The 2014 GOOP Gift Guide, Part 1

So, it’s Black Friday! Many of you are still out there braving the throngs, enjoying your part in the nation’s most participatory sport – luckily, this isn’t for you. People that go out physically shopping on Black Friday are, essentially, taking part in this country’s running of the bulls – it’s not about deals (which are sometimes ok), it’s not about getting shopping done, it’s about being part of the event, having the experience, living to tell about it.

But for some of you, there is actual shopping to be done. And there to help is just about any even vaguely-lifestyle-oriented publication, offering their own picks for what dumb shit the people you “love” need to fill their houses with, at least until they fulfill their dream of finally landing you that coveted spot on an episode of Hoarders1. Some of them are even useful, in an “I didn’t know that product existed” sort of way.

And then there’s the high-end lifestyle branding publication Goop, often a source of unmitigated silliness on the part of an actress who, despite her charming unwillingness to realize that she’s a ridiculous prat, continues in the face of seemingly-impossible odds to be a paragon of unselfaware craziness.

Many a publication will point and laugh at this selection of batshit consumer items, but since we here at ONAT are a higher class of individual, let’s delve into why someone in your life would need one of these things, shall we?

We shall.

Let’s begin.

So first up we havethis zipper pouch. It’s hard to tell how big it is – the GOOP website doesn’t offer any kind of scale, and the Smythson website doesn’t include product dimensions – but theoretically it’s the size of some of the larger world bills, right? It’s made of leather, and the one pictured also has the added benefit of being totally hideous.

SO WHO NEEDS IT: More like who doesn’t need it, right? It’s butt ugly, so obviously no thieves will be attracted to its stunning good looks enough to even figure out that it’s a “currency case” in the first place, and not some weird pencil bag. Not to mention it’s sold at Barney’s, and they make sure to chase icky poors and minorities who would be after your currency out as a matter of course. It’s win-win! Plus, at the low low price of $285, after two to three foiled muggings2 it pays for itself!

Everything any man needs for a hotel room stay! Now, obviously that’s some advertising hyperbole. It doesn’t take into account, for example, the fact that you might be HIV positive, and thus need a bunch of annoying pills, or that you might be in a wheelchair and therefore need a quantity of civet blood to keep your chair’s wheels lubricated. But of course we can make these allowances, because for $100 you get everything a man needs to stay in a hotel room, packed into those three little boxes! Combs, razors, soaps3, an ipod with Douglas Adams reading The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy for help falling asleep, a robe, comfortable jammies – in flannel for warmth and also in silk for the ladies – slippers, a snifter, a small quantity of armagnac, cologne, a pillow4, an eye mask, ear plugs, nose plugs, assorted plugs for other assorted purposes, a domino mask, a fancy hat, some spirit gum, epoxy, a quantity of liquid latex, an alarm clock, a voice disguiser, several feet of rope, a collapsible shovel, two chamois cloths, a roll of paper towels, several sturdy trash bags, a travel yoga mat, a box cutter (make sure to check these before you fly or your kit will be incomplete, and that would be a disaster no man could want!), a rubber clown nose, a spare toothbrush and travel toothpaste, and several provocative pictures of Emmy Rossum. All this for the bargain price of $100!

SO WHO NEEDS IT: Once again, everyone! I’ve stayed in a lot of hotels in my time, and, like everyone, have met up with the heartache of having to “wash” with regular “soap” or wear my customary breakfast disguise fashioned of regular household items instead of the high-quality ones I am used to. In fact, ladies, if you want to buy a couple of these for yourself, I sure wouldn’t tell!

What the picture doesn’t show is, obviously, that this completely thief-proof utterly hideous shade of blue is actually dyed vegan leather! That means the bag itself consumes no animal products. This is actually a must-own item, as anyone who has ever had their hand, small dog, or pocket rodent eaten by a carnivorous bag can attest. In addition to not placing any animal matter placed near it in danger, it also doubles as “a clutch (in a clutch),” meaning that if you pick up eggs on the way to your fancy society soiree, you can keep them in there with the surety that when you get home, your clutch will contain as many eggs as it did when you put them in there! With its unstealable ugliness and its utter safety to all of your bag cheeses, this bag is not just a gift, it’s a necessity.

SO WHO NEEDS IT: Once again, this is for everyone that needs to carry a laptop or a clutch full of interesting live bugs!

It’s notebooks? That look like passports? I suppose if you’re extra paranoid about someone stealing your real passport, and you feel they’re easily-fooled, it might come in handy as a decoy, but as it is this is, basically, the only misstep in the GOOP gift guide

SO WHO NEEDS IT: Maybe the work gift exchange? If you know any cavemen who still use notebooks, I suppose they might appreciate one that looks like something else.

At first you might think this is nothing more than an ordinary flask with some national park logos printed on it, but pay attention to the fine print: this flask not only can be filled with espresso5, but can be used to bottle the very concept of nostalgia itself. I’m sure if you were willing to color outside the lines, you could bottle all sorts of abstract concepts in here, from “love” to “warmth” to “identity”.

SO WHO NEEDS IT: Think of how convenient this would be for the emotion collector in your life, who has all of those complicated concept-harvesting machines but no easy way to bottle something like that up on the go and drink it with his espresso!

It’s impossible to overstate the importance of a mat, but there’s a wrinkle: while it’s still true that only the “passport” notebooks are a misstep, it does seem worth it to point out that, since you are a civilized and decent person, you have need of a travel mat in your hotel room, and, obviously, that means that if you spend the negligible extra sixty dollars for the entire travel kit for men, you’ll get one then. It would seem, then, that this item by itself is a bit like a nail puller – it’s the less directly-useful part of something you can also purchase from the same outlet.

SO WHO NEEDS IT: This is spared from uselessness because sometimes it can be useful to send your decoy out to another hotel to throw off your pursuers, and if they break in to see the mat down on the floor, they will assume that they still have the right place, and will stake out your decoy room and leave you in peace. For that reason, it can give added peace of mind to the paranoid or the heavily pursued.

At first blush, this would appear to be nothing more than a conventional watch, like many other watches you could buy on any market. It is attractive, certainly, with its steel face, but it has several negative features: first off, the knobs stick out too far, which mean that you’ll be knocking them against things and unsetting the watch all the time. Secondly, being polished steel, you’ll have to pay your manservant overtime to keep it looking nice. And thirdly, it’s made of regular fully-carnivours nappa leather, As such, it is not the simple, less-useful piece it appears to be…

SO WHO NEEDS IT: Obviously it is unseemly to let the holiday gift-giving season pass without presenting to your rival some token of your respect. This watch is perfect for such occasions, its endless parade of annoyances presenting a low-level drain on his time and attention, and the incessant gnawing on his wrist of the leather band presenting a constant source of pain and distraction. GOOP really has thought of everything!

At first, I thought the inclusion of another part of a travel kit was another mistake, but GOOP is ahead of me again, but this is an important piece, because it’s non-toxic. It’s been such a regular part of my routine that I forget that all face creams and lotions are not fortified with small quantities of toxins to help us build up a resistance! Obviously a standard travel-kit cannot be expected to meet every demand, so GOOP swooped in to fill that void!

SO WHO NEEDS IT: Someone with too delicate a constitution to pursue toxin immunity through their skincare regimen. Grandma has lived through enough, don’t you think she deserves to be able to take a break from the grind of always inuring herself to dangerous substances?

You know, one of the things we forget in this helter-skelter, topsy-turvy world of ours is that sometimes it’s nice to simply have the gift of permission. This bag, which would ordinarily be so bland as to invite disappointment, comes tacit with the permission to monogram it! Feel the thrill of slumming as you decorate your own items, as though you were a poor person with a jar of puffy paint or a paint pen! As gauche as it sounds, it can honestly be quite thrilling

SO WHO NEEDS IT: In addition to the wanton free spirit in your life, this is also handy for those folks who simply cannot remember their initials. In times of great durress, this bag can also be ordered and the monogram space used to send a secret message to someone important, provided that message is only three letters long.

Don’t be selfish! Make sure to provide any sexual partners, war criminals, refugees or fellow Real People with a sleep mask of their own while their share your space!

SO WHO NEEDS IT: Anyone who habitually shares their sleeping space with strangers.

The real human condition, truly, is the ceaseless fight against boredom. When all of your other options have run out, there is always backgammon, the sport of kings. And while, much like with decorated bags, it is sometimes fun to “slum it” and consume the backgammon of the plebian, it will never not be necessary to be able to furnish, on demand, a proper, duly appointed backgammon set for a quick game, preferably over a flask of espresso. This one rolls up smartly, and, due to its solid, tubular nature, can double as a short cudgel in case your backgammon-assisted diplomatic proceedings are interrupted by invasion.

SO WHO NEEDS IT: A proper backgammon set is simply essential to a well-lived life, but not everyone needs a travel set, as playing backgammon outside of your home territory is essentially borrowing trouble. Still and all, they can be quite useful for people who conduct a lot of closed-door meetings, or who have particularly boistrous dogs, which have, of course, been known to disrupt the stationary backgammon games of many a gentleman.

Who among us has not found ourselves seated at a table, ready to indulge in our favorite food6 only to remember that we have no means of protecting ourselves against common plates? Even the highest-end of food-dispersal establishments, in a woeful and inevitable attempt to cut costs, have begun to wash their tableware with common “soap” such that you’d find in a retail establishment. Luckily for most of us, we’ve been building up our immunity to toxins, and so are unable to be affected by the deleterious effects of such cleaning sludge, but such is not the case for all!

SO WHO NEEDS IT: Just as there must be lotions and preparations for those who are no longer able to build up their toxic immunity, so must provisions be made for those who have yet to begin their regimen, and that includes, annoyingly enough, travelling with their own plates.

A largish bag of the softest, hungriest carnivorous leather we can find! It is a noteworth truth in this economy that the more easily-weaponized the gift, the higher the price, but this bag has a dual function – it can be presented to your nemeses as a gift guaranteed to destroy any belongings they apply to it7, but think of its utility as an evidence-disposal mechanism! Just wrap the object(s) to be disposed of in meat (or, if you’re particularly old-school, bake them into a custard) and you’re off to the races!

SO WHO NEEDS IT: Anyone with a need for portable evidence destruction, or anyone who has a business rival with a large amount of loose objects that are made of, or encased in, meat.

Another weaponized gift, this would make it easy to destroy your rivals’ passports, obviously.

SO WHO NEEDS IT: Therein lies the problem. If your rival is such a minor presence as to still need to use their passport for international travel, they probably are not worth the giving of a gift anyway. That said, if you take the time to train the leather to wait, it might be a good way to strand a potential rival in a far-flung country.

For those of us with the ultimate luxury – the ability to travel amongst the common folk without the need for constant preparedness and vigilance, there is this whimsical bag. Designed to be invisible in the out of doors, it’s sure to make anyone who sees it roar with laughter. Imagine any of us outdoors!

SO WHO NEEDS IT: Your favorite traveling cut-up, clown, jackanape or jester.

How are you supposed to keep all DNA evidence of your stay safe, as well as keeping your material away from the cloning-pirates? With this stylish and hilarious bag, of course! Just collect all discarded DNA-bearing material within, and dispose of it properly when you’re able.

SO WHO NEEDS IT: People who shave, and appreciate hilarity.

Tired of having to adapt as you travel? Let these four-in-one adaptors do it for you! Each can do all of the necessary adaptation for four commonly-needed areas, leaving you free to concentrate on your normal business, without having to fuss with things like “time zones”, “meal customs” or “languages.” Truly, these are a life-saver.

SO WHO NEEDS IT: These are absolutely perfect stocking-stuffers, and since no one ever has as many as they need, you can feel free to fill that sock all the way to the top with them!

Sometimes the simplest gifts are best. This is a hideous set of Lovecraftian embeded zipper pouches to keep your jewels safe and unstealable, priced to make sure that you can easily acquire as many as you need.

SO WHO NEEDS IT: Anyone who traditionally travels with jewelry, but is pragmatic enough to not mind such a utilitarian Christmas present.

This is certainly a bag, for putting things in. It’s not made of anything that will eat anything else, and it’s far too attractive to use for anything important, but who among us doesn’t have a few uses for a bag for putting things in?

SO WHO NEEDS IT: Anyone who has things that are not in a bag, who would like to have a bag in which to put those things.

Finally we move out of the travel items and into the items that are handy for around the home. One of the hardest groups to provide for these days is the help. With this smart and remarkably soaplike collection of sanitization products, that’s one group of people you can check off your list en masse!

SO WHO NEEDS IT: The kitchen staff, probably, although anyone member of the household staff would benefit from its use.

Allow your meals to be consumed off the mighty dahlia – symbol of inner strength and tranquility, and reminder of your eventual mastery of bodily poisons because of your constant ingestion of them.

SO WHO NEEDS IT: It’s perfect for the short-term thinkers among you, or anyone else who needs a passive-aggressive nudge in the right direction. Just remind them how innerly strong they aren’t, and you’ll have them buying their own dahlia plates for people they feel need the help come next holiday season!

Sometimes even the best-off of us feel the urge to occasionally prepare our own meals. Luckily, GOOP is here to provide you with the cooking vessels necessary to prepare the only meals worth cooking by one’s self: cocottes for cassoulet, and frying pans for steaks. Other providers try to sell you pots for dishes you would never be so gauche as to cook at home, but GOOP’s mark of quality ensures that you never need make space for such base things in your own kitchen.

SO WHO NEEDS IT: It’s perfect for young people just striking out on their own, as well as for the recently-uncoupled!

Alas, in these troubled times, it is necessary even in our own homes to be prepared to thwart ne’er do wells and tragedy at many turns. Luckily, they will be easy enough to thwart with this seemingly innocuous tin clearly labelled “bread.” They’ll never suspect it’s anything different!

SO WHO NEEDS IT: Those of us whose sanctuaries are, sadly, on inhabited land, as well as people that don’t eat any actual bread, as that would grow needlessly confusing (plus could end up with you eating any number of priceless valuables!)

We do everything we can for house staff, certainly. But we all know that one whose staff needs a little extra management, or perhaps who just enjoys the simple pleasures of making someone perform tedious, brain-numbing labor on their account. Enter this manual spice grinder, two pieces of sliding, heavy stone, and enjoy keeping it around either as a threat piece, or as the means to force the less-effective to literally grind their time away.

SO WHO NEEDS IT: Anyone who needs to be able to provide a little functional kitchen discipline, or who can only fall asleep to the sounds of grinding stone.

Doctors8 recommend that you drink a full carafe of alfredo every day, and this stylish and attractive vessel makes that much easier by being so attractive that you just can’t keep your hands off it!

SO WHO NEEDS IT: Anyone who has trouble meeting their daily recommended dose of alfredo, as well as anyone who finds themselves regularly running out of places to keep all of their excess alfredo.

Some may object to having such a nonfunctional, whimsical item in their home, but no Clue re-enactment can be complete without a proper brass candlestick!

SO WHO NEEDS IT: Your favorite Clue re-enactor, or even someone who is interested in the live-action real-time version of the game itself.

When Thaddeus F. Blightwater caught and juiced his first angel, the result of his messy consumption was the realization that there had to be a better way. For generations, angel juicing was left to messy, inefficient pulp-extraction methods. So invented the dedicated angel juicer. Now, all these years later, a home-model arrives, and for such a low price, how can you not consider who in your life would benefit the most from ready access to freshly-juiced angels?

SO WHO NEEDS IT: Obviously, angel juice isn’t for everyone, but surely we all know someone who takes that DIY impulse to its extreme, and for them, the juice of an angel that they can press themselves (rather than the angel juice they would ordinarily be getting from an expeller) is a gift beyond value.

For those times when you can’t get to your espresso, this countertop-dominating monster is designed to be like the coffee it makes: strong, intense, downright aggressive in its taking up of space and time for itself. Clearly state to anyone in your kitchen “look upon where coffee is made and tremble.”

SO WHO NEEDS IT: People who need a little more help being intimidating, people who drink coffee instead of espresso (they do exist!)

A lot of you have asked me “how do I weaponize the kitchen gifts”? Well, that’s a little tricky, especially after roboknives were banned after the Stovington Incident. The now-trendy idea of Total Rivalry is attractive to a certain type of person, and clearly GOOP is sympathetic to your needs, as they have included this attractive and hard-to-ignore set of cookery books. Waste each nemesis’ time with these books full of tedious instructions and mind-numbing photographs.

SO WHO NEEDS IT: If you’re a “Total Rivalry” practitioner, the answer is obvious. Otherwise, give it to the TRer in your life, and watch their eyes light up with anticipatory evil genius.

I must confess to being baffled by this tchotchke. I believe the only place sea salt belongs is in the sea, and I can see no reason why anyone would want to keep smallish bags of it around. Nevertheless, if you find yourself in need of something to fill space or perhaps provide ballast, a smallish bag of salt will fill that need nicely

SO WHO NEEDS IT: Someone whose gift doesn’t weigh enough, or perhaps someone who is experimenting with making their own sea.

While it would be folly to make your own daily alfredo, it certainly never hurts to have in your possession the tools to hire somebody else to do so. And a milk pan is unquestionably the most necessary of those tools.

SO WHO NEEDS IT: People with a rotating or unreliable housing staff, the recently-on-one’s-own, the recently uncoupled, highly trained lesser primates.

Providing much the same function as the previous collection of cookbooks, but in a more compact, lighter, easier-to-maneuver package.

SO WHO NEEDS IT: Anyone for whom the full suite of cookbooks would be too space- or weight-intensive.

Long have our compatriots debated the best way to poison the food of their enemies, but many of them agree that the most elegant way is to sprinkle broken glass in their food. How, then, to get the broken glass into the food? The easiest way is with these ingenius and inconspicuous bottle grinder – simply place a bottle into the space and grind bits of it onto the food. No one will ever be the wiser, and with their innocuous shape, no one will ever know how you did it!

SO WHO NEEDS IT: The elegant murderer (or murderess) on your christmas list.

Occasionally it happens: it’s your turn to perform Doma duty, and you go from place to place and simply no one has the tools to serve you. The proactive, and polite, solution is to simply begin carrying your own Doma server set. This one is stylish and elegant, while not being so ostentatious that you’ll be putting anyone on their defense with its presentation.

SO WHO NEEDS IT: Anyone who’s Doma rotation includes a more-forgetful district would benefit, but they also make a nice backup server set for when you find yourself caught flat-footed.

Another highly functional gift idea, the practice of glass creaming is only recently entering the phase of its develpment where it can be done at home, without lots of specialized equipment. Help your close friends reach the cutting edge and cream their own glass in the comfort of their own home with this highly affordable beauty!

SO WHO NEEDS IT: The home glass-creamer in your life, or anyone who just likes the conversation that comes of prominently displaying such a curiosity in their home.

Everyone knows that the best service upon which to present your selection of fine cheeses9  is cold marble, so that the cheese doesn’t change its state. This makes it easy to spare everyone the indignity of placing the marble slab directly on the table!

SO WHO NEEDS IT: The person in your life who most likes to entertain with cheese, or people with insufficient finger strength to pry a slab of cold marble from directly off a tabletop.

Ah, the gift of anticipation! Some would call it the sweetest gift of all! What will this book-like object metamorphose into when it is no longer in progress, but a finished item? No one can tell! Make sure to feed it regular spatterings of olive oil and you and your giftee can find out together!

SO WHO NEEDS IT: Someone who likes surprises, and has both a lot of patience and a lot of olive oil.

While it may seem vulgar to the point of obscenity to offer something so indecent as a mushroom knife in this otherwise-tasteful gift guide, I must appeal to your sense of the modern and ask: who hasn’t occasionally had the need for such rambunctious revelry in their annual parade of gifts?

SO WHO NEEDS IT: Oh, you know just who needs it

My confusion at the presence of this item on the gift guide left me reeling, so I got in touch with my contact at GOOP central, and have been informed that, while I am not privy to the details, this is part of an elaborate coded message, and is merely there for its shape and its color on the page, and is not actually part of the gift guide itself.

SO WHO NEEDS IT: Well, obviously the intended recipient of the coded message.

Ever notice how you never seem to have enough teapots? You buy them, you receive them as gifts, and you simply never know where they are. Give someone the gift of an easily-locatable transparent teapot! It’s as fragile as it is see-through!

SO WHO NEEDS IT: Simply everyone needs a spare teapot.

Gone are the days of dealing with those gallumphing, heat-retentive carafes! Enjoy these highly fragile, extremely conductive carafes in your home today!

SO WHO NEEDS IT: Well, obviously anyone whose wrists are worn out from trying to wield heavy, thick carafes

While consuming the flesh of the very famous is a useful and worthwhile way to gain the power of their essence, sometimes you have more respect for the star you’re consuming than to serve them on a regular old platter like one you already have.

SO WHO NEEDS IT: It’s durable enough for regular daily use, so any of the cannibalistic risers in your life could probably find a use for it.

Perfect for warding off evil spirits, banishing demons and squeezing over fish!

SO WHO NEEDS IT: Anyone whose kitchen could use a splash of color, who is enthusiastic about citrus, or who just can’t seem to get rid of that evil spirit infestation.

The real problem with candy is its ability to be accessed. Make a constructive statement about locking away your problems, or just taunt your guests with the inaccessible but tantalizing promise of delicious, delicious candy10

SO WHO NEEDS IT: In addition to the obvious recipients, it could also be quite useful to send a subtle message to someone who maybe should keep their candy less available.

Sometimes the best gift is humility. Remind yourself of everyone’s beginnings, of the tedious vicissitudes of life with these towels. They can also, with a little work, be repurposed to send secret messages.

SO WHO NEEDS IT: Anyone insufficiently humble, or whose message are insufficiently secret.

Sure there’s already a marble serving tray on the list, but what if you do have the hand strength to pick up a marble slab from directly on the table? Impress your guests by your ability to serve cheese properly, then intimidate them by being able to lift it up with nothing but your own brute force.

SO WHO NEEDS IT: The particularly strong person on your christmas list who also likes cheese.

Obviously anyone with even a bit of formality knows to only drink from carafes and flasks, but what about those times when you feel like letting your hair down, and being as louche as possible? These are glasses! Just like normal people drink! Fill them wtih espresso, milk, or even angel juice (if you’re feeling particularly brazen)!

SO WHO NEEDS IT: The rules-flaunting brawler in your family

It is, of course, always important to be able to mobilize your bar. Everyone knows that a good bar cart is worth its weight in gold. But how many of those bar carts have a name? With Arthur Umanoff, you get a bar cart with a birth certificate, a citizenship card, and documents to allow it to work legally in the USA! Arthur is also polite and respectful (so no more problems with surly, rebellious bar carts), and deferential to all of your orders.

SO WHO NEEDS IT: Someone who prefers that all of his household labor come from immigrants, or anyone that wants their bar cart to just be a touch more special than the average.

An upgrade on the cooler, certainly, but also the most stylish way to provide your cat with their necessary daily champagne bath!

SO WHO NEEDS IT: Any dedicated cat owner.

1 note to self: find out if Hoarders is still on the air.
2 that’s provided, of course, that you only carry around a couple of hundred dollars in walking-around money at a time. If you carry real amounts around with you, obviously it won’t even take that many!
3 real soap, not the “soap” they sell on the regular market.
4 a real pillow, not a “pillow” they sell on the regular market
5 and how often have you been out on a picnic and not wanted an entire flask of espresso? Honestly, after a five-mile hike around a national park, how can you not want to guzzle espresso like it was Chateau Latour?
6 real food, not the “food” they sell on the regular market
7 provided, of course, that they are unable to recognize the properties of carnivorous leather
8 real doctors, not the “doctors” they sell on the regular market
9 real cheeses, not the “cheeses” they sell on the regular market
10 provided you can figure out how to get it open to get the candy in in the first place.


2014’s Reasons to be Thankful

Thanksgiving, we’re told every year, is more than just a nationwide competitive-eating competition. It’s also a time to catalogue all of the reasons that you don’t jump off a bridge! While the thought of sharing my personal life with you jackals has all the appeal of sharing my actual, physical flesh with actual, physical jackals, I’m more than happy to name a bunch of stuff that has made me happy in 2014. It’s not about the big stuff (although there’s been plenty of that this year) – that stuff is impossible to be truly thankful or unthankful for because it’s fundamental. It’s about the little stuff. The stuff that cures the doldrums or chases off that headache or creates a pocket of headspace so that you can be happy, or experience the joy of seeing something differently.

Guardians of the Galaxy
I mean, more the idea of Guardians of the Galaxy than its actual existence. It’s a great movie that I’m happy is a part of my life, and it’s still entirely possible that the wrong lessons could be taken away from it, but the apparent lesson (let people with talent bring their own vision to the property) is so heady and potentially-powerful that I can’t help but think of it as a force for goodness in the world.

A Preponderance of Low-Key Diversity-Forward Television
It’s nice to be able to watch a show and not see some clumsy shoehorned-in “acceptance” message or something completely whitewashed. Brooklyn Nine-Nine, the recently departed Selfie and the wonderful Blackish have all filled casts out with a panoply of ethnosocial backgrounds, and then just…let that happen. If that sort of thinking has hit the tv executives, it must be a pretty prevalent idea.

Whatever it is that Emmy Rossum is doing publicity for, which is putting her on my television all the time2
For reasons

A resurgence in good, non-annoying sketch comedy shows
There was a period about six or seven years ago where I thought all sketch comedy was basically going to be half-naked terrible people shouting would-be catchphrases forever1. And yet, here we sit, bare few years later, in a rich, luxurious marinade of Key and Peele, the Birthday Boys, Comedy Bang! Bang! (see below), Broad City, and a bunch of other ones. The idea that there are too many good ones to watch is the idea that there is simply too much wealth in the world

The continuing good health of Podcasting
I’ve never been much of a one for television, but podcasts have been a part of my life for several years, and I spend much more time with them. The ones that are merely good are an interesting way to hear someone talk at length, or to really get to try to do weird funny things, or whatever. At their best3, they’re creating an entirely new thing. Free of the restrictions of time and network meddling, a lot of the most interesting (and funniest) work is being done by speaking into microphones, and it’s a really special thing to get to be a part of.

1 the spearhead of this thing was The Whitest Kids U Know, but it seemed like there were just a ton of them in the post-Human Giant void.
2 which, I suppose, means that while the whole thing is simply 10/10 as an Emmy Rossum Delivery System, it is a unilateral failure as a promotional opportunity for the Thing Being Promoted
3 The 5 best podcasts currently going: 1) Comedy Bang! Bang! 2) Doug Loves Movies 3) Who Charted 4) The Flophouse/How Did This Get Made (tie – because I’m not choosing between them and you can’t make me)  5) Never Not Funny, although if the nascent I Was There Too stays as good as its first two episodes, it’ll have Jimmy out in the cold.

The 2014 American Music Awards

Ah, the holiday season. Christmas Trees start to be available for sale, people start complaining about how early holiday decorations come out1, and Disney uses their platform of an entire awards show to convince you that you need to go buy a bunch of records! Ah, tradition.

The American Music Awards are, of course, the slightest and most transparently-owned of all the awards shows, and as a result, can be quite a slog to get through. Luckily I’m here for you, my little ducks, and we’ll get through them together.

Soundtrack of the Year
Alright, I have to start by getting something off my chest. As you regulars know, I love Guardians of the Galaxy. I have nothing but good things to say about it. I like its soundtrack in context, and I think its existence is a legitimately good piece of symbollic storytelling. But those songs suck2. They are funny when they happen in the movie, but if your idea of something that deserves an award is anything that has ever included “Ooh, Child,” then you are a terrible person that does not deserve to be awarding anything. Frozen’s soundtrack is fine, and really, it’s a musical, so why wouldn’t it be, but I’m inclined to give this one to The Awful Shit in Our Terrible Brains, because the soundtrack is literally the least-objectionable part of that, and that should count for something.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: The Fault In Our Stars

Single of the Year
Man, I really feel like “Dark Horse” has been happening for such a very long time. But since the only other songs that are at all interesting are “Rude,” which is interesting almost entirely because it’s the worst song I’ve heard in years and “Happy,” it suddenly gets bumped up in contention.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Pharrell Williams, “Happy.” I mean, “Dark Horse” was considered, but it’s still awful.

Favorite EDM Artist
Good grief. True story: last year this went to Avicii, because I was apparently feeling charitable! I have no explanation for that!

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: The presentation of an award will be instead spent revoking Avicii’s from last year3

Favorite Contemporary Inspirational Artist
Would you believe I still don’t know anything about this category?

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: In a rare and deserved back-to-back repeat win, it’s Mrs. Coach’s hair, the most inspiring artist I can think of.

Favorite Latin Artist
So here’s a look into my brain: when I wrote that category the first thing I thought was “oh, the funny thing here would be to say ‘Dante’ because lol Latin.” The second thing was “that’s the dumbest idea you’ve ever had, because Dante wrote in vernacular Italian, that was, like, his whole thing, you moron.” And then the third thought I had was “wait, I actually think that is the dumbest thing I’ve ever thought? I think my dumb-shit calibration is off.” It’s hard to be me, is what I’m saying here.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: What about Joe Dante? Does he want an AMA for Latin Artist? I bet he could find something to do with it.

Favorite Adult Contemporary Artist
If you would’ve told me that this list was made five years ago, I would believe you except for the part where we’re meant to be considering Katy Perry “Adult Contemporary”. That seems weird and inappropriate.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Sara Bareilles, for being the least-objectionable.

Favorite Alternative Artist
Bastille and Imagine Dragons are, hands-down, two of the worst assemblages of people creating music product here in the present day. As a result, this category fills me with existential hatred, except for Lorde.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Lorde.

Favorite Soul/R&B Album
My, what an affable category! Maybe Pharell and John Legend can have an affable-off while the award is presented to Beyonce.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Beyonce, Beyonce

Favorite Female Soul/R&B Artist
Hey look! An actual tough choice! It would almost be a three-way tough choice, but Mary J. Blige always makes this sort of thing a lot easier by not really ever using her considerable talent to record good material. I’m tempted to just hand it to Beyonce because she’s Beyonce and then walk away, but honestly, I think Jhene Aiko has had a better run in the last year.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Jhene Aiko

Favorite Male Soul/R&B Artist
It’s not that I don’t like John Legend. There’s always going to be an easygoing generally warm-fuzzy dude making competent, well-performed pop music that makes people happy. As far as those guys go, he’s a lot less objectionable than most. It just doesn’t have any traction. On the other hand, every single time Pharrell does something it seems to move him further away from the part of his life where he was a bona-fide certifiable genius, and that’s kind of depressing. So inoffensiveness or successfully-applied dumbing-down? That’s a choice no one should have to make.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: What if I just, like, got a drink with John Legend and we listened to “Caught Out There”? Would that be a good compromise? I think it would.

Favorite Rap/Hip-Hop Album
So last year this category caused my brain to try to chew on the end of my optic nerve so I wouldn’t have to see it anymore, and I’m happy to report that my complaints have been heard, and it’s much better this year. Yay. I mean, it’s still composed of three completely terrible albums, but at least they’re albums people like, rather than chosen seemingly at random. That’s progress of a kind.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Drake, Nothing Was the Same.

Favorite Rap/Hip-Hop Artist
So Eminem, Iggy Azalea and Drake are the nominees in both of the hip-hop categories. You see what I have to work with, here. So by process of elimination: Eminem and Drake have both made legitimate top-shelf records in the past, and Iggy Azalea’s music is a war crime. So she’s out. Eminem’s most recent record was better than Drake’s most recent record, but his good record before that was over a decade ago. Drake’s most recent record was a snooze fest, but the record before that was very good.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Whichever producer of this awards show can convince the others that this category should be abolished.

Favorite Country Album
Can we use this space to talk about what a weird object this Garth Brooks uh…album is? It’s six discs – four of them are of cover songs, and two of them are a reissue of his formidable greatest hits record.  It’s sold only in physical form at Wal-Mart, and the track selection is simultaneously baffling and completely unsurprising4. It’s either a brilliant example of Taylor Swift’s theorem that people will buy your shit however it is available if they love you, or a sign of absolute lunacy on the part of…someone. Anyway. It’s impressive one way or the other, I suppose. And it beats the shit out of whatever Brantley Gilbert or Eric Church is doing.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Garth Brooks, Blame it All on My Roots

Favorite Country Duo or Group
I mentioned it back at the CMAs, but one of the things that always makes the country music categories in these cross-genre awards shows stick out is that country music is still on a very different, much slower promotional cycle, so the acts that get nominated for AMAs from year to year change very little. Which is to say: Florida Georgia Line is still terrible, the Eli Young Band is an improvement over The Band Perry, and this one still goes to Lady Antebellum.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Lady Antebellum

Favorite Country Female Artist
Similarly, the only difference between last year and this year (and the year before that) in this category is the substitution for the mighty Kacey Musgraves for the no-longer-country Taylor Swift. That’s a turn up for the books.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Kacey Musgraves

Favorite Country Male Artist
And finally, we get to fly through this category because I don’t want to spend any more time than I have to considering Jason Aldean.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Blake Shelton

Favorite Pop/Rock Album
Once again we find ourselves with a category with “rock” in the title that is completely and entirely devoid of any actual rock music. Also none of these are good albums. Pure Heroine is mostly a sign that Lorde could someday make more interesting music, Katy Perry’s Prism is basically out of good songs to use as singles, and I can’t believe One Direction even bothers with albums. Ah, well.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Lorde, Pure Heroine

Favorite Pop/Rock Band/Duo/Group
The only funny thing about this category is imagining the battle between OneRepublic and One Direction over the award. There can be only One.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Actually, that fight would be the most entertaining part of the broadcast, so I think we would all stand to win.

Favorite Pop/Rock Female Artist
So this seems to be the category where the full-scale ridiculousness of the AMA’s UMG-focused nominations seems to come into full effect. Iggy Azalea, Katy Perry and Lorde are here to hold it down for the entire field of female pop/rock performers. Now, leaving aside that I am, generally speaking, positively disposed toward both Katy Perry and Lorde in general, doesn’t that seem like it’s so depressing that it would really take some impressive corporate willpower to go through with and not try to make it a little more interesting? I mean, really. I get that they’re saving Taylor Swift for next year, but that’s no excuse.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: What about Beyonce? If Iggy Azalea can get nominated across genre lines, where is Beyonce? Or Kacey Musgraves? Or Mrs. Coach’s Hair again? Actually, it’s totally Mrs. Coach’s hair again, in an unprecedented double win.

Favorite Pop/Rock Male Artist
Oh my god I fell asleep reading this category twice. At least the female category was pleasantly aggravating.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Pharrell Williams

Kohl’s New Artist of the Year
Well, we’ve covered how I feel about Iggy Azalea and Bastille. In case you’ve forgotten, I also have a low opinion of the dreadful 5 Seconds of Summer, and can’t even work up the steam to do more than sigh at the inclusion of Sam “Snooze-a-Minute” Smith. Ordinarily that would leave us with Meghan Trainor, but the only song I’ve heard by her makes me want to hang myself.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: A few weeks ago I bought a bag of potato chips and they literally disappeared – I didn’t eat them, I don’t know where they are, and I cannot find them. They were, as far as I know, never even opened. They are floating somewhere in my house. What I’m saying is: loose the nominees in my house, and whichever one finds the missing bag of chips can have the award. At least then I’ll have some chips.

Artist of the Year
So, to recap: Iggy Azalea is good enough to be nominated cross-genre, but Beyonce is not, but here she is again for the big award, and we’re all supposed to just pretend that makes any kind of sense at all? That’s weird, guys. Weird.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Beyonce

Tune in next year, when Miranda Lambert will get her fourth-straight chance at Best Female Country Artist, and where I continue to think this is literally the dumbest awards show that airs all year! Toodles!
1 this is literally the only venue of complaint that anyone has for decorations – normally the conversion of  a space from “Decorated” to “Undecorated” would seem to be a welcome sight, but if there’s a Santa hat involved people will lose their minds over when, how, and for how long it is deployed.
2 Except for “Moonage Daydream,” “I Want You Back,” and “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” and even that is pretty much the worst of the Marvin Gaye duets.
3 I don’t think he actually one, rightful or not, so we’ll probably have to figure out a way to get to the alternate dimension in which he did. That might take some time.
4 that is to say: I totally believe that these are the songs that Garth Brooks loves the most, and have utterly no idea what it is he’s trying to say by covering them.


Who The Fuck Would Listen to This – Pink Floyd, Endless River

The last time Pink Floyd made an album, I was ten years old, and (I think) had yet to start listening to them seriously, but only by a matter of maybe a year or so. Pink Floyd was one of the first bands to really capture my listening imagination: even the most airplay-heavy material was still built out of space and texture, and as such became the first band that I (and a lot of people) heard that was using the sound as much as the notes – Pink Floyd were composers as much as performers. Although they earned their reputation as a mighty live act, and they clearly had, in the midst of all of their assembly and experimentation, the heart of a rock band.

The run up to their super-famous stuff (Piper at the Gates of Dawn through Meddle) shows a band interested primarily in what could only really be called psychedlia – especially their first couple of records, where they tracked material written with casualty Syd Barret (who would go on to be the subject of several Roger Waters songs and the entire Wish You Were Here album). They were weird as fuck. Much of it would go on to be hugely influential to kosmiche, and, eventually, post-rock (even though a bunch of those guys would probably not be so willing to admit it1). Then they made a bunch of records that you’ve all heard six thousand times, ending with The Wall. Each of those records is also great, and each for different reasons. There aren’t a whole lot of other examples of acts being so commercially successful for being at the height of their artistic powers.

But our story, the road to Who The Fuck Would Listen to This, begins with The Wall. It’s their weirdest album (a double concept album with, like, eight actual songs out of the twenty-six tracks on it) , with their most normal songs (“Mother,” “Comfortably Numb”) and their biggest single (which is also, in Pink Floyd tradition, just a couple of verses and some production flourishes), “Another Brick in the Wall Part 2”. On the tour, they built a wall in front of the audience, and all but tried to murder each other onstage. The record, needless to say, lacks some of the cohesion that they brought to Ummagumma or Animals.

They made a final record with Roger Waters, called The Final Cut, which is probably meant to be a play on words but is, instead, a generic and terrible title. Which is befitting the record. Pink Floyd walked a tightrope for many years – they were able to work in the studio like any gearhead, but they never lost the sound of a band playing music together (which is a sound that didn’t get a lot of play in the studio-happy mid-seventies) until The Final Cut, at which point the sound of a band playing music together was but a distant wispy memory, and the pieces began taking on the character of simulacra – their last couple of records, A Momentary Lapse of Reason and the Division Bell sound not so much like Pink Floyd records, but like records made by machines operating on a detailed computer program to make a Pink Floyd record.

Pink Floyd, then, is a band with an enormous amount of history, and that history is all sort of meant to be brought to bear on Endless River. This is, primarily, its major problem in several ways. Foremost among them is the fact that the recordings themselves are twenty-year-old outtakes – these are scraps that, in whatever form, weren’t good enough to be part of a pretty-inessential part of Pink Floyd’s ouevre that have now been grabbed and glued together with who-knows-what manner of production chicanery2, and assembled into something that is, despite all logic, being called a Pink Floyd record.

Endless River is, itself, meant as a tribute to deceased former keyboardist, who left the band shortly after Roger Waters, but rejoined in time to help with The Division Bell, which, for those of you with goldfish memories, is the record that these sessions came from. There is something of a tradition of Pink Floyd albums in tribute to former members – Wish You Were Here is an extended rumination on Syd Barrett’s then-precarious (and now post-carious) state3, A Momentary Lapse of Reason is essentially a rumination on what it means to have inherited a band (Nick Mason, not David Gilmour, was the last remaining original member, and contributed zero songs to anything ever. Played the hell out of the drums, though), and The Final Cut is Roger Waters’ tribute to the band’s soon-to-depart singer….Roger Waters4. This one, however, comes six years after Wright died, and about thirty after he left the band the first time. So whether it’s meant to be part of that tradition or not is sort of left to the listener.

It is definitely meant as tribute, however. In addition to David Gilmour explicitly saying so in all of the publicity for the record, he’s also gone to the extremely-helpful length of turning the keyboards WAY UP in the mix. The record is almost entirely without vocals, so the keyboard parts are mixed up front and in-your-face. That is a neat idea if you don’t know anything about Pink Floyd, or about Rick Wright as an instrumentalist. The keyboards in Pink Floyd songs have moments of extreme prominence – “Welcome to the Machine,” the swirling part of the breakdown in “Interstellar Overdrive,” “Money” – but they are largely a textural component. Turning them up in the mix does less to highlight the effect of the keyboards than it does to make the record sound like a shitty bootleg recorded out of a monitor – what other sounds get through (most of those other sounds are David Gilmour’s guitar, because the only person with a less-high opinion of himself than Roger Waters is David Gilmour) sound like they are literally in the background, except for the parts that would be mixed relatively-normally but for the huge smearing of synthesizer sounds in the middle of them. Pink Floyd got famous for making records with an incredible control of the stereo field and depth of sound. The production on this record brings to mind someone who stole Pink Floyd’s instruments and recorded them in his bedroom. In front of the keyboard amplifier.

So the material is already subpar, the concept is weird, and the production is terrible. Surely that’s enough to torpedo any attempt to continue on an extremely worthwhile body of work. But, not content to rest on the half-measure of a bunch of bad ideas wrapped in an ugly package, there also stands the fact the the execution of the music is nothing short of godawful. When the band isn’t ripping itself off directly – “It’s What We Do” is a retread of the intro to “Welcome to the Machine,” right down to using the same keyboard sounds, Allons-y is a two-part run through what would happen if Roger Waters hadn’t co-written “Run Like Hell” – it’s making utterly faceless music that passes through your ears like beets through a baby. The parts that do rather demand attention are grating and unwelcome – there’s a repeated gong in “Autumn ‘68” that would’ve sounded terrible in 1968, there’s a text-to-type computer saying stuff on “Talkin’ Hawkin’”5. There’s also the pure fact that the record, which is clearly two suites followed by a regular ol’ song is divided into nineteen tracks. So if you really just want to hear the middle part of something, you’re totally able to do that.

And that last song, while we’re at it. The first eighteen tracks are boring and bland. They don’t add anything in particular to anything except for a knowledge that when you turn the keyboards way up in a mix, it sounds goofy. The last song is a terrible, terrible lesson in what happens when you aren’t self-aware. With terrible, maudlin lyrics by David Gilmour, the song purports to be about how special Pink Floyd is, and how much better than their personal squabbles they are. As a contestual reminder: this comes after an hour of twaddling at old, discarded scraps to tweak up the keyboard parts so that David Gilmour can wring some Pink Floyd out of the remnants of the deceased Rick Wright. I’m pretty sure that if there was an appropriate place to write this song in his career, it is probably not at the point where the entirety of the music is being debased in the service of their guitar player’s ego.

There’s probably more to say, but I think I’ve made the major points. So Who the Fuck Would Listen to This? After the novelty of its existence wears off, probably no one. After all, it’s not like A Momentary Lapse of Reason or the Division Bell have any real supporters. It’ll just be another tragically-unlikable late-period addition to their career that will basically serve to annoy people when they search for the good stuff. To anyone embarking on the journey of taking Pink Floyd seriously: this ain’t it. Go listen to Meddle again. You’ll be happier for it.

1 although, funnily enough, Pink Floyd’s longest-running contribution to experimental music is actually one of the aspects of their existence that doesn’t get a lot of play, and has nothing to do with perfection-obsessed post-rock: their initial songs were created by a group of people who were basically starting anew: Syd Barrett could barely play, Roger Waters had just picked up the bass, having been the band’s guitar player first, Rick Wright was learning to play rock music, and whatever his starting situation, Nick Mason would clearly spend a lot of time practicing between Piper and Ummagumma. The gift of early Pink Floyd is that they became sonically adventurous out of bare necessity (it’s hard to be interesting when you can only play a couple of things), rather than their later-period studio-based seeking.
2 I don’t mean “who-knows-what” in the sense that it’s impossible to tell that this record has been overtweaked, overworked and overcooked entirely, and that basically every production trick David Gilmour has ever known has been thrown at it, I mean “who-knows-what” because at no point is it clear what is an actual performance and what is a run of glued-together notes.
3 although the best tribute to Syd Barrett’s time in Pink Floyd remains A Saucerful of Secrets’ “Jugband Blues,” the song that begins “it’s awfully considerate to think of me here/and I’m much obliged for making it clear that I’m not here”, and was written in the wake of Pink Floyd kicking Syd Barrett out by simply not picking him up to go to a gig. It’s written by Syd, and included on a Pink Floyd album, which seems to me like someone is being world-record level passive-aggressive, but I have no idea which party it is.
4 it is true that there is a direct relationship between how awesome any given Pink Floyd album is and how deeply Roger Waters is involved in it (until The Wall, at which point Roger Waters’ ability to be part of Pink Floyd essentially ran out, and the subsequent two albums are a band trying to maneuver around Roger Waters’ ego), and that the band hasn’t recorded more than about fifteen minutes worth of decent material since he left. It is also true that the person who spends the most time talking about the truth value of this relationship is Roger Waters.
5 Get it? Eh? Eh? This song title beat out “Skins,” which is a fucking drum solo for “title of a track on this record that most makes me want to strangle David Gilmour”


How to feel about Phase III of the Marvel Cinematic Universe

So! A bit ago, Marvel announced their upcoming slate for the Marvel Cinematic Universe, thus providing both a blueprint for what to expect and also an opportunity to collect some experimental data about “what percentage of five years people can sustain looking forward to something”1. One of the complaints is that it’s “ruining the surprise,” which is, of course, absolutely asinine: nobody went to see the Thor movie because of a shot of Mjolnir at the bottom of the ocean in an Iron Man movie, and to suggest otherwise is to prove that you are 1) someone who would rather complain than think logically and therefore 2) the worst. This isn’t the doom of the Marvel Cinematic Universe! That will probably come, like it always does, when the writers get lazy and stop caring. But remember: Pixar made five-star movies for ten  years before their first wobble (Cars), and got back on the horse for another five after that. That puts The Inhumans and Captain Marvel squarely within the decade window (albeit with Avengers 4 outside of it).

The important thing about this piece is not that I’m reassuring you that I think the movies will still be good, it’s to share with you the joy of knowing why these things are exciting, in simple terms that don’t require you to do any search-engine digging.

So without further ado, here is your completely-correct guide to the upcoming Marvel movies.

Avengers: Age of Ultron

WHAT IT IS: It’s probably going to wind up the story of a Boy and his Indestructible Killer Robot. The rumors have been that Stark Industries is going to have been behind Ultron, but I’m going to guess since it’s followed immediately by the Ant-Man movie, that Henry Pym is going to at least have something to do with it.

WHY YOU SHOULD BE EXCITED: The first Avengers movie was plenty of fun, even if it didn’t spend any time making any damn sense. Most of its problem was that, as battleable villains go, “sky worms” kind of sucked, but “indestructable robot” is generally awesome. Also, unlike a whole bunch of Avengers villains, Ultron is generally only employed to do something compelling, so he’s got a wealth of cool shit to mine for his background. Which, I reiterate, will probably include Hank Pym.

BUT I’M WAFFLING BECAUSE: Well, the first one didn’t actually spend much time making sense. Really. If there is going to be some instability in the MCU brand, it’s going to enter through the Avengers. The fact that this movie is going to change the lineup could be a turn up for the books, but it could also be the first fault line.

Captain America: Civil War
WHAT IT IS: Civil War is the best superhero comics storyline written in the last decade. It’s a wonderful allegory, it’s got some phenomenal art, it’s well-written and topsy-turvy in a pretty great way. It’s a Captain America title, which reserves some of the ambiguity of the comics – whereas in the comics you were able to side with Cap or Iron Man, but I’m going to guess that in this case it’s going to be the guy whose name is in the title that is presented sympathetically. Given that there are no solo Iron Man movies in Phase 3, I also wouldn’t be surprised if part of the “lineup changes” in the Avengers had something to do with Iron Man leaving, or even dying (although the rumor mill would have it that Captain America is going to start his own SHIELD-friendly counter-Avengers)

WHY YOU SHOULD BE EXCITED: Civil War was extraordinarily compelling, and also highly cinematic. The comics were far-reaching and extensively told, but the main story is actually reasonably brief. Its placement is also interesting: it’s before The Infinity Thing, so could be an interesting reconfiguration to gear up for that (in the movie production sense. Story-wise it’s probably not going to be particularly different).

BUT I’M WAFFLING BECAUSE: It could turn out that one of the things that made Civil War work out was that it was spread out and all-encompassing, and even with a shared Universe, there’s every possibility that it could feel needlessly small and contained. Also there’s the question of The Hulk – when Civil War was published, The Hulk had to literally be sent off the planet (this is concurrent with the Planet Hulk storyline) to keep him out of the fight, since he presents both an enormous plot obstacle and an unbalancing power level. That means the movie runs the risk of being “Iron Man and Captain America argue about The Hulk,” because how worried can you be about, say, Ant Man registering his powers when there’s a goddamned Hulk running around?                                                                                                                                                  

Doctor Strange

WHAT IT IS: In historical terms, Doctor Strange has been given over to displaced horror-comics writers and total weirdos. He’s a wizard, he does a bunch of weird shit, sometimes it’s even pretty compelling. The casting rumors have been pretty insane, and lord only knows what they’re going to do story-wise, but it serves a couple of very practical functions. First, Doctor Strange is a way to further unite the Superhero universe (where the Avengers are) and the Cosmic universe (where the Guardians of the Galaxy, and also Thanos, see below, are) in a world where the rights to the Silver Surfer (the usual link) belongs to another studio. Second, Doctor Strange has often served comics-wise as a living macguffin, with a fairly open-ended set of powers and abilities that can create key plot points.

WHY YOU SHOULD BE EXCITED: Well, the current front-running rumor is that Benedict Cumberbatch is going to be playing him, which would not only be good in and of itself, but would open the possibility of 1) not giving a mystic asian manservant named Wong and 2) giving him a stammering British manservant named, oh, Arthur or Bilbo or somesuch2. Other than that, there’s a high visibility quotient, and it’ll probably start laying some groundwork for The Infinity War. There’s also a chance that the villain could be Mephisto (who, presumably, would not be the actual, literal devil in the movie like he was for awhile in the comic book) – Mephisto spends part of The Infinity Gauntlet as Thanos’ right-hand man, so it seems possible, and he’s visually pretty cool, even if he is just being set up to be the Infinity Yutz.

BUT I’M WAFFLING BECAUSE: Well, if the villain isn’t Mephisto, it’s almost guaranteed to be lame, and it’s not like Mephisto is a homerun. Furthermore, Doctor Strange can get silly in a hurry. Also, the comic book character has a mystic Asian manservant named Wong, and frankly, I’m pretty unilaterally afraid I’m going to have to see that brought to life. Ugh. .

Guardians of the Galaxy 2

WHAT IT IS: The sequel to Guardians of the Galaxy, 2014’s best movie and also the best movie of any other year ever. High space adventure in the grand cosmic universe!

WHY YOU SHOULD BE EXCITED: Other than it being a fantastic movie and everypone involved returning for the sequel, Guardians of the Galaxy had an infinity gem in it, as well as our first look at Thanos, so clearly this is the staging ground for the major elements of the Infinity Conflict (see below). That means we’re probably going to get
some more machinations, in addition to some more zoom-bang-golly stuff.

BUT I’M WAFFLING BECAUSE: Well, I’m not really waffling, but it’s worth noting that the first movie spent some time on the identity of Star-Lord’s father. In the comics it’s the hella lame J’Son of Spartax, who is not only not a character in the MCU, but is unlikely to be introduced because, seriously: hella lame3. It’s probably going to be someone we have met already, and that could be interesting, or it could be really dumb.

Thor: Ragnarok

WHAT IT IS: A movie to, theoretically, tie up some of those cliffhangers from the second Thor movie. Shits all fucked in Asgard, and this is after The Age of Ultron, so it could be not-so-great for the T-Man as well. There are some rumors that this is going to have something to do with the new female Thor in the comics, but that would be tricky, because of the aforementioned cliffhangers. Otherwise, it actually makes perfect sense: the current Thor can die (or be banished to Asgard or whatever), and the lady Thor can pick up the hammer and get the power of Thor, since that’s the promise of Mjolnir. But that’s probably not what’s going to happen.

WHY YOU SHOULD BE EXCITED: The Thor movies have been, unilaterally, the most surprisingly-good of the solo Avengers movies. The Iron Man movies have been uneven, the Captain America movies have been a lot of fun, but the Thor movies have really packed a surprising amount of depth (of world) and have a really compelling operatic tone that means I’ll probably go see them for as long as they’re like that. And I’m going to guess, with a title like Ragnarok, this one’s going to continue to be like that.

BUT I’M WAFFLING BECAUSE: You know, I’m really not waffling very much. The movies are very long, and that’s kind of a drag. And the second one wasn’t quite as good as the first, I suppose, but I don’t think that’s a sign of it not working out. If it picks up, Karate Kid-style, right where Thor 2 left off, and starts with the fight against the Jotunheim beast, that’d be something.

Black Panther

WHAT IT IS: Sometime-Avenger and sometime-king of Wakanda, Black Panther has been a whole lot of things over the years, but many of them are pretty cool. He’s married to Storm in the comics, but that’s not going to happen in the movies, so we’re probably looking at something more like the eighties Black Panther, who did some pretty cool stuff as an Avenger. He doesn’t have superpowers, just cool shit to fight crime with.

WHY YOU SHOULD BE EXCITED: He’s basically Marvel Batman5, and Batman has a pretty long history of more-or-less working out in movies. If competently written and handled, this could be a pretty cool street-level character that hangs out with the big superpowered folks.

BUT I’M WAFFLING BECAUSE: Well, he’s called Black Panther, and he’s the king of a made-up African country. There are about six thousand places where that can go super-terribly.

Avengers: Infinity War Part I

WHAT IT IS: Presumedly, Thanos gets the Infinity Gauntlet, which is covered in the infinity gems5 and, in order to impress the personification of Death, whom he is wooing (no, really), kills half of the people in the universe, then, after she rebuffs him again, goes mad with power and decides to, essentially, be a tyrannical godlike being. Earth’s superheroes (all of them) team up to stop him, eventually. Since this is part 1, it’s like to go something like “the Disney-owned superheroes largely get their asses handed to them” until Part 2, which will be after Captain Marvel and the Inhumans have been established, and therefore will end in victory. I guess.

WHY YOU SHOULD BE EXCITED: I’m not lying when I say that The Infinity Gauntlet is what made a comic book fan of me. I was 8, it was an enormous crossover event, it was sweeping, intense and deeply strange. It was magic, and at several points it was one big-ass intergalactic space-whoopin’. The basic plot is that Thanos gets ahold of the Infinity Gauntlet, which gives him, basically, all the power in the universe, and everyone in the universe teams up to stop him. This is why it was important to get the Cosmic Universe in play, this is why the infinity stones are mentioned in Guardians of the Galaxy, this is why the Tesseract, and why the Aether, and, ultimately, why all of the excitement about a shared universe in the first place. Even if nothing worthwhile happens after this, some of us have been waiting for twenty-three years for this to happen.

BUT I’M WAFFLING BECAUSE: There’s a chance they could fumble on the goal-line and make something less-than-great, I suppose, but that’s true of everything. Given the amount of work they’ve put in so far, and given how successful they’ve been at adaptation so far, I see no reason to waffle at all. At least not about the first part….

Captain Marvel

WHAT IT IS: Occasional Marvel Comics woobie, converted back to full-time badass, Captain Marvel is currently an Avenger, but was left out of the movies because…apparently it was super-important to include Hawkeye, I guess? Anyway, Captain Marvel has some hella backstory, even without the inclusion of the X-Man Rogue in her solo movie, so this will be a good chance to make another establishing movie, whcih always goes well for them.

WHY YOU SHOULD BE EXCITED: Well, it’s only going to have been about ten years too late, but we’re going to get a lady-super-hero movie! Some good things have happened over in the storylines of the former Ms. Marvel6, so it’s a good call for a first outing (it is a tiny shame that it isn’t She-Hulk, but what can you do?). It comes after The Infinity War, which seems odd, but there are lots of parts of The Infinity Gauntlet that could happen in solo movies, so it’s not too much of an eyebrow-raiser.

BUT I’M WAFFLING BECAUSE: Because until its announcement, Kevin Feige seemed pretty loathe to make this happen, so it seems a little begrudging that it’s here now. the demand for it is super-high, and Captain Marvel fans have been clamoring for this movie, specifically for most of that time, but if this comes out weird and lifeless, it’ll be because it doesn’t have the producer behind it. I could, of course, be completely wrong (and certainly there won’t be any problem finding an enthusiastic writer and director, so how much sway over the quality of the end result the executive producer would even end up having is probably a question for another time). So it’s not a big waffle, but it’s still a spectre in the background.

The Inhumans

WHAT IS IT: In comic book terms, The Inhumans are an extremely confusing bunch of space superheroes, who have taken part in a bunch of major interstellar crossover events. Black Bolt has been included in a bunch of stuff to represent “outer space mortals”. In practical, rights-based concerns, there needs to be someone to take the place of the absent X-Men and Fantastic Four, and The Inhumans are probably that thing.

WHY YOU SHOULD BE EXCITED: I’m selling them considerably short in my explanation: they largely exist as part of cross-title storylines, and even then most of them are pretty much just wallpaper, but they’ve been involved in some pretty good stories, and they certainly have some compelling characters among them. The chief reason to be excited is the acting challenge presented by Black Bolt, a character who literally cannot speak7, and also because this is the movie that is probably going to set up The Infinity Thing Part 2.

BUT I’M WAFFLING BECAUSE: I’m selling it a little short in my description, but the fact of the matter remains that when the Inhumans get their own stories, they’re never particularly impressive. Against a backdrop like the Infinity Gauntlet (Black Bolt also figures pretty heavily in the early going in Civil War, but this is so far after that movie that I can’t imagine he’s going to be involved in the movie), they can be interesting, but it still doesn’t happen every time. This is the movie I’m the most wafflish about.

Avengers: Infinity War, Part 2
WHAT IT IS: The second half of the story of the Infinity Gauntlet. Interestingly, there was  a comic series called “The Infinity War,” but this is definitely not going to be that, as that is the most out-there, psychedlic Jim Starlin storyline ever published. I mention it because The Infinity War is a better title, but also as a PSA that the comic book series is weird. Anyway, Thanos loses at the end of this one because of the Inhumans and Captain Marvel and probably not The Living Tribunal.

WHY YOU SHOULD BE EXCITED: Because who wants to only have the first half of something? Also, the comic book has a really cool curveball ending8 (that footnote describes the ending, so don’t click on it if you don’t want to know the ending of The Infinity Gauntlet), but the odds of that coming into play in the movie sure seem unlikely.

BUT I’M WAFFLING BECAUSE: I’m really not waffling, here. There are characters who are important to the comic book that Disney won’t be able to use (primarily Reed Richards and the Silver Surfer), but that’s certainly not impossible to work around. Even changing how Thanos loses isn’t going to change that much. This is the advantage of sticking with the super weird late-eighties/early-nineties writing – you can make all sorts of changes and it really doesn’t make anything make less sense. This is going to be great.

SUPER-EXTRA BONUS FEATURE: THE MARVEL TV UNIVERSE
In addition to the slate of upcoming film releases, there is also a special contract with Netflix that’s going to see a number of television shows in production, apparently tied in with the movie series. So that you don’t have to find yourself ever adrift wihtout knowing how to feel about these things, what follows is a guide to those.

Daredevil

WHAT IT IS: The movie was, to many, a complete failure both in terms of superheroes and interesting movies9. Daredevil is blind, he has a lot of Spider-Man’s castoff villains, he lives in Hell’s Kitchen, and a bunch of his origin story was ripped off for the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

WHY YOU SHOULD BE EXCITED: Well, each of the Netflix series is going to focus on a different street-level character (i.e. characters that are light on powers that tend to fight actual crimes committed, rather than supervillainy). Daredevil is also a lawyer, so there’s some of that sweet, sweet lawyer television involved. Mostly because Daredevil has a ton of complex, well-arranged stories that the movie did some violence to.

BUT I’M WAFFLING BECAUSE: Well, we don’t know anything about these series, really. It’s possible that the fundamental Daredevil difficulty is that it’s not as filmable as it seems. And although it could be fun to see a superhero who is also a lawyer10, that would also mean a tv show that always ran the risk of under-serving half of its existence.

AKA Jessica Jones

WHAT IT IS: Jessica Jones is a private eye. She is also, at least eventually, Luke Cage’s wife (although since they’re just calling it Jessica Jones, and not Jessica Jones-Cage, that’s probably not the case yet). She had a bunch of identities, and is interesting story-wise because she gave up being a superhero in favor of the aforementioned job as a private eye.

WHY YOU SHOULD BE EXCITED: Well, detectives traditionally work out better than superheroes on tv, so there’s already a mark in her favor. Brian Michael Bendis’ run on her comic (titled Alias11) was pretty good, and she was a New Avenger for a few years, so she’s got some stories with these characters to work with.

BUT I’M WAFFLING BECAUSE: There is every chance that this whole fucking show could be devoted to her superhero relationship with Luke Cage. How fucking stupid would that be?

Luke Cage

WHAT IT IS: Big, strong and nigh-invulnerable, Luke Cage (nee Power Man, which is a much better name) is, and I’m not making this up, a relic of Blaxploitation. Eventually, he would be steered into a wise-cracking-er direction, which made him something of a cross between Shaft and The Tick. He’s also Nicholas Cage’s namesake (that’s true).

WHY YOU SHOULD BE EXCITED: Because he’s a cross between Shaft and The Tick.

BUT I’M WAFFLING BECAUSE: See the Jessica Jones entry, and also the Black Panther entry, and also the Iron Fist entry below. Basically these shows are all going to be intertwined, and that could go really bad, but nobody looks to come out worse for it than ol’ Lukey-Duke here.

Iron Fist

WHAT IT IS: Much as Luke Cage was created to capitalize on the popularity of Blaxploitation films, so Iron Fist’s origins go back to Kung Fu movies. He and Luke Cage were a partnership (Heroes for Hire) for a long time, and as they were conceived of similarly and introduced at about the same time, it always worked out well for them to share pages. Now they’re going to share tv series.

WHY YOU SHOULD BE EXCITED: There’s a chance this (and the entire set of series) could be a fun, rompy bit of action storytelling, especially since there’s a rich cinematic tradition to draw upon. The fact that Iron Fist’s origin story, powers and costumes are just about the dumbest things since Hawkeye doesn’t change that.

BUT I’M WAFFLING BECAUSE: They could also not be rompy at all. They could be deadly serious, and really unpleasant. Oh, and they could also very easily be hella racist.

The Defenders
WHAT IT IS: The culmination of the four individual series is going to be a Defenders series, where we’ll probably get to see these guys team up to take care of the Earth while the Avengers et al are up fighting Thanos for the existence of all creation or something. Anyway, they’re all going to team up. Isn’t that nice?

WHY YOU SHOULD BE EXCITED: Well, best-cast scenario we get a bunch of cool, street-level superheroes and a basically-endless set of stories to tell with them. The characters themselves all have some pretty cool things to offer, and could work out well.

BUT I’M WAFFLING BECAUSE: They also have some crazy chances to not work out, televisually, and this series especially is going to have to do something of a balancing act. That appears to be especially difficult, since each of the heroes mentioned here (except Daredevil) has also seen their comic book cancelled. So if the comics writers can’t do it…..

And that’s it! Tune in sometime in 2020, when we talk about Phase 4! I can hardly wait!

1 probably about 40%: it seems like the excitement for the fourth Avengers movie will go a full year at the beginning, and then ramp a year before the release date, when the third one comes out.
2 I’m suggesting Martin Freeman here. It’s Martin Freeman. it’s probably not possible to demand that they draw up a contract that requires that they be cast with each other whenever possible, but a boy can dream.
3 although picture his introduction: we get a whole movie introducing his second intergalactic wife and their children. We watch him space gallivant while his second wife gets more and more frustrated. Eventually he returns home and is greeted with his second wife, who, in her distraught rage, murders their children in front of him. Deciding that she had behaved justly, The Living Tribunal (or maybe Eternity) sends Eon (or maybe Fin Fang Foom, since he’s an actual Dragon, but that’s sort of out of character for him) to pick her up and take her off into the sky. BECAUSE THAT IS WHAT HAPPENS WHEN YOU ARE NAMED J’SON OF SPARTAX, SON*.
* Surely I don’t have to explain my Medea** jokes to you, do I?
** NO NOT THE TYLER PERRY CHARACTER OH MY GOD READ A BOOK
4 without the semi-satirical origins of the other Marvel Batman, Moon Knight, and also he’s not Daredevil. There’s a lot of Marvel Batmans, ok?
5 currently, in MCU parlance, the “infinity stones.” Maybe they get polished or something somewhere along the way. Who can know for sure?
6 not to be confused with the DC Captain Marvel, Marvelman, or Marvel Girl.
7 well, he can, that’s the problem: his power is that his voice generates extra-powerful sound waves that destroy stuff with their force, and that even a whisper for him is capable of being really destructive. It makes more sense in the comics, were he’s surrounded by people that have similarly gonzo powers.
8 Thanos essentially deems himself unworthy of possessing all of the power of the united infinity gems, so he prevents himself from acting upon that power, essentially exposing his weaknesses for the heroes to exploit. Earth’s combined superheroes can’t beat Thanos, Thanos beats Thanos.
9 I liked it! Especially the much more focused director’s cut, which is more about Daredevil, and less about Daredevil’s romantic life.
10 no, but really, why is She-Hulk not in here?
11 how disappointed do you think the production people of the show were they couldn’t just steal that title?


The MTV EMAs

The existence of MTV Europe isn’t a surprise; after all, we export any possible thing we can out there. Obviously part of being an MTV1 is having an awards show. So why should MTV Europe be any different? Of course, they hold their awards ceremony in Glasgow, which seems….needlessly masochistic (after all, MTV pere doesn’t hold their awards show in Detroit), so this could be a very interesting run-through.

Just kidding. It’s totally just the same stuff MTV usually deals with, only the categories are a little more interesting. I think. Mostly they do away with the technical categories, in favor of some People’s-Choice-Awards-style awards for “Fanbases” and “Push”2. They also nominate a ton more performers. Is that because they’re a more generous-minded sort? Is it because they want to nominate both acts that sell and acts that will show up to the awards and the way to do that is to double the number of nominees in each category? I don’t know. All I know is that I’ve never talked about them, so they call out to me in the night.

How can the people of Europe know how outraged to be if they don’t know who should have gotten them in the first place?

Biggest Fans
I’ve mentioned this before, but this type of category is super easy to get a read on: the person with the most votes wins. The website also lists, I believe, their twitter followers, which would obviate voting, but also they’re allowing a vote via twitter in the first place. That seems, actually, like a democratically-viable way to do things: the act with the biggest twitter following has the largest pool to draw from, the act with the most devoted fans is going to have the highest percentage of total followers that vote. Sounds great. Let me know when the votes are tallied.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Really, it’s all up to math now.

Best Video
So earlier in the week I pointed out that I write these in reverse-order of presentation, on the logic that the important stuff is at the top. This means that MTV Europe totally knows what it’s all about, and has the music video category second from the bottom. That’s very funny. Of course, MTV gets the same videos everywhere, so it’s “Happy,” “Chandelier” and “Dark Horse” again. Iggy Azalea’s “Black Widow” hadn’t been released in time for the American VMA’s, and Kiesza’s “Hideaway” is pretty damned European.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Ah, hell, let’s give it to Kiesza, “Hideaway”. Unless she’s a Flames fan (she’s from Calgary), in which case she still gets the award BUT IT’S ON FIRE LET’S SEE HOW YOU LIKE FLAMES NOW YOU HOSER.

Worldwide Act
How much better would this category be if it was the Mr. Worldwide Act and it just went to Pitbull’s favorite musician? It would be so much better.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Whoever Pitbull says it should be.

Best World Stage
In the second straight “super disappointing” category, I really thought that this award would go to the actual best stage, rather than a seemingly-random selection of people who perform “live,” and how much people like them. That sucks.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: The stage at the Beachland Tavern

Best Push
So….I guess this means the person who has the best advertisers or street team or marketing deathsquad or whatever? The person whose music is the most extramusically visible3. Rather than decode that, I think that this award should go to the person who is the best at physically pushing things. Arianna Grande and Kiesza look awfully frail, they probably couldn’t push very much. Lorde and Charli XCX seems sturdier, and they have a sufficiently low center of gravity to really get a good haul on something, but I still think there’s going to come a time where they’re going to be too fatigued. Chris Cab, John Newman and Zedd all look like they’d be the sorts of dudes that tried to get Lorde and Charli XCX to do their pushing for them while they made doe eyes and Kiesza. Sam Smith and Kid Ink both seem like they’ve got some pretty good work ethics, but ultimately I feel like the problem is one of numbers: there’s only one of them each. And while I bet Sam Smith can shove really far against even the double-member Jungle, there are four people in 5 Seconds of Summer, and even if they are super-reedy and not very mighty, they can probably win this pushing contest.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: 5 Seconds of Summer

Best Look
Apparently, men aren’t capable of having a “look”. Somebody better tell Hozier. Or Kanye. Or the dudes from 5 Seconds of Summer. Anyway, Rita Ora doesn’t have a “look” so much as she as an “accent”. Iggy Azalea doesn’t have a “look” so much as she has a “butt”. Taylor Swift’s “look” is “gazelle,” and that doesn’t seem award-worthy either. On the one hand, Katy Perry often dresses like a total weirdo, but she doesn’t have a very united presentational philosophy other than “Katy Perry”. She is, to paraphrase Party Down, in the general hot lady business. Nicki Minaj, on the other hand, has a managed and consistently presented “look,” and is therefore the only nominee eligible to win in the marketing sense.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Nicki Minaj

Best Electronic
Despite the first few categories being basically nonsense, the real tough ones are the actual music categories (this is also true of the VMAs, except for the VMAs generally have more Beyonce in them). “Electronic” here means “dance music”, so not Oneohtrix Point Never or Foie Gras. That’s a shame. Making it easier is the fact that I don’t have to rehash my low opinion of David Guetta or Calvin Harris here, and I can easily dismiss Hardwell by saying “it’s the same as David Guetta and Calvin Harris. That leaves Hardwell and Afrojack, both of whom I am extremely dimly familiar.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: I was going to combine their names to give them half an award each, but then I was left with “Afrowell”4 or “Hardjack”5. So I guess it goes to Pharmakon.

Best Hip-Hop
It isn’t until this moment that I realized that a lot of this is probably subject to European release schedules and availability! That doesn’t make a very big difference in this categpory, but it may count for something later on. Anyway. It’s not Iggy Azalea, it’s not Nicki Minaj (yet), it’s not Eminem, it’s not Drake. That was easy.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Kanye West

Best Alternative
You know, for all that music industry is sending out its emissaries to weep openly about how they don’t have any money anymore and this is somehow choking out the artists, Paramore continues to exist as a shining beacon of the power of the industry to still pull together to create something famous out of something…..bland. So basically what I’m saying is: none of their nonsense is true, because they can still get pretty redheads to fire their whole bands and replace them with hired guns for the sole purpose of selling a bunch of records. Fall Out Boy’s “comeback” doesn’t appear to have worked, 30 Seconds to Mars’ stubborn refusal to go away should not be confused with merit. That leave us with Lorde, who has had at least one song that was inescapably ubiquitous, and Lana Del Rey, who, while admittedly overly-complained-about, is still not really an “alternative” to anythin.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: as an alternative to any of the nominees, this award is present to Mrs. Coach’s Hair.

Best Rock
Lord amighty, whatever it was The Black Keys got in exchange for their souls must have included the most extensive “every fucking awards show” package mankind has ever known. Beyond that, we’re basically left some legacy acts (Linkin Park and Coldplay), a marginally-less-legacy act (The Arctic Monkeys), and Imagine Dragons. What a world.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Nothing. Either the band Nothing or an actual, literal vacuum that opens up over the podium. Whichever is available.

Best New
All of these people are still probably pretty worn out from that pushing contest a few entries ago, so I’ll go easy on them. In all practical analysis, Ariana Grande’s music is a huge pile of donkey turds. Sam “The Boy Version of Adele” Smith is probably hoping that the only people weighing in on this decision are middle-aged ladies. That’s a shame for him. Kiesza and Charli XCX have their moments each, but I still can’t trust that Kiesza likes the right hockey team. For that matter, I don’t know if Charli XCX does, either. That would ordinarily leave us with 5 Seconds of Summer, but obviously that’s not going to work at all, sinc ethey already won that pushing contest.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Kiesza and Charli XCX can split it, they shouldn’t have to do all that pushing for nothing.

Best Live
OK, wait. I thought that “World Stage” was meant to have something to do with live performance? Seriously. I never know what’s going on with some of these categories. It’s Beyonce, right?

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: It would almost have to be Beyonce, really. If you think about it.

Best Male
The MTV EMAs would appear to be the last place where you’re allowed to watch Justin Bieber. On the one hand, that’s a shame. On the other hand, maybe nominating him for, like, one award a year will create some sort of beneficial vent situation, so that he doesn’t blow up all over other awards shows. Disqualifying Eminem and Ed Sheeran for obvious and aforestated reasons, what we are left with is Pharrell and Justin Timberlake, and that’s not so bad.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Pharrell. Justin Timberlake put out two over-long albums last year. Pharrell only put out one over-long album.

Best Female
Musically, we already have to eliminate Ariana Grande immediately6. Nicki Minaj really should be winning these awards more often, but she is really going to have to get it together to stop recording terrible music. Katy Perry has the occasional pretty-good song, but hasn’t in a long time, and is in basically the same boat as Nicki. Beyonce vs. Taylor Swift seems like it should be a pretty good fight, but it’s still Beyonce.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: still Beyonce.

Best Pop
Hey guys? I’ve thought about it and I’ve decided, in light of her being nominated in every fucking category, that Ariana Grande’s music is….still indescribably terrible. Seriously. I like pop music. What the hell are you people hearing in this? Anyway. Miley is an awesome public figure, but her music is music to drool into a bucket to, so that’s not going to work here. Hope she shows up to the ceremony, though. 5 Seconds of Summer are still pretty insulting. Katy Perry and One Direction have basically the same pros and cons, but I’m not sure what either one has done for me lately.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Miley Cyrus. Entertaining is entertaining, and none of these people make good enough music to make up for Miley’s Entertainment Gap7.

Best Song
You know this is the only song-based category? There should be more song categories. It’s much easier to evaluate a song rather than “a whole general sort of thing”, which is what we’re expected to do in most of the other categories. That said, of all the reasons to hate Ariana Grande, “Problem” is basically right up there at the top of the list. “Eminem’s “The Monster” and Sam Smith’s “Stay With Me” are fine – really, they’re fine – but could both do with being a bit…better. The continued nomination of Katy Perry’s “Dark Horse” is absolutely baffling to me, but Juicy J has a way of winning awards (he’s got an Oscar!), and that also annoys me. So I’m baffled and annoyed. Luckily, Pharrel is neither of those things.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Pharrell, “Happy”

1 one of the many, nigh-innumerable MTVs, really
2 no idea.
3 that sounds like synaethesia, but it’s not!
4 which sounds like a product to “LET YOUR SOOOO-OOUUUL GLO”
5 which, well. I mean, really.
6 a brief informal survey shows that basically on any judgeable criteria we would have to eliminate Ariana Grande immediately, but I wanted to show that I was basing this on musical decisions.
7 not a euphemism


The 2014 CMA Awards

Hey guys! It’s November 5 again, which means it’s totally time for the CMA Awards again! These are, as I mentioned last year at this time, a real treat to write about for their brevity, their general thematic unity, and their sense of self. Of course, the fact that country music is in a pretty rough place right now is something of a mitigating factor. But then, it was in basically the same place last year, and I found a way through.

So here we go.

Vocal Group of the Year
Uh. I really had a moment here where I thought “oh man, the CMA awards website didn’t update its nominees from last year.” It did, they’re just basically the same people. I wonder if I could just rerun last year’s writeup?

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Welp, it was the Zac Brown Band last year, and I’ll be dipped if it won’t be The Zac Brown Band again.

Vocal Duo of the Year
This category, on the other hand, has only the wrong things in common with last year’s. Namely: The Florida Georgia Line, who have made a point of persisting, despite my fervent wishes that they go away and not be around anymore. More people should listen to me. That aside, this category is a huge ol’ snooze. Except Thompson Square, who I also sort of wish active harm on. And Love and Theft, who I don’t mind.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Love and Theft, indifferently.

Song of the Year
Man, the sooner bro-country dies (and takes Lee Brice, et al with it) the better off we’ll be. That shit’s been ridiculous no matter what genre it’s occupied, and I can’t believe in 2014 we still have to talk about it. Anyway, “Automatic” isn’t bad, “Give Me Back My Hometown” isn’t bad. Fun fact: if you go back and read the writeup for last year’s cma awards, you can see that I clearly have not, at that point, paid any real attention to Kacey Musgraves, and here, one year later, I feel like she didn’t get a fair shake. Luckily, the CMAs move at a glacial pace, so there’s plenty of time to correct my course.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Kacey Musgraves, “Follow Your Arrow”.  

Single of the Year
Hey look, it’s Tim McGraw! Can we get a hearty “fuck you” to Tim McGraw? I think we can. Three of these songs are also in Song of the Year, and only Miranda Lambert’s “Automatic” is any good. The remaining song is Blake Shelton’s “Mine Would Be You”.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Mrs. Coach’s hair is unmarried. That makes it the single of the year.

New Artist of the Year
HEY WAIT. KIP MOORE AND BRETT ELDREDGE WERE NOMINATED LAST YEAR. WHAT THE FUCK IS THIS EVEN?

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: OBVIOUSLY CONCEPTS LIKE “RIGHTFUL” AND “WINNER” ARE PUT ON HOLD FOR THIS BULLSHIT AWARDS CEREMONY, SO WHO CARES, EVEN? JUST LEAVE MRS. COACH’S HAIR ONSTAGE FOR TWO AWARDS AND MAKE EVERYONE HAPPY.

Musician of the Year
This is probably still my favorite category in any awards show1, and I like listening through to listen to the specific part playing. It is, of course, basically the same as last year2. Sam Bush is still probably the best musician, but I’ll never admit it because, once again, newgrass. Dann Huff played on even fewer country records than last year. Mac McAnally and Jerry Douglas are both fine contenders, but Paul Franklin really did some good work, and a good steel guitar player is always an impressive thing.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Paul Franklin

Musical Event of the Year
There is a lot of Miranda Lambert in these awards. I mean, I get it, but she is all over. Unfortunately for her, “We Were Us” is pretty bad. “Somethin’ Bad” is a little better, if only because it’s got a little more energy to it, but it’s still not really award-deserving. “Meanwhile Back at Mama’s” is a Tim McGraw and Faith Hill song, which means I deserve an award for sitting through it. “You Can’t Make Old Friends” has its reasons to exist, I’m sure, and lord knows I’m not complaining about there being more Dolly in the world, but Kenny Rogers still has just about a .000 batting average when it comes to not making me angry. This is why I didn’t even try with this category last year. This year, though, there’s Vince Gill.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Vince Gill & Paul Franklin, Bakersfield

Music Video of the Year
How do you suppose they come up with the order for these categories from year to year? Is there a rota? Just round-robin it? It’s weird. Anyway. Almost all of these videos contain women pruriently, except “Follow Your Arrow,” which contains a woman, just not pruriently. I suppose there’s nothing wrong with that3, but it does seem sort of samey. Especially since we’re confronted with “Automatic” and “Somethin’ Bad” in the same category. Nevertheless, while “Follow Your Arrow” is the better song, I do actually think the “Somethin’ Bad” video is pretty funny.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Miranda Lambert and Carrie Underwood, “Somethin’ Bad”

Male Vocalist of the Year
Sigh. Guys. I ran out of stuff to say about this assemblage of five people last year, after a bunch of country music awards. I have not summoned up anything new to say about them this year.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Blake Shelton
Female Vocalist of the Year
Hey look, it’s Martina McBride! Hi Martina! This category is pretty close to impossible, because I like Kacey Musgraves, but she has a small, reedy voice that doesn’t really put her in this category, and I like Taylor Swift4, and she has a fairly strong voice, but a very limited range5. Miranda Lambert has a pretty good voice, but while she’s got more range than Taylor, she lacks both the timbre and the control. Carrie Underwood’s voice is a goddamned belt sander, and while sometimes a belt sander is the correct tool for the job, that is almost never actually the case.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: I don’t know what, exactly, Martina McBride did to be nominated, but, y’know, at least she’ll show up to the ceremony, and that’ll make fourteen-year-old me happy6.

Entertainer of the Year
Hey look! It’s another category Miranda Lambert isn’t going to win! You know, the BET Hip-Hop Awards are the only awards show with a category for “hustle”, but I think it would also suit other awards shows, and it would give the CMA Awards a legitimate way to honor Carrie Underwood. Aw, hell, I’m the one in charge anyway.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Miranda Lambert, for hustling.

Album of the Year
Oh my god! The categories are in alphabetical order! So usually I start at the bottom and work my way up to the top, since the big categories tend to be the first things on these lists, but I prefer to follow something like the order in which they’re likely to be presented. But these are alphabetical, which throws my whole schema off! How clever! Now there is no hierarchy, just a meritocratic presentation of the nominees, letting the cream of the good stuff rise to the top to be skimmed off by people who are more interested in, say, entertainer of the year than, say, album of the year. THE POWER IS WITHIN YOU, THE PEOPLE, TO DECIDE WHAT TO CARE ABOUT! Obviously, as the only correct arbiter of such things, this is a system that cannot be allowed to stand. Oh, but album-wise, this particular category is terrible.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Nobody. Not any of these people, not the CMA Awards for trying to level the playing field, not Miranda Lambert, not even Martina McBride. Although Martina McBride could totally come up to accept the non-award if she wanted to.
1 in case you wondered if that had changed.
2 one of the things that seems foreign to me about mainstream country is how slowly it moves. In pop music, if an album lasts two awards cycles it seems like it’s been around forever*, but in country music, we may still be seeing singles from some of these albums (I’m thinking specifically of the Miranda Lambert album, here) nominated next year as well. It’s probably part of why it has such a stable economy around it: each thing is given its own space to breathe. It does, however, mean that things that are unfortunate can linger around forever while their cycle plays out.
* consider Unorthodox Jukebox, the Bruno Mars album that seems like it came out a hundred years ago because of how long it’s been nominated for awards
3 addendum: there is something wrong with that, but it’s not anything the CMAs, country music, or even the broader spectrum of music needs to be held responsible for.
4 I don’t mean to be that guy, but how exactly is it that she’s still being nominated for country music awards?
5 this isn’t actually a subjective thing: her songs exist in a surprisingly narrow range of pitches. Her ability to reconfigure the, like, ten notes she can sing so many different ways is impressive in a technical sense. This is another thing she has in common with Paul McCartney.
6 thirty-one year old me is, of course, far too advanced for that sort of thing, and I’ve certainly gotten over whatever adolescent crush I may have had on the inestimable Ms. McBride and her pretty, pretty eyes. ahem.