Reminiscing on this summer in the arts, we put together a mixtape of pop culture memories to look back on.
Snoop Dogg became a lion:
Excuse me while I light my Executive Branch spliff. Snoop Dogg is dead. But Jah has bestowed another blessing upon us. Snoop Lion has risen.
Viewers of Snoop’s online show, GGN (Double G News Network), know the Rastafari beanie has been surgically attached to his dome for some time, but nobody could have anticipated the temporary end of his rap career. Nor could anyone have predicted this hiatus to coincide with the rebirth of the rap legend as the new ambassador of all things Reggae.
Now, Snoop Lion might be something we forget about in a year or two, something we brush off or lampoon. A lot like Weezy’s rock ‘n’ roll missteps. But Snoop has been blessed by the music gods, and apparently Rastafarian priests. He’s rap. He’s g-funk. Reggae is in the cards.
The documentary following his spiritual and artistic rebirth in Jamaica, “Reincarnated,” debuts this September. “La La La,” Snoop Lion’s surprisingly good first single, is on sale in the form of limited edition green vinyl. Reincarnated — also the name of Snoop’s first Reggae album — is on the way. Jah willing, the first Dub Pound album will be here soon.
— James Bell
The Frank Ocean flood:
A tornado flew around my room before you came / excuse the mess it made.” This summer, R&B crooner Frank Ocean not only dropped an amazing album, but opened up about his unrequited love for another man. He subsequently took the world by storm, entering like a tornado and making a beautiful mess in the music world. Beyonce, Chuck D and Tyler, the Creator quickly showed their support of Ocean’s coming out, backing up a brave soul as he took the unprecedented step of “coming out” in the hip-hop/R&B community. Of course, as a result, anticipation for the release of Ocean’s album Channel ORANGE skyrocketed. He appeared on “Late Night With Jimmy Fallon” and announced that the album would be released that night, a week earlier than expected. Then Ocean performed “Bad Religion,” gorgeously but heartachingly delivering lyrics such as “This unrequited love / to me it’s just a one man cult and cyanide in my styrofoam cup” and “I can never make him love me.” The performance was utterly outstanding, and the album was even more so. Simply put, this summer was owned by Frank Ocean.
Superhero boxoffice battles:
Art is not defined by how much money it makes. And yes, superhero films are an art. Countless comic book enterprises have been half-baked and underdeveloped, leaving fanboys and critics alike tearing, both for the future of cinema and the future of comic books as viable tinseltown entities.
But 2012 is the year to bring tears of joy. “The Avengers” shut shit down, grossing more than half a billion dollars while being one of the most enjoyable and well-paced films this year, spandex or not. And so, as summer approached, two more masked vigilantes would face off once again.
“The Amazing Spider-Man” was solid. Garfield was better than that guy from “Pleasantville” and Marc Webb did a good job trying to make “500 Days of Gwen Stacy.” The fights were average, but the CGI web-slinging mixed with shots of Emma Stone was a sticky wet dream.
However, “The Dark Knight Rises” exceeded expectations. Christopher Nolan and his brother Jonathan should be counted among the greatest storytellers working today. It was dark. It was epic. It was the summer of Batman.
Banksy at the Olympics:
For 17 days this summer, eyes from every corner of the world fixed upon one city — London, England. There, passion, patriotism and controversy pulsed throughout the city, forming a street art heaven, a concrete playground begging for politically inclined artwork. Armed with spray paint, many artists took advantage of the international spotlight and flocked to the city’s buildings and walls. A few days before the Olympics began, one of the world’s most prolific street artists, Banksy, posted pictures on his website of several black and white stencils he painted in London. He kept the locations silent — secrecy is one of his trademarks despite his explosive global fame. A native of the UK, he touched on his usual themes of war and oppression. One depicts an athlete throwing a missile instead of a javelin. On another wall, a pole vaulter contorts his body to jump over a broken fence. In his most provocative piece, Banksy added props to the signature stencil image. A young boy crouches over a sewing machine stitching together a string of actual English flags. His images are simple but impactful as always, but this time the message takes on ever more weight, pushing us to think beyond the Olympic bubble. –
— Anna Carey
Visiting Moonrise Kingdom:
At the dawn of the summer, when Wes Anderson, the Oscar-nominated director of “The Fantastic Mr. Fox” and “The Royal Tenenbaums,” released his newest film, “Moonrise Kingdom,” it was definitely not the most talked about independent film of the season. “Beasts of the Southern Wild” was awarded top prizes from both the Cannes and Sundance Film Festivals, and Woody Allen was scheduled to release his latest work, “To Rome With Love,” featuring a glowing cast. Interestingly, “Moonrise Kingdom” soared in the box office with a total gross of over 42 million dollars, making over 27 million dollars more than either of the aforementioned summer highlights. Its success may be attributed to multiple factors that were assiduously stitched into this patchwork of fantasy, nostalgia and blunt reality. This film stands out as a quirky peek into a microcosm of the mid-’60s through meticulous set design, costume design and the theme of rebellious youth yearning for an escape into a simple state of love and bliss. It is no surprise that “Moonrise Kingdom” was this summer’s independent blockbuster, as it was a plunge into whimsical absurdity that provided audiences with the perfect vacation into a Wes Anderson world.
— Anna Horrocks
The Don came back:
How can Nas be garbage? Name a rapper he hasn’t influenced. It’s difficult. Still, every Nas album is held under the same microscope, the light provided by his classic first album Illmatic. Nas can’t escape it and we won’t let it go.
Yet there have been great Nas albums since the first. It Was Written contains some of his best material, despite being criticized for being too commercial upon its release. On Stillmatic, he drowned Jay-Z in “Ether” and dropped one of hip-hop’s best odes (“One Mic”). And he followed it up with 2002’s banging God’s Son. That’s four amazing albums in eight years.
But ten years and three lackluster albums later, the questions continued to mount as the release of Nas’ eleventh studio album, Life is Good, approached. The main question: Will Nas ever get it back?
Almost all 14 tracks on Life is Good respond with: Nas is the Don. How the fuck did you forget? It’s his best album in the last ten years and one of the best he’s ever released. ‘90s Nas is in ‘90s. But all the poetry? He’s mastered that. There were a few solid rap albums this summer, but life wouldn’t be as good without this one.
— James Bell
The Magic of Mike:
When history looks back on 2012, it will most certainly be known as the Year of Channing Tatum. So far this year, the star of my favorite dance/romance crossover “Step Up 2: The Streets” has been in four movies — three of which became top box office earners. But only one of those three films matters. Only one of those three had Matthew McConaughey in tight, yellow lycra. That’s because only one of those three was pure magic. “Magic Mike,” that is.
Yes, I’m talking about the stripper-with-a-heart-of-gold, rags-to-riches film that captivated America’s bosom this summer. Director Steven Soderbergh transformed what seemed like an incredibly shallow premise — venerable stripper takes young, naive stripper under his bedazzled wing — into a penetrative examination of our current economic crisis. Sort of. Given haphazard direction, dull dialogue and fairly flimsy plot, “Magic Mike” may not actually be the film of our times. That award goes to “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter.” And though Soderbergh may have been gearing towards a film with deeper substance, “Magic Mike” did accomplish, like so many strippers do, what the point of a summer blockbuster is — cheap entertainment.
— Jessica Peña
You Only Live Once:
Last summer we had “swag,” but 2012 brought us the acronymization of the plain old fact: You only live once. Drake popularized the phrase last November in “The Motto,” where the rapper proclaims, “You only live once / That’s the motto, nigga / YOLO / And we ‘bout it everyday.” As soon as school got out, Twitter exploded with the popular hashtag. The phrase grew bigger than the song itself and became a cultural phenomenon, dominating Facebook and working its way into common conversation.
YOLO is like “carpe diem” for the social media generation. However, the significance of its meaning was quickly lost due to its frequent association with reckless activity. For example, Ryan Lochte might say, “Just peed in the pool. YOLO!”
YOLO quickly became the go-to get-out-of-jail-free card, the perfect way to rationalize doing something dumb. Recently, Tumblr unearthed a detention slip which listed its reason as “Student threw sandwich across class screaming ‘yolo.’”
As quickly as it started, YOLO’s one life ended. Everyone decided it was actually not all that profound and pretended to have hated it all along. Nobody tell Zac Efron though. He got the phrase tattooed on his hand, cuz, you know, YOLO.
— Grace Lovio
Song I used to know:
Like all storms, this one begins quietly. The strings start it off — simple and subdued. You naively think to yourself, “Oh, hey! This is kinda pleasant. Yeah, I like this.” Then, the xylophone picks up. “Shit,” you say. “This is Gotye.”
Name a location. Whether it be Walgreens, the Post Office, my head or the unwashed bathroom of a Bakersfield Applebee’s, you’ll find Gotye there, whining in full-throated ease about some bitch he used to know. The song has become prolific, thanks in part to its strangely hypnotic music video. It has reached the top 10 in more than 30 countries, has sold more than 7 million copies worldwide, and can largely be credited with the near 6 million views on that YouTube video of those two guys hopelessly trying to resist its addictive appeal. Their struggle is our struggle. The song that is about familiarity has become all too familiar. However, while “Somebody That I Used to Know” is incessant, annoying and amazing all at once, its unusual composition and fiery chemistry make it a refreshing standout from the typical summer, pop song swill.
— Jessica Peña
The only direction:
The ’90s have definitely started a comeback. All the bad things, like giant pants and mock turtlenecks, have stayed in their rightful place, trapped in time along with bleached hair and jellies. Furbies are back, regretfully (mine is stilll alive), but so are a bunch of cool things from the ’90s, like combat boots, the Spice Girls (well, briefly), “Hey Arnold!”, and most importantly, boy bands!
With pop acts like Justin Bieber and the Jonas Brothers reaching dizzying heights of fame in the U.S., it was no wonder when imported groups like One Direction and The Wanted became so successful stateside in just one summer.
One Direction, with their bubblegum sound and cheeky charm, smashed records on the U.S. charts with their debut album, Up All Night, as well as their hit summer single, “What Makes You Beautiful.” On the serious-faced-boy-band front, fellow Brits The Wanted made a splash with their club friendly tunes, “Glad You Came” and “Chasing the Sun.” Even without dance routines or matching cargo pants, both groups played sold-out summer tours in the US and Canada, proving that boy bands will always be welcome in popular culture. We love a good air grab.
— Grace Lovio