The 2016 MTV Video Music Awards

So it’s VMA time again! The VMAs are one of the ones of these I actually watch, generally because they’re legitimately one of the most entertaining awards shows going. The VMAs generally know their place as spectacle. After all, they’re the time of year when MTV honors a portion of its programming that basically barely exists – the awards show itself exists as nearly the only reminder of MTV’s origins as a place for Music on Television. Still and all, music videos are great, and it’s a fun bit of frippery as it is, even if the slate of nominees is now, as ever, pretty dumb1.

1 this is the annual footnote where I assert to the reading audience that while MTV is remembered in halcyon terms as a thing you could generally use to catch music videos whenever, mostly their playlists were terrible, and you could watch for a very long time before you caught anything worth seeing. Being able to watch whatever video you want on YouTube whenever you want is an infinitely better system, and the world loses nothing by surrendering a tightly-programmed chunk of the airspace to Scream or Teen Mom or whatever – at least those are easy to ignore.

The VMAs are a candy award show – it’s got no weight2, and, to its credit, does not pretend to. Similarly it’s to honor an art form that, however creative and interesting it can be, still amounts to (at the MTV level, anyway) visual commercials – buy the record, sign up for Tidal, watch this YouTube ad. It’s candy to celebrate candy and, as such, is Halloween for those of us like silly displays of personality and pop music.

2 although, presumably, it can be used to sell copies of records, and it definitely gets people to watch MTV, which is really what all of these things are for.

So onward along the multicolored path, friends! Let’s see what we’ve got in the bag this year.

Best Cinematography
Even MTV’s nods at seriousness are pretty goofy. The technical categories tend to be the way for the VMAs to honor the sort of artist that thinks that music videos are an extension of their own art3, as well as big names in “serious” music that they wouldn’t otherwise be able to honor. This is sort of a chicken-and-egg situation, as someone who puts as much thought and care into his visual presentation as, say, 2016 nominee David Bowie is of course going to choose a great cinematographer to effectively shoot his video (which, for the record, he did – the “Lazarus” video looks great, but then, so do all David Bowie videos, which is rather my point here), but also that may largely be because it’s what’s expected of the “serious” folk (which, again, is probably due in no small part to David Bowie). All of which is to say that I know about as much about cinematography in the music video context as I do in the film context (not much, really), so why not just give it to David Bowie?

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: David Bowie, “Lazarus”

3 actually, this is a sentence that’s bound to infuriate. I get it, I do. I understand that many great musical acts – from this year’s superlative Lemonade (Beyonce) and Endless (Frank Ocean) all the way back to early Devo (who relied on their early films to help decode their complicated visual identity) and the Residents (who, for a while, functionally were their visual identity) – have used videos to help communicate their vision. It absolutely does happen. But those cases are far rarer than people who use videos as a marketing platform, and even among the artists we think of as owing something to the form, we’re still talking largely about people who created striking visuals to get people interested in the music itself, rather than an actual marriage of the two.  

Best Editing
Although, to build upon what I just said, I at least have a better sense of cinematography than I do of editing. I mean, all the shots seem to line up ok. Everything looks good. These are professionals, I guess. Maybe I should consult an editing expert.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: I mean, literally anyone except Fergie. The very least I can do is never proclaim Fergie the rightful winner of anything. Ever.

Best Art Direction
This, at least, is the other component of the “look” of the video (i.e. the stuff that goes into it – color schemes and decorations and general schema, that is then photographed with the cameras, which is cinematography. I almost know what I’m doing here, I just don’t always notice the quality of it, see). So, by all rights, it should go to the video with the best “look,” which, obviously, is not Fergie. It’s not really Adele or Drake, either. I mean, it’s really “Hold Up,” but I guess David Bowie’s “Blackstar” video was, y’know, alright4.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Beyonce, “Hold Up”

4 Back in January, when it dropped, I remember seeing it and saying “Well that wasn’t so bad,” having not been super-into The Next Day (see my piece on David Bowie earlier in the year). Obviously that’s a differently-weighted opinion in light of the fact that 1) it’s his last album and 2) he knew it was his last album. All due respect granted, “Blackstar” isn’t as good a video as “Lazarus,” and neither of them can beat anything from Lemonade.

Best Visual Effects
Aw. It’s Zayn. Isn’t that cute? Li’l guy made a video and everything, with his one name and his not being in One Direction anymore. Adorable! Weirdly, it’s also the one of two videos in which the visual effects are particularly interesting. Adele, Coldplay and and The Weeknd clearly spent some money, but, I don’t know, they could be better? I guess FKA Twigs remains reliable in terms of cool music videos.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: FKA Twigs, M3LL155X

Best Choreography
I mean, M3ll155X looks cool, but it isn’t much of a feat of choreography. Florence + The Machine’s “Delilah” is fine. The choreography in Missy Elliott’s “WTF (Where They From)” is much like the song itself – it’s good to have it there, but it feels like it’s kind of a retread of what we already had from Missy. That leaves us the two Beyonce songs. “Sorry” was partially choreographed by Beyonce herself, which is pretty cool, but it’s not as good as “Formation”.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Beyonce, “Formation”

Best Direction
I mean, I would like to say that although it won’t win anything, I like the “Hello” video. I like Adele’s videos generally5. It’s just that there’s Lemonade this year. I’m going to have to continue to sound like a broken record.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Beyonce, “Formation”

5 I’m especially fond of the “Chasing Pavements” video, which is a cool low-budget concept.

Breakthrough Long Form Video
I don’t know why the long form video category is “Breathrough” instead of “Best.” That seems weird. Is MTV just trying to see if we’re paying attention? It’s only been given out once prior to this year, which I guess probably has something to do with it. I dunno, man. I dunno.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Beyonce, Lemonade

Best Collaboration Video
Every single year, I am forced to remind myself that the VMAs are, at least ostensibly, there to be awarded to the video, not the song. Luckily, Fifth Harmony and Ty Dolla Sign’s “Work From Home” is every bit as stupid as a video as it is as a song. Ariana Grande and Lil Wayne’s “Let Me Love You” and Calvin Harris and Rihanna’s “This is What You Came For” are just bog-standard videos attached to pretty dull songs. Beyonce’s “Freedom” is a great song, but the video isn’t even the best video for a collaboration on its parent album, let alone in this category. I guess that means this one goes to Rihanna and Drake. Congratulations, you crazy kids.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Rihanna, “Work (f Drake)”

Best Electronic Video
Remember when mash-ups were, like, a thing? Like Girl Talk and The Hood Internet and Danger Mouse and all that? Well, now they’re getting nominated for VMA awards, in the form of 99 Souls’ mashup of “The Boy is Mine” and “Girl”6. Time marches inexorably forward, and I remain old. “How Deep Is Your Love” is a song performed by Disciples and credited to Calvin Harris, which he does an awful lot of. It is not a Bee Gees cover, which is sad. Mike Posner’s music is dumb, Mike Posner rubs me the wrong way, I cannot in good conscience say it’s Mike Posner. I don’t hate AfroJack or The Chainsmokers, although that might be because of their company in this category. I’d feel charitable toward just about anybody after all that.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: AfroJack, “SummerThing!”, for whatever that’s worth.

6 The song is, in the most 2016 thing ever, credited as 99 Souls featuring Brandy and Monica and Destiny’s Child.

Best Hip-Hop Video
I suspect I’m going to have to type Desiigner’s name a bunch in the coming few months. That makes me sad. It, alongside Bryson Tiller, makes me think that maybe the VMAs aren’t taking this very seriously. Imagine that. Anyway, Drake will always be Drake, and that worked for a short while, and now is back to being kind of dull. 2 Chainz is still 2 Chainz, which is admirable. Chance the Rapper’s video for “Angels” is pretty great, though.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Chance the Rapper, “Angels”

Best Rock Video
I feel like exhuming Fall Out Boy a year or so ago was one thing, but a retooled Panic! At the Disco is going a bridge too far. I would have the same opinion about All Time Low, but they never really went away so much as people didn’t pay attention to them for awhile. What a great time that was. Twenty One Pilots are not good. Coldplay is also not good, although usually their videos are alright. “Adventure of a Lifetime” is not one of them.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Since I didn’t write about the Hugos this year (for the same reason as last year: I don’t have anything to say that isn’t already said in other, easy-to-find places, and I don’t really feel like it would anything either to the discussion or to this blog), let me go ahead and say N.K. Jemison got the award she deserved, and that’s super-cool, and also that your time would be better spent reading The Fifth Season than watching any of these terrible videos. Go forth and do the right thing, people.

Best Pop Video
Surprise! It’s “Formation”!

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Beyonce, “Formation”

Best New Artist
So, like, the Desiigner thing I get, but this Bryson Tiller thing is still beyond me. There’s more good R&B in the world right now than in most years in my living memory. Why waste your time on that bullshit? I guess if you live in a place where a reasonable alternative is Joe Jonas’ band DNCE7, it probably sounds alright. But I don’t live in that place with you, so I’m free to say it’s not that either. Lukas Graham is a band, not a dude, and the only song of theirs I’m familiar with is “7 Years,” which makes DNCE look like Led Zeppelin, so that’s not going to work either. That leaves us with Zara Larsson, whose music wasn’t really on my radar prior to this, and who sucks less than the other people in this category.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Zara Larsson, but it’s hardly a victory now, is it?

7 still, regrettably, pronounced “dance” and not “dunce”

Best Female Video
See why I said that stuff earlier about Adele? Yeah, the “Hello” video is even pretty good. It’s just that she has to share the nomination period with Beyonce.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Beyonce, “Hold Up”

Best Male Video
Man, I haven’t had occasion to talk much about Kanye lately. So let’s say this: “Famous” is exactly the sort of thing that marks why we have a VMAs. It was at the VMAs, you’ll recall, that Kanye interrupted Taylor Swift’s thank yous8. That incident is immortalized in the lyrics to “Famous,” and marks the beginning of Taylor Swift’s seemingly-invincible rise to the top of pop-music Olympus. Ironically a line about the incident itself turned heads, and led to the leaked snapchat video (courtesy Kim Kardashian9) that began (what appears to be) the first major stumble in Taylor’s time at the top. All of which is probably way more to unpack than truly belongs here, in this awards show roundup, but which is, nevertheless, an interesting demonstration of the very effect on public opinion that Kanye is claiming to have in “Famous.” The “Famous” video also pissed a bunch of people off (it was Taylor’s anger at the video itself that prompted her to be angry in public anew, which led to the video leaking, which led to her being given a special tool by Instagram to block snake emojis, because Taylor Swift is a snake), and also is, as far as it goes, at least an interesting video. And it’s not like there’s any real competition in the field, here.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Kanye West, “Famous”

8 to heap praise upon Beyonce, no less
9 who, morality of her decision aside, cannot possibly have the same relationship to leaked videos that were purported to be private but actually seemed awfully damn performative, right? So I mean, it clearly means something contextually that that was her role in the matter, although that never really goes acknowledged in the public reaction to it.

Video of the Year
I mean, it will also be interesting if Kanye refuses his own VMA if he somehow doesn’t lose to “Formation.” Because I’mma let him finish, but Beyonce made the best video of all time. OF ALL TIME.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Beyonce, “Formation”

And that wraps it up for this year! Actually, Lemonade and the “Famous” video make it one of the most interesting VMAs to consider in quite awhile. Let’s hope the ceremony holds up to the early promise. Britney Spears is going to perform (we all still remember what happened in 2008, right?). Rihanna is getting the Video Vanguard award. All will be well, and all will be well, and all manner of things will be well.


Who the Fuck Would Listen to This: Magic!

In a lot of ways, it doesn’t matter what anyone thinks of Magic!1 This is not, of course, because of their half-baked2 approach to a “reggae”-adjacent3 everything-is-groovy flow, but because of the odd sort of throwback that Magic! represents.

1 I’m going to have to make a lot of difficult punctuation decisions over the course of this piece. I apologize in advance for all of them, and implore each and every one of you to, should you start a band, not end it in punctuation. Thank you in advance.
2 pun fully and enthusiastically intended
3 that is, it’s adjacent to “reggae,” which is itself at least one step removed from Reggae, the genre of music.

Magic! is the coming-together of a handful of professional songwriters (at least one of whom doubles as a record producer, or at least does so in the context of Magic!) into a band meant to manufacture low-level hits, which is kind of a difficult and tortuous idea. Obviously everyone in the record-selling industry wants every record that they’re financially involved in to sell as many copies as it can. But realistically, there are some acts that are basically bound to just exist in the lower-tiers, providing slots to represent the financial interests of a record label/record-selling institution on tours or television or awards shows or wherever one needs a band to show up. Those opportunities are increasingly rare4, and the ability to create something to fill those opportunities successfully even less-so.

4 amounting, by rough estimate, to something fewer than a dozen such opportunities per band per annum

Bands like Magic! were, as a result, much more common even just a decade ago (although their most-recent heyday was the late nineties) – bands that exist to be blandly likable, to be heard on the radio and be just catchy enough or engaging enough to appeal to people who think of themselves as people that like music5, but not, like, any particular kind of music6. As such, it’s easy enough to think of Magic! as a band completely behind its time.

5 these people are easy to find: they’re the people who say sentences “I love music.” It almost always means that they love the idea of loving music, and are thus prime targets for not developing their own taste or means of discovery, even in 2016.
6 when radio-programmed genres were a thing, there was always a station on the dial that was geared specifically to these people: their playlists were less focused on the current-charts than the Hot 100’s of the world, and I – and by extension, possibly you – only really ever remember them for their habit of cutting the rap parts out of pop songs, and coming up with slogans like “all the hits, none of the nonsense!” or something similar. Those stations are the stations that would have been Magic!’s bed and breakfast back when that was possible.

This does not, of course, matter in the slightest. The forces that are working to make Magic! happen are the vestiges of forces that used to make things like Magic! happen so frequently it was hardly worthy of comment. They’re continuing to work this band to the best of their ability7, and, as such are, at the very least, creating an interesting thought experiment about what it is that the vestigial arm of the record-selling industry can do.

7 there are other acts that the vestiges of the record-selling industry are also working, and generally successfully. It’s not like there aren’t songs being played on the radio or whatever, even if hardly anyone is listening. It’s just that those things aren’t bands, generally, and that’s the difference here.

To the record-selling industry’s credit, they managed to take this band that was assembled of industry pros and produce a triple-platinum (that’s three million copies) single, in the form of “Rude.” “Rude” was terrible, but it had a kind of clueless, belligerent terribleness that made it almost honorable. It was a song about being brung low by a woman’s parents, in which an unwillingness to grant enthusiastic permission to a reggae-aping whiner who speaks only in primary sentences to have his daughter’s hand in marriage is categorized as rudeness. Leaving aside the Eisenhower-era gender politics at play (which do not jibe at all with the reggae-aping, let me tell you), the decision to “marry her anyway” is also made without us once hearing a single thing the woman in question has to say. It’s also presented as the ultimate revenge stroke against the father – “then we’ll be a family” he says. I’m coming for your daughter, and there’s nothing you can do to prevent us from being relatives in the eyes of the law.

This song, as I mentioned, sold three million copies.

The ensuing album, which was called Don’t Kill the Magic8, sold almost exactly 1% of the number of copies of the single that it contained.

8 which title seems to invite a very easy joke, which I won’t make here because I respect you people too much.  

Lots of bands aren’t album bands. It’s not dishonorable to only be able to come up with a couple of good songs per album cycle. Hell, it’s not even uncommon.

Magic!, it turns out, aren’t even a singles band. They followed up Don’t Kill the Magic last year with the infuriatingly-titled (and infuriating-sounding) #SundayFunday (in which they wish the world were a “Monday-to-Monday Sunday funday”, which, really, means that the title is the least infuriating part of the goddamn song), which you didn’t hear because, well, nobody did. It did not do well.

It has always baffled me that a band that was assembled of industry professionals saw their success flee and then didn’t do what seems, to me, to be the sensible thing: pack it up, and try the next project. And so here we are. After a hit that has dropped out of the consciousness very quickly, and a follow-up attempt that went nowhere, we have a whole nother album from these guys.

Where Don’t Kill the Magic was clearly thrown together out of whatever snips and scraps that were available to the studio pros that made it – it’s not what you’d call a cohesive vision, certainly, but it’s also got an offhand quality that mistakes itself as easygoing, and makes you, briefly, believe that this album might actually not be entirely be inventing its laid-back brah-ism. As it stands, it’s a lazy album surrounding a successful single, and is, therefore, beneath consideration in any sense, since there are hundreds, if not thousands, of those records in the world.

Primary Colours is, in many ways, just as much of a dog-bites-man headline. It’s a dumb follow-up to a dumb album, another circumstance which is common as nails. What makes it interesting, though, is that it’s a slight repositioning: this is a band reaching for the brass ring of serious adult contemporary careerism10. Primary Colours, you see, is a Serious Album about Serious Stuff that also is, y’know, summer and jah and just, whatever, you know?

10 in all fairness, this is also not uncommon. It is probably responsible for a good two-thirds of albums that follow up a steamrolling success. It is, however, unique in the present day, which is what brings us here to this piece.

Unfortunately, without the interesting musico-historical context of being a band trying to flog a largely-dead business model into success in this modern world, Primary Colours is merely a terrible album. Trying to exist in a stylistic range with The Police or U2, it lands somewhat short of UB40 and The Alarm. It’s produced (by a member of the band, no less) in a way that makes it seem to me like some digital effects controls were just set and then forgotten. In her excellent memoir, Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl, Carrie Brownstein uses, as an example that Sleater-Kinney had no idea what to do in a studio for their first few albums, the fact that they never adjust their amp settings or anything between songs, they just play them until they get a good take and move on11. It would appear that Magic! have adopted that philosophy, and applied it not just to amp settings, but instrument effects, production effects, and a whole barrel full of mixing “tricks” that just make the whole thing sound dead and samey.

11 we’re going to leave aside the fact that that story actually contains its own cautionary lesson about how to misproduce an album – i.e. err on the side of not doing as much – and focus on the fact that it’s specifically pointed out as the most obvious example of a band that doesn’t know how to apply care to their studio releases.

There just isn’t much on the record to even hear in the first place. The musicianship is bog-standard, and it’s all produced into a lifeless porridge. The only thing that differentiates one song from the other are the lyrics, which are, as you would expect from the guy that wrote “Rude”, terrible. At times, actually, they are horrifying. “No Regrets” is a song in which he pleads with a woman to get back with him because he admits they both have problems, but she needs to suck it up and not leave him. “Gloria” is about a lady that cheats on him on a cruise ship. “No Sleep” is about how much it sucks that he can’t go out to ragers all the time because he’s got a stable domestic life. The two singles, “Lay You Down Easy” and “Red Dress” are, to their credit, not the worst. The former being a perfectly normal “giiiiirl let’s go have some seeeeeex” song, abetted by Sean Paul, who, to his credit, does on this song what he does on every song. That doesn’t exactly help. “Red Dress,” on the other hand, is like a hateful version of the Eric Clapton song “Wonderful Tonight,” with our protagonist complaining that his date isn’t ready, and also that she won’t dress in the one thing he likes to see her in. Truly it is the summer jam for those folks who wish their romantic partners were more like dolls and less like autonomous humans. Maybe that’s the lady he stole from her dad in “Rude”. The title track also earns the distinction of being yet another song about recovering from lady problems, and begging her to be more like the primary colors, “so we can blend together again,” which is, y’know, a good way to make brown paint. Also, he names the primary colours, so if you’ve recently had a head injury and need somebody

The absolute nadir of the record, and of Magic!’s career, and, of, y’know, my day in general, is the song “Dance Monkey,” in which the protagonist is a literal monkey who has literally been trained to dance to a certain song, and now is plagued by the fact that everywhere he goes, people want him to perform on command. It’s also a metaphor. See if you are clever enough to figure out what unbelievably complex thing these guys are trying to communicate with this very subtle piece of storytelling! The song is worse than I can convey, I assure you.

I tried12 to like some of this. I like U2. I don’t always hate The Police13. I don’t hate pop music. For all of their studio-borne chicanery, they’re a band of dudes who play instruments in a group who believed enough in this record to put their names on it. Or at least to sign the checks that come from it. Surely that means something. I succeeded in the following: Sean Paul’s verse on “Lay You Down Easy” is not worse than other Sean Paul verses on other things, and there’s a part at the end of a song called “Need You” (much of which is spent with the narrator explaining to a lady that she shouldn’t allow her unhappiness to drive her to break up with him, because if she breaks up with him he would be sad) that gets real big and the band goes whoa-oa-oa-oa and for about ten seconds you can believe you might have heard part of a good song.

12 it may not be apparent, but I do actually spend some of my effort on each of these pieces trying to figure out some positive things to say about the record in question.
13 truth told, I actually don’t even hate The Alarm or UB40. At least they’re not Big Country or Simply Red.

So, to bring us to the conclusion: who the fuck would listen to this? Well, in the ideal world that Magic! imagines themselves in, you’d hear this stuff on the radio or wherever and pick it up on iTunes if you were the sort of person that doesn’t listen closely to things and is more interested in being able to grasp something quickly. But that’s not the really real world. In the really real world I have no idea why you would willingly listen to this. It’s not as good as the influences it wears super-obviously, it’s not in any way memorable. I guess if you’re a Sean Paul completist you might want to buy the one song, but as far as the album, I have absolutely no idea.

The Best Records of July 2016

This is slightly delayed because of the Teen Choice Awards/Olympics logjam. I certainly hope it being a few days late didn’t cause any irreparable harm.

The Julie Ruin – Hit Reset (Definitely the best record Kathleen Hanna has sung on since Feminist Sweepstakes, possibly the best one since Julie Ruin. It’s also much more of a full-band record than Run Fast, and the band itself is awesome. This album is so good, guys. So, so good.)

Blood Orange – Freetown Sound (Dev Hynes’ songs always sound like Dev Hynes songs. That means Blood Orange records are a pretty safe bet, and this one’s no exception.)

Motion Sickness of Time Travel – Affinity (This is way different from MSOTT’s last few records, and it follows a lengthy (for MSOTT, anyway) gap of just over a year, during which time they had a baby. Mazel Tov.)

Schoolboy Q – Blank Face (I don’t know that I would have guessed that doubling down on what he was already doing was the way for Schoolboy to return to making great music, but hey, I’m almost never a good predictor of what works)

Wreck and Reference – Indifferent Rivers Romance End (Felix Skinner continues to be a better vocalist with every record. Perhaps as a result, Wreck and Reference continue to be a better band with every record.)

The 2016 Summer Olympics, Part 2


It’s part 2 of this extremely helpful guide to the Olympics! They’re starting soon and it’ll be super-exciting, except for all of the parts that very much won’t be!

Equestrian
Horsies! Horsies at the Olympics! When I first started this thing, I conceived of dividing everything into “playground,” “summer camp” and “knightly” sports. I abandoned it because that’s a dumb idea, but this is still pretty clearly knightly.

Dressage
The world would be better if this were called “fanciness”. Basically it’s a gymnastics floor routine for horses, and is a test of the trainer’s ability to train and the horse’s ability to learn. As such, it’s basically a test of humankind’s dominion over all the beasts of the land and not, actually, a sport. Also it’s a bullshit judged competition about which horse can do fancy stuff the fanciest. And it’s not even called fanciness.

SHOULD I WATCH IT: If you are an eleven-year-old girl, I cannot, in good conscience, tell you to not look at the horsies. If you are anyone else, this is such bullshit I can’t believe I have to consider it.

Jumping
I mean, it’s pretty self-explanatory. You got a horse. It jumps. The horse that jumps over stuff fastest is the winner.

SHOULD I WATCH IT: The jumping events are ok. I like horses generally.

Eventing
Some fanciness, some jumping, and some good old-fashioned running. I wish the horses were given the medals and not the jockeys. This really is about the horses, which means the breeder and the trainer deserve the medal as much as the jockey. I feel like I should start a horsy union in order to fix the crediting disparity here.

SHOULD I WATCH IT: Ugh. No.
Fencing
There are three different types of sword (Foil, Epee, Sabre) in Olympic fencing. They all look basically the same if you’ve never paid any attention to it. The kind you’re picturing is probably foil. Anyway. Swords crossed at noon! Whoever wins somehow is not awarded the fanciest horse! The Olympics are dumb!

SHOULD I WATCH IT: No. Just watch an Errol Flynn movie or something instead.

Field Hockey
Hockey itself is one of the greatest of team sports. It’s beautiful, chaotic, pleasingly physical, and always moving, so always visually intersting. Field hockey is…well, grass can be pretty I guess. It doesn’t even have soccer’s high tension. It’s like soccer with sticks. Only it’s not as interesting as soccer.

SHOULD I WATCH IT: Nope.

Football
Or, y’know, soccer. But it’s officially called football for the Olympics, so football it will stay. It’s fine. You have an opinion about soccer already, and I’m probably not going to influence it here, so just vote your conscience and it’ll all be fine.

SHOULD I WATCH IT: That’s up to you.

Golf
Fuck golf. Fuck it end to end. Fuck it up and down. Fuck golf.

SHOULD I WATCH IT: Fuck golf.

Gymnastics
So gymnastics as a bunch of individual events (Rhythm, floor routine, vault, et al), and the the all-around. The all-around is given to the highest total score in the other events. So there’s a bunch of medals, and then there’s a medal for the most medals. These metamedals are given out individually and for team efforts. Other Olympic events combine their events in a hybrid form (the pentathlon, say, or the individual medley in swimming, or the horsey tri-race1, but the Olympics just take the events as they are run. I don’t know which approach I think is better, although i must also say that this a very low-level not knowing, as I think by the time I’m considering the best way to combine events for more medals, I’m well beyond the point where my frustrations with the Olympics as they exist allow me to be happy. And I quite like to be happy.  Also, on the subject of happiness, these are all 100% judged, so they’re 100% bullshit, even if they are occasionally exciting or impressive. It’s important to remember that.

1 if they won’t give their events the proper names, I will totally do it for them. Assholes.

Vault
They jump off a springboard, do a trick over a table thing, and then land without wobbling, at which point a bunch of judges decide how good at it they were.

SHOULD I WATCH IT: Not for even a second.

Floor Routine
This is like figure skating not on ice, except it isn’t as fun to watch, but it’s also more difficult and more athletic. Still judged, still bullshit, but not bad as such. Just not as fun as figure skating.

SHOULD I WATCH IT: Only if you missed the uneven bars.

Pommel Horse
Only the men do this one. It’s less fun to watch than Gymkata

SHOULD I WATCH IT: No, but you should watch Gymkata

Rings
This is another men-only event and is, in a lot of practical ways, like an inverted parallel bars. It’s a little more fun than that because they’re hanging instead of pushing, but that’s about it.

SHOULD I WATCH IT: No

Parallel Bars
The bars are on the floor, the men push off of them and do a bunch of handstands and kicks and stuff, and then the judges pick the best kickflipper.

SHOULD I WATCH IT: Nope

Horizontal Bar
And again a men-only event. This one is more dynamic – the swinging aspect means it takes up a range of the y-axis that other events don’t, and it moves pretty fast, without being an incomprehensible blur like the vault. It’s pretty satisfying.

SHOULD I WATCH IT: The men are getting the horizontal bar instead of the uneven bars, so if you need to watch a men’s event that isn’t the floor routine, this is the one to go for.

Balance Beam
A women-only event. They stand on a stick and hop and stuff.

SHOULD I WATCH IT: No

Uneven Bars
This one is it. They flip around, they jump from one to the other, they kick, they spin. It looks great, it’s generally easy to tell when something impressive is happening, there’s the question of the landing. This is a good one, marred only by the fact that it’s a judged event2..

SHOULD I WATCH IT: Yes

2 I mean, I’m sympathetic to the need to have judged events – there’s no other way to keep score in something like this. I get it. I just think it’s bullshit.

Rhythm Gymnastics
This is the one with the ribbons and balls and shit. I’m not necessarily in favor of athletic competition where the people competing are instructed to behave like cats.

SHOULD I WATCH IT: Not when there’s an entire internet full of videos of actual cats.

Trampoline
Burn in hell, IOC.

SHOULD I WATCH IT: Not if you ever want to have any respect for yourself ever again.

Handball
I mean, I know that land polo is the thing with the horses. But this is basically water polo on land. Or lacrosse without the sticks. They throw the thing then they throw it into the goal. As inclined as I am to be charitable to goal sports, the ones at the summer olympics are kind of dumb.

SHOULD I WATCH IT: If you’re an insomniac or something it might help, I guess.

Judo
This is another weight class event. I don’t know enough about judo to know what the vagaries of each weight class are, but it’s fun to watch, as are most of the fightin’ sports.

SHOULD I WATCH IT: Sure.

Modern Pentathlon
Shooting, fencing, swimming, horsey jumping, then running. This event seems like someone let their kid pick the events. The only particularly “modern” thing about it is the shooting, and even that requires an extremely generous definition of “modern”. As stupid as the selection of events is, though, most of the actual events themselves aren’t so bad. They’re at least good visually. I mean, target shooting is not at all fun to watch, but the rest of them are ok.

SHOULD I WATCH IT: Sure, if you can get over how dumb it is and also if you can skip the shooting part.

Rowing
Sure, why not boats. I mean, it’s more athletic than riding horses, so it belongs here if the dumb horse events do. Plus they’re at least racing events, and team rowing events are genuinely impressive displays of group coordination and cooperation.

Single Scull
One dude, two oars, a boat. It’s slow, and as undeniably impressive as it is, it’s still boats moving slowly across the water.

SHOULD I WATCH IT: I mean, it’s soothing, but it’s not a great televised athletic competition.

Coxless Pair
This event is not nearly as hilarious as its name implies.

SHOULD I WATCH IT: No

Double Sculls
This one has a cox3, so the rowers aren’t steering. That makes it faster. Wee. It also has a “lightweight” division. So, y’know.

SHOULD I WATCH IT: Oh, sure. Why not?

3 it’s short for “cockswain”

Coxed Four
Four people rowing, one person steering. They get faster the more you add people, see.

SHOULD I WATCH IT: Yes.

Quadruple Sculls
Since there isn’t a coxless eight, the quadruple sculls are the rowing event I find the most impressive – the four rowers have to propel themselves quickly, and also handle steering with their oars. That’s pretty cool. Oh, and this is another one with a lightweight division also.

SHOULD I WATCH IT: Absolutely.

Coxed Eight
This is the big team one. If you’ve ever seen a rowing event, it was probably something like this. It’s fast, it looks neat, it’s a lot of coordination. It’s not as good as quad sculls, but it’s still pretty good.

SHOULD I WATCH IT: Yes.

Rugby Sevens
More dynamic and faster than soccer, easier to follow than fucking handball, This is a very good goal sport.

SHOULD I WATCH IT: Yes

Sailing
Well, it’s better than horsies i guess. I mean, it unequivocally is better than horsies. I just don’t want to seem too excited about it.

RS:X
This is, for Olympics-y reasons I guess, not actually just called “windsurfing.” I think it used to be. I don’t know. I’m not an Olympics historian. Anyway. RS:X is visually indistinguishable from windsurfing, and is therefore pretty good.

SHOULD I WATCH IT: Sure

Laser Radial
A laser radial dinghy has a shorter mast and smaller sail than a laser dinghy. I don’t know what about that is “laser” or “radial,” but it sounds cool. I think this is another event that should have to give its name to something more worthwhile.

SHOULD I WATCH IT: Nope

Laser
Single-person sailing races, man. I don’t know. I just don’t know.

SHOULD I WATCH IT: No

Finn
Finn sail canoes4 are the heavyweight dinghy at the Olympics. That’s about as interesting as I can make this.

SHOULD I WATCH IT: Definitely not

4 not their official name

470
I mean, at least these double dinghies require some teamwork. That’s something, I guess.

SHOULD I WATCH IT: Not if you can possibly help it.

49er
OK, but this would be a better event if they actually had to sail, like, Colin Kaepernak through the poop infested open waters of Brazil, would it not? I’m petitioning the IOC.

SHOULD I WATCH IT: Not in its current incarnation. Wait until my petition goes through.

Nacra 17
Ooh a catamaran! I love the word “catamaran”. I mearn, most words you use in boat sports are pretty cool as words. “Catamaran” isn’t unique in this regard.

SHOULD I WATCH IT: No, but you should say “catamaran” a bunch of times.

Shooting
Like archery, only with less movement.

Air Rifle
They shoot at a target. Mostly they hit it. Points are scored, rather than granted. At least there’s that.

SHOULD I WATCH IT: No

Rifle, Prone
Exactly the same as above, only they’re on their bellies.

SHOULD I WATCH IT: No

Rifle, Three Positions
I mean. I don’t have to keep explaining this, right?

SHOULD I WATCH IT: No

Air Pistol
A smaller, less accurate gun, then. That’s not what this needed to be entertaining.

SHOULD I WATCH IT: No

Rapid Fire Pistol
At least this event makes a cool sound. That’s more than the rest of these have going for them.

SHOULD I WATCH IT: No

Trap/Double Trap
Targets are moving away from the shooter. In double trap, there are two of them. I’m sure that comes as a huge surprise. Women don’t shoot double trap.

SHOULD I WATCH IT: Still no

Skeet
Targets move across the targets field of vision. In double skeet ther are two of them. Again. Still.

SHOULD I WATCH IT: Unbelievably, no.

Table Tennis
This goes along with badminton in the category of “I don’t know or why they got so good at this, but holy smokes”. The foremost sport featured in Forrest Gump5. Over time, they’ve made a ton of adjustments to the equipment to make it more televisual. Which, y’know, is dumb. Most of these things are televisually interesting. It’s dumb to single out this one.

5 I think the only other sport featured in Forrest Gump is football.

Singles
Two people, two paddles, one ball. This is the notable exception to doubles generally being the best version of volley sports – I find doubles table tennis less enjoyable because there’s too much going on in a small space.

SHOULD I WATCH IT: Sure.

Team
A lot of people, a small table. It’s complicated, I’m sure the maneuvering is really impressive if you know what the hell you’re looking at, but I sure don’t.

Tae Kwan Do
Another fightin’ sport. I like watching tae kwan do even more than most of the fightin’ sports.

SHOULD I WATCH IT: It’s the best international celebration of interpersonal violence on television!

Tennis
The premiere volley sport! I’ve given tennis more than any other sport I’ve ever not liked – David Foster Wallace writes about it so enthusiastically that I always think I can probably pick up on whatever it is that he’s happy about, and then I never actually can. I mean, it’s not as bad as most of these, but I still don’t quite get the appeal.

Singles
I’m running out of things to say about volley sports. They’re all kind of laid out the same, y’know? And I still haven’t even gotten to volleyball!

SHOULD I WATCH IT: Oh, sure. At least for awhile.

Doubles
Much more satisfying than singles, because the volleys get crazy after awhile – there’s a lot of practice and strategy and planning and all kinds of stuff that goes into this.

SHOULD I WATCH IT: Yes

Mixed Doubles
Like doubles, but with a man and a woman on each side, which generally means there’s even more fiddly strategic things going on. Which is cool. This is the closest I am to actively enjoying a tennis event.

SHOULD I WATCH IT: Yes

Triathlon
Swim, bike, run, just like any other triathlon.

SHOULD I WATCH IT: My opinion about watching marathon events is the same as it always is – don’t.

Volleyball
I genuinely like volleyball. Genuinely. It’s a good sport. You probably already know what it is, but just in case: two teams stand on either side of a net and bounce a ball up and over the net with their hands. They also do a lot of jumping.

Indoor Volleyball
Interestingly, indoor volleyball is the volleyball that’s a bit more like tennis – it’s mostly a fast, power-focused game. The back row people can’t leave the back row, the ball is heavy, it’s all about getting it onto the ground. It’s super-exciting, and it generally doesn’t take long.

SHOULD I WATCH IT: Yes

Beach Volleyball
The ball is lighter, the court is smaller, and all of the players can move all over their side. Beach volleyball tends to be more of a defensive game, which makes it a little less dynamic, but means that it can be more interesting. Beach volleyball is legitimately done a disservice by its often-cheesecakey presentation, a thing that not even the Olympics are immune to doing.

SHOULD I WATCH IT: Yes

Weightlifting
There are weights! On the ground! And then people lift them into the air! And then they put them down again! Usually they make a noise! And then a group of heavier people do that very same thing!

SHOULD I WATCH IT: Not if you haven’t recently suffered a traumatic brain injury. Cripes.

Wrestling
Lots of grabbin’ and layin’ and slidin’ around. I find Wrestling to be the least fun of the fightin’ sports, because there’s a lot of subtlety in what they’re doing6, and also because visually it’s just kind of…blah.

6 I mean visually – a lot of what’s going on in a wrestling match has to do with where the weight is carried/positioned, and how to keep your opponent from carrying/positioning their weight the way they want to. That kind of thing.

Freestyle
All of the above holds true, but at least in Freestyle wrestling the legs are involved – both offensively and defensively. So it’s a little easier to see, and also a lot less weird.

SHOULD I WATCH IT: No

Greco-Roman
Legs are only for locomotion in greco-roman wrestling. Can’t touch them, can’t use them to touch the opponent, none of it. It’s an Olympic sport designed for Captain Dan!

SHOULD I WATCH IT: No

And that about wraps it up! I think the summer olympics have a few more watchable events than the winter (although they have roughly three times as many events, so they probably should, at least mathematically), and the events that are bullshit are bullshit for different reasons (there aren’t as many dumb x-games ripoffs that are pretending to be international competition). Oh, and of course I can’t rate any of the ratings-grab fake human interest pieces that run two an hour between the games, but they’ll be there, and I would mostly advise you not to watch them for the same reason I tell people to avoid watching anything that turns real, actual people into emotional pieces in a game of “sell eyeballs to advertisers”. But, y’know, that’s a different fight.

The 2016 Summer Olympics, Part 1


The Summer Olympics are coming! And they’re already a total shitshow! Ah, the glory of international competition under an overseeing body that, at literally every juncture, fails to do their jobs. So cool. Makes me so happy.


I am not, as some of you may remember, Mr. Olympics Fan. I think they’re mostly pretty objectionable – the IOC is a bunch of clearly insane people, the television is clogged with super-manipulative human interest stories under the guise of “sports,” people who think they mean well go on and on about the world coming together, completely ignoring the actuality of the thing. People who have been raised to be, essentially, athletic freaks put on their athletic freakshow, some world records are broken, and everyone forgets all about most of it for the next four years, at which point it all happens again.

Only this year, there’s the fact that, once again, everything so far has been a shitshow. But again, as with every Olympics, the whole point of this thing is to drive people to actually watch the events. And, of course, even leaving aside things like “water filled with sewage” and “incomplete building projects” and “crime” and “doping testing facilities that aren’t usable” and “the Zika virus”, there’s still the fact that most Olympic events are quite simply not worth your precious eyeballs.

So I am here to help. Come with me on a journey through Olympic village, and I will spare you the tricky nature of deciding which events1 are worth caring about, and together we will…well, I will mostly ignore the Olympics. I’ll give you the tools to do with as you will.

1 306 of em, in 28 sports

AQUATIC EVENTS
Definitely the Summer-iest of the events, these are the ones that happen directly in the water. One of the advantages as a piece of entertainment that the Summer Olympics have over the Winter Olympics is that most people know what it is to swim, or run or whatever. Much more than luge, say. The aquatic events generally receive the benefit of that.

Diving
Jump off a thing. Spin or flip or whatever. Land in the water without a splash. Then do it again. Sometimes higher than others. Diving can be kind of fun to watch for a little while, but it’s one of those technical events of the type that mean I never actually know what I’m looking at. Also, it’s a scored event, which means the winner is decided by judges, which means it’s bullshit.

Springboard
This one is the classic sproingy jumpy kind of diving. It’s three meters above the water instead of ten, so the huge acrobatic stuff doesn’t happen as much here. It’s therefore a little easier to follow, and also much less likely for people to die, even if only because of the simple laws of gravity and acceleration.

SHOULD I WATCH IT: Maybe for a couple of minutes. See a couple of gainers. Perhaps a jackknife.

Platform
A platform doesn’t sproing, and it’s ten meters above the water. The dives are really complicated, and are in theory more impressive. In practice I find it’s about the same, it just takes a little longer to do stuff. Also this is the one where people get injured.

SHOULD I WATCH IT: Not instead of springboard diving, and also not if you don’t want to see people get injured.

Synchronized Springboard/Platform
I’m combining these two. They’re exactly like their solo counterparts, except, y’know, you do it together in tandem. It can be fun to watch, and unlike with solo stuff I can at least tell when someone is doing something differently than someone who’s a couple of feet away from them. Also synchronized platform divers chill out a little bit (doing really complicated stuff in tandem makes it extra-complicated), and so you’re much less likely to worry about something going terribly wrong.

SHOULD I WATCH IT: Oh, sure. People doing stuff in unison is always fun.

Swimming
Specifically, this is swim-racing. Racing sports are generally easy to watch (the one that’s in front is winning), and are generally mercifully brief. There’s a bunch of different kinds of swim racing here, mostly grouped by stroke, which is at least neat.

Freestyle
This is the sort of “classic” swimming event. The swimmers get to swim the way that works best for them2, over a variety of distances, topping out at 800 meters for the women and 1.5 kilometers for the men.

SHOULD I WATCH IT: The shorter races are fun, sure.

2 almost always a stroke called the “front crawl”

Backstroke/Breaststroke/Butterfly
All the “individual stroke” events are going to be combined here – they’re functionally the same, the only difference being the technical execution of the stroke itself, and therefore the watchability is constant. In addition to the straightforward racing aspects, there’s also the need to do it a specific way, lest they be disqualified.

SHOULD I WATCH IT: I don’t really see a reason to. The freestyle races are faster, and come without the Orwellian restrictions on how to move your arms.

Individual Medley
This is a grouping of four sets of equal distance, over the course of each of which the swimmer does one of the four olympic strokes. That is, they start out doing the butterfly, then the backstroke, then the breaststroke, then the freestyle.

SHOULD I WATCH IT: Yes. For two reasons: one is that even the longest of these races is just 400 meters, but also because this is one of those events3 that you can watch a freak of nature perform a nigh-superhuman feat of athleticism and then hear the announcer, having just watched it, say something like “Boy, you sure can tell that the backstroke is where they’re weakest.” It’s one of the most surreal things you can see on television.

3 combination events are often like this, and I’ll address it more when I get to the decathlon/heptathlon below.

Relays
There are two kinds, freestyle and medley. I’ve already gone over what they both are, so I won’t do it again. I find swimming relay races almost impossible to follow visually, although the handoffs are pleasantly complicated. Still and all, this is pretty easy to skip. The medley relay, which is the better of the two, isn’t as pleasing as the individual medley, in which each person has to do all that himself, rather than just the best member of each team.

SHOULD I WATCH IT: No.

Marathon
This is the open-water swimming, and I believe it is in the poop water linked to above. So, on top of all the thrilling action of a long-distance swimming race, you also have the knowledge that the water they’re in is full of poop. Woo.

SHOULD I WATCH IT: Of course you shouldn’t. But then, I don’t think I’ve ever seen the swimming marathons televised, so I guess it’s not a real question in the first place.

Synchronized Swimming
Imagine if, while people were figure skating, all the ice melted! That’s what the Olympic people did, and then they made it a sport. And then kicked out all the men, because Synchronized Swimming is strictly NBA.

Duet
Like pairs figure skating in the water. There are very few things more boring than duet synchronized swimming. It’s one of the many Olympic events that is undeniably an impressive feat of work that, nevertheless, is visually extraordinarily dull.

SHOULD I WATCH IT: Not even a little bit

Team
This is a little better than duet, because sometimes they do really complicated lifts without touching the bottom of the pool. But then, that’s pretty much the highlight. So.

SHOULD I WATCH IT: No. Maybe watch videos of synchronized swimming lifts on YouTube

Water Polo
Well, it’s a straight-up goal sport, which is a break from the constant judged events that clog the pools. Sometimes it’s interesting, although it’s a bit like watching people play handball. I’ve never found it super-engaging. Although it is fun to try to figure out how they keep the horses from drowning.

SHOULD I WATCH IT: No. There are better goal sports at the Olympics.

Archery
Shoot an arrow, hit a target. Marvel at the amount of technology happening on a modern competition bow. Wonder about what Geena Davis is doing right now.

SHOULD I WATCH IT: Probably not. It’s pretty repetitive.

ATHLETICS
Athletics covers the “Track and Field” events – your running, your jumping, your throwing. The sorts of things people did when they “ran track” in high school. It’s a hilariously generic name, but what are you going to do, it’s the Olympics.

Track Running
All the track running are lumped in here, in the interest of not spending the rest of my life trying to explain the difference between them in any kind of meaningful, practical terms. These are foot races, the shortest of which see a lot of turnover in the world records, so that’s always kind of cool. Plus even the longer ones of these are still pretty quick and, as with all races, it’s great to be able to tell who’s winning, and not to have to rely on judges.

SHOULD I WATCH IT: The shorter ones, sure. The longer ones, well, that depends on the viewer, I guess. Although running a 10K on a track sounds like a very particular vision of Hell, and I actually quite like running. Watching someone else run a 10K on a track is so far beyond something a comprehensible human would do that I can’t even consider it.

Hurdles
Like running, only also with jumping.

SHOULD I WATCH IT: I actually find watching hurdles events oddly soothing, but I don’t expect that to apply to everyone. Probably it’s easy to skip.

Steeplechase
Running that, in the Olympics, mimics cross-country running with hurdles and water hazards. Fun fact: the human steeplechase is named after the horse one4. Other fun fact: for every single Olympics in my lifetime, the gold medal in this event has been won by a Kenyan

SHOULD I WATCH IT: No. The races are quite long.

4 in Ireland, they used to race horses from one steeple to the other, a steeple being a tall, easily-visible landmark that you could race toward.

Relay
Running, then handing off, then running, then handing off, then running, then handing off, then running, then somebody wins.

SHOULD I WATCH IT: If your appetite for foot races is still unquenched when it starts, sure, why not?

Marathon
Running for a really long time. It is no longer necessary to be communicating important news of the outcome of a battle, but it might not hurt to do so anyway.

SHOULD I WATCH IT: Nope.

Walking
You know. Walking. Like old people do at the mall. Like the way you get around at the grocery store. Walking. This is racewalking, which combines all of the pulse-pounding excitement of walking with the niggling, detail-focused reality of a judge who determines if you are, in fact, keeping one foot in contact with the ground at all times. These judges are highly active, because the whole sport exists to blur the line between walking and jogging.

SHOULD I WATCH IT: If you read “the whole sport exists to blur the line between walking and jogging” and still have to ask yourself that question, you may in fact be beyond my help.

High Jump
You know, some sports contain their whole description right there in their name.

SHOULD I WATCH IT: It seems like it’d be fun, and it kind of is for awhile, but they’re all really only doing one thing. So it’s pretty tedious.

Pole Vault
Like high jumping with sticks.

SHOULD I WATCH IT: It seems like it’d be fun, and it kind of is for awhile, but they’re all really only doing one thing. So it’s pretty tedious.

Long Jump
You know, some sports contain their whole description right there in their name.

SHOULD I WATCH IT: It seems like it’d be fun, and it kind of is for awhile, but they’re all really only doing one thing. So it’s pretty tedious.

Triple Jump
Ok, so obviously I’m not so into the jumping sports. I mean, there’s a reason that Olympic coverage is a good 60% human interest stories: it’s because the events themselves just aren’t very telegenic, so they need other reasons to get people to watch, and a story about how some dude is just super-driven and also something about their parents and maybe a personal tragedy is more interesting entertainment than literally just someone jumping. So we arrive at the triple jump, which was formerly known as the hop, skip and a jump. There are rules about how each step – that is, the hop, the skip and the jump – must be performed, and where your feet need to be, and how they have to end and how they begin and then they measure that. How could that possibly be less fun?

SHOULD I WATCH IT: I mean, no. Of course you shouldn’t. But of all the things to marvel at the existence of, this is one of the most likely candidates.

Shot Put
The “shot” here refers to cannonballs, which the things people are “putting” resemble (and, originally, were). This isn’t, technically, throwing, but, y’know, it’s one of the throwing events. There’s no targets involved, so whatever.

SHOULD I WATCH IT: Probably not.

Discus Throw
It’s a shame these don’t have more in common with regular frisbees. It’s also a shame that they don’t just throw them like frisbees. It’s also a shame that there aren’t dogs out there to catch them. A shame for the viewer, I guess. I’d imagine a dog that tried to catch an Olympic discus would pretty quickly be an ex-dog.

SHOULD I WATCH IT: Nope! Especially not if they add dogs.

Hammer Throw
Spinning! Hammers! Throwing! Mrs. Trunchbull!

SHOULD I WATCH IT: If you have to watch a throwing event, I suppose this is the best one.

Javelin Throw
A throwing event without spinning is like a cake without frosting. I mean, it can be fine, but you can’t help but notice what it’s missing, and wonder why someone would do that. If they invent a spinning javelin throw, I’ll be more interested. I’m heavily invested in spinning, here.

SHOULD I WATCH IT: Not until they figure out how to start spinning.

Decathlon/Heptathlon
I’ve grouped these together as the “Bunch of sports” categories – the men are doing a decathlon, the women a heptathlon. Basically, they compete in ten (or seven) events5, and then there’s a relatively-complicated scoring method based on how well they do, with the points being added up at the end, and the one with the highest number of points being declared the winner.

SHOULD I WATCH IT: I don’t know that it’s possible to watch them as such, as I think they’re with the non -athlon competitors of each event. I could be wrong about that, because of course I don’t watch it.

5 Decathlon: 100 m sprint/400 m sprint/110 m hurdles/1500 m run/long jump/high jump/pole vault/shot put/javelin throw/discus throw. Heptathlon: 100m hurdles/200 m sprint/800 m run/high jump/long jump/shot put/javelin throw

Badminton
Ah, the backyard classic. Except that when you watch professional badminton played, you wonder what it is, exactly, that you were doing, because it doesn’t look a damn thing like this. It’s a shame that “shuttlecock” and “birdie” are both words that describe the same object, because they are both among the most noble words one can use to describe anything at all, and they should be separated for the linguistic good of humanity. Truly, we live in the darkest timeline.

Singles
Two people hit a birdie/shuttlecock back and forth over a net and sometimes it hits the ground.

SHOULD I WATCH IT: Not really. It’s a volley sport, and those aren’t the most exciting.

Doubles
The same as above, with four people.

SHOULD I WATCH IT: It’s actually a little better than singles badminton, because the addition of another person per side means a dimension of strategy and planning or whatever. Doubles volley sports are generally better than singles volley sports predominantly for this reason.

Basketball
Oh, you know what basketball is. The American men’s team is going to do wtihout its usual complement of all-stars, because a bunch of them don’t want to risk their health and safety (to say nothing of their careers) in the Olympics. I don’t blame them.

SHOULD I WATCH: Sure, it’s still basketball. It’s still not going to be all bad. I wouldn’t go out of my way to, necessarily, but it’s probably worth catching a few minutes of.

Boxing
While each different weight class requires its own set of strategies and best practices and whatnot, I’m going to lump them all together here. Generally speaking the lighter fighters move more and the heavier fighters spend less time actually hitting each other, but hit each other more effectively. Let that be the entertainment guide.

SHOULD I WATCH: You may enjoy watching one end of the scale or the other. Hard to tell which, but, y’know, boxing can be pretty satisfying. Especially if you, like I do, only consume a couple of matches every four years around Summer Olympics time.

Canoeing
Another Olympic event that clearly gets its start at summer camp, Olympic canoeing, at least at the Olympic level, actually has a great deal in common with downhill skiing, in terms of contest layout and event type. Oh, also, the venue for the canoe events is full of drug-resistant bacteria. Yay.

Sprint
Any sprint event is just about the same. Canoe sprints are fun to watch because it’s fun to watch a series of very specific movements performed very quickly. And also there’s a clear and definite winner, because it’s a race.

SHOULD I WATCH: Absolutely, if you can find it.

Slalom
It’s like regular canoeing, only they have to get real close to flags. The addition of getting real close to flags is an oft-used feature of Olympic events in both sets of Olympics. It is hyperdumb.

SHOULD I WATCH: No, watch the sprints instead.

CYCLING
Stuff you do on a bike. I was a kid in the X-TREME nineties, so this stuff always looks cool to me, even if I am capable of evaluating most of it as kind of dumb as actual sports.

BMX
They bike real fast, they fly off hills, they bounce over rollers. I mean, I know that I usually come down pretty hard on the Olympics, but BMX is awesome. It’s a race with a real winner, they aren’t expected to do dumb tricks, they just have to get over the track real fast. This is probably my favorite of the racing sports. It’s so much fun to watch that I’m willing to forgive that it’s a bullshit sport that America brought into this so they could win more medals, which I’m usually foursquare against.

SHOULD I WATCH IT: Oh yes

Cross-Country Mountain Biking
Eh. It’s long, and while there’s clearly a lot of skill and athleticism that goes into this stuff, it’s still not very visually interesting. Lump it in with all the other marathon race events

SHOULD I WATCH IT: No

Road Racing
This is more long-distance-type racing, this time over roads instead of out in nature. I dunno, man, I get why these are two different things, but can’t we just have more BMX?

SHOULD I WATCH IT: Again, no

Time Trial
This is racing fast, one at a time6, on roads. It’s, y’know, not super terrible, but it’s still not exactly what I want when I watch bicycle racing7.

SHOULD I WATCH IT: One at a time means this even goes on forfuckingever, and it also means they’re running devoid of context. You’re just watching someone zoom and looking at a clock. So no, definitely not.

6 although, and I don’t know why, they’ll start one rider at each end of the track and let them run it simultaneously, in opposite directions. They never, ever, ever high five in the middle, so there’s literally no entertainment benefit added by this nonsense.
7 which, to be clear, is very much BMX

Keirin Racing
This is a thing that the Japanese started doing. So the racers follow a pace vehicle for awhile, and then the pace vehicle goes away and the racers sprint to the finish. It’s a sprint race with a gradual start. It’s more fun than it sounds – the racers do as much jockeying for starting position behind the pace car as they can while still staying behind it, and there’s a surprising amount of tension in seeing who it is that’s going to go flat out at the end. It’s really a pretty cool racing sport.

SHOULD I WATCH IT: At least once, I think. It can sometimes be hard for some people to follow, and I’m not going to argue with that at all, but I think it’s awesome.

Omnium
This is like a combination-style event8, where the riders have to do a bunch of different race events, and then are assigned points based on how well they did in them and then a winner is crowned. Or, y’know, medaled.

SHOULD I WATCH IT: Each of the other bicycle events is better than this event itself. I’d skip it.

8 it’s like an all-bike hexathlon. The events are a straight-up race, a pursuit race, an elimination race, a time trial, a lap against the clock*, and a points race**
* Called a flying lap. Bicycle sports are weird as hell.
** thank god in addition to the bullshit of combining this bullshit, they found another way to add more bullshit. Because if I have one complaint about the Olympics, it’s that they have an insufficient quantity of bullshit. Except in their open-water events, in which some of the shit floating openly in the water almost certainly belongs to bulls.

Sprint Racing
Sprinting on a track with bikes. It’s flat (and therefore lesser) BMX.

SHOULD I WATCH IT: If BMX and Kierin can’t scratch your bicycle sprinting itch, then sure. Otherwise you can probably skip it.

Pursuit
Two people start a course at opposite ends, and compete to do it faster than the other. It’s sort of a race that way (it’s clear who crosses the line first, I mean), but also kind of weird to watch. It’s quintessentially Olympic in its need to take something straightforward and make it complicated and weird. And this one’s been around for decades, so it’s always been this way with the big O.

SHOULD I WATCH IT: No. Don’t encourage them.

Team Pursuit
OK, so,, just like individual pursuit, they’re doing the thing where they start at both ends. Except this time you’re running as a four-man team, and the winner is decided based on the third member of the team to cross the line. That’s a neat way to score it. But also, come on. Enough already.

SHOULD I WATCH IT: Even less so than the individual. Like I wish you could negative watch it.

Team Sprint
The first rider sprints one lap, the second rider two laps, the third rider three laps. That means that the third rider is basically going to win the damn thing. This is stupid. It shouldn’t even be allowed to call itself a sprint event.

SHOULD I WATCH IT: No

The next part (Horsies! Rasslin! Guns!) is forthcoming. Stay tuned!