Sunday, December 31, 2023

2023 Flashback: Music, Books, & Misc.

<------- Click here to jump to the TELEVISION section


Top Ten Songs of 2023 

#10 "boys beware" Mad Tsai

I love a song that feels slinky and dangerous, and this is a particularly exciting entry from Mad Tsai's recent run of songs that ask "what if the thing Olivia Rodrigo was doing was queer?" That's a question I don't mind being answered in full.

#9 "Sleeping All Alone" Dixon Dallas

"Dixon Dallas" is the country music alter ego of Jake Hill, the artist who appeared on last year's list under his pop-punk alter ego "ur pretty" with the filthy ode to sodomy "Keep Riding Me." Dixon Dallas' songs are also very delightfully X-rated, with one or two exceptions. The queer, twangy lament "Sleeping All Alone" is one of the exceptions. As much as I want to celebrate his songs about butt stuff, this one just really grabs at my attention. Although it's a seemingly low-key track, Hill uses that to turn his talent for crafting hooks into an emotional battering ram.

#8 "Internet Boy" Bradley Kim

Maybe I was having a rough 2023 or something, because this song is another low-key lament that immediately struck me the first time I heard it. 

#7 "Not the 1975" Knox

Oops, I ruined my streak of queer songs. But for my money, Knox is the breakout indie artist of the year. He's giving us a throwback to the alt-rock "we're actually playing guitars" era without a shred of self-seriousness.

#6 "Never Ending Song" Conan Grey

Look, I am who I am. I will fall for almost any track that lavishes my eardrums with synths, but Conan Grey went above and beyond by crafting a song that genuinely feels like you would have seen it on MTV 800 times in 1987.

#5 "Se Fue" Anthony Ramos

I tend to get suspicious when a Broadway person attempts to put out a mainstream track (see my Bottom 5 list), but "Se Fue" is exhilarating. With verses that pull off some dazzling Spanglish rhymes and a rousing chorus that sweeps you off your feet, I really don't think anybody could have pulled off this particular transition better.

#4 "HOT TO GO!" Chappell Roan

This is Roan's answer to "YMCA," invented because she wanted a simple dance for people to do at her concerts. Speaking as someone who's been to one of those concerts, I would argue the dance didn't quite accomplish that goal (it's the gestural equivalent of a tongue twister). But even so, I'm glad this is the song that came out of that experiment, because it's an exuberant, horny exercise that earnestly embraces its perfectly corny takeout metaphor.

#3 "Amour Kôyô Kôyô" Roseline Layo

Layo is an Ivorian performer who has pulled off an exquisite work of mad science. She takes an African beat and grafts it onto a song that wouldn't feel out of place in the Selena songbook. The instrumentation (especially in the chorus) owes more to Tejano music than French or African pop, and it's all the better for its effortless blend.

#2 "Irish Eyes" Rose Betts

Just like "Never Ending Song," this song excels by perfectly capturing the music of a bygone era. Only this time we're going centuries farther back than the 1980s. "Irish Eyes" is an exemplary modernization of the traditional Irish song, feeling timeless and poetic yet delivering a story that feels immediate and relatable in a contemporary context.

#1 "Cobra" Megan Thee Stallion

I cannot overstate how much I was bowled over by this track from the first time I heard it. Megan Thee Stallion has applied her typically hyperbolic and boastful lyrics to her own feelings of alienation, depression, and anxiety. I hope you know how high this praise is, but it's essentially Megan's answer to Britney Spears' "Lucky," using her own inimitable style to tackle her own mental health. A "WAP"-esque track about suicidal ideation shouldn't work, but it really does. 

I think the song is best encapsulated by its sharpest line: "How can somebody so blessed wanna slit they wrist?/Shit, I'd probably bleed out some Pinot/When they find me, I'm in Valentino." It's a bold, propulsive, raw, compelling track about the gulf between luxury and mental health that knocks you off-kilter with its crunchy guitar riff and keeps you in a chokehold until you're done listening to exactly what Megan has to say.

Honorable Mention: "F150" Dixon Dallas

OK, I had to include one of the "butt stuff" songs. It's soooo good, and weaponizes all of bro country's favorite lyrical clichés to tremendous effect. 

Best 2022 Song I Missed: "All My Exes' Moms" Brooke Alexx

These days, we're seeing a lot of songs with daring lyrical concepts that are designed to provoke memes and endless TikTok replication. But if they're all as damn good as this, bring on the pandering!

Bottom Five Songs of 2023 

#5 "Move" Idina Menzel

I know I have a bad habit of enjoying terrible songs that either are sung by or sound like they're sung by cast members of Real Housewives. However, Idina Menzel is simply better than this grotesquely thin dance track that has absolutely nothing even remotely exciting to offer the pop music space.

#4 "Blow" & Juliet Cast

This song from the Broadway jukebox musical & Juliet is a perfect companion piece to the Idina Menzel track. This is a superb pop song that they have tried to force-fit into a Broadway framework, and it is an ugly act of desecration. I dare anybody who criticizes pop music for being soulless and processed to listen to this entire soundtrack. Things could be so much worse, my friends.

#3 "Aeroplanes" Carly Rae Jepsen

I applaud Carly Rae Jepsen's bravery for continuing to record this decent but forgettable melody while that cat was jumping around on a marimba in the background, but did she have to make us listen to the whole discordant, disorienting thing? Honestly, listening to this makes me want to throw up. I'm not saying that as a hyperbolic "this is the worst song I've ever heard thing." There's genuinely something about the bangs and clatters that pepper this soundscape that really throws my whole system out of whack.

#2 "Summer in the Hamptons" Jonas Brothers

Well, I guess now we know what happens when a comeback teenybopper group gets praise for their adult work and then completely loses their minds.

#1 "Mind Your Business" Britney Spears

I shall refrain from being particularly mean, because I read Spears' memoir earlier this year and she's definitely getting a lot off her chest in this song. But maybe we should leave collabs with back in 2013 where they belong.

Worst 2022 Song I Missed: "Something in the Orange" Zack Bryan

It starts off wrong with that simply awful title and it gives you no reason to ever get on its side. Dreary, dreary stuff here.

Best Music Video: "One Of Your Girls" Troye Sivan

I love Vocoder so much that I can almost pretend I'm listening to the song while this video is playing.

Worst Music Video: "I Feel Like Dancing" Jason Mraz

Look, if you insist on doing the thing that Pharrell already did a decade ago, at least be good at it, I beg of you.

Best Mashup/Remix: "Oh My Johnny (Banks of the Roses)" Chasing Abbey

I also have room in my heart for Irish trad songs that sound nothing like they would have sounded hundreds of years ago.

Worst Mashup/Remix: "One of Your Girls (Sped Up)" Troye Sivan

I'm not bemoaning this specific song, but a general trend. TikTok has made so many songs famous through needlessly sped-up versions that now artists are being forced to do it themselves. There's something potently anti-art to me about essentially applying a filter to a song just so people can consume it in more suitable chunks.

Best Collaboration: "Everything You Want" Matt Rogers & MUNA

Christmas songs can be fun sometimes, who knew?

Worst Collaboration: "Wrap Me Up" Jimmy Fallon & Meghan Trainor

Jimmy Fallon and Meghan Trainor clearly didn't get the memo. Also, Fallon's insistence on making the world hear him sing at every opportunity should be punishable by law.

Best Guilty Pleasure: "Immer müde" Alexander Eder

Really, the only reason I feel guilty about this is the fact that it shamelessly it rips off "Wake Me Up" by Avicii, because everything else about it is really propulsive and fun. I guess Columbia's legal department doesn't have a German division.

Worst Guilty Pleasure: "Maybe This Time" High School Musical: The Musical: The Series Cast

I think the reason I was bowled over by the song while watching the show is the fact that 98% of the original songs from HSM:TM:TS suck ass, so it shone by comparison. But I do still like it, so there.

Best Comeback: "Wild Dogs (Running in a Slow Dream)" Matchbox 20

Can I say I'm shocked Matchbox 20 is back? No, not really. But I certainly never would have expected them to come roaring into 2023 with this exciting Bleachers-esque sound.

Worst Comeback: "Where Do We Go From Here?" Agnetha Fältskog

Look, Cher can get away with making weird club tracks with dissonantly youthful narrators well into her 70s, but that's because she set a precedent by actually making club music on and off throughout her earlier career. This just kinda came out of nowhere, and it was a bummer to have to contend with it after the comeback for ABBA itself was so solid.

Weirdest Comeback: "Now and Then" The Beatles

The ghostly orchestral vibe on this track is perfect, because there is something deeply uncanny about hearing this song stretch so far back through time. It's not exactly the most exciting Beatles song, but it fits more or less perfectly with some of their latter-era stuff, to the point that it feels like we've perhaps tampered too much in God's domain. 

Most Random Pivot to Music: Simu Liu

I get it, the strike was rough on everyone.

Best Lyric Video: "Meltdown" Niall Horan

This was super cute! I feel like lyric video budgets must be getting entirely out of hand at this point, but if you've got One Direction money, why not spend it if the results are going to be so pretty and engaging?

Worst Lyric Video: Anything Off Gag Order, Kesha

I do respect Kesha for not going all-out and blowing money on a lyric video, but maybe next time choose a set of colors that don't clash horribly with one another and make it impossible to read?

Best Song Title: "Single Soon" Selena Gomez

The joke has been made online many times, but the announcement of the impending release of this song is the closest we'll ever get to the "My single, 'My Single is Dropping,' is dropping" joke from 30 Rock in real life, and I wholeheartedly embrace that.

Worst Song Title: "Heart Like a Truck" Lainey Wilson

What genre do you think this song is in? It's so hard to tell.

Best Lyric: "I heard you like magic, I got a wand and a rabbit" Chappell Roan, "Red Wine Supernova"

A perfectly elegant sex joke, I have no notes.

Worst Lyric: "Sex like summer in the Hamptons" Jonas Brothers, "Summer in the Hamptons"

Seriously, what does this mean? I don't know, and I don't intend to find out. It sounds... rashy.

Best Cover Song: "Magic" David from Barberton

This is definitely the best thing that came from Prime Video's lackluster adaptation of Red, White, and Royal Blue.

Worst Cover Song: "We Didn't Start the Fire" Fall Out Boy

Fall Out Boy fundamentally misunderstood the assignment. The point of Billy Joel's original song is that it's secretly a lyrical feat, presenting events in chronological order while still matching rhyme and meter. This new version, in addition to being depressing, is just a mess.

Best Sample: "Perfect For You" Peach PRC

You've already earned my respect by sampling Paris Hilton's "Stars Are Blind," but sneaking a sample of "Nothing in This World" into the bridge? Peach PRC, you are a genius.

My Top 5 Song Discoveries

#5 "Sleepyhead" Ryan Mack

This song is a bouncy and delightful confection, with a delightful central metaphor.

#4 "Prenderemos Fuego al Cielo" Francisca Valenzuela

I'm not usually a "let's vibe for five minutes" kinda guy, but something about Valenzuela's unhurried and syrupy vocals blended with the driving beat and delicate instrumentation is intoxicating.

#3 "Ahora Te Puedes Marchar" Super Junior

A K-pop group covering Luis Miguel either makes the most sense or the least sense, but either way, it works like gangbusters. 

#2 "Last Call" Will Linley

"Make the most of the night" songs are definitely played out in pop music, but Will Linley's song smashing that staccato riff in the chorus makes it irresistible nevertheless.

#1 "Feel Like I Do" Vin Diesel

I feel like I might have been tempted to put this in the "guilty pleasure" category in 2020, but honestly, this surprisingly catchy ditty gives me genuine, unadulterated, actual pleasure. Diesel's voice is an acquired taste, sure, but this is sharply produced and his gruff vocals are placed around a driving, airy hook that shouldn't work as well as it does.

2023 Crush: Ross Lynch

I'm only human.


Top 5 Books of 2023 

#5 Lion's Legacy, L.C. Rosen

This gay young adult riff on Indiana Jones maybe hits its themes a little too hard and a little too often, but it's a delectable adventure romp that honors queer history while running its characters through an action-packed puzzle box. 

#4 Paris: The Memoir, Paris Hilton

It was sometimes a struggle to read this whenever Paris leaned in hard on her identity as a brand, but for the most part, this was bracing, raw, scathing, and fascinating. Surprisingly well-written, too. 

#3 Northranger, Ray Terciero & Bre Indigo

This young adult graphic novel update to Jane Austen's Northanger Abbey is the first time I've felt that an adaptation actually almost entirely got the novel, which is my favorite of hers.

#2 Yellowface, R.F. Kuang

This novel, about a white author stealing her dead Asian-American friend's manuscript, is an incisive and electrifying jaunt through the horrifying and endless ways that human beings can come up with justifications for being the heroes of our own stories.

#1 The Long Run, James Acker

Wow, wow, wow. This is the closest a young adult novel has gotten to matching the masterpiece Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe in the 11 years since that book was published. Just like that novel, it examines and gives interiority to the traditional concept of masculinity, and the ways it inherently and only sometimes dangerously intersects with queerness.

Top 5 Books I Read for the First Time in 2023 

#5 The Test, Sylvain Neuvel

This novella about immigration in the not-too-distant future adds a unique and compelling wrinkle to what could otherwise have been a pretty rote post-Get Out political horror riff.

#4 Who Censored Roger Rabbit?, Gary K. Wolf (1981)

The novel that inspired Who Framed Roger Rabbit? is about as different as a text can be from that classic movie. However, it's clever and delightful in its own way. I'm especially partial to the worldbuilding around the word bubbles cartoons use to speak, but the way the prose deliriously skewers noir tropes likewise makes it essential reading.

#3 Confessions of a Puppetmaster: A Hollywood Memoir of Ghouls, Guts, and Gonzo Filmmaking, Charles Band with Adam Felber (2021)

Absolutely fascinating stuff. Charles Band only infrequently makes movies that are worth watching at all, but the story of how his career came to be is infinitely more compelling.

#2 Freewaytopia, Paul Haddad (2021)

Will this book about the history of L.A. freeways and the way they have shaped the city be interesting to anybody who doesn't live here? Hell if I know. But I loved this, and I'm not a history book guy at all, really. Like the best nonfiction books, it reveals the beating heart behind a topic that seems like it would be utterly dry.

#1 Leave Myself Behind, Bart Yates (2003)

This deserves to have a much higher profile in the queer YA space. It's certainly fucked up enough to be the gay answer to classics like Flowers in the Attic, Go Ask Alice, or The Perks of Being a Wallflower.

2023 Crush: The Fake Dates and Mooncakes Boys

I wish the book this cover sold me was any good, but my goodness what a cover.

Here's Some Stuff That I Did in 2023

By the time this is published, I will have written over 3,000 news articles at Screen Rant, which is pretty wild. Being part of their senior writing staff has definitely sharpened my skills in a way that has allowed me to grow in other parts of my writing life as well. More on that later.

In addition to being the co-host of the Bride of Alternate Ending horror podcast and reviewing wild movies like After Everything, I've gotten to guest on fun podcasts on the main feed as well, including the all-important 5 Worst Movies of the 1980s.

Mystery Novel

This is not ready for human consumption yet, but I did want to brag. This year, I finished writing a mystery novel, which is by far the most labor-intensive and time-consuming project I've ever completed. I have to do a lot of work on editing my first draft still, but I'm very proud I was able to do something like this at all! I honestly never thought it would happen.

On top of everything else, I started writing for Horror Press this year! They have been such a fun crowd of horror experts to join, and it's been a delight to discuss everything from gay subtext in Godzilla to training loved ones how to handle jump scares.


It's not Halloween if I'm not guesting on a podcast, and Friendchise was kind enough to invite me back to discuss the deeply incompetent franchise grand finale Resident Evil: The Final Chapter.

Word Count: 2958

No comments:

Post a Comment