18 June 2018

Summer Jam 2018 Week 6: Enter Ye

We've reached the apex of June! It's crazy to think about. There are a whole random slew of tracks this week, from the bright and shiny new to the old and decrepit. We're on the breach of reunion and wedding season, people. Which songs will be the soundtrack to your lives?! Read on and find out!

Hot Jam of the Week: "I'm Upset" by Drake



I've been trying to both cover this Drake / Pusha-T feud and also wanting to stay out of it. This more a song and introspective reconciliation with Drake's past than a direct attack on Pusha, but it's also a solid reminder that, yeah, our most popular current rap artist starred on Degrassi. I really just wanted to talk about this video that features Jay and Silent Bob for some reason (Kevin Smith is a huge self-admitted Degrassi fan). The world is weird.

"Girls Like You" by Maroon 5

This hasn't quite caught on yet, but it trended well on YouTube and got some fairly choice radio plays. It's also such a smooth hip zeitgeist-y girl power song. I rambled about this before, but I wish we could have had a girl group get this many girls together for the girl power song. The vagina power on display here is amazing. It might yet take a few weeks to really be a hit.

"Sit Next to Me" by Foster the People

This has been around for a minute but was played enough this week to earn a drop here. Foster the People hasn't quite hit "Pumped Up Kicks" ubiquity, but hey, any alternative rock that's not Imagine Dragons is worthwhile. It's a kind of uplifting song, but better for a chill night than a true summer rager.

"Yikes" by Kanye

You can say what you want about Kanye's mental health (if you listen to Ye, he says plenty himself) - some of these tracks feel a little inconsequential or at least not as thought out and clever as his earlier work (almost nothing is equal), but despite all that bitching, "Yikes" might be the best of the crop and holy damn this is a song for our moment right now. No real radio play, but do we even need radio play anymore? I mean, we clearly haven't for years. I still do for some reason. I really should just starting basing this list off of Spotify.

"Meant to Be" by Bebe Rexha ft. Florida Georgia Line

Perhaps not as everywhere as last week, "Meant to Be" is still going strong. Now THIS is a summer driving long highway song that's oh so joyous. I'd say it is about cresting, though, almost reaching that point where I don't totally get pumped up to listen to it. Totally done. Past the hotness threshold. NEVER TO RETURN.

"Never Be the Same" by Camila Cabello

Surging this week while Ariana dropped is the first indication that "Never Be the Same" could make the first run at legit Summer Queen status. It's very very early to call anything, having only covered a little over a third of the season, but right now she's in the lead. We'll of course see how things shake out, but I'd be okay with this.

"Nice for What" by Drake

Drake Song #2 of the week and yeah, "Nice for What" jumped up mad high this week. For some reason I heard this track excessively this week and that beat is just good enough to fill the background of whatever you might be doing with your lives at any given moment. That mid-song complete breakdown gets me every time - I always think the 107.9 DJ is stopping the song and calling out some studio jerks. But somehow it works.

"Psycho" by Post Malone

I know, I know. We might as well have "Stegosaurus" this week this song is so old. But it was somehow everywhere this week AND shot back up to the top of the Billboard Hot 100. It's a remarkably good song, but I'll be the first to admit that I have no idea how a dirtbag-looking dude like Post Malone rose to the top of 2018. I suppose it's is general down-to-earth demeanor, accessibility, solid raspy sing-songy flow and righteous chill vibes. I also really like that "Lil mama wanna have my babies" line. For some reason he makes it sound like such an adorable love story.

Next week...

The Carters. Listen, this is no "Bonnie & Clyde" by a large motion, and it's certainly also a lesser work than either of them have done together, but it could be pretty popular. We'll see. Not much more substantial new tunes this week. A little Clean Bandit / Demi Lovato. Who cares.

15 June 2018

Tag! You're Incredible!

As summer marches on we've got two more releases this week. One is a big mainstream comedy hoping to make a dent in a grossly under-served market this year. The other is a Pixar sequel that's all but guaranteed to be the cash grab that it is.

Now, one thing you may notice is that I don't actually get out to the theater all that often. I am both blessed and cursed by an innate ability for supreme cultural osmosis and rarely feel like I actually need to watch a big release unless it really catches my eye. A few years ago I'd go to the theater for anything. If you hadn't guessed, this competition for attention is something plaguing everyone around the country. It's probably worth exploring in a longer post but now is not the time for that.

This is all to say that these kinds of preview posts simultaneously act as a forecast and a review. I've gotten to the point where I can kind of tell how a film is going to do without seeing it. For instance, TAG (2018)'s cocky attitude doesn't really gel with its idiotic premise and it stars a lot of actors who are niche at best and unlikable at worst. My guess is that it does alright, probably around Blockers (2018) level, but how many of us are still loving Blockers a few months out? I did watch Blockers in theaters, although that was mostly because a human female woman wanted to see it with me.

I can also tell you that The Incredibles 2 (2018) will win this weekend, based on having virtually no competition either in its genre band or frankly, at all right now. It's got enough goodwill riding off of The Incredibles (2004) that it really doesn't even matter what the quality or content is. Since its 2004 debut the Incredibles brand has arguably grown even more than something like Finding Nemo (2003), and we just saw the result of putting that back in theaters with Finding Dory (2016). So, let's get into both of these.

Hawkeye is also good with towels.
TAG is about a thirty-year game of tag played between five friends once a year. It stars Jeremy Renner, Ed Helms, Jake Johnson, Hannibal Burress, and Jon Hamm. That's a crew with an intermittent comedy range over the past ten years as well as an age discrepancy of twelve years between 35-year old Burress and 47-year old Hamm. And Jake Johnson is 40 somehow? How is that possible? Anyway, that should be a small thing, but it does bother me when they're all supposed to be kids growing up together. I couldn't believe that Girls Trip (2017) actually largely gets this right, with all actresses almost the same age (Tiff Haddish being slightly younger). Anyway, this is ultimately semantics.

Did Jeremy Renner give up Infinity War (2018) for this? Definitely not, but I kind of hope so. That'd be amazing. You can kind of see through the veil here as the infamous Tag game may end with Jerry getting married and quitting. There will probably be some man-child growth, friendship acceptance, all that crap. Standard comedy stuff. What matters is the juice in between, which the trailer doesn't really show that much. The intensity and no limits nature of the game is clearly communicated, as well as the real importance, which is friends finding ways to stay in each other's lives long after they run out of other excuses to do so. That's an important thing that I identify with as a dude in his 30s who doesn't really see friends much anymore. This thing could shoot for "okay" and perhaps that's just fine.

Isla Fisher and Rashida Jones round out the cast as wives and girlfriends and I can see wanting to just see a buddy comedy with these two. Anwyay, this ought to do okay. It's R-rated, which hasn't done especially great lately, but it could just take one great film to turn that tide. I see a Horrible Bosses (2011) level of cultural influence here.

Now the real meat of this weekend - The Incredibles 2. This is going to be heresy, but I actually never thought the original was that great. It just comes across as really corny to me, with all kinds of cheeky "aw shucks" cute moments that aren't quite my sensibility. This is of course some of the very reason it achieved mass popularity, particularly with parents and children. Yeah, I suppose that's the demographic, right?

This isn't to say it doesn't have some great moments. From the nebulous time period to the stunning and varied design to the true earning of a familial bond, there's a lot of greatness going on here. The real key to understanding this film is understanding the last few not-so-great years of Pixar. And to be fair, not-so-great for Pixar is comparing their recent output to one of the greatest commercial and critical hit streaks of movie history.

So, first, with director Brad Bird returning, I can't help but think again of Finding Dory, which brought back Andrew Stanton after he totally whiffed with John Carter (2012). Bird had a similar experience with Tomorrowland (2015). It's as if after both accomplished directors struck out to live action have recoiled to the safe and comfortable environments where they made their name. And for the record, I actually liked both Carter and Tomorrowland.

I'd like the idea of Elastigirl in a gritty superhero parody.
That sense of return to comfort has plagued Pixar in the past few years. They made the decision at some point, likely after the success of Toy Story 3 (2010) to just re-hash all their old crap instead of continually creating new worlds. And so we've gotten a lot of Cars movies, new Monsters movies, the aforementioned Dory, and now Incredibles. More importantly, none of these movies have been very good. How have we not also gotten A Bug's Life (1998) sequel? Is it because all these bugs are definitely dead? The handy thing with long-range animation sequels is that we don't see how painfully awful all the cast has aged. Thanks to the DVD age where kids continuous crave films to watch every day of their lives, they also largely know all these characters, even though the original film was put out years before these bastards were born. An Incredibles sequel also appeals to both last 90s / early 2000s-born kids for their own nostalgia along with everyone's parents who saw this and identified with the parent characters in this film. A true four quarters family film is rare, and this nails it.

Now, I can't totally be a bitch here because since 2010 Pixar has released three original films that count among the greatest that they've ever done. I often feel like I'm the only one who loved Brave (2012), but that movie was so different and sticky that I'll watch it forever. Inside Out (2015) had a more traditional Pixar structure, but hit its stakes so damn well. And just last week I saw COCO (2017) for the first time, which I was skeptical about since it didn't quite have a really splashy opening, but it's also flat-out amazing. They also made The Good Dinosaur (2015), which I admittedly haven't seen (no one else has). Does anyone know if The Good Dinosaur is good?

The very existence of this doubt is kind of revolutionary for Pixar. They actually made a movie that no one saw and could have sucked? That's unreal. The point is, that Pixar have proved themselves fallible in the past few years, which raises my suspicions about The Incredibles 2 more than is probably justified. I largely don't care too much about this flick and feel like it's in that Dory mode where it'll make a ton of cash but not really be driving much conversation two years later.

Maybe we can talk about the actual movie for a second. It looks like it could present some twists on gender roles, which I'm wondering if its 1950s twinge could make problematic or if we'll see some growth. Jokes about common core are the kind of lazy writing to appeal to hapless reactionary parents. It's all corny. Again, I'm not too into it. But people probably are, and that's fine.

What do you think? Will you see either of these crappy movies this weekend? Is Black Panther (2018) still int theaters crossing the $700 million mark this weekend? Leave a comment below!

11 June 2018

Summer Jam Week 5! Girls

We're in the thick of June now, people. There's a little bit of action on the Winner's List this week, with some old tracks making a brave stance and mostly a ton of pop pumping through the mighty veins of summer. Let's start off with some hip-hop:

Hot Jam of the Week: "Harlem Anthem" by A$AP Ferg



There was a lot of new rap this week, and I thought about highlighting either the new epic Eminem track ft. Everyone, but it's totally not a real commercial song, or another A$AP, this one by Rocky. Ferg and the "Harlem Anthem" spoke to me the most, though, even if it's not a Shake. It's got a fresh sun-stroked beat to without a lot of hate or pretension like anything Drake or Pusha-T is making these days.

"Sangria Wine" by Pharrell Williams x Camila Cabello

Mixing Camila's already great presence with a tried and true hit-maker like Pharrell is an auspicious affair. Camila's Latin pedigree makes anything she spits out fitting for a hazy summer night anyway, and who doesn't want to waste away these months under a spell of sangria? This hasn't quite caught on yet, but is a smooth enough jam to hit the dirt running this season.

"No Tears Left to Cry" by Ariana Grande

I almost left her off this week, but after hearing the track twice in three songs on Saturday I had to throw her back on. I do think this is somewhat on the way out, but at the same time I've finally remembered what the actual title of this jam is! It's still equal parts emotional ballad and sexy summer sex song, which is just fine for everything I'm looking for in a Jam.

"The Middle" by Zedd, Maren Morris, Grey

Here's an ancient song back from the dead this week. There's a lot of pretty fresh tracks I could have highlighted, but that felt unfair to how this jam seemed to surge. It's still an alright song, even if I definitely couldn't name Maren Morris without looking her up.

"Boo'd Up" by Ella Mai

This jam has been around for a few weeks now and finally earns a spot here. Ella Mai is a strong young voice here and it's hard to find a better case of onomatopoeia describing falling in love like this. It's got some life under it and hasn't quite hit mainstream Top 40 yet, but if it catches on it could make a nice run of things.

"Never Be the Same" by Camila Cabello

Here's another track that I thought we were kind of done with until a late week upswing. It's still half-hypnotic and altogether wonderful. I don't think this will hit "Havana" highs, but may be a better track the more I listen to it. It certainly showcases a more impressive vocal range.

"Friends" by Marshmellow & Anne Marie

I'm clearly still digging this track. I'm not sure it was always known as the Friendzone Anthem it's known as now, which has all kinds of awkward connotations, and now that I'm thinking about it, it's kind of weird that it's apparently a pro-Friendzone song. Yeah, that totally tracks, paying attention to the lyrics now. Not to get into that minefield, because Ryan Reynolds explores it better, but I can see both the ludicrous side that men and women can't be friends along with the need to accept a rejection of advances, and the difficulty that presents in anyone actually ever getting laid. The most difficult thing linguistically is framing it according to male needs, which is an issue with most of society. Good beat tho.

"Meant to Be" by Bebe Rexha ft. Florida Georgia Line

That's right! This track is #1, baby! I heard this a shitload this week and loved it every time. Suddenly I realized that's what makes a #1 song. It's old as shit, so I'm not sure how long it's got, but for now it's a pretty rad summer jam in the wake of other country crossover hits like "Body Like a Back Road" last year. I'm into it. Did this really drop last October? Aged like fine wine, baby! Bebe!

Next week...

I listened to two girls-tracks, both "Girls Like You" by Maroon 5 and the video that dropped for Rita Ora & Everyone's "Girls" but neither really got any significant cultural airplay. I really like Rita's hair in that video. She looks like a lion. I should have thrown that up there. I do get kind of annoyed with visually dissimilar videos like this where it's pretty clear that they couldn't get all four of these ladies in the same room together to shoot a fun video. It's totally thematically disparate. Anyway, that's still got potential, but if I were to throw down every song that I personally listened to this week, we'd just have Jay Rock's "Win" eight times in a row. There was a lot else this week, from Die Antwood to Julia Michaels and then another massive girl pop collabo that wasn't nearly as interesting as it should have been. Also a super weird Selena Gomez video. Keep your ears open and keep listening to the skies!!
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