2021, A Year In Review
It was pretty shitty truth be told
Pretty much since around March of 2020, when Covid officially became a force in our lives and had to be reckoned with, “life” has been little more than a suspended purgatorial state. Nothing feels real and nothing feels good, yet the stakes are the highest they’ve ever been. A lot of us probably felt like 2021 would be a return to some sort of normalcy, and at times it even came close, but mostly it was more of a retread of the year before. The pandemic still rages on and it (along with everything else in our society that’s been politicized, including where you live, sports, and shitty Marvel movies) continue to expose and exacerbate how divided we our in this country.
The January 6 insurrection more or less set the tone for this year. America has become too chaotic and ridiculous for satire. Considering the anxiety and stress related to just getting through Covid-19 still, it’s strangely been a pretend year—an intermission from the hamster wheel in order to take a moment, breathe, and re-evaluate the way to live. Putting some people (like me) in the mindset of simply watching and laughing at things like January 6, because really what else is there as you notice the dystopian future popped up on you while you were busy staring at your phone.
All that said, this is also the year I went to grad school and started seriously tackling completing a book, my first novel potentially. I came back to New York and to therapy. I began rethinking my personal relationships, my goals, and my behaviors. But no matter what positive steps were taken, 2021 will always be remembered for all the death. The near million covid deaths we got to in the US and the nearly 6 million worldwide. The people who meant the world to me growing up (bell hooks, DMX, Joan Didion, Greg Tate, Norm MacDonald, Michael K. Williams). The shockers who were gone-too-soon (Demaryius Thomas, Virgil Abloh, Sophie, Chucky Thompson, Mary Wilson, Leon Spinks). The absolute legends (Ed Asner, Desmond Tutu, Bobby Bowden, Larry King, Hank Aaron, Cicely Tyson, Cloris Leachman, Larry McMurtry) and my personal legendary spirit guides (Melvin Van Peebles, Janet Malcolm, Robert Downey, Sr, Richard Donner, Charles Grodin, Jessica Walter). And the torchbearers for Hip-Hop, ultimately failed by the industry and the streets (Drakeo The Ruler, Young Dolph, Shock G, Black Rob, Biz Markie, Kangol Kid).
Death is the great constant. It is what it is. But at my age, the deaths are starting to hit closer to home. The people I grew up learning how to be a person from. When Prince died, it broke my heart but on some level it felt appropriate that Prince would dip out just as the party on Earth started to worsen and drag on. I look at a lot of these deaths as an extension of that. A lot of cool people knowing that this existence is already over and getting out now while the traffic is lite.
This was also just another bad year for hip-hop. The music is fine, it’ll go on, no matter what the doomsayers tell you. But the lives of our youth and even our legends are being chewed up by the realities that produce this music, whether its the streets that so many of them come from and cling to or the failures of this industry to do right by the artists that keep it alive. I’m not about to go Crime Bill after-school special on you, there are any number of reasons these artists have for staying in the streets. A lot of them came out of violence, it became the language they spoke best and they sold a lot of records to an audience that is more than hungry for all of it. To then admonish them for choosing authenticity or their own stockholm syndrome to that environment is dishonest at best. Whatever the answer is to preserving the lives of all these kids who grow up around violence, it likely begins with resources and structural change as well as an honest dialog about this thirst for real violence in our entertainment. Frankly, if they’re not being murdered they are probably being failed by the music industry at any rate. There are no health plans for artists unfortunately, but perhaps if one of them can get to a point where they’re selling millions of records for a label, the very least they could do is get them some insurance maybe. Knowing how DMX needed help for years that no one was able to get for him, knowing that legends like Biz Markie and Shock G can’t even get to old age. It makes me wanna holler.
From a pop cultural standpoint, media continues to be mainly noise to me—even some of the good stuff. There are moments of true joy and wonder that caught me by surprise (Joachim Trier’s The Worst Person In The World at NYFF, Barry Jenkin’s Underground Railroad, Succession season 3), but truth be told, I spent a lot of the year reading, mostly due to school but it was also the purest enjoyment I’ve gotten from a leisure activity in the last few years.
I also waded my feet back into television, which I’d burnt out of after Twin Peaks: The Return. It was getting harder to put up with the pretensions of directors trying to make their prestige “10 hour movie,” as opposed to just making good TV. Returning to old favorites like The Sopranos and Arrested Development got me interested in who was making good, well-executed television, and I found a lot of shows and documentaries a joy to watch over the year.
Speaking of documentaries, I thoroughly enjoyed The Velvet Underground doc, particularly watching it on a big screen at NYFF, but I’m not sure how much longer filmmakers can keep trying to “reinvent” the format before the flash and style of the film becomes the attraction more than the subject. That’s partially the problem with the Sparks brothers movie, it’s constantly trying to be clever. It’s reminiscent with what’s happening with biopics, where the filmmakers need you to know that they know that biopics are boring cliches, but this time it’ll be different. I don’t know maybe I’m just cranky.
I already shared my favorite albums of the year, though albums are sadly less and less significant with ever passing year. This is the era of singles,which is fine, but it just feels like music is so devalued by society at large (so are movies frankly). Music is now that thing you hear while shopping or working out, a respite between the dirtbag leftist podcast that bitches about movies and the OTHER dirtbag leftist podcast that bitches about movies. Still, I am committed to seeking out as much cool music as I can, because I’ll be damned if I let any streaming algorithm force me into listening to a Russ song. As for movies, despite being in the pos-Spider-Man death knell for American Cinema, this was a pretty great year for movies. Being in the theater again felt great, though let people online tell you, it was more like wading into a covid cesspool. Somehow avoiding the local multiplex was a duty to those committed to fighting the virus but taking flights all over the world was perfectly fine. Anyways, there’s no telling how much worse the theater experience will be for people who like movies about adults not in tights, but for now the movies are there and good and waiting for you.
The best things about this year: living in Brooklyn again, New Balance sneakers, RXKNephew’s YouTube channel, Tyler, The Creator interviews, Benedict showing off the Cumberbatch in Power Of The Dog, Bottega Veneta boots, PPP loans, whatever the deal is with Pete Davidson, Bennifer 2: Bennifurther, returning to movie theaters, Joy of Basketball, Olivia Rodrigo, Don’t Go Tellin Your Mama, Lamar Jackson, Steph Curry, Pyer Moss Reeboks, writing about the Sopranos, Jeremy Strong, Succession memes, Chillin Island, Gunna style pics, Jonah Hill’s happiness, Opulent Tips newsletter, Defector, Drunken Canal, Martine Rose, Bode, Stussy, Aime Leon Dore Instagram, Julia Fox baby daddy drama, John Mulaney Olivia Munn drama, Alana Haim, Cooper Hoffman, directors wanting Timothee Chalamet to romance older actresses in movies, Adrien Brody, Alexander Skarsgaard, Denzel, the Sally Rooney bucket hat, Richard Ayoade in The Souvenir II, Ben Affleck in The Last Duel, Playboi Carti clones, The Lox on Verzuz, Adam Driver, William Jackson Harper and Jessica Williams’ chemistry on Love Life season 2, You Must Remember This, the Criterion app, Tom Ford’s House of Gucci review, fifth wave emo memes, fifth wave emo, HBO Max documentaries, Adam Curtis documentaries, unions! Beepy Bella and all those other necklaces that look like candy, mohair cardigans, Tyshawn, Matrix: Resurrections, Alchemist beats, fanboys who are extremely mad about Matrix: Resurrections, Keanu Reeves and Carrie-Ann Moss together, Megan Thee Stallion’s college graduation.
The worst things about this year: Ryan Reynolds’ movies, Ryan Reynolds’ commercials, Ryan Reynolds, The Rock’s very clear attempt at a presidential run, everyone forgetting about Kanye’s fake presidential run, Disney, Wes Anderson discourse, Joe Biden, Kamala Harris, Antivaxxers, celebrities rallying around other celebrities who are made fun of online, John Mulaney divorce discourse, Nicki Minaj, Scorsese vs Marvel discourse, let’s just say discourse in general, more dead rappers, Ben Affleck interviews, Ted Lasso, Lin-Manuel Miranda, JK Rowling, fanboys (gender neutral), the metaverse, NFT as a concept, NFT as art, Adam Mckay, the Sally Rooney bucket hat, Elon Musk, “dinner with Jay-Z,” playlists, Drake vs Kanye beef, Drake vs Kanye reconciliation, Larry Hoover merch, Travis Scott, Livenation Def Jam and the music festival industrial complex skating on being a shoddily run enterprise once again, Aaron Rodgers, Joe Rogan, railing against “cancel culture,” CRT fear mongering, “Way 2 Sexy,” NORE’s clapping and interruptions, Verzuz going corporate, Tom Holland’s forced leading man status, Bode’s designer copycats, Ron DeSantis, union-busting, white sportswriters, analytics nerds, Darryl Morey, Web3 romantics, Emmanuel Acho, Ode to Babel.
And that’s pretty much it folks. We fought the year and we won. Will the next one be any better? who fucking knows. Control what you can and say fuck it to the rest. Thanks for reading me this yearand see you on the other side.
A very special thank you to everyone that donated to the Gofundme. I am nothing without community love and I hold all of you in my heart. I hope you keep reading in the future.
Favorite things I read (or re-read) this year: 1. Fran Ross’ Oreo, 2. Paul Beatty’s The Sellout 3. Paul Beatty’s White Boy Shuffle 4. Eve Babitz’ Sex and Rage 5. Raven Leilani’s Luster 6. Margo Jefferson's Michael Jackson 7. Kiese Laymon’s Heavy 8. Ishmail Reed’s Mumbo Jumbo 9. Toni Morrison’s Jazz 10. Angela Flourney’s The Turner House
Favorite television from this year: 1. Succession 2. Underground Railroad 3. Beatles: Get Back 4. How To with John Wilson 5. Station Eleven 6. Can’t Get You Outta My Head 7. Love Life 8. White Lotus 9. Southside 10. Mare of Easttown
Best songs, 2021: 1. RXKNephew - American Tterroristt 2. Jazmine Sullivan - Pick Up Your Feelings 3. Tyler, The Creator - Wusyaname 4. Turnstile - Blackout 5. Playboi Carti - Sky 6. Kanye West & Andre 3000 - Life Of The Party 7. Pierre Bourne - Hulu 8. Olivia Rodrigo - Good 4 u 9. Baby Keem & Kendrick Lamar - Range Brothers 10. Japanese Breakfast - Be Sweet 11. Nas - Death Row East 12. Mach-Hommy - Lajan Sal 13. Summer Walker - 4th Baby Mama 14. Tems - Crazy Tings 15. Foxing - Speak With The Dead 16. Megan Thee Stallion - Thot Shit 17. Vince Staples - Law of Averages 18. Valee - Himmyimmy 19. Doja Cat - Get Into It (Yuh) 20. Drake & Future - In 2 Deep
Best movies, 2021: 1. Worst Person In The World (Dir. Joachim Trier) 2. The Souvenir Part II (Dir. Joanna Hogg) 3. Drive My Car (Dir. Ryusuke Hamaguchi) 4. Licorice Pizza (Dir. Paul Thomas Anderson) 5. The Card Counter (Dir. Paul Schrader) 6. Annette (Dir. Leo Carax) 7. Benedetta (Dir. Paul Verhoeven) 8. The French Dispatch (Dir. Wes Anderson) 9. The Inheritance (Dir. Ephraim Asili) 10. Dune (Dir. Denis Villneuve)
More of what I wrote this year: On Anthony Bourdain’s documentary, The French Dispatch, the bad Ghostbusters reboot, on Melvin Van Peebles, on Colin Kaepernick’corporate protest fantasy, Summer Walker album review.