The 2017 Nebula Awards

The SFF-Award season can probably be said to exist in the summer, and the first of the major sff awards 1 is also my favorite: the Nebulas. This year they are terribly close to the ONAT headquarters 2, and so there is an extra frisson from knowing they’re right there.

Anyway, it was a pretty good year, all told – nothing was actively a slog to get through, and even some of the things that I wouldn’t ordinarily like were better-than-usual examples of it. Peter S. Beagle 3 is going to be declared a grand master, and we’re all going to live happily with that.

Without further ado, the rightful winners of the 2017 Nebula Awards.

The Andre Norton Award for Young Adult Science Fiction and Fantasy

This one is not technically a Nebula, but it’s given out at the Nebula ceremonies, so I’m including it. Feel free to sue me. Both Cindy Pon’s Want and Fonda Lee’s Exo found teenage protagonists negotiating violent rebellion situations while also falling in luuuurrrrrrve with someone deeply entrenched in the situations (On opposite sides! They’re crossed by the very stars!) themselves. They are both fine 4 novels, but neither of them is ahead of the pack here. The “pack”, then, also includes Kari Maaren’s Weave a Circle Round, which propels itself along nicely and manages some good ideas, but which I found didn’t cohere as nicely around its central mythology as I would have liked. It was good, though. Sam J. Miller’s The Art of Starving is an incredible book – probably the best YA book I’ve read since I started doing this 5. It hits all sorts of fantastic notes about all sorts of subjects both near to me and otherwise, and doesn’t miss a step in its treatment of some pretty fraught territory.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Sam J. Miller, The Art of Starving

Ray Bradbury Award for Outstanding Dramatic Presentation

This is also not technically a Nebula, but the same deal applies down here also. This is a tricky category this year. One of the things that must be considered here is the work’s ability to hold up to an audience that isn’t already a part of its “thing.” That is to say: each of these things must be attended to singly and without consideration for its role in a larger sense – even though there is every hint that some things are included here for their role in a larger narrative. This comes to bear primarily on Star Wars: The Last Jedi, which is a very good Star Wars movie, but which is almost impossible to evaluate outside of its place in the Star Wars milieu. However 6, it’s not like Star Wars’s milieu is somewhere outside the mainstream or difficult to find out about, so it isn’t docked that severely. The question of where something falls in the narrative is actually going to affect “Michael’s Gambit,” the last episode of the first season of The Good Place, and a thing that’s impossible to talk about in good faith. I suppose there’s probably a rule about only single episodes being nominated, because otherwise it would just be the entire season, but as an episode itself, it hinges too severely on the rest of the season to work, awards-wise. The first season in toto would be an eligible recipient, though. The Shape of Water is the best movie about the love between a mute woman and not-Abe not-Sapien ever made. Wonder Woman and Logan are both exemplary superhero movies – among the best ever made, but they also each have their ending-troubles 7. Get Out was originally conceived with a better ending (look it up, folks), but the one we got was good enough to call it “not a flaw.”

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Get Out

Best Short Story

Rarely are these categories disparate enough that it’s genuinely difficult to figure out which of them is the best 8, but this one was pretty close. Fran Wilde’s “Clearly Lettered in a Mostly-Steady Hand” was good, but was a lot more “tone” than “story,” and seemed to have lost some effectiveness as a result. It’s nice to see something so oblique, and I like Fran Wilde generally, but it was the easiest to rule out. “Utopia, LOL”, by Jamie Wahls, was funny, but also relied heavily on a reveal that was…not actually much of a reveal, and so lost it at the end 9. Vina Jie-Min Prasad’s “Fandom for Robots” was also funny, and not as slight as it might have seemed, but isn’t quite ahead of the rest. Rebecca Roanhorse’s “Welcome to Your Authentic Indian Experience™” was also funny, but angrier and more pointed, and was very effective. It was probably more effective than Matthew Kressel’s “The Last Novelist (or a Dead Lizard in the Yard),” which was good, and about the finite-nature of lifespan, and contains some effective metaphorical storytelling and is very moving. But the winner here is Caroline Yoachim’s “Carnival Nine,” which is allegorical more than metaphorical, and tackles many of the things that “The Last Novelist” also deals with, only more effectively, and in a more emotionally-engaging way. I know, I know, the affective fallacy. Good thing I’m not a New Critic. 

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Caroline Yoachim, “Carnival Nine”

Best Novelette

As usual, many of the novelettes were either too long or too short. Richard Bowles’s “Dirty Old Town” is probably the former – the story spends a lot of time explaining a lot of information about the people and what happens to them that it might not have if it had been able to stretch out a bit in a longer form. Kelly Robson’s “The Human Stain” is the latter – there’s a lot of asides and showing-of-her-work, and it gets in the way of an elliptical, admirably mysterious bit of weirdness. Jonathan P. Brazee’s “Weaponized Math” is a military-sf novelette about how marines are super good at shooting things with guns and have a wealth of camaraderie from all their time spent shooting at things and learning how to shoot at things. It is 75% one fight scene 10. K.M. Szpara’s “Small Changes Over Long Periods of Time” manages to get over on wrapping its fairly-lurid romance tale in a really interesting piece of world – a world in which vampirism is regulated, and additionally an examination of how, in such a world, a trans* vampire 11 would be dealt with. Vina Jie-Min Prasad’s second appearance here, “A Series of Steaks” contains a Spoon reference in the title, and an internal Mclusky reference (among others), and is a cracking good caper story about a meat fabricator. Sarah Pinsker, however, contributed another tremendous, incredible story about the intertwining of lives and music, with “Wind Will Rove,” which is not only the best thing in this category, but possible the actual best work nominated for a Nebula. Or, at least, my favorite, which isn’t quite tantamount to the same thing, but makes it harder to distinguish.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Sarah Pinsker, “Wind Will Rove”

Novella

I suppose with as great as “Wind Will Rove”, we can forgive how relatively-unfulfilling “And Then There Were (N-One)” is. It’s a reasonably good murder mystery/love letter, although to what I won’t say in case you haven’t read it yet, but it’s not much of a standout here. Lawrence M. Schoen’s Amazing Conroy stories continue to reliably be a blast to read, and Barry’s Deal is a particularly good one, but they also aren’t really elevated beyond “a fun science-fictional time”. J.Y. Yang’s The Black Tides of Heaven was built around a fantastic character who I loved a lot, and came to a very satisfying conclusion, but also feels like it’s only part of the story, and is without its other half 12. Martha Wells’ “All Systems Red” is brilliant, tremendously entertaining, and deals with the what-if AI stuff really well, but also very much is an introduction. I would bet, if I were the sort of person to do so, that future Murderbot books will be nominated for similar such awards, and will probably deserve them. From here I’m torn. Ellen Klages’s Passing Strange is a fabulous piece of magic-oriented fiction, that deals with visibility and identity and all sorts of other such things. On the other hand Sarah Gailley’s River of Teeth is about cowboys who ride hippos and herd hippos and, well, there’s a lot of hippos in it. And it’s a western about a down-on-his-luck lawbreaker who has to get the band back together for One Last Heist. So Passing Strange is the sort of thing I’d like to encourage there to be more of in the world – satisfying emotionally and intellectually, carefully drawn, very much like the fluid, androgynous characters at its center, or the delicate chalk pictures that provide one of its plot points. River of Teeth, on the other hand, is a damn hippo. It’s bulky and pushy and bitey and totally rad. So I mean, it’s going to be River of Teeth, but definitely also read Passing Strange.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Sarah Gailley, River of Teeth (or possibly Ellen Klages, Passing Strange. I’m only making this decision because I have to here, by my own rules).

Novel

This is a real “best of times, worst of times” category right here. Lara Elena Donnelly’s Amberlough is, presumably, sff because it takes place on a world that isn’t Earth 13, but contains basically no further sff elements. Maybe they’re forthcoming. In any event, as retellings of Cabaret go, it’s not so bad, but it’s not really up to part in this category. Fonda Lee’s Jade City builds an interesting world and includes a couple of really great subplots, but the action is diffused a little too much, and the book takes on more than it seems to be able to handle effectively. Theodora Goss’s The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter is a sort of League of Extraordinary Gentledamsels, and it seems like it was a lot of fun to write, but was a little too self-conscious and not quite direct enough to go over 14. Muir Lafferty’s Six Wakes is a fun little mystery, but the ending is either so audacious that it has to be entertaining or utterly stupid, and I oscillate between these two positions every time I think about it. It has some nifty world-building, but not a whole lot of structural integrity as a story (i.e. there are huge whacks of it that don’t, in specific terms, make any actual sense). I’m a sucker for a book about a robot, and even more of a sucker for a book in which a robot decides to see how human it can be, and even more a sucker for a book in which corporations are dystopian generators of evilness, so Annalee Newitz’s Autonomous basically triple-suckered me into loving it to bits and pieces, which I do. It’s fantastic, but not quite as good as the last two. Daryl Gregory’s Spoonbenders is a fun, deeply moving story about people with actual superpowers. It deserves high praise for its plotting, even if nothing else, but it has tons of great stuff to dig into in its portrait of a family, and the huckster that holds them all together. But really, this one belongs justly and rightfully to N.K. Jemisen’s The Stone Sky. While it’s true that I thought The Obelisk Gate had a bit of a draggy case of second-book syndrome, The Stone Sky manages to stick the landing and create a deeply satisfying ending to the trilogy.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: N.K. Jemisen, The Stone Sky


  1.  I am not being fair to a bunch of awards right now when I say this, but I think the “major” line has to be drawn somewhere, and I’m drawing it at the Nebulas. 
  2.  they’re just right over there in Pittsburgh!\ 
  3.  whose work I am almost completely – barring a couple of short stories here and there – unfamiliar with. This is a large hole in my awareness, that I confess here to you fine people. 
  4.  and don’t actually have that much in common beyond a similar approach – one has aliens in it, the other just the regular Earth future.   
  5.  unless it’s Frances Hardinge’s The Lie Tree, but this isn’t the space for this argument. Could be Nimona, also, now that I think about it. 
  6.  and you’ll notice that I did not take this into consideration at all when I talked about last year’s Nebulas, awarding it to Rogue One because it was, as I said at the time “the best Star Wars movie released in my lifetime.” It still is, too. In that case, the field for the Bradbury award wasn’t as strong, and it fell upon me to declare something’s rightfulness given the candidates. Also I contain multitudes and all that.   
  7.  WW in the form of yet another giant-CG-villain showdown for the last half hour or whatever, Logan’s in the dumbest macguffin known to man, an adamantium bullet. Either movie would be considerably better with a different ending by which the ending was to work/the villain to be defeated. 
  8.  longtime readers will know that I rarely actually have any problem declaring something the winner, but I do acknowledge that this was a little trickier than usual.  
  9.  I suppose if there’s a unifying trend here, it’s this: good setups with bad endings. 
  10.  military sf is fine. I am not opposed to it as a matter of course – Jack Campbell! Lois McMaster Bujold! Joe Haldeman! – but this is particularly not-good. I’m sure it’s fun for people that like to read detailed descriptions of people shooting guns and then are rewarded with some entry-level pandering about the brotherhood of the military or whatever, but of all the things whose nomination I disagree with, this is the one that baffles me the most. At least this year. 
  11.  NB: this is a trans* person who is changed into a vampire, as all vampires are sort of trans-vampires, given that one cannot be born a vampire. Y’know, by the standard vampirism model. I’m sure there are exceptions. 
  12.  well, sort of. The Red Threads of Fortune isn’t really the other half of the story – they’re both self-contained – but it is the companion piece, and it does make the whole thing better. There’s also meant to be a third volume, but I haven’t read it. 
  13.  it’s also published by awards-juggernaut Tor 
  14.  there is also a narrative device throughout the book – which is being written by one of the characters – of the other characters interrupting her to put in their two cents. I kept thinking it would amount to something, but it’s just a way to provide metacommentary on the book itself while you’re reading it. It is not the most effective device, is what I’m saying here.  

The 2018 Billboard Music Awards

Every year, I consider not doing the Billboard awards. After all, there are two things going against it: 1) they are the kind of professionally-focused award that I tend to avoid 1, and 2) they’re actually based on sales and streaming data and whatnot, and so aren’t really the work of a body deciding award-worthiness so much as they are the result of an already-tabulated popularity contest 2.

But this year is different, this year I rebut both notions. For they are both televised and deeply silly, so whatever they’re subjecting themselves to, they are doing so via context and whatnot. Furthermore, they are chosen by the most ridiculous nominating body of them all: all of us. Even awards shows that allow for some kind of vote still have a self-selecting audience. Thanks to the fine people at Nielsen, every time we purchase/stream a song, we are voting for the Billboard awards.

The world is a vasty panoply of options, a smorgasbord of consumption for people who are looking for something. Even so, I feel it is fair to limit the options available to those that are here nominated. Obviously the kind of popularity that gets someone a Billboard award is the kind of popularity that one has to pay for and market toward, so while it was my initial impulse to declare the “rightful winner” the artist I think would most-justifiably be the most popular in a proper world, I am going to limit myself to the artists here nominated. It seems a reasonable position, and, after all, I’d hate to take the mantel of “arbiter of what is popular” from the shoulders of The People, after all.

In any event, this year the show will be hosted by Kelly Clarkson 3, and they’ll be presenting the Icon award to Janet Jackson, which is nice. Oh and there’s a thousand categories, so this’ll be presented speed-round style. To make the reading experience even easier, here’s a spoiler: I declared Kendrick Lamar the rightful winner in 26% of the categories. So here we go. 

Top Social Artist

This one is, y’know, explicitly fan-voted. As always with fan-voted it’s actually a weird Venn diagram of fans of the artist and, by the nature of these things, fans of the awards show. I have no idea how the two things would map onto each other, to be honest, but I also don’t know how one would take into account the totality of a popstar’s “social” presence, which is true for every single awards show with a “social” category.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Demi Lovato, I guess?

Billboard Chart Achievement

This one is also fan-voted, and it’s even more baffling. What the hell does this mean? The artist whose chart performance most pleased the fans of that artist? This is crazy and weird, guys. Define your categories.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Cardi B

Top Soundtrack/Cast Album

As enjoyable as they are, I still don’t think the Guardians of the Galaxy soundtracks should be eligible, although, again, it’s sales that decide it. I suppose Moana deserves to have sold the most, given that it’s the most cohesive and that it operates partially 4 in a genre that isn’t represented here very often.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Moana

Top Gospel Song

So the Gospel categories 5 are among the reasons that I don’t just give a blanket “rightfulness” – I don’t know much about any of this. Upon listening, I like the Travis Greene song the most.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Travis Greene, “You Waited”

Top Gospel Album

There’s also very little deviation in these categories, which is a thing that tends to happen at the Billboard awards – an album is generally heard on the strength of its singles, and generally represents an artist’s entire output during the eligibility period, so there tends to be some repetition. They’re not completely identical, however, and so we’re left assuming that Tamela Mann (who is present in the song category but not the album) had a single that didn’t drive people to her album, or that Marvin Sapp had an album that didn’t move its single. This is interesting to me, and part of why I do this, but also that’s about all there is to say about it. Oh, and Gospel is one of those genres where a live album can really work.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Travis Greene, Crossover: Live from Music City

Top Gospel Artist

One of the acts that is present in all three Gospel categories is Anthony Brown & group therAPy, and I have no idea why it’s capitalized like that, nor is information on said capitalization available easily to someone just encountering it. Maybe if I were more of a Gospel-head I’d know something. I guess it’ll remain a mystery.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Travis Greene

Top Christian Song

True story: I did used to like Lecrae. I mean, I still like the stuff that I used to like, but it was awhile ago, and I haven’t checked back in with him in awhile. This new stuff seems fine. I can dig it.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Lecrae, “I’ll Find You” (f Tori Kelly)

Top Christian Album

One of these is an Alan Jackson album, and I still don’t like Alan Jackson.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Not Alan Jackson, whatever else is fine I guess. I have no opinion here, this is all pretty awful.

Top Christian Artist

Another true story: Hillsong UNITED and Hillsong Worship are two different outfits from two different megachurches called Hillsong on two different continents (a third megachurch band, Elevation Worship, is also in the offing). Whatever else is happening in the nightmare hellscape that we call this world, it took two different Hillsongs to get us there.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: uh…MercyMe I guess? But I’m not happy about this, either.

Top Dance/Electronic Song

Kygo from the Rio Olympics is still around, guys! Here he is! I don’t exactly hate this Zedd song, although I think I’ve had it foisted upon me in public too often to really enjoy it. It’s still the best option.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Zedd, “Stay” (f Alessia Cara)

Top Dance/Electronic Album

Avicii died, and that is sad, because he was very young. Since I don’t like any of this, I feel it’s fitting to call this category a memorial for Avicii.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Avicii, Avīci (01)

Top Dance/Electronic Artist

I mean, it would be more fair to give this one to Avicii, but what do I know. The answer to that question is: I know that everywhere I look, Marshmello is there. So I guess it’s him. He’s worn me down. I do like his headpiece.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Marshmello

Top Latin Song

I like the Bad Bunny part of “Mejores,” but I like all of “Mi Gente”. So that made this very easy.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: J. Balvin and Willy William, “Mi Gente” (f. Beyonce)

Top Latin Album

Some albums have an accretive power that gets you into the album as it flows from one moment to the next. Those albums are not any of these albums. I only ever listen to “Latin” music 6 when I’m researching one of these things, but I’m starting to get the idea that it might not be an “albums” genre, guys.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Christian Nodal, Me Deje Llevar. I like mariachi.

Top Latin Artist

Bachata, a genre that I have discovered only recently, is a kind of Dominican country-blues, but not like that at all. It has some sameyness problems, but for the most part is better than the other genres here represented, and it’s therefore easier for me to like Romeo Santos, the practitioner of Bachata in this category.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Romeo Santos

Top Rock Tour

The best of the old farts that still sell enormous amount of tickets on tour is a tough call to make. Rock music, as a touring economy at a small scale, is the healthiest it’s been within my lifetime. It’s easier – as it has been for a long time now – for bands to have fans anywhere they go, and play shows that are well-attended and profitable, provided the band has some kind of head on their shoulders. But only one of them would have even possibly found me in attendance, and that’s U2 7. So I guess they’re the winner.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: U2

Top Rock Song

I have, in the past, had nice things to say about Portugal, the Man. I may even still, but the sight of the animated Peter Rabbit bouncing around to the chorus of “Feel it Still” haunts my nightmares. It still isn’t as bad as Imagine Dragons. The Revivalists are  a pleasing-enough (if slight) old-style outfit that I don’t mind. I could try fainter praise, but not without expending more effort on it.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: The Revivalists, “Wish I Knew You”

Top Rock Album

Oh also Portugal, the Man’s album is called Woodstock, and that annoys me, although I couldn’t tell you why. Chart-rock just doesn’t do it for me.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: I mean, it’s still mostly Woodstock, I’m just mad about the name.

Top Rock Artist

This is another one where there’s a surge of sales because of someone’s death, in this case Tom Petty’s. I suppose that’s nice for the estate and family of Tom Petty, as well as for whatever it brings in for the surviving Heartbreakers.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers

Top Country Tour

I think the real winner he is not going to see any of these acts on tour, quite frankly.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: not going to see any of these acts on tour, quite frankly.

Top Country Song

The recent ACM awards showed that Country is finally heading out of its years-long bro-country wilderness, and that’s great, but the signs of its forward progress have not gone as far as the top of the Billboard charts yet, so this category is still full of execrable music.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Dustin Lynch is ok, I guess. “Small Town Boy” is the least-execrable song here.

Top Country Album

If you read the ACM awards, you saw this category in a basically-identical form. It was Chris Stapleton then, it’s Chris Stapleton now.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Chris Stapleton, Songs From a Room, Vol. 1

Top Country Duo/Group Artist

Once again, country music is the only category (other than the “general” or “overall” awards, see below) to have a duo/group category in addition to the individual categories. I do not know why this is. I do not know what this means.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: The Zac Brown Band

Top Country Female Artist

On the one hand, I do appreciate that Kelsey Ballerini is forthright and upfront about the fact that she is a pop singer who performs in a country idiom. It hadn’t really been a done thing 8, so it’s refreshing. It doesn’t make her music any better, though.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Maren Morris

Top Country Male Artist

I think we all know where this is going.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Chris Stapleton

Top Country Artist

None of these people are the top of anything, and I’m going to set the whole thing on fire.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: The flames of righteous indignation

Top Rap Tour

Once again, the only one of these people I would go see is Kendrick.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Kendrick Lamar

Top Rap Song

Bodak Yellow” was a #1 hit, which is unlikely enough, and it ushered in the delightful public career of Cardi B., which is great, but it isn’t, y’know, actually that good a song. Not really. I mean, it’s fun and all. This is my stance, I guess.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Kendrick Lamar, “Humble”

Top Rap Album

Migos are here for Culture, not the far-inferior Culture 2, which may come up next year, since it did still sell like hotcakes, and Culture is genuinely great, but, for probably the last time in this space, I must say that it is less-great than DAMN. I mean, DAMN. won a Pulitzer. How would it win a Pulitzer and not a Billboard award, you know?

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Kendrick Lamar, DAMN.

Top Rap Female Artist

Look, I know that it’s A Thing to decry that Bhad Bhabie has parlayed what should have been a single annoying appearance on a talk show into a “career” as a “rapper.” I know that it’s also A Thing to point out that, such as it is, she’s not a terrible rapper. Both of those things are true. Furthermore, since the Billboard awards is about sales, and not about the Whole Moral Point of it All, it can be excused that she’s here – she wasn’t specifically chosen. She was, in any way that matters, nonspecifically chosen. And I’m not some stick in the mud about all this: Cardi B came from a reality show, which isn’t much better, and she’s just fine. What I’m saying is, we are concerned, to an admittedly-amorphous standard, with what’s “rightful” here, and is there anyone among you who can say, genuinely, that Bhad Bhabie deserves to rightfully be in this position? Because I do not always know what “Rightful” is, but I know that this isn’t. And any of you who disagree are, of course, welcome to catch me outside. How about that.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Nicki Minaj

Top Rap Male Artist

Oh, and fuck Post Malone, also.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Kendrick Lamar

Top Rap Artist

It’s obviously going to be Kendrick, but I feel I should also say: fuck Post Malone.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Kendrick Lamar

Top R&B Tour

Aw, Lionel Richie. What a thing there. Suppose we can chalk that one up to anticipation about American Idol or something? Since he hasn’t toured since the show started or whatever. I dont’ know. I can’t find myself in the headspace of someone who would go see Lionel Richie live. Ew.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: The Weeknd

Top R&B Song

There are, in fact, two Bruno Mars songs in this category. That seems excessive.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Khalid, “Young Dumb and Broke”

Top R&B Album

SZA famously doesn’t think Ctrl is very good. She is, literally, the only person that thinks this. She is a silly goose.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: SZA, Ctrl

Top R&B Female Artist

Any of these folks would be fine winners and all that, but I think SZA really did have the best year, all things considered.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: SZA

Top R&B Male Artist

I still like The Weeknd pretty well, and I liked Starboy a lot, but Khalid is really growing on me in a way that I did not expect, so I feel like it should be him, even though I wouldn’t be too put out either way.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Khalid

Top R&B Artist

I do, however, have no trouble deciding between Khalid and SZA.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: SZA

Top Touring Artist

Adding Bruno Mars and Ed Sheeran to the list does not make this any more difficult, or any more interesting, or change my answer in any way whatsoever.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: U2

Top Collaboration

God help me, I do not mind “Havana” as a song, and it is weird and gratifying that Young Thug is a full-on pop star.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Camila Cabella, “Havana” (f Young Thug)

Top Streaming Song (Video)

On the one hand, there are probably several perfectly good reasons why Cardi B’s video is here, but some of them are more obvious than others. On the other hand, it is actually a pretty cool video, as far as all that goes. However, since it’s probably the last time I’ll get to declare it so, “The Shape of You” remains the only video on this list in which Ed Sheeran gets punched, so it’s a great video.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Ed Sheeran, “The Shape of You”

Top Streaming Song (Audio)

I’ll be sad next year, when, in all likelihood, nothing as good as “Humble” will be noinated for every award all year. Sigh. Oh, additionally, so that it doesn’t go unsaid: fuck Post Malone.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Kendrick Lamar, “Humble”

Top Streaming Artist

I don’t want to give you guys the wrong impression here. I mean, it’s true that I have very little use for the whole entire crop of face-tatted mumble-rappers 9, but I do mean: fuck Post Malone in particular.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Kendrick Lamar

Top Radio Song

Is this really what’s played on the radio? When I’m hearing the radio – which is largely at the gym or whatever – it seems like it’s a lot more lady-heavy. There are no women here. This is weird.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Bruno Mars, “That’s What I Like”

Top Radio Songs Artist

The name of this category is super-unwieldy! But this category does have a woman in it. And while it’s not true that she won because she is a woman, it is also true that…well, this whole category bites the big one.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Halsey

Top Selling Song

The people that spend their money on pop music have spoken, and they would like you to know that they quite like Imagine Dragons. So there.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Uh….pass.

Top Selling Album

It’s easy enough to look up sales figures and know how to be right about this, but I want, just for a few more days, to live in a world I can declare it rightful that DAMN. outsold [cosecant] or whatever the fuck Ed Sheeran’s bullshit album is called 10, reputation, which is uncapitalized and unlistenable.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Kendrick Lamar, DAMN.

Top Song Sales Artist

While we’re on the subject: fuck Post Malone.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Kendrick Lamar

Top Hot 100 Song

Presumably this is “the song that sold the most or whatever out of all of the songs on the Hot 100,” which I’m sure is more complicated than I think, but also is dumb when you’ve already got so many other distinctions in play. This is why these are all so short: there are TOO MANY CATEGORIES. Also, fuck Post Malone.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Kendrick Lamar, “Humble”

Top Hot 100 Artist

This year is so abysmal for the artists in most of these categories that I’m basically one step away from just opening a goddamn Church of Kendrick. Fuck Post Malone for real, tho.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Kendrick Lamar

Top Billboard 200 Album

So the Billboard 200 is the totality of all things considered in the streaming/sales divide, rather than just one or the other as in previous categories, which means that…honestly, it means it’s going to be the same person in all three places, because that’s probably how things work. Once again, I could look up the numbers to corroborate this, but I won’t. I’ll just say this: fuck Post Malone.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Kendrick Lamar, DAMN.

Top Billboard 200 Artist

I don’t know what deity intervened to make it so that only difference between this category and the last was the substitution of Chris Stapleton for Post Malone, but I’m (obviously) very happy about it.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Kendrick Lamar

Top Duo/Group

Hey look! It’s a category that I can’t just give over to Kendrick Lamar and be done with by definition! He’s not a duo OR a group! Huzzah!

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Migos

Top Female Artist

Seriously, though. This is an indictment of the public: none of these women, except Taylor Swift, appear very often in these awards. And maybe they should. Apparently we’re in a “nobody listens to music made by women” phase of the world. That’s terrible. We should stop doing that.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Cardi B

Top Male Artist

For the last time in this piece, and with as much gusto as I can muster: fuck Post Malone.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Kendrick Lamar

Top New Artist

I like Cardi B more than Khalid in the main, although I probably listen to Khalid’s music more. I suppose I am part of the “not listening to music made by women” problem in this one regard. Ah, my own petard. There it is. Hoisting me.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Khalid

Top Artist

I bet it would be really funny if I got all the way down here and then gave it to Post Malone, but no. He’s not even up for it. Once again, I choose to take this as a sign that there is tonnes of justice in the world, and we just haven’t seen it all meted out yet.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Kendrick Lamar, of course.


  1.  Sort of like the WGA awards or whatever 
  2.  there’s also the problem of it happening – and this is the second year in a row now – the same weekend as the Nebulas, which is why this is going up a week early. Last year I pushed the Nebulas up, but why should I respect the Billboard awards time slot? Those dudes suck. 
  3.   who, for whatever else, seems to really be taking this pivot into the world of television quite seriously. 
  4.  I mean, it’s an ineluctably Disney-ish version 
  5.  actually, all faith-based categories, I don’t really listen to any of it 
  6.  as defined by the people that make categories at awards shows 
  7.  they were touring behind The Joshua Tree, which is fine, and I only considered it for long enough to realize that I did not want to pay the price of a plane ticket to go to a football stadium to listen to a band play half a mile away while I watched them on a screen. Admittedly, the large-scale rock-star thing pretty much misses me entirely. 
  8.  remember that Taylor Swift “switched” and made some sort of kabuki of abandoning country music for pop, despite having straddled both charts, and didn’t acknowledge her pop background prior to that fact. 
  9.   who’d’ve thought that I would someday pine for a world in which they were only as bad as Lil Yachty. Ah, simpler times. 
  10.  True story: I’m looking right at the title, and I hate it so much that I still won’t type it here. 

The Comeback Trail Double-Header

So a couple of weeks ago, on the storied twentieth of April, two bands associated with marijuana usage 1 decided to release their first recorded statements since the Bush administration. Each caused their own ruckus, in their own way, and the two records have very little in common with each other, but nonetheless I am moved here to talk about A Perfect Circle’s Eat the Elephant and Sleep’s The Sciences.

Eat the Elephant was the more high-profile – A Perfect Circle, after all, had actual bona-fide on-the-radio hits right around the time rock radio ceased to be a going concern. They had been thought long gone, dropped down the oubliette of other rock-star side projects, when Maynard James Keenan, their singer, possibly to deflect the constant Tool-related questions 2, made rumblings about taking a break from Puscifer records/wine-making to work on some APC material. Soon the band’s only other constant member, erstwhile guitar tech Billy Howerdel, confirmed these plans, and the band hopped back into action.

A Perfect Circle was always an interesting – for a certain degree of remove attached to the word “interesting” – notion. Where Tool were self-consciously artsy 3, A Perfect Circle seemed like a way to apply the same ideas to what was then all over the radio. They revealed Keenan to be something of a dab hand at a pop song 4, and capable of writing tunes and lyrics that worked in the sort of rock-forward direct approach preferred by Howerdel. Howerdel, who wrote all of the songs, had worked for Billy Corgan, and while it might not be fair to reduce his set of influences that far, it doesn’t not sound like an alternate-universe Smashing Pumpkins, especially on the first record (see the then-ubiquitous “Judith”). Their first record, Mer de Noms, arrived, was extremely likable music, sold a bajillion copies, and was nigh-inescapable.

On their second record (and my favorite of their records, such as it is), The Thirteenth Step, they introduced the idea of making things much more dour, and brought in a bunch of new-wave-ish influences 5 to make their music moodier and darker, more sculptural than the straightforward blasting of Mer de Noms. It’s the second record that gave me real hope for their continued existence – it includes probably the best Failure cover ever recorded (“The Nurse Who Loved Me”) 6, and the use of guest musicians landed them their finest-ever moment, “The Noose”, which features vocals by former-Swan Jarboe and guitar from Nine Inch Nails’ Danny Lohner, and ended with at least one blogger thinking that Jarboe and Keenan should work together more 7. The record had legs, but didn’t sell nearly as well as the first one.

It was followed up by a covers album, where the band reworked “When the Levee Breaks” and “Imagine” into turgid, lightless exercises in Making a Point. It is not the most flattering version of the band’s sound, which meant that, when they hung it all up after the cycle for eMotive ended, it wasn’t very hard to say goodbye to them and assume the band had run its course.

They went their separate ways, with Keenan releasing a handful of records, with a revolving cast of collaborators, as Puscifer 8, and Howerdel more-or-less immediately making a record as Ashes Divide (which was never followed up), with the only stirring being the release of a greatest-hits record 9 several years later.

Eat the Elephant, then, veritably sped from announcement to release (the populous only really heard about it six or so months ago). It was made by the band’s usual MO, with Howerdel working up instrumental ideas and Keenan writing lyrics and melodies for them in a long distance back-and-forth, and the two eventually coming together to finish the songs and release the album. This time they allowed for an outside producer for the first time, radio-rock dude Dave Sardy 10, which is the first time a record hasn’t been produced by Howerdel.

The process itself – writing songs cross-country and then rewriting them and fiddling with them and retouching them and then fiddling with them some more and then massaging them into some sort of highly-fiddled-with shape – seems tortuous, and the results are…less than inspiring. Eat the Elephant is not a bad record as such – the singing is particularly good, the playing sounds ok, and it generally seems to represent the band, such as it is – but it doesn’t really go anywhere when it’s over.

Some of the songs, especially the opening one-two punch of the title track and “Disillusioned”, sound pretty cool, but aren’t very memorable when they’re over. Some of them (“Hourglass”, for example) sound like they might have been good ideas that just died in the process (or for some other, unknowable reason). For the first time in the band’s career, however, they have also managed songs that are just dreadful (“So Long and Thanks for All the Fish,” and “Get the Lead Out”). All told, the band would have been better off either spending more time assembling the simulacrum of the record, or less time on them and just recorded something more straightforward.

It’s not their fault that they suffer from the comparison made real by their choice of release date, but as far as comeback albums go, it’s hard not to recommend that every band try to learn something from Sleep.

Sleep were absolute titans of the stoner-metal scene right around the turn of the century. They made one relatively minor album (Volume 1) followed by one very good, trouble-free release (Holy Mountain), followed by one of the most storied 11 releases in history with their third album, Dopesmoker, a once-in-a-lifetime, all-time-great heavy metal album that for a long time did not get to be heard in the way the band intended. An hour-plus long single track, it was originally rejected by their label, and released promotionally in a remixed form 12. It was then released in an unauthorized form as Jerusalem by Tee Pee records 13, and more-or-less contemporaneously as a single-track bootleg. Eventually it saw what amounts to the actual version of the album with a remaster by the fine folks at Southern Lord, which version is the de facto “good version”, due to it 1) sounding good and 2) being actually available to people to listen to.

While all of this was happening, the band went their separate ways, with guitarist Matt Pike forming the mighty High on Fire, and Al Cisneros and Chris Hakius (the drummer at the time) comprising the almost-as-good-as-Sleep heavy band Om.

I suppose there’s another way that the two bands in this piece can be compared, it’s that Sleep left the world as underheralded geniuses, and reformed as a supergroup. They’re joined on drums by the outstanding Jason Roeder, who is also the drummer for Neurosis 14 and the record is produced by Neurosis’s samples-and-synthesizer maestro, Noah Landis 15. And so it came to pass that, with zero leadup or fanfare, Sleep released The Sciences on 4/20.

It is true that A Perfect Circle could have learned something from the seamless resumption that Sleep displays here, but it is also true that almost everyone could learn something from this one. Stitching together a couple of songs that were originally written at the time of Dopesmoker 16 with a few new pieces, the thing is as mighty a collection of riffs as could exist.

Ultimately, the record succeeds by enhancing the features of Sleep that already were there – it’s an unabashed slab of Sabbath-worshipping riffs welded together with Cisneros’s weeded-out lyrics 17 , and propelled by Roeder’s phenomenal drum performance. All rock music is better when it’s the sound of a set of people interacting with each other in a specific idiom, but heavy music is especially dependent on the interplay of the members themselves 18, and The Sciences is the sound of a set of people making music that only that set of people could possibly make. The fact that a couple of the songs predate one of the now-members’ involvement does not seem to change the fact that the three of them together have made an amazing artistic statement.

Anyway, this is running over into the fawning 19, and we all have places to be. So, is A Perfect Circle’s Eat the Elephant a worthy comeback, and does it have a place in their oeuvre? Eh. Maybe. It might grow on me. Their fans seem to like it well enough, and it certainly isn’t a crass retread or anything, so I guess it has its merits, I’m just not hearing them. The Sciences, however, is not only a worthy addition to the discography of Sleep, but might actually be their best record. It’s well and truly above and beyond anything anyone could have expected out of a Sleep record in 2018, that’s for sure. It might be the best record I’ve heard so far this year.


  1.  one very explicitly and one only by circumstance and/or fanbase 
  2.  Tool would have, for my own purposes here, been more thematic, and will almost certainly be revisited if their next album ever actually proves itself to exist. 
  3.  my feelings on Tool are thorny enough to warrant two different footnotes, and while at the time I thought they were an absolute godhead of weirdo-metal, I am now able to more-or-less identify them as the sort of gateway drug to weirdo-metal. They were proggy as hell, but satisfyingly heavy, and their music isn’t quite as good as I thought it was contemporaneously, but it’s still fun, and a lot of it – especially their second full-length record, Aenima – holds up pretty well. 
  4.  a sad teenager may very well be moping to “3 Libras” even now. 
  5.  a thing that was happening a lot at the time. 
  6.  incidentally, everyone should go listen to Failure’s records. They’re very good. 
  7.  some of you in the audience are probably pointing out that I’d probably say that about Jarboe and anyone, to which I say: fair. 
  8.  a band that was born as a Mr. Show sketch, in which Keenan appears. 
  9.  always a strange idea for a band with only three records, especially in 2013, even if it wasn’t exactly bad. 
  10.  Sardy is also a film scorer – he did Monster Trucks and End of Watch, among other things – and the producer of LCD Soundsystem’s Sound of Silver, which implies that he’s pretty good at working with people who usually – and probably should, on balance – produce themselves. He also, weirdly, worked with Sleep, see below.  
  11.  and, frankly, most botched 
  12. the remixing was handled by Dave Sardy, as mentioned above. The bands are connected again! 
  13. this is the version that I first heard 
  14.  one of the only heavy bands in history that’s better than Sleep 
  15. it remains the case that any album with multiple members of Neurosis on it is a very good album. 
  16.  “Sonic Titan” was a bonus track on the final, band-approved reissue of the record in 2003, and “Antarcticans Thawed” was a contemporaneous contribution. 
  17.  I’m not a lyrics person, as I mention here frequently, but Cisneros is a good lyricist – his koan-like chanting and mystic searching in Om is part of what elevates that band to genuine greatness – and his work with Sleep is self-aware and funny without being silly or overly-winking in a way that most stoner bands never really bother with. There’s a reason that Sleep is being fawned over in this space and I’ve never really said much about, say, The Sword.  
  18.  whether this is because heavy music is, due to circumstance and/or history, especially prone to weird, overtweaked production nonsense or because the fact that it works so gutterally requires complete honesty and directness is beyond the scope of this footnote, but I suspect that both factors play their part. 
  19.  this is why I don’t really review records in this space 

The Best Records of April 2018

Sleep – The Sciences (Stoner-metal titans make what may actually be their best record yet, and is certainly as compulsively listenable as anything they’ve ever done)

Grouper – Grid of Points (The shortest Grouper record is also one of the most interesting, becoming in itself a work about brevity and interruption. A truly beautiful record.)

Wrekmeister Harmonies – The Alone Rush (J.R. Robinson has adopted full-time frontman duties for his own band, and the result is as “normal” as a Wrekmeister Harmonies record has ever been)

Mind Over Mirrors – Bellowing Sun (Turns out that playing this stuff with a full band makes it that much better, and I’m hopeful that that’s Jaime Fennelly’s take-away from all this also, since this is the best Mind Over Mirrors record at a walk)

Christina Vantzou – No. 4 (A good month for experimental music, obviously. Also a good month for Kranky, which released both this and Grid of Points. Anyway, it’s also a good month to be, obviously, because this record is also incredible.)

How to Feel About Every Upcoming Superhero Movie: 2018 Edition

As of the day this posts 1, it is the beginning of the culmination (things are confusing, ok?) of Marvel’s ultimate MCU plan, leading to the last set of movies, and then something New and Completely Different for the future. It is generally easy, then, to believe that things may change within the next few years in terms of superheroes.

Or maybe they won’t! Who knows! What we do know is that there are going to be a bunch more of these things over the course of the next few years, and that I am here to talk you through the appropriate hype level and/or anticipatory environment, as I always am, because I love all of you fine people.

The usual caveats apply – I am a terrible prognosticator, and I have even less of an ability to gauge what people will like – but, despite this, I still believe that all information contained herein to be 100% nice and accurate, and also that I’m still optimistic about almost all of them, because I prefer to live in hope of something.\

Avengers: Infinity War

WHAT IT IS: The first part of the last bit of the MCU. The beginning of the culmination of the….you know what? It’s really, really hard to describe what this is. It’s the film version of The Infinity Gauntlet, which was the first thing that I remember enjoying serially as a young person 2. So I’ve been successfully pandered to, is what I’m saying. Anyway, all of the MCU superheroes are going to beat up Thanos. Or, because this is the first part of a two-part bit of business, they’re probably going to fail to beat up Thanos, and some of them (Iron Man) are going to die tragically, and they’ll have to figure out how to get the help of Captain Marvel (see below) and possibly Adam Warlock (see the end of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2) to finally finish the job. Plus teamwork and the real treasure being the friendships they made along the way or whatever. That kind of thing.

WHY YOU SHOULD BE EXCITED: Because even the worst MCU movies 3 are still pretty good – they’ve yet to make one that wasn’t at least hugely watchable – and because they’ve clearly put a lot of time and effort into the whole thing. The Russo Brothers, of course, have already mastered the “everybody fights everybody else” story when they directed Community’s paintball episodes 4, so we know they’re capable. The MCU metadirectorial powers that be have been able to surprise audiences at several turns when they were not expected to 5, and while it’s true that this isn’t exactly some kind of underdog, it’s also the case that the whole thing does have to fall down at some point, but it sure seems like the first part of the grand finale isn’t that point.

BUT I’M WAFFLING BECAUSE: Well, because the whole thing does have to fall down at some point. No winning streak lasts forever. The 1972 Dolphins didn’t lose a game, but the 1973 Dolphins did 6. Also the source material – which isn’t solely Jim Starlin’s Infinity Gauntlet, but which starts from there – is some real wild and woolly stuff 7, and who knows how much of it is going to make it through from there? In this case, I will say, that the real danger to the film would be hewing too closely to the source material, which would drag down a film, but which is also deeply unlikely, given that many of the pivotal characters aren’t a part of the MCU. In any event, I’m not waffling very much, except insofar as it does seem possible that this could be a difficult finish, and it might not work.

Deadpool 2

WHAT IT IS: The sequel to the world’s foremost R-Rated superhero comedy movie. It’s still going to inclue TJ Miller, which is…a real decision in 2018, and is almost certain not to age well, but hey, maybe that will be its biggest problem. It also cast Zayzie Beetz as Domino, which makes the level of pandering-to-me that the Infinity War movie managed to seem like small potatoes 8. But that’s beside the point. It’s a giant sequel with huge expectations to a movie that managed to not have had any expectations.

WHY YOU SHOULD BE EXCITED: Ryan Reynolds is still Ryan Reynolds and while it’s true that some of my previous statements w/r/t Zayzie Beetz may seem to cheapen the sentiment somewhat, she is a great funny actress who seems to be doing well in the trailers. The decision to give Cannonball’s powers to Negasonic Teenage Warhead 9 shows that they are being thoughtful about their character-based decisions. I can’t think of a reason not to be excited for any comedy with Terry Crews in it. Plus, hey, what reason could there possibly be for including fucking Shatterstar if you didn’t have a good idea for what to do with him? I mean, they must have a good reason, right? Because that dude suuuuuuuuucks. And maybe there will only be enough TJ Miller in it to appreciate him without having to think about anything he’s done publicly since the first one came out.

BUT I’M WAFFLING BECAUSE: It’s got a lot of hype following it around, and while the first one was delightful, I don’t know if the framework is sturdy enough to hold up to it. We’ve seen RR do the thing, and so it will have lost some of its surprise if they’re not careful. It’s also always hard to tell if it’s going to be a funny movie, or if the trailer is just full of all the funny bits. And, of course, there’s the fact that they made a movie that includes Shatterstar, which is completely baffling, because that dude suuuuuuuuucks.

The Incredibles 2

WHAT IT IS: It is the sequel to what is, if we’re all being totally honest, the greatest supehero movie ever made.

WHY YOU SHOULD BE EXCITED: Brad Bird is a prickly, notoriously principled dude who makes no film before its time. He waited so long to make it because he wanted to have the right idea. The whole cast has returned, the trailers are awesome, Pixar has seemingly fixed their sequels problem, everything should be absolutely pipe.

BUT I’M WAFFLING BECAUSE: I mean, I guess it could be terrible. Brad Bird’s non-animated movies have not been that good. But The Incredibles is a masterpiece – I mean, like, a genuine actual masterpiece, a world-conquering display of human filmmaking ability, and a movie that I would watch every goddamn day and stay happy about it – and I trust Mr. Bird that he had a good time to go back to it. This film, perhaps more than any of the other ones here, could be launched off into some weird territory 10, and that would be a damn shame. But that seems like an edge case.

Ant-Man and the Wasp

WHAT IT IS: The sequel to Ant-Man, and the first post-Infinity War movie on the Marvel slate. This one appears to be expanding the role of Evangeline Lily’s Hope Van Dyne 11, and will probably be a relatively-lighter palate cleanser from what will surely be a gloomy Infinity War situation.

WHY YOU SHOULD BE EXCITED: The first one was a blast, cramming a caper film into a superhero costume, and letting Paul Rudd be Paul Rudd (and Michael Pena be Michael Pena). The building blocks are there for this to also be a lot of fun, and it’s being directed once more by Peyton Reed, who seems like the right guy for it, although see below.

BUT I’M WAFFLING BECAUSE: The world may never know how much of the movie Edgar Wright had actually prepared when he was fired and Peyton Reed took over, but since the first Ant-Man still had a decidedly Edgar Wright feel to it, it might have been a lot. Also, Ant-Man the character isn’t much of a thing, and there isn’t much else to hang this on. He was good for his, like, five lines in Civil War, but if any of the MCU movies is liable to lose serious steam in the near future, it’s this one.

Venom

WHAT IT IS: A somehow-still-happening film about a very famous Spider-Man villain/antihero. This time Tom Hardy is going to be the man in the black goo 12, and there’s probably not going to be any actual Spider-Man in there, and also it’s unclear how “Anti-” this anti-hero is going to be. I would guess “considerably,” but hey, who knows.

WHY YOU SHOULD BE EXCITED: Tom Hardy is great, and the fact that he has so little in common with the traditional depiction of Eddie Brock means that it could be that they’re going somewhere new and interesting with the character. Venom can be a lot of visual fun – the costume reforming itself and doing cool black goo things and all that – and that always helps.

BUT I’M WAFFLING BECAUSE: There just isn’t a lot to Venom as a character, and to introduce him (sans Spider-Man) and figure out how to work him into a story right away seems like it could be a real slog. Plus between the inclusion of a bunch of prime-era Liefield characters 13 and the fact that this version of Venom, at least given the trailers, is giving off a serious Spawn vibe (an evil corporation! A streetwise grimdark antihero!), we are truly dragging the worst parts of nineties comicbookdom into the movie theaters, and that didn’t work very well the first time. Although I guess we can start getting real excited for those Foolkiller and/or Darkhawk movies 14, right?

Spider Man: Into the Spider Verse

WHAT IT IS: An animated Spider-Man movie centered around Miles Morales instead of Peter Parker. Weirdly, we know that Liev Schreiber is going to play the villain, but we don’t know who in Spider-Man’s deep stable of potential villains it’s going to be 15. Presumably the titular “Spider-Verse” here means there are going to be some other spider-characters, which could mean Jessica Drew’s Spider-Woman, which could also be very exciting. This is, interestingly enough, also Sony’s picture – apparently they only gave the rights to Peter Parker’s Spider-Man over to Disney.

WHY YOU SHOULD BE EXCITED: Miles Morales’s Spider-Man has a track record of being written pretty well, and the writer here is Phil Lord, half of the dudes that made The Lego Movie and got fired from Solo. Liev Schreiber is a great voice actor, and the adult figure’s in Morales’s life (his father and brother) are played by Mahershala Ali and Brian Tyree Henry, who are both great. It’s also the first theatrically-released animated movie based on a traditional superhero property 16, which means that, at the very least, we don’t have much to compare it to, so we might as well be excited, right?

BUT I’M WAFFLING BECAUSE: Mostly just the general waffle at the unknown here – we don’t really know what’s going on, and they’re keeping things pretty secret. Plus, there’s no telling how the animated version of this story could go. But Sony’s animated offerings include the all-time turd The Emoji Movie, the Hotel Transylvania movies, and the Smurfs movies. So there’s not a great pedigree there, even if Peter Rabbit was probably better than could be expected.

Aquaman

WHAT IT IS: As every single goddamn DCU movie approaches on the horizon I think “this could be the one where they right the ship.” This is the first DCU movie after the somehow-disastrous Justice League movie 17, so maybe they’ll figure it out this time.

WHY YOU SHOULD BE EXCITED: Jason Momoa seems like he’s enjoying himself, and he’s certainly the kind of charismatic, fun-to-watch presence that could keep it going. Plus, maybe they’ve finally learned how to mitigate their grimdark nonsense and give it a sense of fun. I think that Aquaman has a pretty wide-open set of possibilities, given that there’s a huge chunk of the internet devoted to making jokes about how much he sucks 18, and thus – it can be inferred – very little expectation. Plus, at this point, if the movie turns out to be even moderately fun or different from the current DCU factory grind, it’ll probably win enough points through being graded on a steep curve that it’ll seem like a good movie. The trick here could be James Wan, who made the only good torture-porn movie (Saw) and made an awfully good movie about a fictionalized version of flim-flam “psychic researchers” Ed and Lorraine Warren (The Conjuring), so clearly he knows how to get good movies out of bad ideas.

BUT I’M WAFFLING BECAUSE: I mean, at exactly 1 good movie 19, the DCU isn’t exactly inspiring confidence. Again, there’s every chance they could correct the course here, but given that previous DCU movies have been both awful and profitable, I do have to wonder how much they’re actually going to try to change them, and how much they’re just going to adjust their expectations and go on from there. But then, I’m not in very many Warner Bros. film executive meetings, so I have no idea.

Hellboy

WHAT IT IS: A reboot of the delightfully weird horror comic, last heard from a decade ago when Guillermo del Toro directed the second of his amazing Hellboy movies. This time they got David Harbour to play Hellboy, and Neil Marshall to direct.

WHY YOU SHOULD BE EXCITED: Marshall’s previous films prove he can handle horror-comedy (Dog Soldiers), in addition to straight up horror (The Descent) 20, and general big-tent weirdness (Doomsday). David Harbour has been great generally, and what we’ve seen of his version of Hellboy has looked wonderful. Hellboy is a long-running comic with a deep bench of characters and stories, and is open to all sorts of interpretations, so it seems like it would be pretty easy to get something out of it, cinematically speaking. The supporting cast includes Ian “Al Swearengen” McShane, who is always a treat to watch, and Mila Jovovich as an evil sorceress. Plus it’s R-Rated, so we could potentially getting some particularly gnarly visuals.

BUT I’M WAFFLING BECAUSE: It has some mighty big shoes to fill. The Del Toro Hellboy movies are both incredible, and set a very high bar for the expectation. It’s based on an original Mike Mignola story, and while it’s true that Hellboy is his character, and he wrote all of the comics, it is also true that all of the stories in the comics are not exactly the comics’ strong suit.

X-Men: Dark Phoenix

WHAT IT IS: The fourth movie in the current X-Men continuity. It may also be the last – the Disney/Fox merger is supposed to take full effect before the next one would come out, and after the last one it was rumored that most of the cast was leaving, although that turned out not to be the case. This one is going to tackle a particularly iconic X-Men story, that of Jean Grey’s possession by and eventually triumph over/sacrifice to the Phoenix force. It’s hard to tell how much of the comics storyline is going to be here, but it could be the weirdest one yet, and that’s saying something given that the last X-Men movie included Apocalypse.

WHY YOU SHOULD BE EXCITED: The current run of X-Men movies have gotten increasingly crazy and comic-book-ish (with the exception of the dire, gritty Logan, which was also the best X-Men movie made so far), and so this one has a lot of room to be pretty out-there in terms of comic-book-iness. This cast has proven to be reliably good, and who knows? Maybe for the last time out they’ll all bring their best game and we’ll get something really cool out of it.

BUT I’M WAFFLING BECAUSE: Leaving aside the fact that X-Men United already botched the holy hell out of adapting this story, there’s also the fact that, while I liked Apocalypse a lot, I’m decidedly in the minority, and the things that I liked about it (the fact that it was the most like a comic book of any of the X-Movies, the fact that it was absurd and weird and barely-linear) are the things that a lot of people most decidedly did not like about it. Furthermore, even if the movie tells a bare-bones, direct version of the Dark Phoenix storyline, there’s still a lot of story there, and trying to get it all in in a way that is entertaining and not an overstuffed, overlong mess seems like a pretty tall order, especially for a first-time director.

Glass

WHAT IT IS: The sequel to Split, which revealed itself to be the sequel to Unbreakable, and thus the third of M. Night Shyamalan’s Unbreakable trilogy. Bruce Willis and Samuel L. Jackson will be back for this one, and we’ll get some more of that sweet, sweet McAvoy action.

WHY YOU SHOULD BE EXCITED: After years of self-indulgent nonsense, Shyamalan has come back, first with the satisfying The Visit, and then with the real return to form by way of Split. Bruce Willis remains a mostly-reliable draw, and Unbreakable is one of his finest hours, so seeing him step back into that role is pretty exciting. The same goes for Samuel L. Jackson. Plus, he waited fifteen years to start revisiting this story, so I’d assume he has something ready to go.

BUT I’M WAFFLING BECAUSE: Even with his recent uptick in quality, there are still more misses than hits in Shyamalan’s filmography, and it’s still too early to tell how much of it is something he’s able to sustain vs. how much of it is just having happened to have made a couple of good movies.

Captain Marvel

WHAT IT IS: The first (finally!) female-led MCU film. This one is set in the nineties, and stars Brie Larson as Carol Danvers, presumably as currently written by the great Kelly Sue Deconnick. Clark Gregg and Samuel L. Jackson will be involved, which further manages to tell us that SHIELD will be involved.  This is also going to be interesting because none of the other MCU players are in the continuity yet – Tony Stark has yet to visit that cave, Bruce Banner hasn’t been blowed up yet, Captain America is still on ice, etc. – so they’ll either have to develop a new set of supporting characters or launch her off entirely on her own. The latter seems likely, as they’ll also have to explain why she hasn’t been involved in the events on Earth yet in the MCU.  

WHY YOU SHOULD BE EXCITED: Brie Larson is reliably excellent, the Captain Marvel character is a lot of fun, the nineties setting could be a hoot 21, and there’s plenty of cool early-SHIELD business they could get up to. Captain Marvel is also a cosmic character, and their only other cosmic title is Guardians of the Galaxy, which is fantastic. Oh, and they’re bringing back Lee Pace, so we’ll get some more Kree stuff, which tended to be pretty good in the comics.

BUT I’M WAFFLING BECAUSE: It’s a fairly unknown quantity, I guess? I mean, I’ve got pretty high hopes for it, so there’s always the disappointment, but this far out from it, having only seen production stills and whatnot, it’s pretty hard to tell what the failure modes there might be. I guess it could be too nineties-y, that’s a real risk. Disney has handled more difficult Marvel heroes with aplomb, this one should be relatively easy to get right, provided they don’t do anything stupid.

Shazam!

WHAT IT IS: Well, what it isn’t is the movie where Dwayne Johnson plays Black Adam, which is what it was rumored to be for quite some time. Instead we’re going to get a movie about the most litigated superhero in history, who has to be called his original catchphrase instead of his name 22. Instead it’s the movie where the kid from Jolene turns into the guy from Chuck, who has the wisdom of Solomon, the strength of Hercules, the stamina of Atlas, the power of Zeus, the courage of Achilles, and the speed of Mercury 23.

WHY YOU SHOULD BE EXCITED: Well, it’s a character that has zero cinema history associated with him, so that’s something that could help it along. I mean, there’s really only a couple of good stories, so the primary reason to be excited about it is the hope that it could be converted to a Miracleman/Marvelman 24 movie, which would actually be as grim and dark and child-threatening as the current DCU movies are, but which is actually a nifty bit of superhero philosophy and whatnot.

BUT I’M WAFFLING BECAUSE: There’s just so little there to work with. Shazam has his fans, certainly, and certainly there are good movies made out of cult superheroes all the time (see above w/r/t Hellboy), so it’s not like it’s destined to be bad. But it’s still a DC property, and its one without a strong vision of its own, so it sure seems like it’s going to be more subject to the forces that make creative decisions, which seems like it’s in an especially precarious place. But I will also say that, of all these, this is the one where my well of ignorance is deepest, as I’ve only ever read Jeff Smith’s run on the book, and a handful of other things over the years. Still, it’s hard to feel inspired about.

Untitled Avengers Sequel

WHAT IT IS:The movie in which, having been (presumably) smooshed all over the map like a bunch of supermops, the MCU superheroes come together with Captain Marvel and probably some other folks as well, and make Thanos pay for his actions or whatever. This is your annual reminder that the conflict in the Infinity Gauntlet comic book ends with Nebula (Karen GIllan’s character in the Guardians of the Galaxy movies), who had been turned into an experiment in living death, getting her revenge by literally stealing the glove off of her father’s hand while he’s distracted over his subconscious doubts about his worthiness of ultimate power. So what I’m saying is: we probably know that the movie isn’t going to follow the book in this manner.

WHY YOU SHOULD BE EXCITED: This is, by all available evidence, the jumping-off point to whatever the post-phase MCU is 25, and will probably kill everybody off to bring in some new people or whatever, so that’s pretty exciting. Plus it’ll be a (I’m guess) satisfying conclusion to the ten years of movies that have brought us to that point, so it’s hard not to be excited, and will probably be even harder given that it’s a direct sequel to Infinity War.

BUT I’M WAFFLING BECAUSE: Well, all of that wrapping up and all of that introducing newness is pretty fraught, and the whole thing could fall apart around us, the unsuspecting audience, and our impossibly high expectations. Plus, the book ended with a lot of questions about worthiness and operatic Thanosisms, and we don’t know much about the Thanos we’re getting here, so that could all go pear-shaped as well.

Gambit

WHAT IT IS: The Dumb Comic Book Nineties continue their roaring back, this time with Channing Tatums’ uh…passion project. He seems like a smart, charismatic dude, but I guess there’s no accounting for taste. Anyway, Gambit was last played by Tim Riggins in X Men Origins: Wolverine, which was awful, and Tim Riggins’s Gambit was awful. He was featured in the nineties X-Men cartoon, so he has an outsized place in the memories of a bunch of dudes in their thirties, which, I guess, includes Channing Tatum. He makes things explode when he touches things and throws them – his preference is for playing cards – and he’s got a cajun accent. Oh and he wears a trenchcoat over body armor and carries a quarterstaff because the nineties were a nightmare hellscape. If I sound like I’m having trouble making this sound cool, it’s because, I assure you, it was not.  

WHY YOU SHOULD BE EXCITED: Um…well, Magic Mike sounded like a dumb idea also, and it turned out to be a really good movie, so clearly Channing Tatum can surprise us all. Plus maybe it’ll actually be a parody or something that we won’t have to take seriously, like 21 Jump Street? That’s another movie that sounded like a terrible idea with Channing Tatum in it. I don’t know, man.

BUT I’M WAFFLING BECAUSE: If the idea of two hours of Channing Tatum doing a cajun accent doesn’t give you a case of the screaming jibblies, then you’ve got a stronger constitution than I do, to be sure. But Gambit was, even at the height of his popularity, a character that didn’t spend a lot of time in his own, solo, stories. We’re a couple of decades past that popularity now, and I don’t think that time is going to have been kind to him. Plus most of his solo stories that did exist (including the one in the aforementioned nineties cartoon) were about the goddamn fucking thieves guild and, my dudes: they were so dumb.

Spider-Man 2

WHAT IT IS: The sequel to the excellent Spider-Man: Homecoming, and the first movie to be free and clear of current phase system of the MCU. As the first post-Infinity Marvel movie, it’s got some stuff resting on it.

WHY YOU SHOULD BE EXCITED: Tom Holland is the best onscreen Peter Parker. Genuinely. He’s so good at playing the character that even if the whole thing flies apart without the direction of having an over-arching goal 26, his movies are likely to still be good. Spider-Man movies are always about Peter Parker, and they fail when they don’t do a good job by the character. If someone who knows what they’re doing writes it, it’ll still be fine.

BUT I’M WAFFLING BECAUSE: Obviously the inverse corollary here is that if someone writes it that doesn’t know what they’re doing, then it will suck. With the previous Spider-Man series, it was fairly easy to tell when they were going to suck: it was exactly the point at which they had too many villains. So keep an eye on who gets cast as villains, and how many of them there are. It really shouldn’t be more than “two,” and “one” for preference.

Cyborg

WHAT IT IS: It’s a movie about Cyborg, the member of the Justice League that is…a cyborg. The DCU is building their thing around mother boxes and some of their more Kirbyesque elements, and this is coming between Justice League movies, so it’ll probably be expositorily important or something.

WHY YOU SHOULD BE EXCITED: At this point? Because it’s way out in the future, and they could have fixed all sorts of problems by then. Ray Fisher seems like he’s alright and will do fine I guess. I think the best-case scenario with this one is that it turns out to be a remake of the Albert Pyun movie, with the character Cyborg in the role originated by Jean-Claude Van Damme (who plays Gibson Rickenbacker) 27, and a plague that kills everybody, and a crazy-ass action road movie to New York to find a cure. That’d be great.

BUT I’M WAFFLING BECAUSE: Well, it’s not going to be any of those things, it’s not going to have any characters with guitar names, and the DCU has been a ball of boring garbage the whole time so far and there’s no sign of that changing. Sigh.

The New Mutants

WHAT IT IS: The long-delayed first installment in a series that, in the comic books, led up to X-Force 28, but in this case is going to be a post-X-Men horror title. The trailers looked cool, but it’s been turned into a football by the Disney/Fox scheduling/merger shenanigans, which isn’t great. It’s too soon to tell if that’s a vote of confidence or sign of quality or whatever, or if it’s just the way it is by fate and happenstance.

WHY YOU SHOULD BE EXCITED: Well, an X-themed horror movie sounds pretty great, and the television show Legion has plumbed those waters pretty effectively, so there’s proof that it can be done. The cast seems pretty cool and the New Mutants aren’t a set of characters that many people have tried much with, so it’s all pretty open-ended.

BUT I’M WAFFLING BECAUSE: Much like any movie that’s relatively far off in the future that we don’t have much explanation for, what seems like it could be an asset (its unfamiliarity) could turn out to be the liability of people not knowing what they’re in for. While it’s true that the MCU has largely avoided falling into that trap, it’s still a thing to watch out for. Plus, they haven’t exactly put the movie on the express train to release towne, so who knows what’s actually going on with it?

Wonder Woman 

WHAT IT IS: The sequel to the only actually-good DCU movie.

WHY YOU SHOULD BE EXCITED: Wonder Woman went over pretty well, and there’s no reason to think that that particular magic couldn’t strike again, especially since, as is still the case with superhero movies even now, somehow, we don’t have to worry about all the origin story stuff and can spend more time with Wonder Woman as Wonder Woman.

BUT I’M WAFFLING BECAUSE: There are probably a billion ways this could be screwed up, but it’s very far off, and I’m not actually waffling that much. I’m sure it’ll be good, and hey, by then maybe the DCU will have straightened itself around and we can all be happy people.

 


  1.  to those of you reading it in the future, congratulations on surviving to the future! 
  2.  I was 9, I’m old, etc. 
  3.  Iron Man 2, Doctor Strange 
  4.  you will not convince me that this is not a spiritual sibling to Community’s paintball episodes, and if you think I don’t mean that as the very highest of praise, then you do not understand where I’m coming from here. 
  5.  seriously, I’m a Black Panther fan and I didn’t think that movie was going to be as good as it was. 
  6.  shoutout to Wikipedia for abetting that, which is one of up to three references to football in the entire history of this blog. 
  7.  Gerry Duggan’s Infinity series was slightly more wild, and slightly less wolly. It’s good stuff though. 
  8.  and the effects of which pandering I’ll not be detailing here for reasons of propriety, but which you can probably guess if you examine, say, this publicity still and remember that Domino was a going concern when I was, like, 12. 
  9.  a thing that I only actually realized when the trailers for this one came out. 
  10.  in addition to being a painstaking genius, Brad Bird is also a real weirdo, philosophically speaking, and The Incredibles avoids having a weird philosophical position by not actually taking a philosophical position, and letting its characters speak to their philosophical positions and see how it all shakes out.
     
  11.  as evidenced by the fact that they put her in the title. I’m a very good detective, guys. 
  12.  a role previously played by Topher Grace 
  13.  see above w/r/t Deadpool, Shatterstar and Domino 
  14.  true story: one of these, if it was announced as a movie, would make me for-real happy. Other true story: it is definitely Darkhawk (who was a guy with an alien suit that gave him the powers of – simultaneously – Daredvil, Iron Man and Wolverine, and was ridiculous and silly, but in a fun, cool way) and not Foolkiller (who was a more punish-y version of The Punisher, and was ridiculous and silly in the worst of all possible ways. 
  15.  I am just putting out into the world, The Secret-style, that I have always wanted a Kraven the Hunter film appearance, and that Liev Schreiber would be a great voice for it. Please and thank you. 
  16.  there’s one more weasel clause than seems necessary because Big Hero 6 is based on a Marvel property, but I’m comfortable making the argument that it isn’t a “traditional superhero property”, so there. 
  17.  I say “somehow” because it made a tonne of money, and it did get some positive reception, albeit mostly from the same people who think that Rotten Tomatoes is some kind of con-job collusion factory, and yet still seemed like a disaster. Full disclosure: I haven’t seen it, because I only liked one of the movies leading up to it. 
  18.  these jokes are, of course, made by people who haven’t actually thought about what it means to control every animal in the sea, but this isn’t the place for this argument. 
  19.  which is Wonder Woman, see below, although even that one still has the dumb cgi fight at the end of it. 
  20.  which is, editorially, one of my all-time favorite horror movies 
  21.  although it does come out only a few months after the similarly nineties-set Dark Phoenix movie, which doesn’t do much to allay my aforestated fears about the worst parts of the nineties rearing their heads in the superhero movies of our time. 
  22.  which was Captain Marvel, and the shortest version of the story for is that they called their superhero that then the comic book company was founded, then they were sued into not being able to publish their comic anymore, and now the character is Shazam. 
  23.  I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking “But Mercury is the Roman name!”, which is true! They switched panthea on us! But also, you will have to admit that “SHAZAM!” sounds much more superheroic than “SHAHAH!” which is what it would be if he had the speed of Hermes, the Greek version of that God. So they get points for editorial decisions if not fealty. 
  24.  earlier when I said he was the most litigated superhero I wasn’t kidding: there was yet another barrister smackdown about his later name, which is Marvelman in the UK (where he was written excellently by Neil Gaiman and by Alan Moore, and Miracleman in the US. 
  25.  Kevin Feige has said that after Phase 3, there will be no more phases, which seems sensible, given that even the folks at Disney know that this superhero pace can’t go on forever. 
  26.  this seems, to me, to be the most likely outcome for the MCU, that it could all just fling itself apart because nothing is driving toward any kind of unified theory like the first three phases were. Of course, there’s no reason that Kevin Feige’s “no more phases” business should be taken at face value and, by the time this comes out, they might also control the X-Men, and so we might get all crazy kinds of crazy shit. But as it stands right now, it seems like everything fracturing is the most-likely failure mode for the MCU. 
  27.  other characters are Marshall Strat and Fender Tremolo, and if this set of names doesn’t make you want to run directly out and watch this movie, then I don’t know what to say to you. 
  28.  which is the team that Deadpool is assembling in Deadpool 2 

Who the Fuck Listens to This: Kylie Minogue – Golden

It is, at this point in 2018, not news that pop stars are pivoting to country music, presumably in the interest of revitalizing and/or saving their careers. Country music is the third-most popular format by number of stations 1, but also in economic terms, it’s better off to appeal to a country fan if you’re an artist that prefers the (somewhat and relatively) larger payouts of physical media sales – country is still tops among people that buy actual physical releases – which means that artists who have seen their physical sales slow down and don’t know how to shore up their streaming business would find it appealing.

So usually, when it happens, it’s not even worthy of comment: it’s a thing that’s happening industry-wide, and any individual who does it, it can be assumed, is after some more dollars and/or a renewed audience. But Kylie Minogue has gone country 2 is different, both practically and philosophically.

Practically speaking, I cannot think of a person whose major radio hits are less country-oriented than Ms. Minogue’s. She’s managed to carve out a somewhat-unique sonic footprint by making music that sounds like it was made by robot traditionalists – the disco influence is real, and she never really gave up on the pop-traditiionalism of her first records, but she also manages to fill her records, made as disco music by a traditionalist, with sounds that sound like they’ve been beamed in from the future. But here she abandons that lane to almost, kind, adopt a completely different set of sounds and signifiers 3. She’s certainly a big enough pop star (in parts of the world that aren’t the United States) that she could very easily just keep doing what she’s doing and making her (extremely devoted) fanbase happy, but she’s elected not to.

Which brings us to the more philosophical concern. Kylie Minogue is Australian, with a mostly-European following, and travelled to Nashville at the suggestion of her label to get “inspiration”, and came back with a desire to work in a genre that is not what you’d call particularly popular where her fans are and that, in fact, her music has basically zero to do with. She would have been hard-pressed to find a genre of music that is a currently-going concern, commercially speaking, that her oeuvre generally has less to do with.

 

That said, she has (kind of) made the plunge, and the result is Golden, her sixth UK#1, and eleventh Australia #1. So clearly, at least in terms of sales, she’s doing her usual business. But the question remains: who the fuck would listen to it?

This question is compounded by the fact that, for an album where someone’s gone country 4, she hasn’t actually gone particularly country. She hasn’t really even gone the kind of pop-radio country that is on the fringe of country signification either. She’s just added fiddles and banjos to what sound, to me, like regular Kylie Minogue songs 5. Furthermore, about half of the songs on the record don’t even have those things.

That said, the change is perhaps something that can be easily understood in context. Kylie Minogue has recently survived cancer, and now has to deal with being 49 years old, a woman, and famous, which combine to form a very aging- and death-focused mindset 6. The two most effective songs, the not-quite-titular “Golden” and the double-meaning “Dancing” 7, are also the most country-inflected (and aging and death are as country-friendly themes as you could hope for). It’s also useful to note that this is the first record she’s made in twenty years (since a record called Impossible Princess) where she wrote every song, so clearly it comes from an internal place that she’s gone country 8.

The resulting record, however, is a kind of limp hybrid, a simulacrum of someone’s country conversion It’s not “country” enough to get over as country music, but it’s also not Kylie enough to get over as Kylie music 9. As always with these exercises, it’s hard for me not to think of the version of this record that would be good, and in this regard, I think (as I so often do) of Nick Cave.

In 1996, Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds released Murder Ballads, which is sometimes my favorite Nick Cave album 10, and upon which appears the unlikely duet “Where the Wild Roses Grow” with Kylie Minogue, who also does some singing on a cover of Bob Dylan’s “Death is not the End” 11 alongside Shane McGowan and PJ Harvey. A better country-inflected Kylie record would find her tapping into whatever brought her to those collaborations in the first place. I’m not sure what form that would have taken, but she does have the voice for it, and her role in “Where the Wild Roses Grow” is as the murdered part of the murder ballad (spoiler alert I guess?), which would also be a fascinating place to be coming from, although I’d imagine that if you’re already death-focused as a songwriter (as Kylie was when writing this record, see above), it might not be the most appealing way to go about it.

But of course, a record can’t be judged by the record that it isn’t, but rather by the record it is. As it is, it’s not bad. As you can probably tell, I’m not a huge Kylie Minogue fan, or even a relatively minor Kylie Minogue fan, but it wasn’t actively terrible or anything 12, but it doesn’t really have anything going for it. I’m sure it meant a lot to Kylie Minogue to get to record it – the songs seem like they’re coming from someplace genuine, even if they’re smothered under the assistance of Nathan Chapman, who also abetted Taylor Swift for a half dozen or so of her records – but there isn’t much there to reward the listener, be they Kylie fan or Country fan.

It’s Taylor Swift – or rather, the inverse of Taylor Swift – that it’s most often compared to, but I think the better comparison is to Kesha’s Rainbow, which also represented a refuge in country music following a difficult life/media situation, and came out as the latter’s finest hour. Although Kylie suffers in either case – she’s gone country 13 in as commercially-oriented a way as possible, and it provides a sturdy-enough marketing hook, even if there is, after all, very little else to it.

So who the fuck listens to this? I guess Kylie fans. Certainly not country fans, although it’s an admirable effort for all that. As with previous WTFLTT subject Shania Twain, I’m glad she got to write the country record she wanted to write to deal with the things she wanted to deal with, but I think there are plenty of people who could be doing otherwise. Although there could be some nifty frission if she went out on tour with Kacey Musgraves, who just moved in the Kylie direction with her country album. Feel free to put me in touch with either lady’s agent or publicist or media booker or whatever. I work cheap.


  1.  for whatever that may be worth in listeners – radio tends to reach people in younger (kids) and older (people that listen to the radio because they’ve always listened to the radio) age brackets 
  2.  lookit them boots 
  3.  although more on her success in taking on actual country music in a bit here 
  4.  back to her roots 
  5.  although a review that ran in the Melbourne Herald Sun declares that there’s “no classic Kylie dance moments” so it’s possible I just don’t know what a regular Kylie Minogue song is. 
  6.  or so it seems, and so I would imagine. I’ve never been a post-cancer 49-year-old woman who is a pop singer, so I’m not entirely able to adopt the mindset of one I suppose. I’m also significantly taller than Ms. Minogue. 
  7.  the double meaning appearing in the couplet “when I go out/I want to go out dancing” 
  8.  new kind of suit 
  9.  although, again, it went to #1 everywhere you’d expect it to have gone #1, so clearly her fans are into it enough to buy it. 
  10.  when it isn’t The Firstborn is Dead or The Boatman’s Call or Henry’s Dream or Live Seeds. I have a lot of favorite Nick Cave albums. I love Nick Cave. 
  11.  which is itself a Dylan song from Dylan’s late-eighties swamp, an album that is also country-inflected via weird places (the Grateful Dead and Mark Knopfler), and which also kind of sucks for not actually sounding very much like the person who wrote the songs on it. 
  12.  this is a true story: the “Gone Country” runner in this piece actually came from a previous WTFLTT piece that I tried to write for Justin Timberlake’s Man of the Woods, but it didn’t fit into the schedule really, and it wasn’t very good – there’s only so much “oh my god this record sucks” that I can fit into a piece and still be saying something cogent, but rest assured that it’s one of the worst things I’ve heard awhile, and makes this record look like fucking Red-Headed Stranger.  
  13.  here she comes 

The 2018 ACM Awards

So, for two years I wrote about the ACM awards. And then, for two years, I did not. The reasons for this have been covered in other awards-show write-ups, but to make them clear at the beginning of this piece: there are not that many country music people at any given time, and so any time an award goes up, the same set of people are nominated over and over again. Couple that with the fact that the ACM awards are only the first of two major country-music-centric awards shows, and that the other one 1 has basically the same set of people involved with it, and also doesn’t have the fucking songwriter category (see below).

Anyway, this year I decided to jump back in. Mainstream country has some more good stuff! Carrie Underwood is performing a new single 2! The ceremony almost moved from Vegas, but decided it was a better idea not to! It seems, for all intents and purposes, to be a good year to jump back on the ACM train!

That said, I took 3 years off, and this field of nominees is functionally (albeit not precisely) identical. The heavy hitters are the same people, they’re here in the same configurations. Country music has not made significant changes, and yet I am soldiering through anyway, because I feel like significant changes may be coming, and it’d be worth getting some words down about it this year. So I’m soldiering on anyway, but I’m doing this one speed-round style, so that nobody has to spend more time than necessary thinking about Thomas Rhett.

Songwriter of the Year

Above I alluded to a problem with this categroy, and here it is: it is near-on impossible to figure out the elegibility of the people in this category in any way that yields an answer to the question “for which songs are these folks nominated”. That annoys me, and it required a long time to suss out. Anyway, Rhett Akins just got a bunch of press for making the country charts for seven years in a row. While that’s impressive, his songs still aren’t very good, so let’s go with Hillary Lindsay.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Hillary Lindsay

Vocal Event of the Year

This award is not solely awarded to the vocalist – it is also awarded to the record company, and the producer! This probably excludes such notable vocal events as “Blake Shelton clearing his throat that one time” and Luke Bryan saying “gawww-lee” 3 at something. Anyway, most of these are awful, but the Glen Campbell/Willie Nelson song is good, and, y’know, there aren’t a lot more opportunities to award Glen Campbell for things.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Glenn Campbell and Willie Nelson, “Funny (How Time Slips Away)”

Video of the Year

Jesus christ, if this isn’t the most insulting, “country by numbers” set of videos ever nominated, I’ll eat that one guy from the Brothers Osborne’s hat. It’s hard to call anybody the winner, honestly, but at least the “We Should be Friends” video has the Legally Blonde thing going on.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Miranda Lambert, “We Should be Friends”

Song of the Year

Can we just agree that no one outside of actual biologists should be using the word “Female” for any goddamned reason in 2018? Thanks.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Chris Stapleton, “Whiskey and You”

Single Record of the Year

This one, as a brief reminder, goes to the performance, rather than the nebulous idea of the songs itself (the song of the year award goes to the songwriters). It also goes to the record label, because I guess of course it does? Man, next time I write about these I’m devoting some damn time to the history of the label’s role in these things 4.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Chris Stapleton, “Broken Halos”

Album of the Year

In perhaps a shocking development, I actually liked Old Dominion’s album – taken as a whole album – more than Chris Stapleton’s, who I think is a much more solid singles guy. What a twist!

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Old Dominion, Happy Endings

New Vocal Duo or Group of the Year

On the one hand, I kind of like Runaway June, on the other hand, this award has already been given out and it’s gone to Midland, which is, I guess fine.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Runaway June, but it actually went to Midland

New Male Vocalist of the Year

Here’s the thing: I still like Kane Brown somewhat more than Brett Young, just like I did when I wrote about the iHeartMusic Awards 5. But, once more, this award has already been given, and it has already gone to Brett Young.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Brett Young

New Female Vocalist of the Year

So the way that long-term nominees seep into the categories is by first appearing here, but given that there’s, like, one new nominee in the non-”New” categories every year, there’s a one in fifteen shot that any of these people will be it. I suppose it’s nice to acknowledge the newness, but it would also be nice to roll the goddamn fucking categories over more. Oh also, this has already been given to Lauren Alaina.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Lauren Alaina, actually

Vocal Group of the Year

Hey, wouldn’t you know? I still like Old Dominion more than Midland. What a thing!

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Old Dominion

Vocal Duo of the Year

The fact that a “duo” is of course a “group” of two people apparently carries no weight with the ACM people. How else are we going to wind up with this, the most obnoxious of categories? Seriously almost all of these people are just awful.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Brothers Osborne, I guess

Female Vocalist of the Year

I mean, Reba’s here because she’s the host, right? There cannot possibly be another reason. Not in 2018. I suppose there are worse things than giving it to Carrie Underwood. She’s had a rough time of it.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Carrie Underwood

Male Vocalist of the Year

Well, it was a nice break, but we’re back to Chris Stapleton, I suppose.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Chris Stapleton

Entertainer of the Year

This is the one for all the marbles! That makes it weird that it’s the only category in which Luke Bryan appears! 6 It would also be weird for it to be the only category in which Garth Brooks appears but, y’know, these things do happen, and Garth Brooks is pretty much always up here, no matter what he’s been doing. He’s Garth Brooks, after all.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Chris Stapleton


  1.  the CMAs, which are trashier and dumber, but also less entertaining, which is a shame. 
  2.  a fact that is not much of an exciting development in and of itself, but is her first public appearance since the accident, and so is at least a little exciting, as someone who likes people generally. 
  3.  to be clear, the joke I am making here is that Luke Bryan sounds like Gomer Pyle. 
  4.  I mean, I talk about record labels all the time, but their specific role in country music and in the academy, particularly, is where I’m going here. 
  5.  where the category was more manageable because it was co-ed, and thus I didn’t have to think about as many people to winnow it down. 
  6. although he did appear in a joke in the vocal event category. 

On Steven Spielberg, Once More

So, two and half years after the first time I wrote about Steven Spielberg’s propensity for gnomic utterances about the popularity of various film trends, I find myself moved to do so again. This time because he has again pitched these opinions into my wheelhouse, which is to say: awards shows. Or, if you’d rather, the awards granted by the bodies that put on the shows attached to those awards 1; he told ITV, regarding streaming-only films of the Netflix type, “once you commit to a television format, you’re a TV movie. You certainly, if you’re a good show, deserve an Emmy, but not an Oscar.” He went on to stipulate that he doesn’t think the strategy that Netflix has pursued, of exhibiting it in a theater for a week specifically for awards qualification, should count as a theatrical release.

At its root, what Steven Spielberg, an immensely-successful producer 2 is saying (even with a relatively-charitable interpretation), is that people should not be able to come up to his level of awards-related success unless they do so his way. He’s already inside the gates, and he’d like to see them barred to anyone who finds another way in. This is the very worst kind of old-man bloviating – he’s established, so he doesn’t see any point in making things any different for other people to become established. It is also (and this is less charitable) pretty easy to see the statement itself as being pretty firmly anti-audience. The audience, after all, is presumably made up of people that want to see more movies. He admits himself, elsewhere in the ITV video, that the streaming-only film is the way that studios are making smaller, financially-riskier projects that, in different times 3, would have been given a theatrical release. This means that the system, whereby studios are releasing their films – made as films – to a streaming platform, is an alternative not to a theatrical release, but to the films being released at all. It seems readily apparent (to me, at least) that “more available movies” is a better thing for the audience, and those movies being available for the relatively-inexpensive cost of a Netflix subscription is a double-bonus.

Let’s assume, however, that Steve has a point, and that streaming movies are, in some fundamental way, different for the viewer. The physical experience itself can be somewhat different, as you’re not going into a room to do nothing but watch the movie with a bunch of other people that are there in that same room to watch the same movie. The effect of this – a crowd – to the experience is definitely an additive part of the experience. That is to say, it definitely changes the experience in a way that makes it more of an experience. That “more,” however, can, as with all group-oriented events, be either positive or negative. Everyone has had a movie ruined by someone who wouldn’t shut up, or wouldn’t get off the phone, or whatever. The risk is taken. At its highest form, there’s something to a serious audience there in good faith. How often are movies viewed at their highest form?

The home, experience, is no less intentional, but has its own double-edged sword. While it doesn’t generally carry the threat of the masses, it also represents far less investment on the part of the viewer, who doesn’t have to leave his house or spend his money 4. Since they aren’t attaching a physical currency value to the experience, they are (psychologically) less apt 5 to attach the same value to trying to make it “worth it”, which means they are less likely to engage with it.  

What this means, as far as I can tell, is that the differences come in two places. The first is the enjoyment of the audience (i.e. the choice between going out and risking the masses or staying in and risking the distractions). This seems to be beyond Steven Spielberg’s control and is, besides that, something that is pretty much entirely subjective. It’s not something any of us can answer for anyone else. That leaves the differences that are quantitative, which are all on the business side. Films that are sold to (or produced by) a streaming service are marketed differently (i.e. they are marketed by the streaming service), and make their money differently (generally being sold outright, since a per-sale model wouldn’t work) 6, which would make the difference between the two seem like there was a huge gulf separating them…provided that your investment was in the way that it was sold, rather than in the way that it reached the people.

This last point, then, is the reason Spielberg’s statements are so vexing. He’s presenting his own self-interest 7 as being the ethically-superior option (which is the worst), and he’s senselessly gatekeeping (which is also the worst), but he’s also doing a thing I am on the record as thinking is extra-the worst, which is assuming that the audience doesn’t know the difference between their own best interest and that of the people taking their money to provide a service. It’s so transparently manipulative that it can only ever be insulting, and there could be an interesting conversation there, if the subject were to be engaged with a more good-faith approach.

Ultimately though, even the preceding thousand words are begging the question: so what? This comes after a couple of years of the Oscars being under fire for their lack of diversity and forward-thinking members. This year was the first awards-granting period to have been completed under the newer, more-diverse Academy, and some surprising films got some surprising accolades, seemingly as a result. This is, on balance, a good thing; it means that some changes are being made to the thing that existed for 89 years without ever considering such changes. To say “that’s enough changes, we don’t need any more” is, at the very least, bad optics. I don’t think that Spielberg’s comments are coming, necessarily, from an anti-diversity place 8, but it still seems like it’s shouting “ENOUGH” when too many people are let through the door.  

But even if it somehow has nothing to do with the eligibility of more films in and of itself, there is still the fact that the business practices of the studios are being blamed on filmmakers and/or the audience and/or the nominating bodies of awards-granting institutions. Smaller movies – movies that are funded through production interests that land them on streaming services – aren’t going to be made for the same financial reasons that giant studio-helmed movies are going to be made. They’re going to be made as the result of someone’s desire to do it. If one imagines that there is a sort of critical mass by which movies end up finished, with the twin factors of “money involved” and “artistic motivation” adding together to reach this mass 9, then the two things can be seen to be complementary: you need more of one if you lack more of the other. This means, following on, that the financial risk taken on by the people that end up distributing it drops as the people motivated become more motivated. That’s the part of the market opened up by the streaming-only model: movies made by people who wanted to make their movies for less than the absolute maximum amount of money.

It manages to invalidate the “it’s making the filmmakers bad” argument that came at the end of Spielberg’s comments – the money-end of the film industry has decided that the way to best-capitalize on the films in question is to distribute them through this streaming-only model, and Spielberg has seen this and said “those movies are tv shows and also the filmmakers aren’t learning how to be filmmakers” because of the business-related result of the filmmakers wanting to make their films for less money. If he, a nominating member of the Academy and a person to whom the Oscars matter, is willing to speak for the Oscars in this capacity, then that is proof that, whatever gestures they’ve made toward inclusion, there is still a baked-in mindset that they actually constructed the best way to evaluate films, and that shows itself to be faulty with every year that goes by 10. Right before Spielberg gave his remarks to ITV, Cannes announced that Netflix features will not be exhibited, and while Cannes certainly isn’t the Oscars, it’s a similarly old-guard, established film-evaluating institution, and it shows that this attitude is endemic. This attitude, then, which is focused mainly on praising the largest bodies at the expense of the smallest (and of the audience), is harmful to the state of the art form itself, in addition to being harmful to all of the culture that supports it.

I suppose, given all this, that what I’m saying here is that there’s still more arguments to figuring out a way to evaluate films for long-term praise and memory that doesn’t involve the approval of an awards-granting body that continues to contain members that are only interested in one type or variety of thing winning awards, and that the best way to win this game is not to play. I think the sooner we all get together on figuring out what that should be and how that should work, the better off we’ll all be. The good news is that, as the Oscars decline in popularity and visibility, it’ll sort of happen naturally anyway, and whatever Steven Spielberg thinks about the issue will stop mattering.


  1. the extent to which the spectacle of the Oscars is separate and distinct from the Oscars themselves is a matter of some debate, and something I really should hash out one of these days. Stay tuned, I guess. 
  2.  I mean, he’s also an immensely-successful director, but that matters less to what we’re discussing when we talk about his opinions on the business of distribution and awards consideration, see below. 
  3.  to put a finer point on it, the times in which Spielberg himself came up as a filmmaker and producer. 
  4.  this is obviously modulated by the presence of the necessary subscription, which would add a cost onto the experience if someone, say, signed up for Netflix just to watch Okja or whatever, in which case this paragraph could be safely ignored except for the parts about the masses. 
  5.  this is a generalization, I am aware, but so is the thing about theaters being full of seat-kicking phone-using loudmouths – I’m comparing the potential drawbacks against the potential drawbacks here. If this were at all scientific, each case would be evaluated differently. But I assume that you, the reader, know what I am getting at here. 
  6.  I suppose I would be interested to know who owns the back-end on physical releases – i.e. that of Stranger Things – should they exist. The decision to release them would probably lie with Netflix (otherwise there would be nothing stopping film production companies from releasing them directly), but I wonder if there would be any payout to the production companies that made the movie in the first place or whatever. 
  7.  which may range from something as simple as “just wanting there to be less competition” to something as complicated as a general malaise with the state of the industry – I’m not interested in analyzing it, but I present it here only to point out that his actual motives themselves matter very little to the discussion. 
  8.  I mean, Short Round aside, the guy made a non-racist Tintin movie, for fuck’s sake. 
  9.  realistically, there are an uncountable number of things that play into a film actually getting made and released, but for the sake of argument here I am again simplifying the case to make a rhetorical point. I think most of the factors, anyway, can be largely grouped into “for the money” or “for the artistic satisfaction.”  
  10.  the evidence for this statement is that people are still not what you’d call happy about the Oscars, and the renewed diversity – a Mexican director won best picture, for example – isn’t actually fixing the problems that people are having, because it’s too little, too late. 

The Best Records of March 2018

The Messthetics – The Messthetics (The erstwhile Fugazi rhythm section hooks up with a whiz-bang guitar player, and excellent heavy instrumentals ensue)

Jean Grae & Quelle Chris – Everything’s Fine (Quelle Chris’s hot streak – he’s made this columnlet with his two previous albums in their respective months – continues unabated, and this time he’s making killer music celebrating his marriage to the inestimable Jean Grae.)

Kraus – Path (at this point, bedroom noisegaze from Brooklyn really has to do something to get my attention. In this case the thing it does is be really, really good. And also brief. Which does help.)

DDENT – Toro (Instrumental post-metal had a hell of a month, and DDENT made the best of the records in the clot of great releases, so here they are)

Anna Von Hausswolf – Dead Magic (Whatever Sunn0)))’s Randall Dunn is contributing as the producer here, it’s really Sunn0)))ing up her already pretty-terrific organ music, and this record is her best one yet)

Shamelessly Punting: An Ordinal Ranking of Things

The Good Place

Friday NIght Lights (the tv show)

The theme song to Good Times

Friday (the movie)

Plato’s Form of the Good

“Fridays I’m in Love”

Good Burger

That clip that used to run on The Soup all the time of Ann Curry saying “good morning, good morning everybody, in the news this morning, good morning”

Joe Friday

“Good God, y’all,” as uttered by Edwin Starr

Friday Night Lights (the movie)

“Good Night Ladies”

Friday Night Lights (the book)

Matthew Goode

Friday the 13th (the movies)

Goodreads

Good Morning Vietnam

“Good Lovin’”

“Friday” (the song from Friday (the movie))

You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown

The state of being just some gal Friday around here.

“Friday NIght”

Good Night, and Good Luck

“Last Friday Night”

Good Times

“Good Day Sunshine”

Friday (the Heinlein novel)

GOOD Music

Friday (the character from Robinson Crusoe)

The Good, The Bad and the Ugly

“Friday” (the song by Rebecca Black)

Friday the 13th (the day)

Good Morning America

TGIF (the 90s television block)

How to Be Good

Fridays (The 80s sketch show)

“Good Morning, Good Morning”

TGIFridays

“The Good Ship Lollipop”

Black Friday