In his season 3 sign-off, airing on November 14th, 2016, John Oliver asked a number of New Yorkers what they thought of the year thus far. Most of them responded with some iteration of "FUCK 2016". In rewatching the clip I was reminded of the incredible amount of shit 2016 piled onto the world, including: the loss of Prince, David Bowie and Craig Sager, Brexit, Flint, the absence of NYC sports teams in any playoff competitions and of course an election that definitely ranks in our democracy's top five greatest failures. At the very end of the clip, Oliver gleefully blows up the numerical towers of 2016 in an abandoned football stadium. As he walks away from the terrific fireball, his voice over remind us to "work harder next year."
Of course "next year" is the year we are now wrapping up. Have we worked harder? What has risen from the ashes of the spectacular explosion that was 2016? Are we any better off now than we were then? I don't have a conclusive answer to any of those questions, but I can't imagine that anyone would consider 2017 the antidotal phoenix we hoped it would be. This year reminded us that both our technology and our elections are susceptible to the whims of a foreign nation and our physical borders are powerless in the face of destructive hurricanes, earthquakes and wildfires. We've also witnessed a terrifying resurgence of hateful speech and actions fueled by a world leader who doesn't seem to know the meaning of the word "consequence." WAY too many Americans lost their lives to senseless gun violence, while people around the world are being killed by their own governments. Attacks on legitimate media are now so common place that the term "fake news" has become a battle cry of mediocre men the world over. For these and so many other reasons, the events of 2017 seem to be the puss of the blister we aggressively popped one year ago.
But mixed in that discharge of waste and toxins are rays of unmistakeable light. This year has brought us powerful, visible signs of resistance. A group of fearless journalists enabled scores of women to tell their stories, a movement whose aftershocks are changing the way we talk about women and work. Artists, musicians, TV hosts, rappers, film makers, comedians and writers no longer feel the need to be apolitical, creating a coalition of voices that is heartening even on the darkest days. After T***P threatened to halt immigration from 7 countries, New Yorkers dropped everything to protest at our busy airports and deleted Uber en masse after the app refused to support its immigrant drivers. Passionate Alabama voters, led by Black women and men, defeated a man whose name we will hopefully never hear again- sending a clear message to the president and his cronies that we have the power to unseat them.
I have to think we are on to something. Our fury has been shaken loose and is fueling a revolution. In this week's Haut Takes I will showcase my top picks for the leading voices of this revolution. The picks encompass the best in music, long reads, short stories, books and TV. Not all are explicitly political, but all have something to say. Not all were created this year, but hold new power in our current climate. I hope it supplies an ample amount of entertainment and information to consume over your holidays along with a little hope for the new year.
Happy Hanukkah. Happy Kwanzaa. Merry Christmas. Or JUST enjoy your Atheist, Agnostic time off.
And remember, the keychains below are available for purchase.
I. The Best in Beats:
As advertised in last week's issue, I listened to 91,000+ minutes of music this year. So what exactly was I listening to? You will find the two part answer below.
Songs on repeat and their most resonant lyrics:
- By Design, Kid Cudi x Andre Benjamin (Passion, Pain & Demon Slayin'): From 3 Stacks verse, "Stop dueling with the true thing, I do think/When you think too much you're removing what's moving"
- Desperado, Rihanna (Anti): "There ain't nothin here for me anymore, but I don't wanna be alone."
- Garden (say it like dat), SZA (Ctrl): "Need you for the old me/ Need you for my sanity/ Need you to remind me where I come from."
- Threatening Nature, Ab Soul (Do What Thou Wilt): "Way back when I was in grade school, I learned about history/ But what about her-story—did anybody ask?" AND: "You singin' hymns in church, I'm lookin' for the her's/ In 66 books in the Bible, they ain't let a lady say one word/ Hilary Clinton is out somewhere/ Tryin' to get ahead in the Senate"
- I need a forest fire, James Blake (The Colour in Anything): "I'm saved by nature/ But it always forgets what I need/I hope you'll stop me before I build a wall around me."
- Bonus: Two Chance the Rapper verses that articulate how we all want to respond to a text from an ex (or to a Tweet from a certain president):
- For those who deserve to experience a series of minor inconveniences: Baby Blue from Action Bronson's Mr. Wonderful: "I hope you never get off Fridays/ And you work at a Friday's that's always busy on Fridays"
- For those whose sheer existence reminds us that we (and God) sometimes make mistakes: I shoulda left you (in 2016), Merry Christmas Lil' Ma: "Got too many bodies you a throw 'way/ Rest in peace to great David Bowie/ Please can we get back Prince?/ Please can we get back Kim?/ Bo Slice, boy I swear that they gave you life/ Shoulda left your ass in the pen'/ Please can we get back Craig Sager?/ Leave your ass at the rim/ Three feet, no pressure, no press, no questions/ Actually one simple question/ Why the hell you standin' front of me?"
Haut Takes Albums of the Year: Critiqued in one sentence or less, in no particular order.
- Damn, Kendrick Lamar: Nobody in the game is currently doing it better.
- Flower Boy, Tyler the Creator: Tyler can be sexist and gross, but this album is vulnerable and magical.
- SZA, Ctrl: Because, been there.
- Lorde, Melodrama: Girl can SING, write and make pop music less of a cliche.
- Sampha, Process: Sampha has been a stand out feature on many albums, but his first LP cements his reputation as one of the most talented musicians of our time.
- Honorable mentions: 4:44 (Don't tell Jay-Z rap is a young man's game), American Teen (Khalid), More Life (Drake), Regret in your tears/ Changed It/ No Frauds (Nicki Minaj's three stand out singles), What Now (Sylvan Esso), Big Fish Theory (Vince Staples), Take me Apart (Kelela), Luv is Rage 2 (Lil' Uzi Vert), War & Leisure (Miguel), All Amerikkkan Bada$$ (Joey Bada$$), Teenage Emotions (Lil' Yachty), I see you (The XX), Drunk (Thundercat)
II.Read, Baby Read: The best in journalism and fiction
Long Form: The backbone of Haut Takes, here are five of the best long reads I consumed this year.
- Pornhub is the Kinsey Report of Our Time, Maureen O'Connor, New York Magazine, June 11th: O'Connor researches and reports on the world's largest streaming pornography service and reveals a lot about the human race. (Related: From Alexis Madrigal at The Atlantic "The Basic Grossness of Humans")
- A Generation in Japan faces a Lonely Death, Norimitsu Onishi, New York Times, November 30th: Onishi explores how Japan's declining marriage and birth rates affect their eldest generation. It is at once a human interest piece and a demographic study. (Related: At his own wake, celebrating life and the gift of death, Catherine Porter, NYT, May 2017- The story of John Shields, a Canadian who took advantage of the country's newly legalized assisted suicide. The article tells the story of the "living wake" Shields planned for himself to experience death on his own terms. There is also a corresponding episode of the Daily, have tissues ready.)
- Citizen Clinton: Hillary Clinton is Furious. And resigned. And funny. And Worried, Rebecca Traister, New York Magazine, May 26: In one of her first post-election interviews, Traister gives Hillary license to be all of the adjectives in the article's title- many of which for the first time. (Related: Since the Word of Traister is basically my gospel, take the time to read her essays on our current #metoo moment, archived here. She nails the reckoning's intersection of sex, politics and workplace dynamics. And if you haven't read her book All the Single Ladies, get on that.)
- The Danger of President Pence, Jane Mayer, New Yorker, October 23rd: Reminder-impeachment is likely not the answer. (Related: Also from the New Yorker Diagnosing Donald Trump, and his Voters and from The Atlantic On Safari in Trump's America)
- How Money Became the Measure of Everything, Eli Cook, The Atlantic, October 19th: Bitcoin is so hot right now, as you know. This article reminds us that our current forms of currency were also once valueless, abstract concepts and chronicles how money has come to rule our world. (Related: What Mongolian Nomads Teach Us About the digital future, Bitcoin: 7 questions you were too embarrassed to ask)
- Honorable Mentions: The Times' Planet Fat series, The Boston Globe explored the roots of their city's racist reputation, Portugal's radical drugs policy is working. Why hasn't the world copied it?, Something is wrong with the internet, Who was Prince in Private?
And from around the internet: Medium's Words that Matter essay series featuring influential peoples' take on the words that defined 2017 (John McCain called it chaos, Hillary votes for empathy, Carmen Maria Machado ensures us we've all been gaslit. Other authors include: Deepak Chopra, Margaret Atwood, and Roxane Gay.), Bloomberg's "Jealousy List" of the best articles they wish they'd written, and Longform's Best of 2017
Short stories that aren't "Cat Person":
There is a special place in my heart for the short story. Here are five of the year's best:
- "The Great Silence", Ted Chiang: Actually published on e-flux in 2016, Yiang explores humanity's impact on intelligent species through the perspective of a Puerto Rican grey parrot. This is one of my favorite short stories of all time.
- "The Husband Stitch", Carmen Maria Machado: From Macahdo's Her Body and Other Parties this graphic, sci-fi infused story follows one woman's post-child birth experience with the patriarchal "husband stitch" (If you don't already know what the husband stitch is, that's ok- go in blind.)
- Maidencane, Chad B. Anderson: Masterfully told in the tricky second person, I'll let the story speak for itself: "You’ve got two dogs and a sleeve of tattoos on your left arm. You’re contemplating one on your right. Your boyfriend wishes you wouldn’t do it, but your girlfriend is encouraging. The girlfriend knows about the boyfriend, but he doesn’t know about her."
- Standard Loneliness Package, Charles Yu: A dystopian tale of a not-so-far out future where we can outsource painful experiences (everything from a migraine to a funeral) to a faceless stranger in a call room.
- The Midnight Zone, Lauren Groff: Groff, author of Fates and Furies, writes great short stories. This one, originally published in The New Yorker in May, is set in a secluded cabin in the Florida Everglades where a self-doubting mother is left alone with her two sons. It is so much more than that simple premise, but I don't want to spoil anything.
And don't forget that old stand by, the novel:
I read far fewer novels this year than I usually do, mostly because of the inescapable implosion of our democracy and its subsequent coverage, but here are my five favorites:
- Stay With Me, Ayobami Adebayo: In this Nigerian author's debut novel, a wife grapples with the tremendous pressure placed on infertile women in her home country and its devastating effect on her marriage. It is a beautiful and heartbreaking story, and she's a writer to look out for.
- Manhattan Beach, Jennifer Egan: I loved this book, even more than Egan's A Visit from the Goon Squad. Anna, the novel's protagonist, is the first female Navy diver. It takes place in World War Brooklyn. Egan creates one of the most realistic portrayals of female strength I've ever read (hint: it does NOT revolve around a love story). Favorite line, "It's hard to imagine her being lonely, she's so self-contained."
- The Nix, Nathan Hill: This was definitely my most recommended book of the year. Reader reaction was mixed. If you like multi-perspective stories (think a son, his estranged mother, a sadistic Chicago cop, a narcissistic caricature of a college student, etc.) that span multiple decades (present day, NYC of the 1990s, Chicago of 1968, etc.), you will love this book. I did.
- The People in the Trees, Hanya Yanagihara: I did not think I would be into this book, boy was I wrong. Actually published in 2014, Yanigihara wrote this before she wrote the brilliant and soul crushing A Little Life. The book is actually the journals of a scientist named Norton Perina who travels to a Micronesian island in the 1950s and discovers a tribe of primitive forest dwellers who have achieved immortality. It is part anthropology text, part examination of colonialism, and all a criticism of humanity's destructive tendencies.
- City on Fire, Garth Risk Hallberg: It was published in 2016, I started it last December but stashed it somewhere on my book shelf shortly after the New Year. I rediscovered it in June, and could not put it down. It became a permanent extension of my palm for about three weeks (it's 900 pages long). Another multi-perspective novel (sense my tastes?) it traces a number of interconnected characters through 1970s NYC, culminating in the black out of '77. Hallberg received a $2 million advance for this book- I think it lives up to the hype.
- Honorable Mention: The Revolution Was Televised, Alan Sepinwall: Sepinwall was once the TV critic for The Star Ledger, Newark's hometown paper, he has also written for Ebert and other outlets. In this book, he details how 12 television shows changed the culture of television forever. Sample subjects: The Sopranos, The Wire, Mad Men, Breaking Bad, Deadwood, Buffy the Vampire Sayer, Lost, Friday Night Lights. He is also currently working on a Sopranos-only book with Matt Zoller Seitz, to be released in 2018.
III. Watch me, Watch me: TV worth tuning in to
If reading is my one true love, TV is my side piece. I sometimes feel guilty for watching it, but it gives me so much life.
The year's best episodes:
- Girls, American Bitch: Girls is controversial. Lena Dunham is controversial. But I can't help loving this show. This episode was damn near perfect. And super prescient. Hannah is invited to the uptown apartment of an author whose sexual misconduct she analyzed in a recent article. The entire episode is a complicated conversational dance that spans the spectrum of gender politics and power. And the chilling final scene soundtracked by Desperado is the icing on this very messy cake.
- Atlanta, B.A.N.: Atlanta aired last year, but I've recently rewatched. The entire show is experimental (and brilliant), but B.A.N. is REALLY experimental (and brilliant). The premise is Paper Boi being sandbagged with questions about his views on homosexuality and transgender people on a Charlie Rose like talk show called Montague on the fictional B.A.N. The conversation is intercut with a series of Donald Glover imagined commercials that I won't even attempt to describe. The episode does nothing to drive the season's plot forward and is honestly kinda bizarre- but I'm so into it. Paper Boi also astutely articulates EXACTLY how I feel about Kaitlin Jenner.
- Big Little Lies, You Get What You Need (Finale): If you haven't watched Big Little Lies yet, please do. I promise at least one person you know has an HBO login. I won't give any details about the finale, as that would be an unforgivable spoiler. I will say that the final two scenes are incredibly empowering and vindicating examples of the power of SHE.
- Insecure, Hella Perspective (Finale): The show matured in its second season. Issa Rae played with some new narrative structures, most successfully in the season's finale. The episode captures the three principal characters' (Issa's, Molly's and Lawrence's) perspectives of overlapping events in the same month. Again, am trying to avoid spoiler alerts- but the storytelling is powerful. The show always has a great soundtrack, but the repeated use of Tyler, the Creator's "Boredom" at the top of each perspective change may have been its most strategic use of musical narrative.
- Broad City, Witches: Covered before in Haut Takes, this episode captures the epic witchiness of our cultural moment. Abbi's discovery of a grey hair sends her into an anti-aging tailspin while Ilana's visit to a sex therapist reminds us of the libido destroying nature of this administration. Bravo, ladies.
- Honorable Mention: She's Gotta Have It, Hashtag DaJumpoff (Doctrine): Nobody seems to want to talk about street harassment. Lee and cast does throughout the show's entire first episode. It is also the jumpoff for Nola's street art campaign, My Name Isn't...
Top series (not ranked):
- The Deuce, HBO
- The Good Place, NBC
- Insecure, HBO
- Girls, HBO
- Big Little Lies, HBO
- She's Gotta Have It, Netflix
- Stranger Things, Netflix
- Master of None, Netflix
- Orange is the New Black, Netflix (This season disappointed me, but I'm still happy this show exists)
- Better Call Saul, AMC
- The Get Down, Netflix
IV. And finally, 17 things I did this year:
- Forgave myself for no longer wanting to teach. Martyrdom is not a good look.
- Celebrated birthdays in style, including taking over a Red Sox game with 30+ Yankees fans in matching shirts and traveling to D.C. to surprise a great friend along with 30+ others of her closest friends.
- Marched through the streets of Manhattan with 400,000 other people who know this shit ain't normal and are ready to resist. The display of discarded signs at the 57th street Q stop was the most electrifying piece of found art I saw this year.
- Marched in NYC's St.Patrick's day parade with REAL Irish people.
- Cheered as the world finally began holding some men accountable for their actions and wondered what will happen next.
- Attended the performances of the following musical magicians who reminded me that music is all we got: Frank Ocean, Solange, Chance the Rapper, Sampha, D.R.A.M., Tyler, the Creator.
- Accepted that I may be too old to go to music festivals.
- Gave a great speech at a great wedding after making my most popular playlist to date for a Miami bachelorette party.
- Came around to the fact that podcasts and online dating aren't going away anytime soon and that I might as well get on board.
- Became obsessed with skincare, thanks to Glossier and Indian Aztec Clay- and I also finally started wearing both sunscreen and eye cream.
- Bought some more shirts that aren't crop tops, but shopped less overall.
- Became someone who is legitimately good at yoga.
- Cut a number of folks from the squad that no longer had any utility on the team.
- Realized that Europe is so much cooler than America while traveling across Portugal and Spain.
- Committed myself to New York City for the foreseeable future because I love this liberal-coastal bubble.
- Started this newsletter and realized my writing is something people want to read.
- Began living by the following doctrine: Anger without action is toxic, anger that fuels action is power.
This will be the last Haut Takes for the year. I'll leave you with this selfie taken on NYE of 2016 just after Spotify informed me I was in the top 1% of Drake fans as a reminder of how far we've come. Much love.