and graspingly, so it’s entertaining in and of itself. I will say that BTS’s fanbase is very, very vocal, and while it’s impossible for a genuine pop sensation to exist without considerable marketing forces behind it, word of mouth played more of a part in their rise than it did for the rest of the folks in this category 6. That said, I also think the “Selenators” sound like they are pop-music-focused murder robots, so they are also pretty cool.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: BTS ARMY (it’s spelled in all caps on the website, see). Unless it’s the Selenators, because murderbots are cool.

Best Cover Song

I am pleasantly baffled by the existence of this category. Cover songs have always been a pivotal feature of pop music, certainly, and anyone who’s spent even half an hour on YouTube knows that there’s an entire sub-industry devoted to just about anyone – famous, attempted-famous, nearly-famous, or completely anonymous – standing in front of a camera and playing a cover. Most of them are, of course, ridiculous and unnecessary. In this category we see that even professionally-created covers by professionally-inclined pop stars are also largely ridiculous and unnecessary. None of them are as bad as 30 Seconds to Mars’s version of “Tribute,” though. That is terrible. “Issues” and “Touch” are terrible songs, covered terribly (by Ed Sheeran and Niall Horan, respectively). Camilla Cabello and Machine Gun Kelly’s version of “Say You Won’t Let Go”, as well as Shawn Mendes’s version of “All We Got” are merely forgettable songs, covered forgettably. Haim’s version of “Bad Liar” is fine, if unnecessary. Harry Styles’ version of “The Chain” is equally fine, and has at least the benefit of being somewhat ridiculous. Khalid’s cover of “Lost” isn’t anything great or transformative, but the song’s great, and he does a good enough job with it that it isn’t offensive. I would be willing to bet that “good enough job and not actually offensive” is about the best anything nominated for this category can actually be.


Best Lyrics

So I suppose, when trying to carve away some space for yourself in the cluttered field of televised awards shows, one must think outside the box. Why not, for example, honor something that no other awards show honors. To wit: the words to the songs. Unfortunately, I never know the words to anything, ever. So I had to look up all of the words to all of these songs, and now I am sad. “Despacito” isn’t really doing anything at all, lyrically. Ed Sheeran’s “Perfect” and Taylor Swift’s “Look What You Made Me Do” are equally unworthy of being nominated of any award for their lyrics. Shawn Mendes’s “There’s Nothing Holdin’ Me Back” is a set of lyrics written by the person who decided on the punctuation in that title 7. Niall Horan’s “Slow Hands” lyrics aren’t actually that bad, for all that. But, y’know, “Bodack Yellow” has the benefit of expressing whatever it is Cardi B is trying to communicate, and it has the effect of making me feel like I’m crazy.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Cardi B, “Bodack Yellow”

Producer of the Year

At least here we’re back in the realm of the actual way that the actual music sounds. That’s something, especially for a radio-station-owning conglomerate. We can throw out Andrew Watt right away, as that guy’s work is just awful. Benny Blanco (who is also last year’s winner) isn’t usually awful, but he hitched his wagon to Ed Sheeran and Cashmere Cat 8 and that does not make for a good year. Justin Tranter is here, presumably, because his records were very successful 9, but I’ll be damned if any of them distinguish themselves sonically. Steve Mac is the first, then, to rise above the pack, and although he seems like a perfectly fine producer, none of his work is actually that good. Just better than the other three in this particular eligibility period. So that leaves us with Pop Wansel and Oak Felder, who made the pretty-good Kehlani album, and also Miguel’s “Shockandawe,” which is a pretty great song.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Andrew “Pop” Wansel and Warren “Oak” Felder

Best New Regional Mexican Artist

The next several categories are Mexican/Latin focused, which is another naked ratings ploy. There have been think pieces, articles, and general punditisms about how the growing Latinx viewership is a real marketing concern – they have a lot of spending money, and aren’t being served by much of the existing television model – so if iHeart jumps in and gives awards to a bunch of Latinx artists (and, in this category, specifically Mexican artists), then they can be the first one on that block also. Once again, I have no idea about the efficacy of this strategy, all I know is that I don’t know tonnes about regional Mexican music, and so for the next few categories I will be breezing through the opinion I have formed after listening to these artists not very much. So, y’know, caveat emptor.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: I quite like El Fantasma, though. That is true. I’ve listened to more than “not very much” of that guy.

Regional Mexican Artist of the Year

Most of this is banda music, and is made with giant bands of winds/brass players, and is decidedly not my thing. I mean, I’m sure they’re all good at it or whatever, but man do I have, like, zero taste for it. So Gerarod Ortiz and Calibre 50, who both perform norteno music 10 have a distinct advantage. Calibre 50 even moreso, because they’re much better.


Regional Mexican Song of the Year

Having declared myself a newly-minted fan of Calibre 50 a minute ago, I am delighted to choose between the two Calibre 50 songs here, because they are obviously the best ones.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Calibre 50, “Las Ultras”

Best New Latin Artist

And now we open up the purview to all Latin artists, which is nice I suppose. It means that I don’t have to listen to another category in which bandas form the numerical majority, which is a relief. I mean, literally all of these folks are performing something that I would, at least unofficially, call “Reggaeton” 11, so I’m not entirely out of the woods yet. That said, the one of them I like the most is Bad Bunny, for both musical and extra-musical (i.e. he chooses to go by Bad Bunny) reasons.

Latin Artist of the Year

J. Balvin and Luis Fonsi both had major commercial breakthroughs, which seems as appropriate a reason as any to grant them an award, and J. Balvin’s song is better.


Latin Song of the Year

In the absence of much else happening in this category, I’m just going to point to the category above and say that it’s exactly the same thing here.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: J. Bavlin, “Mi Gente”

Best New R&B Artist

I always have some degree of quibble with the term “new,” which is going to throw an interesting wrinkle into this category. Earlier in the writeup, I leaned on an explicit definition of the categories to decide what was what, and so I feel, in the interest of internal consistency 12, that I should stick with applying the “new”. The upshot is that this eliminates SZA, who’s been around for six years, and a frequent feature act with a handful of mixtapes behind her. Kehlani goes further back 13. That leaves us with Khalid, who genuinely appeared at the end of 2016, and who’s good enough that I won’t be mad about it. 6Lack and Kevin Ross were, obvioulsy, never under serious consideration.


R&B Artist of the Year

Everyone in this category has made worthwhile contributions to the world with their artistic endeavors, which makes this category a little difficult. We can throw out Childish Gambino, whose music has never been the best part of his career, certainly. Similarly, Bruno Mars and Rihanna have always been an up-and-down sort of proposition: neither consistently makes good albums, and so taking into account an entire year’s worth of output to evaluate for an award always means taking into account some of the more unfavorable stuff. The Weeknd did a good job of squaring up his material to be much better than his other post-pop star material, but that’s still just grading him on a one-man curve. That sort of leaves Khalid as the last man standing. This is odd, because the best of anyone else in this category completely obliterates Khalid, but they can’t manage to do it all in a year.


R&B Song of the Year

Actually, the song category has the same sort of problem. We can toss aside Jacquees, which isn’t really worth considering. “What I Like” is warmed-over Bruno Mars by the numbers, so that’s out too. I kind of like “Redbone” 14. “Location” is not my favorite Khalid song. I guess that leaves “Love Galore,” which is similarly not my favorite SZA song, but which is also the best song nominated here.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: SZA, “Love Galore” (f Travis Scott)

Best New Hip-Hop Artist

Look, I know that especially with soundcloud rappers, the “new” distinction can be a tough one 15 but Goldlink’s first mixtape was a big deal, and honestly, just because radio people 16 just started playing his songs this year doesn’t mean that his whole thing didn’t happen several years ago. In short, I’m not being a curmudgeon on a technicality here. The God Complex came out in 2014, everybody talked about it then, that’s when he was new. By contrast, Playboi Carti started about a year later, but since his actual tape didn’t drop until this year, it bothers me less. 21 Savage squeaks by, because his record with Metro Boomin’ came out at the end of 2016, and I’ll allow it. Also, he got famous from a song where the chorus is literally him showing off his ability to count to eight. That’s, at the very least, a sort of stylistic hubris that I can only be impressed by. Lil Uzi Vert has won me over a bit in the last year or so, and that’s worth noting. He also is the one person in this category who does not operate out of Atlanta. Cardi B does operate out of Atlanta, and she had a #1 song (as a solo female rapper, the first to do so since Lauryn Hill) with her debut single, so it pretty much has to be her.


Hip-Hop Artist of the Year

I still don’t know why DJ Khaled keeps getting nominated for things as a hip-hop artist. Whatever else it is that he wants to insist that he does 17, it definitely is not rapping. I’m not even trying to be a gatekeeper here. The dude doesn’t rap. He just full-on doesn’t. Anyway. Drake has continued to manage his career as a sort of masterclass in “diminishing returns”. Future still hasn’t come off a hot streak, which may have even reached its peak with his double releases a year ago. Migos will receive their due praise in the next category. The hip-hop artist who had the best year was pretty clearly Kendrick Lamar.


Hip-Hop Song of the Year

For an entire music awards cycle, the hip-hop categories have come down, invariably, to “Humble” vs. “Bad and Boujee”. I am of the opinion that, while “Humble” is a great song that clearly meant a lot to a lot of people, “Bad and Boujee” is not only a great song, but is the best Migos song there is. Especially in the wash of the overlong, underbaked, stretched-too-thin Culture 2, hearing “Bad and Boujee” is hearing everything great about an act distilled to its essence 18.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Migos, “Bad and Boujee” (f Lil Uzi Vert)

Dance Artist of the Year

Oh good. This is still happening. Good good good. Well, I suppose in the interest of fairness, I should do my best to evaluate this awful category. I will say that I didn’t think there was anything I could find more annoying than The Chainsmokers, but Cheat Codes managed it. Good job, guys. I have nothing much to say about Zedd or about Kygo. I guess that leaves Calvin Harris, who at least seems like he’s trying.


Dance Song of the Year

See above for my completely unchanged opinions when this is boiled down to individual songs – I guess that means they’re a represenatitve sample – and note that, once again, it’s the person who is not The Chainsmokers, Chead Codes, Zedd or Kygo who is winning and, once again, this is a very, very moderate sort of “win”.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Clean Bandit, “Rockabye” (f Ann Marie and Sean Paul)

Best New Country Artist

Oh hey, I guess I should be thankful that there wasn’t a “Best New Dance Artist” category. I probably would have had to set my computer on fire, and then nobody would be happy about anything. Anyway, a numerical majority of these folks are actually “new”, so we only have to throw out Luke Combs and Jon Pardi. I think we can all agree that not much is lost there. Lauren Alaina didn’t win American Idol, and she shouldn’t win this either. Brett Young used to play baseball. He was probably better at that than he is at singing. I have no major issue with Kane Brown, although I can’t imagine when I would want to listen to his music on my own.


Country Artist of the Year

I suppose that, in these #timesup, #metoo times, it’s entirely possible that there are just…no women in country music that the fine folks at iHeart think should be given this award. It’s certainly possible. But since these dues are all bad, and there are women currently on the radio who are less bad, it also just seems weird, and, leaving aside everything else, the optics on it are terrible. So let’s pretend that this whole category is a mistake, which lets us all feel better about the fact that it’s just five dudes who are difficult to distinguish from each other, and also means I don’t have to choose one of these assholes to be the winner.


Country Song of the Year

Hi! Welcome back! The only woman nominated for a country music award at the iHeart awards is Lauren Alaina, and that was back two categories ago! This is real weird, and seems like total bullshit! I mean, this is being written the week that the Grammys 19 hired the Time’s Up cofounder to head up a task force to see what’s wrong with the Grammy nominators w/r/t women, and you’d think that an awards-granting body as desperate for viewers and attention and eyeballs would probably pay closer attention to the brand-related effects of the actual things they were doing. It’s just baffling. I’m going to assume this is, once again, a mistake.


Rock Artist of the Year

Boy, once you start noticing how few women there are in here, it becomes a lot harder to continue on as though you hadn’t noticed it. In the rock categories it seems less tone-deaf, because this is a radio-based awards show, and there aren’t many rock women on the radio 20. That said, this category is also a joke. Highly Suspect continue to be nominated for these awards even though they’re awful. I have no idea how this happens. However, because Papa Roach was nominated here, Highly Suspect is not (as they usually are) the most baffling inclusion in this category. Metallica made one pretty bad album, the Foo Fighters didn’t actively get any worse, so I guess it’s the Foo Fighters. Sigh.


Rock Song of the Year

If you’re the people that control the playlists for terrestrial radio, and you’ve done everything in your power to dismantle 21 the means to for new and/or exciting rock bands to become famous 22, does it not seem like just rubbing salt into the wound to look out at the landscape you’ve created and pretend like any of this is actually any good? At least Foo Fighters have gotten their no-longer-exciting thing down to the sort of assembly-line fashion that means it’s not objectionably bad.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Foo Fighters “Run” 23

Best New Rock/Alternative Artist

I would think, if I was a radio-based awards-granting body, that one of the first things I would do is to throw out the old, absurd, outmoded radio formats that I’m still, for whatever reason, beholden to grant awards for. For example: “alternative,” which is decidedly not a thing anymore. It is, however, a better category, as far as the nominees are concerned, than the rock category. I mean, they’re still not all good. The Revivalist are an unselfaware jam band with more “authenticity” signifiers than you can shake a dobro at. Judah & The Lion are plumbing a similarly americana-ish sound 24. Greta Van Fleet are a pack of noble midwesterners who, while not bad, are definitely neither named Greta or Van Fleet 25. Rag’n’Bone man is clearly giving the people what they want, but I’m allergic to novelty rappers. I like K. Flay.


Alternative Rock Artist of the Year

Do you suppose that the Kings of Leon ever dig out their old songs, now that clearly the radio people are looking for country-inflected music, instead of fake-U2? I wonder about this. I mean, not often or for very long, but it’s a reason to wonder. I kind of hope they do, Youth and Young Manhood is the only one of their records I like. I will always appreciate Cage the Elephant’s contribution to the first Borderlands, but I have very little else to say about them. Imagine Dragons are godawful. Judah & the Lion are still ok, if not exactly inspired. Portugal, the Man are occasionally good, and that’s enough to elevate them above this pack.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Portugal, the Man

Alternative Rock Song of the Year

Two Imagine Dragons song and one 30 Seconds to Mars song means I want to spend as little time thinking about this category as possible. The Revivalists aren’t much better (seriously, a jam band? Seriously?). That leaves Portugal, the Man’s “Feel it Still”.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Portugal, the Man, “Feel it Still”

Best New Pop Artist

This is the one where I break with my own rules, for reasons of actually liking one of these people. Julia Michaels is profoundly irritating, as previously noted. Camila Cabello, Liam Payne and Niall Horan have effectively broken with the vocal groups with which they were initially associated 27, and that’s fine. Good for them. I really like Logic, and although he’s been around for awhile, and I would normally quibble with his “new”-ness, I’m glad that he’s famous, and he makes the world a better place for being in it.


Best Collaboration

I have complained, loud and long about various facets of this awards show for the entire time I’ve been writing about it. I always have some grievance with the way things are done in the awards-granting part of the world, but the iHeartRadio Music Awards are, far and away, the ones that aggravate me the most 28. This category, however, is not aggravating for any of the same reasons. I get why they’re all here, and it all makes sense for a radio-based company to give these folks an award. These songs are, to a one, completely unlistenable. I mean genuinely, “skip them when they’re on the radio, plug your ears when they come on at the gym” terrible. I suppose, given this field, that “Despacito” deserves credit for being something different than the rest of them, and that has to be good enough for this category, but I genuinely can’t remember an assemblage of songs in one category of an awards show that I found so completely distasteful.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee, “Despacito” (f Justin Bieber)

Best Duo/Group of the Year

Out of all duos slash groups! What a thing! Can you even imagine? The one thing that the iHeart Blah Blah Blah Awards have in common with other music awards shows is that as the categories get less specific, I find myself with less to say about them. Every band in this category has appeared elsewhere, and I have been sad about that with two exceptions. Portugal, the Man are still largely ok, and sometimes even good. Migos are capable of genuine actual greatness.


Male Artist of the Year

I suppose there is a sort of internal consistency to the dominance of these categories by Ed Sheeran, Charlie Puth and Shawn Mendes – musically speaking there is literally no difference between them other than the physical, audible difference between them as actual singers 29. I guess one of them plays a piano. That’s something different from the other two. They’re all terrible, but at least I get why all three are famous. The people have spoken, and they have said “I want this one thing, and I want it over and over again.” The female category is similar, although the women in that category aren’t quite as categorically identical. Anyway, Bruno Mars did not do anything exciting in the period of eligibility, and The Weeknd did


Female Artist of the Year

Taylor Swift had her worst year, so it’s not going to be her. P!nk continues to be P!nk, which is its own kind of impressive, but means that there’s not really anything marking this year over other years – it’s just good, generally, to be P!nk. Alessia Cara and Halsey are, while very different performers, united in their seeming inability to have any idea what to do with their (considerable) vocal talent. That leaves us with Rihanna, who in addition to doing a bunch of normal Rihanna stuff, rapped on that NERD song, which was awesome.


Song of the Year

Three of these are re-used from the record-breakingly awful “Collaboration” category. One of these is “Shape of You,” which is somehow even worse. This is how it comes to pass that the world has conspired for me to declare the rightful award-winner to be the terrible “That’s What I Like.” Truly, the iFartRadio Music Awards have turned me against myself.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Bruno Mars, “That’s What I Like” (sigh.)

And that wraps it up for my inaugural coverage of the iHeartRadio Music Awards. I may or may not ever do this again! This was truly terrible!

  1.  a tremendously imagistic name, and one that I don’t like thinking about, because no matter how I put the words “blood” and “pop” together, I am presented with the difficulty and/or reality of that visualization. 
  2.  to wit: Aaron Carter and Emma Bunton 
  3.  under the logic that WIkipedia does apply a burden of “notability” on the people that do or do not get pages, and therefore it’s something, albeit an arbitrary something. 
  4.  once again applying the only standard I know of, which is that established by the list itself. 
  5.  see also the “Best Fan Army” category, below. 
  6.  there are twelve. “Huge number of nominees” is sort of a defining feature of the categories here at this end of this awards show. 
  7.  Why is the “g” in “holding” dropped, but not the “g” in “nothing”? Either drop them both or not at all. It’s stupid, thoughtless, and ill-considered. Just like the lyrics to that song! 
  8.  it’s also worth noting that, while he produced Julia Michaels’s truly terrible “Issues,” the production is the least of that song’s problems. 
  9.  or maybe the iHeart folks just really liked that Gwen Stefani Christmas album, which he also produced. 
  10.  it’s a lot like polka, and it’s related to corridas, which is the kind of music that the aforepraised El Fantasma sort of plays. 
  11.  in my perhaps-limited defense, Wikipedia agrees with me. 
  12.  which is, frankly, the only kind of consistency we’re going to get around here, given the way people are nominated in this nonsense. 
  13. that’s even leaving aside the America’s Got Talent/PopLyfe stuff, which was a decade ago, she’s still been around consistently since then. 
  14.  I think I’m on the record, even, as saying that it’s my favorite Childish Gambino song, for what that’s worth. 
  15.  the field churns all the way through itself every six goddamn months, and I’m an advocate for things slowing down and allowing newness to last beyond the absolute first glint of shiny exposure 
  16.  and honestly, it’s just this specific conglomerate’s version of radio people 
  17.  a list of things that includes: “not playing himself,” “things people told him he couldn’t do,” and “another one” 
  18.  in fact, it’s probably fair to say that if Culture 2 hadn’t come out and been such a needlessly-overstuff letdown – it’s not that it’s bad, it’s that there are too many songs, and it’s too long, and it badly needs editing – then “Bad and Boujee” might not be in quite the same place.   
  19.  I understand that there isn’t really a good reason to compare this awards show to the Grammys, but this is highly situational. 
  20. in contrast to country radio, which has a lot more women on it. Also nb that this situation – the no rocking women on the radio thing – is its own travesty, with its own set of causes and problems, but that’s outside the purview of this awards show. I can’t expect iHeart to even put up a reasonable list of candidates, let alone one that’s going to fix problems, so I’m moving ahead as normal. If this seems like I’m letting rock music off the hook in a way that I’m not letting country music, I assure you that it’s entirely contextual, and that I’m willing to explain myself further if need be, just not in this footnote, which is already long enough as it is. 
  21.  By tightening playlists, creating tremendous barriers of entry via the label/promotion system, and encouraged the music that you play to sound as much like garbage as possible 
  22.  Without going too far afield here, one of the reasons for the relative health of rock music as a continuing concern – which is to say, plenty healthy if you’re willing to make even the smallest effort to get out there and find the people that are doing it – is the removal of the ability to get any kind of famous doing it at all. I have a lot to say on this topic – stay tuned – but the upshot is: rock music as a mainstream concern is basically a locked room, and the bands involved (and the audience for the radio parts of it) are only getting older, so how long can they possibly sustain this sort of thing? I would wager that it’s not very long. I don’t know precisely what that means, in terms of the mainstream continuance of rock music at things like this kind of awards show, but I know that it’s probably just going to get work for any kind of rock band that needs “an enormous number of record sales” to be a part of its thing. I do still wonder how many of those bands can still exist though, and if so, why and how? IF you’re in a rock band that wants to – and expects to – sell a bunch of records, feel free to drop me a line and explain why and how. Please and thank you. 
  23.   NB that as of this writing this is also the actual winner. See above.  
  24. I’m comfortable with my assumption that the countryfication of this category has something to do with the wildfire popularity of Mumford & Sons a few years ago. Maybe the blues stuff comes from Alabama Shakes. 
  25. three of them are named Kiszka, however, which leads one to the question: who stole them? Someone call the cops! 
  26.  NB that as of this writing, Judah and the Lion are the actual winner. See above. 
  27.  two of them from the same vocal group (One Direction) even. 
  28. this is part of why I didn’t write about them for the first three years of their existence – the People’s Choice awards are irritating enough for me, and formed a sort of floor to how terrible a television awards show can be. By writing about these, I am willingly lowering that floor, because on their face, these awards are ridiculous, and I can’t imagine them actually being worth anything. In their sheer pointlessness, they are noteworthy, and I dig on that sort of thing. It’s part of what impelled me to start writing here in the first place. 
  29.  that is to say, I can tell the difference between them physically and literally as singers. 

The 90th Academy Awards

Every. Damn. Year. I write about the Academy Awards, because I’m a person who likes awards shows. And I do like most of the stuff around the Academy Awards – for the last couple of years, the criticism of it has been a useful instrument of bringing to light the heretofore under-spoken-of prejudicial behaviors on the part of the film industry. There are also a lot of heated arguments about things like dresses that I can get behind.

But, by and large, the Oscars themselves are just full of stuff that I find it difficult to engage with – they celebrate a medium I feel very little for, and they specifically exist to value those aspects of that medium (Acting, Producing) that I find least-conducive to constructing a narrative. But, y’know, it’s a good opportunity for jokes and all that, so I continue on.

That said, there’s no reason to take any more time about this stuff than is necessary, so please to enjoy the very fastest Oscars write-up I can manage.

Best Visual Effects

I can’t in good conscience say that it should be Guardians of the Galaxy vol. 2, since I feel like it robbed Thor: Ragnarok 1. And while it’s really impressive what War for the Planet of the Apes – the greatest Planet of the Apes movie ever made – managed to do visually, I believe it should also be noted that only one of these movies features a man actively milking a giant cow….thing. So that one. It’s that one.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Star Wars: The Last Jedi

Best Film Editing

Gotta be the one that was cut to non-purpose-built music.


Best Costume Design

I suppose there’s something to be said for The Phantom Thread, which is, y’know, literally about a designer or whatever 2, but not as much as can be said about a fish-man.


Best Makeup and Hairstyling

Occasionally I am called upon to wonder: why these movies? This is why I used to give awards out to Mrs. Coach’s Hair all the time.


Best Cinematography

Hey, if Mudbound’s cinematography was so undeniably good that it finally got a woman nominated in this category, then it must be some damn fine cinematography, yeah? I mean, it is, but there’s also a certain logic at work here. I like when there’s logic. Especially when it’s certain.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Rachel Morrison, Mudbound

Best Production Design

Katie Spencer is nominated for Set Decoration 3 twice, which is certainly a fit, perhaps especially so given that the best production design was actually for The Shape of Water.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Paul Denham Austerberry, The Shape of Water

Best Sound Mixing

I always default, in the purely technical categories like these, to thinking that the person who does the most complicated job should be the winner. In that case, I think it’s probably Dunkirk, which has a bunch of different things going on at all times, and a bunch of different contexts, much of which ranges from enormously loud to very, very quiet.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Mark Weingarten, Gregg Landaker, Gary A. Rizzo, Dunkirk

Best Sound Editing

Sound editing seems slightly less subjective than sound mixing, I guess? I’m not sure why I feel that way. Anyway, in this case I generally consider it less as a totality than as a “number of edits that I feel must have been necessary” which basically makes it more like a special effects category.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Star Wars: The Last Jedi, which has the benefit of also having the part where the sound drops out entirely, which I guess doesn’t seem that hard, as such, but was a cool bit of sound editing.

Best Original Song

Not much to say here, except it’s gotta be Coco.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: “Remember Me” from Coco

Best Original Score

The “Original Score” category of awards shows is so completely dominated by the same names over and over again that when someone who’s even a little bit new, or outside of that set of people, is nominated, it’s tempting to give it to them. In this case that would be Carter Burwell, but the score for 3 Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri isn’t as good as the score for Phantom Thread.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Jonny Greenwood, Phantom Thread

Best Animated Short Film

Glen Keane is nominated here, which I suppose is noteworthy 4, and the film in question, Dear Basketball, is pretty cool I guess. It’s just not as cool as Negative Space

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Max Porter and Ru Kuwahata, Negative Space

Best Live Action Short Film

I know that this crop of short films is here to take on serious issues and all that, and I think that’s great, I really do, but I’m a comedy sort of person, and I think The Eleven O’Clock is just brilliant.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Derine Seale and Josh Lawson, The Eleven O’Clock

Best Documentary – Short Subject

A movie about a guy on a crusade to give rehabilitated criminals jobs making food in Cleveland? There can be no other winner!


Best Documentary – Feature

As much as documentaries about bank crimes and the Syrian civil war are my catnip, even more my catnip are films where people just kind of talk to each other with no particular goal in mind except to communicate who they are. I love that stuff. 

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Agnes Varda, JR and Rosalie Varda, Faces Places

Best Foreign Language Film

The Square is funny-ish, but actually it’s On Body and Soul that should probably win, for being admirably weird and difficult.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: On Body and Soul, directed by Ildikó Enyedi.

Best Animated Feature Film

I don’t even know how to pretend this would go to anything but Coco. I would boycott this thing entirely for the affront to humanity that is the Ferdinand movie, but there’s no chance it will beat Coco, so I choose to overlook it.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Coco, Lee Unkrich and Darla K. Anderson

Best Adapted Screenplay

None of these are bad, as such, which is nice, but it’s still probably a longshot to say that the most deserving is Logan. Nevertheless, this is where we find ourselves.


Best Original Screenplay

The Big Sick is very good, and maybe even great, but Get Out is definitely great. Like, all-time great.


Best Supporting Actress

I don’t even have a witty or clever way to say that the rightful winner here is Noble Midwesterner Laurie Metcalf. Do try to forgive me.


Best Supporting Actor

When I wrote about the Golden Globes, I decided that the most impressive job was done by Christopher Plummer, who did it in the shortest amount of time 5, but I’ve decided to rethink this position, and instead grant it to Richard Jenkins. So there you have it.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Richard Jenkins, The Shape of Water

Best Actress

Once again, one of these people interpreted and conveyed the journey of her character without speaking. That’s impressive, and it was done well enough that it should win awards.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Sally Hawkins, The Shape of Water

Best Actor

If you’ve been reading this blog for any period of time, you know this is going to Daniel Kaluuya, so I’ll use this space to say that he’s also going to play Bluebell in the upcoming Watership Down series, and that is awesome.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Daniel Kaluuya, Get Out

Best Director

While it’s true that I never actually thought that Jordan Peele would get nominated for this award, he absolutely deserves it, and I very much could not be happier for him.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Jordan Peele, Get Out

Best Picture

After all that, the funniest thing to do would be to claim the rightful winner as something other than Get Out, but this clearly isn’t the place where I do the funniest thing. So there.


And that’s a big “so there” to the Oscars for another year! Take a bow, everybody.

  1.  I mean, I liked Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2 more, but Thor: Ragnarok had better visual effects. 
  2.  He may not be a designer. Spoiler alert: I will never see The Phantom Thread. 
  3.  which is, I guess, a subset of the production design award or something? They’re just, like, listed alongside the production designer.
  4.  He’s Bil’s son. In Family Circus he’s “Billy”. The strip as it is is currently written by “Jeffy”. 
  5.  because he was a last-minute replacement for Kevin Spacey, see. 

The Best Records of February 2018

Fire! – The Hands (My favorite of Mats Gustafsson’s bands  makes another surprisingly intense freak-out-jazz masterpiece. For fans of crazy-ass saxophone and crazy-ass bass guitar!)

Black Milk – Fever (Well, I wouldn’t have thought a less-tense, more-open Black Milk album would have been this great, but here we have it.)

Keiji Haino & Sumac – American Dollar Bill/Keep Facing Sideways, You’re Too Hideous to Look at Face On (What Keiji Haino and Sumac have in common is a willingness to embrace the silliness inherent to their respective explorations of extreme music, and to push through to the other side. This album, as a result, is pure heavy-music genius)

Motion Sickness of Time Travel – Circuits (MSOTT had a quiet year last year – y’know, relatively – but this, the first release of 2018, makes me hopeful that there’s a bunch more to come)

US Girls – In a Poem Unlimited (Sometimes it is the case that, when everyone has nice things to say about a record, it’s because it really is that good)

Gnaw Their Tongues – Genocidal Majesty (A lot of heavy music this month, I suppose, but it’s a GTT record that 1) isn’t too long and 2) features Chip King, so it’s a GTT record that I can enthusiastically and without hesitation get behind)

A Considered Look at Every Inductee to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Part 3

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is a place that I find, as an institution, vexing. The actual, physical hall of fame – the pyramidal building on the lake in Cleveland – is pretty cool, but it is spoken and thought of often as an intangible – as a sort of arbitrating body on the worthiness of the body of rock musicians. My thought, for many years upon surveying lists 1 and the like was to think that they have about a fifty percent success rate for getting it anything like right.

But what if it doesn’t? Previously I listened to and considered each of the best-selling albums of all time, and learned that they were considerably more of a mixed bag than I had thought 2. So what if the inductees to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame are the same sort of deal?

And so it’s time to dive in and take a look at what the nominees and their enshrinement actually are.

Click the links for Part 1 and Part 2 of this series.

Class of 1988

The Beach Boys

WHO THEY ARE: Those lovable lads from Los Angeles who wish they all could be California girls, and also wish that Rhonda would help them.

WHY THEY’RE HERE: 1988 is another of the years where most of the inductees seem pretty obligatory. The arguments for the Beach Boys are their popularity, and their pioneering use (on Pet Sounds) of the studio as a place to be self-indulgent, which some people call “innovative production” and I call “including fucking dog sounds on your dumb surf record.”

AND…?: Sigh. I get it, I do. They did stuff their way, and that’s fine. The fact that their music went from “relatively enjoyable pop music” to “insufferably self-indulgent pop nonsense” is certainly not because Brian Wilson’s vision failed him or anything – the records that exist 3 are clearly a part of his whole vision, and those records had an undeniable impact on the people that liked them.

RIGHTFULLY INDUCTED: Oh fine, sure. It’s not the “Things I Like” Hall of Fame, after all.

The Beatles

WHO THEY ARE: Four lovable lads from Liverpool. I’m sure if you’ve read this far, you’re at least passingly familiar with The Beatles

WHY THEY’RE HERE: True story: the Beatles are kiiiiiiiind of bending the rules by being inducted in 1988. Their first single actually came out in 1964, which the eagle-eyed among you will notice is 24 years before 1988, missing the 25-year cutoff. Whether this is just a nod to the inevitibability of their inclusion, or whether there’s a loophole I don’t know about is anyone’s guess. In any event, you know why they’re here. I don’t have to tell you this.

AND…?: Oh, sure. They made a bunch of great records. When they were terrible, they were terrible genuinely, in ways that reflected their desire to push their music to its furthest corners. They underwent two transformations, from gigging rock and roll combination to studio-bound construction back to live-room rock and roll outfit, and made good music in every form. There are a bunch of reasons why they’re overvalued, and why the constant comparison of other things to the Beatles is context-blind and kind of dumb, but that’s not a knock against their actual output and existence.


The Drifters

WHO THEY ARE: Four lovable lads from NYC. You may know them from their many hits, or from the several dozen people that have, at one point, been conscripted into singing under the Drifters name.

WHY THEY’RE HERE: See above w/r/t “many hits.” They also had a bunch of people in the group at various times that went on to be famous 4, which I guess must count in their favor? I don’t know, man.

AND…?: As assemblages of vocalists go, this was a pretty good one. As exercises in commercialism and recycling members all the time and all that go, it’s also a pretty effective one. Their artistic impact is basically nill 5, but they were popular and stuff.


Bob Dylan

WHO HE IS: The lovable lad from Hibbing, Minnesota. A nobel-prize winner, because the world is a strange, strange place.

WHY HE’S HERE: Because, to be as brief as possible, he’s Bob Dylan.

AND…?: I mean, he’s Bob Dylan. Much like the Beatles, there are ways in which his case might be somewhat overstated, but that doesn’t meant the case itself isn’t still immense. He always did his own thing 6, and he’s made a tremendous career out of being a unique, singular personality. He has, along the way, written a couple dozen of the best songs ever written, even if sometimes they’re few and far between.


The Supremes

WHO THEY ARE: The four lovable lasses from Detroit. They would eventually be known as Diana Ross and the Supremes, and they would also go through latter-day Supremes at a rate that could be considered “alarming”.

WHY THEY’RE HERE: Well, they have dick-all to do with rock and roll, as per usual, but they were hugely successful – 12 number ones is nothing to sneeze at – and they were a very effective mouthpiece for Holland-Dozier-Holland, the songwriting/production team that wrote most of the aforementioned number on hits.

AND…?: Eh. They’re fine. I have to allow a great deal of give when it comes to this stuff – the rock and roll hall of fame includes an enormous amount of this kind of music, despite it having very little to do with rock and roll. Under that rule, I guess the Supremes are deserving, but even grading on that particular curve, only just deserving. They were successful and Diana Ross is a good singer, but that’s about all they’ve got.

RIGHTFULLY INDUCTED: This is a very slight yes.

Woody Guthrie

WHO HE IS: The lovable lad from Okemah. You definitely know “This Land is Your Land.”

WHY HE’S HERE: Woody Guthrie was more or less the formative influence on the Greenwich Village folk scene 7, and indeed on folk music all over America in the second half of the twentieth century. He is that rare bird of folk musician who wrote at least one song that became – in the traditional sense – a folk song. He was a tireless representative of his causes, and he did more or less everything in his career guided by his own compass.

AND…?: He was great. He’s here in the “influencers” category, which is appropriate, and he’s up the same year as Bob Dylan, which is thematic and perhaps inevitable.


Lead Belly

WHO HE IS: The lovable lad from Mooringsport. His best-known compilation proclaims him the “King of the 12 String Guitar,” and who am I to argue with that?

WHY HE’S HERE: He introduced the world to what would become the definitive version of a tonne of standards – “Good Night Irene”, “Midnight Special,” “In the Pines,” “Gallows Pole”, “Good Morning” and “John Hardy” among them 8. He really was a virtuosic twelve-string guitar player. He’s also an underrated singer.

AND…?: He’s also here in the “influencers,” which is undeniable for the number of people that have covered his version of the songs listed above alone, even if you leave aside the skill and talent on display in his performances.


Les Paul

WHO HE IS: The lovable lad from Waukesha. He has his own year-round exhibit in the HOF, and it’s pretty cool.

WHY HE’S HERE: He invented the solid-body electric guitar 9. More importantly even than that, he invented multitrack recording.  

AND…?: Without Les Paul’s inventions, you literally do not have Rock and Roll as it actually exists.


Berry Gordy, Jr

WHO HE IS: Berry Gordy Sr.’s son. Weirdly, he is actually Berry Gordy III, but he goes by Junior. Why not?

WHY HE’S HERE: He’s the founder of Motown records.

AND…?: The last few classes there’s been a record label founder. Might as well keep the streak alive.


Class of 1989


WHO HE IS: The wanderer himself. He’s one of the guys who was basically knocked off the charts by the Beatles et al.

WHY HE’S HERE: He performed a mod blend of R&B styles pre-British Invasion, which was pretty influential. Also, I don’t know how much it matters, but he took the falling of his star in stride, and has not stopped making music, recently recording as a blues traditionalist.

AND…?: It’s admirable that he’s worked so hard at his thing, and his early hits are pretty good and undeniably influential, so I suppose we’re fine here.


Otis Redding

WHO HE IS: A soul singer, responsible for “Sittin’ on the Dock of the Bay”, the first posthumous number 1 10.

WHY HE’S HERE: Much like his fellow dead-too-young soul singers from earlier classes 11, he’s here because he led his bands through the kind of performances that would be associated with rock and roll – small band, backbeat-forward, etc. He wrote some great songs, had some hits, had a great voice, and died tragically young, which gives him an easy hook in the rock and roll enshrinement world.

AND…?: Oh, Otis Redding was great. He’s not rock and roll, but as I’ve previously stated, I’m not fighting that fight here.


The Rolling Stones

WHO THEY ARE: The other half of the British Invasion Diumverate. The one that still, inexplicably, exists in some form or another.

WHY THEY’RE HERE: They sold a lot of records, they had a lot of hits, they did a lot of different things, and during all that they also occasionally managed some great music. I mean, more in the early going than in the late, but you know how it is.

AND…?: Their period of 64-73 was as good as you could want, if a little overloaded with some chaff. Their story overwhelms the actual music a lot of the time 12, but the music more than stands up on its own, even if they are, like Dylan and The Beatles, a bit overpraised.


The Temptations

WHO THEY ARE: Another Motown-based vocal group. Editorially speaking, Motown is entirely over-represented in this Hall of Fame.

WHY THEY’RE HERE: Because the Hall of Fame was bound and determined to get every single person who recorded so much as a hiccup in the damn building.

AND…?: Look, the Temptations aren’t bad. “Papa Was a Rolling Stone” is often “well actually”’d as not being where the Rolling Stones got their name, if you choose to believe that, but it’s a great song nonetheless. I just think that the case for their specific induction is pretty thin.


Stevie Wonder

WHO HE IS: He’s another Motown signee, technically, but since he was much, much better than The Temptations, I’m not going to rant about him here.

WHY HE’S HERE: Stevie Wonder was one of the people who demanded and received unprecedented amounts of creative control for his musical output. That alone is influential enough to get him in there. He had hits for several straight decades, and still is out there, albeit at this point as a nostalgia act, but still performing like Stevie.

AND…?: All of that is leaving aside the run of albums from 1972-1976 13, which are an artistic high water mark, and which came a full decade into his career. It also doesn’t touch on the sheer outright impressiveness of making records by setting all the instruments up in a circle and going from one to another, recording parts.


The Ink Spots

WHO THEY ARE: The first doo-wop group.

WHY THEY’RE HERE: I guess there’s some value in being first, and doo-wop is the thing that predates both rhythm and blues and rock and roll, but, like, I think that’s also reaching too far back here.

AND…?: I guess they’re alright? It’s early doo-wop, it’s pretty far removed from anything I’m able to evaluate. Of all the doo-wop groups I’ve spent time listening to, they sure are one of them.


Bessie Smith

WHO SHE IS: A massively influential, hugely popular singer…of jazz music.

WHY SHE’S HERE: ??????? I mean, it is impossible to overstate her effect on jazz singers. But this is the same problem as the Ink Spots – once you’re at “twice removed” it’s a little bit harder to figure out what’s going on. I guess by the time you filter her jazz singing down through all the stuff and get to the bottom, there’s some influence from Bessie Smith in there, but it’s certainly not direct.

AND…?: I’m not a vocal jazz dude. She had a nice voice, and a lot of people sang like she did. Sang jazz like she did. Because that’s what she did. She sang jazz.


The Soul Stirrers

WHO THEY ARE: The world’s most famous gospel group

WHY THEY ARE HERE: I think at this point, once we’ve had to deal with The Ink Spots and Bessie Smith, then we’re officially in “they felt obligated to include somebody” territory. A gospel group.

WHY THEY’RE HERE: Obviously becase The Lord willed it.

AND…?: This is nonsense. Obviously nonsense.


Phil Spector

WHO HE IS: Tyrannical superproducer and murderer who conceptualized the “Wall of Sound” [^14], although also did plenty of regular-old traditional producing.

WHY HE’S HERE: Well, he’s a right bastard, if not an outright monster, but he sure did know how to produce records that sound great and that people like. He presents a masterclass in trying to separate the art from the artist.

AND…?: It’s really hard to separate the art from the artist in this case, because so much o his working method was directly related to the monstrous behavior itself. I suppose he did have his impact, and denying that is denying the good things he did actually do for the world in favor of only considering the bad, which I guess I’m against, but man. What a dick.

RIGHTFULLY INDUCTED: Sure, albeit reluctantly.

  1.  also the centerpiece of the museum itself, for those that have never been there, is a very long video encapsulating each inducted class, with clips of performances by most of them and things like that, and is generally a pretty cool thing to behold. 
  2.  although they did, as you can read here and going back from there, skew toward “pretty bad” 
  3.  one of the things not being addressed by this piece is the existence – or several-decade-long lack thereof – of Smile, but it should be mentioned that this record is disproportionately huge in the band’s backstory. First of all, we love an unfinished “masterpiece,” and second of all, we love stories about figures descending tragically into (drug-induced) madness. Smile for a very long time provided both. The fact that it eventually existed in a form that was cosigned by Brian Wilson sort of diminishes that aspect of it somewhat, but it was there, and it was real, for a long, long time. 
  4.  former head Drifter Clyde McPhatter, Ben E. King, Jimmy Lewis, Johnny Moore, probably a couple of other people I’m forgetting. 
  5.  that’s not to say all of their music is bad – some of it is quite good – just that the things that are good about it are also present, to a greater extent, in the form of acts who weren’t just “whoever happened to accept a check from George Treadwell to back Clyde McPhatter this week” 
  6.  I mean, his “thing” eventually included gospel albums. And, most recently, recordings of standards, despite the fact that he sings like Bob Dylan. That’s a dude that absolutely does not care what you think of his output. 
  7.  see Bob Dylan, above, and Joan Baez, several installments from now. 
  8.  he didn’t write them, generally, but almost always when you hear someone else playing one of those songs, they’re playing it his way.
  9.  although Leo Fender was the first one to mass-produce them. 
  10.  He died in a plane crash after it was recorded, but before it was released. 
  11.  Sam Cooke, Marvin Gaye, et al 
  12.  the famous girlfriends, the tax evasion, the drug use, the famous feuding 
  13.  Music of My Mind/Talking Book/Innervisions/Fulfillingness’ First Finale/Songs in the Key of Life 

The Best-Selling Graphic Novels of 2017

So the fine folks at Nielsen BookScan have released their numbers, and now we know what the best-selling graphic novels of last year were. Since I have never, in this space, considered what the best-selling graphic novels 1 say about us all 2. So let’s soldier onward, into a new space!  

In this case I’m specifically writing about the “Adult Graphic Novels” chart 3, so here we go!

March: Book One

WHAT IT IS: The first of the three parts of John Lewis’s memoir of the civil-rights era.

WHY IT’S HERE: The whole thing won the National Book Award at the end of the 2016, which probably goosed exploratory purchases of the first volume. Also, if you’re someone who doesn’t habitually read graphic novels, but aren’t opposed to the prospect, then a graphic novel that won the National Book Award, about a Civil Rights-era hero who is also a sitting Representative is probably the one for you.

WHAT IT SAYS ABOUT US: Well, other than that we like history in general, it probably says that a book about a real-life person who stood up for what he believed in is a real comforting balm, given the national situation.

Saga Vol. 7

WHAT IT IS: The most-recently-published collection of Brian K. Vaughn’s current space opera, everything-but-the-kitchen-sink juggernaut.

WHY IT’S HERE: Non-superhero comics 4 always have a couple of darlings, books that people rally around, and that tend to find their way out of the usual markets to include casual readers and the curious and the like. Saga is one of the current ones 5.

WHAT IT SAYS ABOUT US: That people got really into a super-cool whiz-bang story about space ships and sorcery that happens to speak to a desire to see an end to both a ceaseless war and generalized prejudice from all sorts of angles, and have continued to be into it all the way out here at the seventh trade paperback collection.

Everyone’s a Aliebn When Ur a Aliebn Too: A Book

WHAT IT IS:A book about a solitary alien that comes to Earth to learn about what life is like. That’s understating the book a great deal, but I can’t figure out a way to write this here that doesn’t. It’s also the backstory for a twitter account, which is an even weirder way to describe it.

WHY IT’S HERE: Graphic novels are a field that isn’t actually that big, especially here in the “Adult” category, and so when something takes over like Everyone’s a Aliebn 6, it’s easy for it to sell a bunch of copies.

WHAT IT SAYS ABOUT US: That everyone can relate to feeling like a aliebn, and wants to buy a book about it.

March (Trilogy Slipcase Set)

WHAT IT IS: All three volumes of the above-mentioned memoir trilogy, packaged together.

WHY IT’S HERE: For the same reasons as the freestanding edition of volume 1, above, but this time with the modifier that slightly fewer people wanted to just read the whole thing in one shot, rather than buying them one part at a time.

WHAT IT SAYS ABOUT US: That more of us are tentative beginners than are completionists.

The Walking Dead Vol. 27

WHAT IT IS: The 27th volume of a deathless, shambling, seemingly-immortal series of issues.

WHY IT’S HERE: At this point, TWD is a comics institution, and I would imagine its volumes will continue to appear here for as long as they continue to exist. It’s the rare occurrence of something being so popular that it basically attains its own momentum, and couldn’t not be a best-seller.

WHAT IT SAYS ABOUT US: That even more than the oft-stated appeal of the zombie story 7what people really like is the comforting continuance of the same story they’ve been reading for fifteen years.

Batman: The Killing Joke Deluxe Edition (Hardcover)

WHAT IT IS: The very Alan-Mooreiest 8 of Alan Moore’s mainstream work. This is also the thing that got adapted into the animated movie that everyone got super mad at for sucking huge wet hose last year. Said adaptation was in conjunction with this, the “Deluxe Edition” of the graphic novel itself.

WHY IT’S HERE: Well, Alan Moore’s name sells 9, and TKJ is, even without the toxic buzz of the animated adaptation, a super-famous Batman story (Tim Burton, for example, cited it as the inspiration for his Batman movies). It postulates an origin for the Joker 10, it’s the story in which Barbara Gordon is gratuitously fridged 11, and it does, for whatever else its (considerable) flaws are, have pretty incredible art, so it’s been a prominent Batman book for a long time. A reissue was bound to sell like hotcakes.

WHAT IT SAYS ABOUT US: That this kind of grimdark, dumb-as-hammers storytelling does big business among readers of “serious” “adult” graphic novels, and it probably always will. Actually, it probably has a lot more to say about us than that, but this is already a long entry (there are three footnotes in that one paragraph there), and frankly, I’m keeping it light. Suffice it to say that Killing Joke represents a bunch of what I detest about Batman, about a certain class of comics reader, and about Alan Moore.

Tokyo Ghoul Vol 1

WHAT IT IS: A manga about a world with ghouls walk among us, and also occasionally result in half-ghouls, of which, perhaps predictably, our protagonist is one.

WHY IT’S HERE: I mean, it’s not actually a zombie story, but it hits a lot of those buttons. It’s also fast-paced and has excellent art, and was bonkers popular in Japan, so it was probably only a matter of time before we started seeing it pop up.

WHAT IT SAYS ABOUT US: That the manga audience is huge, and that horror manga does generally pretty well. It probably also says some of the same stuff as zombie stories, even though it is, once again, not actually about zombies.

My Hero Academia Vol 1

WHAT IT IS: A very funny manga about a kid in superhero school.

WHY IT’S HERE: It has the sort of generalized appeal of the “kid in a school for kids like him” 12, plus it’s funny. It’s also got a well-received television series, and adaptations are nearly always a good thing for book sales.

WHAT IT SAYS ABOUT US: That a bunch of us wish we could be given superpowers by our idols and whisked away from our regular lives to go learn to be superheroes, probably.

Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic

WHAT IT IS: Alison Bechdel’s first memoir, and the basis for the very popular Broadway show 13.

WHY IT’S HERE: This is another consensus favorite of a certain subset of the graphic novels market, and this one (even before the Broadway thing) poked its head out into the mass audience – it’s become one of the comics that people with no real connection to the larger world of comics have probably at least heard of, if not read themselves. That kind of thing clearly gives it legs in sales terms.

WHAT IT SAYS ABOUT US: Well, we as a book-reading populous tend to go nuts for memoir. Bechdel’s is unlike anything else also – her tone is very different from the usual memoir, and she tells her story, which is plenty odd in and of itself, in a cockeyed sort of way, without being outright weird. It’s a really interesting piece of work, and its ability to be embraced by so many people that try it speaks to Bechdel’s abilities as a writer/drawer.

The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess Vol 

WHAT IT IS:  It’s a manga based on a video game.

WHY IT’S HERE: There’s tonnes and tonnes of comics that are based around licensed properties that vary pretty wildly in terms of tone and quality. I must confess, I do not know very much about this particular set of comics – I don’t read them, I don’t know anyone that reads them, and I’ve pretty much only seen them around in passing.

WHAT IT SAYS ABOUT US: That we like to read the plots of video games in comics form. I mean, at least Twilight Princess has a pretty good plot.


WHAT IT IS: I have used the word “deathless” already, and also the word “juggernaut”, and also the word “venerable,” and it is a shame that I didn’t save them for this here, because this is the venerable deathless juggernaut of venerable deathless juggernauts. It is probably the single most influential superhero comic ever published, it is the work that almost single-handedly justifies Alan Moore’s entire thing 14, it is the superhero comic book for people that don’t like superhero comic books, it is the defining work of both serious adult superhero comics and the entire grimdark nonsense age that we are, somehow, going through again.

WHY IT’S HERE: It’s wildly influential, talked about more-or-less constantly, and is a rare thing that actually lives up to (most of) its reputation 15, so people recommend it fairly enthusiastically.

WHAT IT SAYS ABOUT US: That we have a healthy appreciation for the classics, that we are suckers for dystopia, and that we’re still stuck in the thrall of a grimdark revival that I hate.

My Favorite Thing is Monsters

WHAT IT IS: A murder mystery (among other things) from the point of view of a monster-obsessed girl.

WHY IT’S HERE: It’s more-or-less an instant classic – a visually distinctive, well-constructed book that really captured people’s attention. It has the benefit of being the debut work from 55-year-old Noble Midwesterner Emil Ferris, which created many a marketing hook, but it doesn’t even really need the gimmick.

WHAT IT SAYS ABOUT US: That we are currently in a period of being really, really into murder mysteries, and that we love a late bloomer.

Black Panther Vol. 1 – A Nation Under Our Feet

WHAT IT IS: The beginning of Ta-Nehisi Coates’s run on Black Panther.

WHY IT’S HERE: Well, the Black Panther movie has been on the horizon for awhile 16, and this may or may not have something to do with that 17. Plus Ta-Nehisi has been on people’s minds for a while now, and it’s always a sales boost to have a name on the cover.

WHAT IT SAYS ABOUT US: That there is an underserved market for comic books featuring black folks. Also that movies help sell comics.

The Legend of Zelda Legendary Edition Vol 1

WHAT IT IS: More Zelda comics. I’m led to believe (by googling) that this includes The Ocarina of Time, which is my favorite Zelda game, but does not have my favorite plot. Go figure.

WHY IT’S HERE: Because, unaccountably, people have a bottomless appetite for Zelda comics. I dunno, man.

WHAT IT SAYS ABOUT US: That we can’t get enough Zelda, I guess.  

One-Punch Man Vol 1

WHAT IT IS: A wildly hilarious manga about a superhero that got its start as a webcomic and is also now a wildly hilarious cartoon. The manga doesn’t share the cartoon’s awesome theme song, though.

WHY IT’S HERE: Because it’s funny, and because the animated series is really popular, and, as discussed previously, adaptation is good for book sales.

WHAT IT SAYS ABOUT US: Sometimes motherfuckers just wanna laugh.

Tokyo Ghoul Vol 2

WHAT IT IS: The sequel to Tokyo Ghoul volume 1

WHY IT’S HERE: Because a bunch of people started Tokyo Ghoul and didn’t stop after the first one.

WHAT IT SAYS ABOUT US: That not as many people keep reading Tokyo Ghoul as start reading Tokyo Ghoul

The Legend of Zelda Legendary Edition, Volume 2

WHAT IT IS: Volume 2 of the bafflingly popular Legend of Zelda comics series, which is also the second such series here mentioned, which is, itself, also baffling.

WHY IT’S HERE: I am baffled

WHAT IT SAYS ABOUT US: Something that I do not fathom beyond “people continue reading a series once they start it, and often that series is Zelda.” Baffling.

Going Into Town: A Love Letter to New York

WHAT IT IS: The follow-up to Roz Chast’s world-conquering Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant, this time about New York City, and specifically the whole-other-planetary-body that is Manhattan.

WHY IT’S HERE: People love Roz Chast, and people love books about New York City 18Also people loved Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant, which probably helped drive sales significantly.

WHAT IT SAYS ABOUT US: Most of it’s in the “why it’s here” section, but also that we love memoir, and, weirdly, we love single-creator comics at least enough to propel them onto this list in between manga about zombies and/or Zelda comics. In Going Into Town’s case, it’s literally between Zelda comics.

The Legend of Zelda Legendary Edition, Volume 3

WHAT IT IS: I mean, it’s not that I’m opposed to it being Zelda comics. Some googling around shows that the art is quite nice, and I’m sure the stories translate well. I just don’t understand why it’s Zelda comics so much.

WHY IT’S HERE: Is it because we all still miss Robin Williams, and Zelda was his favorite? 19. Is it because the best video game of last year was a Zelda game?

WHAT IT SAYS ABOUT US: It says that the vast panoply of human experiences contains much, and there is much about its contents that I may never actually understand.

Death Note Black Edition Volume 1

WHAT IT IS: The special fancy reprinted edition of onetime sensation Death Note

WHY IT’S HERE: Because it sold like hotcakes, because it was adapted into an anime that sold like hotcakes, it was made into movies 20 that did well. It’s a sales institution.

WHAT IT SAYS ABOUT US: Well, the premise is pretty understandably mind-catching: a notebook that kills anyone whose name is written in it, and it’s executed pretty incredibly, so people justifiably wanted to read a bunch of it. A reissue is a great excuse for people that weren’t yet on the train to get on the train, and so it sells like mad. The circle of life and all that.

And that about wraps it up for the sales year! I suppose it isn’t as revealing as some of these can be, but it might be interesting to come back next year and see how things have flopped around. Now I’m off to go remove “aliebn” from my spellcheck dictionary.

  1.  I’m going to use the term “graphic novels” in this post because it’s what the attached article, with the bookscan results, uses, so for those of you that know me and hear me talk, that’s going to sound weird, since I, by preference, exclusively use the word “comics”. It feels weird for me, also. 
  2.  A thing I have done previously for books here and here, and music here and here. 
  3.  the “Author Graphic Novels” chart is a little too repetitive, the “Superhero Graphic Novels” chart is too depressing, and I don’t know enough about children’s comics or manga to make that as entertaining. 
  4.  a definition which is stretched somewhat, given the circumstances here. 
  5.  Robert Kirkman’s venerable The Walking Dead is another, about which see below. 
  6.  see also My Favorite Thing is Monsters, below 
  7.  for many, it represents an ability to transfer the generalized opposition to “the other” into a socially-acceptable a form. You can learn a lot about American history, and about what its values are, by looking at the zombie stories that are popular at any given time. This is true for every single zombie story with which I am familiar. 
  8.  I can never remember how much of my opinion on the matter has been printed here, so suffice it to say: I like Alan Moore significantly less than you probably think I do. 
  9.  Watchmen appears below, and V For Vendetta is somehow on the “Author Graphic Novels” list. 
  10.  Kind of. Despite the gospel that the Joker became the Joker because of “one bad day,” as posited by the Joker in this story, it doesn’t really – for all that I don’t care for Alan Moore, he’s not as ham-fisted as that – but rather presents the Joker as an unreliable narrator willing to bend whatever truths are necessary to make it appear that he’s whatever he’s trying to appear as at any given moment. It is, to its credit, as interesting a story about the Joker as there is, for whatever that may be worth. 
  11.  generally speaking, “fridging”, from Gail Simone’s “Women in Refrigerators” involves the woman being killed, and in this case Barbara Gordon lives. She does, however, exist in the story only to be tortured, and the torture isn’t even aimed at her, she is a prop for the Joker to get to her father. It’s the worst kind of refrigerator-borne bullshit. 
  12.  c.f. Dianna Wynne Jones, Chris Claremont, J.K. Rowling, Rick Riordan, and much fantasy YA published in the last couple of decades 
  13.  see above w/r/t adaptations being helpful to sales. 
  14.  alongside Swamp Thing, and there are things about Promethea, Tom Strong, Miracleman and V For Vendetta that are admirable. 
  15.  It isn’t without its problems, to be sure, but even its flaws exist largely in service to its general effect. 
  16.  if you’re reading this on the day it was posted, it comes out today 
  17.  Well, this and World of Wakanda, I would imagine. But who knows, really? 
  18.  if this seems like a crazy sentence – and trust me, it felt plenty crazy to write out in the first place – go and look at how many bestsellers are, all or in part, directly about New York City 
  19.  I mean, his daughter is named Zelda, and he made no bones about why. 
  20.  in Japan. The Netflix movie was a turd. 

The 2018 Winter Olympics

It’s the Olympics! Longtime readers will know: this is not my favorite time of the quadrennium 1. This particular one is not off to an auspicious start: despite the completely unprecedented joint North/South Korean presence, there’s still the fact that Russia won’t be present at all, having mostly been banned by the IOC, and the spectre of the fact that North Korea is busily building all of the missiles it can can’t be helping matters any. And all this is aside from the regular problems with the Olympics: that they’re a tremendous financial drain on the local economy that almost never turns out to have been worth it in the first place.

That’s also aside from the fact that, additionally, the Olympics marry some of the worst things about sports 2, with the worst things about television 3, and it takes over everything in the culture for its duration, so there’s basically no getting away from the goddamned things.

But I don’t relish being a killjoy so, for the next however-many thousand words, I’m going to be your guide through the “fun” part of the Olympics: the seemingly-endless parade of events that differ only in one to two details, which may not even seem to be significant.

Alpine Skiing


So the thing to remember is that every Olympic event requires a nigh-superhuman amount of time and devotion, and that everyone who is competing is not only the best their country has to offer, but has already established (via the extensive trial process of Olympic qualification) that they are good enough to compete. And in this case, they’re going to strap lengths of wood to their feet and hurtle down a hill, making sure to not crash into some gates.  



Downhill skiing with the added challenge of having to ski through gates sprinkled close together throughout the hill. The idea is to see the skiiers ability to turn quickly. At least the skiiers move more in this one.

SHOULD I WATCH: If you must watch a skiing event, it might as well be this one.

Giant Slalom

It’s slalom but, y’know, bigger. So the visual interest of watching the skiers turn or whatever is significantly less.



So the downhill skiing events are categorized as either “speed” events (Downhill, Giant Slalom) or “technical” events (Slalom, Super-G), and the Combined is one of each (Downhill and Slalom). So many gates to ski through!

SHOULD I WATCH: If you didn’t already watch the slalom, sure, but remember that the first part is going to be super boring.



Biathlon is one of the Olympics’ more baffling constructions. The individual form, which is the oldest form, has five laps of 4 km each 4 alternated with four attempts to shoot a target 5. I suppose, in theory, this would be hunting behavior in, say, the taiga or the steppes or whatever. Now it’s a sport that they’re going to compete in. The race is timed, missing the target adds to the distance you have to ski, and at the end the person who does it all the quickest is the winner.

SHOULD I WATCH: Nope! It’s a marathon combined with watching someone else shoot. It’s nearly unwatchable.


This time it’s only 3 laps of 3.33 km 6, with only two shooting opportunities, but is otherwise the same.

SHOULD I WATCH: No. It’s better than the individual, because it’s shorter (which is great), but it’s still boring as all heck.


This time it’s 5 laps of 2.5 km 7, four shots 8. In the other events, the race is staggered such that each individual participant is basically alone on the course. In this one they are separated by the time that they finished a previous race – sprint – in. So they bunch up and sometimes have to wait for a shooting lane to open up. This makes it a race where it is sometimes necessary to wait. Doesn’t that sound positively scintillating?

SHOULD I WATCH: Lord, no. It’s a racing event where people queue.

Mass Start

This is the same course as the individual, thankfully, so I don’t have to type all of that out, and everyone starts at once and then waits in line to shoot. This race is the one where the shooting lanes are assigned, and oh my god why are there so many of these.



3 laps of 2.5 km 9, two shooting rounds each, four interminable times. I’m not a fan of relay races in any circumstance, but relay distance races truly make a mockery of the notion of a spectator sport.

SHOULD I WATCH: Sure, if “a mockery of the notion of a spectator sport” sounds like a televised good time to you.


2 Person

So bobsleigh (or bobsled, as it were) is a timed race event on an extremely-dangerous track where people cram themselves into a thin shell and hurtle death-defyingly toward the ground. It is literally the least dangerous of the race events on this track, which is simply ludicrous. 2 person bobsleigh is the only version of the event that includes women, for reasons that I’m going to call “delightfully baffling” I suppose. For lack of a better thing to call them.

SHOULD I WATCH: Sure. It’s short, anyway, and it gets fairly exciting.

4 Person

Same deal, except more people shoved into the thing like Eisenhower-era college kids into a phone booth, and it requires more coordination to get exactly right. So it’s more technically demanding, but no more visually interesting, which kind of makes it microcosmic of the Olympics in general.

SHOULD I WATCH: If your appetite wasn’t sated by the 2 person bobsleigh races, then sure. Otherwise it’s just the same thing with more people, and it’s completely devoid of women.

Cross-Country Skiing


OK, so, the difference between cross-country ski events is the direction in which force is applied to the ski. If you’re pushing dorsally 10 it’s “classical,” and you do it for 50 km, and then everyone dies of boredom.

SHOULD I WATCH: It’s a 50 km ski race. Of course you shouldn’t watch it.


The other option to provide propulsion in the cross-country skiing world is to push laterally 11, which in a freestyle race, the athlete is permitted to do. To make sure this is clear, there are expert judges in international competition whose job is to make sure that the force applied to a ski by an athlete’s foot is in the correct direction. In any version of reality, this is insanity.

SHOULD I WATCH: It’s much shorter than the classical, at only 15 km, but that’s still too long to watch someone swing poles (which is the visible action of the cross-country skier).


Rather than be free to do either way of providing thrust, as one is in the freestyle, in skiathlon it is mandatory to use both techniques. It’s the sort of thing that made one wish he had an angular momentum fetish. At least then it would be possible to get something out of it.


Sprint Classical/Freestyle

These are the same deal as their longer counterparts, but they’re shorter.

SHOULD I WATCH: It’s still not short enough.


This is a shorter race than the sprint, but it’s still a 10 km race, and it’s still repeated four times.

SHOULD I WATCH: No. Spoiler alert: I am never going to cosign a relay race in the winter Olympics.


True story: this year, curling events will start before the opening ceremonies, because there’s just too damn much curling to be contained in the regular strictures of the Olympic events. This year, they’re also allowing mixed doubles curling teams, and we will forever know if a man and a woman are equal wielders of a goddamn ice broom. SO EXCITING.

SHOULD I WATCH: Actually, curling isn’t that bad, compared to say, a long-distance ski race. I’m sure there’s better stuff on tv, and it’s not that entertaining, but if you have to watch some Olympics, you can do worse than curling.

Figure Skating

Individual Short

Men and women are segregated here, but they each get two minutes and fifty seconds to perform items on a list of jumps/tricks 12, all of which are a little more esoteric than I can understand. That said: the requirements are definite, but the end scoring is decided arbitrarily by judges (with input from the execution of the required program elements), and it is thus a sport containing unseemly amounts of total bullshit.

SHOULD I WATCH: It’s visually interesting, and the physically-demanding parts of it are the sorts of things a layperson can notice, so sure. Be aware, though, that it’s tremendously frustrating, because again: it’s a judged event, and therefore bullshit.

Individual Free

Free programs are four or four and a half minutes, plus or minus 10 seconds. They are judged, in this case, by how well they skate in time to music. Having eliminated the technical requirements of the short program, we are thus adrift in the sea of bullshit that is “letting the judges figure out how good it was with no actual benchmarks.” This is the event where most of the dumbest things happen.

SHOULD I WATCH: No. If you want to see what skaters do when left to their own devices, watch the exhibition gala thing, where they can fling themselves around with abandon and not have to worry about the judges.

Pairs Short

True story: pairs skating includes a required move called a “death spiral” 13. Consider that even skeleton, which is basically a rush to meet death head-first, doesn’t have anything called a “death spiral.” That is metal as hell.

SHOULD I WATCH: Sure. It’s got the technical advantages of the individual stuff, but the moves and elements are more technically-involved, and more visually complicated. Plus one of the moves is called a “death spiral”.

Pairs Free

More of the same – looser time restrictions, no required elements, not as interesting, more bullshit, only this time there’s two people out there at once. Weeeeee.


Ice Dancing Short

So in ice dancing, the first half of the program is compulsory (pre-arranged moves that everyone has to do and that are proscribed) and the second half is left up to the skaters to interpret, with required elements. The thing they’re dancing to is determined by the powers that be. Oh, and they don’t jump. So it’s the worst kind of figure skating.


Ice Dancing Free

They get to pick their own rhythms, music and choreography, but they still can’t jump. So it’s less stupid than the short program, but still pretty stupid, and on top of that, it’s still judged.


Freestyle Skiing


This is a combination of my two favorite things: downhill skiing, and events that are judged. In this case they shoot off of ramps and flip around a bunch of times and then the judge says “golly, by these arbitrary and unfathomable points of judgment I guess that guy was better than the other guy.” Then the next person does it. That said, the individual runs are blissfully short, and they do look cool flipping around up there, so it’s pretty good visually, if not as a sport.



Pity the poor skiier. For years they were alone as those who zoom on waxed pieces of wood. now the world has moved on, and skiing is the hobby of rich people 14, but that’s just not enough to get those eyeballs, so they have to steal events from snowboarding, the totally radical pastime of all the most exxxtreme of young people. This is, in a nutshell, why the Olympics are total bullshit: there’s no “tradition” in gluing skiiers into a snowboarding event, and the only reason it would have to be done is for the ability to draw in viewers for the various television broadcasts. It’s divorced from its natural state (snowboarding), it’s clumsily welded to a boring sport (skiing) and it’s a judged event (bullshit). It’s got nothing going for it, except for general bankruptcy and an ability to annoy me greatly.



Did you think that downhill skiing needed to be bumpier? Because if you did, I have good news for you.

SHOULD I WATCH: Not unless you feel you need to be made motion sick. 


This is more x-games nonsense, only this time the people on the skis go over a thing that’s like a BMX course, only they’re on skis. Words cannot express how stupid this is. Any of the entertainment value that would come from watching people do cool shit in the air is completely negated by the fact that, from the word jump, it is literally impossible to take this dumb, dumb sport seriously.


Ski Cross

This is like dressage for humans on skis. You know, the thing where they make the horses hop over jumps and stuff in a race. Only on skis, and without the horses. I suppose it highlights the existential abstract comedy of the whole thing – the people are like the show ponies! On skis! – and that’s useful from a general entertainment point of view, but I don’t think it’s enough to actually justify the existence of this dumb nonsense.


Ice Hockey

“But,” I hear you saying, “if the Olympics are so terrible, why bother with any of it at all? Couldn’t you just ignore it like all the other stuff you don’t write about?” Well, I could. But then I’d be missing one of the finest sporting events the world has ever known: Olympic Hockey. International Rules Hockey is such a frigging fantastic sporting event that the Olympics can have all the stupid clown-show made-up events in the world, and I’d still have to pore over the listings to watch the damn hockey games. I mean, that’s kind of how it is anyway, but my point remains.

SHOULD I WATCH: Yes. And I don’t just mean “watch if you want to watch the Olympics,” I mean “you should watch Olympic Hockey. It’s so good it’ll make you forget it’s the Olympics”


So, Bobsleigh is a bunch of dudes crammed into a thin-shelled sled that rocket at insane, brain-splattering speeds down a course. The luge folks 15 do the same course, but they don’t have the shell. If you want to see people court an early, messy death, this isn’t even the one for you (see below), it’s just terrifying to watch. Stick with Bobsleigh, at least you can more easily convince yourself that not all of those people are going to die.


Nordic Combined


The things that are combined in the Nordic Combined are a ski jump and a cross-country ski – one’s performance in the jumping part determines one’s time bonus in the cross-country part. This and biathlon are reminders that winter Olympic sports have always been dumb mashup events. I suppose it’s possible to appreciate the consistency, at least. Anyway, there’s no women in the Nordic Combined, despite there being women involved in Cross-Country skiing and in ski jumping 16. I guess just to get that last little bit of weird sexism in there. Tradition, everybody! Anyway, I haven’t gotten to ski-jumping yet, so you’ll be spoiled a bit to hear me say: it does not redeem cross-country skiing.


Combined Relay

I mention it only because I feel I cannot say it enough: watching relay races is not a good way to have a good time.


Short Track Speed Skating


I’m just lumping them all together, here. Short-track speed skating is sort of classic-flavoured speed skating, and as such is about a satisfying a race event as there is: everybody starts behind a line, then skates around, then finishes at another line, and the first person across is the winner. Easy-peasy, and, since the longest race is still only 1500 meters, the whole thing is generally over quickly enough to stay engaging.

SHOULD I WATCH: Sure. It’s fun.


I mean, even the fact that short-track speed skating is as good as this stuff gets doesn’t change the fact that relays are still four times longer than the events themselves would otherwise be, and while the addition of teamwork and passing skills are useful and interesting, they’re still not useful or interesting enough to make watching a relay race engaging.



So if luge is like bobsleigh without the protective shell, skeleton is the same thing only it happens head first. The speeds at which this takes place – head first – are enough to subject the body of the skeleton racer to 5 Gs 17. Anyway, the New York Times just did a thing about it. Go ahead and read that. I suppose I’m open to any arguments about why this is a “sporting event” worth watching for anyone that isn’t someone that explicitly wants to watch someone die, but I’m not convinced.

SHOULD I WATCH: Not unless you’re trying to watch someone die. NB that no one has actually literally died on the skeleton track. Yet.

Ski Jumping

Individual Normal/Large Hill

You ski down a big hill, then you launch off the end of it. Ski-jumping is a distance competition, which are my favorite kind of jumping competitions 18. It must be noted, further, that in non-Olympic ski-jump competitions, “normal” is the size above “medium,” because why should anything ever make sense? Anyway, a taller hill means they go farther.

SHOULD I WATCH: Yes. It’s pretty good.

Team Large Hill

So only the men get to compete in team ski jumping, which combines all the fun of relay races with all the fun of inexplicably not letting women compete. Fun!

SHOULD I WATCH: Probably not, although, to be honest, it’s not all that different from regular ski jumping (the team aspect really only comes into play for the scoring), so if you really want more ski jumping, you probably could.


Parallel Slalom

The slalom in snowboarding is the same as it is in skiing – the two share many of the same courses and disciplines, mainly because the one is basically glued into the Olympics over the other 19 – except in this case the “parallel” means that two people run the course at the same time, next to each other. I guess this doubles the chances of a slalom race being exciting, in the literal sense that two people are doing it at once, but two times zero is still zero.


Parallel Giant Slalom

So it’s parallel slalom, only it’s giant. So there’s more of it. So it takes more time. And there’s less, like, movement. Because it’s just longer, see.



So, despite the fact that the inclusion of snowboarding, and its derived events, is clearly an attempt on the part of the USA to shore up their medal count (although Japan is gunning for them this year), halfpipe is at least an event that lends itself well to the snowboard (and not to skis – see previously). If you’ve gotta watch some snowboarding, this is the one to watch. And hey, why not? It’s dumb that it’s an Olympic sport, given that it has minimal history and/or international presence, but it’s not dumb as a piece of entertainment, so it could be worse. If they figure out how to make a halfpipe relay, for example. That would be worse.


Big Air

Big Air is somewhere in between ski (or, well, snowboard) jumping and slopestyle. The snowboarders launch themselves off a ramp, then do some tricks, then land, then get judged and scored. Once again the flying and the spinning and stuff are fine, but it’s still not a sport, because someone still decides.

SHOULD I WATCH: It’s not actually as fun as slopestyle, so no.


This is the same as it is in skiing – track, obstacles, jumping, judging – and, while I tend to think of it as being better-suited to snowboards, if I think about times when I would actually find a judged event with so many moving parts entertaining, I have to confess that I come up short.

SHOULD I WATCH: Oh fine, sure

Snowboard Cross

So this is known, non-Olympically, as “Boardercross,” and that’s because it’s basically the idea of a motocross track that you go through on a snowboard. It’s a race event, which helps, and it’s also still transparently a USA-booster. It has a lot of visual texture – a lot of ups and downs – and I have absolutely no doubt that it’s a tremendously difficult thing to have to do. But the things that make it difficult 20 aren’t things that it’s super easy to actually, y’know, see when you’re watching it, which makes it hard to get anything out of it other than the superficial “people are whizzing by on snowboards and sometimes they are also in the air” aspects of it.

SHOULD I WATCH: I leave it up to you to decide. If you need more snowboarding than halfpipe gives you, then sure.

Speed Skating


So, long-track speed skating is largely timed (see below), and happens in four distance intervals per sex 21. They run two at a time, the fastest time wins. This officially means that long-track speed skating is the worst kind of speed skating.

SHOULD I WATCH: Probably not. It’s interminable, and in the end the two non-timed long-track speed skating events are more than enough speed skating to keep anybody satisfied.


So the two teams start on opposite straight sides of the track, and they skate around and around 22 and try to overtake (thus the name) the other team. Whether they do or not, the team that finishes the required number of laps first is the winner. Pursuit can be a little bit difficult to figure out if you aren’t paying attention, but it’s still better than regular long-track speed skating.

SHOULD I WATCH: Sure, if you like speed skating enough to need another event.

Mass Start

This is the proverbial “it” – a bunch of skaters start at once, and then race around until one of them wins. This is the first year this is going to be happening in long-track speed skating, which seems insane, and also proves my point that the Olympics hates people almost as much as it hates sports.

SHOULD I WATCH: Yes, this is one of the good ones.

And that does it! See you all in four years, when I’ll probably have many of the same opinions, but possibly could contradict myself wildly!

  1.  although it’s worth noting that this is my first return-trip to this well: it was the 2014 Winter Olympics that occasioned my first trip down this road. 
  2.  braindead, nigh-jingoistic regionalism, naked manipulation in the form of “human interest” stories about how whatever athlete overcame whatever thing 
  3.  events broken up to sell cookies and prescription drugs, pretending that the behavior of obsessive maniacs (all olympic athletes are obsessive maniacs) is normal, the presentation of factoids and trivia as information. 
  4.  or five laps of 3 km each for women 
  5.  two prone and two standing, alternated each time 
  6.  or 3 laps of 2.5 km for women 
  7.  or 5 laps of 2 km for women 
  8.  this time the order of the shooting is standing-standing-prone-prone. Isn’t that interesting? I submit to you that no, no it is not. 
  9.  3 laps of 2 km for women 
  10.  that is down toward the ground, engaging a special “grip” section of the ski designed just for this purpose. 
  11. that is out away from the body, providing resistance by the angle of the blade of the ski 
  12.  it invariably makes me think of show-jumping events, and the people involved as ponies. 
  13.  the man and woman join hands, and then the guy plants his plant foot and spins while the woman is flung out away from him, and held in position centripetally, nearly parallel to the ground. 
  14.  and really enthusiastic weirdos 
  15.   with a maximum of 2 such folks per sled 
  16.  and also in the other dumb-traditionalist-mash-up event, the Biathlon 
  17.  the article here linked notes that when people leave orbit in a space shuttle, they are subject to three Gs, and that is done inside a suit, inside an enclosed vehicle, and not headfirst. 
  18.  I mean, the spinning and flipping is fine and visually interesting, but also judged, and therefore bullshit. The distance stuff adds a nice, objective measure to the art of flinging oneself into the air. 
  19.  Also, while it’s common enough to think of snowboarding as an Olympic johnny come lately, this is its twentieth year of acceptance, which also says something about the stilted, “frozen in time” aspect of the Olympics. 
  20.  things like “managing air time” and “making it over moguls” and “not falling over all the damn time” 
  21.  the women’s longest race is 3K, the men’s 5K 
  22.  eight laps for men, six laps for women 

Making a Living Selling Buggy Whips, Part 7: On Turning Rights

I’ll try to keep this one brief.

The whole thing seems to begin – or rather, the first sign that something was going on – with YouTube beginning to sign contracts, directly with artists. The deals stipulate that YouTube would foot some portion of the bill 1 for music videos, in exchange for which there are (obviously) some business terms, and, in the most eye-catching bit of business, a “non-disparagement” clause. That seems like a crazy thing for a video-streaming service to have a music performer sign, until one pans out a little bit to consider a couple of things.

Shortly after the stories about YouTube’s non-disparagement clauses emerged, some similar stories came out about an unlikely force stepping in to shape the way that streaming services 2 move forward, in the form of the U.S. Government. The most germaine of these is the one that’s the hardest to do much about – The U.S. Copyright Board has agreed to hike its rates 40%, eventually increasing (at increments of 1% per year) a final royalty rate of 15.1 cents on every dollar 3. This is a huge increase, obviously, and creates problems for existing streaming models, but especially for Spotify, which has yet to become profitable, and which is preparing a public offering in which the path to profitability will have to be a part of the plan. It also presents a foreboding picture of the world of streaming services to come shortly.

As it happens, YouTube is planning to release its own music-streaming service sometime this year, and that’s the environment they are preparing to enter into – the one where the royalty rate for songwriters/copyright holders shoots straight up. Another thing that is affecting the way that the streaming giant is going to have to confront the world is a widely-publicized petition, signed by some several dozen artists, to have the DMCA revamped in order to (at least in theory) make it more difficult for user-generated spaces like YouTube to be let off the hook for hosting infringing content.


Under the current enforcement of the DMCA, the organization hosting is not responsible for the infringement provided they respond affirmatively to a “takedown” notice. That is, if I go throw a bunch of copyrighted material up there, and the holders of the copyright to that material write a letter to YouTube saying that I did so, they can remove it and the legal obligation is over. The petition 4 would have YouTube held responsible for this sort of infringement to a greater degree, which would, in theory, spur them to create new and novel ways to prevent people from infringing on the copyright in the first place. 5

Whatever happens with this petition, however, it now will exist in the world with the Music Modernization Act, a bill that would provide for a specific governmental body assigned to keeping track of rightsholders, and the creation of a publicly-available database of the person who holds the copyright to any given song, and would be responsible for issuing blanket mechanical royalties for all streaming services, with the end goal being that all songwriters/rightsholders would be compensated more regularly/generously for their work. Obviously if the case is going to be made that the disbursement of payments for the rights to these songs must be handled by this body, that also gives the petitioners a handy place to address their concerns about the enforcement of infringement upon the same rightsholders.

So what does this have to do with the non-disparagement agreements that YouTube is having people sign? Well, it could be related to a couple of things. It’s unknown, and probably immaterial in any meaningful sense, how much the constant bad PR and the above-mentioned petition had to do with the formation of a new rights group, but it can’t have helped. So in the short term, this could be an attempt to get the poeple that YouTube invests in financially – by supporting their production of a video, say – to keep from complaining about how the money that may or may not come in from that same video is meted out (or not, as it were).

This is, even just on its face, its own problem – nobody makes somebody sign a non-disparagement agreement if they plan on dealing fairly with them. This is pretty obviously, whatever the reason, a way to mitigate the risk factors that come from a new business relationship.

Even in the most non-conspiratorial reading, however, it is still clear that this does represent a new kind of direct relationship for YouTube, one where they are yet another business interacting directly with the performer, rather than mitigated through the label. It’s hard not to imagine, given the secrecy that already clouds such contractual objects generally, that there are some business terms in there that would, perhaps, be worth disparagement eventually. If they aren’t yet, then there’s every opportunity that they might be. After all, what we have here is merely the old record-selling industry model asserting itself again, where a company whose business is not, in fact, in music at all 6

In this case, by developing a relationship with the artists directly, and taking on part of the promotional budget 7, they are also (probably) placing themselves in better bargaining position when the time comes to renegotiate either these terms, or similar terms with labels down the line – if you’re going to muck around in the music industry, it probably helps to have some of the only artists still moving units around as a bargaining chip, and if you can legally prevent them from talking negatively about that relationship, well, more the better.

Obviously nobody not involved with one of the YouTube derals knows exactly what’s in it, and obviously this whole thing has some more shaking-out to do before it’s all said and done, but I’m pretty comfortable betting that the answer has more to do with Google coming out ahead here than any sort of objective idea of “fairness.”

  1.  or perhaps even the whole thing, it’s hard to say, given that there’s not really any information out there about this.  
  2.  see previous installments in the “Making a Living Selling Buggy Whips” series for more on this and its portent. 
  3.  the revenue model was the streaming industry’s preference, with the advocates for the songwriters and labels advocating a more direct per-stream outlay. 
  4.  whose signees include Paul McCartney, Jack White, and Taylor Swfit, thus bringing together “people who will sign any goddamned thing”, “people who are super-weird about how their music is presented,” and “people who are seemingly bottomless wells of greed when it comes to their product”, respectively. 
  5.  needless to say, predictions about how well this could possibly work, and by what mechanism this could be accomplished or enforced, are not quite the purview of this piece, or of my prognositgatory ability, although I’ll probably have some stuff to say about it if it actually happens. 
  6.  even YouTube, remember, is not actually in the business of content, but of selling ads for that content, which is Alphabet’s content-driven business model generally – obviously they also have physical businesses, including their web architecture/infrastructure businesses that don’t run on ad revenue 
  7.  from which music video budgets traditionally have come 

Best Records of January 2018

Scallops Hotel – Sovereign Nose of (Y)our Arrogant Face (If it’s not the most direct Milo record in general to date, then it’s definitely the most direct Scallops Hotel record yet, and it’s remarkable effective)

Glen Hansard – Between Two Shores (Glen Hansard pours his post-breakup heart out in a record that he presumably wrote most of while rowing a damn boat. The title is literal, folks.)

JPEGMAFIA – Veteran (A deeply satisfying wallop of noise rap. If it must be said that it isn’t quite better than Black Ben Carson, well, it’s up there, and very few things are as good as Black Ben Carson)

No Age – Snares Like a Haircut (No Age continues to be as interesting as they are satisfying, truly one of Earth’s premier garage rock bands.)

Cadence Weapon – Cadence Weapon (Montreal’s greatest rapper finally drops his follow-up, and it’s about as good as I could’ve hoped for)