This is a list, by no means definitive, of the things I loved in 2014. It is not a list of the best things, because, really, how would I know what the best anything is? I’m so often late to the party, and like, that stuff is all subjective anyway, isn’t it? This is a list of the things that caught my attention and kept it, impressed me and made me laugh. I love a good list.
Most of the music I loved this year was rap. I think it’s because hip-hop and its artists have so much more to say right now. More to say that matters to me, anyway. Under Pressure by Logic is easily my favorite album of the year. I love its narrative feel, and in that sense it reminds me a lot of Kendrick’s good kid, m.A.A.d city. There are bits in it I consider weak; the spoken word pieces and that whole conversation about Tarantino I could do without, but Logic overall has a wonderful way with language. Later in the year Nicki Minaj released Pinkprint, her first studio release I can say I’ve enjoyed. Here she is stripped of that candy coating that brought her the majority of her fame. She reveals a more daring and truer self. Admittedly, at times The Pinkprint sounds like the Minaj of Starburst colored wigs. There are songs that deliver pop-princess extra in heaping spoonfuls, but we also have songs like “The Crying Game” that present a more human Nicki full of fragility, or “Win Again” which gives us the Nicki I fell in love with via Tumblr gifs, here to fuck shit up. It’s a record full of confidence, much like J. Cole’s 2014 Forest Hills Drive. This is a bit of a departure from his 2013 release, Born Sinner. It is less aggressive, exemplified in Cole’s singing. His voice is this broken and old-soul crooning that gets in deep. The singing in Childish Gambino’s very short–but no less well written or performed–Kauai is beautiful in a different way. Gambino doesn’t rap much here, but kills it nonetheless, producing some real ear worms I couldn’t let go. I’m sure I heard “Pop Thieves” on repeat for several days.
When I wasn’t listening to music in my car, it was podcasts. The Read with Kid Fury and Crissle never failed in its review of not only crass celebrity news, but society in general. My description doesn’t quite give it justice; they are never not funny, even when giving biting sociopolitical critique. A lot like W. Kamau Bell, host of Denzel Washington is the Greatest Actor of All Time Period with Kevin Avery. I’ve been a fan of Bell for a while, and I even got to see him perform some standup at this year’s South Beach Comedy Festival. He is so observant of the things that don’t sit quite right in our culture and just plain fucking funny. It’s telling that I’ve yet to see a single movie covered in the podcast’s eight episodes, but I listen every week as soon as it’s up. I enjoy listening to Bell and Avery gush and bicker. On a more serious note, I was a fan of Serial this year, as many other people were. The podcast’s first season was an examination of the 1999 murder of a teenage girl in Baltimore. I will say, part of me hates the voyeuristic nature of listening to something like Serial, because it’s real life and real people doing real time in prison are involved. I’m not sure it’s okay to consume this as entertainment, but I did. It’s a well-crafted piece journalism, and, on a different, more personal level, Adnan Sayed’s voice is so similar to my brother’s, who also did time in prison around the same time at around the same age. It filled me with this sadness I couldn’t stop pricking, the longing for a brother I lost to a broken system. A different example of well-crafted journalism, though, is Pitch. Each episode is never longer than about twenty minutes, and delves into music and its effect on us. There are interviews with musicians and children and teachers and professors and psychiatrists and people who music has effected. I love the way it takes this abstract thing and really looks at it, trying to wrap sense and understanding into it.
I did not watch a lot of movies this year, not having the attention span for it (much to my husband’s chagrin). I did manage to catch The Grand Budapest Hotel while it was in theaters early in the year, and that fanned the fires of a torch I’ve held for Ralph Fiennes since I was eight years old. While there wasn’t a lot of movie watching, I did manage to squeeze in quite a bit of television. Namely thirty minute sitcoms, because all I wanna do is laugh, but some other stuff too. Let me first mention The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson, who ended his nine year run just this December. I didn’t discover Craig this year, but he gave me so much life that I can’t not mention the show. He had some real estate on late night television, and did whatever the fuck he wanted with it. I loved that and I’ll miss it.
I spent so much time this year watching and re-watching The Mindy Project. There isn’t much in the way of romantic-comedies on big screens anymore, and The Mindy Project has single handedly filled that void in the world. You hear a lot about chemistry between actors, and like whatever, but I could watch Mindy Kaling and Chris Messina flirt and fight and joke on screen all day long. It just fills me with so much joy. As we’re talking about chemistry, I must mention Playing House. The show had a short ten episode first season on the USA network this year and features Lennon Parham and Jessica St. Clair as best friends. Playing House is the most perfect image of female friendships on television, never competing, always supportive and fucking hilarious. Parham and St. Clair together never cease to make me smile. When you throw in some Keegan Michael Key, well it’s almost too much.
Brooklyn 99 is what ensemble casting is all about. From Andre Braugher’s deadpan to Chelsea Peretti’s maniacal delusions of grandeur, there is no piece of this puzzle that doesn’t make the whole show a better show. They also sport not one, but two Latina women that are allowed to be funny and strong, and aren’t competing for storylines or plot development or playing the same kind of Latina woman!! Also, did I mention they were funny? On the same night we get Bob’s Burgers, a show that just isn’t on enough. Tina Belcher is the truest representation of myself I’ve ever seen on television, awkward and hypersexual and convinced she’s hot shit despite all evidence against. The Belchers are a family that functions despite individual dysfunction and oddity. Actually, spite is the wrong word. This is a family that is strange and just accepts it. Because sometimes we’re all just weird, and like what? You’re gonna call out your sister every time she’s weird? No, you’re all just free to dysfunction, and that’s OK. The same can be said of Cartoon Network’s beautifully illustrated Steven Universe. It’s a magical girl show about a magical boy, but it doesn’t take anything from the genre. Quite the opposite. Steven lives with the Crystal Gems, the de facto sisters to his deceased mother. His father (who lives in a van) provides support from the outskirts, not as a dead beat dad but as a partner in parenting a child going through something he can’t really understand. In Steven’s admiration of the Gems we see how awesome it can be to grow up without the constraints of traditional cultural masculinity. It is gently teaching, but also just incredibly beautiful and strange and funny.
I should mention that I did watch some television that wasn’t as funny or whose episodes were longer than thirty minutes. My Mad Fat Diary is everything I needed in a television show as a teenager. To be honest, it’s everything I needed in a television show yesterday. I laughed and I cringed and I cried and cried and cried. Sharon Rooney plays Rae with such delicate vulnerability and intensity; it’s hard not to see a version of yourself in her. Mental health takes some fucking work, and watching Rae get there and falter and get there and falter is a genuine portrayal of that struggle. The fact that she gets the guy is just perfect delicious, delicious, fantasy fodder icing on the cake. Doctor Who is a staple in my household, and while this season or this Doctor are not my favorites (Tennant til I die!!), I do want to give props to companion Clara Oswald. A major problem with the show, and a well-expressed one at that, has been that the Doctor’s female companions are more props to his plot development than characters with their own agency or narrative arc. I think Clara this season has gotten a lot of flak for being difficult, but I think this difficulty arises from show runner Steven Moffat attempting to address these complaints. He’s never been great at writing women, or even people sometimes, but I appreciate the effort. This season’s Clara has had more agency than any other companion and I kind of love her for that. In a similar vein, there is Sleepy Hollow. Abbie Mills is another complicated and defying female counterpart to a British smartass with a fancy coat on, (I am so Team Ichabbie, guys, and it’s only a little bit embarrassing). The show is full of kitsch and playfulness despite it’s major source material being the bible and a short story from 1820.
As such, I’ve developed quite a fondness for Sleepy Hollow’s Nicole Beharie. Actually, a theme that’s run strong in my year is that woman are kind of crushing it and it just makes me so happy. I fell in love with a lot of women this year, via their work and projects or Instagram accounts. I hope to one day be able to exemplify the amount of I-don’t-give-a-fuckitude that Rihanna does in any selfie. I also hope to one day possess the poise Lupita N’yongo has in every moment she inhabits our planet. I hope one day a man feels for me what I feel for Beyonce. Mindy Kaling is so much like the person not that I strive to be, but probably would be given access to success. Pamela Ribon in Notes to Boys painted a picture of the girl I was and, in some ways, always will be. Amy Poehler in Yes, Please proved, finally, that we were meant to be together. I’ve learned a ridiculous amount from Roxane Gay, her words have given shape to so many feelings I couldn’t place or define. It’s been a strange year, it’s been a sad year and a fucking hard year, but women step out again and again to… I don’t wanna say light my fire or give me hope, but instead fuel my own fiery chariot of social change and justice. That’s all you can ask for, really.