Saturday, February 24, 2018

Amy Schumer Can't Win

Amy Schumer can never win.
Full disclosure before we begin: I am a fan of Amy Schumer. I love her. I think she is hilarious, and her sense of humor often overlaps with my own. Whether or not the fact that I am a fan of hers will make me biased in this area is ultimately not up to me to decide, but I will say that the problem I am about to address is not really about Amy Schumer: it’s about the ridiculous bull that solely women endure in the media.
If you know who Amy Schumer is, I’d be willing to bet you’re indifferent to her, or you hate her for reasons such as she’s “too vulgar” or “too raunchy” or other adjectives I won’t use here. And that’s your prerogative to feel that way. People are free to like and dislike who and what they will, and it is important to understand that. I’m not someone who refuses to let someone dislike a celebrity even though their reasons for not liking them are bogus. However, I will acknowledge that people who dislike Amy Schumer because her stand-up comedy is too vulgar are really at the mercy of an ideological and cultural double standard that oppresses female comedians because they joke about their sexuality, their sex lives, their bodies, their body image, or things of this nature. People think comedians like Dane Cook or Russell Peters are hilarious when they make dirty jokes about themselves or the women in their lives on stage, but when Amy Schumer makes a joke about her vagina at the Apollo, she’s too vulgar. That’s it, that’s all, we don’t like her. She doesn’t have any more layers to her than that, and to top it off, she’s too fat. Amy Schumer needs to shut up and go away seems to be the consensus if you search her name on the Internet (in fact, the immediate video results that pop up when you Google her name are videos like “This Is Why It’s Hard to Like Amy Schumer,” “The Worst of Amy Schumer,” or “Proof That Amy Schumer Steals Jokes.” Spare me.)
Schumer’s body and appearance are another contributing factor in this double standard that, quite frankly, makes me want to vomit and move to another planet where garbage like this doesn’t exist. Amy Schumer is not a supermodel. I’m sure she would tell you that herself. But because she doesn’t generally fit Hollywood beauty standards, she is constantly made fun of and called fat by the media in different read-between-the-lines kind of ways. She appeared on the cover of Vanity Fair in May 2016, where she spoke about things like body image and how she’s made a name for herself just like any male comic has done—and has enjoyed the effects of the double standards surrounding it (her jokes have also been called out as racist in the past in further controversies that are just as stupid). It is Schumer’s assertiveness in both stand-up and in Hollywood that has gotten her both a following and a reputation—but reputation for what? Being funny in her own way? Not conforming to your beauty standards? Calling it as it is? Oh, that’s right, for being a woman who is being herself.
But what makes it worse is that people who will openly call bullshit on Hollywood beauty standards and how most supermodels have unhealthy lifestyles in order to remain unrealistically thin for a runway will still imply that Schumer is fat or ugly, at least for Hollywood, and she needs to take her privileged white woman self away from the spotlight. Anywhere you look on the Internet, this seems to be the consensus for the case of Amy Schumer. And frankly it’s not surprising. We like to think we live in a modern world where strong women can be themselves and flip the bird to conventional beauty standards, but we don’t really live in that world, especially when it comes to Hollywood. But Amy Schumer just keeps on doing her thing, continuing to bother people in the process for reasons they sometimes can’t even articulate, and remains stronger for it.

“People feel how they're going to feel. I was just kind of like, I'm a comic. Like, can we just skip this thing where I become famous and then you guys look to burn me at the stake for something? Is there any way we can skip that?”
—Schumer, Vanity Fair, 2017

A few weeks ago, Schumer unveiled the official trailer for her new movie, I Feel Pretty, which is scheduled for release in April. Because she bothers people for being her unabashed self, I know to just expect negative comments when it comes to Schumer being in a new movie or announcing a new project. The disgusting consensus towards her was clearer than ever to me last May, when her mother-daughter adventure comedy Snatched co-starring Goldie Hawn came out in theatres. I thought it looked super funny, obviously because of Schumer also because of Hawn, who made her first film appearance in 15 years in the buddy chick flick. But it felt like everyone I knew was turned off by it. “I don’t wanna go see a movie where Amy Schumer runs around the jungle with one-too-many-facelifts Goldie Hawn, y’know?” I just thought it was rude. Not because I like Schumer, but just because no one reacts this strongly when a male comic comes out with a new movie everyone knows is going to be stupid. Adam Sandler hasn’t had a decent movie in over a decade, yet do people make such a huge stink when his latest stupid buddy comedy flick comes out? Uh, no. But none of the negative comments that I saw when Snatched came out would prepare me for how angry I would be when the trailer for I Feel Pretty was released.

I Feel Pretty stars Schumer as Renee, a young woman who is constantly insecure and dissatisfied with her appearance. Right away, it becomes clear that her character is embodying everything most people think and feel about their bodies but often don’t say out loud because they know they shouldn’t feel that way about themselves, but they do. In a turn of events, Renee hits her head at the gym and wakes up believing she is the most beautiful woman in the world, free of insecurities about her appearance. That was all the Internet needed to know before they pounced—not only on Schumer, but the movie itself. People’s controversial reactions to the trailer immediately trended on Twitter, causing a lot of backlash on (you guessed it!) Ms. Schumer. The media’s treatment towards Schumer aside, it seemed that it was more the premise of I Feel Pretty that bothered people more than anything else—that a woman needs to have suffered a head injury in order to believe find confidence in herself and her appearance. People were immediately angered and started tweeting strongly worded reactions basically saying “women need to stop being so hard on themselves.” One tweet in particular read, “CAN THIN CONVENTIONALLY ATTRACTIVE WOMEN STOP PRETENDING THEY ARE SO FAT AND UGLY AND LIFE IS THE MOST DIFFICULT FOR THEM.” Oh, so now you believe that Amy Schumer is thin and conventionally attractive? After everyone has shat on her not being Hollywood beautiful with the body to go along with it? Now this is an issue for you? Interesting. Schumer most probably took this role because the character and the premise spoke to her, y’know, based on how people like you on social media beat on her for not adhering to your beauty standards, but now it’s an issue of “this movie is disgusting, women need to stop being so hard on themselves, that is NOT how to develop the confidence to succeed, blah, blah, BLAH”? Oh, okay. I see how it works.

Here’s the thing, chicken wing. I know we’d all like to believe we live in a world where everyone is born with this massive sense of self-confidence and we can grow up and live in a world where we are just so strong and so brave and so confident to take on everything. Just like the beauty standards you force on female stars like Amy Schumer, that is unrealistic. Not everyone bleeds confidence. Humans are not born with an immediate sense of confidence in themselves: things like that are learned and developed in different and not always constructive ways. We know we’re not supposed to stand at the mirror and criticize every tiny aspect of our appearance until we’ve convinced ourselves that we’re ugly and not worth anyone’s time or love. We know that we’re not supposed to do that and we’re supposed to have this natural sense of confidence in ourselves, but it doesn’t always work that way. We like to think that Dove and Special K commercials are the key to helping people achieve body positivity, but it’s more complicated than they would like you to believe. Tweeting out that this new movie is appallingly disgusting because “ugh! Women need to stop being so hard on themselves!” is not helping the problem, it’s contributing to the problem. You’re basically telling everyone to just be confident and tune out the haters; because they’re just gonna hate hate hate! Easier said than done, sweet pea. This is why I think it’s a refreshingly interesting premise to have a woman plagued and worn down by negative thoughts of herself and her appearance to actually have something change in her brain to make all those thoughts go away: just think, who would you be without that perfectionist in your head while you brush your hair or put your face on in the morning? I think that’s what this movie is trying to accomplish. I don’t think it’s going to be some “oh poor me” white woman narrative where a “thin conventionally attractive” woman tries to change herself in unhealthy and ultimately unnecessary ways. She hits her head one day and suddenly all of her insecurities are gone. How would you live your life if that happened? I don’t think many of us would be able to answer, because some insecurities are so ingrained in our beings that we wouldn’t know ourselves without them.
But, ultimately, I think the outrage over the I Feel Pretty trailer goes deeper than people being enraged over the idea of a woman having to hit her head to develop confidence in herself. I think the issue circles back around to who is starring in the movie: one Ms. Amy Schumer. People weren’t pleased last year when she starred in Snatched because people believed it was the female equivalent of a stupid Adam Sandler movie, and also, Amy Schumer is sucks and is unfunny. Okay. Then this year, she will be starring in a comedy that tackles important themes and issues such as body image and self-confidence, two things that are unfortunately huge in our world but oh wait—no, it’s problematic, it’s disgusting, and it makes people so angry. So you shit on her when she does stupid adventure comedy movies, running through the jungle with “one-too-many-facelifts” Goldie Hawn, you shit on her for being too raunchy and vulgar in Trainwreck (her 2015 comedy in which she wrote and made her film debut in a leading role), and now that she’s starring in a comedy addressing issues that you seem to have with her, it’s outraging? Disgusting? Makes you so angry you want to punch a wall? Again, interesting.
Damned if she does, damned if she doesn’t: Amy Schumer can’t win. She’s too fat, too raunchy, too vulgar, and not funny. And yes: I think it has a lot to do with her being a woman. I know it bothers people. I know it does. I know it bothers people to see a woman grab her own crotch during a stand-up routine, or appear on television or in a movie not appearing like other women in Hollywood. I know it bothers people. But, in a way, it’s good that it bothers you. Maybe by bothering you, it will start to tear down the double standards we all like to pretend aren’t there.

Saturday, February 10, 2018

33 Songs That Deserved Better

We only speak the truth here.

1. “A Little Work” – Fergie

Fergie’s depression and mental illness anthem is one of the best songs I’ve ever heard. The 11-minute music video is well worth the watch. Strange, but worth the watch.
2. “All You Had to Do Was Stay” – Taylor Swift

The best song from 1989 and that’s all there is to say about THAT.

3. “Sledgehammer” – Fifth Harmony

I am not generally a fan of Fifth Harmony, but this song is amazing.

4. “Run Away with Me” – Carly Rae Jepsen

‘80s influenced pop greatness that everyone needs in their life.

5. “Make Me Like You” – Gwen Stefani

Gwen Stefani’s last album from 2016 was a bit too bubblegum pop for some of her fans, but I love almost every song.
6. “Unbroken” – Demi Lovato

Demi’s entire Unbroken album is among my personal favorites of hers. Deserved so much better.

7. “You Are the Only One” – Emily Osment

Did you know that Emily Osment from Hannah Montana and the Disney Channel sang for awhile when pop rock for teen stars was in? She can sing, y’all. We shouldn’t have let her flop.

8. “Thinking of You” – Kesha

I will blast this song in the car and will not care who watches me sing every word. Kesha’s Warrior album also deserved so much better.

9. “High Maintenance” – Miranda Cosgrove feat. Rivers Cuomo

iCarly wasn’t a great vocalist and only did the singing thing for a while because she was a hugely bankable teen star from Nickelodeon, but this song is good. Very good.

10. “Life Goes On” – Fergie

Fergie’s solo musical comeback after all those years made it feel like 2007 again. LISTEN AND APPRECIATE.

11. “Venus” – Lady Gaga

Gaga’s Artpop album is quite controversial—you either love it or you hate it. I’m not a fan, but “Venus” is a bop. Should have been a single.

12. “Primadonna” – Marina and the Diamonds

Marina and the Diamonds is one of the greatest artists of this generation and you all NEED to stop sleeping on her music. Her second album Electra Heart is a must-listen.

13. “Sober” – Selena Gomez

The best song on Revival. Should have been a single so “Same Old Love” and “Good For You” wouldn’t have been overplayed to death.

14. “It’s All Your Fault” – P!nk

I miss pop rock, don’t-give-zero-fucks P!nk! She will always have a special place in my heart.

15. “We Got Something They Don’t” – Shania Twain

One of the only songs from Shania’s latest album that reminds me the most of the old Shania Twain from the late ‘90s and early ‘00s.

16. “Big Girls Cry” – Sia

I feel like songs like “Chandelier” completely overshadowed Sia’s ability to deliver raw, nuanced songs like this one that tackle heavy subjects.

17. “In My Blood” – The Veronicas

I will be dragged off to a psychiatric hold screaming, “Why does no one else appreciate and listen to The Veronicas???”
18. “My Heart is Open” – Maroon 5 feat. Gwen Stefani

is Maroon 5’s best album. Fight me.

19. “Human” – Christina Perri

Everything about Christina Perri is beautiful and underrated.

20. “Heat” – Kelly Clarkson

This better be a future single from Clarkson’s Meaning of Life album because I’m mystified as to why no one else is talking about this song?

21. “Piano” – Ariana Grande

100% hands down the best song from Grande’s debut album. Why it wasn’t a single is beyond me.

22. “Rock N Roll” – Avril Lavigne

You either blast this song as loud as you can or you don’t listen to it at all.

23. “Better” – Britney Spears

Without a word of a lie, every song from Britney’s Glory album could have been a single. It’s almost as if the title of this song predicted its future: it deserved BETTER.

24. “This Kiss” – Carly Rae Jepsen

A bop that delivers disco and Funkytown vibes.

25. “Here We Go Again” – Demi Lovato

I love reliving timeless rock classics.

26. “Stuttering” – Fefe Dobson

Should have been a worldwide number one hit.

27. “Stone Cold” – Demi Lovato

Studies show that listening to Demi’s high note in “Stone Cold” adds about 5 years to one’s lifespan.

28. “Black Magic” – Little Mix

Little Mix is superior to just about every other girl group in pop music right now.

29. “Two More Lonely People” – Miley Cyrus

Miley’s entire Can’t Be Tamed era deserved oh so much better.

30. “No Mozart” – Natasha Bedingfield

I miss Natasha Bedingfield! I know she just had a baby, but is she ever gonna make new music again?

31. “Your Love” – Nicole Scherzinger

I don’t know why we let Nicole Scherzinger flop as a solo artist. She’s the whole package.

32. “Fragile” – Prince Fox feat. Hailee Steinfeld

Pure perfection and Hailee’s best collaboration.

33. “California King Bed” – Rihanna

I haven’t liked Rihanna since 2009 but hell if this isn’t one of those songs that makes you pretend cry and miss an ex you never even had, I don’t know what is.

For your listening pleasure, I also made a Spotify playlist for this list so you may educate yourself (with the exception of "High Maintenance" by Miranda Cosgrove, which strangely isn't available to everyone on Spotify).

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Book Review: 'From This Moment On' by Shania Twain

You know those books that you have wanted to read since they came out and you remember when they came out but you just never got around to reading them for whatever reason? Shania Twain's autobiography was one of those books for me and 2018 is the year that I finally got around to reading it, which is good, considering it came out in 2011... 7 years ago. It was even the first book I added to my to-read shelf when I first joined Goodreads in 2015. Better late than never!

I remember when From This Moment On came out in 2011 because that year was the start of a new beginning of sorts for Shania Twain, who had retired from performing in 2004 from a weakened singing voice and at one time believed she would never sing again. On top of already suffering from a weakened voice and choosing to give up performing, Twain's longtime husband and producer Mutt Lange was infamously revealed to have been cheating on her with his assistant and Twain's close friend; they divorced in 2010. She later underwent intense vocal rehabilitation, some of which was chronicled on the OWN miniseries Why Not? with Shania Twain in 2011. This was the year that it seemed like Shania Twain was getting back on her feet: she remarried to the ex-husband of her ex-best friend (isn't it funny how things work out?), did the series on OWN, released her first single in 6 years ("Today Is Your Day," which she wrote to cheer herself up), and published her autobiography. I remember this year fondly because even though I never got around to reading From This Moment On until now, Shania Twain was the first singer I ever loved, so I have always followed her career closely and was happy to see that she was getting back into performing after having more than her fair share of vocal and personal pains.

From This Moment On will be entertaining and interesting to any Shania Twain fan, especially those who were already familiar with her rough childhood and upbringing (of which she goes into significant detail in the first part of the book), but it's not a memoir: it's an autobiography. I've seen it described as both, and it's definitely not a memoir. In fact, I probably would have enjoyed it much more as a memoir, because even though I loved getting insight into the life of the first singer I ever loved, it got boring and dragged at times because the book is literally her life story from birth until 2011. It might have been a little more interesting if it had been in memoir form, with chapters being dedicated to different stories from different periods of her life, like most celebrities do in memoirs. It also would have made it a little shorter; 416 pages isn't outrageously long, but it took awhile to get through it. But, you can tell that writing From This Moment On was therapeutic for Twain in many ways; she emphasizes the importance of telling the story of your life in the introduction, whether it's for people to read or just for yourself to get a sense of how far you've come in life. So I appreciate that and what this book hopefully brought her in terms of achieving some inner peace (I also hope she's sought a lot of therapy since reaching adulthood because, jeez, rough childhood and upbringing is a huge understatement).

I'm also happy I chose to read From This Moment On when I did, because last September also happened to be when Twain released her first studio album in 15 years, Now. Even as I was happy that she returned to performing in 2011 and seemed to be getting back on her feet, I for one was eagerly waiting to see if new music would ever come. And especially since she discusses her vocal difficulties in the book, it made me appreciate the Now album in a different way. I wasn't blown away by the album but accepted what it was as something enjoyable enough (full review here), because it's not like someone like Shania Twain, one of the best-selling artists of all-time, needs to prove herself anymore. But a lot of people, myself included, were just trying to make sense of her new music, because it's nothing like she's ever released before (it's also her first album where Twain has assumed an integral role in its production, and the first since her 1993 debut album to not be produced by her longtime producer and ex-husband Mutt Lange). So you had to know it wasn't going to be the same, for several different reasons. Twain has since disclosed in interviews that it was difficult to make music without Lange, since it was the material he produced that she valued and was what made her a star, and that she has had to learn to accept that she is never going to be able to sing like she used to. So in that sense, I appreciate the Shania on Now as one who has seen the light at the end of the tunnel, found the rainbow after the storm, and producing and releasing what she describes as her most personal music ever. From This Moment On helped offer me insight into how she got to where she is today, for which I am grateful regardless. 4/5 stars.

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Album Review: Camila Cabello - 'Camila'

I've never been a fan of Fifth Harmony, and I didn't know very much about Camila Cabello until recently, but you know what? I love this album.

Because I don't like Fifth Harmony (multiple reasons for that - I found their live TV performances to be a bit much and a lot of their songs to be really anti-feminist, which bothers me a bit), I wasn't really all that intrigued when Camila Cabello left the group to pursue a solo career. Okay, good for you, best of luck, whatever. It didn't phase me. I also wasn't blown away by her debut solo single, "Crying in the Club," and wasn't sure if I was a fan of her voice or not. "Havana" didn't phase me much either when it came out last summer, but I thought it was a bit catchier and unique than "Crying in the Club" which, after listening to it several more times since Camila came out, is so obvious that Sia wrote and worked on the song that not only does it sound like a Sia song, but if you listen carefully, it almost sounds like Sia is the one singing at certain points... SUSPICIOUS.

Initially, Cabello's debut solo album was to be titled The Hurting. The Healing. The Loving. with "Crying in the Club" as its lead single, but following the large success of "Havana" on the charts, the album's original release was delayed and several songs that Cabello had worked with Sia, Ed Sheeran and Charli XCX on were scrapped, "Crying" included. Word on the street is that while "Crying" performed modestly on the charts and some critics were impressed, others thought it was pretty generic material for what was to be Cabello's debut solo album, which isn't exactly the best thing to hear when you're working on a debut (and they pretty much hit the nail on the head - "Crying in the Club," while catchy, is pretty generic and a little too reminiscent of the sound of popular Sia singles such as "Never Give Up" or "Cheap Thrills"). As a result, work on Cabello's album continued until November 2017 when she confirmed that they had finished recording and her debut solo album, now titled Camila with "Havana" as the lead single, would be released in January. A few songs were released ahead of the album as promotional singles, including "Never Be the Same."

In any event, I was interested in giving Camila a listen. I didn't listen to Fifth Harmony enough to know if her solo music would be any different, but I must say, I was pleasantly surprised. "Never Be the Same" is probably my favorite song... The entire album is just GOOD pop music so, honestly, check your baggage because this flight is full. A few people seemed to be disappointed and were looking forward to an album more like "Crying in the Club," but that album was scrapped and I'm glad it was. With some Latin influences for the Cuban-American Cabello, it works really well. It's also interesting to listen to Cabello's solo work because, even though I'm not a Fifth Harmony fan, a lot of passive-agressive diva-ish comments seemed to be passed around in the media last year between Cabello and her former bandmates, mostly with Cabello taking shots at how she didn't think there was any balance while recording with them or didn't like what they said about her in interviews. I was the first to roll my eyes and say tell it to the hand, Regina George ("Can I just say we don't have a clique problem at this school, and that some of us shouldn't have to take this workshop, because some of us are just victims in the situation?") but since listening to Cabello's solo music, it seems to me that she perhaps would have been better off with a solo career right away: after all, Fifth Harmony formed while they were all contestants on the second season of the American X Factor in 2012, so there might have never been a chance for Cabello to prove herself as a solo artist until now, and I'm intrigued to see where she'll go from here. I believe "Real Friends" captures this essence the most.

A recurring complaint among other listeners seemed to be that it's a good album but too short (only 10 songs with a radio edit of "Never Be the Same" as a bonus track), and to that I will say quality over quantity. Camila is also her debut studio album, after all. Cabello might have proved herself talented enough for pop music while part of Fifth Harmony, but she will still have to work her way up to a longer album as a solo artist in my opinion. But rest assured - her debut is very good. One critic commented that they disliked the use of auto-tune on the album because Cabello has proven herself talented during live television appearances... To that I say read my think-piece about the use of auto-tune in pop music here.

Often times, if I like an artist or an album enough, all of the songs will start to grow on me, and that's what happened with Camila. I wasn't huge on "Havana" until the album came out, and now I love it. I also love how it's become heavy in radio play since the album's release and it's now THAT song that middle-aged moms like to complain about when it comes on because "it's so annoying!" or "mumbling and repeating 'ooh nah nah' isn't really singing!" (I may be quoting my actual mother on one of those). It is singing though, and it has that Latin vibe which gives her music a little bit of an authentic edge, but any song will become THAT song if it's overplayed enough so let them complain. Cabello is talented, Camila is a good album, and that's all there is to say about that.

Jeffrey's favorite tracks from Camila: "Never Be the Same", "Into It", "Havana" and "Real Friends"

Monday, February 5, 2018

Book Review: 'Little Fires Everywhere' by Celeste Ng

Image result for little fires everywhere
I really don't think I was prepared for how much I was going to enjoy this book.

I love stories that take place in suburbia, because it's such an easily relatable setting for so many people who either grew up in the suburbs or find themselves living there. Even though society has grown since the picture perfect image of suburbia that captivated Western civilization around the 1950s, the mindset and subtle conformity still endures today. This setting and these themes are ones that are of particular interest and appeal to me, not only in entertainment that I seek out but also in fiction writing of my own. This might be why I've seen every episode of Desperate Housewives at least five times.

Little Fires Everywhere takes place in Shaker Heights, Ohio in the late 1990s and follows the Richardson family as a mother and daughter named Mia and Pearl become the latest tenants in a house the family owns. For someone who's looking for a fast-paced, high-stakes suburban thriller here, I'm going to have to stop you right here, because this book is the 100% complete opposite of that. To someone who prefers fast-paced drama, one might think Little Fires Everywhere is really about nothing at all for at least the first 150 pages. But if you take a closer look - like we have to in most situations, especially in suburbia - it's about everything that transpires between Mia and Pearl and the Richardsons. As much as they play nice and teenage Pearl makes friends with the Richardson teenagers, the battle lines are drawn very quickly between the social classes of the two families, and draws subtly but quite vividly on themes such as white privilege and how ingrained things like that have become in white middle America. It isn't until the issue of a white, middle-class American couple in the community wanting to adopt a Chinese baby that the battle lines between the families intensify, with Mia on one side and the Richardsons, for the most part, on the other.

Celeste Ng's writing style is heavenly, but also wasn't super easy to read. Again I feel the need to stress that Little Fires Everywhere is not a fast-paced, easy to read suburban thriller. It's a slow-paced novel of fiction that focuses on American suburbia and middle class ethics that often requires more attention when reading to make sure you pick up on every subtle detail. So Ng's writing style works well here, because even as it requires more attention from the reader than other books might, it really makes you appreciate the small details that make up a large bulk of the story. It almost reads like a fairy tale at times, with the wife of the Richardson family almost always referred to as Mrs. Richardson, which was a bit strange at first but totally goes with the aesthetic of the writing and the story.

Setting the story in the late 1990s was also a clever move on Ng's part, as I'd like to believe some of the issues surrounding white Americans adopting foreign children has become a bit more open-minded since then, so setting the story in American suburbia 20 years ago made the issues more prominent. But issues brought about in the story such as white privilege and close-minded ideologies associated with white middle America are still relevant today, so it made Little Fires Everywhere especially interesting to read in today's context and political climate. But don't be fooled - as much as the story is a poignant portrait of issues surrounding white middle American suburbia, there is still some soapy elements in the storyline that, by the end, reminded me greatly of Sunday nights in front of the television, listening to Mary Alice Young narrate the lives of the women of Wisteria Lane on Desperate Housewives.

Little Fires Everywhere is an exceptional work of fiction that plays on several themes which anyone who's ever experienced the conformity of suburbia will enjoy. Highly recommend. 5/5 stars.

Monday, January 1, 2018

My Picks for the Best of 2017

2017 was quite the year for entertainment, and for your reading pleasure, I've laid out my picks for the best in pop music, movies, TV, and books. Hope you enjoy!
Best 30 Pop Songs of the Year:
30. “Issues” – Julia Michaels

One of pop music’s most recognizable songwriters ventured into her own solo career this year, releasing a strong debut single. Michaels’ debut EP was less than mediocre, but “Issues” is a good song. I don’t think it’s necessarily good enough to have been nominated for Song of the Year at the upcoming Grammys, but still good nonetheless.
29. “Chained to the Rhythm” – Katy Perry feat. Skip Marley

Literally everyone thought this song was a flop, and I actually didn’t hear until a few months after it came out, but I think it’s a super catchy jam from the good Katy Perry, as opposed to blonde pixie cut Katy Perry who puts out an electropop album that immaturely takes shots at Taylor Swift. The music video was weird, but the song is good.
28. “Malibu” – Miley Cyrus

Miley definitely managed to put out the year’s best breezy summer tune. I want to skip merrily around on a beach while this song plays.
27. “It Ain’t Me” – Kygo & Selena Gomez

Super catchy. I didn’t want to like it at first but it’s a total earworm, in a good way. Dare I say it invented stutter singing?
26. “Most Girls” – Hailee Steinfeld

An empowering feminist anthem. Hailee’s right, I wanna be like most girls.
25. “There’s Nothing Holdin’ Me Back” – Shawn Mendes

Shawn Mendes is an unproblematic, talented angel and I love how he’s branching out from the pop rock sound of his first album and going into soft rock. It suits his voice very well.
24. “I Miss You” – Clean Bandit feat. Julia Michaels

This song is better than pretty much everything on Julia Michaels’ debut EP from this year. I very much enjoy it.
23. “Life’s About to Get Good” – Shania Twain

Shania delivered with the lead single from her new album, Now. A summery bop.
22. “…Ready for It?” – Taylor Swift

Pretty much everyone cringed when this single was first released ahead of her new album, myself included, because I hadn’t listened to it in full and didn’t understand what she was going for. But it’s actually very good and very good Taylor Swift, in a good way. I sing along to every single word now. JUDGE AWAY.
21. “Love So Soft” – Kelly Clarkson

When I first heard this song, I was convinced Kelly Clarkson was trying to become Rihanna by putting out what I thought was an electro-R&B song, but this just goes to show that first impressions are often incorrect… “Love So Soft” is nothing like a Rihanna song and isn’t electro anything. It’s actually a soul-influenced bop that introduces us to a new, better Kelly Clarkson (more on that below).

20. “Home Now” – Shania Twain

2017 brought us Shania Twain’s first album in 15 years, and while it wasn’t mind-blowingly amazing (full review here), “Home Now” is really good, very Shania, and one of her best vocal performances on the new album. I recommend.
19. “Daddy Issues” – Demi Lovato

After addressing her issues with her father through more slower, serious pop ballads over the years, Demi decides to go for an uptempo pop bop with contagious high energy about having daddy issues. As Vanity Fair puts it, “That the track does psychodrama atop triumphant synthetic horns, shimmering major-key melodies and palpable delight at one’s shortcomings makes what could have been a maudlin overshare feel ebullient instead.”
18. “Save It Til Morning” – Fergie

Fergie’s impeccably underrated solo comeback from this year brought in a few great songs, with this one definitely among them. This song is essentially the 2017 sequel to “Big Girls Don’t Cry.” Full review of her new album here.
17. “Lust for Life” – Lana Del Rey feat. The Weeknd

Lana Del Rey’s first official song that features another artist is definitely among her best. I wasn’t a huge fan of the Lana Del Rey from her last few albums, but her latest album from this year (after which this song is named, Lust for Life) is the first I can say I’ve enjoyed since her 2012 debut, Born to Die. “Lust for Life” is a great somber tune like only Lana can make, and The Weeknd’s voice really compliments her own.
16. “Wolves” – Selena Gomez & Marshmello

“Wolves” is definitely the best of the few new singles Selena Gomez managed to release this year. I love it.
15. “What About Us” – P!nk

P!nk’s subtle-yet-not-so-subtle protest song for everything that’s been going down in American politics this year is just so good you can’t help but stop and appreciate. Or, y’know, sing along.
14. “Heat” – Kelly Clarkson

The best song from Kelly Clarkson’s new album. NEEDS to be a single LIKE NOW.
13. “Not My Ex” – Jessie J

Jessie J is an amazing vocalist and I think this is one of her songs where she showcases it the most. If the rest of her upcoming new album is like “Not My Ex”, I’m super intrigued.
12. “Call It What You Want” – Taylor Swift

I think this is my favorite song from Reputation. It’s one of the many instances where you can tell she is totally just flipping the bird to the media and the world, saying I am what I am—call it what you want, but Taylor can write a song.
11. “Flame” – Tinashe

I’d never really listened to Tinashe before because I’m actually not a huge R&B person, but “Flame” is a damn good song. I could listen to it a zillion times in a row and not be sick of it.
10. “At My Best” – Machine Gun Kelly feat. Hailee Steinfeld

Based on this song alone, MGK and Hailee Steinfeld could be the next Eminem & Rihanna. Hailee’s vocals in this song ARE AMAZING.
9. “Younger Now” – Miley Cyrus

Despite the fact that Miley’s new album from this year was the most boring and the biggest disappointment (we’ll get to that below too), “Younger Now” is probably one of her best songs.
8. “A Little Work” – Fergie

Fergie’s depression and mental illness anthem deserved better. This song gives me chills.
7. “You Don’t Do It For Me Anymore” – Demi Lovato

Apparently the rest of the world had been blissfully ignoring Demi Lovato and her insane talent until this year, when she put out some of the best vocal work of her career? Get out your best pair of headphones and take in this woman’s ability to sing on this song specifically. You will thank me.
6. “Let Me Go” – Hailee Steinfeld & Alesso feat. Florida Georgia Line & Watt

A CERTIFIED BOP. Hailee Steinfeld is a great singer and, with the help of her long list of collaborators in this song, they’ve created something really catchy and good. If I haven’t said so before (spoiler alert: I have), Hailee Steinfeld better have an album coming soon or I will sue.
5. “Praying” – Kesha

Kesha’s comeback single, addressing a lot of what she’s been through in the past few years, deserves to be blasted non-stop so we can all collectively be in awe of this woman’s strength and perseverance.
4. “Cut to the Feeling” – Carly Rae Jepsen

Carly Rae Jepsen’s (a.k.a. one of the most underrated artists in history) single from this year was one of the best I heard and it should have been a number one hit yet it wasn’t? Is there someone I should call? Like, it didn’t even chart anywhere except JAPAN. That’s a crime if I ever saw one.
3. “Stay” – Alessia Cara & Zedd

So good. So great. Alessia Cara is queen. I don’t know how else to describe how amazing “Stay” is. This is a song that definitely deserved its Grammy nomination for Song of the Year.
2. “Learn to Let Go” – Kesha

Kesha’s anxiety anthem of learning to let go of the past was blasted on repeat during many emergency dance parties of mine this year. Great message? Check. Amazing vocals? Check. Catchy as all hell? CHECK.
1. “New Rules” – Dua Lipa

British pop singer Dua Lipa broke on the international scene with what would evidently become her breakout single (even though she’d released several others from her debut album before this one). This song in particular promotes not falling back in the arms of someone you know isn’t good for you and it seems that’s a real concern among pop music listeners because everyone fell in love with “New Rules” and Dua Lipa this year. And they should. She has a great voice, her album is a really impressive debut, and I hope the future holds big things for her.
Best 5 Pop Albums of the Year:
5. Kelly Clarkson – Meaning of Life

Finally free from the record deal she won with American Idol, Clarkson delivers a soul and gospel influenced pop record that is so unlike anything she’s ever released before, in the best way possible. Full review here.
4. P!nk – Beautiful Trauma

Coming five years after her last studio effort, P!nk puts out a stellar album like only she can—as one of the most consistent pop singers of the last two decades, P!nk has successfully transitioned from crazy party girl rebel to adult contemporary pop, now chronicling motherhood and married life, and is still killing the game (which, as Rolling Stone puts it, is a pretty incredible feat considering she originally came on the pop music scene as a counterpoint to pop stars like Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera).
3. Demi Lovato – Tell Me You Love Me

Demi never fails to disappoint, but with her sixth studio album Tell Me You Love Me, she puts out possibly her most vocally and lyrically focused pop record ever. You can practically feel the enthusiasm radiating off her in every song. Highly recommend.
2. Taylor Swift – Reputation

After catching shit from the media for pretty much every move she makes—whether it be singing only about boy problems, her drama with Kim and Kanye, suing a man for only $1 to make a point, or inciting a widespread rage on social media for writing that she had a good year (???)—Taylor Swift throws caution to the wind and sings from a place we’ve never heard before, simultaneously introducing us to a new T. Swift we’ve never met before and putting out one of the year’s most cohesive and impressive pop albums. Indeed, the old Taylor can’t come to the phone right now because she is dead. Full review here.
1. Kesha – Rainbow

After spending the last year in the spotlight for less than pleasant reasons—suing her former producer Dr. Luke for sexual, physical and emotional abuse only to have a judge reject her claims—Kesha was finally able to release the album she had poured her heart and soul into during her personal struggles over the past few years, which in addition to the highly publicized lawsuit included a stint in a treatment centre for an eating disorder and emotional issues. Rainbow introduces us to a new Kesha, quite possibly the real Kesha, and I’m so glad we got to meet her. Not only is she insanely talented (those vocals!), but her ability to interweave different influences from different genres of music on her album is more than impressive (pop rock to glam rock to country pop? Kesha is certainly a coat of many colors in many different ways). To think that people once questioned Kesha’s ability to sing because her previous music was all electropop is truly sad. I hope those poor, unfortunate souls have since seen the light.
Most Disappointing Pop Album of the Year:
Miley Cyrus – Younger Now

After releasing two very promising and genuinely GOOD new singles (“Malibu” and “Younger Now”), I for one was very excited for Miley’s new album, her first mainstream studio release since 2013’s Bangerz, an era that saw her licking sledgehammers and inventing an inappropriate dance move that has since become a pop culture phenomenon. Unfortunately, the end result turned out to be nothing more than a stink bomb—Younger Now is a country pop album, something I don’t think anyone was truly expecting, and not the Shania Twain country pop that springs to mind when you mention that genre. Like Dolly Parton jukebox country pop (she accompanies her goddaughter in a guest appearance on the track “Rainbowland”, which is cute, but ultimately still contributes to the oddball and frankly downright boring nature of the album). “Malibu” and “Younger Now” are honestly the only two songs that stand out at all on Younger Now, and they don’t really fit in whatsoever with the rest of the album. In a year where so many great artists were releasing new albums, Miley had the opportunity to release something different and stand out, but wasted the chance completely and put out the year’s most underwhelming, boring and disappointing pop record.
Best 5 Films of the Year:
5. Snatched

Amy Schumer and Goldie Hawn’s adventure comedy about a mother-daughter vacation in South America gone wrong was really hilarious and well done, even though you probably won’t want to see it because you think Amy Schumer is too vulgar or too raunchy or she’s fat and should stop talking. Snatched was also Goldie Hawn’s first movie in 15 years and I feel like we didn’t talk about how awesome she is in this enough.
4. Lady Bird

Greta Gerwig’s poignant coming-of-age tale provided Saoirse Ronan with some great material to give one of the best performances of her career so far.
3. Beauty and the Beast

Disney’s live-action remake of their 1991 animated classic did not disappoint, and I did not think for a second that it would. I appreciate it more every time I watch it. Emma Watson was the perfect Belle, despite what some critics said. The person who came up with the idea of making live-action remakes of Disney animated classics is probably sitting in their mansion counting their millions as we speak.
2. Battle of the Sexes

Emma Stone and Steve Carrell’s turns as Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs recreating the famous 1973 tennis match that broke down gender barriers in competitive sports is hands down the most underrated movie of 2017. I’m the furthest you can get from a sports person and I made a point of going to the theatre to see Battle of the Sexes, mostly because I wanted to see Emma Stone nail Billie Jean, but I ended up really enjoying the rich history of gender politics, women’s liberation and the ever-present misogyny in male-dominated industries like sports. It’s a damn shame that Emma Stone will be remembered for winning an Oscar for a clich├ęd load of crap where she and Ryan Gosling sing through the streets and spontaneously fly through the air when she should be winning an Oscar for an extremely important and relevant movie like Battle of the Sexes.
1. Goodbye Christopher Robin

Simon Curtis’ movie about the lives of A.A. Milne, his wife and their son Christopher Robin and what came to inspire quite possibly the most celebrated children’s books of all-time, Winnie-the-Pooh, will ABSOLUTELY BREAK YOUR HEART. But in a good way. Sort of. Not really, actually. But it’s still really good and worth seeing, especially if you grew up with Pooh and the One Hundred Acre Wood, which I’m going to assume everyone did, because I don’t want to live in a world where children don’t grow up with Pooh.
Best 5 TV Series of the Year:
5. The Great Canadian Baking Show, CBC

CBC’s Canadian adaptation of The Great British Baking Show that debuted in November was surprisingly enjoyable. I actually only recorded it at first because Dan Levy was one of the hosts (a.k.a. David Rose on Schitt’s Creek, one of the best comedies on television) but I kept watching it because I like baking as much as the next person and not only was it something fun to watch but I was also impressed with the laid back environment of the competition, possibly because no outrageous cash prizes were involved. I think it’s due back for a second season next year (I’m not sure; don’t quote me on that) so I recommend!
4. When We Rise, ABC

ABC’s miniseries about the gay rights movement from its inception in the 1970s to the present day that aired in February and March was absolutely PHENEMONAL and left me bawling. I was expecting it to get some Primetime Emmy nominations in the miniseries categories but it received ZERO nominations which is frankly insulting because why should we recognize a politically and socially relevant miniseries about LGBT history when Reese Witherspoon and Nicole Kidman played desperate housewives on Big Little Lies?
3. Raven’s Home, Disney Channel

Disney’s new That’s So Raven spin-off is so great, you guys. I watched it solely because I grew up with That’s So Raven but I kept watching because it’s actually really funny and well written; it’s not just preteen humor like most Disney teen sitcoms. The sense of humor is pretty progressive as is the premise (Raven and her best friend Chelsea are now single moms raising their kids together in one apartment to save money). It’s really good. Recommend.
2. Orphan Black, Space/BBC America

After five action-packed seasons, Orphan Black said farewell this summer, giving everyone a somewhat happy ending. And now is good a time as any to tell all of you to go start watching Orphan Black from the beginning, which I’m assuming you haven’t, because it’s incredibly underrated. Go. Start watching right now. I’m waiting.
1. Will & Grace, NBC

The fact that Will & Grace, one of the best and gayest sitcoms in history, returned to television when we needed it most is groundbreaking. I’ve loved every episode so far. It has also seemed to spark a movement in network TV of reviving past popular series and bringing them back for new seasons, which has been both a good and bad thing, but Will & Grace being back on my screen all these years later can only be a good thing so we’re focusing on the positives.
Best 5 Books of the Year:
5. This is How It Always Is by Laurie Frankel

An incredibly important and relevant family drama about a young boy wanting to become a young girl, I recommend to anyone and everyone who understands the importance of shifting ideals of what it means to be normal, especially as a child growing up in a narrow world. Full review here.

4. When We Rise: My Life in the Movement by Cleve Jones

The memoir that partially inspired ABC’s miniseries of the same name, Cleve Jones’ account of what it was like to be part of the gay rights movement from the beginning as well as working with Harvey Milk in the 1970s and continuing the fight today is very inspiring. Full review here.
3. Eliza and Her Monsters by Francesca Zappia

Probably the best YA book published this year, Eliza and Her Monsters is great for lovers of geeky fandom things, but also brings up larger, deeper themes of what it’s like to be an artist who creates something and the relationship therein between an artist and their fans. Full review here.
2. Dear Fahrenheit 451: Love and Heartbreak in the Stacks by Annie Spence

A great read for any bookworm who has ever found themselves relating a book to a specific time in their lives, or trying to recommend the right book to a friend or family member. Annie Spence is a librarian from Michigan who has spent her career trying to recommend the right book to the people who come to her for them, and based on Dear Fahrenheit 451, she has got everyone covered. Full review here.
1. Spoiler Alert: The Hero Dies by Michael Ausiello

For TV fans near and far, you know Michael Ausiello as one of the top TV journalists in the business who has been relied on for years to give us the inside scoop on all of our favorite series. But little did we know that in 2014, his longtime boyfriend Kit was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer and ultimately succumbed to the illness after a grueling eleven-month battle. I’ve followed Ausiello’s TV work for years, always trusting his TV news and scoop when we need it most, and I was pleasantly surprised to find out that he is a very gifted writer not only in the journalistic sense: his memoir is written in grade A+ prose, which made it all the more enjoyable and utterly heartbreaking. Spoiler Alert: The Hero Dies chronicles Kit’s diagnosis to his passing, interlaced with chapters in between with anecdotes and stories from Michael and Kit’s relationship in earlier years that help you better understand them as people. I loved it so much that I didn’t want it to end. Hands down the best book I’ve read this year.