Once again it’s time for my post on what was the most memorable pop culture of the year to me. It’s pop culture I consumed in 2015, not necessarily things that were exclusively released in 2015. And once again I point out that this is the stuff that made the greatest impact on me. It’s not a list of the top anything. Even I acknowledge that there are things on this list that I would not put in a top 10 or even top 20 list. They’re not necessarily the best of anything, just the stuff that I enjoyed the most or which had some special meaning to me.
Movie I Saw in a Theatre
I jokingly want to say Aloha for this category because I insisted I was going to see that movie in the theatre no matter how bad the reviews were because I miss romantic comedies. I wanted to tell Hollywood hey I miss these please make more. Well the joke was on me because the reviews were uniformly awful. I kept my word though and although I admit the movie was a hot mess I didn’t hate it. I enjoyed it much more than the reviews led me to believe I would. Hopefully Hollywood will get its act together and make more movies aimed at women. It’s not only the romantic comedies that are missing, but more dramatic stuff the likes of Beaches and Steel Magnolias back in the day.
The real movie I’m putting in this category is of course Star Wars: The Force Awakens. I really didn’t expect this movie to affect me as much as it did. I’ve seen the original trilogy a number of times and due diligently saw the prequels in the theatre not really enjoying any of them. I’m not any huge Star Wars nerd though. I didn’t have high hopes for this movie and had it lived down to my expectations I wouldn’t really have cared all that much.
I really loved this movie though. The fight scenes even kept me engaged and I could give a flying flip about movie fight scenes. Mostly though I adored the whole storyline with Rey. I never even knew how much I longed for a female lead in the Star Wars universe that actually did something until I saw this. It made me so happy that young girls like my 5 year old niece who is already into Star Wars will have a character to look up to when she’s old enough to see it. I’m actually looking forward to the next one in the series. Well done J. J. Abrams.
Movie I Watched at Home
I should really retitle this category movie I watched on a plane because I’m not even sure I watched any movies at home this year. I’m sure I did, but I can’t think of any off of the top of my head. I really prefer tv shows so much more than movies now that we’re in this golden age of television. Generally the only time I wind up watching movies unless I go to see something in the theatre is on long airplane flights.
I think of the few movies I viewed on planes this year Whiplash is the one I enjoyed the most. It’s nothing I’d ever want to watch again because it’s super intense and not really anything I’d want to sit through again. Still I thought it was a well done movie, and it kept me interested despite the description not at all appealing to me.
I read a lot of really good books this year, so it’s hard to decide in both this category and the non-fiction category. If you want a full accounting of the books I’ve read visit my book reviews blog. Ultimately I’m choosing The Royal We for this category because it is the one book I remember reading this year that I couldn’t put down. There were a number of others that I also really enjoyed and gave the same rating to, but this is the book that I couldn’t stop reading.
For my non-fiction book I’m choosing Then Comes Marriage: United States v. Windsor and the Defeat of DOMA by Roberta Kaplan. I feel like it deserves the nod given the historic ruling on same sex marriage that happened this year and which seems like one of the few bright spots in the blight of a year that was 2015. Also I really appreciated the fact that even though I knew the outcome the case the book was written so well I was kept on the edge of my seat waiting to see what happened.
I watch a ridiculous amount of tv, so this is a hard category for me. I binge watched all the seasons of Gossip Girl early in the year. I really enjoyed it and feel like it’s the last of the television shows of its ilk that I have to go through, which makes me a little sad. I love a good teen drama, which Gossip Girl definitely was.
Deutschland 83 was my favorite show of the summer. As I mentioned in my post dedicated to it I think one of the reasons is that the fact that it’s in German with English subtitles forced me to pay attention to it in ways that I don’t with most tv shows I watch these days. I suspect I might enjoy some other shows more if I dedicated more attention to them. That of course isn’t the only thing that makes this good though. It’s a great spy drama on it’s own and I hope it gets a second season.
This was a fairly weak class of new fall tv shows this year. My favorite of what we’ve been given is Crazy Ex-Girlfriend. I was a little worried that this show would lose it’s way quickly, but so far it has been delightful every week. The songs are still great and the fact that Rebecca seems self aware to a degree that her actions are insane make it not as uncomfortable to watch as one would thing. Trust me I hate watching people embarrass themselves in tv and movies. I seriously have to watch it through my fingers. I was worried that this show would force me to do that all the time, but it really hasn’t even though Rebecca is constantly doing embarrassing stuff.
Last year I named a Parenthood episode as my favorite episode of television from 2014 and I think I’m going to repeat that this year. Parenthood ended its run early in 2015, so I’m going way back here, but the Parenthood finale is the one that really sticks out in my mind. I still miss that show and wonder what the Bravermans are up to. The finale was everything I would have wanted it to be and featured some stellar music. So here’s one last shout out to an excellent show that I wish I were still on my tv.
Last year I was almost at a loss as to what to put in this category because I felt like 2014 was such a pitiful year in music. 2015 however has been an embarrassment of riches, which almost makes it harder. Last year I just wound up choosing the album I listened to most over the course of the year. This year there’s been so much that even though I liked the music more I haven’t listened to any single album as much as I listened to the few from last year.
I mean if we’re going to talk about which album I listened to the most this year it actually has to be the Hamilton Original Broadway Cast Recording. I definitely listened to that more than anything else and that’s saying something seeing as how it wasn’t released until September.
Probably though I’m really trying to decide between Jason Isbell’s Something More Than Free and Brandi Carlile’s Firewatcher’s Daughter. I was very much looking forward to Something More Than Free since I adored Southeastern so much, but I was also scared that there was no way it was going to live up to my expectations. I didn’t need to worry because it far surpassed them. It’s a gorgeous album full of songs that paint pictures that just kill me. I remember people talking so much about beautiful, painful realism of small town life created in Friday Night Lights and Isbell’s lyrics on this album evoke that same exact feeling in me.
Brandi Carlile is one artist who I never worry about if I’m going to like her next album because so far I’ve liked every single one better than the last. Firewatcher’s Daughter is no exception. I did keep forgetting that it came out in 2015 though because somehow it seems like it’s been with me forever. The songs are beautiful pictures of what home and family mean and this album really seems to elevate her to a place she wasn’t before. I adore it.
Ok guys stay with me here. I can’t believe this myself, but the song I have to write about here is Justin Beiber’s “What Do You Mean”. That’s part of the reason I have to write about it. Remember this is the most memorable song not the best song of the year we’re talking about here. I would never claim that this song was the best song of 2015, but it’s certainly memorable in that it’s the first Justin Beiber song I have actively liked and looked forward to hearing on the radio. I know I’ve heard other Justin Beiber songs, but I honestly couldn’t name you one and am not confident I could tell you I was listening to a Beiber song if you played one for me without me knowing what it was. I was shocked how much I loved and still like this song. So way to go Justin Beiber you’ve apparently graduated beyond attracting the tween /teen set.
Ok so there no way this category wasn’t going to be Jason Isbell. I was sitting here thinking whether there was someone else should go here when I saw him tweet that 2015 was the best year of his life and then I thought who am I kidding of course it’s Jason Isbell. I assume the birth of his daughter by far beats out anything else to make this the best year of his life, but the incredible success of his album Something More Than Free I’m sure also factors in. It debuted on the Billboard Top 200 at number 6 and the Country and Rock album charts at number 1. It’s quite an accomplishment and it’s of course what is partly making me choose him as my artist of the year.
I also chose him because even 2 years after falling in love with his Southeastern album my love has not abated. I waited patiently as Newport rolled out their lineup this year and was never as excited as the day they announced he would be playing a set there. His lyrics cut me to my soul with their beauty and realism. He’s the artist I talked about the most and recommended the most in 2015 so of course this category belongs to him.
I went to so many good concerts this year that it’s really hard to choose which one I want to write about here so I’ll probably write about a few that stand out to me. Obviously the Newport Folk Festival as an entire experience wins hands down every year, but I like to think about that more in terms of sets in order to be fair to every other concert I see throughout the year. The Consequence of Sound named Newport their top festival pick of the year and in this great article that really expresses my feelings about the festival Jay Sweet says he worries about people’s expectations and no longer being able to beat them every year. I am over here telling him he has absolutely nothing to worry about as long as he keeps bringing in good music. I don’t need any big headliners or crazy surprise guests. Those are all fun, but the best sets I’ve seen in each of the past three years have all been from bands I only knew about because they were playing Newport. This year was Christopher Paul Stelling whose whole set was revelation. Mostly just him up there on his guitar and he had the audience eating out of his hand. I didn’t know him before I chose to sit in on that set, but I do now. His set was amazing and ended with this awesome moment of him proposing to his girlfriend and backup singer as they were walking off stage.
I also have to mention Brandi Carlile’s set at Newport this year because she is never not amazing. I never leave one of her shows without immediately wanting to see her again as soon as possible. NPR had a recording of the entire set up on their website and I have listened to it countless times because it is so wonderful.
There was also the great first concert in the BSO Pulse series featuring Dawes in which the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra collaborates with an indie band. I love musical collaboration and this one was fantastic. I loved how the BSO is using these collaborations to help introduce new audiences to classical music and I guess maybe some classical music lovers to some new indie bands. I look forward to seeing more of the concerts in this series in the future.
Finally I have to give a shout out to Florence + the Machine. She’s been fantastic every time I’ve seen her and this year’s concert at Merriweather was no exception. I was on my feet dancing the whole time and it was definitely again one of those shows where I left and immediately wanted to see her again.
Broadway Theatre Production
Well this one is a no-brainer. I was fortunate to see Hamilton right after it moved from Off-Broadway to it’s Broadway run. Now you can maybe get tickets a year out. I’m actually going again in April, so maybe it will be my favorite show of 2016 too. For now it’s definitely my favorite show of 2015 and one of the best shows I’ve seen in a very long time. The hype is not overblown. One of the things I love about it too is that it has people I never see talking about theatre talking about theatre. Most of the time when I talk about theatre most of my friends eyes glaze over and they have no idea what I’m talking about. This show has managed to permeate the culture enough that even my friends who don’t follow theatre know what I’m talking about. It was also one of the few things that made Twitter a delightful place to be this year instead of all doom and gloom and yelling at each other. The day it was announced that Lin Manuel Miranda wrote the song for the cantina scene in the new Star Wars resulting in the Star Wars/Hamilton mashups was one of the best days.
Baltimore Theatre Production
My favorite local theatre production was Centerstage’s Marley written and directed by their Artistic Director Kwame Kwei-Armah. It was a musical based on the life of Bob Marley. It was a jukebox musical, which I typically don’t care for. However I liked the way the songs were incorporated into the show in this case as if for the most part they were naturally being sung instead of being shoehorned into telling the story. It was a really fun show and a great way to end the 2014/2015 season.
I am really choosing this particular podcast episode because I decided I really wanted this category to be about my favorite new podcast of the year which is Switched on Pop. I adore the way they break down pop songs and really get to what makes a pop song and how they’re related musicologically to music back through history including Classical music. I’m choosing to highlight Episode 14: The Final Dropout in which they discuss how it’s become very popular for pop music to end with a sort of sudden quiet moment. It’s a great and fun look at a current musical trend in pop music and is very representative of the podcast as a whole.