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Pop Culture Showdown: So How Does That Make You Feel?

I’ve been meaning to post this for a long time, ever since I watched Heathers a few weeks ago. I haven’t had the time, so here’s hoping that this goes as well as it did in my head when it first appeared there.

That’s So Jacob Presents:

Pop Culture Showdown

Episode 3: “So How Does That Make You Feel?”

One role that is seen often in movies and television shows is that of the school guidance counselor. Usually, it’s a middle-aged hippie-dippie chick with glasses on a chain around her neck and a collection of peasant blouses, dashikis, and ombre skirts. She is never the center of attention, but in some cases, plays a pivotal role in a subplot or as a supporting character. She’s usually never even thought about, so here’s her chance to shine.

Arguably the two most famous I’m-not-a-therapist-but-I-play-one-on-screen characters are the loopy Pauline Fleming in Heathers, and bulletproof Sue Snell in Carrie. (One could argue for Tina Fey’s character in Mean Girls, but then again, Mrs. Norbury was a math teacher who only acted as a schoolwide therapist.)

Originally Portrayed By:

Pauline: Penelope Milford. She was 40 years old when she landed the role. She got her start on Broadway at the age of 24, and soon transitioned over to TV and movies. Milford had a breakthrough as Vi Munson in Coming Home, for which she was nominated for an Academy Award (Best Supporting Actress) in 1978. Curiously, she has been off the screen since 1997, when she was in Night Lawyers. She currently lives in Saugerties, New York, and apparently does very little acting.

Sue: Amy Irving. This is a bit of an interesting one, because she didn’t become a guidance counselor until Carrie 2, but acted as Carrie’s understanding friend (and only friend) in the original. She was a 23-year-old high school student in Carrie and one of the few survivors of the town, only to meet her unfortunate and grisly demise in Carrie 2, which was filmed in 1999 when she was 45 years old. Was also nominated for an Academy Award (also Best Supporting Actress) in 1983, for one of her other famous roles, Hadass in Yentl. She’s done a considerable amount of acting, and hosted the Tony Awards with Anthony Hopkins in 1994. She lives in New York City, and is still active, recently appearing on The Good Wife.

Connection with Suicide

Pauline: Warning: Unhealthy Obsession. Uses it as a weapon to get what she wants from the students as a guidance counselor.

Sue: After main character Rachel’s best friend Lisa commits suicide, Rachel goes to Sue for guidance, and in one of their meetings, shatters a glass globe on Sue’s desk, both alarming her and reminding her of Carrie White (honestly, I’m not sure no day went by when she hadn’t thought about Carrie). This leads her to believe that Rachel has telekinetic powers just like Carrie, and might have some sort of other connection to her, and basically launches the whole plot.

Dumbest Soundbite:

Pauline: “Whether to kill yourself or not is the most important decision a teenager can make.” Wait – what? Someone is paying this woman to counsel high school students?

Sue: “I had a traumatic experience in high school. I tried to help someone, and it backfired horribly.” Well, that’s an understatement if I ever heard one.

Best Animated GIF:

Pauline: Not a lot of them; this one’s pretty much it.

Sue: Again, there aren’t a lot of images out there from Carrie 2, or at least not of Sue Snell. This might be the only one, and I’m not even sure it’s from Carrie 2.

Is She Actually Helpful?

Pauline: No.

Sue: Yes, but she dies before she can be that much help.

WINNER:

Although Sue is definitely better at her job, I think Pauline Fleming is just such a funnier character. Call me crazy, but I’m picking her.

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13

As Told By Ginger and Other Things That Are Not Coming Back

Facebook informed me today that As Told By Ginger, probably one of the most true-to-life and thoughtful animated series of all time (or at least on Nickelodeon) was going to come back. With all the recent hype about Fuller House and the general nostalgia trend, I wanted to believe it. I hoped it was true.

Then, I learned that it was based on a post by a site called MoviePilot.com, which has been known to a) spread lies and b) steal content. If you really want to go to that site, you can, but it’s utter crap. If it were really coming back, Nickelodeon would say something about it (like they have about the Hey Arnold! reboot movie), and not release some crappy drawings on some site run by a third party.

So, despite the fact that Facebook’s news feed, though bearing questionable content (such as what color dress Eva Longoria wore to the Golden Globes, alongside a headline about the body of a missing teenager found in Nebraska) is usually correct, don’t get all your news from there. And don’t get your hopes up about As Told By Ginger returning either, because it is not happening.

And before another false hope crosses into your horizon, let me shoot down a few other things that are not coming back.

1. TRL. When was the last time regular MTV played music videos? Every so often this pops up, and no, it’s not happening.

2. Don’t Tell Mom the Babysitter’s Dead. There have been rumors of a reboot of this Christina Applegate-led classic getting a reboot with every teen star from Selena Gomez to Ashley Tisdale to Miley Cyrus, and though it could be fun as a 21st century adventure, not happening.

3. Rugrats. It ran for ten years, including specials, movies, and a spinoff series, All Grown Up. While I loved watching Tommy and crew, I can’t think of many more situations they could get into without reinventing it into something else. Unlike with Spongebob Squarepants (going on seventeen years!), the people behind Rugrats are happily counting their money, and when the public wants to see it again, they can go online, or maybe Nickelodeon will re-air it in syndication. A classic is a classic, and it shouldn’t be messed with.

4. Mrs. Doubtfire. There were rumors of a sequel for awhile, but along with other Robin Williams films, I think that’s off the table.

5. HairsprayEven though I love the old movie with a passion (and to some extent, the musical – the movie musical, meh), I wouldn’t bet on a Hairspray 2 anytime soon.

6. Murphy Brown. I heard a weird rumor one time that there was going to be some sort of Murphy Brown reboot, with someone like Julia Louis-Dreyfus or Jenna Elfman in the title role, but I think that once the ground’s been broken, you can’t call it virgin territory anymore. Plus, nobody can be Candice Bergen. Remember Rachel Blanchard as Cher in Clueless, the TV series? Thought so.

7. The Golden Girls. They tried it with Hot in Cleveland, and it shouldn’t be rebooted. Ever. It’s golden, hence the name.

8. The Cosby Show. I think it’s safe to say that this is forever dunzo, in any way shape or form.

9. Friends. Hopefully, it will be back eventually, but I feel like speculating on a return of friends is like asking your parents for a pet; the longer you ask, the more they’ll say “not now, Alexis, eat your chicken nuggets.”

10. Mean Girls. Other than the weird non-sequel sequel with that girl from Wizards of Waverly Place, I highly doubt it will come back. Every time there’s been talk of a reunion movie, either Tina Fey or Amy Poehler comes out with a new project. I think that we’ve moved on, and going back to revisit Cady Heron and Regina George just won’t work. They’ve already learned their lesson once, in a big way. It’s not going to happen, so stop trying to make it happen, Gretchen Weiners.

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Oh Puh-Leez….

With the release of new cast photos from the upcoming revival-esque sitcom Fuller House, everyone on the Internet has gone completely nuts. Ever since Boy Meets World got reincarnated as Girl Meets World, 1990s sitcom fever has been all the rage. Now, even though the constant rumors of a reunion movie that persisted throughout the 00s has come to fruition, with all the cast on board with the hopes of inspiring a new generation of wholesomeness. And the gang’s all here, except for one noticeable and completely predictable absence: Mary Kate and Ashley Olsen as Michelle, the youngest daughter.

I grew up watching Full House every day after school. Since I am about the same age as the Olsens, I don’t remember the early episodes from their original airings, but I watched the later ones when they were originally aired and VHS tapes/reruns of the earlier ones. Like many other 90s kids, I’ve seen every episode, and, like many other kids, was devastated when it was cancelled. Even though the adult actors (Bob Saget, John Stamos, and Dave Coulier) really drove the show, and some theorize that it was actually all about Stephanie (Jodie Sweetin), the middle child, it was, of course, Michelle, played by the Olsens in a dual role, who earned the big bucks both onscreen and off, getting paid on an increasingly higher scale due to their cuteness and wild popularity. After Full House they went spinning off into their own franchise of dolls, merchandise, and straight-to-VHS movies, becoming teenage millionaires, arguably having more success than any other cast members. Even through the darker periods in their career, like Mary-Kate’s hospitalization and their sometimes questionable looks, they’ve consistently been at the top of the fashion world despite having left the “industry.”

And now, everyone’s up in arms because – shockingly – two women who have clearly moved on don’t feel compelled to return to a past career.

30 GIFs Of Michelle Tanner That Are Your Life

This amateur pop culture theorist is not surprised, but has opinions of his own as to why the Olsen twins are doing it right.

Let’s look at the given circumstances here.

1. They became Michelle before they were potty-trained. Unlike the other cast members, Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen had much less of a choice in their initial casting as Michelle. From what I’ve heard, they were basically among the only sets of twins who wouldn’t constantly cry on camera and didn’t mind crawling around a set in front of strangers. In fact, another rumor has it that their parents were worried they wouldn’t have a normal childhood and almost took them off the show after the first or second seasons. They grew up calling their co-stars by their character names so they wouldn’t slip up during a taping. None of these experiences are comparable to even what Jodie Sweetin, the next oldest kid, endured. All of the other cast members, (with the exception of the boys who played Jesse and Becky’s twins) auditioned for their roles and knew what they wanted out of the experience. The Olsens stayed on for the whole show, but maybe had things played out differently, they would’ve pursued a different path in life. Speaking of which…

2. They’re not acting anymore. Other than an appearance on Ellen a year or two ago, they haven’t been on screen in the better part of a decade, when they’re so recognizable that they could have probably returned to acting whenever they wanted to. They chose careers in fashion design, a choice that suits them better than what they did ages ago as kids. They probably could have even balanced careers in both areas, but actively chose not to.

But still, fans are angry that they decided not to return. Here’s what they’re saying whining about, and here’s why I think that they are wrong.

1. “They’re so ungrateful to their co-stars and fans, they think they’re so much better than them, it’s like a giant middle finger to America.” That last part might be an exaggeration, but I have never heard anything about them putting down their past or their co-stars, or demeaning Full House in general. Even though they have had their strange moments, they’ve never gone the route of Amanda Bynes and bashed people on the Internet, or gotten arrested/served jail time like Lindsay Lohan. Growing up without those things is a different topic, but even after reading all the recent press, I still don’t hear them saying anything about their reason for not returning as being above their past cast members.

2. “They’re filthy rich and don’t need the money.” Partly true, they do have a lot of money, but that’s kind of a non sequitur; I don’t think that Candice Cameron Bure is hard up for cash or that Dave Coulier is on food stamps. Even though the Olsens are more visible, it’s how they present themselves and how they’ve consistently stayed in the public eye for so long that their status is legendary.

The main point of it all is that they’re just not interested, and the fact that acting is not exactly like riding a horse; you can’t just get up and go without preparing for it first. Even though some of their co-stars took breaks and did other things, they’ve been on TV at least some time in the past five years, and the Olsens haven’t. I mean, look at the alternative; if they did go for it, and ended up doing a terrible job, not being “the same Michelle” or seeming “miserable,” their stock would go down. And you know that every blog, magazine, and newspaper would just have to comment. Bad publicity = bad business, and their image and fashion empire might take a blow; a small one, but a blow nonetheless. The way that the producers seem to be handling it – by saying that Michelle is off in New York being a fashion designer – is totally legit and way more respectful than either acting like Michelle never existed or killing the character in an off-screen accident. And hey, there could still be hope – if the show gains traction, it would be a pleasant surprise to have, say, one of the next-gen Tanners become Skype buddies or FaceTime with “Aunt Michelle” for a quick cameo. The producers could easily manipulate the viewers into thinking that Michelle is totally out of the picture, and then just pop her in there; Full House hasn’t always been realistic, but being a show about family, it’s not completely unrealistic to have a distant family member. (As I typed that last sentence, I realized that in my family, I’m that distant family member, having been in Baltimore for all of one month in the last fifteen months, collectively).

What I am sure of, however, is that if they do come back, they should be welcomed. Compare it to the Spice Girls and their reunion at the Olympics in 2012. Everyone was buzzing about Ginger Spice not returning due to her early exit from the group, and Posh not returning because she’s Victoria Beckham, but they were all there on top of those cars, performing together. Even if naysayers say that Posh Spice didn’t want to be there or was offered an outrageous some of money to “do it for [the team, the group, England, the world].” Had she not wanted to be there, she simply would have stayed home. But she was there, because she wanted to do it, and had she not been there, people would have understood (or wouldn’t), but she obviously felt like she a) wanted to do it and b) could do it, so that probably made her decision easier. When you don’t have the desire or the ability to do something (Kristy McNichol and Julie Andrews as prime examples, respectively), you don’t do it, not necessarily for others, but for yourself. And that’s fine.

Say what you want, but I’m excited for February 26th. “Everywhere you look….”

Oh, and I forgot to mention, thank you to my 1200th follower, Jen of Bierbaum Bookworm! Go visit her!

And for the first time in 2016, shout-outs to all six continents for visiting: North America (Canada and USA), South America (Chile and Venezuela), Europe (Germany, France, Greece, and UK), Asia (India and Brunei), Africa (Botswana and Mauritius) and Oceania (Australia!)

1

Pop Culture Showdown: Babs vs. Kelly

Today, we celebrate the birthdays of two women who changed American music in different ways: Barbra Streisand and Kelly Clarkson. One is 32, the other is 72. I’ll let you guess which is which.

So it’s time for another round of…

Pop Culture Showdown

Episode 2: Babs vs. Kelly

Born:

Barbra: Barbara Joan Streisand, in Brooklyn, NY.

Kelly: Kelly Brianne Clarkson, in Fort Worth, TX.

Got Her Start:

Barbra: Small audiences at gay bars.

Kelly: The highest rated reality television show of 1999.

Box Office Belly Flop:

BarbraThe Prince of Tides. Not a complete terror, but I read the book first and Ms. Streisand took an awful lot of artistic license. And on that license, there was two phrases: “organ donor” and “LOOK AT ME! LOOK AT ME! I’M SUSAN LOWENSTEIN! LOOK AT ME!”

KellyFrom Justin to Kelly. One of the worst movies of all time. That’s talent right there.

Grammy Awards:

Barbra: 40 nominations, 10 wins.

Kelly: 10 nominations, 3 wins.

Media Faux Pas:

Barbra: Making a stink about her home being on Google Earth, causing the “Streisand effect.”

Kelly: Unsportsmanlike reaction upon losing World Idol to Kurt Nilsen, winner of Norway’s version of American Idol, on international TV. Later claimed to have been ill at the time. Granted, she was contractually obligated to participate in this meaningless conference of banality.

SNL Connection:

Barbra: Paid homage to in Mike Myers’ Coffee Talk with Linda Richman, on which she made one thirty-second cameo appearance. Has never hosted nor performed.

Kelly: Three gigs as musical guest.

Bacon Number:

Barbra: 2. The Mirror Has Two Faces (Babs & Jeff Bridges), R. I. P. D. (Bridges & Bacon).

Kelly: 2. From Justin To Kelly (Kelly & Marc Macauley), Wild Things (Macauley & Bacon). Hmm. Surprising.

Google Hits:

Barbra: 16,700,000

Kelly: 44,200,000

First Animated GIF Upon Searching Her Name:

Barbra:

Kelly:

Worst Album Cover Hairstyle

Barbra: Memories.

Two words: Oy gevalt.

Kelly: Breakaway.

Streisand’s got some great looks, but I pored through pictures of albums and singles by Clarkson, and there really isn’t one that stands out; she looks pretty similar in all of them and none have tragic ‘dos. I picked this one based on the fact that her face and hair are pretty, but I’m not exactly sure what she’s supposed to be doing here. Is she frustrated? Seductive? Bashful? Complicated? Actually, the more I look at this image, the weirder it looks. It’s like a Magic Eye.

GIF Of Her Giving a Compliment to Her Opponent

Barbra:

Hello Gorgeous GIF

Who isn’t charmed by that classic line? A very true statement, Babs.

Kelly:

Kelly - kelly-clarkson Fan Art

Kelly really hits the nail on the head with this one. I couldn’t agree more.

WINNER

It’s a tie!

Did you really think I’d pick one or the other? It’s like Sophie’s Choice, only with talented singers.

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Six More Things I Learned from Friends

So – total irony – I spent last night actually doing work instead of fretting over a post, and I actually had some good ideas for things to post, but I told myself I was going to focus on my work and I did. WILLPOWER.

However, after six pretty solid hours of class, I am ready to write something that isn’t school-related. That, and ready to stare at YouTube/TV/the wall for awhile.

Behold…

Six More Things I Learned from Friends

6. Fire safety.

Candlelight dinner in the park = starting an open fire in a wooded area, PHOEBE.

5. Martial arts.

…or, freshwater eel. And on that note…

4. Japanese cuisine

I know what you mean, Rachel Green.

3. Team sports.

Specifically, how to pick teams; just bunny up. (What’s bunny u-) “BUNNY!”

2. Holidays.

The only thing that’s wrong here is that it was Passover, not Chanukah…but yes, there were superheroes and flying involved. Smile on, Joey.

1. Military time.

Just subtract twelve. Thank you, Monica.

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There’s Nothing from the Twenty-First Century

Yes, this is the line that Anna Kendrick says in Pitch Perfect after she looks at the Barden Bellas’ set list. I never thought I’d agree with that assessment, but I’m coming around to the idea.

 Anna Kendrick in Pitch Perfect Movie  Image #5

The twentieth century brought us Frank Sinatra, Elvis, the Beatles, the Supremes, and basically most of what we consider pop music today. As a child of the twentieth century who is growing increasingly scared of some of the strange music of the past 13 years, I’m tempted to just shake my cane at the whole industry. As I’ve started going to this ballroom dance class, I can’t help but imagine some contemporary pop songs as background music. “Somebody I Used to Know” would be a lovely contemporary accompaniment for the quickstep, and you could do a fantastic jive to “Cowboy Casanova.”

So, here’s a quick countdown of 10 songs from the 21st century that capture the essence of “contemporary,” “pop,” and “music,” and what makes them so great.

2003: Eminem, “Lose Yourself”

I wasn’t really aware of this song when it came out, but what I also wasn’t aware of was that this was the dawning of 2000s Eminem, vs. 1990s Eminem. 1990s Eminem was an angry, sadistic man, but in the 2000s, he started manning up, coming into his own as an artist and as a person. “Lose Yourself” was the first step, written and released for the movie 8 Mile in late 2002 but skyrocketed to popularity in 2003, coasting all the way to the 2004 Oscars and winning, the first rap song to achieve this feat. Before “Lose Yourself,” I was one of those “anything but country and rap” people but this song exemplifies R-A-P (rhythm and poetry) in its cascading verses and positive message.

What dance it would accompany: Solo – club jam or jazz. For a couple – not many, maybe a Viennese waltz or a reaaaaally energetic foxtrot? If I were to ever go into boxing, martial arts, bungee jumping, or gain superpowers, this would be my theme.

2004: Dido, “White Flag”

Dido’s been around for awhile, but “White Flag,” I feel, gained her a lot of mainstream fans up against the likes of Christina Aguilera (whom she lost out on the Grammy Awards to for “Beautiful,” another heartfelt slow song but a bit hackneyed and obvious) and Avril Lavigne (whose “I’m With You” was also nominated that year, but sounds better when anyone but Avril Lavigne sings it…there’s a Josh Groban version out there which is spellbinding). It has echoes of Sinead O’Connor’s classic angst anthem “Nothing Compares 2 U” but with less of a fatalistic outlook; its message is one of strength and resilience. The haunting cello makes an excellent counterpoint to the higher notes, and Dido’s voice is just angelic.

What dance it would accompany: Solo – ballet, modern. For a couple – perfect for a rumba or a waltz, but a tango would be intriguing. When I hear this song, for some reason, I think of a commercial for a jewelry line or a perfume or something with a lot of white and possibly fur.

2005: Shakira, “La Tortura”

At this point in her career, Shakira’s had some major English-language hits like “Whenever, Wherever” (which would make for a hot samba number) and “Underneath Your Clothes” (…yeah, I’ve got nothing) but “La Tortura,” a collab. with Alejandro Sanz, is the epitome of sexy and provocative Latino music but not quite Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights provocative. I’ve heard both the English and Spanish versions, and though the English version received more buzz, I’m more partial to Shakira singing in her native language. (Speaking of Spanish, bienvenidos to my first visitors from Peru, Chile, and El Salvador!) With “La Tortura,” Shakira provided a stepping stone for other Latino/a artists to break into mainstream American music, adding some much needed flavor, as most bubble-gum brands lose over time. Good job building bridges Shakira!

What dance it could accompany: Solo – jazz, belly dancing, flamenco. For a couple – what couldn’t it accompany? Salsa, cha-cha, samba, quickstep, an energetic waltz even. Definitely one of the sexier songs of the decade.

2006: Natasha Bedingfield, “Unwritten”

Ah, “Unwritten.” The song that I loved so much I made it part of my screen name. Both the American and UK music videos are amazing, and this song is just the most uplifting, stereo-over-the-head, positive songs I’ve ever heard. It’s not too difficiult to sing and makes a rather banal karaoke choice, but it just fills me with sunshine. I used to have a rule that if the song comes on the radio while I’m driving, I couldn’t change the station, and if it comes on my iPod, I couldn’t skip it. Those days are gone now, but it’s a replica of a simpler time, a better time. Wait – that was freshman year of college for me, so maybe I’m better in the present.

What dance it could accompany: This is the only song on the list that isn’t really a song to dance to, other than maybe the gospel side-to-side clap.

2007: Justin Timberlake, “LoveStoned”

“The One That Got Away” is a Katy Perry song, but it could probably be about Justin Timberlake. He is indeed the one that got away…from the 1990s boy band scene. Pretty much every mainstream 1990s group was yesterday’s news when the 21st century hit; N*SYNC, 98 Degrees, O-Town, Backstreet Boys, Hanson, and the Spice Girls just missed the boat, among many other smaller, forgotten groups, but other than Posh Spice (who only retained her fame by marrying David Beckham and just being generally gorgeous 24/7), only Justin Timberlake seems to have emerged unscathed. In fact, his career is getting better and better. No longer is he Britney’s ex with the awful hair; he’s a sex symbol, viral video star, and is a better actor/comedian than half the current SNL cast. Seriously, Lorne Michaels, just put him on the payroll. “LoveStoned” is not his biggest hit, and maybe not even his best hit, but it took him off the Bar Mitzvah circuit and onto the 21-and-over nightclub floor. The instrumentals plus Justin’s massive octave range blurs the line between teen heartthrob and dashing gentleman, two qualities that have made Justin Timberlake the star he is today.

What dance it could accompany: Solo – club jam, hip hop, breaking, something a la Fosse jazz. For a couple – salsa and cha-cha, most def., but could work for a quickstep, a foxtrot, or a tango.

2008: Leona Lewis, “Better in Time”

While we were suffering through country boys on American Idol, Simon Cowell was churning out stars across the pond, and Leona Lewis was one of them. Most people thought she’d be a flash in the pan, and in truth…she kinda was, and sounding very similar to Jordin Sparks didn’t help her case, but she had several hits, most of them severely overplayed (yes, I’m talking to you, “Bleeding Love”). “Better in Time” was an after-thought and underrated, a subtle response to “Bleeding Love,” in fact, I wasn’t even aware of it until much later. But it’s living proof that the torch song still reigns, and every time I hear it, I think the same thing: it does get better in time.

What dance it could accompany: Solo – nothing really, maybe some Martha Graham-esque modern. For a couple – anything slow, like waltz, rumba, or even quickstep. Apropos, Ms. Lewis has amazing hair.

2009: Jay-Z & Alicia Keys, “Empire State of Mind”

This unlikely but fantastic pairing set 2009 (and 2010) on fire with “Empire State of Mind (Part 1)” which some said was a response to Katy Perry’s “California Gurls” – or maybe the other way around. If this song had been around seven years earlier, I think it might’ve replaced the national anthem. This late-night tune celebrates the Big Apple, Jay-Z’s sometimes nonsensical rapping notwithstanding, but Alicia Keys provides killer vocals and the music video is stunning. Let’s hear it for New York!

What dance it could accompany: Solo – modern, or a slow club jam. For a couple – much like the previous entry, anything slow (waltz, rumba, quickstep). This song will always remind me of getting off the Chinatown bus on a solo trip to Manhattan (it was randomly playing on the bus’ radio at the time), and even more of the end of that trip, where my aunt got stuck in Midtown traffic and in order to make my bus back, I had to jump out of her car with my backpack and rolling suitcase, and run several blocks, including through Times Square, at sunset, and seeing the lights of Broadway brighten as I ran. I was out of breath, but managed to watch the remainder of the sunset from the bus window.

2010: Lena Meyer-Landrut, “Satellite”

2010’s hit is another trip over the Atlantic, but this time to Germany. Well, actually Oslo, Norway, aka the location of the Eurovision Song Contest in 2010. Long-described as a “musical trainwreck,” not many have made it out of Eurovision and enjoyed a lively career, with the obvious exceptions of ABBA, Katrina and the Waves, and Celine Dion. But 2010’s winner, German teenager Lena Meyer-Landrut (now known as just Lena) provided a refreshing pop treat with her rendition of “Satellite.” At first, I was disappointed, due to her winning over some of my personal favorites, Albania (Juliana Pasha, “It’s All About You”), Armenia (Eva Rivas, “Apricot Stone”), and of course Israel (Harel Skaat, “Milim”), but once I actually listened to the song, I was like…this is just precious. It straddles the line between adorable and obsessive, and is one of my favorites to do karaoke. It’s fun and bouncy and just so lovable. Surprisingly, even with her follow-up hit “Taken By A Stranger” (which got her close to winning Eurovision again the next year) and her cover of En Vogue’s “What A Man,” Lena hasn’t taken off here in America, and not even that much outside of Germany and its neighbors. Guess it takes a lot to overcome the Eurovision Curse.

What dance it could accompany: Solo – club jam, dance-around-in-your-underwear. For a couple – an energetic cha-cha, or a fun jive. I love you Lena, but you really need better PR people. If Ylvis, PSY, and One Direction could cross over, surely you can?

2011: Adele, “Rolling in the Deep”

Another song that kind of annoyed me when it first came out but then grew on me to the point where I will sing it in the shower at the gym (the acoustics of the tiles make it fill the space very nicely) and will not give you the pleasure of judging me. I’m too old for that, screw you, I do what I want when I want and it’s not hurting nobody. The previous year, Adele had begun her world takeover with “Chasing Pavements,” another song that kind of annoyed me, but like “Rolling in the Deep,” it grew on me. Even though she hasn’t released much new material other than “Rumor Has It,” “Someone Like You,” and “Skyfall,” what makes her fresh in my mind is her versatility. Her young voice has so much old-school soul, yet “Rolling in the Deep,”  “Skyfall,” and “Rumor Has It” are so different that it could very well be three different but equally talented singers. (sidenote – when I heard “Rumor Has It” for the first time, I did not know who sang it, but said “Adele would make an awesome cover of that one”…and then I found out that it was Adele. Whoops.) Adele is, as Christina Bianco correctly puts it, “the reigning British queen,” and many, like me, are anxiously awaiting her forthcoming album. Take that, Kate Middleton!

What dance it could accompany: Solo – not sure, I’ll go with modern. For a couple – something standard, like a quickstep or a Viennese waltz. Yeah, not much of a dance track, but there is never not a good time for this song.

2012: Kelly Clarkson, “Stronger (What Doesn’t Kill You)”

The waitress from small-town Texas turned American Idol has arguably had the most successful career among her fellow alumni, along with Carrie Underwood and Jennifer Hudson. She suffered some career hiccups with the epic disaster of From Justin to Kelly and the poorly-chosen (but still popular) lineup for My December but came back to her sometimes lovable, sometimes frightening self with hits like “All I Ever Wanted” and “My Life Would Suck Without You.” “Stronger” has a rough,tough rock-n-roll appeal but also could be the soundtrack to an exercise class for moms. It defines “power anthem” without being too “girl power!” and that’s what makes it all the stronger. Good on you, Kelly.

What dance it could accompany: Solo – um, club jam, hip hop. For a couple – a fun salsa or cha-cha. Plus, the music video’s pretty neat and it’s just such an empowering song.

2013: Ariana Grande, “The Way”

Ariana Grande has been on my radar screen since 2010, when I was working on 13 The Musical in Israel, and had the soundtrack imprinted into my brain, a soundtrack that included vocals from a young and practically unknown Ariana Grande. After spending her teens with the gang at Hollywood Arts on Nickelodeon’s Victorious, Ariana spread her wings to fly solo. Not every baby bird can fly right off the bat, and she fell flat with the jokingly lame “Put Your Hearts Up,” which even she herself admitted should have never happened. But she got right back up with “The Way,” and with comparisons to Mariah Carey, took to the sky as more than a pop star wannabe but a vocalist with style and gymnastic ability not heard since the days of…well, Mariah Carey. The video ruffled some feathers for its not-so-squeaky-clean content, including a kiss, but in the grand scheme of music these days, it was relatively tame. I predict a long and successful career for Ariana Grande even if she is kind of annoying on Sam & Cat, her new Nick series which lacks the fun of Victorious and the maturity of iCarly.

What dance it could accompany: Solo – hip hop club jam, any day of the week. As a couple – seriously, just about anything fun and fast: salsa, cha-cha, rumba, samba, even a lively waltz.

I just spent about two and a half hours writing this. I clearly have my priorities in the right place.

1

This Time for Africa

I decided that instead of “Book Review: Author, Title,” I’d adopt an actual title for all future book reviews, starting with this one. Today’s book review is Africa United by Steve Bloomfield. This copy has been traveling with me ever since I bought it at a Half-Price Books in Houston, and it’s been through about ten states and at least two plane rides, waiting for me to open it. I finished it last night just before drifting off to sleep.

In Africa United, Steve Bloomfield, a Kenya-based news correspondent, travels around Africa in search of connections between the continent of Africa and the world’s (except for the USA) favorite sport. The impetus for this book came about upon the announcement of South Africa as the host nation of the FIFA World Cup in 2010. After narrowly losing the bid for 2006, South Africa rallied to become the first African nation to host the World Cup, a feat for a continent which has yet to host a major international sporting event, such as the Olympics. This sparked a movement across South Africa and the rest of the continent as a “unified Africa,” fueling an already fervent love for the sport among Africans.

Steve Bloomfield starts from Egypt in his journey down the continent, through some of the “best and worst” teams in Africa – Sudan, Chad, Somalia, Kenya, Rwanda, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Nigeria, Cote D’Ivoire, Sierra Leone, Liberia, and Zimbabwe – before arriving in South Africa at the beginning of the World Cup. Bloomfield notes that he couldn’t cover all the countries of Africa in his introduction, but oddly enough, his “best and worst” happened to omit three of the six African teams who qualified for the World Cup; Cameroon, Algeria, and Ghana, leaving me to question his judgment of “best and worst” – aren’t these three countries among the “best,” who qualified in the same way that Cote D’Ivoire and Nigeria did?

Despite this, Africa United takes no prisoners; as Bloomfield wends his way through the countries, he also gives us some insight into their history, geography, and politics in addition to their individual relationships with soccer. What I enjoyed the most were the chapters through nations we don’t see very often in literature, like Chad and Somalia. Somalia, in particular, poses quite the pickle regarding international team sports; its status as a failed state with no government leads to very little in the way of facilities and amenities, not to mention safety. Ergo, all their matches – even “home” matches – are played outside the country. Another factor that can lead African teams astray are due to politics and money; the chapter on DR Congo was enlightening in that respect, with prime minister vying for dominance via a bunch of guys just kicking around a ball. Local politics also play a part, establishing unification or establishment of difference. In Liberia, George Weah took his sport to the next level, running for president in his country’s first democratic election. Despite his popularity on the pitch, he lost out – but it would have been interesting to a sportsman of his caliber (who is also a college student in the USA) become the leader of an entire country. In Cote D’Ivoire, soccer filters down to the level of education, with some parents taking the money they would have spent on textbooks and school supplies for their sons and putting it towards expensive soccer clubs, thinking that their son will one day be as famous and wealthy as Didier Drogba, a footballer who made it in Europe and has become a cultural and national icon. The Zimbabwe chapter is by far the saddest, recapping a country once known as the “breadbasket of Africa” on its downfall to a dictator-led state with the world’s worst economy. Age fabrication is rampant, showing the even further lengths some countries will go to for just for the win. Some nations import players from Europe who were born or have ancestry in their countries; sometimes they arrive and change things, but more often they end up disappointing people, or not showing up at all. On the flip side, some countries’ entire teams skip town, as Bloomfield mentions in his epilogue of the Eritrean national team, who were no-shows for their return flight from a match against Kenya, opting instead to decamp in Nairobi and seek asylum there.

But it’s not all doom and gloom. In the chapter on Nigeria, Bloomfield talks about how its national team and its purpose-built capital city of Abuja seemed to ease tensions and increase cooperation between the northern Muslim parts of the country and the Christians to the south. Whereas in Cote D’Ivoire, the provenance of players provided some much-needed kinship with its former enemy neighbor, Burkina Faso, where blurred geographic lines and movement resulted in some Burkina Faso players being Ivorian, and vice versa, leading both countries with someone to cheer for on either team.

Overall, I mostly enjoyed the book. Some of the transitions are a bit clunky, or as Julian Hall puts it in his review “jumpy yet urgent” of the author, imploring him to further express “a little more passion in his reportage” (Hall). Bloomfield has a habit of switching rapidly from fun sports to refugees and genocide, but I guess that’s part of the greater story of Africa, that pride comes through pain, and that sports and games have a habit of doing just what they were made to do: create distractions, rivalries, and fun.

I’m not so big on the whole sports thing, except rooting for the Orioles, the Ravens, and briefly pausing on the Olympics when flipping channels. So this book taught me something. In fact, while the World Cup was going on, all I knew was that if I tuned in, my ears would immediately be assaulted by the dreaded horn known as the vuvuzela, which has now been added to the dictionary. Oh, and the theme song for the games, which had a music video in which this happened:

Entitled “Waka Waka,” it was a good beat to dance to, but drew some criticism. First, its lyrics are kinda vapid and stupid. Second, it wasn’t even performed by an African – despite including some words in an African language, deriving from a Cameroonian tune, and backed by the South African band Freshlyground – it was non-African pop singer Shakira who got to take the lead vocals. This only contributed to “Americanized” feeling of the opening ceremony’s featured entertainment – a sentiment expressed by many South Africans who were disappointed at the lack of local performers – as she performed in a roster that included Alicia Keys and John Legend. For the record, Shakira isn’t even American; despite her success and popularity in the USA that doesn’t change the fact that she’s from Colombia. On the song’s Wikipedia page, Shakira declared the song “multinational,” using African, South American, and Afro-Caribbean rhythms to create the song. Again, the lyrics and the insipid chorus leave something to be desired, owing to English not being Shakira’s first language. She probably hasn’t gained much of a fan base in Africa, but since’s she’s an otherwise beautiful, successful, fabulously awkward and delightfully Hispanic singer who gets away with doing things with her voice that would cause most other peoples’ vocal chords to explode, she’d probably give her haters something like this:

Even though Shakira does acknowledge Africa in her song, addressing some of the cultural appropriation that it utilized, she completely and woefully ignores the culture of the real coiner of the catchphrase that made her song famous:

facepalm (217) Animated Gif on Giphy

Tsamina mina zangalewa: no love for Fozzie Bear.

Works Cited:

Bloomfield, Steve. Africa United: Soccer, Passion, Politics and the First World Cup in Africa.” New York: HarperCollins, 2010.

Hall, Julian. “Africa United: How Football Explains Africa, By Steve Bloomfield.” The Independent. 6 June 2010. http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/books/reviews/africa-united-how-football-explains-africa-by-steve-bloomfield-1989567.html