16 July 2018

Summer Jam 2018 Week 10: All the Summer Hits Are Summer

This is it - the heart of camps, hear of July, hear of Summer! The temperature is way up and so are the skirts! Wowza yowza! It's the best time of the year and the best time for beer! There is a magic dust in the air and up everyone's nose - it's time to live life and love lufe. Let's blast more innate platitudes as we count down some summer jams. I didn't really listen to much this week, so here's a bunch of new crap that's okay:

Hot Jam of the Week: "Summertime Magic" by Childish Gambino

It was between this and "Feels Like Summer." That track is a bit more chill, but this has the thumpier beat. It gives me a big "Sober" vibe, which is totally a good thing. It's not quite the political "This is America" apex, but that can be a good thing. We need songs about good good sweet summer summer lovin' too. Gambino has built a career on underground hits that are secretly massively popular, one of these jams could take off.

"Summer on You" by PRETTYMUCH

I have never heard of PRETTYMUCH, but they are definitely filling a Jonas Brothers / One Direction boy band gap. Key word is trying, because they're definitely not that great. This song is really dumb, but it is also about Summer, and that's cool. Because it IS summer! Wowee! It's actually kind of a cute song that's maybe okay, but none of these kinds of groups have staying power.

"High Horse" by Kacey Musgraves

Kacey is kind of a country artist, but also kind of a pop artist, and also kind of popular, but this hits that summer listenability vibe pretty hard. Great great background music for like, waiting in a lobby, half-listening on a lifeguard's personal pool radio, or just riding in your mom's Hyundai. Will it last? Kacey Musgraves is an up and coming artist. I'm going to make a definitive statement in saying, "That's a hard maybe, young one."

"Body" by Loud Luxury ft. brando

Little known fact, Loud Luxury got the actual Ghost of Marlon Brando to contribute to this track. This song is almost as old as Brando himself, but is an engaging jam with a subtly sexy video that I heard once this week and could not ignore. For it is great. I will never hear this song again.

"I Like It" by Cardi B ft. Bad Bunny

Does Cardi B have cue cards when she sings? Like, does she learn English songs phonetically? I'm amazed by her articulation while rapping and singing but her ridiculous thick accent whenever she does interviews. I'm not sure this jam will surpass "Bodak Yellow" but it's getting close, and it's one of the better of her solo efforts. It's of course one of 15,000 tracks she's featured on this summer.

"Psycho" by Post Malone ft. Ty Dolla $ign

I don't know what's going on with this song - it's like it was super popular a few months ago, then is like, still popular or popular again right now? The flow is so damn good. It's an easy song to fake sing-along to while you slur the words together on some white boy sizzurp. "Got so many bottles give ugly girls a sip" is also the greatest line since "gotta eat the booty like groceries."

"Girls Like You" by Maroon 5

Continuing its climb, this track is growing more and more, and more importantly, I got angry when I caught only snippets of this jam this week. Girl power combined with supportive boy power. It's ultimately a pretty sweet song and one of Maroon 5's good ones. It's amazing to think of a more mainstream popular band in the past 15 years. Thank The Voice and Adam Levine being crazily likable.

"Nice for What" by Drake

"Nice for What" will likely end up getting some nice numbers by summer's end, because it keeps poking its head up here and there. For all Drake's bluster this summer it's telling that all it takes is the most perfectly timed beat drop and "DEEESE HO'S" in music history to take a shot at Summer Jam Kingship. It likely won't happen, but it works this week. Actually this jam is underrated as hell.

Next week...

This is the first week this summer to snub both Camila Cabello and Ariana Grande. This could certainly return. Ariana even dropped a new jam, "God is a Woman" this week. I also really liked Jay Rock's "ES Tales." I've been listening to so much Jay Rock this summer. We've still got quite a few more weeks of Summer to go, even if I think Camila has an insurmountable lead. Stay tuned, people!

13 July 2018

Hotel Transylvania 3 and Skyscraper

July is a surprisingly lax month as far as movies go. Maybe Hollywood is learned from the bloat of a few years ago where solid films like Jason Bourne (2016) and Star Trek Beyond (2016) were totally ignored because they all ran into each other. Can you believe Star Trek Beyond was only two years ago? How did that happen? I was literally think it was 2014 or something before I looked it up. That's disturbing and probably needs its own post about how easily we can turn on a franchise and ignore good work they do. That movie did have a lot of problems, but...okay, I'm getting really distracted by an offhand remark.

Hotel Transylvania 3: Summer Vacation (2018). Alright, so I'm going to be pretty bold here and make the claim that the Hotel Transylvania movies are totally underrated. It is a sincerely weird amalgamation of Adam Sandler and his buddies making childrens' monster films for some reason, but under the guidance of Genndy Tartakovsky, whose animation style guided my entire childhood through Dexter's Laboratory, Powerpuff Girls, Samurai Jack, and Star Wars: Clone Wars (not the lack of the definite article - The Clone Wars is the CGI show. Moving on...). All this mixes together for a really irreverent and fun animation style. It is a little obnoxious in that soulless Dreamworks pop-culture spouting kind of way instead of that sweet, timeless Pixar kind of way, but it's also SONY Animation, which is its own animal.

I actually really dig the SONY Computer animation films because they aren't afraid to actually be cartoons. Pixar tends to ground its films - they are exciting, funny, and certainly wondrous in ways that only animation can do, but they're hardly ever slapstick. There isn't much Looney Tunes heritage there. No piano drops or flexible reality. Even Dreamworks tend to sly away from this kind of tone. SONY for some reason does that really well, and everyone tends to ignore it. I suppose that's why more profitable studios steer away - either no one but me actually cares or no one else even enjoys it. Or notices.

This blog has been leaning pretty hard into some Adam Sandler love, too, and if you look at my latest movies watched...it's a lot of Sandler lately. And we all seem to constantly forget the fact that Sandler is capable of phenomenal voice work. This includes Sandler himself - he doesn't do nearly enough legitimate vocal work or songs. It's another reason why his personal interests always seem so selfish and frustrating. His Dracula, though is spot on and brilliant, and for some reason, Tartakovsky also animates him exactly as a young Adam Sandler-as-Count Dracula would look like.

Having said all that, I mean, yeah, the plots for all these films are ridiculously thin, the jokes are really easy and obvious, and there's not a tremendous amount of thematic depth anywhere. They are kids films but unlike Pixar, kids films that are tough for adults to get into. They're explicitly juvenile. On some level that should be fine - kids can enjoy them for their own merit, but I think the greater critical and Internet cultural community has ignored them. And to be fair, while I am a big fan of all their technical work - animation, direction, and vocals, literally everything else is awful, which makes them tough to slog through.

I mean, Summer Vacation looks really bad. On its face it's a total cash grab. And we're not even starved for kids animation hits - Incredibles 2 (2018) just passed the $500 million mark. It's amazing that that film, with 14 years in between installments has built up a fan base far surpassing anything Hotel Transylvania (2012) could hope to do. Amazing when you make a well-structured, four-quadrant film, with heart and hope, it can actually connect with people and build goodwill year after year. THAT'S when you drop the cash-grab sequel, SONY. Get it together.

So yeah, I don't see Summer Vacation making much of a splash commercially or culturally, and surely not critically. Still, it'll do okay, lest we forget that Hotel Transylvania was the highest grossing September release for five straight years until surpassed by IT (2017) last fall. This of course doesn't compare to Sweet Home Alabama (2002), which held the September record for ten years before that. That's right. Come to Norwegian Morning Wood to learn all about obscure Box Office Record history. Still, this is July, not September. Summer Vacation won't be nearly as notable.

Next we have Skyscraper (2018). Props to the Rock for trying to launch all these franchises, and between this, Rampage (2018), Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle (2017), and the upcoming Hobbs & Shaw (2019), his action hero status is pretty secure. As if it wasn't already. I am more concerned, however, about the opposite. Is Dwayne diluting his brand by appearing in a major original (or semi-original) action franchise every three months? I don't know a single soul excited about Skyscraper. In fact, I barely know what it's about.

It's basically like San Andreas (2015), right? Just the Rock like, fighting buildings falling down? I should go watch the trailer. Here, I'll post it because you haven't seen it, either:

It all feels kind of generic, right? "Courage has no limits" could be the tagline for literally every movie ever. Except maybe A Fantastic Fear of Everything (2012). Cool that the building is really tall and on fire and Johnson's got a cripple leg - that actually brings the Rock down from god status quite a bit, although it doesn't seem to impair him like....at all.

My deeper impression of this film is that it doesn't quite know what it wants to be. The premise seems outrageous - a vertical city under attack by Terrorists, or maybe an inside job, or whatever. This could easily get into Snowpiercer (2013) territory where reality is thrown out the window in favor of exploring some wacky themes that still end with some potent bite. Skyscraper, though, also seems impeccably earnest. I talked about this a little bit when watching Blood Fest (2018) - the impossibility of telling a straight story these days. It should be possible, I think sincerity is slowly coming back and there does seem to be an increasing movement away from cynicism, irony, and sarcasm into more genuine moments, everywhere from comedy to major motion pictures, but that also seems to be playing out in different parts of the country.

See, I see this failing on the East Coast. We're still very much a jaded and eye-rolling bunch. I can, however, see this succeeded in more rural or Southern parts of the country that would like to just sit down and watch a movie where good guys fight bad guys in a big burning tower. It's an easy concept to wrap your head around. I think it's too simple and undeveloped for more experienced (some would say arrogant) movie-goers. Maybe this isn't the right judgment call, but that's the vibe I get. I'd be curious what ya'll think. Am I way off base?

Anyway, I can see this being as significant as we remember Rampage three months on. Do we? It should do fine - there's no real competition around it besides Ant-Man and the Wasp (2018) and for the record, yeah - that's what I mean when I talk about movies that can't take their premises seriously. That isn't doing crushing numbers, though, so it ought to do fine, if it can bring in any seats at all.

What do you think? What are you watching? There's actually a lot to digest this week. Is it okay to have child-like fun with whimsical monster-based slapstick? Or to truly invest in a straight action film? These are genuine moments, movies for their own sake. One could say a momentous weekend, in fact. What say you?

09 July 2018

Summer Jam 2018 Week 9: July Loves

We're getting into the thick of July now - and it looks like our massive swath of chill jams last week worked! The temperature's way down. Way down for those sweet summer feels. Listen, I know my method is totally flawed because I listen to terrestrial radio like some kind of caveman. I actually checked out a little bit of Spotify this week. I know, crazy, right? So much Drake on the Top 50. What is wrong with us. I'd like to start incorporating some 2018 methods of musical discovery. For now we've got a bit of a mix going on.

Hot Jam of the Week: "Boys" by Lizzo

It seems like this summer is filled with songs about boys and girls. It's as if everyone wants to bang each other. Charlie XCX's "Boys" might be the better song and sexier boy-driven video but Lizzo brings an attitude all her own plus a dynamite electric guitar breakdown. She's had a couple tracks but no real big hits as of yet. She reminds me of a Meghan Trainor who isn't trying as hard.


The death of XXXTentacion is sad in the general sense that all senseless deaths are sad, but I still have very little idea who this guy is. He definitely seems like a piece of shit, but this song is kind of hot. There has a lot of XXXTentacion attencion in the wake of his untimely death and this jam does have a nice hook to it. It's ultimately not all that great, though. This is so damn harsh. His death is sad, for sure, but that doesn't suddenly make him a great musician. It's not like we're suddenly appreciating Verne Troyer's great contributions to cinema.

"The Middle" by Zedd, Maren Morris

I have ceased to like this song, but it crept up everywhere again this week. This was probably just a chance encounter, driven by terrestrial radio too afraid to engage with popular new millennial music. I mean, it's so old. I might as well put the latest Frank Sinatra and Frankie Valley song on this list. If we're looking at a slice of America, though, we've got to include it. "The Middle" impacted peoples' lives this week. My life. Through anger.

"IDGAF" by Dua Lipa

Call this another slow burn track I guess, although my enjoyment is growing. Somehow it's still fresh to me. I suppose because I wasn't into it for a while, and now my ears are tuned in. I know, I know - what's next - a caveman banging on sticks? It's also not very popular on Spotify, but Spotify is like, all Drake and XXXTentacion. What is that about.

"Bed" by Nicki Minaj ft. Ariana Grande

I have a better name for this song - "Boobs" by Boobs ft. Boobs. Jeez boobs. Sorry, I will try to focus. This song is okay, for the record I dug "The Light is Coming" quite a bit more, but this had some increased airplay along with a new video this week. Nicki's other songs never quite took off this summer despite a big push and a lot of effort to launch them. I don't think Nicki is quite passé yet, but she's definitely not the hot new voice she used to be. So, boobs instead. Those are still pretty good.

"Girls Like You" by Maroon 5 ft. Cardi B

I finally started hearing this jam on the radio after getting really into it last month. It's not really positioned to be a dominant song of any kind, but could be a mid-range jam for a couple weeks if it keeps up its upward trajectory. Also on Spotify.

"I Like It" by Cardi B ft. Bad Bunny, J Balvin

The #1 Billboard song in the country somehow and definitely growing into a significant crossover jam, I'm curious if this becomes a definitive Cardi jam. We've got "Bodak Yellow" for sure, and I dug "Be Careful" but she's gotten more notoriety from featuring on every single song ever made in 2018 than a lot of her own stuff. And okay, I was harsh on this and Cardi a few weeks ago but it's fully grown on me. It might even challenge Ari and Camila for some Summer Queen status come September.

"Never Be the Same" by Camila Cabello

How can we list "Never Be the Same" and not "No Tears Left to Cry"?! Well, Camila continued being everywhere this week. Ariana was still kind of everywhere, but ultimately just got squeezed out. Again, this is a terrestrial radio thing. Billboard and Spotify seem to have already left this track behind. I don't buy that, though. I heard this more than anything else this week, and a few weeks like this getting ahead of Camila bodes really well for Camila's crown. I'll admit I'm getting kind of sick of this, though.

Next week...

I don't know. I'll keep listening to Spotify. I left off Ariana and Bebe this week, along with this Chaka Khan "Like Sugar" song which is funky as hell. There are still a lot of other artists vying to break in, like the Carters and Juice WRLD and Offset and Post Malone and a lot of other crappy to mid-range artists making crappy to mid-range music. Stay summered, people!
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