Goodbye, 2017

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I couldn’t let 2017 slip away without indulging one more look back at the year in pop culture. Here are a few things that brought me joy. (And here are a few more.)

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Things I Loved This Year: Pop Stars Behind the Curtain

Each day this month (assuming I don’t get busy or bored!), I’ll reflect on a tiny sliver of pop culture that I enjoyed or appreciated this year — scenes, shots, gestures, verses, sights, sounds, moments. Today: three of the year’s most influential artists who stayed silent at just the right moments.

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Three of the biggest stars on the planet — Rihanna, Kanye West and Beyonce — released three of the most popular and acclaimed albums of 2016 in the first few months of the year. At least one of them is virtually certain to earn a Grammy nomination for Album of the Year tomorrow. In all three cases, only a few weeks’ notice and a few confusing bits of teaser information preceded the unveiling of these sprawling works of art, which spanned musicals genres and technological platforms.

The surprise nature of pop stars’ latest artistic statements no longer carries the electric charge of spontaneity that accompanied the release of 2013’s Beyonce. We’ve come to expect the unexpected. What’s more notable, to me, is how little we’ve heard from the artists behind these works about their approach to creating them. Beyonce has granted a grand total of zero interviews about their creative processes this year — no magazine spreads, no newspaper features, no television spotlights. Silence. West, meanwhile, afforded a few minutes of his time to a phone call with Vanity Fair’s Dirk Standen, during which he exclusively discussed the intent behind his lightning-rod music video for “Famous.” And Rihanna talked to Vogue for its April cover, saying a fair amount while revealing almost nothing of substance.

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“Happy” Trails: Can’t Bring Me Down

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It might seem crazy, what I’m ’bout to say: you might be hearing Pharrell’s “Happy” for a long time to come.

After ten weeks at number one, the buoyant “Despicable Me 2” theme song bowed out of the top spot on the Billboard Hot 100 to make room for John Legend’s “All of Me” on May 10th. Nonetheless, the song crossed over from “big hit” to “phenomenon” right around the beginning of March, when Pharrell performed the track on the Oscars, rousing the likes of Lupita Nyong’o and Meryl Streep from their seats and charming a global audience with the song’s infectious energy. It’s only grown in ubiquity since – tribute videos, a charming cover by Majesty Rose on American Idol, even the source of some teary-eyed musing on Oprah. (The song even played a role in an overseas issue of free speech, as a group of Iranian youths were arrested for posting a video of themselves dancing to the song last week.)

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Grammys 2014: A Review and Three Great Performances

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In the immediate aftermath of this year’s Grammy Awards, I churned out a 750-word review for The Eagle. I don’t have much more to say – awards shows like this one are best enjoyed and debated as they happen and immediately afterward – but I want to spotlight three great performances that are worth checking out even if you didn’t see the entire show.

First, a snippet of my review: “Last night’s Grammys proved that some things do change. Robots can win Album of the Year. Thirty-three couples can get married in a hasty ceremony officiated by Queen Latifah. A 17-year-old New Zealander with curly hair and a sultry voice can win Song of the Year for a tune that critiques the very establishment that provided her with the award. The 2014 Grammy Awards were rarely boring, but they were often baffling.”

Read on for three catchup-worthy performances.

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6 Performances to Watch At the Grammy Awards This Weekend

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The Grammy Awards are airing on CBS at 8pm this Sunday night. Music’s biggest awards show is often as confounding as it is exciting, but the megawatt lineup suggests noteworthy “moments” (the Grammys’ favorite word) are ahead. Here are six performances I’m anticipating.

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2013 in Review: Justin Timberlake’s Fractured Reign

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During the first track on The 20/20 Experience, the first of two 2013 albums from Justin Timberlake, the multi-hyphenate superstar describes the love of his life as “my drug,” “my dealer” (yes, both), “my heroin” (rhymes with “wine”), “my cocaine,” “my nicotine,” “my blue dream” and “my hydroponic jelly bean.” (OK, that last one’s just plain weird.) He could have just as easily been describing his relationship with the American public, who gobbled up every morsel on his multi-course musical comeback menu with the vigor of, well, an addict. America simply couldn’t get enough of the suit and tie this year.

Or could they? Years from now, will we remember this year as the latest triumph in Timberlake’s impressive multi-decade streak, or the slow fade of an artist with plenty of energy but little substance beneath the style? The evidence from the first half of the year suggests the former, but the second half of the year brought its fair share of disappointments, casting a shadow over the Year of JT.

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The M&M Report, Episode 13: Feelings and Good Tidings

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Listen to Episode 13 here.

Welcome back to The M&M Report, Cross-Country Edition. Devin and I have temporarily migrated to opposite sides of the country, but the miracles of technology allowed us to have a fun conversation nonetheless.

We started with some discussion of Beyonce, who stunned the music industry on Friday when she dropped a new album entirely without promotion.

After that, we revealed our holiday plans for pop culture consumption. Devin hopes to marathon every episode of a highly acclaimed AMC drama about a man who makes meth (guess which one) and Mark is going to honor Devin’s demands and dive into the first season of a political drama that rhymes with “The Best Ring.”

From there, we reviewed Amazon’s first scripted series, the political satire Alpha House. We were underwhelmed, despite the presence of John Goodman.

Because the holiday season is in full swing, Devin and I simply had to discuss our feelings about holiday music, including our theories about Christmas albums and some of our favorite tunes.

And finally, we had a heated debate about Love Actually, which is either the best or worst Christmas movie of all time, depending on who you ask. Keep your eyes open for a special appearance from Devin Doesn’t Like Things.

Next week, we’re starting our look back at the year in pop culture. Until then, thanks for listening!

Click through for the time breakdown (and a bonus blast of holiday cheer from Mariah Carey and Jimmy Fallon):

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