Sunday, April 30, 2017

Favorites: April 2017

Welcome to the debut of this new feature: monthly favorites!  I watch alot of YouTube channels, where the concept of making a video about one's favorite things from the previous month has become ubiquitous, and yet I never thought to apply that concept to this blog until my friend Sarah did a "What I'm Enjoying" post on her blog the other day.  (Shout out to Sarah, who has had to listen to my dumb pop culture thoughts for over a decade.)  So because I'm very unoriginal, I'm copying the rest of the world and hopping on the favorites train.  There is so much art that I've never been able to talk about on this blog because I just don't have enough time, or I can't think up a piece that's expansive enough to post here.  This will be a nice way to get out some quick thoughts about things I like.  Plus, I sometimes find the serious, analytical voice that I apply to this blog a little suffocating, so these will be a pleasant respite where I get to be slightly looser.

Will I be able to do these every month?  We'll see!

Saturday, April 29, 2017

A few parting words for Sweet/Vicious

The cancellation of Bunheads in 2013 ruined my ability to get upset about shows being cancelled.  Before then, it felt like I was always plagued by the untimely ending of some beloved but underwatched show, from Pushing Daisies to Dollhouse to Ben & Kate.  But since the network formerly known as ABC Family snuffed out Amy Sherman-Palladino's ballet-infused small-town dramedy, there hasn't been a single show whose cancellation has stirred me in any way.  Emotional calcification plays a role in this, but part of it is also because the television landscape has changed so much in the last few years that not as many cult shows face the network guillotine.  Take something like The CW's excellent Crazy Ex-Girlfriend for example.  Just a few years ago, its abysmal ratings would've been a surefire cause for cancellation, but the network executives have even stated that the critical acclaim it received brought a level prestige to The CW that factored into its ability to live on.

So it came as a bit of a shocking blow last night when Jennifer Kaytin Robinson, creator of MTV's terrific Sweet/Vicious, tweeted to announce that the show had been cancelled after one season.  It had low-ratings, sure, but the last few years of being a TV fanatic have trained me to believe that quality would win out more often than not.  Discovering the news on my timeline, I felt a twinge of something I used to know all too well, that anger and sadness that comes from something you love being shuffled off this televisual coil long before its time.

Sweet/Vicious aimed to tell a story about sexual assault from a unique angle.  Spurred by the mishandling of her rape case in the prior semester, college student Jules (Eliza Bennett) used her self-defense training to try to fight back and help prevent further assaults among the student body.  Once stoner-hacker extraordinaire Ophelia (Taylor Dearden) finds out her secret, she's brought into the fold and the two of them become campus vigilantes.  It's a premise that sounds a little silly on paper, but the show itself was a stylish mashup of adored genre shows like Veronica Mars and Buffy.  Much like its progenitors, Sweet/Vicious was full of funny characters and sharp, witty dialogue.  But it also weaved in a very serious examination of rape culture, what it's like to never truly feel safe or to have to face your abuser on a daily basis.  And over the course of its 10-episode season, it builds a complex and beautiful relationship between Jules and Ophelia, always taking their emotions seriously and allowing them to come together through organic connection.

MTV is not generally a network that gets alot of critical eyes towards it, but Sweet/Vicious was a show that resonated with critics and those who read TV coverage voraciously.  In fact, I wouldn't have been encouraged to check it out if it wasn't for the consistently rapturous tweets I saw from people whose opinion I trust over the course of the show's first few weeks.  It's for that reason why the network deciding to cancel it seems like such a shortsighted choice.  Like Crazy Ex-Girlfriend did for The CW, Sweet/Vicious brought a modicum of legitimacy to a network that's seen as containing frivolous programming.  It was a show that was full of potential, from a perspective of a growing audience as well as the possibility of it creatively flourishing, but now we'll never know what it was capable of.  I guess there's no justice in this world after all.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Maximizing the potential of Drake's "More Life"

Last year, I introduced the world to Views: The Antonio Whitehead Cut.  It was an effort to pare down Drake's misunderstood sad-rap opus into a version that emphasized just how many gems it contained once you part through the bloat.  After long and intense anticipation prior to its release, Views was met with a lukewarm response, and despite some positive reappraisals, the prevailing narrative has largely remained the same since then.  Despite the critical consensus, Views was a commercial success though, gaming the new Billboard chart rating system to maximize Spotify streaming counts due to its endless tracklist.

Drake repeated that trick again with his don't-call-it-an-album album More Life, a 22-song "playlist" that chronicles his obsession with the UK rappers, Caribbean music, and not taking naps.  This time around it was considered a success.  The reviews surrounding More Life have been much more positive, with many dubbing it a return to form after Views.  But even the praise was tempered with the idea that this collection of songs, while breezier than its predecessor, was still bloated.  An 80 minute album seems to be something we've just come to expect from Aubrey Graham.

But what if we didn't have to accept that?  Where Views was underrated and I trimmed it down to expose its many high points, I think More Life is slightly overrated, so I've made a condensed version to show the world how much better it could be.  I call it More Life, Less Songs, and here's how it looks:

1. Free Smoke
2. No Long Talk
3. Passionfruit
4. Jorja Interlude
5. Get It Together
6. Madiba Riddim
7. Blem
8. Gyalchester
9. Skepta Interlude
10. Portland
11. Sacrifices
12. KMT
13. Lose You
14. Can't Have Everything
15. Ice Melts
16. Do Not Disturb

This streamlined version comes in at 16 tracks, so let's talk about the cuts made to get it down from the original 22: People seem to love Sampha, but I remain skeptical so I'm casting off "4422" to his own album where it belongs.  "Nothings Into Somethings" is so slight it will hardly be missed, so that gets nixed too.  The only thing "Teenage Fever" has going for it is the Jennifer Lopez sample, so just listen to the original song if you want to hear that.  I didn't think Drake and Kanye West could collaborate on anything worse than the non-album version of "Pop Style," but they admirably proved me wrong with the turgid, grating "Glow."  "Since Way Back" is six minutes long...I don't think I need to explain why it has to go.  And last to be dropped is "Fake Love," which is good but we've all heard it a million times, and there's no need to hear it again, especially near the end of a long album.  With all those exclusions, the album length has been reduced from an interminable 81 minutes to a tighter 59.

One extra thing I did last year with Views: The Antonio Whitehead Cut was switch up the sequencing to change the order of a few songs.  I wasn't able to do the same on More Life, Less Songs because its tracks tend to connect and bleed into one another.  That's a shame too, because I do think there's some opportunity to switch things up, seeing as the first half is heavily weighted towards the R&B leaning songs while the back half is more rap-centric, and it would be nice to integrate things more.  Overall, though, the sequencing is less of an issue here than it was with Views.  I like to think that Drake read my post last year and realized I was right about starting that album with "Weston Road Flows," because he starts off More Life with the straight rap assault of "Free Smoke."

So that's More Life, Less Songs.  It still has both Giggs verses, so it's not a perfect album, but it goes down much easier than the original incarnation.  Feel free to see for yourselves, as I've added a Spotify version of my playlist below.  And Drake: if you're reading this, it's not too late to re-release the album with just these songs.