10 Things I Wrote in 2017, Annotated

I used to be skeptical of year-end lists. In the past I rarely read them in full,  I found their length frustrating, and although they pre-existed the internet (magazines have run them for quite a while), they seemed designed to emptily maximize clicks.

I’ve recently come around and can see their value. When indexed well, a year-end list can help capture a year in retrospect and tie together dangling threads you weren’t quite privy to from your small corner of the world. Also, web architecture has changed a bit since I first started browsing these lists (2010), so you don’t have to click through 100 pages anymore, making it way less of a burden. Plus, I now know people who contribute to these lists, and have contributed to a few myself, and a lot of effort goes into many of them (and lists in general, it should be noted), so I respect the labor.

Anyway, all that to say, I’ve made a list of 10 things I wrote this year. Annotations are included for various reasons, in case you don’t have the time to read all of these (which is totally understandable; no hard feelings). My main goals for this post are to demystify my writing and to record some new thoughts post-publication. As always, thanks for reading!

1: Critical Failure

This piece stewed for quite a while. It initially was set to publish at Gawker, but after Gawker was killed, it was declined many times before reaching Hazlitt, and then due to their small staff, it took months to finalize. It was frustrating, but I appreciated the editor’s honesty. After the 4th draft, he asked me to completely rewrite the piece and I wanted to take the kill fee, but I wanted the story to be published, so I bit the bullet and his instincts were right; the 5th draft was stellar. I did a lot of reporting for this piece that  is a bit buried, but the big takeaway for me is that if you’re writing for your ego or to flex on your peers and not for your readers or out of enthusiasm for your subject, you’re bound to crash. And this is a cautionary tale.

Some people took this as a “takedown,” but if you read the damn thing it should be clear that this isn’t really about Armond or his politics. It’s about the point of criticism.

2: What Wonder Woman Saw

Wonder Woman was a cultural event, but the movie doesn’t survive close scrutiny. It’s undeniable that the movie meant a lot to women and girls and feminists, but I was disappointed by how critics responded to it. Wonder Woman falls into many of the same traps as previous superhero flicks, but the combination of Patty Jenkins’ direction, the iconography, and the movie’s tone seemed to result in some willfully pulled punches. I wrote this just to sidestep the power of the spectacle of WW and think about how it’s themes intersect with other movies outside the superhero genre. I don’t think everybody was duped or anything patronizing like that, but I do think that criticism should be consistent and cautious, and I suspect the praise for WW will feel hyperbolic down the line.

3: Earl and his Mom

Earl is a fantastic rapper, maybe the best, but I think his larger ideas tend to get overlooked by his technical skill. He’s been building toward painful, radical honesty in his music since Doris, so I wanted to talk about how and why he got there. His relationship with his mom is an important part of that growth. I also haven’t always been the best son to my mother, so this element of his music always resonated with me. His production is also becoming more refined, for what it’s worth. I preferred the original headline (it’s in the URL), but so it goes.

4:  What Marvel Has That Everyone Else Wants

The Marvel Cinematic Universe has become shorthand for perfection and success and that’s utter nonsense. I wrote this just to go a little deeper and think about some of its failures, many of which are obvious, and to think about the future of its model as it seeps deeper into the Hollywood hivemind. For the record, I like Marvel, I like DC, and I dislike bad movies. It’s really that simple.

5: To Pimp a Butterfly Revisited

I’ve gotten to write many things this year, but my heart is still in music reviews and just reviews in general. I wrote this as a bit of a corrective to me panning To Pimp a Butterly in 2015 while not really articulating that disagreement well or thinking about how it fails. I still think it fails, but there’s a lot of nuance and strength to its sprawl that I didn’t quite appreciate the first time around. Vince is the sharpest rapper out right now, but Kendrick is the most sacrificial. And that counts for something.

6: Coffee Terroir

Coffee’s general use is as a vehicle for caffeine. I fault no one for using it that way, but if you scratch beneath the surface just a little bit, coffee can be just as variable as wine or beer. This piece is essentially about what generates that variety. Working on it fundamentally changed my relationship to coffee and I’m really happy about that. There is so much good coffee out here that won’t break the bank or offend your taste buds. It really is that easy. Trust me.

7: Shell Shock

I’m still bewildered by how bad this movie was, but the rhetoric I used in this piece is a bit small-minded. Beyond the racism of the movie’s adaptation and execution, the larger problem is the way in which Hollywood adaptations assume that audiences can’t comprehend other cultures without white faces AND how those assumptions impact casting, budgets, and storytelling in general. Plus, anime is a composite genre that draws upon a host of lineages, so essentializing characters by race misses the point a bit. That said, as I mention in the piece Ghost in the Shell as a series is explicitly invested in nationhood and identity, so this movie still misses the mark. All that to say, I stand by this piece but in retrospect, I just wouldn’t use “yellowface” as the centerpiece of my argument. More importantly, see this piece at The Ringer.

8: On Everybody

This went unpublished because of some editorial disagreements that will respectfully go unmentioned, but I did get paid, so there’s no bad blood. It’s unfortunate that this review won’t be “on the record,” but other reviewers gave the album its proper execution, particularly Sheldon Pearce at Pitchfork. Logic is well-meaning, but so few of his ideas, musically and thematically, ever manifest into anything compelling or original. And his lack of perspective is staggering for an album with such high ambitions.

9: Beautiful Thugger Girls Review

Writing about Young Thug is hard. This was one of his tamer projects, so I lucked out, but I just wanted to highlight this review and the record. It’s not Thug’s best, but I think it might hint at his future in terms of songcraft.

10: Nighthawks Revisited

Nighthawks is a nifty little record that does a lot of things simultaneously and subtly. At different turns it mocks police, fantasizes about unchecked police power, and kicks around dark dick jokes. The fact that it differs from the movie it’s sourced from really fascinated, and thus this write-up was born. This column, “No Reason To Pretend,” didn’t last very long because I didn’t have the bandwidth to keep it going and because I didn’t always get the editorial support I wanted, but it did give me an opportunity to regularly write about music in a porous way.

Music is always porous, of course, but as someone who historically has been introduced to songs and artists through soundtracks and commercials and from riding in friends’ backseats, I always experience music in conjunction with other media. This column didn’t pay enough or offer much visibility relative to the amount of work I put in, but it was a good experience and allowed me to play with form a bit.