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April 2016

4 Pop Culture-y Things I’m Looking Forward to This Summer

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Photo by Jenn Murphy

Even though it’s only starting to really feel like spring now, I’m already looking towards the summer and all of the wonderful pop culture-y things that the hottest months of the year will bring. (Also, I am at a serious loss for what to write about this week, so this will do.) I’ve compiled a list of 4(ish, if I’m being honest) things coming up between now and September that will excite, entice and easily keep you (and me) occupied until fall rolls around again.

 

1) Summer Movies That Don’t Involve Superheroes or CGI Creatures!

Don’t get me wrong, I have been known to enjoy a good summer blockbuster movie from time to time, but you have to admit that they get a little old after a while. There’s only so many times you can see a caped or masked or super-suited crusader take down the big bad or an average joe defeat a giant monster before it all starts to blend together. So instead of seeing the latest Captain-Iron-Ant-Whatever movie*, I’m looking for something a little different. Namely, a faux-doc about a pop star who never stops never stopping and a magical journey primarily involving a dead guy. That first one, “Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping,” I’ve already mentioned on this blog when its excellent trailer came out a few months ago. The other one, “Swiss Army Man,” has been on my radar since I heard reports of people walking out of its screening at the Sundance Film Festival back in January. The movie tells the story of a guy lost in the wilderness (Paul Dano, a constant favorite of mine) who happens upon a dead body (Daniel Radcliffe) that keeps him company while he tries to find his way back to civilization. The trailer for the film looks pretty disturbing but also…heartwarming? I know it sounds strange, but that’s kind of why I want to see it. I’m also curious to see if what presumably made other people walk out (Radcliffe’s corpse’s continuous farting) will turn me off. “Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping” comes out June 3 and “Swiss Army Man” comes out June 17.

*Which, if I’m being honest, I’ll probably end up seeing too.

 

2) Beyonce’s Formation World Tour

After watching Beyonce‘s incredibly fascinating hour-long “Lemonade” special on HBO this past Saturday night, I became even more excited than I already was about scoring tickets to her summer tour. I saw her two summers ago with Jay-Z (which, after “Lemonade,” has a whole new significance) and she was amazing. Which, of course she would be. She’s Beyonce! While my seats for that show were pretty awesome (I spent an embarrassing amount of money for them), this time I’ll be up in the (much cheaper) nosebleeds. But, you know what? It’ll probably still be one of the best nights of my life. Because, again, it’s Beyonce.

 

3) (Hopefully) Seeing “American Psycho” and “Waitress” On Broadway

It’s been three months since the last time I saw an actual Broadway show. Three months! That’s far too long, especially when there are some really interesting-looking ones that are starting to open up. The two that have really caught my attention are “American Psycho” and “Waitress.” Both are based off of movies and/or books, which I’m not always so gung-ho for, but based on what I’ve heard and seen they both look pretty worthwhile. “American Psycho’s” performance on “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert” was very awesome (a shirtless Benjamin Walker didn’t hurt that) and the clips of “Waitress” that have been released so far look quite delightful. Hopefully I’ll get a chance to see one (or both!) of them before the summer is through.

 

4) The Return of My Two Favorite New TV Shows from Last Year

The summer can often be a desolate place in terms of quality TV. Networks assume that people will be spending their evenings out enjoying the weather and so they often use those nights to run off something a little less than great. That was definitely not the case last summer, as two of the best new shows from 2015, USA’s “Mr. Robot” and Lifetime’s “UnREAL,” premiered during the summer months. Both offered dark and twisty leads taking on some of the biggest things in our modern lives: the internet and technology, in the case of “Mr. Robot’s” vigilante hacker, and reality TV, in the case of “UnREAL’s” deeply troubled dating show producer. They captured both the public’s attention and the attention of the awards circuit, with “Mr. Robot” winning two Golden Globes, including Best Television Series – Drama, and “UnREAL” winning the 2016 AFI Award for TV Program of the Year. If you somehow missed out either of these shows, drop whatever you’re doing (finished reading this post though, you’re almost done!) and catch up before they come back on June 6 (“UnREAL”) and July 13 (“Mr.Robot”). (I’m also going to the interview panels for both of these shows at Vulture Festival in May, which is very very exciting.)

 

Well there ya have it, folks! Four things to get you absurdly excited for summertime to roll around. I know I am.

 

Anything else you’re particularly jazzed about that’s coming out this summer? Are you too going to see Beyonce? Are you proud of me for coming up with a post for this week despite near-crippling writer’s block? Congratulate me in the comments. And, before I go back to feeling sad about Prince (RIP)…

 

Stay classy.

Jenn

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TV Theme Songs Are the Best (And There Should Be More of Them)

Like most people (I assume most people watch an absurd amount of TV like me), I’ve spent a large portion of this weekend watching the sophomore season of Netflix’s “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt.” It’s just as delightful and fun as always and I can’t help but feel that part of that joy comes from the peppy and terrific theme song that opens every episode. You would think that it would get old after several viewings, but it doesn’t! At least, not to me. Because, you guys, I love TV theme songs.

 

Why do I love TV theme songs? I don’t exactly know. Perhaps it’s their somewhat ever-present nature. While the plot and characters on a TV show may change, the TV theme song most likely stays the same. It adds a certain level of consistency that can be reassuring on a show like “House of Cards,” where a sudden plot twist or character death has come to be as expected as an icy Claire Underwood stare or an aside from Frank.

 

Some TV theme songs, like the one for “House of Cards,” don’t have any words and simply use the music to convey the mood and emotion of the series. The sleek and stately sound of the “House of Cards” theme paired with shadowy shots of Washington, D.C. immediately puts the viewer into the cold, calculating mindset of the political powerhouses that populate the series. Other shows that use this type of theme song in a great way are “30 Rock,” “Parks and Recreation” and  “Rugrats.” (BTW, I’m very surprised that it took me this long to get a “Rugrats” reference onto the blog.)

 

Other theme songs (like “Kimmy Schmidt’s”) do what my mother always tells me to do and “use their words,” employing clever lyrics to convey something about the show. Sometimes those lyrics explain the plot or premise of the series, like the classic “Brady Bunch” theme or the more current (but equally excellent) “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend.” Other times they sing about how great the main characters are, like two all-time favorites of mine, “Kenan and Kel” (I mean, come on. It’s Coolio!) and the woefully under-appreciated “Cousin Skeeter.” (Again, very surprised that it took me this long to mention “Cousin Skeeter.”)

 

These days, it feels like a lot of shows have chosen to skip the theme song or dump it after a few seasons, (I’m looking at you, “New Girl.”) which I think is a real shame.  When I was little, I used to love to ask my parents to tell me about the kinds of shows they would watch growing up. While they couldn’t always remember the specific plot points and characters featured on those beloved shows, they almost always remembered the theme songs and were willing to sing them (again and again and again) whenever asked. A great TV theme song sticks with people, long after the show itself has ended. It gives people something to remember it by. Do I remember what actually happened on the Saturday morning cartoon series “The Weekenders?” No, not at all. But do I occasionally find myself humming the incredibly catchy theme song? You bet I do. And every time I do, I remember the happiness I felt getting up to watch it. It’s stuck with me all these years, like a reliable friend. Or, I guess, like an incurable disease. Depends on how you look at it. I prefer reliable friend.

 

Do you too love a good TV theme song? Have a favorite that I didn’t mention here? Think I’m crazy for writing almost 600 words about TV theme songs? Share your thoughts in the comments. (Except that last one. Keep that grumpiness to yourself.) And, before I go off to watch more “Kimmy Schmidt,”…

 

Stay classy.

Jenn

I Swear This Is The Last Time I’ll Write About ‘American Idol’ (…For Now)

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Screenshot by Jenn Murphy

I didn’t necessarily plan on writing about “American Idol” two weeks in a row (although, to be honest, I never really plan what I’m going to write about on this blog in advance). But after this week’s series finale, I inevitably ended up with a lot to say. Between the medleys and the reunions and, oh yeah, the crowning of another “American Idol,” there were plenty of moments that made me both wish that the “American Idol” that I know and love wasn’t ending and realize that the “American Idol” that I knew and loved may have actually ended a while ago.

 

Let’s start at the very beginning, as I’ve heard it’s a very good place to start. The show opened with a pre-taped message from the President, which was somewhat unexpected, but also, of course he would. In it, he spoke about the importance of voting, which is of course, very very important, but I don’t want to think about that now! I watch “Idol” to escape this nightmare election! I’ll go back to thinking about debates and super delegates and all of that nonsense tomorrow. Tonight, I want to see pretty people sing.

 

Luckily, that was next on the docket, as the show really opened with a big ‘ol musical number (Barry Manilow’s “One Voice” to be specific) featuring a stage full of present and former “Idol” contestants. For someone who still remembers the names and faces of even the most obscure contestants, this one was a doozy. I’m not ashamed (okay, maybe a little) to say that there may have been a few tears shed. This first number really set the precedent for the night: you guys, a lot of talented people came through “Idol.” As much as some want to joke that it was just a glorified talent show, it really produced some incredible performers.

 

One incredible “Idol” product, who probably can’t sing a lick but still stuck around all 15 seasons, is the show’s perpetually wonderful host, Ryan Seacrest. But, as I mentioned in a previous blog post, the first season of “Idol” actually had two hosts. I had the highest of hopes that Brian Dunkleman, the long-maligned former “Idol” co-host, would make an appearance in the final season and guys, he totally did! In a great (and probably very scripted) moment, Dunkleman returned to the “Idol” stage to both rib Seacrest about how he was now “out of a job”and complement him on a job well done. It had a very full-circle feel, at least to cornballs like me who had been hoping for this since the day the “farewell season” was announced.

 

After that, the show went on in a somewhat typical finale fashion, with a whole boatload of performances and musical numbers. Unlike previous finales though, these numbers didn’t just feature the top 10 of season 15. In fact, it barely featured them at all. Instead, these numbers used mainly former contestants to celebrate the various genres of music that had been performed on “Idol,” including pop (duh), rock (sure), acoustic (okay?), country (ugh) and even soul (YES). And, of course, the genre specially formulated by “Idol” and it’s many tweenage voters, hunky white men with guitars! There were a few other special performances, including a pre-taped Kelly Clarkson singing a medley of her own hits, a reunited “Three Divas” from season three that quickly became “we totally screwed over Jennifer Hudson when she was on the show so let’s give her a moment in the sun” and a solo performance from Carrie Underwood. Each of the current judges also performed, which seemed a little unnecessary but was probably in their contracts, and the original judging dream team of Randy, Paula and Simon reunited, before being interrupted by William Hung. He seemed happy to be there, so that’s good.

 

After all that it was time to do that other thing that they were there to do, the naming of the latest and last “American Idol.” We hadn’t seen much of the final two, Trent Harmon and La’Porsha Renae, after they recreated season one finalists Kelly Clarkson and Justin Guarini’s duet of “It Takes Two” early on in the episode. That being said, it seemed pretty clear from the beginning of the night (a zoomed in shot on Renae’s face) that “Idol” had already crowned the winner in its mind. The few individual singers that were singled out in the night’s medleys were “Idol’s” famous females and the entire season seemed to be working under the premise that “Idol” started with a female winner and would inevitably end with a female winner in the incredibly talented Renae. It would be a perfect moment, hearkening back to the beginning of the series when all of America was voting to create the next superstar, a task that they somewhat succeeded in completing with Clarkson. But then, Trent Harmon’s name was called.

 

Now don’t get me wrong, I love Trent. I love his weirdly wonderful voice and performance style, the fact that he kept on truckin’ in Hollywood week even when he had mono. I love his big hats and the fact that he would sometimes call the judges Mr. and Ms. Even the night before the finale I had struggled to decide who to vote for, as Harmon and Renae had been my top two for several weeks. But in the moment when his name was called, I didn’t jump for joy like I have in previous seasons. And really, it has nothing to do with him.

 

At the end of the day, “American Idol” was a TV show, and like any good TV show, it needed a thoughtful narrative, a through line that fans could follow until its inevitable outcome in the finale. In the last few years and seasons, “Idol” has had two, sometimes battling narratives: the narrative that they try to create and the narrative the voters create for them. People criticize the show for the seemingly endless stream of “seen-it-before” white dudes that win, but they seem to forget that after a certain point that decision is out of the hands of the producers and into the hands of the show’s viewers, who are now primarily tweenage girls and their moms. Gone are the days when everyone watched “Idol”; now it’s a select few and they seem to have very specific tastes. Trent Harmon fit right into those tastes, and that’s why he won. (Don’t worry though, Renae also scored a record deal after Thursday’s finale. There is some justice in the world!)

 

And that’s why, despite all of my nostalgia and love for the show, I think I’m okay with “American Idol” ending. (I mean, not really, but you know. In theory.) It could have easily kept going for years and years into the future until there are enough “Idol” winners to encircle the globe (or, at least, the Dolby Theater), but would it be producing, as the original title suggested, “superstars”? Probably not. While there are many superstars that found their audience on the “American Idol” stage, those days seem to have truly come and gone.

 

So farewell, “American Idol.” I’m going to remember you fondly, and try my best to ignore comments from series’ creator Simon Fuller saying that the show will eventually be revamped and brought back. (Come on, dude. Waaaay too soon.)

 

What did you think of the “Idol” finale? Happy with Trent Harmon as the winner? Think I need to stop talking about “Idol” for a while? (NEVER!) Sing a song about it in the comments. And, before I leave you to go watch the time that Jennifer Holliday was on “Idol” …

 

Stay classy.

Jenn

It’s Time for Me To Get Sappy About ‘American Idol’

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Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Right before the “Farewell Season” of “American Idol” began, I wrote a post highlighting five things that I predicted (or, at least, hoped) would happen in the final season. And guys, I did pretty well. Winner check-ins? Yup. Recreations of memorable performances? Oh yeah. As for the other three, a fully reunited judges panel, the return of Brian Dunkleman and my dream finale, they have yet to happen but I have high hopes that this coming week’s three night “Idol” finale will live up to all of my dreams and more.

 

Now that “Idol” is really truly coming to a close (at least until it inevitably gets rebooted), I’m starting to get a little sentimental about the show and what it has meant to me over the last 14 or so years. As I mentioned in my previous “Idol”-centric post, I was a serious fangirl back in the day and as much as I like to joke about it now, the show really did play a big part in my growing up. So I thought I might write a little about what the show meant to me, as sappily as I possibly can. Plus, I couldn’t think of anything else to write about this week (writer’s block is real ya’ll) so this will suffice.

 

To be honest, I don’t really remember the first time I watched “American Idol.” I’m not even sure if I ever saw the first episode. What I do remember is the first time I voted for a contestant in season one. Her name was Kristin Holt, and while I realize now that she was most definitely not the best performer of that first season (or even close, yikes), the fact that I could have a say in what happened to her and the other contestants on the show was exciting. In my mind I can see myself eagerly holding onto the phone in the kitchen, dialing the number and hearing that “Thank you for voting for contestant [insert number here]” response that I would become very, very familiar with. And even though I’m pretty sure Kristin didn’t make it much further after my single vote, I knew that I would be sticking around to see who did.

 

To me, that’s what was so genius about “Idol.” It made the at-home viewing public an active participant in the outcome of the show. It forced them to become fiercely attached to their favorite contestant, to consistently and dedicatedly vote for them until they were victorious. (Or, until they were tragically eliminated too soon. Not everyone could be the “American Idol.”) It also worked to keep people invested in these contestants, even after they had been eliminated or their season ended. While so many “Idol” winners have maintained successful careers in the entertainment industry, even more “Idol” contestants, people who maybe didn’t even make it into the top five, have stuck around and established themselves as successful performers who got that little push into the public eye that only “Idol” could offer.

 

After I cast my first “Idol” vote, it’s safe to say I became hooked. Much of the spare time in my then 7-year-old life was dedicated to watching “Idol,” thinking about “Idol” and trying to get anyone within a 1ft. radius of me to discuss “Idol.” As the title of my blog implies, I have always had a habit of getting obsessed (perhaps overly obsessed) with my pop culture fascinations, and “Idol” was one of the first big ones. Luckily, my mom got hooked too and together we watched weekly, once going so far as to switch hotels on a vacation because the one we were staying in didn’t have a TV (Also the hotel was really sketchy and everyone agreed. No diva behavior there). To top it off, I even dressed up as Kelly Clarkson in her winning moment for Halloween that year.

 

By the time the second season started, it was a known fact at my elementary school that I was a true “American Idol” fan, and that knowledge ended up benefiting me when “Idol” season two runner-up Clay Aiken brought a post-“Idol” Christmas tour to my hometown that was in need of a children’s choir to sing backup on a few songs. Somehow Aiken’s people got hooked up with my elementary school’s music teacher and we were chosen, and as the resident “Idol” nerd, it was inevitable that I would be attending. Even though I was a tried and true fan of “Idol” season two winner Ruben Studdard, meeting and getting to perform with Aiken, someone what had received comments from Simon Cowell, who had…*gasp*…touched Ryan Seacrest, was a real treat. It also helped that he was super nice and friendly to a bunch of hyper kids who had no clue what they were doing.

 

The promise of a new season of “American Idol” became a yearly treat for me. And when that treat finally came around, usually in January, I was always fully prepared. I had notebooks filled with voting numbers and contestant’s song choices, along with my own notes and thoughts. I made my winner predictions early, and adjusted them as need be throughout the season. I came to school every Wednesday and Thursday morning prepared to discuss the previous night’s events with my fellow “Idol” fans. And when the season ended, I would often attend the “Idol’s Live!” tour and scream as loud as I possibly could when favorites like season four’s Nadia Turner, season six’s Blake Lewis and season eight’s Matt Giraud took the stage.

 

But it wasn’t all rainbows and sunshine. If you’re a diehard “Idol” fan like myself, then you will have noticed that none of the favorites I mentioned in the last paragraph actually won “American Idol.” Needless to say, I had my fair share of “Idol” heartbreaks when my favorites were eliminated much too soon. Tears may have been shed. I may have stormed out of a friend’s house when Carrie Underwood beat Bo Bice in season four. (What? I was a very dramatic kid.) And to some, that may sound like the ramblings of a crazy person, part of it probably is, but it was because I cared. It was because another genius thing that “American Idol” did was it made you truly care about the contestants. It brought them into your homes and your lives and endeared them to you so much that you couldn’t help but root for them and follow them once their time on the show had ended.

 

Any time you bring up “Idol” these days, someone is bound to mention the biggest similar show to follow it, “The Voice.” And yes, I’m sure “The Voice” is lovely and all, but it’s clearly not about the contestants like “Idol” is. All advertisements for the show prominently feature whoever is a celebrity mentor (or judge or whoever sits in those absurd spinning chairs) that season, and continue to do so once the season begins and contestants have been chosen. Very rarely do you see anything promoting the contestants themselves. The contestants are put onto teams and when someone wins, the celebrity team leader “wins” with them. Because of this, people clearly don’t develop an attachment to the contestants the way they do with the ones on “Idol.” If they did, we would actually have a commercially successful winner of “The Voice.” Yeah, I said it. Because it’s true.

 

I’m also willing to admit that “Idol” isn’t entirely perfect. Once the audience went from just about everyone in the country to everyone in the country’s mom and little sister (and me), the quality of the contestants and winners went down in a major way. The never-ending stream of mediocre 15-year-olds and white guys with guitars got to be overly predictable and didn’t result in any excitement or fun. As much as it hurts to say it, the last few seasons of the show have been pretty dismal and in some cases unpleasant to watch.

 

However, I feel like this final, “farewell” season has brought back the talent and excitement of the early “Idol” years. I found myself truly looking forward to watching every week and for the first time in a long time, I’m really excited to see who wins. And if it winds up whittling down to my two favorites, Trent Harmon and La’Porsha Renae, (and it’s looking like it will) this will be the first time in my “Idol” history that I’ll really struggle with who to vote for. But, I can assure you that the excitement and joy that I felt when I cast my first “Idol” vote back in 2002 will still be there. And the corny, sappy, more than a little weird love that I feel for the show will be there too. Because I really am going to miss “American Idol.” I’m pretty sure it’s part of what made me, me.

 

What are your thoughts on the “farewell” season of “American Idol”? Have your own favorite “Idol” memory? Is it raining in here? I feel like it’s raining in here. Somehow it’s only landing on my face. Weird. Spill your heart in the comments. And, before I ask Keiran to dim the lights

 

Stay classy.

Murphy, out.

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