A Considered Look at the Best-Selling Records of All Time, Part 2

What makes an album a gajillion-seller is a combination of factors so incoherent that it’s more-or-less impossible to list or talk about them in any real sense as a class – each gajillion seller is different in its genesis. At a certain point, however, the primary force behind a record selling a bunch of copies is momentum. More copies sold means more chart presence which means more press presence means more people exposed to it means more people hearing it means more copies sold. These records have reached a point where they have a kind of gravity – they accrete sales at this point, rather than achieving them, planetary bodies around which other records orbit, touchpoints for people to find and recognize while they find other, more personal planets.

That said, many of the best-selling records of all time are not specifically good or bad. I’m not going to bat for most of them here, but there’s usually a reason. What that reason is is sometimes anybody’s guess (and sometimes it’s more a success in marketing and stuff than it is in actual music). So, in the interest of figuring it all out, I listened to them. All of them. Even when it was painful. Even when it was really painful.

So I bring you part 2 this extensively-researched, closely-examined regarding of the biggest-selling records of all time1. Part 1 can be found here.

1 according to Wikipedia

Mariah Carey – Music Box
WHAT IT IS: Nineties pop music, which, as previously covered, sold a bunch.
WHY IT’S HERE: I wonder if it’s difficult for people to believe how hyperbolically popular Mariah Carey’s awful music was? She’s been a fixture of the “famous for being famous” circuit for such a long time at this point – more noteworthy in 2016 for her general inability to behave as a human than for her (admittedly impressive) voice. If it is, and any of you young people happen not to know, she sold so very, very many records. I suspect this is a testament to the ability of music videos to move units. She was a very videogenic singer.
AND…?: I mean, her music itself is terrible. It’s everything that was wrong with R&B in the nineties. It’s most of the things that were wrong with pop music full stop in the nineties. Also, if pop music hasn’t gotten any better in the last twenty-three years2, pop music production sure has. Music Box is even pretty terrible by the rubric of “Mariah Carey records”, mostly due to the fact that she sounds like she’s about to fall asleep for just about all of it.
THE BEST SONG: “Without You.” The best song on this album is a Badfinger cover. I honestly never thought I would ever have to write that sentence.

2 for whatever reason, the age of this album doesn’t send me into a paroxysm of contemplating my own mortality quite as much as the Celine Dion record from last time does.

Michael Jackson – Dangerous
WHAT IT IS: The follow-up to Bad3. See previously w/r/t Bad and move it forward in time a couple of years. It’s the same, in most terms that matter.
WHY IT’S HERE: Because it’s the same as Bad, in most terms that matter, including having a bunch of singles (although a smaller percentage than Bad), and also a bunch of videos and stuff.
AND…?: I mean, I hate to only have one thing to say about one of these records, but it’s a lot like Bad. Oh, the production is different, but that’s about it.
THE BEST SONG: Aw, hell, it’s “Black or White.” I’m only human.

3 this is the studio follow-up to Bad. There is at least one compilation in between the two (they’re four years apart), but this is the next actual album of material MJ recorded after Bad.

Various Artists – Dirty Dancing
WHAT IT IS: It’s the soundtrack to Dirty Dancing, a movie I have never seen.
WHY IT’S HERE: For the same reason soundtracks remain on here, and also because all of you have seen it, and that’s enough to sell a bunch of copies of your soundtrack album, provided it came out during the period of time when people were buying soundtrack albums.
AND…?: Well, for an album with a Blow Monkeys song on it, it’s better than I would’ve expected. It just sounds like older-skewing eighties radio music.
THE BEST SONG: “(I’ve Had) The Time of My Life”. Bill Medley could really sing. Nothing can take that away from him.

Celine Dion – Let’s Talk About Love
WHAT IT IS: Yet another Celine Dion record. This one is the follow-up to Falling Into You (see previous installment). One of the features of the worldwide bestsellers list is the fierce Canadian devotion to Canadian artists. Celine Dion is the highest-selling act Canada has ever produced, and Canadians buy Canadian stuff. I’m unsure if Canadian artists are more likely to sell in England due to their shared queen, but, y’know, it’s probably something worth looking into.
WHY IT’S HERE: Let’s Talk About Love has a kind of confluence happening, a perfect storm of record-sales-boom-years factors: it contains the hit from a super-duper-huge movie (“My Heart Will Go On”), the carryover from her previous megaselling record, the aforementioned Canadian thing, and a bunch of guest appearances from other super-famous singer types4 (the Bee Gees, Barbra Streisand, Luciano Pavaroti). I’m surprised it didn’t sell more, honestly.
AND…?: Oh, it’s still awful. I mean, there’s not really any way to save this. Unlike last time, the Jim Steinman song doesn’t even work. Oh, and former The Bodyguard songwriter Linda Thompson wrote a song for it also. I should write a book about her or something, this is still super weird.
THE BEST SONG: “Why Oh Why,” but that’s pretty thin gruel

4 and Diana King

The Beatles – 1
WHAT IT IS: A collection of The Beatles’ number 1 hits and thus a sort of de facto single-disc greatest hits5. It is also, due to where my Beatles phase fell biographically, the first Beatles album I ever owned.
WHY IT’S HERE: Repackaged or not, it’s still a Beatles disc with a bunch of songs you definitely know on it, and it was accompanied by a huge marketing campaign and all that.
AND…?: I mean, they’re good songs, and they’re easy to like, and it’s The Beatles. It’s weird what went to #1 and what didn’t, I suppose, but honestly, it’s as good as you’d think it is, for whatever value of “good” you think the Beatles are.
THE BEST SONG: “Ticket to Ride.” I unabashedly have a favorite Beatles song, and it’s unabashedly “Ticket to Ride”. But I would accept “Hey Jude”.

5 The Beatles other extant greatest hits discs are the red and blue collections, which are each double albums, and thus fetch double-album prices. Interestingly, because of the way the RIAA counts sales in the U.S.*, each of these makes the best-selling album list in the United States, but hasn’t sold enough to make it for the worldwide list.
* to wit, a double album counts as a double purchase, thus each copy bought counts double. This is the means by which The Weeknd got his first platinum record a couple of years ago – Trilogy was a triple album priced as a single album, and thus only sold just over 300,000, each of which counted triple.

Adele – 21
WHAT IT IS: It’s far and away6 the most recent record on the list. It’s anchored to “Rolling in the Deep,” which obtained a kind of public-space ubiquity that is functionally impossible in 2011 (despite the fact that it actually, y’know, happened).
WHY IT’S HERE: Adele is as close as it’s possible to a pop star that appeals to pretty much everybody that likes any particular stripe of pop music. She’s a classically good singer whose records are remarkably free of production dross or dumb sounds, and 21 is a strong collection of songs. “Someone Like You” and “Set Fire to the Rain” would have also been impressively gigantic singles if they weren’t dwarfed entirely (in sales and quality, frankly) by “Rolling in the Deep”.
AND…?: It’s a good record! It sounds good, the songs are good, it’s good. There’s very little about it not to like.
THE BEST SONG: “Rolling in the Deep,” for which not enough praise is heaped upon the backing vocalists.

6 by, like, a decade

The Beatles – Abbey Road
WHAT IT IS: The final Beatles album to be recorded7, and also the most inconsistent – “Here Comes the Sun” and “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer” are on this album, and if that isn’t peaks and valleys then I don’t know how else to define it. This is a rare creature, in that it’s an album that was pretty much known ahead of time to be the band’s final trips into the studio.
WHY IT’S HERE: You know, I can’t really think of a thing that would elevate it in sales over, say, Revolver, but it’s here because it’s The Beatles, and because it has a bunch of hits on it. Although I will say whatever it is, I’m not immune to it, because it’s the album I listen to the most often in the present day. Except “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer”.
AND…?: Paul McCartney’s suite that (mostly) ends the second side – “Golden Slumbers/Carry That Weight/The End” – would be enough to make it a great album even without “I Want You (She’s So Heavy)”8 or the two George Harrison songs (“Something” and “Here Comes the Sun”). Obviously it’s pretty good.
THE BEST SONG: “Golden Slumbers/Carry That Weight/The End”, or, if you need something that’s all on one track, “I Want You (She’s So Heavy)”.

7 the troubled Let it Be was recorded before it, but released after it.  
8 perhaps the greatest deployment of the locked groove* ever released on vinyl.
* this, for you youngsters, is where the actual, physical groove of the record at the end of the song – the riff that’s repeated a bunch of times on the CD/mp3/however you listen to it – is constructed such that it resets the needle so that the riff repeats until you get up and physically remove the needle from the record. Its major contenders for “greatest” (and further examples) are side 4 of Lou Reed’s Metal Machine Music, the end of “Providence” on Godspeed You! Black Emperor’s F#A#infinity, and the end of “Expressway to Your Skull” on Sonic Youth’s Evol.

Bruce Springsteen – Born in the USA
WHAT IT IS: The MTV hitmaker era of Bruce Springsteen in its (I guess) best form. Stuffed full of songs that were worked as singles, most of which were attached to videos (at least two of which are even kind of memorable), it is also the first of a string of Bruce Springsteen studio albums that are…not great.
WHY IT’S HERE: Probably egregious misunderstandings of the title track? The aforementioned videos, surely, and a general gameness to play along with a new form of promotion and whatnot. It’s also as radio-friendly as anything he’d recorded to this point – even moreso than the far superior Born to Run or Darkness on the Edge of Town that launched his rockstardom9 – and that probably helped.
AND…?: I really don’t like it as a record. It has some good songs – “Born in the USA,” “No Surrender” and “Downbound Train” – but mostly it’s just an overproduced mushpot of a record.
THE BEST SONG: “Downbound Train”

9 and considerably moreso than my actual favorite Bruce Springsteen record, Nebraska.

Dire Straits – Brothers in Arms
WHAT IT IS: Another album that was absolutely hugemongous when it came out that isn’t much thought of now – “Money for Nothin’”, “So Far Away” and “Walk of Life” are still on classic rock radio all the time, but it’s not like it comes up in many other contexts – and an ignominious end to a pretty good band.
WHY IT’S HERE: Well, as I keep saying, it used to be possible to market these things into existence. The Dire Straits had made a handful of records at the time of Brothers in Arms, and had some success, but this is their big, swing-for-the-fences attempt tocapitalize on that rock star brass ring. It was helped along by the highly-seen video for the cranky, Sting-deploying “Money for Nothin’”, which was probably enough in 1985 to sell several million copies on its back alone.
AND…?: It’s alright. The Dire Straits’ first, self-titled album is pretty much unimpeachable, but there’s diminishing returns over time10. It feels less like an outgrowth of the band, and more like an attempt to make a bunch of money out of a known quantity – it’s their last album before their first breakup, and it’s hard to imagine that the decision to make it sound like an overbaked 80s radio rock record is anything but financially motivated. That’s not to the album’s benefit. That said, it’s not bad. It’s just that not hearing it wouldn’t prevent you from living a full and joyous life.
THE BEST SONG: “Brothers in Arms,” which, tellingly, was written several years before the rest of the songs on the album, and feels like it’s actually the work of a band.

10 just compare “Sultans of Swing” with “Walk of Life” for an idea of just how different the two things are.

James Horner – Titanic: Music From the Motion Picture
WHAT IT IS: It is exactly what it says on the tin.
WHY IT’S HERE: Titanic really, really took over pop culture in a way that even being one of the highest-grossing movies of all time can’t really communicate. This is the score. It sold many millions of copies. It probably sold to people who already owned the Celine Dion album with “My Heart Will Go On” on it.
AND…?: James Horner is big business in the realm of film scores, which I always think is weird, because I pretty much never remember his film scores. I literally cannot imagine buying one as an album, and several of the movies he’s scored11 are movies I love or have loved deeply. It’s fine as film music, but listening to it in isolation doesn’t really do much. Of course this may be partly because it’s the score to a film I saw one time almost twenty years ago.
THE BEST SONG: Uh… “Rose”? Let’s say “Rose”.

11 To wit: Aliens, An American Tail, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan and The Rocketeer.

Madonna – The Immaculate Collection
WHAT IT IS: Madonna’s “greatest” hits.
WHY IT’S HERE: Because Madonna sold a whole mess of records, and the songs everyone knows are in one place here.
AND…?: My opinions about Madonna notwithstanding, a collection of Madonna’s most radio-played singles is literally the one thing I could reasonably justify someone wanting to have, so I get it. It’s still terrible, but there’s no accounting for taste.
THE BEST SONG: “Like a Prayer”

Metallica – Metallica
WHAT IT IS: “The Black Album”. The album where Metallica started writing shorter, catchier songs. The biggest-selling heavy metal album of all time.
WHY IT’S HERE: The mid-to-late eighties (Metallica came out in 1991) were the period when heavy metal began its journey on the road to its current state of being an endlessly-fractured set of microgenres, each of which had specific rules about its presentation and conduct. Part of what happened, here, was that some of the heavy metal bands associated with Los Angeles’ Sunset Strip (and also New Jersey, but I don’t have an answer for why that happened) became very famous and the louder, more aggressive bands (the ones that would become responsible for speed metal/thrash metal12) became a refuge for people that wanted to listen to heavy music that didn’t involve a high degree of bullshit13, and that was actually heavy, and not just dumb music made by dumb people for dumb reasons14. Metallica was the best of these15, but were also, it turns out, the most willing to play the game. So they spent a few years converting themselves from the band that had to be talked out of naming their first record Fuck ‘Em All to being a band that converted their considerable chops – both in terms of playing and songwriting – into writing punchy songs with choruses and stuff, which in turn made them easier to seek out and get into, which snowballed into them selling a gajillion copies of this record after the videos got on MTV and stuff.
AND…?: It’s still pretty good. I liked this record a lot as a young person. I like it somewhat less now, but it’s still fine. It is, as is par for the course for the greatest selling records of all time, overproduced, but that’s probably to be expected. It’s not nearly as good as the Metallica records prior to it. It’s better than the Metallica records that came after it. I have a really boring set of opinions about this record. They’re pretty much the same as anyone else’s.
THE BEST SONG: “Wherever I May Roam”

12 See? This is why heavy metal is such a difficult thing to keep track of. NB also that the couple of sentences preceding this footnote contain no less than 4 points of contention for metal historians, and I’m not addressing them outright because there is literally no way to be correct here.
13 yet
14 do you see the subtle editorializing there?
15 I am asserting here that Metallica were better than Exodus, Slayer and Megadeth, for context.

The 2016 Primetime Emmy Awards

So, The Emmys. These are hard ones to write about, and especially so this year, because we’re dealing with a very small number of shows. I would love to do some research into whether the pool of television shows nominated for these things is, in fact, getting smaller every year. There’s so much more television, you’d think that there would be more than four things in every goddamned category. Maybe I’ll put together some numbers in my spare time. All I can say is that this year the pool of nominees seems oppressively small, y’know? I think it’s not helped by the fact that a lot of these shows are veterans – there’s a couple of new ones, but mostly it’s things that have been on and Emmy-nominated for years, and I’ve written about them, by the time we’re getting here, several times over.

I dunno, guys. The categories are as good (more or less) as they are for any awards show – there aren’t really very many things that are outright inexplicable (although, seriously, The Affair?), it’s hosted by Jimmy Kimmel and thus might even be kind of fun to watch?

The upshot of all this is, I clearly (since you’re reading this) went into the breach to pick some winners, because it’s what I do here, but man, this was a tough one.
Outstanding Writing for a Series, Movie or Dramatic Special
I mean, the second season of Fargo was better than the first one, but I feel like The People vs. O.J. Simpson deserves some credit for having writers that managed to file down Ryan Murphy’s….general Ryan Murphyness, and create something that’s dramatically compelling and, like, linear and stuff. That’s not nothing, let me tell you.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: The People vs. O.J. Simpson, “Marcia, Marcia, Marcia”

Outstanding Writing for a Variety Special
Man, this is one seriously difficult category. They’re all good, really I mean, the last couple of years will go down as banner ones for Amy Schumer, certainly. Especially if the Emmy’s1 are a part of the record, but I think there’s better work here. John Mulaney’s The Comeback Kid was good. I have nothing bad to say about it. Tig Notaro’s Boyish Girl Interrupted suffers by being graded on the curve of Tig Notaro material, which makes it seem relatively slight, if still terribly funny. Triumph’s Election Special 2016 was an excellent return of a character that, frankly, I’ll always love. But I really think Patton Oswalt took this one. Talking For Clapping is bound ineluctably to the tragedy of his wife’s passing, but I think over time, as it becomes easier to watch with distance, it’ll be remembered as a high point in his stand-up (which is really an awfully high high point).

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Patton Oswalt, Talking for Clapping

1 she’s up for even more, see below

Outstanding Writing for a Drama Series
I think it would be cool if we stopped pretending that the writing was a reason to like Game of Thrones. I know I’ve come down on it fairly hard in the past, but honestly – the cast is appealing, the direction is good, the set decoration is great, but the tv show’s writing2 is….well, it’s like a manly soap opera. With dragons. Enough already. Downton Abbey’s writing is similarly nonspectacular (although it used to be a lot better), so we’ll throw it out also. I feel like UnREAL is surprising more than it is good, and is being graded on a curve here. The Good Wife is almost certainly getting the nod solely because it ended. The Americans is genuinely an achievment in excellent writing.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: The Americans, “Persona Non Grata”

2 this has basically nothing to do with the books, which are fine as a piece of writing, and aren’t to my taste for a number of other reasons.

Outstanding Writing for a Comedy Series
Lots of great stuff here. Silicon Valley had their best season yet (about which see below), Veep put up another great season. Catastrophe certainly existed. But Master of None’s “Parents” was a fantastic piece of writing, working around the nonactors (or, well, technically I guess they are at lest temporary actors now) of Aziz Ansari’s actual parents. Hard to top that.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Master of None, “Parents”

Outstanding Directing for a Limited Series, Movie or Dramatic Special
This is mostly Fargo, The Night Manager and The People vs. O.J. Simpson again3, but where tPvOJS impressed with their ability to get their story told through the creative lens of one of our wackiest directors, the direction on the show itself is workmanlike. So is that of The Night Manager and, I’m sad to say, All the Way. But Fargo, man. That’s some directin’.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Noah Hawley, Fargo, “Before the Law”

3 albeit with mostly different episodes – only tPvOJS’s “The Race Card” is double-nominated

Outstanding Directing for a Variety Special
Man, this category is all over the place. The director of the Kennedy Honors (Glenn Weiss) had to put together a dignified awards show program that airs on public television. Lemonade was a video album directed by its singer/writer and Kahlil Joseph. That alone creates two poles that you could pretty much hang anything between, directorially speaking. It is impossible for me to say who did a better job, or if the impressive (if slight) Grease: Live deserves it, or the concert film Adele: Live in New York City, which kind of has some stuff in common with the Kennedy Honors, except with a slightly more static situation. I just don’t know.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Seriously, I have no idea. This category is crazy.

Outstanding Directing for a Drama Series
I guess when I was being mad at Game of Thrones for being nominated for writing, I didn’t really take into account the directing. This is probably because I find it hard to pay much attention to the directing. That said, “The Door” did some really impressive things visually, and handled a bunch of moving parts well. So, for that matter, did “Battle of the Bastards.” I mean, not as well, but well. Given that they’re up against the straightforward Ray Donovan, the visually distinct but, at this point, old-hat direction in Homeland, and the still-just-a-period-piece Downton Abbey, there isn’t much else to compete. The Knick is pretty good, but I don’t know how much of that is the direction itself, Stephen Soderbergh notwithstanding4. So that brings us back to “The Door”.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Game of Thrones, “The Door”

4 although it brings the number of things that Stephen Soderbergh has directed that I’ve liked up to 4, so it’s nice to not be disappointed for a change.

Outstanding Directing for a Comedy Series
I feel like Amazon’s offerings (Transparent here, Catastrophe elsewhere) are kind of short-shrifted, but also, they just aren’t as good as HBO’s comedy stable (which is genuinely, between Silicon Valley and Veep, as strong as it could be), or even Netflix’s (whose Master of None is represented again here). What is interesting, however, is tha teach of the three shows here are marked by a genuinely worthy visual style, each of which is distinct from the other ones. Master of None less so. Transparent and Silicon Valley both do an excellent job of building the world around the insane things their people are doing, but really, I refuse to believe they didn’t learn at least some of their tricks from Veep.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Veep, “The Morning After”

Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Limited Series or Movie
See, now American Horror Story doesn’t go for writing Emmys. That’s because the writing barely exists – it’s one-liners and Rube Goldberg machines for scenery-chewing setups. It’s difficult to judge against, say, Jean Smart in Fargo (although not difficult to judge against Melissa Leo in All the Way. Blech.) Regina King continued to do a good job in American Crime, but did she beat a kid to death while screaming “I MATTER”? No, no she did not. That was Kathy Bates. And whie Sarah Paulson was pretty good in the same show, she didn’t make me want her to abandon the show and start her own road trip show with Dennis O’Hare. So, again, that was Kathy Bates.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Kathy Bates, American Horror Story: Hotel

Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Limited Series or Movie
Can we have a moment to imagine what it would be like if you told somebody in, say, the year 2000, that Ross Gellar, John Travolta and the kid who played Paul Walker’s little brother in Varsity Blues would all be up for the same acting award? Because that would be a weird thing to try to reconcile, let me tell you.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Bokeem Woodbine (who is none of the people mentioned above), Fargo

Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series
I mean, Maura Tierney is still getting nominated for The Affair? I like Maura Tierney. I really do. I used to watch Newsradio compulsively, and I’ve seen Liar, Liar more than I care to admit. Hell, I was even still watching ER when she was on it. At least for awhile. I think. Anyway. Come on with The Affair already. The rest of the candidates here are from the four dramas that are getting nominated for anything, and I like Lena Headey the best of those.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Lena Headey, Game of Thrones

Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama Series
You know, all of these are good performances. Like, there’s nothing wrong with any of them. But as with the supporting actress category, I feel that I have very little to say about it. Good job, good support, good good good. Nobody is setting me on fire with their performance, nobody is disappointing. This is why the Emmys are, in my estimation, the least entertaining of the major awards shows.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Ben Mendelsohn, Bloodline

Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series
I mean, I know it happens a lot, but is “various characters” really something you can get an Emmy for? I get that it’s a way to acknowledge that Kate McKinnon (who really is very funny) does great work on a sketch show, but I still don’t really feel like that’s how the Emmys work, y’know? This category is heavy on straightwoman types (although not necessarily straight woman types), and rarely do most of the nominees actually carry the comedy itself5. I am thus inclined to go with Niecy Nash, who has never been anything less than very funny in anything in which I’ve ever seen her.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Niecy Nash, Getting On

5 I realize this is a parsing problem – it’s the best supporting actress in a comedy series, which is not at all the same as saying that it’s the best comedic actress, but I still feel like it should be considered.

Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series
There was never even a contest. It was never going to be Ty Burrell. As much as Louie Anderson was loopily enjoyable in Baskets, it was never going to be him, either. Neither of the Veep performances would get in on their own – both Matt Walsh and Tony Hale are really doing great ensemble work, just not great individual work. “Various characters” continues to be kind of cop-out, right? Andre Braugher gave the second-best performance of the year, certainly, and one to be enjoyed by all forever6. But really. Titus Andromedon.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Tituss Burgess (and I just noticed that the character’s first name is totally spelled differently from the actor’s first name by dropping that final “s”), The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt

6 I mean, nobody in this category except Ty Burrell is actually bad, and he’s only bad because Modern Family has been shambling along zombie-like for far too long.

Outstanding Lead Actress in a Limited Series or Movie
I do think that it is crazy that there are enough of these anthology series that they all count in this category. I furthermore think it’s weird that American Crime and American Crime Story both get to use the same name. I furthermore think it’s weird that Fargo was adapted into an anthology series, as much as I genuinely like it. Anyway, Kirsten Dunst is very good at acting.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Kirsten Dunst, Fargo

Outstanding Lead Actor in a Limited Series or Movie
OK, this is a bad category. I said in my intro that the categories were generally pretty good? This category is why I had to say “generally.” To save some word count and avoid dwelling on this too long, let’s just cut to the chase.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Idris Elba, Luther

Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series
This is what I will say: I have often mentioned that conventional dramatic movies leave me absolutely cold. There’s a fairly weird reason for this that has to do with my basal opinions about movies8, but it leads me to say this – there was an oft-said witticism (more common a couple of years ago) that goes something along the lines of “the best films are all tv shows now”. I don’t agree, for reasons that would require another wrong footnote, but I can see where they’re all getting it for this reason: there really aren’t a lot of dramatic series that I have any kind of time for. And so, once again, this category is boiled down to Taraji P. Henson (who, let’s be honest, is also just doing the same thing for another year as Cookie)  or Tatiana Maslani9, as it did last year. And again, Tatiana Maslani is doing more acting, so she gets the award, because that seems like a good enough reason to get an award to me.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Tatiana Maslani, Orphan Black

8 it starts, sort of, with a decidedly nonstandard take on what I like about acting, which is that I prefer it performative and artificial rather than naturalistic. Since so much of the classical thought about what is “good” and “bad” is actually talking about “naturalistic” vs. “non-naturalistic”, it is hard for me to talk about, or even make known my feelings about, most acting without hitting the wall of the standard definition. I may write more about this someday, but the point I’m making here is that I do not value certain things that are awarded at awards shows, and it makes the process of writing about awards shows somewhat difficult.  
9 with an aside to point out that The Americans is a fine show, and Keri Russell gives a fine performance without it being any great shakes, acting-wise. I mean, she’s better than Robin Wright, certainly.

Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series
I think House of Cards has officially become the Modern Family of this category – it started out strong, and there were reasons to keep with it, but at this point those reasons don’t really exist. And, honestly, is Kevin Spacey really that good in it? I submit to you that he isn’t. Anyway, I speak at least once a year about not giving awards to actors that basically give one performance year in and year out10, so that rules out Liev Schreiber as Ray Donovan and, unfortunately, Bob Odenkirk as Jimmy McGill11. Rami Malek is fine on Mr. Robot, Coach Taylor is fine on Bloodlines, I still really like The Americans.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Matthew Rhys, The Americans

10 this is a position that I go back and forth with myself about whether or not is actually tenable, but also at this point it’s useful for weeding, and it’s a rule of these writeups, so it’s handy to just support it. Besides, next year I might be all the way back behind it. Who knows?
11 who I would like to suggest be called “Srs Frasier.” Thank you for assisting in this new name.

Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series
You know, Getting On never really got it’s due. And now it’s over, and it’s not going to get it’s due here, either. Sorry, Laurie Metcalf. You did a great job. Amy Schumer and Lily Tomlin are both nominated here for playing, basically, themselves in comedic situations. That’s fine (and they’re both fine performances), but it’s not really enough. Julia Louis-Dreyfuss is still doing great work as Selina Meyer, but it’s still an ensemble show, and it’s still the same performance it’s been for several years now. Tracee Ellis-Ross is great on Blackish, but really, this year I have eyes only for Kimmy, comedically speaking.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Ellie Kemper, The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt

Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy Series
Let’s see. Anthony Anderson is doing a good job of playing a fairly stock sitcom dad, so that’s not really the sort of thing to encourage getting awards (although he is very funny). Will Forte is fine. William H. Macy has been playing Frank Gallagher the same way for a long time, so he’s out. Thomas Middleditch and Jeffrey Tambor could beat just about anybody in any other year, but I really loved Aziz Ansari in Master of None.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Aziz Ansari, Master of None

Outstanding Reality Competition Program
This category is really starting to fray. People used to be deeply invested in The Amazing Race, and it often won this award – it played to the “reality” aspect better than the “competition” aspect, but the competition framework was what held it together. In this way it’s similar to Top Chef, which inverted the competition/reality aspects and also won a bunch of emmys. But both shows are, frankly, well past their prime12. Project Runway is in a similar boat, but I never liked PR’s leaning so heavily on the gimmicks of their contestants, so it was barely in the race in its prime. Dancing With the Stars is, I’d imagine, no worse now than it’s ever been, but really, this is at least trying to be a serious award, so it’s hard to really consider it either. The Voice is fine. American Ninja Warrior is a joy to watch, and is genuinely about people being good at stuff, and then doing it with other people to see who’s better at it. That’s what I’m looking for out of a reality competition show, and that’s what it grants. Bully for American Ninja Warrior.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: American Ninja Warrior

12 I do still watch Top Chef, but I am no longer comfortable making an argument that it’s still good in any meaningful sense of the word.

Outstanding Television Movie
At the end of the day, the question here is: do I prefer Luther or Sherlock? Truly this is a huge and borderline-unanswerable question. It’s hard to choose. I guess I’ll say Luther, since it’s a rarer occasion that I get to say it.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Luther

Outstanding Limited Series
So, taken as a whole, is American Crime Story: The People vs. OJ Simpson better than Fargo? I maintain that it is not.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Fargo

Outstanding Variety Sketch Series
Do you suppose it’s any consolation to Scott Aukerman that, even though Comedy Bang! Bang! Isn’t nominated here, they did, in fact, answer his (and, as a result of his piece in Variety, a bunch of other peoples’) call to separate out the variety series Emmys into talk and sketch? I wonder. Anyway, if this wasn’t such a strong category, I’d be more upset that CB!B! didn’t make it. Portlandia hasn’t kept up the first-season greatness13, which is hardly something to fault it for, except that it’s not good enough to be the best of this field. Saturday Night Live had an ok season, but also it’s not going to win either. Inside Amy Schumer and Drunk History are each, in their way, making the world better, and are becoming Comedy Central institutions, which is great. Documentary Now! is phenomenal, and I look forward to seeing it go to a bunch of cool places comedically. But Key & Peele just ended and, really, it was the best. The damn best.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Key & Peele

13 I mean, I love Fred Armisen, but he does have a tendency to overwork things. I’m hopeful that Documentary Now! doesn’t fall to the same fate.

Outstanding Variety Talk Series
I mean, it’s all pretty boring outside of John Oliver? And the best parts of two of these are basically just people doing stuff in a car? Right? Talk shows, man. Yuck.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Last Week Tonight with John Oliver

Outstanding Drama Series
Throwing out House of Cards and Downton Abbey outright – they’re way outgunned here – we’re still left with a lot of good choices. Well, three good choices, because it’s not Homeland (which, like House of Cards, is well past its prime) or Game of Thrones. And, well, it’s probably not Better Call Saul, either. So two good choices. But they’re two really good choices. And it isn’t Mr Robot.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: The Americans

Outstanding Comedy Series
I mean, having to choose between Silicon Valley, Master of None and The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt may seem very difficult, but actually it isn’t. Maybe the casts of Silicon Valley and Master of None (and probably Veep, the other close contender, albeit not as close) can get together and vandalize the sets of Modern Family, which really has absolutely no place up here anymore. It might be the only way to stop them.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt


The 2016 Trainie Awards


Here is my annual small contribution to the idea of awards! Every awards-granting body is, at least in part, choosing its grantees with the intention of situating itself in the awards-granting period. In the case of most televised awards shows, it’s to increase revenue for the award-granting body, or to the industry attached thereto. In my case (as I derive no revenue from this), it is merely to draw out some thoughts/make an opinion known about some things that I didn’t get the chance to through the normal course of the writing year1. So enjoy as I present to you: the awards for the sorts of things I think about when I’m not thinking about awards (which I have cleverly converted into things that I think about awards about, because that’s apparently just how I live my life).


1 in fact, many of these are boiled-down versions of pieces that I was going to write that I either a) didn’t have enough to say about them or b) don’t have a real point of view that’s interesting enough to justify expressing here.

Achievement in Positivity in Awards Granting – The 2015 and 2016 Hugo Awards

I have written at several different installments about not specifically writing about the Hugo Awards, but since both last year’s and this year’s have happened in between installments of the Trainie Awards2, I will say: it speaks to the robustness of the audience and the voting mechanic of the Hugo Awards that a pernicious attempt to vote-brigade into existence a wrong-headed vision of sf as a genre (or set of closely-related genres)2 failed pretty much entirely3, due to a general distaste for/rejection of the ideas that were being presented. While certainly everyone should be allowed to vote for the vision of the world they see fit, the thing that makes it heartening (at least as someone who thinks that the genre should be as forward-moving and inclusive as possible, and not hidebound to what a bunch of people who are willing to get behind someone who refers to a WOC sf writer as a “savage”) is that people are so roundly against the idea in the first place. In 2015, when the awards were the most compromised, many Hugos were not even given (voting for “no award” being an option if you feel none of the works are deserving). In 2016, the four biggest fiction awards all went to the non-puppiest of options, including N.K. Jemisen (the aforementioned WOC sf writer who was referred to – repeatedly – as a “savage” by the putative mouthpiece of one of the puppies groups). Thus was a message sent: that there is clearly a group of people that agree with the idea that only the most retrograde ideas about what constitutes sf that is willing to be vocal, but they are not as numerous or as vocal as people who believe the opposite.

2 as mentioned, here and literally everywhere else, the two groups that are, for the sake of this argument, lumped together under the term puppies*, presented a slate (or, in the most recent interval, a suggested reading list) that encouraged people to vote for what they felt represented the truth of sf. Many of the selections (especially in the editorial and related works sections) were pretty execrable, and often downright hateful. The people presenting them were also (and the less said about them the better for our purposes here), but the whole thing was borne out of a notion that sf “used to” not be about inclusive thought, or futurist thinking, but rather about adventures, masculinity, and white people. Again, you can find this stuff just about everywhere, but if you don’t want to go looking for it (I don’t blame you), the thing to know is that a bunch of backwards-thinking reductionists decided they didn’t like the current state of the genre, and tried to force decisions based on slate-voting.
* it is true that they are two different groups, with two different mechanisms, but it is also true that their goal is the same, and they are unified in the idea that what they are pursuing is soemthing that was lost over time, rather than something that never actually existed.
3 this is, of course, contrary to the puppy line, which is that they totally meant for everything that happened to happen, and we’ve all just been playing into their hands this whole time.

Achievement in Just Generally Being Awesome, Unreservedly – Jessica Jones
Netflix’s Marvel series started with Daredevil, which was awesome. Daredevil was my favorite superhero (well, sort of – see below) when I was a lad, and it was awesome4. The follow-up, then, was an adaptation of Brian Michael Bendis’ Alias, setting up the second5 of the superheroes that will (next year) go on to be The Defenders. This was something about which I was slightly more cautiously excited – I don’t love Alias6, but I saw the potential, and it would be neat to see a lady-fronted superhero show. But it was awesome. Like, even more awesome than Daredevil awesome. My relationship with superhero-based entertainment is a long one7, but mostly it’s a sort of candyfloss kind of entertainment. Oh, there are certainly stories that are serious, and able to be taken seriously, but my favorites are generally the ones in which the superheroics are rather superfluous, or in the best-case scenario, largely useless to the problems encountered by the people who have the superpowers8. Jessica Jones speaks directly to that preference, while also constructing a powerful and organic story around the nature of superheroism, and regular heroism, and recovery and the long-lasting effects of people that abuse the power (super or otherwise) they have over others. It also is the first step in the long road of doing right by the character of Hellcat (never named by codename in the show) – a character who had no superpowers at all, but who felt something had to be done about supervillainy, so trained herself into superheroics anyway. It’s a little-loved Marvel character with a great backstory and set of character attributes, and also probably the most under-rated part of the widely-praised show. Anyway, it’s just awesome. Go watch it again.

4 well, season one was awesome. Season two was fine – it definitely had its things that were awesome! – but it was imperfect. I may find that I have something to say in the future about the fundamental problem of adapting Elektra, but that would probably lead to the fundamental problem with Frank Miller’s work in 2016 and, really, that’s a pretty big fruit to pick.
5 and third, in the form of Mike Colter’s amazing Luke Cage, whose own series is coming later this year.
6 get me alone sometime and ask me about Brian Michael Bendis. It’ll be fun. I have a lot of weird opinions there.
7 longer than almost everything except daily newspaper comics, which I love so much I’ve forced them onto this blog a handful of times.
8 my all-time favorite, well, anything, really, is a comic book called The Maxx, which is remembered, when it is remembered at all, for the MTV-produced cartoon based on its first couple dozen issues. The cartoon has a more regular (but ultimately not as good) ending, but is a pretty faithful adaptation for all that.

Achievement in Data Analysis Applied to a Widely-Mistreated Genre of Music – Peter Lewis, “What Happened to Country Music
In a disappointingly-brief Medium blurb attached to a chart (which, really, begs a deeper analysis, but works just fine as it is), Peter Lewis begins from a pretty standard premise, and continues onto an actual solution. Namely, that classic music is better than present-day country music, at least in terms of the stuff that charts, and that there must be a reason. While his piece is probably at least half a joke, it does two things that I think are tremendously interesting9. The first is that it points out that there really is a general shift in subject in the mid 70’s10, a lyrical focus that Lewis terms “the right way to live” – which is as good a name as any of for the sort of didactic, mindlessly-nostalgic pandering song that became a feature not only of the genre, but of many of its most recognizable hits for, oh, about a thirty-year stretch – arose, and continued to grow, falling back between 2005 and 2015 which, the astute among you will notice, is when bro country arrived, and much of the country music that sold enough to chart became about partying and generally bro-ing down. Accordingly, it’s easy enough to look at this preliminary data and come to the conclusion that, really, should have been there all along: that, like with rock music (or jazz music) which also had a period where the high-charting stuff was also good, followed by a long time where it mostly wasn’t11, it becomes easier to move casual fans to buy songs that are casually meant, and that signification is more lucrative than meaning – it’s easy enough to sell the hat, in other words, rather than the head under it.

But the other thing that made it worth awarding was the merest fact of the consideration at all – much country music made after, say, 1972 is pretty much immune to the “Everything is Awesome” school of poptimism that has all but taken over popular music criticism, with the party line being that there are a handful of rareified country singers and songwriters (most of whom are dead, of course12) who are “acceptable”13 to like. This opinion itself contains more than a little ruralism (country music being largely the purview of the non-urban, at least for the first few decades of its existence) and, at its worst, classism (country music being associated with the working-class, and its performers often making something of poverty – or at least poorness – as an origin story), and so even a brief, kind-of-silly Medium writeup represents at least a moment when people paid attention to the totality of the genre, rather than the same six people that they’ve decided to go along with. In this way, it makes the world a little less frustrating, and hey, maybe I’ll pick it up and do something with it.

9 it is entirely possible that I actually think they are more interesting than Mr. Lewis himself, at least if his brief, flippant piece represents the totality of what he has to say about the matter.
10 actually, this date is probably a feature of the fact that he only looked at the charts from once per decade – this kind of song begins, at least as far as the popular sense of it, with Merle Haggard, and specifically with “Mama Tried” and especially “Okee From Muskogee,” which is almost a how-to manual for a certain breed of hat-and-boots Nashville creation, despite being a much better song than just about any that it inspired. Which is, of course, far from uncommon.
11 this is also the part where I point out that, because nothing is really selling anything, the country charts have about as much to recommend them as they have in my entire adulthood, so that’s a turn up for the books at least.
12 the living exceptions are limited largely to Willie Nelson, Loretta Lynn and Kris Kristofferson. Maybe Dolly Parton. Maybe.
13 the rockist opinion also generally tries to remove them from country music, reframing them as proto-rock musicians, or (in the case of the undeniably country-ass Willie) highlighting their distance from the Nashville establishment.

Achievement in Sheer Tone-Deaf Insulting Nonsense – Yacht, and their ersatz sex tape
A scant few months ago (ah, how time flies), dumb indie band Yacht14 announced that they were being held ransom by the existence of their sex tape, and that in order to make sure that they were the ones to profit from it, they were releasing it themselves, and you, too, could download it for five dollars.

And then, of course, it turned out that there was no “sex tape,” it was all a publicity stunt or performance art piece or “social experiment” or whatever dumbfuck thing it needs to be called. They apologized (eventually they even apologized for what seems like real). Since this is a celebration of things (it’s an award, after all), I’m not necessarily interested in re-litigating any of it. They ended up looking dumb (although, in the end, they got the publicity they were after), the world continues apace.

The reason this is a special achievement is because in the best case scenario, this is a situation designed to make everyone in it wrong. By lying to people who have no reason not to believe them, and then not actually selling them anything (to be fair, they also didn’t take anyone’s money), they added a layer to the already-super-weird set of feelings around people wanting to take advantage of the perpetrators trying to take advantage of themselves being taken advantage of. It’s a weird kind of entrapment, if the arrest for entrapment included the cop in question actually giving you a handjob while he does it, except with the added wrinkle that the cop, the arrest, and the handjob were all not actually happening. If Borat was a high-water-mark for laughing at people because they don’t assume that strangers mean to harm them, then the Yacht sex tape fabrication was several notches less than that, because it didn’t even include the joke. Hell, it didn’t even include an idea, just “oh shit guys we didn’t think that making people believe something terrible had happened to us when it in fact had not would make people mad.” It’s an exercise as pointless as it is cruel and, as such, deserves some kind of award. Which, really, is what brings us here.

14 I mean “dumb indie” as a genre marker here. While I think that the members of Yacht are pretty definitively shortsighted assholes, I have no evidence that they’re of subnormal intelligence.
Achievement in Creating an Argument Where No Sensible Person Can See An Argument – the War on “Millenials’” Attitudes about Cereal
For the last several years, every annoying asshole who needed something clickbait-y and guaranteed to start A Conversation15 has decided to say something insulting and/or inflammatory about “Millennials”. This is, of course, impossibly dumb, for any number of reasons. Marking a generation with a name for the entire cohort kind of made sense for the Baby Boomers. Kind of. I mean, at least for the white ones who were at or above middle class incomes. Their experience could generally be described by the monocultural output that meant that they had, more or less, a homogenous experience – they went to similar schools, saw the same media, followed the same trajectory into the working world. It wasn’t even perfect then, but it sort of spoke to some elements of a shared experience. In this sense, pointing out that their children would have, at least, one thing in common (they were born to a generation with a hugely epochal formative experience, and thus came from similar places as people) had even further limits – since the period of Generation X’s young adulthood matched up to the diversification of cultural moments, such that people became aware of nonwhite, non-middle-class upbringings at the time, Generation X was, in all probability, the last “named” generation to have any particular meaning. But since we’re stuck in this mode – since the boomers are still alive, steadfastly not retiring, and insistent that everyone is no more than the cohort into which they were born16 – here we sit, bitching about millennials.

Now, look, nobody is denying that the position in the timestream in which you exist is a thing that affects the way you experience the world and, since each of us is stuck going only in the one direction at basically the same speed as everyone else, there are, necessarily, going to be commonalities between members of a generation. I get it, I really do. But the problem is that the current generational marker includes people whose experiences can be so vastly different from each other – even along sociocultural lines which were much more similar in the past – and involves making enormous blanket statements about “them” as though “they” were less “a group of people who were the same-ish age during the same-ish events” and more “a fucking hive mind”. It is at this point that it’s further worth pointing out that none of the named generations are a hive mind, and that none of them have as much in common as old people think millenials do. It is also worth pointing out that this argument was also had about Generation X, and probably (although less publicly) by the members of the baby boomers when they were young, and that it is, in and of itself, the outermost face of an argument that has been subtitled “what’s wrong with young people” since, at earliest reference, fucking Plato. So there is, indeed, nothing new under the sun, it’s just taking a different name and, because of the need for several million words of copy to exist every hour, more asinine17 form.

It bubbles up and under from time to time – they18 don’t work, they don’t get married, they don’t buy houses, any number of more serious socioeconomic things. And now we’ve run out of those. But the alarmism machine needs fuel to run, so there we were, in winter of 2016, talking about cereal.

There were endless pieces (really, there were so many of them) about the cereal-eating habits of young people. Many of them frame the problem as being due to “laziness”, which is the most insidious kind of anti-youth nonsense – “these kids,” the articles say, “are so unbelievably lazy that they can’t pour two things in a bowl and eat them with a spoon.” The idea that there might be other reasons – starting with the fact that cold cereal with milk being, itself, a “standard” breakfast following a huge, kid-aimed marketing push after World War II. The eagle-eyed among you may note that this means that the first generation to, as a demographic, eat cold cereal for breakfast as a matter of course5 are the baby boomers. So of course if that’s changing, it must be terrible.

This, then, is a new low in an attempt to overwrite the actions of a generation of people – young people aren’t eating the same corn garbage their parents and grandparents did, and it is somehow 1) their fault and 2) definitely not the result of growing awareness of corn garbage as a source of sustenance19. Or, hell, any of a dozen or so practical reasons that could be affecting the decision. Thus, we have a title, and an award, and a thank you for the many, many word-producing outlets for creating the world’s dumbest tempest.

15 “A Conversation” meaning here, as it almost always does, a bunch of social media attention – in the “hey look at this” sense – and then utter silence forevermore. Because that’s what “a conversation” means to these morons.
16 there is also the matter of temporal distance – the baby boomers who limned this framework* are old people now.
* it was created before they took it up, but it was definitely the boomers themselves who took over the job of deciding what it, and every subsequent generational cohort, meant. Which is also, when you think about it, a huge part of the problem.
17 Well, I don’t know about more asinine. There’s definitely quantitatively more of it, though.
18 I am using third-person pronouns here despite the fact that, as a person born in 1983, I am, by the utmost technicality, one of them. I feel like I’m at the outer edge of the whole thing though, and that whatever commonalities of experience** are had by the people that fall under the umbrella, I experienced them as a slightly older person. You’re free to disagree.
** I would argue that there’s a real generational divide, in terms of experience, between people who grew up with Star Wars as the pre-eminent fantasy of their youth, and people that grew up with Harry Potter as the same.
19 James Caleb Jackson’s Granula made its debut in the 1860’s, and Great Historical Weirdo J.H. Kellogg began his crusade in a decade or so later, which ended in his brother William taking up the profitiability and convenience aspects and leaving aside all of the fun weirdness, and founding the company that eventually paid the marketers to convince kids that they needed the stuff, which, as mentioned above, didn’t happen until after WWII.
20 in the interest of full disclosure: it’s a delicious variety of corn garbage, but not one that I go out of my way to consume overmuch, because, y’know, it’s still corn garbage.

Achievements in Something Genuinely Unique, Tremendously Weird and Often Inscrutable – Homestuck
I’m going to start out by saying this: I do not get Homestuck. This could be another reason why I disqualify myself from consideration as a millennial, since I feel that if I were a tad younger, with the same subset of interests that I have, I would be deeply invested in Homestuck.

Homestuck is a webcomic. In its inception, it was a webcomic about a video game that brought about the end of the world and, for its first few years, plot developments were going to be decided by the fandom21, which was eventually abandoned. It went to a bunch of different places over the course of seven years (with multiple year-long pauses in there, just to keep things interesting). It incorporated a multi-million-dollar crowdfunded video game, existed in panels, animations, and a webcomic within-a-webcomic. It had fans everywhere. Like, tons of them. And yet, a bunch of people just never heard about it. Or, as I did, tried really hard and couldn’t get through it.

My own opinions aside, it was a really impressive thing. I talk all the time (here, in my personal life, and anywhere else I make my opinions known) about the benefit to doing something on your own terms, for its own good, and Homestuck is a triumph of a person who had a thing he wanted to do, and then did it. Even if he was taking pauses that were longer than the run of most webcomics. Even if the huge, slavering fanbase he created had expectations that were seemingly impossible to meet. I mean, it also bears mentioning that, for the most part, he also met them.

So here’s to seven years of Homestuck, still over there at MS Paint Comics, still up and there for people to follow, and to the hundreds of livejournals, tumblrs, fan pages, deviantart accounts2

21 the late aughts were full of stuff like this. Someday when children are grown, we’ll have to explain to them the vestiges of things like Homestuck. This is the environment into which Reddit was born, and in which Digg, briefly, seemed like a good idea.
22 truly if nothing else is capable of communicating both the longevity and the level of active fan enthusiasm of this webcomic, it’s the number of online communities that, at least in part, coalesced around it.

Achievement in Raising Some Really Interesting Questions About Finishedness and Authorial Intent by Generally Being a Weirdo Control Freak  – The Life of Pablo
I mean, at this point “Kanye West does weird shit like a weirdo” is a dog bites man headline, but The Life of Pablo earns a special distinction as raising questions about what counts as “finished,” what counts as an “album,” and what counts as a “release.” Not content merely to release a platform-exclusive album (any ol’ pop star can do that), TLOP was changing up to and after its actual “release”. The title changed six hundred times (sparking a weird, brief not-feud with Max B in the process23), songs were changed after its release, it was then released on some more digital platforms, but still doesn’t (and may never) have a physical release. For a few years now, the line has become increasingly-blurry between mixtapes and albums, with rappers releasing hours of music before their “album,” which, in many cases, is indistinguishable from the mixtape material24 – an album that’s free to subscribers of a streaming service is different even from an album that you’d pay to download25, and the fact that Kanye has been more than vocal (because of course he has) about his intentions to treat it like an unfinished project, mean that there’s a chance that calling it back up to listen to could very well mean listening to something different from the last time you listened to it.

In practical terms, at least, he seems to be more-or-less done making changes to it26, but it’s still an interesting idea – that being the person that houses the masters means being able to change them at any time, and the nature of centralized access means that whole songs can just be replaced or disappear/reappear at any time. The fact that none of the changes is material to the character or basic effect of the record is sort of beside the point – it doesn’t necessarily have to be, and the knowledge that if something is no longer in line with what Kanye wants the album to sound like means it will be gone makes the album more intriguing, given that with such a low bar of editorship, everything there is completely intentional. It’s treating the content of your album like the content of, say, an instagram feed – everything is there as long as you want it to be, and anything can change at any time. And, I suppose, this was inevitable – if you’ve got the tools, why not do it? What is stopping people from releasing records that are “done” without ever really being “finished”? It will be interesting to see if this is, indeed, the future.

23 back when it was called Waves, and incited (as far as I can tell, insofar as it counts as incitement) by Wiz Khalifa
24 often for worse – Young Thug released some incredible, mind-blowing material, and has since clogged his own body of work with innumerable (still pretty good) releases that make it tremendously difficult to find, let alone decide on, what’s “essential”.
25 this, along with the whole “changing the songs after its official release” thing, is what separates it from other digital-only platform-exclusive endeavors like Beyonce’s Lemonade or Frank Ocean’s Blonde.
26 the last change was in June, with minor sound changes and the addition of an entire song – “Saint Pablo,” which I think was also the name of the record at one point prior to its release.

And there we have it! A bunch of these people even have a better-than-even shot at appearing next year! I could enter the very exciting stasis that all long-term awards-granters enter. I can hardly bear the excitement.


the Best Records of August 2016


Frank Ocean – Blonde (I mean really. This was bound to be it. There’s a lot of contrariastry about the overwhelmingly positive response to this record being unmeasured or premature, but those people are, of course, wrong)


Peter Broderick – Partners (Peter Broderick – who it’s probably no longer fair to call “the guy from Horse Feathers” – sat down and really figured out his relationship to John Cage, then wrote this set of solo piano pieces, and we all benefit)

Vince Staples – Prima Donna (It’s probably not too short, given how carefully-assembled it is, but it would make the list if the only thing that came from it had been the two James Blake-assisted cuts)

Thee Oh Sees – A Weird Exits (There’s no way you could call Thee Oh Sees’ records taking a turn for the psych-ier, but it’s not surprising in and of itself. What is surprising is how awesome it actually sounds.)

Russian Circles – Guidance (if the other four records represent new and groundbreaking material for their progenitors, then let’s give some massive credit to an amazing band that does pretty much exactly what they do, only moreso. Guidance is as good a Russian Circles record as there is, without making any material changes to their sound or approach. Yay for consistency!)