Saturday, December 31, 2022

2022 Flashback: Music, Books, & Misc.

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Top Ten Songs of 2022

#10 "HEY IT'S BETTY" Betty Who

Betty Who does this thing where her albums randomly have songs that are barely over a minute long and have absolutely nothing to do with anything around them. This one can't hold a candle to "The Valley," which was my #1 song of 2017, but I find something absolutely intoxicating about the almost "noise music" intro where her voice is distorted into oblivion then descending into an absolutely delectable hook that drills itself into your brain just enough for it to feel withholding when the song abruptly ends.

#9 "Silver Tongues" Louis Tomlinson

As far as One Direction solo acts have gone in the post-breakup era, public opinion would have you believe it's a race to the bottom between Liam Payne and Louis Tomlinson. And sure, Louis was never the best singer in the band, as the opening 20 seconds or so of "Silver Tongues" highlights, but then it breaks into a raucous yet nostalgic celebration that's almost impossibly to deny.

#8 "ghost stories" vaultboy

vaultboy is an artist who came to my attention off the back of his viral hit "everything sucks," which is a charming confection in its own right. However, "ghost stories" is a newer single that shows how far he is progressing as an artist even just months after the release of that single. In addition to providing a deliciously sassy minor key synthline that - along with the lyrics - cements this song as a new Halloweentime favorite, this is the first track of his where he's experimenting with doing something slightly more interesting with his vocals. There's more to come from him on that front surely, but it's exciting to see how far he's already gone in such a short time.

#7 "Looop Lapeta" Jay Anand & Sidhant Mago

The title track from my #10 film of the year, "Looop Lapeta" underscores the fast-paced nature of the film's plot with a propulsive and freewheeling musicality that hops from genre to genre, including dubstep and R&B.

#6 "My Kink is Karma" Chappell Roan

Is there anything more delicious than a petty breakup song? This ode to reveling in an ex's failures is a sultry, slinky track that highlights the parody eroticism of the sharp lyrics.

#5 "Rush" Ayra Starr

There's something almost meditative about this track. Despite its bouncy drum beat (and its title), it's in no hurry to get anywhere and it's the perfect chillout vibe.

#4 "God is a Freak" Peach PRC

It's been a good year for songs with lyrics that are equally sexy and silly. Peach PRC airs her grievances with the way that organized religion wields God's will as a tool for preventing people from having fun, couched in a delectable Vocoder-laden track.

#3 "Keep Riding Me" ur pretty

This song has been circulating the gay Internet as something of a joke. And sure, it's clever and fucking filthy. But it's also just a rad pop punk song that is endlessly relistenable. The fact that it's about gay sex makes it feel more like a novelty, but this is very much in the family of the playful but artistically sound crudity of a track like "WAP" by Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion rather than being a throwaway shock jock novelty like, say, "Sex Tonight" by Gillette.

#2 "Charlie Be Quiet!" Charlie Puth

If there's one thing I love in a song, it's a big chorus that's painted in bright, bold colors. If there's a second thing I love in a song, it's when that big chorus uses its musical elements to drag the theme of the song onto center stage. The lyrics of "Charlie Be Quiet!" are about Charlie warning himself not to express his interest in a new lover too soon or else she'll be scared away, but the entire story is being told through the musical production, as his emotions can't help but be anything but quiet, spilling over into the discordant guitar licks and that effeverescent (and incredibly ear worm-y) chorus.

#1 "When You're Gone" Shawn Mendes

As the boyfriend of an all-time Shawn Mendes fan, I'm exposed to a lot of the dude's music. But this is his first single that really grabbed me by the shoulders and forced me to sit down with it. The way the song toys with its own structure and keeps withholding the sprightly chorus until the absolute last second is incredibly playful, and the instrumental dropout beforehand is a wink to the audience that he knows exactly how much he's messing with you. Also "slipping through my fingertips a little bit" is some A+ pop music rhyming right there.

Best 2021 Song I Missed: "Good Ones" Charli XCX

I'm a huge fan of a synth line that sounds like it can beat me up, what can I say?

Bottom Five Songs of 2022

#5 "Victoria's Secret" Jax

The thesis of this song has a point, but it should be a Medium article and not a pop single. "Victoria's Secret" just has one layer and nothing else to offer. The one-to-one metaphor of the lyrics is just plain boring and not what I want from my quasi-feminist anthems, even though this one is admittedly just a little bit catchy.

#4 "[You Made It Feel Like] Home" Trent Reznor

This song is like somebody put Trent Reznor and Randy Newman into an AI song generator and these are the uncanny, vomit-inducing results. But it gets extra points off for being featured in Bones and All and proving for the third time in a row that director Luca Guadagnino should keep his hands off his movie's soundtracks, because he will jump at the chance to slather an important scene in whiny white boy music and absolutely destroy any pathos he could have generated. 

Also, fuck using brackets instead of parentheses in the title, that's just annoying.

#3 "Mon Amour" Stromae feat. Camila Cabello

Stromae is an artist I like quite a bit, and there are glimmers of his past work here, even though his verses are sonically messy in an off-putting way. But I don't know what the fuck Cabello is even doing here, and the breakdown where she gets Autotuned into oblivion is genuinely one of the most unpleasant sensory experiences I've had all year.

#2 "Almost Too Early For Christmas" Dolly Parton & Jimmy Fallon

Now, before you say "it's just a novelty song, it can't hurt you," I dare you to click play. Dolly Parton is talented, of course, and it's nice to hear her sing a saccharine Christmas tune, but then Fallon comes galumphing in with some of the worst Autotune this side of 2007 and just pisses all over the place like a cat with chronic anxiety.

#1 "Opening Night" Weezer

Every time Weezer puts out new music I think "hey, I should check that out," forgetting that their last good album was in 2008 and even that one kinda sucked. This track, which turns Vivaldi's Spring into a saccharine nursery rhyme grafted onto "Hey Jude" for some reason, is peurile and obnoxious from end to end.

Best Music Video: "Stacy's Brother" Mad Tsai

I'm not ashamed of how horny this list has been so far, or how this video makes it 8,000% hornier. Just go with the flow and live in the vibes of this sexy modern answer to "Stacy's Mom."

Worst Music Video: "Loser" Charlie Puth

"Loser" is a solid song (though I find critics' breathless need to point out how "loser" and "lose her" rhyme extremely exhausting), but it is absolutely drowned in this effortfully "comic" video that overpowers it with an inscrutable storyline and annoying cartoon sound effects. I'm a card-carrying Charlie Puth fan, but as one of those I know very well how little he tends to shine in the video space. No, thank you! 

Best Collaboration: "emo girl" Machine Gun Kelly feat. WILLOW

2022 turned out to be a pretty solid year for pop punk, huh? This extremely catchy and propulsive bisexual anthem to a largely bygone subculture is certainly a top 5 track for either artist here.

Worst Collaboration: "Hold Me Closer" Britney Spears and Elton John

I appreciate that Elton John will participate in literally anything, but please leave me out of this unfocused scramble that doesn't so much sample "Tiny Dancer" as it does throw it to the wind and watch it gently float away.

Best Guilty Pleasure: "Nothing for You" Heartthrob

I think this pop ode to submissive bottoming is a hell of a good time, but the fact that it came out in the wake of the Supreme Court's Roe v Wade decision made too many of the lines feel less like playful exaggeration and more completely tone deaf. Great costume design on that video though, damn.

Worst Guilty Pleasure: "I'm Good (Blue)" Bebe Rexha and David Guetta

Now, this song isn't a guilty pleasure because they made "Blue" by Eiffel 65 into a bop. No, it's a problem because "Blue" by Eiffel 65 was always a bop, but this sample will make it so easy for incorrect people to say that Rexha and Guetta "fixed" it.

Best Comeback: "Purple Zone" Soft Cell & Pet Shop Boys

Although Pet Shop Boys have been around, this feels like two comebacks rolled into one. It's the '80s synth collaboration we always needed, with Marc Almond's spacy vocals floating serenely over a bed of bouncy electronica, ripped straight from PSB's delirious cover of "Always On My Mind."

Worst Comeback: "Lift Me Up" Rihanna

The curse of good artists making their worst work for movies strikes again with this new track for the Black Panther: Wakanda Forever soundtrack. No album in eight years and you show up with this snoozefest? How absolutely dare you.

Best Album Cover: Mellow Moon, Alfie Templeman

OK, maybe it's a little twee, but it's dreamy and full of lush color despite being a nightscape, and I love it.

Worst Album Cover: Un Verano Sin Ti, Bad Bunny

I get it that it's meant to look this way. But chalk this design up to yet another way I fail to understand the overall thing that Bad Bunny is trying to do.

2022 Crush: Charlie Puth

Look, when you make your entire Instagram feed a series of increasingly preposterous thirst traps, I pay attention. Sorry.


Top 5 Books of 2022

#5 Hello, Molly!, Molly Shannon

So, it turns out some truly harrowing stuff has happened to Molly Shannon, but she handles it with humor while discussing comedy with great seriousness, giving this memoir the perfect balance of tones.

#4 Queer Ducks, Eliot Schrefer

An examination of queer sexual and social behavior in animals that is secretly an examination of the human animal and our preconceptions around sex and gender. An absolute delight!

#3 Clown in a Cornfield 2, Adam Cesare

There were several books I read this year that had storylines inspired by the January 6 insurrection, but this gory slasher sequel is the one that best uses it as a tool for sharp satire and an examination of human psychological frailty.

#2 All That's Left in the World, Erik J. Brown

Somehow, All That's Left in the World makes a romance set in a post-apocalyptic world following a superflu not impossible to read in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. That's a treat enough on its own, and the fact that it's a thrilling read with a very sweet couple at the center is just the cherry on top.

#1 I'm Glad My Mom Died, Jennette McCurdy

I'm Glad My Mom Died is the Gypsy of the modern era, using the format of the celebrity memoir to explore the inner workings of an enormously complicated woman whose very human flaws caused a truly unbelievable amount of pain. McCurdy's story could easily have been a crushing and unrewarding laundry list of trials and tribulation, but she flexes her storytelling skills like she's had decades more time behind the keyboard than she has, breathing humor and pain into her memoir in equal measure.

Top 5 Books I Read for the First Time in 2022

#5 Gypsy: A Memoir, Gypsy Rose Lee (1957)

Oops, did somebody say Gypsy? The memoir that inspired the Sondheim musical that inspired the 1962 Natalie Wood movie is absolutely deserving of the outsized legacy it has earned for itself, telling a harrowing story of growing up under the thumb of the momager to end all momagers but always with an effervescent twinkle and endlessly delightful comic prose.

#4 The Honjin Murders, Yokomizo Seishi (1946, English translation by Louise Heal Kawai, 2019)

It's an absolute goddamn shame that it took so long for someone to start translating these post-WWII Japanese murder mysteries. I know we weren't on the best of terms at the time, but art is art! Yokomizo delivers a sharp mystery that combines a Japanese period setting and cultural markers with the best of his Western influences for a delightful locked room mystery.

#3 Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, Anita Loos (1925)

The source material for the classic Marilyn Monroe musical, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes is a frothy and delightful exercise in unreliable narration. Presented as a series of diary entries written by Lorelei Lee, this is a tremendously incisive satire of the lies that people tell each other and themselves when it comes to romance.

#2 World War Z, Max Brooks (2006)

This is the third book on this list that was later adapted by Hollywood, but by far the one that was worst served by said adaptation. I avoided this book for a long time because the movie was solid but bland, so imagine my surprise when it turned out to be a deeply chilling "historical" account that was freakishly prophetic in the way it evoked the global political response to COVID. Brooks is a dazzling writer who breathes verisimilitude into every word, imagining how a zombie virus might change behavior, language, and culture within a kaleidoscope of different strata of human society.

#1 Yours Cruelly, Elvira, Cassandra Peterson (2021)

I say any memoir written by a woman in the entertainment industry should automatically be shelved in the "Horror" section, but that comment goes double here! Peterson has been through a lot of highs and lows in her career as the Queen of Halloween, and her witty takes on her own trials and tribulation are a must-read.

2022 Crush: Sean, Out of the Blue

Out of the Blue wasn't exactly what I wanted it to be as a narrative, but the lead human character Sean (pictured on the right) is by far the cutest protagonist of the year and the cover artist brought him to life very well.


Screen Rant

Hey, that job I got writing movie and TV news for Screen Rant last year stuck! I'm still doing it, but now I've written over 1,650 articles. I need a nap.

Oh, and Jennifer Tilly shared one of my articles on Twitter, which was fun! Definitely the only positive attention I've got for writing entertainment news online (never look at the comments on anything you've ever written about a DC movie), and it couldn't have come from a cooler person.

Alternate Ending

I'm still writing and podcasting over at Alternate Ending too. And I got my own official caricature!

Other Podcasts

You can catch me talking about Romy and Michele's High School Reunion on This Ends at Prom, Godzilla and Scream 4 on Fright School, and Halloween 2018 on Friendchise.

Word Count: 2595

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